cloud ERP

Five business reasons to choose a true cloud based ERP solution

Improved software reliability. An ERP solution is used by many parts of a business, including those that are business critical. Therefore it is important for the system to be available. But all software has errors. With a cloud based solution the resolution to any errors are immediately made  available to users. With a premises based or bureau based system, there is always a time gap between the error being resolved by the software provider and the software update being implemented on the client’s system. Such a delay is likely to be days and could be weeks.

 

Immediate update of functionality. The wide functionality of an ERP system means there are going to be regular enhancements made available. Most businesses will want to have access to such enhancements as soon as possible. A cloud based solution makes such enhancements available immediately. This is contrasted with an on-premises or bureau type solution where any upgrade requires planning and may involve considerable disruption and expense. Because of this such systems rarely run on the latest versions and therefore users cannot take advantage of the enhancements made available by the software supplier.

 

Mobile access. Because at least some business users are likely to be based out of  the office for much of their work, the availability of a secure, reliable access to ERP is essential. This is a fundamental facility with a cloud based ERP solution.

 

Set up new offices quickly. Most businesses grow or change by moving offices or setting up remote offices, which may be anywhere in the world. For such offices being able to set up access to their appropriate ERP functionality quickly, cheaply and reliably is essential. A cloud-based ERP solution is ideal for this as all it requires is that the office has access to the internet.

 

Known costs. For most businesses being able to predict the costs of its ERP solution over the lifetime of its use it important. With a cloud based ERP solution, the costs are known: usually it is a price per user plus a cost for using the system. With on-premises or bureau-type solutions the costs for upgrades are unpredictable: how much time will an upgrade take, what other aspects will need to be upgraded (server hardware or operating environment, pcs hardware or operating environment) and what will it cost in terms of time and purchase to undertake such upgrades.

cloud network server

What is cloud ERP software?

In this article I shall define first ‘cloud based software’ and then ‘ERP software’. These definitions will help an organisation when seeking a cloud based ERP solution to consider carefully what they should expect from such a solution and whether the offerings being proposed really meet their expectations.

What is cloud based software?

We have identified five key characteristics of cloud based software.

1. Runs in a ‘cloud computing’ environment.

Cloud computing offers an environment in which an application is not restricted to a single piece of hardware. Instead the application can scale on demand to utilise an optimum amount of memory, processor power, disk space and bandwidth. As you can imagine such an environment provides a much improved level of protection against issues caused by a failure in a single piece of hardware or network connection.

Cloud computing is therefore not the same as the ‘bureau’ type services offered by many service providers where they will house a given amount of computing capacity for a client, servicing it so that if it fails it can be recovered.

This is particularly important for cloud based ERP software because such software runs all or most of the key functions of a business, for many businesses if their ERP system is not available the business stops: orders cannot be taken, invoices can’t be raised, the factory doesn’t know what to make etc etc.

2. Can be accessed via an Internet browser

Any software solution that requires client software, usually running on a PC or Mac, cannot meet this criteria. Cloud based software should be accessible from any device that can access the web via an Internet browser. Preferably there should be no limitation on which browser can access the software, although that condition is not mandatory.

One of the restrictions with software that requires client software is that access is is inevitably limited to devices that have the correct version of client software on them. Another issue is that any updates to the server based software may well require that the client software is updated at the same time. If client software needs updating this may mean that the operating system and any other environmental software (including browser perhaps) may have to be updated in order for the client software to be installed successfully.

Cloud based software should overcome these needs to maintain specific software on a range of user devices by not requiring client software to run on them but rather allowing access from any Internet browser.

For many organizations these feature of cloud based ERP is key because it enables personnel to access their system wherever they are, it also reduces the need for specific devices with particular software (a cost that’s hard to quantify or control) and enables them to allow their customers,
suppliers or partners access to relevant parts of their ERP system.

3. Software is automatically updated to latest version

Another characteristic of cloud based software is that all clients should be using the same underlying code. In order to meet this characteristic the software must, if it is to allow customisation, have a well-designed customisation system to enable clients to add or adjust aspects of the system to their needs whilst ensuring they can still access the latest software.

In other words it must not be possible for clients or software houses to change the underlying code – any customisation must be controlled in such a way that they can be carried forward with latest versions of the software without compromising existing features or functionality.

