Friday, July 24, 2015

Understanding the Importance of Lot Traceability in the Food and Beverage Industry

Food and beverage manufacturers rely on consumers’ faith that the food they eat is safe. Most manufacturers consider living up to that expectation a solemn duty, and they take every possible step to ensure that, in addition to being nutritious and delicious, their products are worthy of that trust and that their manufacturing methods comply with federal laws such as the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act. Lot traceability in your ERP system is one of the most effective ways of meeting those expectations.

Ensure Quality and Safety
Consumers are increasingly interested in knowing the origins of the ingredients in their food, as shown by the rise in popularity of limited ingredient goods and the “Farm to Table” movement. At the same time, global supply chains have introduced new sources that may not have the same dedication to quality standards. Using lot traceability, manufacturers can know exactly where every lot of every ingredient came from, and easily verify that it met quality specifications. The increased visibility into sources helps both manufacturers and consumers feel confident that the food they eat was manufactured with care.

Optimize Inventory Usage
Many ingredients are natural foods, so flavor, freshness and potency may vary. Using lot tracking, manufacturers can ensure that they use older inventory first to prevent spoilage. Lot tracking also helps with balancing the characteristics of ingredients used in each batch to ensure that product flavor and texture are consistent from batch to batch to help ensure customer expectations are always met.

Prevent Counterfeiting
Another side effect of more complex supply chains is that there are more opportunities for counterfeit goods to mingle with authentic supplies. Using lot tracking and tracing, manufacturers can help ensure that all goods reaching the consumer are authentic. When counterfeits do make their way to store shelves, tracking and tracing can pinpoint the location where the counterfeits entered the supply chain, enabling the manufacturer to take steps to prevent future issues.

Validate Deals, Deductions and Rebates
Retail and distribution supply chains rely heavily on rebates, deals and deductions to promote sales and consumption. The complex nature of these promotions makes it hard to know whether deductions are derived from legitimately qualified sales. Using lot traceability helps to validate that the business claiming the rebate actually purchased qualifying goods.

Manage Cost of a Recall
Despite their best intentions, manufacturers must occasionally recall their products, often because of problems with a specific ingredient or an issue that occurred in the manufacturing process during a specific time. Knowing the affected lots and tracking them to the retail or distribution centers can help to limit the scope—and the cost—of any required recalls. Since recalls have cost up to $600 million, according to Aberdeen Research, it’s in a company’s best interest to use every tool to limit the scope of a recall. Lot tracking and tracing is the most effective tool available for managing recalls.

Prevent Damage to Your Brand
Adulteration, recalls, counterfeit goods can all erode the trust that consumers place in your brand. An ERP system that includes effective lot tracking and tracing capabilities can help prevent damage to the brand by ensuring the quality and purity of all the ingredients you use and everything you produce. When the unthinkable happens, you will look more in control if you can immediately identify the lots that must be recalled. Track and trace are essential functions for every food and beverage manufacturer.


Monday, July 20, 2015

How an ERP Implementation Can Go Off The Rails

There is very little that has a greater effect on a company’s success than it’s ERP system, which functions as both the memory and conscience of the business and forms the backbone of every business process. Yet many companies fall prey to the same common implementation errors, which may cause the project to fail or be less effective than it could have been, Here’s a look at those common traps and tips on how to avoid them.

No Full Time Project Leader

An ERP system has tendrils in every part of the business, and it is a complex project involving multiple people from every department and many decisions that affect them all. Most companies wouldn’t plan to build a new brewery without a project plan and a strong project leader, yet companies neglect to develop a plan and to appoint a full time project leader with the authority to arbitrate decisions. The project is too complex and too time consuming to be done as an additional task along with an already full plate. It can’t be done effectively by an external consultant or a person with no organizational clout. Without a full time in house project leader reporting directly to the project steering committee, the project will not do as well as it should.

Selecting the Wrong Software

There are hundreds of ERP software applications. Some are broad in scope, designed to fit many industries; others are unfocused and don’t fit any industry well. The best solution, especially for small or mid-sized companies in less than mainstream industries—craft breweries, for example—are ERP systems designed specifically for that industry. By selecting a solution designed for your industry, you can be assured that the business processes reflect industry best practices and you will minimize the number of customizations and workarounds you need.

Lack of Goals

If you don’t know why you are implementing a new ERP system, you will never know if you have been successful. Take the time to define your goals and express them in measurable ways. “Reducing order cycle time to less than 1 day” is a better goal than “entering orders faster.”

Scope Creep

Without goals and a strong project lead, many companies drift through the implementation process and add new processes, customizations or departments to every phase of the project. Resist the temptation by sticking to your goals.

Lack of Training

Companies have limited resources, and training often seems like an easy place to cut costs. Training a few people who are then tasked with training everybody else seems like a good idea until you realize that most people only retain about 25 percent of what they’ve learned after a few weeks. Your team will not know what your new ERP system is capable of, and you will not achieve the ROI you expected because of it.

Treating ERP Like an IT Project

ERP supports your business. It may run on computers, but that doesn’t mean it’s an IT project. You need to make the line of business people responsible for its success, or it won’t succeed.

Management Commitment

If many of these points of failure sound like they stem from lack of management commitment, you get the point. Without management commitment, the project is doomed. Make it the top priority for people charged with the implementation, and take the time to get involved. With management commitment, an ERP implementation has a good shot at success. Without it, ERP is doomed to failure.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

5 Must-Have tools for first-class R&D

Ask anyone in my family or in my company they will tell you I am not “Mr. Do-It-Yourself”.  I am what you might call “skills challenged”.  My grade in Jr. High shop class was “Absent”.  My 5 year old once asked me if I needed help with a repair project.  I think you get the idea.

So for this blog post we are going to use the word “tools” a bit loosely.

 From my observations in working with R&D labs over the years there are a few common elements that differentiate the truly gifted from … well … me with a hammer.

Sophisticated Lab Notebook- Most R&D labs have some form of Lab Notebook. They take many shapes and forms.  Many are still literally notebooks – you know – pad and paper.  Others have progressed to excel.  Yet others have created a custom Access database via a once employed lab intern who is no longer employed by the company.  The star students however have taken their game to the next level.  All the project work is in a database that is searchable and archived for easy access.  User fields are able to be added without programming and all this data is available to all members of R&D without complex copy & paste or band-aides and sneaker net.   The time saving is just shy of miraculous. Imagine an environment where marketing supplies an electronic requirements document.  Data from that request is passed into R&D where similar projects results are evaluated.  A large list of potential formulations are filtered to a manageable number.  A sample batch ticket is generated and samples are submitted for evaluation and are all tracked and measured as a routine KPI.  Utopia?  Well that is a reality today and more and more R&D companies have that vision at their fingers.

Access to historical, current and future RM costs – Most companies today have integrated access to the current cost of materials within formula development.  The ERP purchasing system automatically maintains the last purchase costs and little effort is spent on tracking these costs.  Fewer clients can look backwards and analyze formulation costs based on historical material costs.  This is helpful to understand why profits for a formulation may be eroding in time.  The real goal however is to incorporate anticipated material costs changes into the R&D formulation activities and selling cost analysis.  Where do you fit in this spectrum?  If you spend your day looking up current costs then you are 10 years behind the times.  If you can compare current formulation costs to 3 months, 6 months and 12 months ago you are better than average.  If you can use material cost predictors to estimate upcoming material costs and identify the current production formulations most affected by these changes – well you my friend are firing on all cylinders.

Ability to search historical formulations – why recreate the wheel if you have already solved the problem.  You would be amazed at how often companies formulate for the same requirements without even realizing they are doing it.  Once you have centralized your formulations out of excel and in a searchable database you next need a tool to query the database without adding programming staff.  Some of the key elements to search are existence of specific raw materials, quality specifications, material and labor costs, suppliers of raw materials and physical properties of materials such as allergens or hazard properties.  The search engine should also weigh the formulas by whether you current make these products and what some of the yields you have achieved during production.  Imagine your life if you had this information.  Well there are tools out there that are affordable and integrated that can help deliver this vision to your organization today.

Feedback look from Production to R&D – This is one of the simplest tools to implement but rarely is it done consistently.  Every commercialization process should include a review of all new formulations immediately after the first batches and then again after the formulas have been running for a while.  A focused informal meeting between production, quality and R&D on a routine basis can change the trajectory of your company.  First and foremost discuss yields.  Are there ways to improve the process?  Every % saved in yield is profit. Consider quality additions.  Should we change the process or the formula to eliminate or reduce the need for a second pass through quality? Every time a batch has to go through quality a second time it costs the company money.  Are there alternate ingredients or physical processes that could make the processing more efficient?  Getting three people in a room once per week to discuss 5 products is not difficult to do.  The results are amazing.

Track samples generated by R&D and measure conversion rates – How much time and effort does your company spend from sales through marketing into R&D and shipping to process just one new formulation sample?  It is VERY expensive.  How much time and what systems are in place to track the conversion of that sample into a sale?  My bet is there is 10 times the effort to make a sample as there is in tracking the conversion to sale.  How many samples turned into sales?  What customers have the highest (and lowest) conversion rates?  What is your cost of creating a new formula and how long will that formula be sold?  All these are valid questions to ask and there are tools available today to answer those questions.  Quite literally for $60/month the samples could be tracked using Microsoft Dynamics CRM.  It can be stand alone and hosted so the setup is literally minutes and it can make the world of difference to your company.

So those are some of the tools I see in the ideal R&D tool box. Some are simple to implement and others are more challenging.  All can have a positive impact on your company and all are available today.  If you are interested give us a call at Vicinity and see how we can implement some or all of these tools for you today.

The real question is – are you a do-it-yourself kind of person?  Or are you more like me?  I know my limitations and I have no issue asking for help.  Well many a little issue, but as I age I own my shortcomings a bit easier and call in a professional.

Happy hunting.

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Zen of Formulation

The process to develop a new formula or recipe is a unique as the research chemist.  However there are some key elements that could make the process more productive and more efficient.  I will share some of my insights in this article.

Define the R&D Process - A standard process for the R&D department should be identified, communicated and tracked.  Following a standard process or workflow will reduce miscommunication and missed steps.

  • Create a tracking system for the project.  This should include a unique project identifier, description, customer/contact, due dates and key milestones.
  • Document requirements from marketing or the customer.  This can be as simple as an email request or as formal as a structured form completed by the customer
  • Store notes on the R&D process including formulas and versions considered and responses from the customer
  • Track samples sent to the customer this is a great use of Microsoft Dynamics CRM
  • Communicate resolution of the project to interested parties.  This includes sales, marketing, production and procurement.

Utilize a centralized database to track activitiesMicrosoft Dynamics CRM is a terrific tool to organize the workflow of the R&D process.  An opportunity can be created and linked to a customer or contact.  It can manage the steps of the process ensuring key steps are not overlooked and shares key data with relevant contacts.  One of the most important parts is to store the data in a sharable, searchable and reportable platform.  While this could be done in Excel for the prices of Microsoft Dynamics CRM at $45/month it seems silly not to utilize this tool.

Leverage the formula database to support queries – Most formula manufacturers today have access to formulas in their production system. Batch tickets are often created from these production formulas for commercialized formulas.  A far fewer number of R&D departments use their formula database for R&D.

This is a shame and should be changed.  Many of the same tools used to make product are needed for R&D.  This includes item lists, current costs, available inventory and usage data.

If your company does not have a comprehensive production formula database or if it is not flexible enough to support experimental formulas and ingredients you should really reevaluate your current system.  Vicinity software supports production and R&D formulas in the same databases.  This allows R&D to search and select from the entire list of formulas to meet a specific project requirement and to create new formulas from existing formulas for versions of formulas.

Obtain feedback from procurement, quality and production as a routine process – When a new formula is introduced into production a review process including members from procurement, R&D, quality and production should be present. You should be discussing unique elements of the new formula, special processing requirement and specific quality concerns that may exist.  This review should also be performed after the first few batches are produced and then again after 10-20 batches are produced.

This information could be critical to each department and getting ideas on how to address processing challenges is likely to occur.  Multiple heads is often better than just a few.

My hunch is that most R&D departments do some of these items but very few do all of them.  The key is structure and to leverage tools available to your organization. If the tools do not exist in your organization then look around.  They exist and are less expensive and more powerful than you may imagine.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Essential Advice for Lab Management

“No man is an island” is certainly a true axiom for R&D efforts.  I have a few observations that you might find helpful in reviewing R&D activities.

1) Integrate R&D in the production process – For most manufacturers one of the goals of the R&D department is to develop formulas or processes that can be performed by production.  The feed back loop is critical in the evolution of a formula and a company.

R&D understands the functional requirements of a formula and ways to deliver to the customer. Production understands how to make that vision.  The most successful R&D labs evaluate formulations based on the impact to production while still keeping the creative and problem solving element alive.  Not giving too much emphasis on either theoretical development or actual implementation can make for a nice balance.

Producing a feed back loop is the key.  R&D should be reviewing metrics like- how many part numbers/ingredients are they adding to inventory?  Are there ways to use equipment that is not part of a bottle neck rather than processes using sought after devices? How many QC modifications are being made by formula?  What materials are experiencing the highest cost increases in the next 12 months?  Is is possible to adjust existing or future formulas to account for these questions.

So meet with Production on occasion to discuss formulas that are working well and those that need adjustment.  Identify those formulas often run on the most active equipment and see if there are changes to be made to uses other equipment.  Get your system to report significant yield variance and QC adjustments by formula.

Once it has been brought to your attention look for ways to solve the problems. The changes could really affect the profitability of your company.

2)     Link CRM data to R&D data - With the advent of Microsoft Dynamics CRM (and others) the ability to record and track customer activity is not only cheap it is easy to implement.  One of the fastest ways to gain insight to your customer is to watch their patterns.  CRM can do that.

An effect R&D department will track the progress of a new formulation from the time a request is made, through preliminary development all the way to commercialization.  Hooking up your formulation/R&D database to a CRM opportunity management system makes this a simple task.

Imagine seeing the current R&D project backlog, customer history of requests vs sales and new requests statistics by product type.  These are simple queries once the data is joined in a logical manner.

Microsoft Dynamics CRM and Vicinity can do just that.  Add the opportunity in CRM and link it to a Vicinity Project and now all the related data in either CRM or Vicinity is forever joined. Analysis of history and trends becomes a by-product of the normal day to day activities.

3) Leverage your formula database for new formulations – few R&D departments start from scratch with a new formula request.  Most R&D labs scan through test formulas in excel or manual lab notebooks to get started.  Once they have a base to work from they add or take away ingredients or processes to achieve a desired result.

Why all the manual effort?  Imagine a system where all historical work was in a database that was searchable by user defined attributes.  The results could be compared and a potential candidate(s) reviewed further for consideration.  Now that would be helpful.

Vicinity software allows you to do just that.  Store all formulas, experimental trials and results in Vicinity.  The next time you are looking for something similar it is will be right there.

If you are not yet ready for Vicinity and are forced to use Excel make sure to use a standard format for your formulas.  Leave room in your design for user definable and validated data. This will make a search across spreadsheets possible – I never said it would be easy.

Get started today – get your work in an electronic format and use the right tool to get the job done.  The result will pay for the investment in short order.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Three Critical R&D Mistakes and How to Fix Them

This blog is going to talk about the three most common and critical R&D mistakes and how a software system like Vicinity can help correct them or avoid them altogether.

1) Overuse of Excel - As I travel to clients and prospects I find one of the most used R&D database tools is Microsoft Excel.  Everyone has it and everyone knows how to use it.  The problem is that what once was an efficient method to track R&D products soon grows to an administrative nightmare.

Excel was never designed to store significant amounts of data nor was it designed to share information outside of the spreadsheet.  YES you can do it but with a tall enough hill and enough speed a car can fly.  It is not the take-off that is the challenge, it is the landing.

So come out of Excel and get that data into a database.  When you do that you can mine that data and share information and insights with those around you.

Vicinity provides formula management as well as version control.  Any data you want to track about a formula is filed for easy access.  Once the formula is placed into production R&D can track the effectiveness of that formula via batch tickets that are tied directly to the master formula.  Subsequent adjustments to the formula become a snap once the data is centralized in a database and outside of Excel files with varying formats.

2) Too much reliance on history to predict the future – When developing R&D formulas it is typical for research chemists to obtain the latest material prices from purchasing.  They ask for a list of current prices to ensure their formulas are costed adequately.

While this is a terrific improvement over keeping an external list of items in R&D with costs from the 1990s it is still far from ideal.

Incorporating future costs along with current costs and the review of trends is a more accurate view of the formulation costs.

So keep talking with procurement but instead of asking for the last cost go one step further.  Look at the cost over the past 12 months as well as the trend in the upcoming months.  This change will result in a more realistic cost estimate and better project profitability for the proposed product.

Vicinity formula costs are automatically tied to current the prior cost of each material.  There is no need to contact purchasing for this data.  Instead you can ask them to provide a view into future costs.  Vicinity supports an unlimited number of proposed costs for a component.  This allows a research chemist/nutritionist the ability to cost a formula based on current inventory values but also anticipated trends into the future.

3) Sticky notes won’t cut it – Unless you just like working from scratch most research chemists will leverage work already performed to help build a basis for a new formulation.  If you have already done something similar why recreate the wheel?

The challenge is remembering (or finding) what the R&D lab has worked on before, the results of bench tests and acceptance by the customer market.  If only you had that data available to search.

Well it never gets built unless you start building it today.

It is not practical to think you can archive all the work you have ever done.  But you can start archiving today.  Make a list of the key search criteria and get that data into a structured format (NOT EXCEL) so you can search on that data in the future.  Before you know it you will have quite the database of formulas to choose from. In all your spare time you can work backwards entering old formulas into your new data goldmine.

Vicinity out of the box has the ability for a user to define an unlimited number of search fields.  We call these attributes.  These attributes help you describe the formula in way that will help your future-self find the formulas you created in the past.  All this without a bit of programming.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Spotlight On Microsoft Dynamics GP Users' Group (GPUG)

As we wrap up our conversation on Microsoft Dynamics resources available to end users, we will take a look at one of the most vibrant Microsoft Dynamics Users’ Groups, GPUG. In this article, we will be learning more about GPUG with an interview from the Director of GPUG, Kim Peterson. The vision for GPUG is to engage every individual and company using Microsoft Dynamics GP in value-added networking and knowledge sharing and to be the single most important communication channel for Microsoft to see guidance on future development of Dynamics GP.

Kim Peterson is the Director of GPUG, the Microsoft Dynamics GP Users’ Group. Kim has over 32 years’ experience in building and supporting the Microsoft Dynamics GP community by working with Microsoft, Partners and Customers. For the first 21 years of her career she was employed by Great Plains Software and then Microsoft Dynamics after the acquisition of Great Plains Software by Microsoft in 2001. During her tenure at Microsoft and Great Plains Software, Kim held roles covering different aspects of the business including Account Management, Sales Management, Business Development, and Marketing. Since 2010, she leads GPUG as the director, responsible for its offerings and building a greater GP community.

What is GPUG?
Kim: The idea for the Dynamics GP User Group (GPUG) grew from the vision of a few Microsoft Dynamics® users - to connect with other Dynamics users and learn firsthand the best way to leverage the software they used every day. From that initial vision to the official founding of the Dynamics GP User Group (GPUG), and continuing today, our mission has never wavered: to maximize the value to individuals and companies using Microsoft Dynamics GP.

Why is it important for Microsoft Dynamics users to get involved with these user groups such as GPUG, NAVUG, and CRMUG?
Kim: Being a part of the user group community provides all Dynamics users an opportunity to a part of the community, learn from their peers, build their professional skills, and participate in the largest source of GP educational content.  A membership provides your entire organization access to hundreds of virtual and face to face learning opportunities.

We do this in many ways, some highlights of Member Benefits include:
  • Access to Hundreds of Live Educational Webinars
  • Recorded Webinars Available On-demand 24/7 to fit your schedule
  • Access to Discussion Boards to Ask Questions of Your Peers and Get Answers
  • FREE Attendance to Local Chapter Meetings to Meet Other Users and Exchange Ideas
  • Learn From Others Like You Through Special Interest Groups
  • 50% Registration Fee Discount on GPUG Academy Deep Dive Distance Learning Courses Through Virtual Classrooms
  • GPUG Summit 2015 in Reno, NV – October 12-16, 2015 where GP Users Network & Learn
  • Earn CPE Credits for GPUG Academy Courses and GPUG Summit Conference Sessions
  • Professional Certificate Programs for Accounts Payable, Accounts Receivable, System Administrators & Business Intelligence
Tell us about the upcoming GPUG Summit 2015.
Kim: This year our Summit will be held October 13th -16th at the Atlantis Casino Resort and Spa in Reno, NV. GPUG Summit provides content for both beginners and experts in all functional and technical roles.   The event is three-and-a-half days of unparalleled learning, sharing and networking. This is the only Dynamics GP conference designed and led by users, for users. In addition to great session content, there is also an Expo featuring software and services to enhance and complete company’s GP investment.

How many attendees are you expecting?
Kim: GPUG is expecting close to 1200 Members, while the whole conference with all 4 groups will be over 4000 from the Dynamics community.

What does Summit offer to attendees?
Kim: In addition to over 200 educational sessions there are many structured and unstructured opportunities to meet with other Dynamics users, explore ISV products, and provide input into future direction of the Microsoft Dynamics partners. lists last year’s content… from here you can see the depth of content GPUG Summit offers in sessions, classroom training, expo and more.  This is the richest content education for Dynamics users in the industry. 

Why should companies encourage their employees to attend Summit 2015?
Kim: Companies should encourage their employees to attend Summit if they are looking for real life, practical ideas they can take home and immediately put to work to get more value of Dynamics and to improve their business processes.
We have a spot on our website that tells you just that! 

What is Dynamic Communities, