Jason Bittner (CEO): Hi everybody. I’m Jason Bittner from Triple Helix Corporation and welcome to our Helix Insider Podcast. Today, I’m joined by special guests Pedro Lopes (one of our Developers) and Andy Webster (our Senior Developer).
Today we wanted to talk about when a good time is for looking into getting an ERP System. That is, an Enterprise Resource Planning Software Solution for your business.
So, in our world we deal a lot with manufacturers and these types of softwares (the ERP systems). They are very common but a lot of our manufacturing customers who have not yet implemented or obtained an ERP system they get to a point in their business where all of the information is in different systems and different places and it becomes very apparent that they need a system that unifies all of the work that they’re doing.
So for example, you could have what’s called a Customer Relationship Manager, or a CRM, where you store all of your customer details that can be in a system. But modern ERP systems now sort of bring those into one place.
Let’s look at finance and accounting for instance. Maybe you’re using a QuickBooks or Peach Tree accounting system. Those software systems being separate makes it difficult to sort of get the big picture of business.
If you’re doing manufacturing and you have production schedules or inventory of all of your materials typically companies use spread sheets and separate systems but at some point the volume of this information just gets to be unmanageable. So, they begin looking for a unified system to manage it.
Which is what we call an ERP system. There’s many, many systems out there but what we find is that at some point a company recognizes they need to go after a unified system. Andy, why don’t you give us a little bit of thoughts on your end on what constitutes a good time to look at bringing together a unified system?
Andy Webster: Right, so I mean if you’ve got a ERP already and it’s doing most of what you need it to do but not quite taking you where you want to be yet – and maybe you find yourself doing some work arounds in the ERP to try to make it do something that it’s not really made to do – then I think it’s time to think about augmenting your ERP.
We typically can build something that sits alongside the existing ERP. I could think of one instance I swear the customer had a lot of manufacturing data and they needed to figure out when each of these different jobs in their system needed to be run.
The ERP makes it really easy to bring that information to your attention so you can see if one job is really far behind and needs to be completed first. Without that kind of analysis, you really just don’t know. An ERP can be a big power tool.
Jason Bittner (CEO): The ERP system then becomes the unified point of truth, correct? Like all of the information that you’re working on has gone into one place as opposed to separate places like spreadsheets and paper and white boards.
Andy Webster: Right. So instead of having to write everything down like if you had everything on a white board, for instance, you could instead put that in electronically and once you have something electronically you can manipulate it in all sorts of different ways.
So like something we typically build alongside an ERP is a web portal that will have a number of reports on it so you could kind of pull from those reports and use the data more effectively.
Pedro Lopes: Well, I think to compliment what Andy is saying… If a company finds themselves growing consistently and their spreadsheets are, you know for example, getting in the accounting department, it’s getting really cumbersome to manage.
Or, for instance, if they find themselves having a lot of white boards and writing things down and losing track of things, it might be an indication that some of these things need to be consolidated digitally into a system – creating a need for an ERP.
The next question from that is, where are the gaps? So one thing we do as far as trying to find the gaps is the digital assessment which is something that we developed especially for the manufacturing industry.
So basically we sit down with a customer and run through this assessment which is a series of questions and we run through the list trying to find gaps and opportunities for us to implement a solution and at the end give our customers a report that tells them where they fall within the manufacturing industry and where the opportunities are.
In addition, we make a couple of comments and suggestions or recommendations on how to best implement them.
Jason Bittner (CEO): Yeah, that digital assessment is actually a very powerful tool that assesses competency in their digital space about all the different things they’re doing and it actually goes a little further – it actually addresses different practice areas like their cybersecurity.
And we do that as a free assessment so if somebody was interested in seeing hey, how are we doing, we run this for them and let them see where they’re at currently.
Pedro, talk to our viewers about how the assessment can actually show them the path where they should go.
Pedro Lopes: Right, so off the top of my head, I can’t remember necessarily like what each of the sections are but the assessment takes them through different portions of the manufacturing process and gives them a score from one to four in each area so based on that, we’re able to identify how well the company is doing in reference to the industry as a whole.
Jason Bittner (CEO): Right.
Pedro Lopes: I think that answers the question, right?
Jason Bittner (CEO): Exactly, exactly. So, I mean a lot of our customers go through the digital assessment but at some point they start to wonder like, “okay, so what would I need for my company in terms of manufacturing and my competency to be better and actually improve things?”
And so Triple Helix, over the years, created something we call a Phase 0 assessment and Phase 0 assessment is a gap analysis. It goes much deeper than this digital assessment and what we like to do is we assess the company’s practice areas so that could be the operations, administrations, sales, executive, quality you name it…
And it basically looks at all of the different things that a company is currently doing and what they’re doing well but more importantly where the challenges are. And so said gap assessment allows us to create a road map or a plan of improving things. Sometimes that’s a replacement of an ERP. But very often, companies do not actually have an ERP of any kind when we start.
Andy, talk to us about like now that you’ve run this Phase 0 and now that we’re looking to make a recommendation on helping a company go from here to there, let’s talk about it in a way that these companies already have something tangibly invested in (maybe an ERP in house). They are not happy with it but they’re not going to get rid of it.