This characteristic is crucial for cloud based ERP software for a number of reasons. Firstly there are good reasons why the software will be customised: to meet the needs of a particular country, vertical market or client. Secondly ERP is such a wide ranging software system that any package is bound to need to be updated regularly to meet changing or additional market demands.

4. Reliable message queuing

Message queuing allows software to integrate with other systems and for tasks to be scheduled. Reliable message queuing is a characteristic of true, good quality cloud based software ERP system. It requires firstly sophisticated software especially to handle errors or problems that occur it the middle of an integration or scheduled tasks to be able to roll back or restart the task with integrity.

Secondly a cloud based software solution can be monitored by experienced personnel to resolve any issues that arise very quickly, thereby minimising their impact. An on premise system has the problem that if for example an overnight task fails, there is unlikely to be personnel available to correct the processes. A ‘bureau’ type solution has the issue that the local staff are unlikely to be sufficiently aware of the technical details of each client’s system as each client is likely to have their own version of the customised software – see above.

This issue is very important for cloud based ERP software because ERP systems will run a number of scheduled tasks, some of which users may not be aware of, and will often be integrated to other systems. Therefore reliable message queuing is essential for ERP software solutions.

5. Maintain highest levels of security

Any software solution needs appropriate levels of security to ensure that sensitive data is protected but a cloud based software solution available to many clients requires extra protection. The nature of such software solutions means that it is probable they will offer much higher security than an on premise or customer specific ‘bureau’ because the cloud based solution provider is responsible for the total environment and can afford to use the best security facilities available and employ security experts.

Security is particularly important in cloud based ERP solutions because clients are holding so much of their information on such systems, sensitive data about their finances, inventory, customers and personnel.

What is an ERP software package?

There are a number of software offerings in the market that are called ERP. These range significantly in functionality and design. Some offerings are not really packaged software, but better described as ‘reusable modules’ in that each client runs with code that is importantly different from other clients.

Any offering that is termed ERP must have a wide range of functions and I would argue should share a common database and ‘look and feel’.

Wide range of functions

Any ERP software package must include as a minimum accounting, sales and purchase order processing and inventory management. Most clients also expect and need, sales and marketing management modules including CRM.

Many clients want to link their web with their traditional ERP functions so that for example new products or services can be added to the web seamlessly, current inventory levels or customer status details are known to the web.

Manufacturers or businesses that assemble products require at least some of the following functions: MRP, work orders, production engineering, shop floor control, manufacturing cost control.

Service organisations (or those that sell services as parts of their overall business want to include at least a support function and possibly project management and time management modules. More sophisticated professional service businesses are looking for a complete service resource planning capability.

Common database and ‘look and feel’

Many systems marketed as ERP software packages are actually a number of disparate modules that have been linked in some way. Often the CRM and sales and marketing functions will have been developed by a different organisation from the accounting and order processing functions.

This may have an advantage in combining multiple ‘best of breed’ packages and in reducing the development time for the package as a whole but has distinct disadvantages.

One major disadvantage is that data, for example customer data, will be held in more than way and can potentially be updated by more than one disconnected process. It is therefore necessary to regularly check that each database is consistent and, when differences are found to make decisions about which data is correct. This may sound straightforward but it can be a time-consuming process.

Another disadvantage is that gaining a full view of for example the current customer or supplier position may be difficult and require a software programme to run which combines data from different systems. This means that the view is always potentially out of date.

Having a different ‘look and feel’ across the package has the disadvantage that staff who need to access more than one module have to learn and remember more than one interface. This will result in a longer learning curve and may result in more input errors.

KPI

NetSuite publishes ‘e-book’ on General Business KPIs

KPINetSuite commissioned from SL Associates published a number of research projects into what Key Performance Identifiers were most important to NetSuite’s customers and what results they were getting through using NetSuite.

We have referenced the vertical specific results in our vertical industries sections, but can now provide information on the general business results – that is to say the cross-vertical results.

The KPI improvements were in three categories: Business Viability, Financial Management and IT Management and Resources.

Under Business Viability the two KPIs were 360 degree visibility and actionable insights (which increased between 55 and 80%) and reporting time and resources (which reduced by between 40 and 55%).

Under Financial Management the seven KPIs were time to close financial books(reduced by 45 to 70%), audit completion and support time (reduced by 25 to 40%), time required to support compliance (reduced by 25 to 45%), accounting staff productivity (improved by 25 to 50%), collection time for accounts receivable (reduced by 30 to 50%), order process efficiency and costs (improved by 40 to 60%) and billing efficiency (improved by 15 to 25%).

