What is an ERP system, and why do you need one?

What is an ERP system, and why do you need one?

Operating a retail business has grown increasingly more complex through the years. Today, consumers expect to shop in physical store locations, on their mobile devices, and on the web via your e-commerce site, and to get a smooth experience whichever of these channels they decide to use. These added outlets and increased demands add extra complications to your daily operations. The world is changing, but many businesses are not keeping up. Too many retailers still use multiple IT systems for different aspects of their business. As these system often don’t fully communicate with each other, they make retailers’ jobs even harder. If your inventory management system software isn’t talking to your Point of Sale (POS), your eCommerce system or your accounting software, chances are you and your customers regular have to deal with outdated information. You’re also probably wasting time and money getting data from one system and inputting it into another, hopefully without too much delay and too many mistakes.

ERP systems: a definition


An Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system is a software that is implemented throughout the business to improve the flow of data and facilitate business processes throughout the organization. With the implementation of a quality ERP system, you will be able to streamline operations in your business, reduce costs, increase productivity and deliver an improved overall customer experience.

Included: in-store, product and inventory management

Your ERP system will make back-office work a breeze by simplifying the processes related to adding, categorizing and grouping new items, implementing special offer campaigns, stock counting, replenishment of inventory and much more. Your system can be customized to meet the specific needs of your operation.

Included: staff management

With a comprehensive retail management software solution in place, you can easily manage your staff rosters, oversee work schedules and keep your staffing costs under check. The ERP solution can automatically calculate sales commissions, and can help to prevent losses by detecting suspicious activity in your Point of Sale (POS) transactions.

Included: personalized customer service

An ERP system can collect customer data, enabling you to gain valuable insights about your customers’ buying habits. You can then use this data to create special offers tailored to their tastes and preferences, based on their previous purchases. You can also offer a loyalty program that rewards regular customers.

Cloud and on-premises ERP

In the past, most ERPs were on-premises, that is, they were hosted on the retailer’s hardware and on in-house servers. The retailer’s internal IT team was responsible for system updates, upgrades, maintenance and security.

Today, however, ERPs have moved massively in the cloud. Cloud-based ERP (also called SaaS ERP, with SaaS meaning “software as a service”) has several advantages over the traditional on-premises one:

  • It is automatically updated by the ERP supplier. The retailer doesn’t need to do anything – aaS software guarantees that you are always automatically on the latest version, with all the functionality that comes with it.
  • The ERP provider takes care of security and compliance with legal requirements.
  • Capital expenditure is lower: there is no need for hardware and servers, and the cost of running and maintaining the system, is included in the subscription price.
  • It’s easier to plug in new functionality or deploy extra applications.

POS: a definition


Point of Sale (POS) is the name for the new generation of cash registers. However, unlike old cash registers, POS are electronic, and can do much more than just process sales. They can also handle various types of payment forms, record and track customer orders, support special promotions like buy-one-get-one offers, connect to other systems and manage and update inventory. On top of providing retailers with a more integrated way to manage their business, a modern POS offers a large number of tools to give customers better and faster service.

POS terminals can be stationary, on a fixed till, or run on mobile devices or tablets. With a mobile POS, retailers can empower their staff to serve customers, search for product information and even complete transactions anywhere in the store, or even in the yard or parking lot. Mobile POS are especially useful in temporary and outdoors stores, as well as in very large stores (for example, a garden center, or motorhome trader) where sales associates need to roam wide areas.

For a retailer, it’s paramount to select an ERP system that is seamlessly integrated to a POS system. Your ERP and Point of Sale systems must be able to communicate without disruptions and delays: otherwise, you risk mistakes and lots of time wasted aligning data.

The bottom line

An ERP system offers unbeatable opportunities for efficiency, data reporting and analysis. You can measure and track how you are performing against your KPIs, uncover ways to improve profitability, and keep track of how well your business is doing – all in real time.

As a retailer, make sure you select an ERP system that also comes with all the retail-specific functionality you need, or which can easily integrate to a retail management system. After you have implemented a retail enterprise planning solution, you’ll wonder how you were ever able to get things done without one.

Article written by Giada Pezzini for lsretail.com on 23 September 2021

For further information on LS Retail please contact allonline365 on +27 (21) 205 3650, or email us on info@allonline365.com, or visit our website www.allonline365.com


Why Good Data Management Is Essential to Data Analytics

Businesses today have access to a greater volume of data than ever before. Organizations that can effectively leverage data as a strategic asset will inevitably build a competitive advantage and outperform their peers over the long term. In order to achieve that, though, business managers must bring order to the chaotic landscape of multiple data sources and data models. That process, broadly speaking, is called data management. As the volume of available information continues to grow, data management will become an increasingly important factor in effective business management.