Yet, they need to do something differently because operations are being hindered by the current technologies. What would you recommend to these companies? How do we help them go from here to there in a very logical fashion?
Andy Webster: Well, essentially, the Phase 0 and getting a feel for the what the customer has and what they need to get to is Phase 1. We actually lay out a plan for what we’re going to do. I can think of one example where we did something for a business operation where they had all these different censors at different points along their production line. We had to set up different steps to implement.
We normally need a sample of your data. If there’s technical stuff.
Jason Bittner (CEO): How long does it typically take for us to build something like that? I mean we don’t do these monumentally large tasks, right? We try to micro chunk everything.
Andy Webster: Yeah, so for like a small task it’s typically 3 months. A larger task could be a year, maybe 2 if you’re really overhauling something but if it’s just something we’re building sitting on top of an existing system and augmenting then those usually are fairly small and quick.
They don’t touch your existing system at all so you don’t have to worry. The way we build it’s reading from the database but it’s not necessarily changing anything in the database. The way we develop it we always have a testing stage kind of area, so it’s a sandbox.
As we go along at different points during the development we will bring people in from your company who know those particular areas and can verify that things are going as you would expect them to in the different reports.
Pedro Lopes: I think to compliment what Andy is saying it’s important to note that you know almost 3-6 months is a portion of the time where we really are just getting access to whatever database we need to connect to in order to work with it. And we are really kind of interacting with the client in a way that makes sure we have what we need to start building.
It’s very important that all the work we do is just like Andy said, it’s a side step on what’s currently being used. For example, we have a client right now who we are building different reports for. They’re looking at their data and trying to look at it a different way. So they asked us to build a couple different reports and we did. So we don’t disrupt, you know, their workflow, we’re just adding value to the existing workflow.
And so they had to verify all of the data on the test environment and approve it before we pushed it to production so there would be no disruptions to their activities.
Jason Bittner (CEO): That’s a really important point you bring up because when we do these things it’s tended to not affect like day to day operations. Like in your example, we do everything in a non-invasive test environment first.
Pedro Lopes: Even the database access we typically get is usually read only and we pull this data into the application or the report and organize the data to best create the solution but typically we’re simply reorganizing the data in a way that fits the task or solves a problem.
Jason Bittner (CEO): That’s a good point. And if we did have to write back to the database… How do we do that?
Andy Webster: Um, the best way to do it would be if there is an API that works with your –
Jason Bittner (CEO): What’s an API?
Andy Webster: Oh, sorry, yes… Application Programming Interface. That’s kind of like your step between connecting your database to your ERP. If you go through the API then all of the correct stuff will happen.
Say, if I have an invoice and change a line of it in the database directly and don’t go through the API, it might not communicate upwards.
Jason Bittner (CEO): We prefer to use the API because it protects the data environment, correct?
Andy Webster: Right
Jason Bittner (CEO): Good. That’s very important to know. So just kind of a recap, you know we started our conversation here about how when a company is ready for something better we get rid of spreadsheets and paper and white boards and stuff and implement ERPs which become very important.
Our manufacturing digital assessment allows us to gage a company’s maturity level so they know what they might need and graduate appropriately. Then, to a Phase 0 and Phase 0 allows them to understand where gaps and opportunities are. A Phase 0 would tell a company how to implement a new ERP.
A more traditional assessment would just give them the knowledge on how to augment what they have in place currently so it’s non invasive and cost effective.
To your point Andy with the modular development that we do… These Phase 1’s are small and micronized to the effect that you get meaningful improvements and a reasonable out time.
Final thoughts on that process we just laid out, Pedro?
Pedro Lopes: Think you outlined it perfectly. You know it’s essentially what you said. The assessment is an introduction, if you will. It helps engage some opportunities and situate where you are. Phase 0 is a more in depth look and may be taking one action.
And from there it’s deciding something completely custom or adding to an existing solution the company already has.
So, I think that outlines it perfectly and obviously if anybody finds themselves in a state where they don’t know where they are or need guidance… They are always welcome to reach out and you know, take the digital assessment and start that process so we can help them out.
Jason Bittner (CEO): That digital assessment is free, right?
Pedro Lopes: Absolutely free. It’s something we do to help people within the industry and develop a relationship and find opportunities for them to implement solutions.
Jason Bittner (CEO): Andy, final thoughts?
Andy Webster: Just getting started sooner rather than later because the longer you sit in a disorganized state, the more time you’re wasting and the more efficient your business is the better you can function.
Pedro Lopes: Right. You know… This is a good point and it affects your bottom line. As your business is growing or running more efficient and organized, it can save you money in the long run.
Jason Bittner (CEO): You know, final thoughts, if anyone out there is looking for manufacturing help or a digital assessment, please feel free to contact us. This podcast is actually loaded on our website so you can get our contact information.
We’d be happy to run a digital assessment for you and give you an idea of where you’re at and where you could go. And if it looks like it might be beneficial, we would recommend a Phase 0 assessment to give a much deeper dive on how your business is doing and where opportunities for improvement are.
So I want to thank my guests again here, Pedro and Andy… Thank you.