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Top Priority Systems https://www.topprioritysystems.com Sales, implementation and support of the world's most configurable business software (ERP and CRM) Sat, 11 Nov 2017 20:19:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.8.3 99608859 Isn’t it time you mobilized your business? https://www.topprioritysystems.com/blog/mobile/isnt-time-mobilized-business/ https://www.topprioritysystems.com/blog/mobile/isnt-time-mobilized-business/#respond Tue, 28 Mar 2017 00:00:37 +0000 https://www.topprioritysystems.com/?p=4700 Are you still using paper forms in your business, particularly for your staff who are not desk-bound? Long ago you probably accepted the benefits of using computers rather than performing tasks manually. Somehow in an estimated 80%+ of businesses simple forms remain on paper. Previously the challenge was to make it possible to create such […]

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Are you still using paper forms in your business, particularly for your staff who are not desk-bound? Long ago you probably accepted the benefits of using computers rather than performing tasks manually. Somehow in an estimated 80%+ of businesses simple forms remain on paper. Previously the challenge was to make it possible to create such forms on a mobile device, at an acceptable price – but no longer. Now it’s cheaper and more beneficial to have your documents in most cases written as apps.
 
The true cost of paper forms
Have you considered how much it is really costing your business to fill out manual forms? The cost of the paper itself, and the filing cabinets for storage, are very much the thin end of the wedge. Consider:
  • the office rent to house the filing cabinets, usually running to thousands of dollars
  • the labor to complete the form. In many cases digital apps can offer dramatic savings, freeing up your precious technical staff for productive work
  • the labor to file the form. Some estimates suggest it costs $32 to file each document1. You can, of course, estimate this yourselves, by taking the average time to file a document and multiplying out the true cost of the employee for that length of time
  • the labor to retrieve the form. Here’s where it starts to get ugly, with the same study suggesting an estimated $192 per document1. Again focus on the quantum, not the exact number – or indeed estimate it for yourselves
  • one study went so far as to suggest it costs a business an average $14k per worker per year in lost productivity from not having data at their fingertips2.
 
Also consider the risks associated with paper-based workflow. What happens to your business if there is a fire or flood? The internet is awash with quotes that 80% of businesses close within two years of a “catastrophic data event”. Although it is hard to find real evidence to support any number in this area, it is clearly true that your business is significantly at risk in this area – a risk that can be wholly addressed by digitizing your business and use of the cloud or even simply good backup routines.
 
The cost of digitizing your form
Forms vary, so inevitably their costs vary too. However, most forms are relatively simple questionnaires, listing numerous questions and allowing you to provide the answers. Typical questions could be anything from what is the work order/job number, through is there a green light showing on the device that is being repaired, to who has signed off on a given piece of work. Simple apps that reflect lists of questions and answers take about an hour per page to build – IF you choose not to change the logic of how they work, noting that significant benefits usually flow from redesign. The software itself for such data capture applications tends to be around $25 per user per month. For many users, there is no hardware cost as they already have the phone for running such apps – but otherwise you need to factor in the cost of a smartphone or tablet.
 
Benefits of digitizing forms
 
We’ve seen, from the numbers above, that in most cases it is cheaper to digitize your forms than to continue with paper. That said,  in my opinion the real benefits of “mobilizing” stem more from the opportunities offered by the new platform. For example:
  • you can readily store “rich” media as answers to your questions, such as photographs to back up problems found, customer/supervisor signatures to evidence completion of the work, and even videos and audio clips
  • save time with data entry by having the app automatically populate answers. Simple examples require the app to “know your data”, for example bringing in customer details from a work order number. More complex examples result from the app’s ability to communicate with the outside world, getting real-time feeds from external websites where necessary – so you can program the app to fetch the altitude at your current location, or real-time weather attributes
  • improve the quality of data by validation – the app can store acceptable answers to any question, and notify the user if they are mistakenly trying to enter the wrong answer. Also no answer is illegible!
  • data and the device can interact, for example on completing the form automatically sending a text message to a phone number captured at the start of the form to notify the customer that the work is complete, or getting GPS driving directions to go to the next call-out
  • you can map pretty much anything, if you need visual feedback on where work is taking place or location of assets.
 
Most importantly of all, the app data is instantly fully usable and searchable. When using the right tools, all data is available in a centralized database once synchronized. Reporting suites can be built on top of the data. Also the data can be linked to other applications, most particularly your core Enterprise Resource Planning and Customer Relationship Management suites. Hence you can create work orders in your ERP system, allocate them to staff members, and then pass the relevant questionnaires through to the correct individual out in the field. Also you can automate the actions or notifications required as a result of particular answers given, such as notifying operations to schedule another technician to perform follow up work.
 
All of the above gives two very important, further benefits. Your customer service will improve, as a result of faster and better answers to what has happened in the past – as you can instantly find the form filled in for any customer on any day. And your employees’ job satisfaction goes up, as it’s much more fun rattling through a form on a smartphone than on a clipboard!

