Read more on "How are you using your ERP System?" »
ERP systems have become an essential part of any growing business. Here is what companies and CIOs need to keep in mind: applications are fundamentally different depending on how you use them. Below are three different ways that applications are used by businesses. Being aware of these key differences can assist in the development organizational strategies!
Systems of record: These applications generally use the fundamentals, such as accounting, invoicing, inventory, order management, supplier management, customer record, etc. They manage critical data and support core transactional processes. Systems of record may be standardized but can also be customized to unique company practices. These applications should be considered as capital assets that support and optimize the core functionalities of the business.
Systems of differentiation: These are the business applications unique to each business, where the know-how makes a huge difference in a business’ ability to attract and retain customers. These systems are typically customized ERP platforms or third party applications such as Sage X3′s Safe X3 architecture. They are subject to frequent design changes and hold the differentiation capability to adapt to evolving business needs.
Systems of innovation: The new “mobile, web-based, video-on-demand, socially aware” world offers businesses incredible opportunities for growth. CIOs need to respond with systems of innovation, while connecting with existing systems of records and differentiation. Systems of innovation are generally web-based, highly collaborative systems specially designed to handle unstructured data. These systems frequently leverage cloud capabilities, connect to Twitter, online video, and Facebook, and accommodate new devices, dashboards or portals. Must growing organizations now buy three different applications to manage their business? Definitely not! Every once in a while, new software is introduced that integrates all three applications into one holistic solution. A good example is Sage ERP X3: it provides executives with cost-effective tools that empower them to build around their business model and manage all three layers in their system. It uniquely benefits businesses by enabling them to manage their application portfolio strategy and funding, prioritize business growth, and leverage exciting new technologies – all in one convenient ERP solution.
If you have any questions about ERPs or Sage ERP X3, you are welcome to ask me or any of the solution advisors at TGO Consulting. We’d be glad to provide you with our insight!
Download ”Top 5 Tips for Selecting the Right ERP Solution”
Read more on "BI, CPM and Budgeting Trends for 2014" »
The Charted Professional Accountants (CPA) Magazine has just released their BI, CPM and Budgeting survey for 2014.
This survey looks at the leading Business Intelligence (BI) and Corporate Performance Management (CPM) solutions, including our very own True SkyTMPlanning, Budgeting & Forecasting.
According to the CPA, the key BI, CPM and budgeting trends for 2014 include:
In memory technology so that the numbers can be crunched a lot more quickly
Dashboards that are connected to the underlying data so that you can drill down to the transactions
Creating an unstructured interface where the user can easily modify the information using BI
Big Data is becoming more important to make better decisions
As a reseller of True Sky, TGO was asked for their thoughts on trends, unique features and costs.
“TGO believes organizations should not go through the budgeting and forecasting exercise once a year. Therefore, True Sky product offers rolling forecasts and “what-if” scenarios, and allows more individuals to be involved in the budgeting process.”
Read more on "Excel Add-Ins – Can Excel Walk My Dog Yet?" »
The original version of this article was written by Grantley Smith, TGO Solution Advisor.
I love Excel, and always have. If you’re an advanced user, however, you may find its shortcomings leading you to look for a more expensive point solution. Not so fast! Here is why you shouldn’t leave quite yet…
Microsoft Excel has existed since the very first version was released for Macintosh in 1985, with version “15″ released just last year. Microsoft has spent impressive development dollars on Excel over its 27 year history, adding functionality with every release. We have seen significantly more visual cues and representation tools being added, making Excel the simplest medium to deliver informative graphical dashboards of information (based on data from nearly any source).
While Excel is extremely powerful in its own right, Microsoft has also recently developed some highly functional add-ins for their own product; these can be downloaded for free from the Microsoft site. Some of these add-ins have some additional prerequisites like SQL server access to enhance their capabilities, but several of them require nothing more than Excel itself. Below is a list with a few useful ones I’d like to show you, based on Excel 2010. Here are some examples of free Excel add-ins and what they deliver for additional functionality:
1. Analysis ToolPak – Normally installed by default but not activated, the Analsis ToolPak can generally just be turned on under the Options settings. The ToolPak adds a number of analytical functions to the Data ribbon menu under a button called “Data Analysis”. Some of the functions that are included:
• Histogram • Correlation • Regression • Moving Average
In addition, several new formulas are added to the Formulas tab under the dropdowns.
2. Data Mining Tools – This add-in requires a prerequisite: the ability to see a SQL server (version depending on your version of Excel). The data mining tools empower Excel to perform high complexity analytics, as well as predictive modeling against Excel datasets from any source. Useful features include:
• Analyze Key Influencers • Forecast • Highlight Exceptions • Fill From Example
The toolbars added to Excel include powerful modeling and data extraction tools, combined with several features including enabling Excel to perform actions like outcome forecasting based on examples or predictive forecasting based on patterns.
