The experts are moving away from Software Answers to a new home

After several years of relaying advice to manufacturers and distributors from the Microsoft Dynamics NAV & Dynamics 365/CRM experts at Technology Management… the end is here.

Usually, the definitive end of a platform represents some form of closure, disaster or lack of content. However, we’re delighted to announce that we are transitioning the Software Answers blog to our brand-new Technology Management website.

What will you do with the content here?

We will be moving some of our very best content onto our new website. We have selected a two-part series, that detail ‘the challenges of Zoning and Cross-docking’ and ‘the demands for Traceability & Shelf-life’ in the Food and Beverage Industry.

For those of you with a vested interest in the Consumer Goods Industry, we are transferring a handful of our ‘8 reasons to change your business systems in the Consumer Goods sector’ across.

You may know that we’ve developed a range of Dynamics Additions to enhance your Microsoft Dynamics NAV ERP business solution without the need for costly ground-up development. You will be able to read all about our newest Dynamics Addition: Sales Documents, which will help you to ‘streamline your sales process by managing Cases in one system.’

What can I expect on the new blog?

We will be relaying to you the latest updates on the benefits that new Dynamics Additions can provide your business. You can anticipate content specifically targeted to address software issues commonly faced in the: Building Materials, Consumer Goods, Distribution, Food & Beverage and Manufacturing industries.

Additionally, we will be producing content from a range of Dynamics NAV & Dynamics 365/CRM experts from Technology Management. Within the company, there are a host of people that specialise in different industries and areas. Each person will be able to add a varied perspective of how Dynamics NAV or Dynamics 365/CRM impacts their role.

Although these are the last words ever to be written on this platform, they represent an exciting new chapter that we hope you will form a vital part of. We aim to cater our blog to your preference, so we will hopefully see you on the other side!

Address the demands for Traceability & Shelf-life in the Food & Beverage Industry

In food warehouses, it’s essential to move quickly, or things can start to go bad… literally. Challenges like Zoning and Cross-docking (that we covered in part 1 of this blog series) added to the need for farm-to-fork traceability and close management of shelf lives only adds to the already demanding requirements of warehousing and distribution in today’s food industry.

Challenge 3: Traceability

Full traceability is key from a food safety perspective. In the event of a recall, companies need to be able to quickly locate what products are contaminated and where they were sent. Then you also need to quickly identify the various ingredients to determine how/where the contamination occurred – and stop it in its tracks.

We recognise you often have to deal with various different quality systems, including when and how products leave the warehouse, often through third party logistics (3PL) companies. If this process isn’t integrated with your business systems, checks can be missed and traceability for items once they leave the warehouse becomes an uphill battle and in event of an emergency it causes additional, unnecessary downtime and panic.

Food manufacturers produce in high volume and have rapid inventory turnover, making it virtually impossible to track information by paper. Traditionally, businesses have kept paper invoices and shipping documents that could take days or weeks to sort through during a recall. However, in today’s just-in-time supply chain, a company is expected to take action within hours when food safety is at stake.

With a food industry ERP system in place, information about raw ingredients and finished products is collected into a single database. In the event of a recall you will be able to react more effectively and keep any damage to a minimum.

Simply put, manual data entry from paper usually results in error rates that are too high for reliable traceability. Automated data collection tools are designed to help employees quickly capture the data needed. They walk employees through each step of the process for in-house materials transfers, intra-plant transfers, putting away finished products, picking products for shipment and creating shipments.

Using wireless and mobile devices/barcode scanning devices in the warehouse, also means information about lot numbers is captured in seconds and transferred automatically to your core ERP solution.

In an industry plagued with product recalls, a food production firm needs to be able to demonstrate that it can track its product and the ingredients therein both upstream and downstream – from raw ingredients to the finished goods and vice versa. To do this, data from every point in the supply chain must be recorded to provide an audit trail. This is why many food and beverage firms choose to implement specialist ERP system, like Dynamics Food, to provide a centralised system to manage all this data.

Challenge 4: Shelf-life

In the supply of perishable food products, large losses can be incurred between farm and fork if shelf life is not correctly tracked.

Further complications are added with different retailers accepting different minimum number of days remaining until the “display by” or “use by” date.

Huge value can be added by optimising your warehouse management, by taking into account the remaining shelf life of a product, and matching it to the requirements of the subsequent part of the handling chain.

With system-directed picks/put-aways from ERP, supported with integrated handheld devices, you can ensure the products with the earliest used-by dates are selected for dispatch to the right retailers to prevent spoiled stock. The routing for multiple picks can also be optimised – saving time and reducing wear and tear on your equipment and your teams!

