Understanding the Dynamics 365 Business Central

Microsoft has debuted yet another update to its growing Dynamics 365 platform. On March 13, the Redwood, Oregon-based technology giant announced the forthcoming release of the Business Central solution, an end-to-end system that allows businesses to manage customer service, finance, operations and sales activities though a single integrated interface. The offering also eases enterprise resource planning implementation activities by giving organizations the ability to migrate their information into an all-inclusive solution product made for silo-less operational workflows.

The NAV evolution continues
Business Central is the ready-for-market product of the much talked-about Tenerife project, according to ZDNet. During the Directions North America conference this past October, Microsoft officials confirmed that an improved alternative to the Dynamics NAV offering was in the works, telling attendees that an all-in-one solution would replace the aging small business ERP platform.

This secretive solution eventually evolved into Dynamics 365 Business Central, which comes in cloud-based and on-premises iterations and allows businesses to take advantage of Microsoft Power BI, Microsoft Flow Office 365 and the Power Apps suite. Together, these tools give users the power to develop and deploy integrated operational models, jumpstart and sustain data-collection initiatives and grow their backend systems with their respective businesses.

An ever-growing market
Analysts monitoring the SMB ERP market believe Business Central will make a considerable impact as growing small and medium-sized firms continue to search for viable accounting software with modest price tags and advanced capabilities, ZDNet reported.

"The 'what do we do after Quickbooks?' niche has always had a decent volume, and these companies are eager to move to the cloud for all the right reasons – cost, security, modernization, new user experiences," Joshua Greenbaum, an advisor at Enterprise Applications Consulting, told the publication.

Implementing a new solution
Business Central will be available for purchase April 2. Microsoft is offering two service plans: The Essential package, which comes with a per-user-per-month price of $70, and the Premium package which costs $100 per month, per user. Businesses with active NAV 2018 installations considering adoption will be able to deploy their existing plug-ins and customizations on the platform.

Is your small or medium-sized business interested in implementing Dynamics 365 Business Central? Connect with Accent Software today. As a certified Microsoft Business Solutions partner, we provide vendor-vetted Microsoft Dynamics NAV implementation services.   

How will AI affect manufacturing ERP software?

Organizations across numerous industries are investing in artificial intelligence technology. Last year, worldwide spending on enterprise AI systems surpassed $12.5 billion, constituting an increase of nearly 60 percent over 2016 investment levels, according to research from the International Data Corporation. More significantly, these expenditures were not the result of a few deep-pocketed firms going all in on AI – an estimated 80 percent of enterprises have already begun incorporating the technology into their operations, analysts for Teradata found.

Of course, this group includes manufacturers, many of which are adopting these innovations in hopes of embracing Industry 4.0 and remaining competitive in the marketplace. However, producers might soon encounter AI unintentionally while looking into enterprise resource planning technology. Why? This innovation represents the future of the ERP software and is poised to transform how software firms develop and deploy these systems, CIO reported. Here are a handful of the ways AI is affecting manufacturing ERP technology:

Improved decision-making
Modern ERP platforms give manufacturers the power to make informed, data-backed operational decisions. However, current solutions have limits when it comes to mining historic production data and contextualizing those insights. AI software has the potential to expand these capabilities, allowing ERP users to access larger data sets, along with automatically configured pattern analysis, IT Toolbox reported. The publication offered the developing predictive maintenance movement as an example of the potential of the impact of computer-driven data examination. AI-equipped ERP software could push this and other useful methodologies forward, further streamlining and accelerating manufacturing operations while reducing waste.

More robust data access and input options
While the backend components that drive most ERP solutions are powerful in their own right, they offer few benefits without the addition of accurate production data. The rise of the industrial internet of things has eased information collection activities, allowing manufacturers to mine real-time data funneled into servers via connected shop floor sensors. However, there have been few innovations where manual data input and access is concerned. AI has the power to change that, according to IT Toolbox.

This advanced software forms the basis for intelligent communication tools called chatbots, which leverage machine learning capabilities to actually interact with human users within traditional chat programs. A number of businesses in multiple sectors have begun using these novel programs and ERP vendors could be next. Innovators envision data query and import tools based on chatbot interfaces, allowing users to forego more time-consuming methods.

Better problem solving
When supply chain breakdowns occur, it can be incredibly difficult to diagnose root causes, even when all of the production data is locked inside ERP servers. AI has the potential to ease auditing activities by automatically combing through shop floor information and pinpointing strange data sets that might denote operational dysfunction, according to Gartner. This way, manufacturing leaders do not have to waste time poring over data when errors unfold and can move on to improving workflows so that similar occurrences do not materialize down the line.

These ERP developments could help manufacturers of all sizes modernize their facilities and further embrace the AI revolution. Manufacturers looking to prepare their operations for such innovation should consider connecting with Accent Software. As a certified Microsoft Business Solutions partner, we provide vendor-vetted Microsoft Dynamics NAV implementation services, giving industrial businesses the power to streamline their backend systems, boost productivity, bolster their bottom lines and adopt a flexible solution developed by an AI industry leader. Reach out to learn more about how our offerings can future-proof your enterprise.

