Are some ERP suppliers crooks?

I recently read a very interesting post entitled “Are Some ERP Consulting Firms Crooks?” (see article here). It was aimed at those consultants who are employed, ostensibly, to provide arm’s length, independent advice to businesses but who shamelessly take advantage of their client’s limited knowledge. People who are looking for help to choose and install a new ERP system find themselves conned as projects take longer and cost much more than originally stated.

 

But many of the points ring true for the scenario where the client is looking to do their own system selection and invites a few ERP suppliers to tender. In such a situation, the customer is relying on the potential provider to be upfront and honest, and offer useful advice. Clearly, they will also attempt to sell their system, but acting in a professional, consultative manner is a great way to win business.

 

Sadly, I often see the opposite happen. There are the resellers who field their best consultant to charm the customer and present the product brilliantly; and post-order, for those consultants never to be seen again. Or those who offer a terrific annual support rate which locks the customer in for 3 years – and only then does the customer discover that the support isn’t that great; and seems to come with lots of options for you to be charged extra!

 

However, the customers themselves are often their own worst enemy. Not so long ago, I was asked to tender for a system. The proposed final solution was going to be such a compromise that I felt compelled to write a summary of the likely failings and suggest that they reconsider their approach. But no, the Director was adamant that this was how he wanted it to be. Result – a very expensive system that delivered only a fraction of its capabilities. We, by the way, politely withdrew from the bid.

 

What’s the lesson to be drawn? In my view, references are everything. Whether it’s a consultant assisting the business to implement or a supplier offering up advice on how they would satisfy your requirements, speak to their past clients. And, one other thing.. another reason that the article branded some ERP consultants crooks was their ability to put forward ‘tame’ clients who would confirm how great they performed. So, don’t just accept the first reference given, check out a few.

Advertisements

How to Select an ERP System and Not Get Badly Stung in the Process!

A couple of years ago, out of sheer frustration at the number of prospect companies who had chosen to proceed on a clearly misguided software acquisition path (in my humble opinion and clearly not at all sour grapes!), I put together a ‘Guide for Business Advisers’.

 

I hoped that this guide would help many avoid the worst or most obvious mistakes. It has subsequently been utilised not simply as a guide for those terming themselves business advisers such as IT consultants, the local enterprise company’s ERP expert or a business’s accountants; but also as a useful set of hints for the poor sod in the prospect company who has been handed the poisoned chalice of finding the next ERP system. We’ve met everyone from the CEO or CFO down to the new graduate given this as his or her work project!

 

Things that had inspired me to write the guide included finding a prospective client who had committed to an unbreakable 3 year support contract with a supplier on the basis of a single presentation. It cost a five figure sum to release them from the contract but was worth it. More commonly, we find a prospective  client fails to carry out some basic due diligence and ends up purchasing from a company which looks great on the web and turns out to be no more than ‘one man and a dog up a close’ (as we say in Scotland).

 

Over the next few blogs, I plan to summarise the contents so that readers may have an insight into a process which I have observed in my 30 years operating on both sides of the fence – as IT consultant advising clients when I was in the accountancy profession as a ‘Computer Audit Manager’ and more recently trying to be as objective as possible while selling ERP systems on behalf of IT companies.

 

In the next blog, we’ll start with the ‘Selection Process’ and subsequent blogs will consider ‘Ballpark Costs’, ‘Implementation’, ‘Things You (or your Client’) Should Check Out’ and ‘New Technologies Worth Considering’.

 

As the guide was originally published in February 2011, this affords me a great opportunity to update the Guide and, who knows, have a runaway eBook success on Amazon!

Time to Change? Why? NAV2013, that’s why.

I was thinking about buying a new car. I went along and looked at a few and, to the salesman’s obvious excitement, even took a test drive. All was going well until I told my wife. “And exactly why are you considering a new car?” asks she-who-knows-me-too-well. And that’s when it clicked. Why? No REAL reason.

I could argue that new cars offer fantastic fuel economy and that will be a terrific saving. But would it compensate for suddenly paying out a few hundred pounds a month on a rapidly depreciating asset? No, no way, no chance. Is there something wrong with my current car? Again, the answer is no. It does everything I want it to do and shows no sign of not doing everything I want anytime soon. Maybe I could have argued there might be a big repair coming down the line, so better get something new now. But again, since I’m not actually paying anything other than the usual – tax, fuel, insurance and servicing – I could legitimately say I’m saving for that possible rainy day. So, no new car.. yet!