 

1 Coopers & Lybrand study from the mid-1990s, inflation-adjusted. I haven’t found the source study (it’s been quoted many times), so place reliance more on the general principle that it is surprisingly expensive to stay manual, rather than exact numbers. How long does it take your staff to file each document? What about finding documents once filed? How often do you search, how often do you fail to find what you’re looking for?

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How to enter data and search in Evernote https://www.topprioritysystems.com/blog/enter-data-search-evernote/ https://www.topprioritysystems.com/blog/enter-data-search-evernote/#respond Tue, 31 Jan 2017 02:47:30 +0000 https://www.topprioritysystems.com/?p=3296 Check out the video below for part one of a three part introduction to Evernote. It covers the basics of data entry - creating Notes, Notebooks and stacks to organise your content, tagging Notes for additional searching, entering data from speech on both iPhone and Mac, and searching by word, viewing, and searching by the geographical location where the note was taken.

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Check out the video below for part one of a three part introduction to Evernote. It covers the basics of data entry – creating Notes, Notebooks and stacks to organise your content, tagging Notes for additional searching, entering data from speech on both iPhone and Mac, and searching by word, viewing, and searching by the geographical location where the note was taken.

 

If youre not already using Evernote, why not? I truly believe this is an indispensable app, even the free component. The key: were all swamped by content on a daily basis. Arent you drowning in a sea of emails, interesting websites, PDFs, photos, bits of paper and thoughts that come to you through the day? What if you could save and file every relevant piece of data, so that you can instantly lay your hands on it when you need it? Thats what Evernote delivers. Wheres that web article on lead generation using LinkedIn I read the other day? How about the Airbnb receipt for my recent stay? The plan for my presentation to the local bigwigs? All available instantly, even when offline.

 

Check out both this video and the next one, on saving external content into Evernote, and I defy you to stay away from Evernote after that!

 

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How to create custom Pinterest Board covers https://www.topprioritysystems.com/blog/create-custom-pinterest-board-covers/ https://www.topprioritysystems.com/blog/create-custom-pinterest-board-covers/#respond Tue, 17 Jan 2017 05:09:52 +0000 https://www.topprioritysystems.com/?p=3278 There are few things that give a Pinterest site a greater look of professionalism than custom board covers – they provide consistency, a clean and organized look that tells potential pinners that thought and work has gone into your Boards. They are pretty simple to create, particularly with the aid of a graphic design site […]

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There are few things that give a Pinterest site a greater look of professionalism than custom board covers – they provide consistency, a clean and organized look that tells potential pinners that thought and work has gone into your Boards.

They are pretty simple to create, particularly with the aid of a graphic design site such as Canva (www.canva.com). Canva offers template-driven creation of graphics.

Once you’ve created an account in Canva and verified your email, choose the type of content you want. Pinterest Board covers use a square, so choose the Social Media design – you’ll be taken straight to the content creation area. If you choose Layouts, you can select from any of the templates – some of which are free, others cost (generally very cheap). Drag and drop your choice of layout into the page creation area, or simply click on it. Change text by clicking on it and choosing other text options, and drag the text to reposition it. Scroll through each of the other elements on the left sidebar, to see what else you can position into the design – from graphics, icons and logos to free photos, or you can upload your own. Once you have designed the graphic, download it from Canva, and upload it to your website/blog.

Next add the graphic to a page on your website/blog, so you can pin it – into the Board for which you want a cover. If you can’t pin it from the page, you may need to add a Pinterest extension to your browser. On Chrome, for example, go to the Extensions menu selection (on the Window menu on Mac), find the Pinterest extension, and enable it. This allows you to pin from Chrome.

Once you have pinned your graphic into the correct Board, go to that Board – www.pinterest.com, click on your profile picture at top right, and choose My Profile from the menu (log on if you aren’t seeing this). Find the Board you are interested in, and click on Edit. 

 

The part that is required here is the Cover section. Click on Change, and Pinterest will show you the pins into that Board – starting with the most recent first, which will normally be the cover you just pinned. Save it, in order to get your Board cover. I also make sure that the Description contains helpful text, and the Category is set correctly, to maximize searching. I also go to the pin itself and redirect the website to my front page rather than the Board cover page, and also give the pin the same Description as the Board.

Voilà!

 

 

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Scan business cards using Evernote https://www.topprioritysystems.com/blog/scan-business-cards-using-evernote/ https://www.topprioritysystems.com/blog/scan-business-cards-using-evernote/#respond Mon, 09 Jan 2017 22:44:33 +0000 https://www.topprioritysystems.com/?p=3238 Evernote is one of my favourite productivity tools – there will be another post following shortly explaining some of the reasons why. I just found out about a great feature for scanning business cards. Evernote allows you to photograph the card, performs the necessary optical character recognition to read the contents, and then stores all […]

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Evernote is one of my favourite productivity tools – there will be another post following shortly explaining some of the reasons why.