Under IT management and Resources the two KPIs were IT support resource costs (reduced by 40 to 65%) and business continuity/disaster recovery costs (reduced by 45 to 65%)

For a copy of the report please give your details in our contact form.

S5

Top 5 business smartphones to manage your business data

If you use a true Cloud based ERP Platform such as NetSuite you will be lucky enough to choose any smartphone or device which comes with an Internet Browser to manage your business data. This is clearly a huge benefit, however it also presents business with a difficult choice with the vast array of devices available on the market today.

If you are a NetSuite User you probably already know they have an Iphone App and also NetSuite are working to release an Andriod App in the new year. However you might well want to figure into your thinking when puchasing smartphones the benefits of a large screen. The Iphone App is great, however big screens are also good incase you need to get to the full NetSuite directly via an internet browser on your phone (I need to do this sometimes when doing admin work for clients as some admin functions are not available on the Iphone App).

To help you wade though the array of options we have given a brief breakdown of some of the some of the most popular phones on the market today. Key criteria when selecting a phone include a good processor and large screen, however some other features such as smooth keyboards and a good camera are also worth figuring into your thinking on this.

Though looking for the phone that suits you and your business best could feel like looking for a needle in a haystack, the huge array of competition in the market is driving some good deals and quick innovation in features means it’s a good time to look to replace older devices. A few you might want to consider include:

5: HTC One Mini

HTC made the best Android phone in the world last year, and there is no doubt it would make it to this year’s list. If you are one who’s keen into having an Android phone for your business, you may want to consider HTC One mini as one of your options. It can definitely handle all the stuff you need done in a day– and so much more.

This mid-range market reincarnation of its predecessor, the bigger HTC One is packed with all the features you wouldn’t expect to have in a phone this size. It’s aluminium shell houses an Ultrapixel camera and BoomSound technology, all decked on the latest version of Android. It’s pre-installed apps makes an entertaining phone while keeping you ahead of your business– you can play songs with lyrics on screen with its Music Player, something you won’t find with the rest of its competitors unless you install separate apps.

Multitasking is never an issue with HTC One Mini. The usual slowdown is multiple apps running is a thing of the past with this smartphone. Well, this is what you could really expect with a phone packed with 1.4 GHz dual core processor. In the Sunspider JavaScript benchmark, One Mini score 1,521ms; surpassing a number of its competitors (including the S3).
With its HTC Sense interface, customisation is significantly more far-reaching than other mildly-customised Android phones. This customisation features allows its users to highlight things that matter more to their business– or those that basically, requires their attention every now and then.

4: Google Nexus 5

In spite of the new flagship Google phone, Nexus 6; the previous model is still a great catch.

Like all Google’s Nexus devices, the Nexus 5 runs entirely on Android. There are no modifications to the software, and it allows its users to get updates much faster than the other Android phones in the market.

Being an open source software, Android is on constant innovations here and there– not to mention the vast availability of productivity apps for this operating system. It also allows for a smooth navigation through apps, making multitasking an easy task altogether.

While being fast enough to handle all open apps at the same time, the best thing about this Nexus is that you get the best value for you money, being offered at only half the price of the user top-tier smartphones. While the camera isn’t that impressive, it sets off with its other awesome features. Being a Google phone, you can expect it to be fully integrated with your Google accounts– and the entirety of your connections with the Google ecosystem– a real plus for heavy Google users.
The Nexus 5 may not have made it to the mainstream market (due to lack of carrier partnership, they say), but this could be the best phone you can own if you care mostly about the Android experience and the Google ecosystem.

3: Samsung Galaxy Note4

Samsung’s Galaxy Note4 is said to be the best Samsung by far. This exceptional business smartphone comes with a super-sharp 5.7-inch display and an impressively powerful processor This phablet-slash-smarthphone is not the only one among its worthy competitors that come with a built-in stylus, though it could be the only device that gave this feature the justice. Pull out the stylus from its slot, and you get access to the Action Menu, allowing you to write notes as you go, never missing out on anything important for your business.

Aside from the swift note-taking, this device also features a number of multitasking tools, giving its screen a good use. Multi Window and split-screen view make hovering from one app to another a smooth experience.

Note 4 also invested on added security features, starting off with its fingerprint scanner. It’s extended battery life is also a huge plus for heavy business users.