Why automated job costing is more important than ever

The global market for industrial control and factory automation is expected to surpass the $155 billion mark by the end of 2017 and move upward to more than $239 billion by 2023, according to research from MarketsandMarkets. Why is this sector experiencing so much growth? Manufacturers everywhere are actively embracing the core tenet of Industry 4.0: automation. An estimated 1.8 million industrial robots are in operation in factories around the world, according to the International Federation for Robotics. Analysts for the organization believe this figure will increase to more than 3 million within the next three years, as cutting-edge corporations here and abroad adopt automated workflows designed to bolster productivity.

Of course, robots do not drive progress in isolation. Businesses must automate ancillary industrial activities and processes to match the world-class efficiency these machines are capable of achieving. As a result, many firms are adopting advanced software meant to streamline everyday enterprise practices, including job costing. Manufacturers of all sizes use this methodology to right-size their operations and forecast the production expenses that come with each and every order, TechTarget reported. Manufacturing organizations on the path to adopting large-scale automated technology like robotic production equipment or simply exploring initial options should consider installing advanced software that automates the job costing process. These solutions not only represent the first phase in the journey toward complete industrial automation but also facilitate short-term operational benefits that can catalyze short-term gains. Here are some of the more immediate advantages that come with adopting automated job costing software:

Easing the administrative burden
Companies with traditional job costing operations rely on human-driven workflows. Employees drive these processes, which normally involve multiple steps, starting with job identification, according to BizFluent. During this phase, job costing personnel identify an upcoming order. With this baseline data in hand, they then determine the direct costs associated with the job – a figure that includes material, manpower and other variables. They then assess indirect expenses using an established allocation rate, and then calculate a final cost, along with a revenue projection. This process can take considerable time, especially when it involves manual practices.

Automated job costing software offers a streamlined, computer-driven workflow that emphasizes speed. Instead of navigating multiple systems or working out job costs manually, operational personnel can easily access the integrated financial data they need to offer sound job cost projections.

Improving accuracy
Accuracy is, of course, essential when it comes to job costing. Manufacturers must go into every project with reliable figures or risk drastically overspending. The manual processes do not facilitate the kind of fiscal precision required to effectively determine job costs, as they are human-driven and thus susceptible to human error. Automated job costing software takes this risk out of the equation, allowing industrial firms to assess project expenses with confidence via integrated, powerful accounting modules. 

Reducing costs
Businesses that adopt automated job costing software and manage to achieve the benefits described above normally also experience operating cost decreases. With their administrative burdens reduced, workers can reallocate their energy toward activities that grow revenue and away from non-value-adding practices, which can cost $2,400 per activity per year. Of course, increased job costing accuracy lays the groundwork for additional cost savings, as operational personnel can churn out reliable projections that offer correct materials, production and staffing figures. 

With the pace of manufacturing automation quickening, it is essential that firms in the industrial space do all they can to optimize their workflows, including those related to seemingly unremarkable tasks such as job costing.   

Is your manufacturing organization interested in putting into place software that supports these improvements? Connect with Accent Software today. As a certified Microsoft Business Solutions partner, we provide vendor-vetted Microsoft Dynamics NAV implementation services, giving industrial businesses the power to streamline their backend systems, boost productivity and bolster their bottom lines. Reach out to learn more about how our offerings can revolutionize your enterprise, from the back office to the shop floor.  

How to address internal resistance and find ERP success

Of all the problems that can materialize during the implementation of an enterprise resource planning solution, internal resistance is perhaps the most serious. Even the most advanced technology can not overcome the will of an entire workforce determined to cling to old workflows, no matter how inefficient. Many organizations figure this out the hard way, according to survey data from Deloitte. Last year, the consulting firm connected with chief information officers who had recently overseen ERP implementation projects and asked them to cite the most significant barriers they encountered along the way. More than 80 percent ranked resistance to change as the top roadblock to ERP success.

Businesses just setting out on the ERP implementation journey can avoid internal blowback by simply planning for it from the start and deploying strategies designed to grease the runway, so to speak, CIO reported.

"Organizational change management is pivotal to the success of your project," Matt Thompson, founder of the Sarasota, Florida-based ERP advisory firm Clutch Consulting, told the magazine. "Typical ERP projects facilitate massive change in organizations that can include changing of day to day job descriptions or eliminating job descriptions in total. [These] changes impact the culture of your company and without careful control and communication plans and workshops you can create an adverse reaction to ERP [resulting in] barriers [to] implementation and adoption."

Here are some of the most commonly used and effective methods for getting employees on board and addressing resistance to change:

Encourage end-user involvement
Many enterprises think of ERP implementation as an isolated activity – something upper management and information technology team members manage with little input from the rest of the organization. This is true to some extent. After all, everyday employees cannot offer much help when it comes to IT planning and budgeting. However, there are certain parts of the process that should be open to end users, as these individuals will ultimately deploy the new solution and drive return on investment, according to ERP Software Blog.

Of course, this is not some sort of symbolic strategy. Employees immersed in the day-to-day business operations can offer key advice on everything from data migration and platform design to training and post-roll-out technical support. That said, encouraging end-user involvement does tend to appease skeptical workers who may grow anxious over top-down internal initiatives driven by executives and other members of the management team.

Employee training is essential to ERP user adoption success.Employee training is essential to ERP user adoption success.

