Megaventory Blog - Online Inventory Management Software, Order fulfillment and Control System
This is the company blog for megaventory, an online software that helps small businesses that buy, sell and manufacture physical products to manage sales, purchasing, manufacturing and inventory. We blog about new features and updates but also about enterprise software, small businesses, cloud computing and the industry in general.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Taking the government to the clouds

CloudPro is reporting how yet another part of the US government has decided to phase their systems to the cloud.

In particular it's the Department of Interior (DoI) which is asking none other than Lockheed Martin to build them the infrastructure which will allow the DoI to move from on-premises solutions to cloud computing. This is a one billion, possibly ten year project (or longer) and by the end of it most of the reported 400 different points where DoI data is stored (from data-centers to simple closets) will have been transformed to a much more leaner and secure infrastructure. 

CIA has also reportedly struck a deal with Amazon to move aspects of its operations to the cloud. This all paints a familiar picture of cloud technologies allowing operations to become more centralized, greener, more secure and all around more efficient.

However, there is another positive aspect to such already good news. Yes, it does give the signal to vendors and buyers alike that cloud computing is the way to go. But such efforts will also set and adapt the necessary guidelines for a business to operate wholly or partly in the cloud at particular quality level and above.

This is particular important for suppliers selling cloud-related infrastructure and services to the government. Government departments such as the DoI and the CIA going through these exercises - as part of the US Federal Data Center Consolidation initiative - will provide (or update) the guidelines for what a vendor needs to do in order to be compliant.

The aspect of compliance and standards is one of the last issues cloud solutions face (especially when it comes to applying them to government problems). The consolidation process is long - 3 years in the 5 year long program, there's still no inventory of how many data centers need to be consolidated overall - and the results will take a bit to be appreciated but it will provide valuable lessons on how to eventually fully transition to the cloud.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Five things to ask your cloud provider

The HRIS World has a post about the five most valuable questions to ask when choosing a cloud provider. 

Although typically you'd need much more information obviously in order to evaluate a vendor we thought we'd tackle the questions ourselves too. So here it goes:

How secure is your cloud?

The website is certified by RapidSSL™ and offers a secure SSL connection option so that user credentials and business data are safely encrypted over the transmission channel. Other than that, security is handled as part of our hosting approach by reputable hosting provider Hetzner. This ensures that qualified professionals set and optimise all the necessary security parameters ensuring nothing is overlooked. At the same the Megaventory personnel is responsible for performing necessary security upgrades that no issues ever arise.

What services do you provide?

From order (quotes, sales and purchases) to inventory management and from reporting (business intelligence) to light manufacturing monitoring, Megaventory is an ideal ERP solution for the small and medium business. A more complete list of features can be found in the signup page.

If any particular features - whether minor or large in scope - are necessary for a client we can readily incorporate them in our development roadmap effectively including them as fast as possible.

How flexible is your cloud?

Apart from the custom development mentioned above, Megaventory can be adapted along a number of parameters. Users, locations and product codes can be added on the fly with no disruption to operations - similarly such features can also be removed equally seamlessly.

Megaventory can be localised by language or adapted to specific industry needs and particular lingo (or even down to the level of specific business characteristics) by the business itself (ie without the need for requesting external support). So far it has been translated in English, German, Spanish, Portuguese and Greek and has also been adapted to four verticals: Small/Personal Business, Franchise Chains, Manufacturing and Consumer Electronics.

In addition to this if further development is necessary there is an API layer which can be used to access most of Megaventory's functionality without the need to use the web interface.

What is your downtime history?

Despite constant development and addition of new features, consistently since Megaventory's start back in September 2010 (and actually even earlier), downtime has been kept to an absolute minimum. Major updates occur at monthly or every two months on average while minor issues are implemented on a weekly basis. Such updates occur at weekend nights to ensure the least possible disruption and it is essentially due to these planned updates that any downtime occurs.

How much tech support can I expect?

Tech support is available via email and most support tickets are answered in the first hour or two. Moreover, voice calls can be set up for free with every new account subscription. These one-to-one training sessions are designed to help the new business get started with Megaventory.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

How you can have just enough security

In the beginning of August two important security events took place in the US: DefCon and BlackHat. Although interesting in their own right at many levels, along with the recent news on government agencies being able to track and monitor individuals online, they have helped draw attention to security issues and spark that discussion from various angles.

Passwords are dangerous

So for example there's this movement to do away with passwords altogether; the argument being that passwords - or at least their (mis)management - provide an attack vector to a company's data. There's a large discussion with pros and cons about it but the fact remains that passwords have been being declared dead for about a decade now. Alternatives such as biometric, two-factor or item (e.g. watches) authentication have been implemented to some extent but none is still as ubiquitous as the password. And such a prevalent method to go away will need many years still as such changes in behaviour and habit are difficult to change. And that's without taking into account the cost of alternative authentication ways.