I just found out about a great feature for scanning business cards. Evernote allows you to photograph the card, performs the necessary optical character recognition to read the contents, and then stores all the details. It looks up the person on LinkedIn, and brings in details from there, including the photograph. When you save the record, you are prompted to email your own contact details to them.

Here’s a video showing the whole process:

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How to embed a Pinterest board in your blog https://www.topprioritysystems.com/blog/digitalmarketing/pinterest-tips-1-how-to-embed-a-pinterest-board-in-your-blog/ https://www.topprioritysystems.com/blog/digitalmarketing/pinterest-tips-1-how-to-embed-a-pinterest-board-in-your-blog/#respond Mon, 09 Jan 2017 02:40:27 +0000 https://www.topprioritysystems.com/?p=3218   Pinterest provides a “widget” that allows you to publish any of your boards, or all of your boards, inside a post in your blog. Start by going to the board you want to publish, and copy the URL. Fig 1: copy the URL of your board – highlight it, and select Command-C. Next use […]

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Pinterest provides a “widget” that allows you to publish any of your boards, or all of your boards, inside a post in your blog.

Start by going to the board you want to publish, and copy the URL.

Fig 1: copy the URL of your board – highlight it, and select Command-C.

Next use this URL to open the widget builder provided by Pinterest:

https://business.pinterest.com/en/widget-builder/%23do_pin_it_button#do_pin_it_button

 

Fig 2: select the Board widget if you want to display the pins within a single board

Select the Board widget, and then copy in the URL into the Pinterest Board field. Then click on Build It!

The widget builder will then display the code you need. Select the text of the code, go to your website and paste in the code. Pasting needs to be carefully handled, so you don’t simply “display” the code rather than pasting it as code.

Fig 3: steps for pasting widget code into your blog post

Generally you should switch to Text in your blog (1), position the cursor where you want the widget to appear, click on the code button (2) and then paste in the code. At the end of the pasted code, click on the /code button (2). The code will then appear (3). Preview your post page, and you’ll see that the Pinterest board appears as a fully scrollable board with all its pins, and offering the user the option of following the board simply by pressing a single button from your page.

 


Note that you can only paste one such widget on each blog page.

Beware of one “bug” I found, that truncated the posted code every time I updated the post, so I had to manually put back the first couple of rows of code several times. Check the code in the post against the code from the widget builder if you have any problems.

 

 

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How to keep ERP implementations on the right track https://www.topprioritysystems.com/erp-selection/how-to-keep-erp-implementations-on-the-right-track/ https://www.topprioritysystems.com/erp-selection/how-to-keep-erp-implementations-on-the-right-track/#respond Wed, 02 Nov 2016 23:46:08 +0000 https://www.topprioritysystems.com/?p=2235 So you’ve decided to replace your Enterprise Resource Planning solution. I’m sure you’re aware of the poor record for success in these implementations – the majority tend to be over-budget, past due on their intended timelines, and not offering the intended deliverables. Check here for an example of industry research backing this up. So how […]

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So you’ve decided to replace your Enterprise Resource Planning solution. I’m sure you’re aware of the poor record for success in these implementations – the majority tend to be over-budget, past due on their intended timelines, and not offering the intended deliverables. Check here for an example of industry research backing this up. So how can you maximize your chances of coming through with a successful implementation?

Responsibility

First things first. Whose implementation is this? Right, it’s your implementation, not the implementation of the vendor/reseller – so you need to take sufficient responsibility and control to ensure it goes according to plan. If they don’t ask you about the areas covered below, prompt them – don’t wait for things to go bad. If you haven’t yet purchased a solution, don’t restrict your selection to product features, remember that the professionalism and know-how of the company behind the implementation is a major factor in the success or failure of the implementation, and judge them accordingly.

This starts with the way that you structure the selection process. We see a range of approaches to this, from customers who ask for a demonstration without any definition of what should be presented, through to those that provide a questionnaire of sometimes over a thousand questions. Although we favour the concept of a “short form” selection document, it’s not actually the structure that tends to be wrong behind any of these approaches, so much as the intent. For example, if you present a list of a thousand questions, even if you prioritize them into categories such as whether they require customization or are in the standard solution, there is usually no summary guidance within the document that assists the vendor in determining whether to quote to deliver all one thousand features, or (as is normally assumed by the vendor) to quote against an average quantity that would be expected by a reasonable customer. Immediately you have scope for a misunderstanding between customer and vendor – a misunderstanding caused by lack of communication, ironic perhaps given the volume of communication involved in such questionnaires.

Conversely, it is possible within a 2-5 page document to summarize the features that are most important to a business, and to set the expectation of the level of functionality that will be required. If it is critical to your business for a given feature to run on iPads, and unthinkable for order processing to take longer than a minute to take an order over the phone, don’t bury these at question 979 amid 200 other questions that are defined as “mandatory”, give the flavour of the importance of these to the selection process right up front. This will instantly improve your long or short lists of appropriate vendors, as most vendors will disqualify themselves from a sales process if they are lacking a feature you have described as critical – or will at least attempt to persuade you that the feature cannot be critical to you.