Think user friendly
ERP adopters often focus on core system processing components when assembling feature lists and working with vendors during the design stage. This common tendency makes complete sense, as the backend fixtures that process production data ultimately determine system efficacy. However, ERP solutions do not get the job done alone. Humans must manage and maintain them, meaning project leaders and system providers must also consider user friendliness. Organizations that fail to take this variable into account often find themselves overseeing digital money pits whose users have eschewed modern technology for more familiar workflows.

How do adopters develop user-friendly ERP solutions? Constructing the software in the context of existing business processes and needs is the first step, IT Toolbox reported.

"Too often companies make the mistake of trying to mold their company around the system rather than the other way around," Eric Kraieski, president for the ERP consulting firm Agility ERP, told the online publication. "A better starting point would be to take an inventory of job roles and gaps, and then build the ERP solution around the business."

Of course, on a more technical level, adopters must encourage software providers to offer streamlined user interfaces that ease platform navigation. Simple dashboards and data input and output screens are a good start – as are robust notification systems that make it easier for users to monitor system activity and prioritize their work.

Conduct internal outreach
While the prospect of adopting an ERP may seem exciting to the business leaders and IT personnel who can grasp the potential of such a system, it may be more difficult for everyday employees to gin up such enthusiasm. Many may ask, Why the organization is essentially altering established processes all for a piece of software? Businesses should, of course, answer this question through internal advocacy, according to Deloitte.

Project leaders must get out in the operation and articulate their visions, helping employees understand how an ERP can help refine workflows, save money and open up new revenue streams. Executives should participate in this outreach as well, for their endorsements alone can turn skeptics into believers. Additionally, project teams should connect with select workers and ask for their assistance in these efforts. These individuals, called product champions, act as on-the-ground links between project teams and end users, stoking support for the ERP from the bottom up, IT Toolbox reported.

Invest in system training
Surprisingly, many ERP adopters simply gloss over this variable, expecting workers to easily pick up the new system with little assistance. This is, of course, an unrealistic expectation. The most user-friendly solutions are not 100 percent intuitive – even tech-savvy workers can struggle with ERPs, which often do not resemble familiar consumer applications. Companies that disregard these facts and drop new platforms in employees' laps with little to no guidance regularly suffer from user adoption issues. Some even end up watching their ERP adoption efforts collapse entirely.

Organizations can avoid these outcomes by offering robust system training and support, according to CIO.

"Learning a new way of operating will require a significant time commitment for everyone, so the project team must take proactive measures to reduce the burden on employees," Joel Schneider, cofounder of the IT consulting firm Liberty Technology Advisors, told the magazine. "Identify department-specific needs, allowing for sufficient time to develop and deliver training programs."

How do businesses develop effective training programs? Most share common features. For example, adopters with successful initiatives of this kind offer hands-on instruction based on real-life scenarios as a way to not only train workers how to navigate the platform but to also get them used to new internal workflows. Additionally, enterprises should work with internal IT teams or external partners to build ongoing support systems so users can get help whenever they need it.

With these strategies, prospective adopters can gain sustainable support for their ERP implementation efforts and equip end users with the enthusiasm and skills required to gain satisfactory return on investment.

Is your business looking to implement cutting-edge ERP technology? Connect with Accent Software Inc. As a Microsoft Business Solutions Partner, we offer Dynamics NAV/ERP environments fit for businesses of all sizes. Contact us today to learn more about our service and software offerings. 

Mobile ERP implementation problems every adopter should understand

Enterprise resource planning technology continues to evolve with great speed. New innovations seem to materialize regularly, as software companies develop new system features and implementation methods. Mobile ERP technology is a product of this wider push to move such essential solutions forward. In recent years, vendors have released mobile-ready platforms that resemble social media sites and some of the other familiar portals in use today, according to CFO. These systems not only appeal to users but also provide powerful benefits for the enterprise, increasing productivity throughout the entirety of the supply chain.

Of course, mobile ERP systems, like their desktop-based predecessors, present unique implementation challenges. Sometimes, adopters fail to plan for these roadblocks and find themselves overseeing mobile ERP projects that are falling apart at the seams. With this in mind, organizations interested in adopting this technology must develop exhaustive implementation plans that address some of the singular yet common pain points that accompany mobile ERP adoption. Here are some of those complications:

Network connectivity
Users normally engage with traditional ERP platforms via Ethernet-equipped desktop computers, meaning internet connectivity is rarely an issue. For mobile ERP solutions, on the other hand, this is a critical concern, according to ERP Software Blog. In-house devices must be able to connect to the internet via Wi-Fi for mobile ERP software systems to function correctly. Surprisingly, many enterprises navigating the implementation process simply fail to give this variable any consideration or wrongly assume that existing company networks can support an influx of new devices running advanced, data-based applications.

Adopters must take great care in developing strong Wi-Fi strategies and work with external service providers to implement networks that support widespread mobile usage. Additionally, firms should emphasize data security when considering connectivity options, as large amounts of sensitive company and client information will soon be circulating internal networks.

Mobile ERP platforms present unique implementation challenges.Mobile ERP platforms present unique implementation challenges.

Standardization
Apart from network connectivity, standardization is perhaps the most important variable in the mobile ERP implementation equation. What exactly is standardization? In this context, it involves rolling out uniform applications, operating systems and processing equipment, according to TechTarget. This methodology eases mobile management activities and ensures that all workers have access to equally powerful technological assets. This kind of strategy is, of course, essential for firms with multiple locations, as dealing with disparate devices and systems across several sites lays the groundwork for information technology disasters of all sorts, from data breaches to partial supply chain software outages.