And it’s not just about how much space you have in the warehouse that can make shelf-life difficult to manage; it’s about optimising the space to avoid unnecessary labour. Keeping fast-moving and short use-by inventory near the front of the facility so truck-lift drivers aren’t constantly traveling to the farthest reaches of the warehouse is just one solution that can help radically optimise the warehouse.

Visibility and accuracy mean less work, and more profit.

Information is power, so having a ERP/business software solution specifically developed for the needs of food processors and distributors is fundamental to maximising warehouse efficiency, minimising stock and boosting order and shipment accuracy.

Having ERP in place will help you manage every step of the manufacturing and supply process: from order processing to ingredients/goods in through to final delivery to store/RDC (regional delivery centre).

Much like consumers who purchase food several times a week to provision themselves for meals that they eat several times a day, food and beverage manufacturers must maintain and turn over their inventory more quickly and frequently than other warehouses.

Be prepared to fulfil demands quickly and easily from the start of your manufacturing process right through to goods out with integrated ERP for the food industry such as Dynamics Food.

Attend our complimentary briefing: Boost performance with a single business software solution with Dynamics Food on either Tuesday 20th March from 10:00am-12:30pm in Wolverhampton, or alternatively Wednesday 9th May from 10:00am-12:30pm at Microsoft London.

Tackle the challenges of Zoning and Cross-docking in the Food & Beverage Industry

In food warehouses, it’s essential to move quickly, or things can start to go bad… literally.

Getting product through the supply chain accurately and safely is crucial – or you will be haemorrhaging cash before products even leave the warehouse.

It’s more important than ever before to have sophisticated warehouse management in place to help regulate food safety, prevent cross-contamination and to manage shelf life and traceability.

In this two part blog series, we wanted to examine how companies can go the extra mile in Warehouse Management in the Food & Beverage Industry. If you want to learn more about the demands of Traceability and Shelf-life in the Food & Beverage sector make sure that you read Part 2 of our blog series. 

An end-to-end ERP business application, like Dynamics Food, can help manage every step products take through the warehouse and alleviate the many issues food manufacturers face in the warehouse…

Challenge 1: Zoning

Allergens and non-allergens, and even “smelly” products like fish and cheese, need to be kept apart to prevent cross-contamination.

This isn’t always the easiest thing to plan for in a warehouse, especially for food manufacturers where you could be storing a host of different produce at any one time.

Therefore, your warehouse needs to implement strict zones and procedures to control allergens in your storage facilities and make it easy for your team to stock the warehouse. Optimised bays, clear labelling and directed put-away sequences, automatically generated from your ERP system and provided directly to handheld devices, means products can be scanned and put-away quickly and safely.

Challenge 2: Cross-docking

If you are a food distributor, importer or exporter, you may receive perishable goods into the warehouse which need to be shipped, or part-shipped, straight back out of the door to retailers.

On one hand, this is great as it means that you don’t have to put away products to be picked again later, the customer will get the produce faster and there is minimal requirement for warehouse space.

However, this is does mean that you need to have “look ahead windows” i.e. visibility of what products, and when, need to be shipped back out again so you can control where products land in the warehouse to allow fast quality checks and ensure the least possible manual intervention.

An ERP system designed for the food industry can help you co-ordinate all the warehouse movements for inbound products from different vendors into a mixed pallet, which can then be delivered to the customer once the final item is received – and all in the most efficient way possible!

Attend our complimentary briefing: Boost performance with a single business software solution with Dynamics Food on either Tuesday 20th March from 10:00am-12:30pm in Wolverhampton, or alternatively Wednesday 9th May from 10:00am-12:30pm at Microsoft London. 

Streamline your sales process by managing Cases in one system

You will be excited to learn that we have released a brand new Dynamics Addition – Sales Documents, which will help to streamline your sales process when managing Cases. The Addition will also enhance your customers experience, with faster response times due to more reliable data. 