2: Samsung Galaxy s5

If the 5.7-inch Note 4 screen is too wide for you to handle, the S5 should be the better choice. This phone packs almost the same features and power as the Note 4 though it lacks the Note’s stylus. It’s super-sharp 5.1-inch display is a feat of its own, on top of its impressively fast 2.5GHz quad-core CPU.

In terms of security, the S5 exceeds expectations. With a fingerprint scanner that supports Knox, a robust security suite developed by Samsung, there’s nothing to worry about unauthorized access to your smartphone. Battery life is also not compromised with its beefy internal battery, and the Ultra Low Power Mode– saving your battery just when you need it most. Multi-Window and split-screen view are also great for multitasking.

Compared with other more-posh, corporate-built smart phones, the Samsung Galaxy S5 can get down and dirty. Waterproof and dust proof (others say, dirt proof), even the weather won’t stop you from checking on your notifications as you need it.

1: iPhone 6 / iPhone 6 Plus

If you have been on iPhone since time immemorial and have been wishing for an iPhone with larger screens, there you have it.
Apple’s new iPhone comes in two sizes, both packed with all the perks of iOS but with more screen space. The iPhone 6 comes in a 4.7-inch display, while the iPhone 6 Plus with a larger 5.5-inch screen. Aside from this difference, the phones are identical. Both comes with the fast A8 processor, allowing for the smoothest app-to-app transition for multitasking and that impressive processing speed.

Both iPhones boast the fingerprint scanner, making it one of the most secured smarthphones since the iPhone 5S. With the launch of the iOS 8, users can expect new business and productivity features as well.

While both phones have the same features, some extra ones are available for iPhone 6 Plus such as the dual-pane mode, allowing you to navigate through the Mail and messaging apps more easily, and of course, the larger battery.

While Android and iOS dominates the list, there are still noteworthy opponents such as the Nokia’s Lumia line, and Blackberry’s Z30 and Passport. No matter what smartphone you opt to partner with on your business, what matters is finding one that complements and compliments the smart, savvy, businessman in you.

Google Apps vs Office 365

On the surface there’s little that sets Google Apps for Business apart from its closest counterpart Office 365. They’re both similar prices and each offer similar feature-sets, boasting a wide selection of productivity tools and extra pleasantries.

Office 365, released as recently has 2011, has become a widely used and popular service.

It has quickly become one of Microsoft’s primary profit drivers, and it’s easy to see why. Since the inclusion of the Office 2013 it has become an even more attractive proposition for the millions of ‘office familiar’ users used to the Microsoft suite of software’s. The addition making it much easier to work in and out of the cloud, work across multiple devices and collaborate with others, no matter what set-up you’re using.

Both Google apps and Microsoft Office 365 allow users to share, co-author and collaborate on documents in real-time.

Office 365 Much more flexible in terms of pricing structure – One of the notable differences between the two cloud based suites is their pricing structure, allowing for a greater level of choice depending on your specific business needs.

Office 365 for small business allows up to 25 users and starts at $5 per user per month, the next step up including full desktop applications is $12.50 per user per month. The next step up from that for up to 300 users includes self-service business intelligence, desktop versions and Yammer social enterprise integration.

Google’s offers a simple flat rate of $5 per user per month, or $50 per year. The next package up offering unlimited storage and Google Vault, offered at $10 per month or $120 per year.

Office 365 better offline working, more powerful desktop apps – While Google apps is more about the essential tools required for word processing anywhere, anytime. Office 365 offers the additional power of their Microsoft’s desktop suite, Office 2013. Something that a few years back may have been an important decision maker for small business owners, although these days the need for such tools is reducing each day.

Google apps for business does offer offline working as well, simply download the Google drive for desktop application or enable offline mode, which does also require the Google Drive for Chrome extension.

Greater familiarity with Office 365 – For the vast majority the familiarity of Office 365 will be very welcomed, it’s a format that we all know and are used to. That said Google’s answer to word, excel and powerpoint are quick to pick up for most. The other advantage is the lack of unnecessary of features which largely go unused.
The simplicity of Google Apps lets you focus on what’s important, which becomes useful when you consider your potentially paying for a set of features you just won’t use.

Google Sheets remains limited for some – Sheets always has, and still remains far behind Excel in terms of more complex formulas and flexibility. That said Google has made improvements to their spreadsheets application that bring it closer to its Microsoft counterpart. The ability to easily pull data from Google Search and Finance helping to level the playing field for Sheets.
Overall it’s really a case of your businesses reliance on Excel, and it’s more complex features. Again the familiarity of Excel may play an important part and just tip in favour of Office 365 in the balance.

Office 365 with Yammer Integration (For larger mid-sized businesses) – Used by more than 200,000 companies worldwide, Yammer is a private social network just for enterprises. The aim being to provide a platform for workers to collaborate across departments and different locations.

Well stocked app marketplaces – A significant advantage to crowd-based platforms is the ability for business owners to customise their suite of tools, allowing us to create a much more relevant working environment based on our business’s needs.
Office 365 and Google Apps Marketplace each offer a wide array of valuable applications to increase your businesses productivity and make your life easier.
One of the first things you may notice is the familiarity with the Google Play marketplace. There seems to be a much easier feel towards the Google Apps Marketplace, clearly defining which apps do what, who they’re aimed at and how they benefit your business.

Privacy policy – For some the most important consideration between Office 365 and Google Apps might be nothing to do with features or price. There’s a startling difference between the approach Google and Microsoft take towards their privacy.

Google doesn’t beat around the bush, “We use the information we collect from all of our services to provide, maintain, protect and improve them, to develop new ones, and to protect Google and our users. We also use this information to offer you tailored content – like giving you more relevant search results and ads.” – Google has been known to scan mail, and the contents of your documents to serve their ads.

Microsoft approach to privacy almost a mirror opposite: “We use your data for just what you pay us for: to maintain and provide Office 365 and Dynamics CRM Online services. We make it our policy to not use your data for other purposes. While some data may be stored or processed on systems used for both consumer and business services, our business services are designed and operated separately from Microsoft’s consumer services. Microsoft does not scan emails or documents for advertising purposes.”

Final thoughts

Google apps isn’t about offering all things to all people, but it is about offering ‘essential things’ to all people. The interface is slick, easy to get set up with and does what you expect. Google doesn’t try to emulate Office and all that it is, the service is minimal, stripped back and straight to the point.
If you’re looking for something with a little more power, or even familiarity, Office 365 may be the most suitable choice for you.
Whichever you go with, each has been very well designed to make your job easier. The pricing’s not hugely different, but the real consideration is are you paying for something you’re just simply not using? Microsoft does a good job at fitting in everything you need, but not blasting it all in your face. Google does a good job of giving you the bare minimum you need, and keeping it all in one place.

Keyboard Illustration BYOD

The challenges of BYOD for IT Managers

The challenges of BYOD for IT Managers

One of the most important innovations of recent years which is transforming the contemporary office space is Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). This transformative technology enables company employees to, as the name would suggest, bring their own mobile devices into their place of work and then utilise them to access office systems.

BYOD is already becoming extremely popular for obvious reasons. It offers exceptional flexibility to any business, delivering anytime, anywhere access to critical information and technology. It also potentially enables smaller business to make financial savings on expensive IT equipment. But despite the fact that BYOD is unquestionably an exciting development, like any technological breakthrough it is not a silver bullet. It does pose challenges to IT managers, so here are some of the most prevalent issues that are likely to arise with BYOD.

Compatibility Issues

The first thing to consider with regard to BYOD is that any BYOD system must be compatible with an ever expanding array of different mobile devices. Both tablet computers and smartphones have grown rapidly in popularity in recent years, and not only do these differ greatly in terms of manufacturer, but also run off two popular and competing operating systems. While BYOD is designed by its very nature to deliver a uniform experience to all technology, the reality is that there can be teething problems.

Security Issues

Probably the most obvious and important issue which needs to be dealt with when implementing a BYOD system is security. For the uninitiated, the idea of allowing employees to access company IT systems when potentially anywhere on the planet, and often in public places, can seem quite a scary prospect. In reality, there is no need for undue alarm, but at the same time, it is quite clear that BYOD does pose security risks, and thus these need to be understood and responded to.

So IT managers need to consider all of the security issues posed by BYOD. Some of the prominent issues which immediately come to mind can be summarised thus:

• Monitoring who is accessing the network, where these people are located, and what devices are being used;
• Ensuring that no malignant software such as viruses and malware gain access to the company network;
• Putting in place robust policies to ensure that only appropriate persons are able to gain access to the system, and then maintaining these policies in real-time.

Application Access

Mobile devices have already become mainstream, but with the fourth generation of mobile networks being activated all over the world, this process will intensify in the next few years. This will have a knock-on effect on BYOD; it will be increasingly difficult for IT managers to differentiate access to consumer and corporate applications with BYOD.

Why will this be the case? Well, quite simply, many modern software applications can have both business and personal applications. The likes of Skype, Dropbox, social media and many other applications are both often used for personal and corporate reasons. The definition of consumer applications becomes rather tenuous when these are taken into consideration. Thus, making decisions about access becomes problematical; an IT manager must decide what applications can be considered business-related, what can be stored on cloud services, and whether virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) applications can be considered a viable option.

It goes without saying that most businesses wish to control what applications can be operated over a corporate network, but in order for BYOD to be implemented effectively, some tricky decisions need to be made in this area. A robust network policy management system needs to be put in place which monitors device usage related to sensitive areas such as instant messaging, video and photography storage, emails, and so on.

Malware / Virus Prevention

It is extremely important that by utilising BYOD within your workplace, you do not open up your company’s IT systems to viruses and malware. Unfortunately, with hackers developing new techniques on a seemingly weekly basis, and many of their latest malignant efforts focused on mobile devices, overcoming this issue can be a headache for IT managers.

It is difficult to list all of the possible malware threats that mobile devices pose to a computer network, but eradicating them needs tough and consistent action. Naturally a strong anti-virus and malware infrastructure needs to be put in place, but this may not be enough in and of itself.

They key issue here really is education. It must be communicated very clearly to employees that malware and viruses and a real threat, and training on the subject would be highly valuable. It is also important to ensure that Mobile Device Management systems are installed. These will enable administrators to check hat security products are installed on an endpoint, enabling IT managers to clearly define rules related to accessing corporate resources.

IT Helpdesk Issues

Aside from security issues, the number one headache that many IT managers find that they have to deal with when implementing a BYOD system is an overloading of the company’s IT helpdesk. There is no doubt that although BYOD offers convenience and flexibility in the long-term, in the short-to-medium-term, configuring such a system can pose logistical problems. Equally, becoming accustomed to the new technology can be a headache for inexperienced users.

Two suggestions can be considered particularly important here. The first is proper training for every member of staff. This really will assist the whole organisation in running the BYOD system effectively. Secondly, automated tools that allow end-users to securely self-onboard their devices can have a hugely positive effect on the amount of issues that are floated with your IT support; potentially making all the difference at a time when you’re trying to get the system online.

Ultimately, BYOD is an exciting and very valuable technological innovation, and though there may be teething troubles in getting it to work and operate seamlessly within your organisation, persevering with its implementation can be extremely rewarding both practically and economically.

The hidden costs of hosted solutions

It may seem that the service delivered by hosted systems are the same as those from cloud-based solutions and therefore that it is easy to compare the costs and risks associated with either type of solution.

As long as the solution is not running on-premises, you may think that all the costs and risks have been outsourced, but this is not necessarily the case.

Firstly you must establish exactly what the hosted solution includes; who purchases the hardware, operating system and database, which isn’t always obvious.
Secondly, you need to consider application software maintenance. Even if you have bought a licence for application software, you will not usually get automatic patches, let alone upgrades. Does the application software maintenance you buy include upgrades – that is all upgrades? Or may you at some stage be expected to pay extra to the application software provider to move to a new version. Don’t forget that even if you don’t want the content of the new version, you may find yourself on an unsupported version after a couple of years if you don’t upgrade.

Assuming you’ve sorted out who has bought the hardware, operating system and database and you have signed up to a complete application software maintenance agreement with the application software company, don’t think that all your questions are answered; there are many factors to consider.

The next issue is who will apply the patches as they are released and when? You may have included this within your hosting contract but make sure it is defined within the contract as to how often patches will be applied, for example, will they be applied within 24 hours of release or will they all be bundled up and applied once a month? Does the contract include the operating system, database and any other essential software patches?

Another point to consider about the application of patches is whether the provider is going to test the resultant patch application. After all, the chances are that your software mix is in some sense a unique combination of hardware, firmware, operating system and database. Another issue is time frame of patch application (and any testing undertaken) – if it happens during the working day can you expect any outage? If it happens outside the working day do you have to pay extra?

The third issue you need to consider is upgrades. How many upgrades can you expect during a year to the application software? Is the application of these upgrades included within the hosting agreement? What happens if the upgrade requires an upgrade to the underlying database software – who pays for that? What happens if an upgrade to the operating system is necessary, possibly resulting in an upgrade or change of hardware? What happens if the new version of the application software (or database) requires more disk space or memory – who pays for the new hardware and the time to order, install and test the new hardware, operating system and database environment?

So now that you’ve agreed all the issues with the hosting provider you may assume you have resolved all your costs and identified all your risks, but there is another area to consider; does your chosen application software solution require software on your PCs? Is it a client/server solution?

If so, are you sure all your user’s PC’s – including laptops for any mobile users or those who work from home at any time – have the right version of operating system and sufficient memory and disk space to run the client software? Also how is the client software to be loaded onto the user PCs and who is going to be responsible for any patches or upgrades required by them?

What happens when the application software requires the user pcs to be on a later version of operating software? Do you replace all your user PCs or undertake the process of upgrading them where possible?

We, as a supplier of cloud-based solutions, may seem prejudiced against hosted or on premise solution and certainly we can see how such solutions do address on the above issues. But sometimes the application software that is right for your business is not available as a cloud-based solution. We hope that in such circumstances, this article will provide you with some idea of the issues to be addressed.

iStock_000007735146Small

Systems Integration – Things to consider

For most organisations there is no one software application product that meets all its needs. Even the most sophisticated and comprehensive ERP solution is likely to miss out on required functionality and often the best solution is to select an additional specialist or specific best of breed software application to be integrated with the ERP.

Having made such a decision the question is raised – what sort of integration is required? The tightness of any integration can be defined as of three broad levels:

• Level 1 – data is transferred between systems at given times
• Level 2 – two or more databases are synchronised regularly
• Level 3 – two or more applications share a common database

For some solutions a combination of levels is appropriate. For example, if integrating an eCommerce application with a generalised sales order processing and fulfilment package, one might use level 3 integration to share the stock and/or customer database, but level 1 integration for passing order details between the systems.

It might seem that level 3 is always best, but this is not the case and there are arguments for and against each degree of tightness.The actual choice made in any circumstance will be driven by a number of factors:

• What the organisation needs or wants to achieve;
• How important it is for the integration to be to maintain a real time view of data in both systems;
• How quickly the organisation needs/wants the solution;
• How open the application packages are in terms of publishing details, maintaining consistent published interfaces and advising developers and customers about significant technical changes made to their product;
• What is technically possible given the application packages to be integrated (often level 3 integration is not possible unless a solution is being developed – including an eCommerce solution);
• The budget or cost/benefit case.

One important issue that arises from this list is to make ‘openness’ a criteria when selecting an ERP solution, which can also be applied to the selection of any application package. Even if at the outset there is no requirement for integration, it is quite likely that during the lifetime use of such an application (five to ten years) some kind of integration will be necessary or desirable.

Security 101: What you should Know

The American retailer Target recently lost 110 million credit and debit card account numbers and customer data to hackers. What should your company do to protect your customer’s and your own data?

Teach Employees the Hazards of Phishing

The weakest link in security are your company’s employees. Thieves prey upon their curiosity and trust in people and businesses they know to trick employees into clicking on links that contain viruses. This is called phishing. The hackers send mail that looks like something official, by using the logo of a company they know or even the boss’s name.

Move everything to the Cloud

The cloud-service provider would lose credibility and customers if they allowed their systems to be hacked. So they deploy the best security software and hardware possible plus maintain teams who monitor their network and your applications 24×7. In addition to applications, you can use the cloud to store data instead of keeping it on local PCs. Examples of that are Google Applications and the Microsoft SkyDrive.

SSL

SSL means encryption. Train your employees how to recognize that a web site does not have a trusted SSL certificate. (The computer will tell them that; the employees needs to be trained not to ignore the warning.) Also train employees to never type passwords into sites that do not use SSL encryption as hackers can read that.

Do not Allows Employees to Connect Cellphones or USB thumb drives

Hackers gained access to US Military computers by leaving infected thumb drives laying around at coffee shops where a curious soldier picked one up and, violating policy, plugged in the thumb drive, thus allowing what should have been a secure network to be infected. The problem with smartphones and tablets is they can contain viruses that can infect your network when someone downloads photos or music onto your computers.

Erase your Computers Completely Each Year

Did you know that criminals rent networks of hacked computers so that other hackers can use them for criminal purposes? People usually do not know when a hacker has taken over their computer and is using it to hack into other sites. The only way to guard against this would be to assume you have infected computers and reinstall their operating system each year. Of course this is an administrative and logistical burden, but it does remove those computers from participating in crime.

Block Social Media Sites

Because most people have smartphones, there is no reason why employees need to use company computers to access Twitter and Facebook. Facebook in particular has had security issues. It lets people post links to infected sites. Block these sites. But do not block sites that employees need to do business.

Antivirus Software

The truth is that antivirus software does not work in all cases. The problem is it is reactive and not proactive. All it does is scan files and memory looking for known viruses; it cannot detect anything new. Save yourself money as the free software Microsoft Security Essentials is probably the best product on the market. It is included with Windows 8.

Outsourcing Security

Unless you are expert yourself, you should engage a third-party to monitor your network and desktop PCs. These people think about security all day and every day, so they are expert at that.

5 reasons to move your ERP system into the cloud in 2014

As a disclaimer, we are a NetSuite Partner, so clearly, we are going to sing the praises of cloud based ERP systems.

However this doesn’t take anything away from the fact in 2014 there will be some strong drivers and very good reasons for wholesalers / distributors to move their ERP systems into the cloud.

My top 5 reasons are:

Cost

On premise ERP systems are traditionally associated with large implementation costs.  Installations require the purchase and installation of hardware in addition to the purchase and configuration of the software.  However what’s less commonly commented on but perhaps more important than the up-front cost is the cost of maintaining these systems.  However, in my experience these costs also tend to be higher with on premise software.

Maintenance of the software system and any bespoke code within the system can be expense.

Accessibility – any device, anywhere, anytime

We live in a world where employees are beginning to expect to be able to access their business data from anywhere and any device.   This is a change being driven by users who are keen to use their preferred device at home and on the way to and from work.

Anyone who has been on a train in the past year will have noticed the lack of newspapers and books.  Everyone is now seems to be attached to an IPad, IPhone, Smartphone or Tablet.  The same is true at home.  Organisations which have embraced this change will already be reaping the benefits of this allowing their employees to keep working whilst on the move and while they are at home.

If you are running an on premise ERP you can pretty much forget about benefiting from this extra available employee resource.   Even if the software included functionality compatible with these mobile devices unreliable internet connections / low upstream bandwidth in most commercial premises would at best give workers attempting to work on the move from on premise ERP systems a very poor and frustrating experience.

Security

Historically security has been sighted as a reason not to move to the cloud or something which features as a concern in customer’s minds.

I believe that this is something which will change drastically over the next few years with businesses starting to aim to move all sensitive data into the cloud to improve secutiry of data.

Over the years working with a great many organisations from small businesses to PLC’s with on premise software I found that in practice security is much more of a concern for those with on premise software.  All too often in house IT teams miss configure a firewall or do not understand the vulnerabilities of on premise systems.

As adoption of cloud based systems increases I believe people will begin to have confidence in the larger cloud based ERP providers in terms of the security they offer.   This confidence will in my opinion be well placed as these systems will in the fullness of time prove to be more secure than the older on premise systems.

Multi-subsidiary companies – reporting across subsidiaries

Holding all data in the cloud means that data from different subsiduraries and in different geographical locations can be held in a centralised location in a single software system.  This makes rolling up reporting across subsidiaries without exporting data from each system and centralising it possible.

 

Integration with other systems

I’ve been involved in countless projects integrating with Microsoft CRM, Mocrosoft Dynamics Nav, TAS accounts, Sage 50, Sage 200 and also Netsuite (to name a few).  Having worked on the initial integration projects I’ve also had the pleasure of managing a development team supporting these integrations.

One theme is consistent in all of the integrations I have been involved with….. Integrations with on-premise ERP systems require more support…..  A lot more support……

Why?  The main reasons are stem from problems businesses have with internal IT networks, firewalls and connections to the physical building where the on-premise system is housed.  Connecting to a cloud system with high availability housed in a high quality data centre with redundant internet providers and power supplies makes these types of issue much less likely.

But don’t just take my work for it.  This article from NetSuite gives a good overview of some of the considerations when looking to move your ERP to the cloud and also some strong arguments in favour of it….. The IT Buyer’s Guide to Cloud ERP