Why do so many organizations fail in this regard? In many cases, it comes down to cost. Some insist on leaving underlying IT infrastructure unchanged or adopting different devices with disparate OSs in an attempt to save money on implementation. However, in the end, companies that go down this path are likely to spend more correcting everyday glitches, mitigating instances of data loss and covering IT-caused production slowdowns than they would on new equipment. 

The solution is simple here: Adopters must standardize their equipment and processes when implementing mobile ERPs.

User Training
One of the advantages of mobile ERP platforms is their usability. Because they often look and feel like conventional consumer applications, users are likely to navigate them with confidence and possibly unlock new levels of productivity. With this in mind, some companies on the verge of go-live simply skip training, assuming their employees can effectively handle the application after a few moments with the user manual or a quick tutorial. This is a mistake, IT Toolbox reported.

While mobile ERP solutions may be designed for optimal usability, adopters must still take the time to design and deploy training sessions for employees. In many cases, these instructional programs might not cover application operation but instead address the transition to mobile workflows. Workers unbound from desktop ERP portals need direction on how to navigate the post-Ethernet workplace – especially those in the warehouse, whose days will be much different with ERP-enabled devices on hand.

Mobile ERP platforms represent the future of the technology, as businesses, no matter their size, move toward more modern processes and let go of legacy hardware and software. However, those looking to embrace this destiny and adopt mobile-ready ERP software must consider all of the variables and prepare themselves for the unique implementation challenges that accompany it.

Key ERP security risks and what you can do about them

Enterprise resource planning systems are ubiquitous across myriad industries. Why? Business can compete in the modern marketplace without these essential platforms. For this very reason, an estimated 81 percent of organizations have implemented ERP systems or are in the process of doing so, according to research from Panorama Consulting Solutions. Of course, these solutions, like all software, are susceptible to intrusion. Even on-premises setups tucked away in server rooms are under attack from a growing group of hackers and cybercriminals. 

These outside actors orchestrated more than 42,000 digital strikes last year, infiltrating mission-critical applications to siphon off sensitive data or wreak havoc within internal networks, according to analysts for Verizon Wireless. An ERP platform is an ideal target for hackers, as it contains both company and customer data and drives the backend machinery that makes business possible. That is why more than 60 percent of information technology specialists rank these systems above accounting or human capital management software, ERP Scan and Information Security found. Unfortunately, few companies act as if this is the case where data security is concerned. Only 44 percent order IT to perform monthly ERP security checks, according to ERP Scan and Information Security. And, a startling 14 percent never search their ERP solutions for vulnerabilities.

This state of affairs poses serious problems for organizations, as cybercriminals gain strength and bring about new data security risks, IT Toolbox reported.

"Hackers have shifted their focus from individuals to enterprises," Alexander Polyakov, chief technology officer for ERP Scan, told the publication. "We can expect an increasing number of targeted attacks, including ones against ERP systems. There are a lot of resources on the Internet providing all the required information on the ERP's architectures for attackers to customize their techniques."

To truly bolster their digital defenses and properly protect their ERP platforms, firms must first understand the threat environment. 

The rise of ransomware
This attack vector has experienced a meteoric rise in recent years, according to Verizon. The wireless carrier found it to be the 22nd most-used category of malware in 2014. This past year, it climbed to the fifth spot. Why are hackers embracing this particular virus? Ransomware makes it easy to collect money from unsuspecting victims. In most cases, this kind of nefarious program is delivered via an email client, where a user accidentally access it. The malware locks the computer and displays a ransom message demanding payment in exchange for system access.

A vast majority of victims pay the requested amount. For instance, more than 70 percent of the enterprises that suffered malware attacks in 2016 ended up paying their attackers, according to research from IBM. Half of these companies paid more than $10,000, while 25 percent paid between $20,000 and $40,000.

Unfortunately, ransomware continues to grow in complexity. The early versions that appeared on the internet in 2005 simply locked mouse and keyboard functionality, Wired reported. Newer versions come equipped with automated encryption components that seal off file access using a unique security key only the hacker knows. This makes it nearly impossible to bypass the malware without paying the ransom. Of course, companies are probably wondering how the threat of ransomware affects ERP platforms.

Once in the company network, this malware stops all connected systems in their tracks – including ERP solutions, according to IT Toolbox. Businesses with mobile-ready ERPs are at an even greater risk of suffering from ransomware attacks, as corruptible email clients share the same space as end-point ERP portals.

Businesses must protect their ERP solutions from cyberattacks.Businesses must protect their ERP solutions from cyberattacks.

Insiders do damage
Verizon recorded more than 7,700 of instances of privileged user misuse last year, 81 percent of which involved employees. In most cases, these individuals sought insider secrets they could sell on the black market, while others, roughly 17 percent, were simply snooping around in internal networks. This is an immense problem, no matter the motivation of the perpetrators. Seemingly harmless system snoopers can create legal liabilities, while more nefarious internal actors can steal sensitive trade secrets or purloin company funds via payroll fraud. 

Sadly, most companies are not prepared to deal with insider threats. In fact, an estimated 49 percent do not have user role management workflows in place, meaning system access is granted with little consideration for how misuse might affect the organization, according to research from Raytheon Cyber. Additionally, of the businesses that do have these processes in place, more than one-third leave it up to business units to determine what level of access employees receive. Only a quarter assign this duty to the area of the enterprise equipped to handle it: the information technology department.

ERP systems are, of course, vulnerable to this threat, as disgruntled workers or those looking for financial gain can easily leverage their credentials to misuse such platforms.

The password conundrum
Despite the consistent, widespread focus on password security, these key security phrases continue to pose problems for enterprise software users and their employers. To put it simply, employees are not trying hard enough when it comes to drafting effective passwords, according to research from Splash Data. Earlier this year, the password management company evaluated more than 5 million stolen corporate credentials leaked for public use in 2016. The password "123456" accounted for 4 percent of the entries and a startling 10 percent of the users employed credentials appearing on Splash Data's Worst Password list, which includes anemic phrases such as "password," "qwerty" and "login."

The data also revealed another troubling password trend: simplified word variations. In addition to the passwords above, many users employed easy-to-guess variations like "1234567" and "passw0rd."

"Making minor modifications to an easily guessable password does not make it secure, and hackers will take advantage of these tendencies," Morgan Slain, CEO for Splash Data, explained in an interview with Dark Reading.

Cybercriminals have indeed exploited this and other credential-related user tendencies. In fact, 81 percent of hacking-related breaches that occurred last year involved stolen login credentials, according to Verizon. This security risk certainly applies to ERP platforms, as most employ password protected portals.

Addressing the risks
With these and many other data security threats in play, organizations must bolster their ERP security strategies and employ policies that actually work.

When it comes to tackling ransomware, employee education is the most effective tool, ERP Focus reported. System users must have the knowledge required to spot suspicious messages and other web-enabled content that could carry the malware. Additionally, IT teams should address malicious websites, which constitute the second most common entry point for malware. Apart from this extra training, organizations can implement anti-virus software and build out robust back up and business continuity strategies ready for use in the event that ransomware does find a way into the internal network and cause problems.

"When it comes to tackling ransomware, employee education is the most effective tool."

Addressing unauthorized system access necessitates internal restructuring. The IT department – and, ideally internal data security specialists – should have full control over the credentialing process, as this business division is best equipped to evaluate the potential for insider abuse. Most ERP platforms come equipped with role management features, meaning few technical changes will be required. However, adopting user behavior monitoring software is a wise choice, according to ERP Scan. These platforms can lend IT teams system-specific visibility and allow them to identify malicious behavior.

There are limitless solutions to the password problem. For instance, credential crafting methodologies such as Diceware give users the ability to create powerful passwords without wracking their brains for easy-to-memorize phrases, The Intercept Reported. Of course, the organization itself must get involved as well. Establishing basic data security training programs helps, as does official company policies designed to encourage sound password usage. ERP Focus suggested instituting mandatory, company-wide password-change policies.

These strategies can help companies with ERP platforms fight back against the hackers and cybercriminals taking aim at their online assets. However, those managing older legacy systems might consider trading in these platforms for newer, easier-to-protect alternatives. Is your organization in this unfortunate position? Connect with Accent Software. As a Microsoft businesses solutions partner, we offer the Dynamics NAV/ERP platform, which is backed by top-of-the-line security from Microsoft. Learn more about our offerings today.

4 ERP planning and design strategies for project success

Most organizations enter the ERP implementation process with the understanding that deploying such a system requires considerable time and resources. In fact, the average ERP project unfolds over 16 months and costs $1.3 million, according to research from Panorama Consulting Solutions. Despite this awareness, many undercut their initiatives during the initial planning and design stages, embracing problematic workflows that carry long-term, negative repercussions.

With this in mind, adopters must navigate the opening phases of the ERP implementation journey with great care and deploy procedural methodologies that facilitate the roll out of an effective, return on investment-rich system. Here are some tried-and-true ERP planning and design strategies in use today:

Obtain organization-wide support
Employees engaged with backend support systems and other hidden enterprise machinery easily understand the merits of an ERP. However, those in non-technical departments may not. In reality, most workers resist operational changes of any kind. Last year, Deloitte connected with ERP project leaders across myriad industries and asked them to identify the biggest roadblocks to implementation. More than 80 percent cited resistance to change as the top barrier. This is not some minor problem to be solved via top-down directive. No matter what business leaders say, employees will use whatever workflows support productivity. Most are more than willing to create workarounds to surpass technology they view as cumbersome or ineffectual.

ERP project teams must address this potential problem at the outset. How? Actively connecting with workers and explaining the benefits of the ERP is a good start, according to Deloitte. Stakeholders should help everyday employees understand the business case for the new system and communicate how said solution will fit into everyday activities. The latter variable is especially important, as end users will want to know how the platform will affect the day-to-day.

Of course, project leaders should also spend considerable time making a similar case to the executive team, CIO reported. C-level support is absolutely critical, for organizational leaders are responsible for freeing up the resources required for implementation. Plus, these high-ranking personnel can use their clout to further reinforce the importance of the project within the business and encourage widespread use. Stakeholders can win over executives by presenting detailed implementation plans and budget information. Additionally, it is wise to update business leaders throughout the lifetime of the project to keep them engaged and on board.

ERP adopters should focus on strong system planning and design.ERP adopters should focus on strong system planning and design.

Create a realistic budget
ERP implementation is expensive. While the average project cost has fallen in recent years, most enterprises still shell out millions to adopt ERP platforms. Although these expenses even out in the long run as the business grows with the new backend system in place, companies must still pay considerable amounts up front. Unfortunately, many adopters attempt to control costs by embracing overly conservative budgets that do not comport with the reality of ERP implementation. That is why a significant portion experience cost overruns. Last year, for example, an estimated 74 percent of companies with active ERP projects in place watched as actual spend surpassed projections, according to Panorama Consulting Solutions.

Businesses adopting ERP platforms can avoid this mess by researching average project costs and creating detailed implementation plans that cover everything from system design to employee training. This way, stakeholders and their C-level supporters can have an accurate, clear picture of the road ahead and set aside the right amount, as opposed to the figure that feels good.

Pick an experienced partner
ERP solution providers offer all sorts of proprietary platforms stuffed with flashy, seemingly essential product features. This state of affairs can create problems during the system evaluation phase, as project team members get overly invested in software demonstrations and push for vendors based solely on what unfolded on the screen before them. This is not the ideal methodology for selecting an implementation partner.

Instead, project teams should sit down and develop a list of must-have platform features that correlate to larger business goals, Manufacturing Business Technology reported. This pragmatic approach will lend those on the ERP evaluation group clarity and help them see past the gimmicks that fill most product demos. In addition to finding vendors that offer the right ERP components, adopters must also focus on working with partners that have demonstrable industry experience. Simply selecting good software is not enough. Project teams must pinpoint vendors that can integrate their solutions into industry-specific production environments.

Design something that works
When it comes down to designing an effective system, project teams tend to focus on larger backend components that power mission-critical ERP processes. These fixtures are, of course, immensely important but it is often better to take a more holistic approach to product design so as to roll out a system that not only possess great computational power but also works within the context of the business, according to ERP Software Blog.

In addition to pinpointing critical components and linking them to overarching business targets, project teams should spend considerable time contemplating usability concerns. Can employees easily incorporate system usage into their work days? Will the ERP data entry process bolster productivity or hinder it? These are incredibly important factors. Additionally, technical experts from the information technology department must evaluate the system and its infrastructure to ensure it integrates well with the existing company network. Operational leaders should conduct similarly intense functional reviews to understand how the ERP might affect production workflows.

Using this approach, project teams can work with vendors to create ERP platforms that suit the business and function flawlessly.

ERP implementation comes with considerable risks. However, businesses can mitigate these dangers by embracing pragmatic solution planning and design processes like the ones mentioned above. 

Is your organization prepared to embark on the ERP implementation journey and in need of a trusted software provider? Connect with Accent Software. As a Microsoft business solutions partner, we offer the Dynamics NAV/ERP platform, an ideal choice for enterprises of all sizes. Contact us today to earn more about our software and service offerings

How to earn executive support for an ERP change

Information technology teams can easily identify an enterprise resource planning system nearing its expiration date. However, business leaders are less inclined to declare an expensive piece of company infrastructure dead. Last year, implementers spent an average of $1.3 million per ERP project, according to research from Panorama Consulting Solutions. With this much sunk capital on the books, it can be difficult for those in the executive suite to walk away and green-light the search for another solution.

Of course, most internal IT specialists understand that an unsustainable system can result in maintenance overruns and lost opportunity costs that far outweigh initial implementation expenses. With this inevitable situation in store, technology teams must push past initial C-level resistance, craft a strong case for change and ultimately gain the executive support needed for an ERP upgrade. Here are some tried-and-true techniques for achieving this goal:

Begin with directors and managers
The process of gaining executive by-in often begins with a trip to the corner office. However, in this case, IT workers and others searching for change should start with mid-level management, according to ERP Focus. These individuals actually engage with the ERP platform on an operational level, allowing them to offer demonstrable insight into how the system affects day-to-day business processes. If the ERP is falling apart, they can speak to how its diminishing features are weighing on the bottom line. Plus, the simple fact that these individuals, many of whom would normally be opposed to disruption, are advocating for change will get the attention of business leaders.

In addition to simply recruiting managers and directors for support, project leaders should also request any key performance data they might have on platform efficacy, as these figures will further bolster the case for change.

Offer multiple options, including alternatives
For IT teams watching once-functioning systems crumble before their eyes, it can be easy to look past simple improvements and move on to robust platform replacement initiatives. However, many executives bristle at this kind of single-solution scenario – they want options, Panorama Consulting Solutions found. With this in mind, project stakeholders should not only gather supporting information for an ERP swap, but also look into alternatives.

"Technology teams must push past C-level resistance and gain the support needed for an ERP upgrade."

System upgrades and business process improvements are the most common options. If replacement is truly the better choice, this should show through in the research. Of course, this evaluation could also yield a different conclusion.

Select a strong project leader
While planning and preparation can certainly make it easier to convince change-weary executives that an ERP swap is warranted, project teams must also organize internally to present a united front and broadcast a cohesive message. This usually involves assigning roles, starting with the most important position: project leader. Enthusiasm is not the only requirement for individuals assuming this role. First off, ERP project leaders must be able to multitask and possess the soft skills required to facilitate a collaborative environment, according to IT Toolbox. More importantly, these employees should have institutional knowledge and political chops to navigate the organization and cull support in the C-suite.

Additionally, team leaders with effective communication skills are especially useful in early planning sessions involving executives, as they can easily discuss the project and answer any questions – even the tough ones.

IT stakeholders and others in the business who believe an ERP upgrade is necessary can use these strategies to take their concerns to the C-suite and ultimately win support. Of course, once the project receives a stamp of approval, the solution planning and vendor selection phases come next. Enterprises across the country connect with Accent Software when this time comes. Why? As a Microsoft businesses solutions partner, we offer the Dynamics NAV platform, the perfect ERP solution for enterprises of all sizes. Learn more about our offerings today.    

Learning from failure: 3 ERP disasters every adopter should understand

Implementing an enterprise resource planning platform is no easy task. In fact, more than half of all ERP implementation projects fail to meet fundamental objectives, according to research from Gartner published by Deloitte. However, this does not mean prospective adopters should discontinue their efforts to modernize internal workflows via new ERP solutions. These cutting-edge systems have the power to catalyze true transformation across the organization, facilitating accurate, data-backed processes with bottom line-building potential.

That said, firms embarking on the ERP implementation journey should keep that admittedly scary statistic in mind and familiarize themselves with some of its most notable data points. Here are five ERP disasters every adopter should know and understand:

Hewlett-Packard
By June 2004, Hewlett-Packard had successfully centralized and updated 34 of the 35 ERP systems bolstering its global operations, according to the International Data Group. The computing giant was on track to transition the final platform when major issues materialized, disrupting business operations in the Americas Region for six weeks – double the planned disruption period. HP experienced immediate repercussions as order fulfillment times lagged and customers complained. On top of that, third-quarter earnings came in below projected levels, creating further turmoil within the organization. Former CEO Carly Fiorina ultimately removed three members of the management team who oversaw the division responsible for the Q3 dip, which amounted to roughly $400 million. The failed ERP transition, while not directly related to the drop, helped color the situation – another internal misstep with serious fiscal implications.

What went wrong? According to former HP Chief Information Officer Gilles Bouchard, the HP ERP implementation team was to blame. Bouchard said three key issues came to the fore. One, stakeholders within the cross-functional group had trouble collaborating across silos. Secondly, established data integration processes broke down due to ineffective manual input practices on the HP side. Finally, increased demand pressurized the situation and led to unintended operational problems.

In the wake of this episode, Bouchard conducted an internal survey to further explore the ERP implementation failure and search workable solutions that might yield success in future enterprise information technology efforts. The CIO found that more collaborative business processes were required when combining disparate systems into one central platform.

"When you consolidate, by definition, there's a lot more interdependencies," Bouchard told IDG. "When everybody's got their own ERP [system], they can all work within their own silos. Now there's a lot more commonality and a lot more sharing, and a lot of learning in terms of program management."

ERP adopters can find success by evaluating historic implementation failures.ERP adopters can find success by evaluating historic implementation failures.

Lumber Liquidators
In August 2010, Lumber Liquidators completed the final stage of a significant ERP overhaul, IDG reported. This late push bookended a seemingly successful implementation project, as stakeholders put the finishing touches on up-to-date point-of-sale, inventory and warehouse management modules made for the modern marketplace. However, these new systems failed to stoke fiscal gains. In fact, the company saw a 45 percent decrease in net income over Q3. Why? Employee productivity plummeted.

Production teams left at least $12 million in unrealized net sales on the table, as they struggled to adapt to the new workflows that accompanied the recently-implemented ERP. System analysts watching the situation unfold immediately recognized the problem: Lumber Liquidators and its solutions partner SAP had not done enough to engage employees about the new platform, according to the ERP advisement firm Panorama Consulting Solutions. Without proper IT training or guidance, personnel on the ground simply side-stepped the system and returned to older methods, ultimately slowing production.

Unlike HP, Lumber Liquidators was not willing to accept all of the blame and argued that SAP was partially responsible for their Q3 losses. However, the materials supplier never took its complaint to the court of law, a common tactic for ERP adopters that link flagging sales to vendor shortcomings.

Nike
Back in 2000, Nike oversaw an ERP disaster of truly epic proportions, CIO reported. The athletic clothing company partnered with i2 Technologies, which merged with JDA Software in 2009, to design and implement an industry-leading solution that would help automat its backend ordering processes and forecast market demand for some of its key product lines, including the Jordan Brand shoes. Trouble began soon after the live launch, when a software glitch resulted in skewed factory orders. Nike ended up flooding the market with low-performing Air Garnett sneakers, while leaving sellers short thousands of pairs of in-demand Jordan models. The company took considerable losses as a result, incurring $100 million in lost sales and suffering a stock price drop of 20 percent.

"For the people who follow this sort of thing, we became a poster child [for failed implementations]," Roland Wolfram, former vice president of global operations for Nike, told CIO.

Nike placed the blame squarely on i2 Technologies, contending that the company's flawed software was the root cause of the supply chain breakdown. On top of that, the clothes company claimed the software provider could have easily addressed the issues, which resulted in sluggish integration and failed ordering operations. However, those on the outside looking in believed Nike shared some of the responsibility. The i2 Technologies solution accounted for just 10 percent of a $400 million supply chain overhaul that seemed overly ambitious from the start, according to CNET. The company wanted to consolidate a client relationship management system, an ERP and supply chain tools into a single functioning system, CIO reported. This is a tall order for any technology firm, as an innumerable number of variables must line up for things to go off without a hitch.