If you're a user of Microsoft Dynamics software, you will be aware that there is a standard connector available which can integrate Dynamics 365 / CRM and Dynamics NAV. The connector is purely focused on the sales process, and works on the basis that you can create a Lead, Opportunity, Quote and Order in CRM and then submit that order directly into Dynamics NAV. However, we’ve found that there are some limitations with creating quotes and orders within Dynamics 365 / CRM, these include:

  • Dynamics 365 / CRM does not include stock availability or stock locations, so if you create an order and there’s no stock you don’t get any warnings. In turn, you risk disappointing the customer which can leave a very bad impression, especially if they are a brand new customer to the business
  • Dynamics 365 / CRM doesn’t handle the financials for a customer. For example, if a customer is over their credit limit there are no credit warnings, which places the business under a great level of risk 
  • Pricing in Dynamics 365 / CRM isn’t quite as sophisticated as Dynamics NAV. If you have complex pricing structures, promotions or customer specific pricing, it requires a considerable amount of effort to make these work within Dynamics 365 / CRM

Furthermore, the standard connector doesn’t particularly support the customer service process at all. The customer service function generally tends to be managed in Dynamics 365 / CRM using Cases. To summarise, Cases are there to log problems, questions and requests. A company can then analyse the Cases that have been raised, to look for trends or patterns and address the root causes to improve the overall customer experience.

Particular Cases may require a sales return order (SRO) or a replacement sales order (SO) to be created within Dynamics NAV. However, the standard integration between Dynamics 365 / CRM and Dynamics NAV doesn’t support the creation of SRO's/SO's directly from Cases. This can cause a degree of frustration for customer service staff because it means they have to log-in to a separate system, find the customer details, raise the SRO/SO, probably copy the SRO/SO number and maybe send some notes back across to Dynamics 365 / CRM. Because that process requires a lot of effort, certain steps may get missed or forgotten which could leave a negative impact on the overall customer experience.

Dynamics Additions Sales Documents

1. Streamline sales process – By going from Lead to Order within one system

  • The Sales Documents Addition allows you to create Dynamics NAV Quotes and Orders directly from an Account or Opportunity record in Dynamics 365 / CRM. This means you harness the strengths of Dynamics NAV in terms of item availability, stock out warnings, credit limit warnings and complex pricing structures. Additionally, it saves you from having to switch between systems to find bits of information and reduces the likelihood of errors being made or customers being disappointed
  • When the document is created in Dynamics NAV, it automatically writes some information back to Dynamics 365 / CRM, such as: date created, document number and amount which can then be used to trigger workflows in Dynamics 365 / CRM, when required to create Tasks for sales representative to follow up on quotes or first orders

2. Improve customer experience

  • The Sales Documents Addition allows you to create Dynamics NAV SROs and SOs directly from within a Case record and also writes some of the information automatically back to Dynamics 365 / CRM, such as: date created, document number and amount. Once that data is written back to Dynamics 365 / CRM, you can then take advantage of the workflow tool in Dynamics 365 / CRM which can send out automatic updates to customers or generate Tasks to remind customer service staff to follow up with customers in (x) number of days

Benefits

  • Increased employee satisfaction because they have better access to critical real-time information and can access this information at the touch of a button
  • Cost savings because productivity is enhanced through the streamlining and automation of processes
  • Improved customer satisfaction because it frees up employees time to focus on high value interactions with customers rather than carrying out administrative tasks
  • Consistency and reliability – leaves less room for error or things being forgotten about

See it in action

If you are interested in learning more about our Dynamics Additions Sales Documents solution for Dynamics NAV & Dynamics 365 / CRM, make sure that you get in touch with us today via Contact Us

Don’t be left guessing when it comes to your important business decisions

Microsoft Excel is fantastic, and has been the most popular software program to be adopted across the globe, ever. However, running your business from a series of spreadsheets might not be the best thing for growing your Consumer Goods business…

If you are running from disconnected, soiled systems, how can you make informed decisions? How do you know if data you look at is correct? And if it is correct, for how long?

To be able to quickly see trends and identify where things need changing, you need visibility across the length and breadth of your company and supply chain.

Ideally, you need to be able to spot opportunities from your retailers/supply chain as and when they appear, and take the reliance off the shoulders of your more experienced staff, far away from gut feel.

Follow the numbers.

Use Dynamics Consumer Goods to track and monitor if sales are up or down on particular stock or in specific regions, spot trends and clearly identity “one-off” occurrences so you can grow your business with every opportunity presented.

Having clear visibility also allows you to free up room in your warehouse, and not have the usual backlog of excess stock at the end of the season, as you will have the power to actively adjust your offers to retailers or even update your merchandising to suit and sell more…

To see more on how Dynamics Consumer Goods could help you sell more, watch here.

Reasons to change your business systems in the Consumer Goods sector. If you would like to view the first posts in this series, click here.

What effect are currency fluctuations having on your company profits, and what are you doing to protect yourself?