If you do not have time to prepare a selection document or even a demo script yourselves, you need to accept some measure of responsibility for the likely inaccuracy of vendor responses to you – and the risk this gives for an unsuccessful implementation. Of course a professional vendor will try to address this area for you, typically by performing a “discovery” process involving a question and answer session to identify important elements of the implementation. Many customers, however, are in a sufficient hurry when they reach the selection stage that they don’t make time for this process, or do not field appropriately qualified staff. Also because customers normally expect this step to be free, and yet busy vendors want to maximize their billable hours, there is pressure on the vendor to minimize this step – again increasing your risks.

Indeed is it even fair for a well-prepared customer who has engaged an external consultant to prepare a crystal-clear document to be charged no less than a poorly-prepared customer who has simply requested a demo and asked that you meet his budget of $50,000 for a 15 user system?

Communication

The summary of all this is that you need to communicate to each possible vendor what it is you are trying to achieve, before you select them. The pressures explained above will lead vendors to prefer to fill gaps in communication during the chargeable implementation, not the unpaid sales process. If they find something at this point handled poorly by their software, who is responsible for the additional cost to address this – always assuming that the solution can be achieved at all with their software? This risk doesn’t exist for the customer that defined their must-have’s during the sales process.

Poor definitions

Most businesses with division of responsibilities between staff will benefit from ERP rather than a simple accounting system. However, the definition of what is required, and the identification of return on investment for specific areas and benefit more generally actually requires a high degree of skill, and is not always done well. If you sense that your documentation of requirements is not well done, you should consider alternative ways of addressing this. Frequently vendors can be persuaded to assist in such documentation as part of the sales process. Alternatively investing further in the initial definition of the project may be your most important investment. As a minimum, get vendors to explain the detail behind their initial quotation, and make sure that you understand what this estimate does and does not cover.

Feature creep

If you fail to define what you want up front, the intentions behind the implementation become a moving target. You may have a budget for the implementation, but this was given against an estimate of the work required before there was any clear understanding of what that work would be. Many vendors will have a clear process for extending the implementation – explaining to you that further work is required to cover additional requirements that surface after the original budget was set. However, regardless of their processes for charging you, it is feasible that you will want functionality to address each new requirement that is uncovered. This is known as “feature creep”, and in a poorly managed implementation, with poor up-front definition, can lead to rampantly exceeding the initial budget and timeframe expectations.

Vendor lack of skills

Each vendor has a range of staff with different skills. A successful implementation generally involves skills such as:

project management – planning what needs to happen when, and who is responsible, managing the consequences of failing to meet deadlines. Project managers control keeping to the budget, or even up-selling additional features – but nonetheless are invested in ensuring that deliverables match customers’ expectations. In an implementation where the customer has set a tight budget, often project management is the area that is squeezed by the vendor. The result is less time spent on planning, and also on analyzing how the project is doing against that plan – with the risk of greater surprises as overruns start to occur.

ERP understanding – generally the most effective ERP implementation consultants have at least two years of experience with ERP (usually much more), as they need to have an understanding of general business processes as well as the software itself. Whatever your view on whether “best practices” really exist in a given industry, it should be clear that the more your consultant has seen of how other businesses do things, the better the chance that they can implement your specific requirements appropriately.

software knowledge – the larger the ERP system, the more training and experience is required to understand it. Typically it takes six months to get a consultant to be profitable, and several years before they really understand the important aspects of a mid-level solution.

development skills – if any level of customization is required, the vendor will need to use developers to write them. Consultants with ERP skills need to write the specification for the developers, and if it is a programming specification then those consultants also need a strong knowledge of the software and even in many cases the development language. The developers may need business skills, particularly if specifications are more business requirement oriented than programming specifications, as well as the ability to create strong solutions within the programming language available.

Add in further skills, such as training and support, and you can see how diverse a good vendor needs to be. The best way to address this area in advance is to get vendors to give details of their intended implementation team. Try to find the stronger resources available to you and ask for them – you could ask any reference customer you visit for specific details on individuals at the company to assist with this, plus don’t forget LinkedIn and other social media as a research tool.

Customer lack of skills

Of course you’re good at what you do! However, if that is not software implementation, you shouldn’t feel guilty if you can’t field staff with sufficient skills to ensure a good implementation. This isn’t always an issue of competence, often it’s more about availability – you’re just too busy. Bear in mind that a successful project will require a meeting of minds: you know about your business but not the software, and the vendor knows the opposite; you need to meet in the middle. Some compromises are possible, some are not:

customer project manager – if you don’t have one person in charge of the project, independent of the vendor, you’re at considerable risk. That person will need significant available time for the project, and ideally should have a good grasp of processes in your business. If you hire them for the project, it is unlikely they will have sufficient understanding of your business – although it can be possible to address this if other members of the project team are given this responsibility

customer project team – you need to make people available to the project who have enough seniority in the business to take quick decisions on points of detail.