"Nike lost $100 million due to a botched ERP implementation."

"Doing those things at a small company is hard, but doing it at a global enterprise like Nike ups the extremely high chances of failure," Joshua Greenbaum, an analyst for Enterprise Applications Consulting, told CNET. "When these systems fail, they fail big."

Nike ultimately recovered from this hit, working with other vendors involved in the massive project to clean up misconfigured internal systems and get the project back on track. However, the implementation timeline did expand, growing from two to seven years. The budget grew as well. As the company completed the final stages of the massive initiative back in 2006, project costs had moved past the $500 million mark – an overrun Nike has successfully accounted for in the years since.

These stories constitute a cautionary tale for companies looking to integrate ERP technology into their operations. ERP adoption comes with considerable roadblocks. Those set on navigating these obstacles must carefully chart out their implementation efforts and work with employees across the organization to successfully meld new technology with existing processes. Vendor selection is, of course, another key concern, as adopters must collaborate with proven partners who have the industry knowledge, technical skill and solutions to meet their unique business needs.

Is your company prepared to bolster its digital infrastructure with an advanced ERP solution from a trusted software provider? Connect with Accent Software. As a Microsoft businesses solutions partner, we offer the Dynamics NAV platform, the perfect ERP solution for enterprises of all sizes. Learn more about our offerings today.

Mitigating common ERP implementation risks

Enterprise resource planning platforms offer myriad benefits. Adopters can streamline critical backend operations, while introducing data-based processes that facilitate scalability and lay the groundwork for long-term success, no matter market conditions.

However, implementation is rife with risk. Developing and deploying one of these systems requires considerable company resources, as well as support from the end users who will eventually log into and use the solution. Many adopters fail to muster the internal strength needed to follow through on ERP projects, wasting money and time on half-imaged and constructed software. An estimated 26 percent of the organizations that started implementing ERP platforms last year ultimately failed, according to research from Panorama Consulting Solutions.

Companies exploring ERP solutions can avoid this fate by getting acquainted with the inherent risks ahead of time and actively working to address them as implementation unfolds. What exactly are the risks that come along with this process? Here are some of the common hazards that hamper businesses on the ERP adoption journey:

Focusing on the technology rather than the business
ERP implementation is, of course, a technological enterprise. Most organizations understand this and stack their internal teams with talented information technology professionals who can effectively evaluate available systems and understand how they might interact with existing backend infrastructure.

However, the software itself is only one half of the equation, according to Panorama. The introduction of an ERP system necessitates more widespread change. Business leaders and managers must adjust existing workflows to align with the new software. Companies that implement ERP solutions in isolation greatly increase their likelihood of failure, as they drop new systems into operations that are just not compatible. Users, faced with either continuing business as usual or integrating an incongruent platform into their day-to-day activities, will briefly feign usage and then go back to their old ways. 

Businesses can avoid this problem by embarking on operational transformations in which ERP systems are simply only one component. Using cross-functional teams, ERP adopters can catalyze the organizational change needed to support the new technology.

ERP solutions offer many benefits but risks abound on the road to adoption.ERP solutions offer many benefits but risks abound on the road to adoption.

Failing to invest in employee training and change management
System usage is often an afterthought – an issue many project leaders only address near the tail end of the ERP adoption journey, if at all. This, of course, is an immense mistake. If adopting an ERP is simply part of a larger strategy to transform the business, then, with this methodology, employees are left without the tools and guidance to navigate the post-implementation environment. How do users react when placed in this position? Most shun the new system and fall back on older methods.

Would-be adopters have watched such situations unfold. Last year, Deloitte connected with chief information officers who have overseen ERP adoption efforts in the past and asked them to identify the most common barriers to implementation. Approximately 82 percent of respondents placed resistance to change in the top spot. This hostility is often the result of ineffective training efforts, as frustrated workers take out their anger on the system itself, no matter how helpful it might be.

The fix here is simple. Project leaders must collaborate with human resources personnel to develop instructional resources that not only cover system features but also address how the new technology affects the business as a whole. Most importantly, organizations implementing ERP platforms should begin these efforts at the beginning of the adoption journey, working with employees to prepare for the change to come, according to CIO.

Handling the entire process internally
When it comes to implementing new enterprise technology, most businesses like to lean on internal IT teams. Although this strategy makes some sense from an organizational perspective, it also comes with complications. Company IT teams, while capable, often do not possess the specialized skills required to effectively vet and deploy ERP software. When they become the drivers behind the implementation process, costly roadblocks arise as they learn on the fly.

Consequently, adopters are better off connecting with ERP experts who have handled countless implementations and can leverage their knowledge of the space to offer solid guidance, according to Panorama. This way, businesses can have the best of both worlds: technical specialists who can integrate the new software into current computational infrastructure and ERP specialists who can render expert advice. However, this is not to say that intern IT workers should not be involved in the planning phase. These employees should be aware of all system specifications to ensure that the software comports with existing digital workflows, according to IT Toolbox. 

With these risks in mind, organizations can move forward with ERP adoption plans and chart out the way ahead, fully understanding the pitfalls that lie ahead.

Is your company prepared to bolster its digital infrastructure with an advanced ERP solution? Contact Accent Software. As a Microsoft businesses solutions partner, we offer the Dynamics NAV platform, the perfect ERP solution for enterprises of all sizes. Learn more about our offerings today.