Most investors will be familiar with the concept of currency exposure, with constantly changing exchange rates affecting the cost of investing in international stocks. These same issues also affect companies that operate, import and export internationally.

If you have a business which prides itself on sourcing local products, foreign exchange is unlikely to have much of an impact on your profit margins. But if your business sources goods and services from overseas or exports products, fluctuations in the currency market can make a notable difference to your profitability. 

A double-edged sword, the foreign currency market is one of the most volatile trading platforms in the world. Exchange rates can move by as much as 10% in a matter of days; on the day the EU Referendum result was announced, the Pound dropped 12% against the US Dollar.

When even small fluctuations in an exchange rate can mean you get less of a return on your finished products, businesses with regular international money transfers to manage could find themselves seriously out of pocket if they fail to capitalise on positive foreign exchange rate fluctuations, or leave themselves exposed to negative ones.

If your business sends or receives international payments, currency moves can potentially have a serious impact on your bottom line. But there are ways you can look to protect your business from adverse moves…

The first step is to understand your exposure and the potential risks to your business.

Next time the exchange rate swings by 10%, you want to be able to quickly and easily quantify its impact on your bottom line. The best way for importers and exporters to compete is often through being competitive on price, but when things outside your control significantly undercut your margins, you need to be able to quickly establish by how much and where.

It's essential that you can easily drill down into what products, orders and/or contracts are

affected across your business so you can start making the necessary price changes. You need to know if there are items in transit that are affected that you need to address straight away or are you looking at only new orders?

With a single integrated system like Microsoft Dynamics NAV, you can analyse the impact of these tricky external factors on your business – on margins, cash flow or productivity – and make the right, corrective decisions based on reliable information.

With Dynamics NAV you can easily change your currency rates as they change, keep track of your potential exposure to currency fluctuations and also accurately record realised gains and losses.

You can register exchange rates for each foreign currency and specify from which dates the exchange rates are valid. For example, you can enter daily exchange rates, monthly exchange rates, or quarterly exchange rates for each foreign currency. You can even retain historical exchange rates for reference purposes.

Isolate, evaluate, and eliminate the impact of currency fluctuations on your business operations – and keep your margins stable with Dynamics NAV.

Inaccurate landed costs calculations eating into your margins?

Swings in currency fluctuation, most recently in the UK from the Brexit vote and general election, can have a huge impact on sterling value and equally on your profit margins.

For Consumer Goods manufacturers who export and import both materials and products, being able to estimate the final costs to your business enables accurate forecasting and helps to maintain projects.

However, for most businesses landed costs is something managed by a series of disconnected spreadsheets – which don’t hold up to date information on currencies, duties and shipping. This can leave you vulnerable when sudden changes in the market cause your overall predicted profitability to be skewed thanks to changing inflation or costs.

True visibility of all costs means less risk for your business. No matter what the currency, on any given day you might be managing product costs, transport, duty and even testing costs. Balancing the books to reflect these charges and the impact on your margins is vital to keep your business ticking over and to support growth.

One solution = fewer headaches + higher margin

Did you know you can easily improve product profitability with complete visibility of landed cost and shipping progress?

Use Dynamics Consumer Goods to record as many expected costs per item, per country of origin, shipment method, currency and date as needed and if it should be included for duty calculations. It also allows you to recalculate expected costs and automatically accrue them during the goods journey, correctly reflecting your cash flow projections.

Dynamics Consumer Goods also gives you container planning to maximise what you can fit in each container, as well as the ability to track your containers, so you never lose track of product no matter where in the world it is.

For more information on getting landed costs under control, watch our video.

Reasons to change your business systems in the Consumer Goods sector. If you would like to view the first posts in this series, click here.

Using Power BI Dashboards in Dynamics 365

In this video we talk you through how to use the Dashboards that are created as part of the free content packs available from AppSource (called Sales Analytics for Dynamics 365 and Customer Service Analytics for Dynamics 365) in Dynamics 365 as your own Dashboard or make this available for others.

This allows sales managers to get insights into their accounts, sales and opportunities. Details are given on sales performance, sales pipeline and activities. Sales performance can be tracked through metrics such as won revenue, average deal size, win rate, lead conversion rate and much more. Customer service managers can get valuable insights about the business in terms of customer service performance, activities and active cases. Metrics are provided out of the box to track service performance via resolved cases count, average handling times, % of escalated cases, CSAT scores and much more.