3. PowerPivot – One of Microsoft’s most interesting free releases as of late. Its first noteworthy capability is that in addition to the traditional Microsoft datasources (Excel, SSAS, SSRS, Azure, flat file) it can connect to multiple non-SQL data sources and process millions of records in almost no time into Excel – these include:
• Oracle • Sybase • Informix • DB2 • …You can even integrate multiple data sources together into one dataset for even more meaningful and powerful sets of analytical data
Once you’re in PowerPivot, millions of rows can be reported, charted, graphed; Key Performance Indicators can be configured and reviewed across all columns and rows. With SharePoint also installed, you can use powerful graphical representation and manipulation tools to interact with your Excel PowerPivot dataset in a web-based environment accessible to others.
There are more Excel add-ins than I can count, as a quick Google search will confirm. Many of these add-ins are free, and functionality ranges from broad to very specific. The ones I’ve described above are different because they actually come from Microsoft, developed in-house and given away to enhance how Excel works; they also eliminate the need to resort to more powerful, expensive point solutions. I love Excel, and always have. I have always upheld that you can make it do anything, and these kinds of add-ins continue to get me closer to making that statement a reality.
This article was originally written by Grantley Smith, TGO Solution Advisor, to appear in the CMA Ontario’s Monthly E-Newsletter, The Leading Indicator. “The Future of ERP” is part 2 of 2 in the series: The Changing Role of Finance. To read part 1, “From Budgeting to Forecasting”, click here.
The Future of ERP
A bit of history… Looking back at how technology has evolved, you could easily conclude that the last 20 years have been an information revolution. The Internet has radically shifted how we live, work and play. The telephone, once revolutionary for its voice calling capabilities, is now a mobile device that can handle everything from bank transactions to home security to addictive new games.
My four year old enters my office and tries to move the icons on my iPad with his finger, deciding his parent’s “computer is broken!” when nothing happens (thanks to the invention of the touchscreen). A wealth of social media tools have enabled us to inform the whole world (or at least those who are interested) of where we are and what we are doing – anytime, anywhere, to anyone, on any device (with pictures, video and even live communication!).
Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) appears to have been left behind. The last advancement in ERP was when I loaded Windows for Workgroups on my Intel 386 and installed Lotus 2.4 WYSIWYG (from 3.5” floppy disks). As with my 386, there was a time when ERP was cutting edge. However, here is the issue: while the rest of the tech world has transformed impressively fast, ERP has not. It is Windows for Workgroups operating in 2014. In general, my save button is STILL an image of a floppy disk – technology that was already becoming out-of-date over a decade ago.
What went wrong?
Why hasn’t ERP progressed with the rest of technology? In all honesty, the move to personal computing actually took ERP backward for a while. Developers accustomed to massive mainframe systems and dumb terminals suddenly had to deal with graphical user interfaces, connectivity issues and local processing, and thus had no capacity to advance the application. Back in the 1980s or even 1990s, one could argue that even the sheer cost of memory and storage space also constrained its evolution; the cost of the power necessary to run more sophisticated functions was prohibitive. Computer performance was also a challenge to overcome, as application demands surpassed processor speeds.
So, how can we explain the lack of progress over the past decade? Storage space is nearly free. Performance is off the charts – we can do things in memory today that were unimaginable a decade ago. As for scalability – Seti@home, the search for extra-terrestrial life, has basically put that argument to rest. The essential problem with ERP today is that it has ignored the huge change in how information is created, stored and accessed. We are no longer in a client-server only world. Executives want (and need) access to ERP information from their smartphones and iPads, as well as the ability to manipulate it in real time. To evolve ERP into the 21st century, I believe three areas need to be addressed: accessibility, intelligence, and interactivity.
Accessibility: ERP needs to be accessible when I want it, from where I want it (whether I’m inside or outside the corporate network), 0n the device I am currently using. Most ERP work today requires users to sit in front of a workstation, one with the necessary software installed. In order to make ERP more useful for more people, this needs to change. ERP must be unchained from the network. It should be web-enabled as well as browser and device agnostic. My ERP access ought to be no different from my email – accessible from my phone, tablet, or laptop – at any time, from anywhere.
Intelligence: Think about the last smartphone or tablet you bought. Did you need a manual? I’m guessing not. As already mentioned, my four year old can use my iPad and he definitely hasn’t taken a training course. On the other side is ERP – the last bastion of manuals. ERP is fantastic for list creation – generating accurate and detailed lists. Sadly, lists aren’t very exciting to look at. I want the ability to access my ERP information in a dashboard – one I’ve built, displaying key indicators I’m interested in. What’s more, I want to be able to do it without consulting a manual.
Interactivity: ERP is not very interactive, nor is it particularly effective in communicating information to its users. Essentially, you launch the application, you look for things, you find them and you leave. This is “pull” technology – like pulling teeth, it is not very pleasant to use. ERP needs to be smarter in how it interacts with users, pushing information to them based on pre-set criteria. There are hundreds of applications that make it easy to set up alerts (a good example is web- and email-based www.IFTTT.com – If This Then That). This premise should also hold true for ERP. For instance, I may want to be notified if a specific payment doesn’t arrive as scheduled. This is pivotal information – I shouldn’t need to be logged into the ERP system to see it. Today’s ERP is backwards: an example of an application ruling its users. That’s not right. People should rule applications, and not the other way around.