The cloud is dangerous too

A recent security issue widely discussed is the usual practice of employees bringing their own device (BYOD) to work. Whether that's a laptop, a tablet or simply their smartphone it's an attack vector for hacking into your business. If for example such a device from a single employee is connected to the company's Google Apps account and it's compromised, then that's enough. The BYOD practice is already under a lot of criticism but that's only the beginning as the next iteration is already here. Bring Your Own Cloud (BYOC) are yet another issue businesses have to worry about: employees bringing their data and other information to the company network by means of their personal cloud computing choice. Whether that's their Dropbox account or their Google Drive account these are all in theory means by which company assets can be compromised.

And protection is impossible - and expensive

And if this wasn't enough, analysts claim that if you want to at least offer some protection to your company you can not protect it by buying SaaS as relying on the cloud for protection is anything but foolproof. Instead you have to cough up for hardware, specialised expertise to set the hardware up and following that monitor it by spending even more money.

Or maybe not...

This may all spell doom and gloom but as we've said in the past provided you take some common sense steps to avoid the basic dangers out there you really shouldn't worry about that part of your business. All this discussion is essentially fearmongering to get you to buy the latest and greatest solution.

A simple common sense approach is enough to keep your sanity, address such issues and move on to getting things done.

  1. Rely on experts to handle security and maintain your IT overall - whether that's a cloud service or a specialised software house.
  2. Outsource everything that isn't your expertise - doing such things on your own or in-house may save you a bit of money but will result in much more lost in the long run.
  3. Take the easy solution now and when you've outgrown it, only then buy a more complete customized one.
  4. Adopt some best practices (ask an expert on what they are!) and rely on the reasonable assumption that a small or even a medium business is largely unlikely to become a hacking target.

It's as simple as that really.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Games in enterprise software

Recently the e2benterprise blog organised a bit of Twitter event - a discussion around the #ERPChat hashtag - on an interesting subject: ERP gamification. In particular, the question was if there is a role for gamification in ERP software. You can head over to their blog some of the insights brought forward by the chat but here's our view.

First of all, what is it?

Gamification generally means simply introducing some sort of game mechanics in a platform so its users are more engaged for more time. The game mechanics involve a number of elements such as user evolution, competition among users, credits which can be bought or exchanged for virtual items, badges for identifying expertise or goals achieved, rewards, etc - the list is quite long and can encompass many things.


Examples of such game mechanics are popular from FourSquare (which allows people to earn badges based on their check-in activity and become 'mayors' with perks in some establishments) to (which ties engagement with the site with 'experience levels' which in turn affect chances a freelancer has to win jobs). When it comes to gaining reputation points, gamification can be found in diverse projects such as StackOverflow and Slashdot - in fact "traditional" fora have been doing it even before the advent of Web 2.0.

So, how can it apply to enterprise software?

The same principles apply. Set up a layer of gaming on top of otherwise dull or at least unengaging tasks and people will be just a bit more (or a lot more) inclined to do them. Or at least that's what the theory says. But it's not just the theory. Games - provided they've been designed to be addictive (think World of Warcraft) - have already been proven to be able to draw and keep people into doing very repetitive and otherwise tiresome tasks (exactly like work must look like for many people after the first 6 months). And for what in return? For what might seem as useless at face value as allowing your account to go from level 19 to level 20. Big deal, right? Not if you already have invested months of your time on taking it to level 19. Even more so if we're not talking about a fictional concept but essentially your career in the company which pays you your salary. People will even feel justified to feed their 'addiction'.

So will it catch on the enterprise world? It does seem like a fad which has been coming and going especially in the consumer world so it may be a harder sell for employees (let alone employers). To some extent some large corporations have implemented gamification systems. But, yes, it's something that can become (even more popular) - and for a couple of reasons:

  1. It's fun and motivating. It makes people want to get involved more and enjoy themselves working while others who are more competitive have another reason to get things done at work: they can brag and they can be looked upon as experts - with the badges to prove it.
  2. Above all the reason it's likely to happen is that it may be able to address a significant pain point known for a long time when it comes to businesses and software. Adoption. Adding a game element might allow more people to get involved in the new ERP and actually use it - resulting in a more efficient use of the ERP.
  3. There's a another even more long term reason why business software gamification may work. It promotes the social aspect of business and enhances interactivity among employees - something which is also bound to make things more interesting for all involved. Already decision makers are interested in making their business more social but currently that's being done via consumer platforms (such as Facebook).

All of the above arguments for gamification are of long term scope. If anyone includes them now in their ERP offering they will be 'nice to have' features - when other more pressing problems have not been solved in the business software world. Once they have been addressed only then will we be able see gamification boom.

So yes gamification may have a place in the ERP world but it's time is not now.