If you don’t have people for these roles, you should seriously question whether you can afford to attempt an ERP implementation.

Buy in

This is a surprisingly prevalent issue – if your staff members feel insufficiently invested in the decision to buy a solution, they can often (consciously or otherwise) derail the implementation by lack of proper cooperation. “I’m the person who knows most about purchasing, why wasn’t I consulted? They can’t possibly know about how we authorize requisitions, and if they can’t even be bothered to ask me, why should I tell them…”  You don’t want to find out about these processes during the training, after the design and build.

Consider whose input is really necessary during the implementation, and try to make sure that these people are included within those that see the vendor solutions before you buy them. Give them input to the decision-making process, even if the main weight of the decision is not shared with them.

Training

Last but not least, ensure there is a sufficient investment in training. Make sure you understand the basis on which the vendor has quoted for training – for example will they field their own staff to all training courses or is a train-the-trainer approach being recommended? Will they be performing generic training or courses tailored to your specific requirements? The latter can generally be done faster, but need more preparation time on the part of the vendor. If users end up with insufficient training, adoption is seriously compromised regardless of the quality of the solution.

… and what should happen if a project starts to fail?

Some projects will fail, regardless of the precautions taken. Early warning signs include functionality not working as expected, vendors not meeting deadlines, and staff confused about what they’re doing. I strongly recommend that your first reaction should not be to reach for the phone number of your lawyer, but to go back over everything in this article. This is the time you most need to communicate with your vendor, not draw up battle lines. Even if you do end up fighting your vendor in court (or otherwise!), you are best protecting yourselves by doing everything possible to explain what is the problem – articulate why your expectations are not being met, and what you feel needs to happen. This gives the project the maximum chance of success, and investment in this objective has an order of magnitude higher return on investment than time and money spent with a lawyer chasing your vendor.

Bottom line, at all stages of the implementation it’s in your best interests to invest in high quality communication with your vendor. Tell them what you want in as much detail as you can afford, and give them regular feedback on how they’re doing.

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How to interpret ERP quotations https://www.topprioritysystems.com/erp-selection/how-to-interpret-erp-quotations/ https://www.topprioritysystems.com/erp-selection/how-to-interpret-erp-quotations/#respond Wed, 02 Nov 2016 20:35:48 +0000 https://www.topprioritysystems.com/?p=2238 Quotation documents from ERP and CRM vendors serve two purposes: they provide you with an estimate of the costs of your implementation, but they also give you a good way to evaluate the values and standards of the vendor. How should you analyze this document to maximum benefit? Costs Software, maintenance and support Start with the obvious: how […]

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Quotation documents from ERP and CRM vendors serve two purposes: they provide you with an estimate of the costs of your implementation, but they also give you a good way to evaluate the values and standards of the vendor. How should you analyze this document to maximum benefit?

Costs

Software, maintenance and support

Start with the obvious: how much are they quoting for the project? The least problematic component is for the software. If it’s priced on an up-front basis, you have an absolute figure that can be compared directly to that provided by other vendors. Alternatively it may be priced on a subscription basis – in which case it often includes maintenance, support and even hosting. Be careful to determine which of these are included, in order to attempt like-for-like comparisons.

Most companies that are comparing subscription to up-front software costs use three to five year total costs for the comparison.  For example, one vendor offers a software cost of $100,000 and annual maintenance and support of $22,000, whereas a second vendor offers a subscription of $4,000 per month. On a three year total cost comparison the first vendor will end up costing $166,000 compared to $144,000 for the second vendor. On a five year comparison the numbers are $210,000 versus $240,000. The longer the comparison period selected, the more likely it is that subscription will be higher than up-front costs.

Strictly speaking, looking at total costs in this way can only be an approximation, and you should really use Discounted Cash Flow calculations to make these comparisons. If you are just comparing differently timed costs, you should reflect the value of money to you: for example, if you are in a fast-growing industry with high profitability, having cash to reinvest is likely to be more important to you than for a cash-rich company with little chance to change turnover based on investment levels.

Maintenance covers the right to use the software, and to access updates – although frequently there will be a hidden or expressed cost for the services associated with the update. Support includes access to experts to resolve questions, and can come in many forms – there is a huge difference between support only available from a web portal of other customers versus a service level agreement where a vendor agrees to provide an answer to support within a given timeframe.

Hardware/hosting

The vendor may be quoting for hardware, particularly the cost of the server. Alternatively they may offer a monthly cost for hosting. Again be careful to establish what is included in the cost: is the server dedicated or shared, are other software solutions offered within the monthly cost or other costs (such as MS SQL Server licences), which managed services are included (typically only local backup, sometimes none), and what kind of security is offered, if any? What is promised in the event of hardware failure – are there clear procedures for what happens next?

