From off-the-rack to bespoke: Tailoring your ERP system
Business software may claim to be ‘one size fits all’, but it takes a good tailor with the right tools to make it fit like a glove.
Article by David Lacey from Orchid Systems
People come in all shapes and sizes, but the same can’t always be said about clothes. Some of us might be able to walk out of the local department store in an off-the-rack garment looking like George Clooney or Cate Blanchett. Others are more likely to be mistaken for Michael Moore. If you drew the short straw in the gene pool lottery of life, what options do you have? Perhaps:
- Make do: Think tracksuit pants, kaftans, and "I am what I am".
- Make the body fit the clothes: Think personal trainer or extreme surgical makeover.
- Make the clothes for the body: Think bespoke tailoring, Savile Row, and hang the expense.
- Make the clothes fit the body: A good tailoring service can take an inch off the legs, let the waist out two, and leave you some money to accessorize and personalize.
At the risk of stretching the analogy further than an elastic waistband, businesses face similar dilemmas when it comes to their enterprise software. Unless you are running a cookie-cutter franchise, the products, processes, systems and strategies you’ve developed to set your business apart from your competitors can make implementing an ‘off the rack’ ERP system feel like squeezing a square peg into a round hole.
The Square Peg Round Hole dilemma
So, when the best-fit solution falls far short of a perfect fit, where does that leave you?
- You could change your business processes to fit the capabilities and limitations of your software package. There is something to be said for reviewing, simplifying and standardizing the way you operate, but there are limits. And having worked so hard to make your business unique, forcing all your square pegs through a lathe is likely to involve a lot of cutting against the grain.
- At the other extreme, giving your IT systems the Savile Row treatment might be appealing to businesses with deep pockets, but it’s not a path for the faint-hearted. I know of one large company that bought an ‘out of the box’ CRM system to save money and reduce risk, then spent over a billion dollars (not a misprint) on customizations! The result was a very expensive dud, but on the plus side I hear the consultants are still getting a lot of pleasure from their Ferraris.
Fortunately, Sage 300 lends itself to a high degree of tailoring, enabling you to adjust an arm or a leg without it costing you one of each. This is made possible by a large pool of business partners (who, like tailors, have differing degrees of skill and experience), but also by a vibrant community of 3rd party developers offering integrated 3rd party add-ons to complement the Sage 300 core modules. Orchid Systems is proud to be a leading player in this field.
Orchid – Toolmaker to the Tailors
While many 3rd party developers offer niche products for specific vertical markets, Orchid Systems has taken a different approach. Our products tend to support generic business functions, meaning they can benefit just about any Sage 300 customer. This is why they have become an essential part of the toolkit for hundreds of business partners who know that a tailor is only as good as their tools.
Let’s look at just some of the ways that Orchid products lend themselves to the tailoring of a Sage 300 site.
- Orchid Extender is often called the Swiss Army knife of Sage 300 add-ons, and it’s not hard to see why. The Configurator edition can monitor specific fields, log changes, generate alerts, and even call external applications. With the Customizer edition you can trigger Python scripts, stored within your Sage 300 database, to do just about anything. Perform enhanced validation, restrict access to sensitive fields, or develop custom screens. With the Developer edition you can create custom tables that form part of the Sage 300 database.
- Optional Tables provides an alternative way to introduce custom, multi-dimensional data structures within the Sage 300 database. It’s particularly well suited to holding budget and forecast data, which can be maintained in Microsoft Excel using the included Spreadsheet Add-in.
No business is an island, so why would you expect an ERP system to work in isolation?
- Rather than having to swivel-chair between Sage 300 and external applications, Extender allows you to seamlessly integrate them, exchanging and presenting information where it’s needed, without leaving Sage 300. The recently announced DIMO Maint Sage 300 Connector is a good example.
Every business needs to create, maintain and share all sorts of critical information that doesn’t fit neatly into an off-the-shelf ERP data model.
- Procedural instructions, product images, customer or vendor-specific annotations, you name it. Orchid Notes lets you bring that information in from the cold. Not only can notes be presented where and when they are needed by linking them to specific Sage 300 field values or screens, but the data will form part of your Sage 300 database, where it can be backed up and restored though your standard processes.
- When combined with Extender, you can trigger a script to create a dynamic and/or conditional Note on the fly, in ways limited only by your imagination. We’ve given this combo its own name – Extended Notes.
- Document Management Link expands the Notes concept further still, turning it into a document management interface. Relevant Purchase Orders, Invoices, product specifications etc. are available for reference whenever required, without leaving Sage 300. Documents can be dragged and dropped into the repository from within Sage 300, and automatically renamed to fit your own conventions.
BUSINESS INTELLIGENCE & REPORTING
- Orchid’s Info-Explorer allows small businesses to enjoy the power of intuitive, ‘slice and dice’ analytics, with drill-though to Sage 300, at a fraction of the price that large corporations often pay for BI solutions. As well as using it for analysis you can create, review and refine budgets and forecasts within a cube, and write them back to the Sage 300 database using the Writeback feature.
We even provide a range of pre-configured data cubes covering many core business functions, and a free try-before-you-buy Info-Explorer Lite edition, to get you up and running in no time.
- Our Report Runner module makes it easy to organize and execute your Crystal or Sage 300 Financial reports. Create role-specific menus so your staff can easily find the reports they are looking for. Save parameters to make re-running them a breeze, and have them automatically emailed to the right recipients.
- Data Views can simplify and speed up report writing and execution further still. It allows you to create and maintain database views that turn your Sage 300 optional fields into simple columns, which can then be easily included in reports.
Day ends, integrity checks, imports and exports, database dumps, regular reports, GL postings and more. Just keeping track of what needs to be run when, then checking results, can seem like a full-time job. And that’s before considering that they often need to be run after hours.
- Orchid’s Process Scheduler takes care of this. You set up schedules for regularly recurring processes, including defining what to do next upon success or failure of each task. They will then be automatically triggered, and can run unattended, with the peace of mind of knowing that notifications will be sent if anything unexpected happens.
TAILORING & STREAMLINING FINANCIAL PROCESSES
Telling someone “the cheque is in the mail” has always caused raised eyebrows, but if you try this line with a Millennial it will probably illicit blank stares. Many of them have never seen a paper cheque and would be hard-pressed to recognize a post box. The movement from paper-based cheques to electronic funds transfer is unstoppable, and in some countries effectively complete, but accounting software hasn’t always kept pace with the change.
- Orchid’s EFT Processing module allows you to easily pass Sage 300 receipt and payment batches, including those from US and Canadian Payroll, through to the EFT functionality of your banking software. We’ve done much of the tailoring for you, with hundreds of bank formats already supported, and we can quickly create or modify others on request. This module also emails remittance advices, and includes security features like audit-logging and encryption of bank account details.
Balancing the books keeps many an accountant busy during the day, but when it extends to creating and reconciling entries for transactions that span multiple inter-related entities, and sometimes multiple currencies, it can also keep them awake at night. Tailoring a system to automate much of this task sounds like a tall order, but Orchid has risen to the challenge.
- Our Inter Entity Transactions module automatically generates self-balancing due-to and due-from loan account entries to facilitate the management of allocations and transfers between related entities (e.g. branches, divisions, departments, funds, projects, trusts etc.), even where they span companies held in different Sage 300 databases.
- Inter Entity Trade automates transaction flows when related entities trade goods or services with each other. You initiate a transaction in one entity, and reciprocal documents (Invoices, Sales Orders, Purchase Orders, Credit Notes etc.) are automatically generated in the other, based on highly configurable rules.
OPERATIONS AND INVENTORY MANAGEMENT
Many businesses that deal in physical goods find the out-of-the-box functionality of Sage 300 doesn’t quite meet their needs, but they baulk at the cost and complexity of a fully-featured external warehouse management system. These Orchid products can help fill the gap:
- Return Material Authorizations & Repair Tracking allows you to configure flexible workflows to authorize customer returns, initiate replacement orders, issue credit notes, and return faulty goods to the vendor. Staff and customers have a reliable view of progress, and analytical reports can provide early warning of product quality issues. All information is stored within Sage 300, and cross-referenced accounting entries are generated to ensure that inventory and financial records remain in synch.
- Bin Tracking allows stock to be allocated to multiple bins within a Sage 300 Inventory Control location. Picking and put-away are streamlined, stock misplacements and losses are reduced, and integration with hand-held scanning devices is supported.