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Part I: True Cloud vs. Fake Cloud – How Companies Can Tell the Difference in Distribution

Your firm needs real-time visibility into sales, order management, inventory, purchasing, production and services—and accounting information. Cloud solutions can help, but only if they’re built the right way. Before you consider implementing a cloud ERP solution, take the time to find out what constitutes a true cloud solution, and what distinguishes it from the many fake cloud solutions on the market. This whitepaper shows you how the cloud can enhance productivity and gives you eight reliable ways to identify true cloud
distribution software.

Why Mobile Devices Alone Can’t Meet the Need for Real-Time Information

Distribution and the Cloud Delivery Model

When it comes to growing your business, speed is the name of the game. Your bottom line depends on your ability to exploit new business opportunities before your competitors do—and to keep your sales, service, purchasing, production, and management teams moving so that your service levels remain high and your customers stay happy.

But it’s hard to move more quickly when your business is becoming more complex each year. Your supply chain encompasses a staggering array of raw materials, and they’re now coming from all corners of the globe. Due to unpredictable customer demands, your product shelf life is shrinking and you must keep innovating to protect your market share. And with skilled labor so hard to find, you may need to rely on a wide range of teams made up of employees who have varying levels of computer skills.

Like any business, your company must keep close track of its finances. But every decision you make in the warehouse or in the field is closely tied to accounting—and every accounting decision requires heavy input from operations, sales, and service. Wherever your employees are working, they need speedy access to all the information that’s relevant to the decision at hand.

For decades, customers and suppliers understood that most decisions couldn’t be made on the spot. After all, most companies have operations in multiple time zones, with executives and staff working at different ends of the day. Any major decision would require a “huddle” at headquarters, and staff would have to wait for their marching orders. But with the advent of mobile devices, customer expectations in every industry have increased.

Customers and suppliers now assume that any member of an organization will be able to get their hands on the latest order status, production, and service data from anywhere. Mobile technology has certainly streamlined communications in distribution—but it still lacks the real-time visibility needed to answer a question or make a critical decision, due to several key obstacles:

  • Detailed data for most companies still lives in a legacy MRP system. The most forward-thinking firms may have upgraded to a system with some online capabilities. But in either case, decision-makers can only access data by way of a standalone app.
  • Legacy accounting systems may lack distribution-specific functionality. Firms are forced to use point solutions to streamline and automate their most common business processes. Their customer relationship management (CRM), accounting, distribution, and manufacturing systems will only talk to each other by way of custom integrations that are cumbersome and expensive to maintain. Even in the best of scenarios, most business data will be difficult to access from the field.
  • Teams now have access to a wide range of apps that streamline tasks and deliver relevant information. These apps allow teams to optimize inventory, plan shift schedules, manage customer changes, and more from any location, inside or outside the organization. But the apps don’t talk to each other, which means teams must log onto multiple apps every time there’s a problem or question. Lacking a complete view of any business issue, teams must assemble the pieces of the puzzle.

In recent years, software vendors have attempted to address these challenges by offering hosted or cloud solutions. Cloud solutions are installed in one central location and accessed by an extended team on desktop computers, laptops, or mobile devices. The cloud delivery model does lend itself well to meeting the needs of a team that’s dispersed across one or more locations. But before you try to solve your team’s biggest productivity challenges in the cloud, you should know what distinguishes one cloud solution from another and which features and capabilities are most important.

Four Ways the Cloud Can Enhance Productivity for Companies

Why does the cloud hold so much promise? Because when cloud
technology is deployed to its fullest potential, it can remove the biggest
obstacles to productivity at all stages of the business. The right cloud
solution can do this in four ways

1. Delivering broad and deep functionality

As we mentioned earlier, firms are doing business in a highly complex environment. Yes, other businesses also must perform accounting functions, deliver cost estimates, manage their workforces, and so on. But firms with distribution operations also need a wide range of specific functionality. This makes sense when you consider that most enterprise resource planning (ERP) vendors have to offer specialized versions of their products for distribution, and most distribution software firms don’t sell their products to businesses in other industries.

2. Streamlining Integration

While it’s technically possible to create one-to-one integrations for your various applications, you can save a great deal of time and money by working in the cloud. When you choose the right cloud ERP system, that platform will serve as the hub for all your business applications, connecting your software, data services, and equipment. You can use the vendor’s prebuilt integrations to connect most of your apps and systems, and then use your IT budget strategically to build any custom integrations you still need. The right cloud ERP solution will offer integrations that can help you:

  • Streamline order processing from every channel.
  • View calculated material requirements for order fulfillment and
  • Manage and sign documents digitally.
  • Streamline document management
  • Implement warehouse automation.
  • Support multi-carrier shipping and automate shipping rules.
  • Automate transportation management and freight fulfillment processes.
  • Manage human capital and payroll.

3. Removing Your Security Burden

Back in the file folder days, data security was a matter of locking your file cabinets and installing an alarm system at your headquarters. When businesses began to adopt digital processes, the security challenge expanded to encompass password protection, virus scanning, malware protection, and so on. In today’s increasingly mobile business environment, cybercriminals have seemingly limitless points at which to attack your network and steal your business data.

Even in light of the serious threats to your systems and data, avoiding mobile technology isn’t an option. To do so would hamstring your competitiveness. But attempting to protect your systems using your own resources could be risky. Most firms don’t employ large IT staffs—and staying ahead of ever-evolving cyber threats requires constant vigilance.

A good cloud ERP solution will provide you with the highest levels of data security. Think about it: no reputable cloud ERP vendor would skimp on security and risk being put out of business by a serious breach. It’s in your vendor’s best interests to make security a priority—and it’s to your benefit to take advantage of this protection rather than try to build your own.

4. Making it Easier to Incorporate emerging technologies

What’s next on the horizon for the industry? Just about everything you could imagine. The Internet of Things (IoT) continues to take hold in every industry. Businesses are starting to see the value of connecting their equipment to computers—both to gather data that will help them optimize usage and to enable the predictive maintenance that prevents downtime. With IoT technology, virtually every aspect of distribution can be measured and reported upon.

Cloud ERP software can serve as the hub for collecting and analyzing this information. The right cloud ERP system can help you track and report on the output and status of automated devices such as forklifts, storage and retrieval systems, and truck, air and rail carriers.

A good cloud ERP system helps you monitor the movement of raw materials worldwide and connect your supply chain performance to your bottom line.

To be continued on 5/15…

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