The Next Generation
The next generation of ERP users will have grown up on iPads and smartphones. The concept of reading a manual will be as foreign to them as going to the library to do research. The next generation will want the benefits of a technology to be self-evident. Users of ERP know how useful and powerful the technology could be, but they also know how frustrating it can be to work with it. It is time that ERP joins the rest of technology in the 21st century and upgrades its capabilities across the board. Once it has done this, not only will it be easier to use, but far more people will be able to benefit from it. After all, isn’t that why companies buy software?
For more information, download the free eBook “The Future of ERP” here.
This article was written by Grantley Smith, TGO Solution Advisor, and originally appeared in the CMA Ontario’s Monthly E-Newsletter, The Leading Indicator. “From Budgeting to Forecasting” is part 1 of 2 in the series: The Changing Role of Finance.
From Budgeting to Forecasting
When I was doing actual accounting every day, I remember dreading budget season. It is like the opposite of Christmas – you know it is coming and prepare for it for ages – but don’t get any presents at the end! In fact in a company that ran on a calendar year end, it even ended right around Christmas. And talking to some of our clients, it hasn’t changed much in the last 20 years. Yikes! However, the role of the CFO has changed and there are many more demands and expectations with no more time added to the day.
CFOs are facing increasing pressure to not only provide historical information but also use that information to design and build crystal balls. What if we expand our operations globally? What is going to happen tomorrow instead of yesterday? What if we do something differently? Accordingly, we have seen the start of a dramatic transformation in the role of the CFO within organizations of all sizes, moving from strictly number crunching to becoming a strategic partner in planning, budgeting, and forecasting.
So what do you do if you don’t own a crystal ball?
As anyone involved in the budgeting and planning processes knows, spreadsheets are king when it comes to accounting. They are used primarily for data collection, consolidation and distribution. But due to the inordinate amount of time needed from an administrative perspective, their use is limited. They have to be sent to managers, filled out, returned and compiled. Heaven forbid there is a question about a specific number in a spreadsheet (and there always is), because that just starts the process all over again. Not to mention the need to organize all supporting documents. Controlling the process is a fulltime job. The result is that accounting and finance departments spend 80% of their time collecting data and only 20% thinking about what the data means to the business.
Getting your head back into the clouds…
Fortunately there are software solutions available today to help finance simplify and speed up many of the time consuming processes they face, and these solutions are not as cost prohibitive as they were in the past. No longer are mid-sized and larger businesses limited to buying and installing massive and technically complex budgeting systems. There are less cumbersome, but extremely powerful solutions available (including our very own True Sky!). These tools are designed to simplify and reduce the administrative functions associated with planning which in turn gives everyone, from the CFO on down, more time to think, evaluate, and analyze the data. A process that in the past may have taken two weeks can now be done in a few hours. CFOs and other senior financial managers can now spend 80% of their time thinking and only 20% of their time collecting.
So how do I do that? (the technical bit)
Excel is still the best thing that ever happened to accountants. We all know that we can make Excel do anything we want it to. However, that is as much a bad thing as a good thing, because accountants also like control. Creating 500 spreadsheets and sending them out to department heads is the opposite of control and pulling it all back together at the end for one rolled up budget is a nightmare. This is where an actual budgeting and planning solution starts making sense. The starting point for any good budgeting and planning solution is templates.
For our 500 spreadsheets example, we helped one of our clients replace 500 manually-created spreadsheets with 25 dynamic templates with all the necessary data calculations and security. This provides some consistency for the users who need to provide data for the budget managers. Our solution also allows users to embed notes into spreadsheet cells, including qualitative facts to back up numbers. This reduces the back and forth between department managers as to how they arrived at the numbers. Efficiencies in the budgeting and planning process help save time so CFOs can now shift their focus to strategic thought. They can delve into “What-If scenarios,” changing any part of the budget and looking at the results. Adjusting annual numbers in the past often meant dividing a number by 12, which totaled nicely at year-end but at no point in the year would the numbers actually be accurate.
Today, managers can spread and adjust annual numbers automatically based on seasonality and get accurate comparatives throughout the year. The administrative portion of the planning and budgeting process is a concern of the past if you have the right tools. By using the technology tools available, CFOs can now spend less time doing and more time thinking. These tools essentially become the crystal ball: more accurate information so that you can better see into the future and, most importantly, a CFO who is better prepared to tackle the challenges associated with the planning, budgeting and forecasting process. This year I won’t be dreading budgeting season. No, I’ll be dreading the trips to the mall in search of the perfect gift. Great.
Outgrown spreadsheets? Learn how a Corporate Performance Management (CPM) solution can save your company time and money!