Even more excitingly a hybrid dashboard can be created, using the elements (Tiles) from each Dashboard that are most relevant to the person you are creating the dashboard for, you can mix and match tiles from different Power BI Dashboards along with Views from Dynamics 365 to give a truly bespoke dashboard with job role-specific information. This means that Power BI can be used by companies to manage the information views that managers in particular need, with possible cost reductions in licencing, as they may get everything they need from the Dashboard or Report in Power BI and so not actually need a Dynamics 365 licence or NAV licence.

Watch it now: https://youtu.be/0v1w6d-_jRQ 

Keep your staff happy – by letting your systems take operational control

We all know that good systems never replace good people, but good people are in short supply these days and you need to hang on to them!

The best people come to work and want to feel they have achieved something, they want job satisfaction every day and to feel as if they have contributed. For your key individuals who come to work and feel they do nothing but spin plates just to keep day to day operations going and are working longer and longer days to compensate for the lack of coordination, it’s not far into the future that they become fed up and want to move on…

To hang on to them, you need to provide a good tool to work with and take the constant pressure off. That’s where Microsoft Dynamics Consumer Goods comes in. A single, integrated system can hugely benefit your entire organisation including your key employees, and we know this for a fact as we have seen it repeatedly in businesses just like yours.

Microsoft Dynamics can free your good people up to be more strategic, less operational and feel a lot less like they are firefighting. Dynamics can help your business organise new product areas to be more effective, fine tune your deliveries and collections schedules and reduce stock with a streamlined pick, pack and ship cycle and most important help to prevent the overloading of your teams.

Ensure you work with your staff, not against them

With Microsoft Dynamics Consumer Goods, there will be no need to stress about the threat of your key people leaving over poor job satisfaction. Your systems will work for you instead of against you, which means your people can get the job satisfaction they crave and you can maximise efficiency in the working day whilst minimising the overheads.

Discover more about the issues in your warehousing and watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rQ94wjlID_k

Late payments are costing SME’s in the UK more than £2bn a year

Smaller businesses in the UK are facing a total bill of £2.16 billion to chase overdue payments, according to Bacs Payment Schemes Limited.

In spite of a dramatic drop in the overall late payment debt, with new figures showing that UK small to medium size enterprises are owed £14.2 billion in contrast with five years ago when the total was double that, at £30.2 billion, late payments are still costing SME’s a lot more than they should.

Out of the 1.7 million SMEs in the UK, almost 640,000 say they have to wait beyond agreed terms for payments. 39% of companies are spending up to four hours a week chasing late payers, while 12 per cent of SMEs employ someone specifically to pursue outstanding invoices.

Almost one in five SMEs affected by overdue settlement admit that being owed between £20,000 and £50,000 would be enough to drive them into bankruptcy, with seven per cent of businesses saying they are already in that danger zone.

Of those facing late payments, some 16 per cent struggle to pay their staff on time, while 28 per cent of company directors reduce their own salaries in order to keep essential working capital inside their businesses. And nearly a third say that overdue invoice settlement forces them to pay their own suppliers late. A quarter rely on bank overdrafts to make essential payments, and 15 per cent find it difficult to pay business bills like energy, rates, and rent when they’re due.

A significant issue for SMEs is the amount of time they are being kept waiting beyond their previously agreed payment terms. Almost a third of companies face delays of at least a month beyond their terms and nearly 20 per cent are having to wait more than 60 days before being paid.

This is why keeping a tight grip on your credit control is vital.

To thrive, your organisation needs better control of overdue balances and approaching credit limits. So it’s essential to arm your business with the necessary tools to effectively and efficiently perform credit management and avoid receiving late payments.

Our Credit Management Addition for Dynamics NAV helps to remove some of the manual tasks from your Credit Control team, by automatically putting sales orders on hold if a customer has overdue balances or a particular sales order would put them over their agreed credit limit.

Get great visibility of outstanding balances by account. Assign your customers to specific individuals in your team to measure and track the performance of these accounts. Individual dashboard help your credit controllers to keep on top of outstanding balances and daily tasks. Visibility by account means you can easily identify the biggest outstanding balances and also ensure you don’t miss the smallest balances either and Views of what’s due for payment in the next x days, means a proactive approach to credit and prevents customers regularly exceeding their payment terms.

We know ourselves that ensuring you get paid on time is getting harder, so our Dynamics Addition also helps your team keep on top of chasing debt. Follow up calls/to-do’s can be automatically diarised to remind your users when to chase payments that haven’t been paid when promised, aiding your busy team with better time management and more efficient processes.

Make life simpler with Credit Management and don’t let poor cash flow kill your business.