And that’s the same issue facing software companies as they try and persuade the users that it’s time to change their software. Whether that’s to upgrade what they have to the latest and greatest or to switch allegiance altogether. For the majority out there, there’s no real incentive.

When was the last time we decided that the double entry bookkeeping system was outmoded and needed a refresh? Nope, I can’t recall. The fundamentals of accounting software have remained unchanged since Luca Pacioli came up with the concept in the 15th century.

So, today’s updates to accounting software are all focussed around the ‘interface’ – how you connect with the system and how it connects with your operating environment. Microsoft have a huge advantage here when it comes to developing their Dynamics ERP range since they ‘own’ the desktop, the server, the database and slew of office products that most of us use (with apologies to the many ‘open source’ fans out there).

Hence, when Dynamics NAV2013 came out last year, Microsoft made a few announcements around the functionality changes – things like integrating purchases to projects, assemblies and purchases integrating to jobs, adding subcontracts into manufacturing – but the real focus was elsewhere.

NAV2013 Role Tailored Client

Suddenly, we really did have a product that worked the same whether in-house, on the web or deployed through SharePoint. The interface to MS Office included the ability to easily open up your data in Excel and then refresh it. The role-tailored client is fast and incorporates a range of really nice charts including cash flow linked directly to your open sales and purchase invoices. What’s not to like?

See the video here – http://turnkey-group.com/business-software/

Is it enough? Time will tell. Recent presentations have had normally jaded audiences sit up and take notice. This is something different. These are changes that are worth upgrading to or switching allegiance for.

Now, all I need to do is persuade the motor industry to achieve such a step change in technology and I might be persuaded. Who knows, a whole new driver interface that lets me navigate while asleep and wakes me up on arrival… with a nice cup of tea?

Somehow though I think I’m stuck with my current car for the foreseeable future..

 

NAV2013 – What’s New in Reporting?

I’m grateful to Mike Glue at JustFood ERP who put together a handy summary of what’s available in NAV2013 so far as reporting is concerned. There are changes from the ‘classic’ environment but partners and users shouldn’t be too worried. Microsoft NAV 2013 will have hundreds of reports available out of the box.

Here are some common questions and answers.

Are There Any Built-In Reports?

Yes. There are built-in “native” reports that can be modified as required. These reports can be manually printed and/or be utilized within business logic. The types of reports included:

  • Documents (invoice, pick sheet, cheques, etc.)
  • Analysis (sales by customer, inventory valuation, trial balance, etc.) reports
  • Processing report – one that provides functionality but is not necessarily printable.

Is the report structure different?

No, it is unchanged. A typical report requires two pieces to be developed:

  • The data model – where you define the tables, fields, and business logic required for getting the data out of the database for the report to use.
  • The layout – responsible for the visual display that the report shows on screen/paper. (Processing reports do not require the layout piece to be developed as there is no visual output.)

Do I need to choose Classic or Role Tailored Client (RTC) report layout?

No. The Classic Client has been removed with NAV 2013, so when developing the layout for a report in NAV 2013, the only option is to create a Role Tailored Client (RTC) layout.

Is Visual Studio used to develop a report?

Yes. Visual Studio 2010 is required in order to create the layout for a report in NAV 2013. You can use the free version of Visual Studio 2010, but you must use the web developer edition (Visual Web Developer 2010 Express). Visual Studio 2010 is the only version supported currently by NAV 2013.

I’ve been creating RTC reports for a while; is there anything new for me to learn?

Yes. While the data model is still defined in the Object Designer, the way that data model is defined has been completely changed. The interface for defining the tables and fields that the report will use is an all new structure. From my own observations, though, it appears that the learning curve is not too steep for someone already familiar with building reports in Microsoft NAV.

Can I upgrade all of my existing reports to the new reports?

Maybe. If your existing reports were created with a RTC layout, then there is an upgrade process that can be performed on the report to upgrade the data model and layout to the new platform. Due to changes in the Visual Studio version, however, you may be required to perform minimal cosmetic changes to the layout after upgrade. If your existing reports were created with only a Classic layout, then the data model can be upgraded; however, the layout cannot be upgraded, and that must be further developed on the NAV 2013 platform.

What do the reporting changes mean to me as a TURNKEY customer?

Hundreds of out-of-the-box reports are still available in Microsoft NAV 2013. Although some new knowledge will need to be learned, any of these native reports can be customised as desired, just as they have been in the past. For customers who are upgrading from a previous version, you’ll need to investigate to determine the process required for moving any custom reports to NAV 2013. A certain amount of development work will be required to upgrade reports to NAV 2013.

Once again, thanks to Mike for his succinct summary!

Great Service – I don’t think so..

A recent bad experience with a service provider set me to wondering about what constitutes great service.

Imagine the scene. It’s a freezing cold morning in December (this Tuesday past actually) and you arrive on the crack of dawn plane into Luton Airport. It’s even colder in Luton than it was when you left Glasgow (well I did say ‘imagine’ the scene).

You arrive at the car hire desk and hand over your email confirmation eager to pick up your car and fight your way on to the M1, off on a cross country journey to a meeting in deepest Oxfordshire. The first words that greet you are “I’m sorry but we have NO cars!” But I have a piece of paper in my hand clearly stating they will provide me with a car so this can’t be. But it is. And the help offered? Well, there’s none actually. This car hire rep clearly has a degree in the bleeding obvious as he kindly asks if I want to cancel my booking. Cheers, mate that should see me on the road then.

There followed a dash from car hire desk to car hire desk, with each declaration of ‘no spare cars here’ increasing my anxiety threshold until at the fourth time of asking I was informed that a car was available. A chirpy young chap dashed out with a scraper and, after much huffing and puffing, my chariot-to-be was slowly revealed. A little Chevy Spark with a close similarity to a shopping trolley.. but at least I would now make my meeting on time.

Where was the great service? Well nowhere in this particular scene. Sure, I was provided by a car but it was of lesser quality than I thought I’d booked and cost me more. So instead, I’ll focus on everything that was so wrong in this situation and how taking the opposite tack constitutes good service.

1. Communication – customers don’t mind bad news so much as long as they are kept informed. This car hire provider had my mobile number and email, yet no attempt was made to warn me that there was a problem.

2. Solutions not problems – again, customers expect that when you identify a problem, you’ve also thought about a solution. In this case, the rep had no solution other than to cancel. No attempt had been made to come up with an alternative arrangement, or even to establish if other providers had vehicles.

3. Follow Up – they screwed up. Yet the one contact I received was an email confirming the cancellation. No ‘sorry’, no discount voucher or M&S gift token to lessen the pain. Nothing, rien, nada, zilch.

And the end result?  One car hire company who won’t see my business any time soon, and a hugely negative story that will be re-told and re-told. I heard later that they were 38 cars short of their ‘confirmed’ bookings. Multiply the negative press of that story being told by 38 people over and over. The irony was that as I landed back in Glasgow, the cabin crew encouraged us to use their recommended car hire partner – guess who?

Computer Shows… what happened to them?

A couple of our consultants attended a local computer show this week and reported back on the lack of software companies exhibiting. Not only that, there were more exhibitionists (you know what I mean!) than punters and the whole thing seemed to be just another opportunity for old computer-industry pals to shoot the breeze and share a skinny latte.

I do miss the big computer shows of days gone by. Who can forget the Which Computer? Show or the Accounting Software Show at the NEC in Birmingham?

Sadly, they disappeared for various reasons: cost – these shows were expensive and after the Year2000 debacle, software companies never really had the money to throw around anymore; business user apathy – most of what you want to find out about systems can be done through a good trawl of the web; and suppliers who decided they could provide the same ‘show’ experience via a webinar (which they can’t).

For me, these computer shows of old, showcasing the latest and greatest in accounting software, business intelligence, CRM, products for vertical markets and so forth served a couple of unique purposes.

They let existing users come along and see how the next release was looking and offered a chance to have a good go at the supplier if he was dragging his feet over release dates. I still recall with amusement sitting in a presentation on the next release of a well-known software product (let’s call it ‘Moon’ Accounts) and having to ease my way out of the room as irate users bombarded the speaker with angry questions because the promised updates were well overdue.

The show was also an opportunity to see what the opposition were up to. Complacency is a terrible thing. We’ve sold Microsoft Dynamics NAV or Navision as it was called back then for more than 16 years and we never gave up thinking it was the best product on the planet. So, a visit to the accounting software show meant you could sign up for all of your rivals’ presentation sessions and see what they had that you didn’t. It could be an eye opener. Shock horror.. sometimes we were behind the curve!

The shows may be gone but they’re not completely dead. We plan to run our own show “Turnkey 2013” early next year. If we can’t go to the show, the show will have to come to us and, who knows, the exhibitionists might be outnumbered!

The Cloud is coming.. really!

A recent article in an Irish newspaper reported on a ‘stramash’ (Scottish for ‘bust up’; I don’t know the Irish equivalent but I’m sure it’ll be something similar) in the council chambers of a small county in the south of Ireland.

The head of business development was being castigated as an ‘Eejit’ (no explanation necessary, I trust) for suggesting that the council should invest heavily in cloud computing. His reasoning was simple as he explained to fellow councillors, “This county is covered in clouds for most of the year so there’s not much investment needed and it’s also going to raise our environmental credentials with the green lobby!”

Now, I will swear to you that I did indeed find this on a BBC news website, I bookmarked it and I sent the link to a few friends including, unsurprisingly, a very good Irish friend who works in IT. He scoffed that it could not possibly be true and then triumphantly emailed that, having tried the link, it didn’t work. Sure enough, when I did as well, the story had been pulled. So, someone somewhere had managed to fool the BBC. Shame, but what a great story though.

When it comes to cloud, I’ve not been as great an advocate as our Irish friend (see past posts) having spent much of my time dismissing the annual hardy perennial IT industry story that ‘This is the Year of the Cloud’, particularly as it relates to accounting software. However, shock horror, I do think we may actually be getting there.

Why?  Firstly, because the software industry wants it to happen and when the big boys decide this is the way forward for you and me, they generally get their way – eventually. It has taken longer than they would have hoped but I shall quote that old mantra ‘It’s the economy stupid’ by way of explanation. Slowly but surely, as the recession weighs over us, users are waking up to the fact that they can avoid upfront costs, expensive IT staff and constantly trying to manage upgrades, backups, anti-virus etc by shifting to a cloud model. And, so long as the costs per user per month keep falling, that shift will build into larger and larger numbers.

To date, the major take up has been in the less than 5 users sector where many are abandoning their old Sage solutions and either adopting Sage’s own cloud-based software or defecting to a number of lesser known newcomers who are under-cutting Sage. Those newcomers often have the advantage of offering a solution that was built exclusively for the web and is simpler to use. They have also been designed to overcome many of the pitfalls that arise from logging in to a system that’s remotely located who knows where. And, the final nail in the old guard’s coffin, many have a ready-made converter that takes your existing Sage data and painlessly transfers it to your new cloud solution.

What will bring along the new wave of larger users is similar price competitiveness and both Microsoft and the hosting companies appear to be recognising this. So, when users can buy a Microsoft Dynamics solution such as NAV (‘Navision’ in old money) for similar prices to the new kids on the cloud block, and combine it with a range of integrated and compatible Microsoft software, then we have a game changer. Later this year, NAV2013 is launched, and a huge amount of time, effort and Microsoft’s dollars has gone into ensuring this is a comfortable web experience. Add to the mix products such as Office 365 and CRM online, which integrate to NAV, and we have a very rich web experience on our hands.

Meantime, the hosting companies in the UK are also embracing the commercial realities of the situation by offering prices that reflect a sincere desire to see that this may yet be the year of the cloud. Indeed, one or two software resellers who dived in a little too early and had their fingers burned have abandoned their own hosting environments and signed up with the major hosting companies, it being so much more cost-effective.

So, a reality check, a recession, a desire to play catch up in a market that’s running away from them and a desire to establish a long and healthy pipeline of regular payments have all combined to offer larger accounting software users a more compelling proposition. When Microsoft launches NAV2013 later this year, expect to see a major step change in the number of users adopting the cloud platform.

As the kids used to say “Are we there yet?” Not quite but it is coming ever closer.