Lack of proactive data management, on the other hand, can result in incompatible or inconsistent sources of information, as well as data quality problems. Those issues will limit an organization’s ability to benefit from data-driven insights, identify trends, or recognize issues before they become bigger problems. Worse yet, poor data management can lead managers to make decisions based on faulty assumptions.

Data, Data, and More Data

Much of this challenge arises from the proliferation of systems, such as ERP, CRM, e-commerce, or specialized industry-specific software. Add web analytics, digital marketing automation, and social media to the mix, and the volume of data grows even further. Pile on external data from suppliers and external service providers, and it begins to appear unmanageable.

Many companies recognize the value of externally sourced third-party data to enrich and expand the context of the information they already have. It’s hard to imagine taking that step, though, without first getting a handle on the organization’s existing data.

Reining in all of this complexity is a critical first step in the process of creating a strategically relevant data analytics program. From a high-level perspective, that is a twofold process. First, you must make all of those data available in a centralized repository. That includes filtering, transforming, and harmonizing data such that they fit together to make up a meaningful whole.

Second, you must make that information accessible to users throughout the organization so that you can put it to meaningful use creating value for the business. In other words, you must put mechanisms in place that make it possible to access that information easily, quickly, and with sufficient flexibility that users throughout the company can analyze and innovate without extensive IT training or experience.

You must define and deploy these two elements of data management separately to ensure efficiency. Responsiveness and ease of use are a direct result of a well-built data management process and workflow; the sooner you corral and clean up the data, the sooner the data can start working to create value for the business.

Extract, Transform, Load

The challenge of data management begins when organizations are running multiple systems. As noted, that may include ERP, CRM, e-commerce, or any number of other software systems. It is also common for many organizations to rely on multiple systems that serve the same function. Different divisions or corporate entities that operate under the same corporate umbrella, for example, may be running different ERPs. This is especially common in the case of mergers and acquisitions.

Many companies would like to run reports against historical information held in a legacy database that is no longer operational. Because it is not always practical to migrate detailed transactional information when moving to a new ERP system, many businesses make do with a workaround or simply do without, excluding valuable legacy data from their current reporting systems.

When you involve multiple software systems, multiple data models are inevitably present as well. For example, if one ERP system contains separate tables for customers and vendors, but another combines them into a single table (using a single field to designate them as customers or vendors or both), then a simple report listing all of the company’s customers gets to be a somewhat complicated matter.

You must extract and transform the data from those two different ERP systems, then load them into a centralized repository in which there is a common definition of “customer.” That process must include a kind of translation, in which conformity to a common data structure and semantic model occurs.

This process of extracting, transforming, and loading data into a central repository is commonly known as “ETL.” It’s one of the fundamental building blocks of a data warehouse, and for companies that wish to provide robust, flexible, and comprehensive reporting, ETL is invaluable. The end result of a well-designed ETL process is a data warehouse that supports an “apples to apples” view of data from across the enterprise, regardless of which system they came from.

This process also links records that span multiple systems to one another. For example, designating master records with unique identifiers that are not necessarily consistent across two or more systems is common. In the ERP system, for instance, you might designate a customer a unique 10-character alphanumeric code (e.g. “JSMITH01”). In the e-commerce database, the same customer might be uniquely identified by an e-mail address such as “jsmith@sample.com.” To build reports that provide a complete picture of that customer, the central repository must connect those two records and identify them both as the same person.

Sources of Data Imperfection

Dynamic data can also create challenges. Dates and calendars, for example, can distort information that appears on financial reports. Easter falls on a different date each year, making year-over-year comparisons difficult for some businesses. Similar examples abound.

Currency conversions and calculations, likewise, are always in flux. Hundreds or even thousands of transactions coming through each day, even with small discrepancies, can add up. Good data management practices provide a framework for factoring that into the process so that data analytics can respond intelligently to those changes.

Human error introduces problems as well. This is especially true when systems are dependent on manually keyed information or data copied and pasted from external systems. ETL is an automated process, so it generally prevents a good deal of human error from ever happening in the first place. Nevertheless, if human error occurred further upstream in a source system, then the ETL process may provide an opportunity to test for data quality issues and alert the appropriate personnel, or potentially even correct such errors on the fly. Although ETL tools are not intended to replace a comprehensive data quality program per se, they can provide a very good starting point for improved data quality along with data harmonization.

Self-Service Reporting and Data Visualization

The second key element of good data management is to make information easily accessible to users throughout the organization with tools that empower them to innovate and create value for the business. Data visualization tools, in particular, have become a powerful force for informing, aligning, and persuading leaders throughout entire organizations. Today, data visualization tools are easier than ever to deploy, manage, and use.

A few years ago, deploying and managing a data warehouse required a substantial commitment of highly specialized technical resources, as well as investment in a robust computing infrastructure that could handle the required workloads. Legacy tools required a deep understanding of the source data and careful advance planning to determine how to use the resulting information.