Services

Comparing services costs between vendors is notoriously difficult, for several reasons:

Different services – each vendor may have a different view on what services are most effective. Typical examples of services that will not always be offered include user-specific documentation, business process re-engineering advice and even forms design. The clearer you can be in defining the project up front, the easier it should become to make the comparisons between service levels – you can, for example, tell vendors which services you expect them to quote for.

Division of responsibilities – a similar point to the last, with the same solution. Vendors can make different assumptions on who will do each piece of work – for example, will forms design be done with a training course on forms followed by company staff doing the work, or by the vendor designing all the necessary forms. The same considerations apply to data migration. Clearly if you want to prioritize your staff as much as possible to their existing roles, then you should be specific in telling vendors to cover these areas themselves.

Complexity of solution – implementing SAP, for example, entails significantly more complexity and therefore a higher service level than implementing Quickbooks. The scale of the solutions is different, including the number of features in each area, how long it takes someone to learn, and how many people are required to run administration features to support them. Even when comparing systems aimed at similar sized companies, there can be such differences of complexity. How can you tell, however, if a lower training cost in one quotation results from lower complexity or from a vendor cutting corners? There is no absolutely clear answer to this, but you should take into account the following factors:

  • during the demo, form your own view on the relative complexity of the solution versus the other solutions you are seeing
  • look in the quotation document for references to the level of services being offered. Vendors will frequently volunteer whether this is a “lean” implementation to meet your budget versus a rich implementation to ensure success, or somewhere in between
  • in the absence of clear written guidance on this point, ask the vendor for their range of implementation costs, from lean to rich
  • set a clear guide on what type of implementation you require when providing the briefing.

Your “ambition level” – if you list 50 reports that you believe you need, most vendors would form their own view on how many of those 50 are covered by the costs they are providing, based on an assumption of reasonableness. If you mean all 50, you need to tell the vendor to quote for all 50.

Travel and other expenses

Don’t forget to get an estimate of all other costs that will be incurred, including travel, accommodation and daily allowances. If these are expressed as per day figures, you will need to get an estimate of the number of days the vendor will provide staff on site.

Time and materials versus fixed price

It’s pretty rare to see fixed price offers, and generally they are worth considerably more than their time and materials counterparts. The average overrun on ERP projects is probably around 15-20%, so this gives a hint of the possible saving. However, if the project is not tightly defined at the time the offer is made, the scope for misunderstanding of what the offer covers is high. Read the offer document carefully to understand what the reseller intends to be covered. If it is still not clear, both you and the reseller would be well advised to work further on honing the definition, as otherwise the risk of project failure based on unmatched expectations is extremely high.

Hidden costs

It is not the vendor’s role to spell out to you the real costs of your implementation. For example, by far the highest cost of the implementation is not the software or even the implementation services, but rather the cost of labour of your staff. This can be seen very simply with training: for every hour of reseller labour paid for, you are paying for salaries for each of your staff in the room.

Use the following, rough rules of thumb to determine if your expectations are in the right ballpark. Industry research suggests that software (based on up-front costs or a three year payback) costs on average around 1% of the total sales your company makes in a year – suggesting that an average company pays somewhere around $10,000 in software for every $1m they’re selling per year. The total project cost is estimated at five times this figure, with hidden costs including internal labour, third party software and web services, hardware of various kinds, networking infrastructure, and all kinds of vendor services that pop up down the line if the vendor is less than clear up front.

What does the supporting document tell you?

The way a vendor communicates his proposal to you provides a wealth of clues about how the implementation will go. For example, if you receive an email with little more than a handful of figures (the costs for software, maintenance and support, implementation and possibly hosting), you have to ask yourselves why the vendor is communicating so little, and whether there is any likelihood that this limitation on communication will not repeat in the implementation itself.

First, how clearly do you understand what will happen during the implementation? Has the cost for services been broken down into constituent elements, such as project management, analysis, specification, build, installation, configuration, data migration, training, testing and go live handholding? These will give you the measures to make a comparison of the true complexity of the solution, and conversely if you have not been given such a breakdown, why not? Do you know how much of the work will be completed on site? Do you know where responsibility will be given back to your company to complete certain tasks? Do you know how long the work is expected to take (duration, not the quantity of hours)?

Next, what assumptions has the documented cited in arriving at the cost figures? What level of experience are they expecting of your staff? What type of involvement is expected?

Note that ERP is all about processes, and all about details. The way that the project is described to you is an indicator of the quality of implementation you can expect – of the quality of communication, of the courtesy in wanting you to understand what will happen, of the desire to complete a successful implementation and end up with a happy customer. Find out also who was involved in the preparation of the document, and whether they will be involved in your implementation.

This last point hints at one of the more important issues. Ask who will make up your implementation team – determine what level of experience each person has. Different components of work get different levels of benefit from greater experience: tasks that require less experience to be done well include forms preparation, data migration and training against a standard script, whereas tasks that benefit from greater experience include all types of analysis, configuration, non-standard training, and go live handholding.

Last, but not least, what is the overall level of professionalism of the document, and what kind of tone does it set? If a vendor is careless in their sales pitch to you, what do you think is the chance of them upping their game when they come to implement? Remember that the skills that a vendor brings to an implementation, combined with their methodology, is more important than the quality of the software if your implementation is to be successful.

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How to tell if Cloud ERP/CRM is right for your company https://www.topprioritysystems.com/erp-selection/how-to-tell-if-cloud-erpcrm-is-right-for-your-company/ https://www.topprioritysystems.com/erp-selection/how-to-tell-if-cloud-erpcrm-is-right-for-your-company/#respond Wed, 20 Jul 2016 21:48:13 +0000 https://www.topprioritysystems.com/?p=2201 One of the most hyped technology developments in the last few years is the rise and rise of the “Cloud”. Industry pundits are queuing up to provide charts forecasting the growth in this phenomenon, and when we’ll all give up on in-house systems. But do you understand all the implications, and is a Cloud-based Enterprise […]

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Cloud vs On Premise
One of the most hyped technology developments in the last few years is the rise and rise of the “Cloud”. Industry pundits are queuing up to provide charts forecasting the growth in this phenomenon, and when we’ll all give up on in-house systems. But do you understand all the implications, and is a Cloud-based Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) or Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system right for your company?

 

First, let’s take apart what people mean by Cloud in this context, and how it relates to the term Software as a Service (SaaS).

 

All of the following are potentially components of Cloud-based solutions and SaaS (although some IT vendors are lazy, and only intend one or a handful of these to be covered by their definition):

 

Software application located on an internet server – this is one of the biggest implications of Cloud computing, as it takes most of the IT support headache away from your business. The server is owned by a third-party (except in rare cases), who also provides all of the networking infrastructure to access the server (routers, firewalls etc). You don’t have to buy or upgrade hardware, but perhaps more importantly you probably won’t need in-house system administration resources simply by letting go of the server ownership.

 

System administration of software and hardware provided by a third-party – typically the reseller of the cloud software also provides system management not just of the server hardware and infrastructure, but also of the software. Again this reduces the skill set and level of IT resource required by your company. If you already have IT staff, you may be less anxious to outsource this component, since again you will be paying for it within the total fees – and some cloud vendors will make it possible for you to retain responsibility in this area.

 

Payment by monthly subscription rather than up-front cost plus annual maintenance and support – before the advent of SaaS, the ERP and CRM industries had pretty much standardized on selling software up-front, and charging customers annually for a maintenance and support contract. Then Cloud vendors came along, and simplified everything into a single monthly payment, potentially covering software, maintenance (in other words free upgrades), support, hosting and system administration.

 

Software is browser-based – not perhaps a critical component of SaaS, but the alternative tends to require software installation on each user’s machine, which undermines part of the ease of use that potentially frees you from requiring IT resources.

 

Multi-tenanting – again not an essential part of Cloud/SaaS, but many Cloud vendors are built on this model. Each individual server, which is hosted by the vendor, tends to support multiple customer instances. This allows vendors economies of scale in controlling customer implementations, for example being able to update every implementation on a single server simultaneously, right up to every implementation in a given country or region.

 

Check through the issues below to help you properly evaluate which possible benefits and risks of SaaS apply to your company:

 

Existing IT staff and skills – if you do not already have IT staff, think carefully about who will look after your implementation if it’s in-house (“on premise”). Non-Cloud vendors are starting to become cleverer in filling this gap, so it’s not purely a question of how the software is delivered. You may also hear Cloud vendors claim that browser solutions are more intuitive than the alternatives – however, there is nothing inherent to a browser that substantiates this claim, and I recommend reaching your own conclusion by seeing a demo from all your shortlisted vendors.

 

Security – oddly this is more often seen as a risk of Cloud computing, rather than the probable benefit that I believe it to be. Bottom line, you need to compare the security that your own company is able to create, versus the security that industry specialists create for their own company, which is completely dependent on its reputation for security. In the case of companies operating across multiple sites or with remote users, the difference is likely moot: in both cases the server will be open to the internet.

 

Backup and disaster recovery – similarly the routines for backing up your data, and recovery in the event of a disaster of any kind, will on average be stronger when provided by a Cloud vendor than when provided by a private company with no special IT experience. How do you rate your resources compared to the rest of the market?

 

Customization – the concept of multi-tenancy pushes towards a standard approach for each implementation, and so many Cloud vendors have limited or no customization options. Look carefully at the toolset that Cloud vendors offer for tailoring. In my experience, pretty much all companies above about 10 users benefit from some measure of specificity in their implementation, whether it comes from simplifying screens, renaming fields, writing tailored reports, or more complex adaptation of logic and particularly workflow within the software – and so understanding how this can be delivered is important.

 

Platform-native software – browsers are touted as running on all platforms, from Windows, Mac and Linux to tablets and smartphones. However, each application tends to be written for one platform, and then work is required to make it work on others. Since each operating system offers a different user experience, with different standard keystrokes, a consistent interface across multiple operating systems can lose the intuitiveness that follows from an application behaving the way that you expect it to behave based on your experience of a specific platform. Simple examples of this include whether you can Print and Save using expected keystroke combinations, and whether screens resize automatically for smaller devices. A more complex example relates to how the software interacts with other, “standard” software – for example, since MS Office versions are different on each platform, whether the Cloud solution readily outputs data to Excel, allows forms design in Word, or allows sync’ing of email records and calendars with Outlook if you are running on a Mac.

 

Data ownership – technically, your data is owned by you, but the key question is what access you get to your data on cancellation of the contract. Some cloud vendors provide data in formats that are extremely difficult to reuse in other systems.

 

Downtime – what guarantees will the Cloud vendor provide for availability of the server? How is this expressed? Don’t be fooled by 99.9% guarantees – do the maths. If your system is not available for 0.1% of the time, and this happens to coincide with working hours, this could be almost 9 hours of time per year – how will you react if your company is completely at a standstill for this length of time. More than likely this will happen as several shorter instances – how painful will it be for you each time it happens? Also be careful exactly how these uptime guarantees are worded – often they specifically exempt “planned maintenance”, meaning that if the vendor deliberately causes the downtime then these hours are not counted towards the guarantee.

 

Internet downtime – usually this is your responsibility, separate from server downtime. Best to build a failover internet solution for this event.

 

Hybrid model – if there’s any chance your circumstances will change and you want to take back control of your server, this is only possible with a minority of cloud vendors. Check in advance if this option is available to you

 

Interfacing – what tools exist for connecting to 3rd party solutions? Do these need to be hosted? Remember that several Cloud vendors have their own data centers, and they’re not particularly open to hosting any third-party solutions. If you have an existing eCommerce solution you want to retain, a third-party estimating or billing application, or something like this, you may find yourself ruling out some of the more obvious Cloud vendors quickly.

 

Faster installation – Cloud vendors sometimes point to faster implementation times as a result of not having to install client software, and simpler installation at the server side as well. This one is easy to evaluate – just look at the total hours of services quoted by the reseller in comparison to other vendors.

 

Anytime, anywhere access – aside from maintenance and downtime, the server will be continually available anytime that you have internet access. Although the interface won’t always be pretty, depending on vendor, this access should generally also be through tablets and smartphones, accessing from anywhere in the world. On-premise solutions that are fast over the internet may well deliver this benefit as well, simply by your using a public IP address on the server.

 

Costs and cash flow – there can be cost and/or tax savings, based on the difference between an up-front investment in hardware versus a monthly subscription in a cloud service. The cloud vendor gets economies of scale by re-using some elements of hardware across multiple customers, and you might as well if the vendor passes these savings back to you in their pricing models. More obviously, paying for anything monthly rather than in a single, up-front sum should suit those companies that have clear plans for any money they can access – if you can reinvest cash in your business and earn a positive return on it, it’s better to have more money up front.

 

Generally the best way to compare monthly subscriptions against up-front vendors is to look at a three year cash flow – for those companies offering both options, the numbers tend to be comparable over this kind of time period. For example, software that costs $50,000 on an up-front model will typically have annual maintenance and support of somewhere around $12,500, and so the total three year cost is around $87,500. The same company might well offer monthly subscription at around $2,500 per month, and so the three year cost (36 months) is $90,000.

 

Dynamic scalability – the idea that the vendor can immediately bring on stream additional, necessary resources as your implementation grows, such as a larger server or more bandwidth. Generally it will be quicker and less painful for you to be growing when managed in the cloud, but check the detail of what each vendor offers.

 

Choice – this one you need to be careful about in managing your expectations. Some Cloud vendors make a big thing about your ability to switch them off if you’re not happy (end the monthly subscription, just move over to another competitor). Read the small print before believing this: some vendors require an annual sign up, even though it is paid monthly, so you can’t get off their platform immediately Also data can be provided out of the cloud system in hard to use formats. But most importantly, the process of changing ERP system IS painful, there are costs and risks of changing, and this is not something you want to be doing regularly

 

In summary, much depends on your circumstances, and your attitude to money and data ownership. If you’re growing fast, and/or already have problems with your IT support, outsourcing the issue to a Cloud vendor makes sense. Also monthly subscription makes sense when you have a strong alternative use for money – if you are confident you can earn over the market return on investment for anything you do. If you already have strong IT staff and an investment in IT infrastructure you don’t want to write off, or are particularly sensitive to security and ownership of data you may prefer to keep your implementation on-site. If you’re slotting in ERP and/or CRM to existing applications such as eCommerce, you may have fewer choices.

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