Today, data visualization tools are extraordinarily powerful and flexible and have grown far less dependent on specialized IT expertise. Frontline users who interact with the data on a day-to-day basis can now perform much of the work involved with creating dashboards, graphs, and other visualizations.

Using Jet Analytics for Data Management

Jet Analytics from insightsoftware provides both components of the data management process as defined here. First, it provides a powerful platform for building a data warehouse and for creating and managing the ETL process such that it brings together data from multiple disparate systems under one roof for clear, meaningful reporting and analysis. Second, Jet Analytics provides a comprehensive suite of reporting tools that make it possible for virtually anyone in the organization to develop powerful visual dashboards, reports, and ad hoc analysis.

Jet Analytics comes with pre-built integration to Microsoft Dynamics and other powerful business management software, making it possible for virtually anyone to create a sophisticated data warehouse in just a few minutes. Users can seamlessly connect and consolidate multiple data sources, bringing information together under one roof, for filtering, transformation, and normalization. Dynamics customers can handle all of this in-house without depending on expensive third-party resources to create and manage their data warehouse. Jet enables you to build and share dashboards quickly and easily, extracting valuable business insights from your business data.

Article written for insight software.com on January 20, 2021.

For further information on Jet Reports please contact allonline365 on +27 (21) 205 3650, or email us on info@allonline365.com, or visit our website www.allonline365.com 


Has Power BI become the new C/SIDE?

The Microsoft technology stack incorporates an impressive array of different technologies. Power BI is becoming an important component of that stack, but partners should think carefully before making major IP investments that create long-term technical debt the partner has to service. Microsoft Dynamics partners may be tempted to build their own reporting solutions around Power BI, but they should fully explore the long-term implications of such a decision.

For Microsoft partners selling and implementing Microsoft Dynamics solutions, the company’s overall direction around its two core ERP products is a welcome development. After years of working with multiple ERP codebases, Microsoft partners can finally align around a clear roadmap for the future of Microsoft’s ERP and CRM products.

Each of the company’s four legacy ERP solutions had its own unique strengths and weaknesses. The Microsoft Business Solutions ERPs, otherwise known as Microsoft Dynamics NAV, clearly had some strong advantages, especially in regard to global coverage and suitability to larger, more complex enterprises.

But those products also came with some downsides. Microsoft Dynamics NAV, in particular, required heavy investments in time and resources to extend or modify business logic to tailor fit the application to specific customer needs. Partners who wanted to build upon Microsoft Dynamics NAV with industry-specific functionality or cross-industry functional extensions had to invest considerable time in writing code, and then in maintaining that code over the long term, version to version.

Maintaining customizations written using C/SIDE (the Microsoft Dynamics NAV development environment) and C/AL (its associated programming language) became a resource-consuming exercise for NAV partners and many of the customers whom they served. This is not to say that partners did not also benefit from the additional billable hours associated with code maintenance work or upgrades.

With each upgrade, C/SIDE and C/AL called for potentially disruptive rework. For ISV partners, that meant pouring piles of money into existing IP investments to keep them current with each new Microsoft release. For customers, it turned upgrades into highly disruptive, expensive, and often long-term projects. For many, it was enough to deter them from upgrading at all and it created version-locked customers that were stranded versions behind where Microsoft wanted them to be.

As Microsoft Dynamics NAV was morphing into Business Central, C/SIDE’s continued existence threatened to perpetuate those issues as long-term problems in Microsoft’s future ERP strategy. Microsoft decided to make a change

The End of C/SIDE

Two or three years ago, it became clear that Microsoft intended to phase out C/SIDE and C/AL in Business Central. While partners were generating income from custom development, it was expensive to perform that work because it required highly specialized knowledge. For customers, it added significantly to the total cost of ownership, and it tended to discourage them from upgrading to newer versions.

For Microsoft, the concerns about C/SIDE came from a slightly different angle: When partners are spending all of their time and energy maintaining the installed base, they have little capacity for net-new implementations.

That phenomenon ought to be of concern to partners as well. After all, a business built on serving an existing customer base with low-value-added, high-cost services will eventually meet with resistance and customer defections. Healthy businesses grow by building their customer base and improving efficiency over the course of time.

Power BI as the New C/SIDE

With Microsoft’s big push to make Power BI the new standard for business intelligence, it’s not surprising that a lot of Microsoft Dynamics partners have taken the plunge into Power BI custom development. Interestingly, though, many of the risks and problems associated with custom development in the C/SIDE environment are finding a parallel in the new world of Power BI.

Power BI is a robust solution for data visualization, but in the world of software technology, “robust” often translates to “complicated and expensive to work with.”

For customers accustomed to simple, straightforward reporting tools, Power BI represents a major change. Power BI consists of multiple components, including Gateways, Power BI Report Server, Power BI Services, and more. System architecture requires a great deal of forethought and planning, and architecting a Power BI landscape is an exercise in custom design every time.

Power BI has a steep learning curve. That includes the DAX programming language, and unfortunately, there are not a lot of DAX programmers available on the market at this point. If you thought finding a qualified NAV/ BC developer was a challenge, this will be much harder, making them even more expensive. Microsoft currently supports several other languages including M, R-script, and Python. It’s fair to ask whether DAX may be deprecated at some point and replaced with a better, more flexible language. If that happens, existing IP built on Power BI could need to be rewritten.

There are plenty of precedents for such major changes in direction at Microsoft. The deprecation of C/SIDE and C/AL is an obvious example. What will the future hold for partners investing in IP built on top of Power BI? Will they be required to throw good money after bad to preserve their investments?

To sum up:

  • C/SIDE was painful for ISV partners because each new Microsoft version release required major revisions to the partner code. In other words, it made ISV products very expensive to maintain.
  • C/SIDE was painful for customers with custom code because it made upgrades extraordinarily expensive and risky.
  • C/SIDE was painful for VAR partners because it version-locked customers and prevented them from upgrading. For VARs, this meant supporting multiple software versions and limited upgrade revenue.
  • C/SIDE was painful for Microsoft because it drained partner capacity and acted as a drag on net-new customer sales.

If you go through that list of four pain points and replace “C/SIDE” with “Power BI,” you can well imagine that two or three years from now, all four of those statements might ring true.

Focusing on Core Strengths

The vast majority of customers just want a straightforward reporting solution that is easy to use, with self-service capabilities. They want real-time access to data, with the ability to easily analyze data in Microsoft Excel, and perhaps to publish reports and dashboards to others in the organization. They want a security model around reporting that is easy to implement and manage. Today, they can have all of those things with products from insightsoftware.

Now let’s imagine what happens when a customer upgrades to the next version of Microsoft Dynamics Business Central. Microsoft makes some changes to the data model, and you need to review, test, and potentially rewrite many of the custom reports you’ve built in Power BI. If that sounds a lot like the C/SIDE problem, that’s because it is.

Expensive to maintain. High risk. Version lock. Time, effort, and money spent on low value-added activities instead of growing the business.

Consider the alternative. Your customer is using Jet Reports or Jet Analytics, off-the-shelf analytics tools from insightsoftware purpose-built for Microsoft Dynamics. The customer has written an Excel-based sales report that uses live links to Business Central. When Microsoft changes the underlying business model in Dynamics (or any other system to which you’re connecting), you don’t need to change anything in those reports. They continue to work just as they are. With our purpose-built adaptors for Business Central, you no longer need technical resources to write or maintain queries in order to access the tables and fields to which you need to get access.

In this example, Jet Reports (or any other product from insightsoftware) insulates you and your customers from potentially disruptive changes to the Microsoft Dynamics data model. We deal with those changes upfront, within our product, so that you and your customers don’t have to worry.

That is what customers generally want—a reporting solution that just works, without requiring major revisions every time Microsoft makes a change.

With an insightsoftware product delivering lasting value for your customers, you can focus on your core strengths: reaching out to new customers, growing your business, and serving as a trusted advisor to companies that need your technology expertise.

Service hours are an important source of revenue for ERP VAR, but in many cases, that simply doesn’t translate to customer value. On the contrary, it adds significantly to your customers’ total cost of ownership. You will build long-term success for your business on growing your customer base and maximizing customer value.

While many of your contacts at Microsoft may advocate for Power BI adoption, the insiders you depend on the most will care a great deal more about your core business (selling and implementing ERP for net-new customers). When it comes time to hand out qualified ERP leads to channel partners, Microsoft’s ERP channel team will look for partners with a history of successful customer adoptions. A track record of growth will put you at the front of the line. A history of investing your money and other resources in Power BI reports will not.

Let’s Talk About Your Sales and Profitability

If you’re a Microsoft Dynamics partner looking for a simple and repeatable approach to reporting tools, we would love to talk with you. Whether you’re working with a larger organization with complex needs or a small-business customer with simple requirements, insightsoftware has a product that can meet your clients’ needs.

Jet Reports gives Microsoft Dynamics 365BC customers reporting against one legal entity and all the financial reporting flexibility they need inside of Microsoft Excel, making it easy to create reports and analyses in a powerful and familiar tool.

For customers with more robust reporting requirements, multiple entities, or working with Microsoft D365 FS&C, Jet Analytics includes all the functionality of Jet Reports and adds advanced analytics and dashboard capabilities.

Article written for insight software.com on March 12, 2021.

For further information on Jet Reports please contact allonline365 on +27 (21) 205 3650, or email us on info@allonline365.com, or visit our website www.allonline365.com 


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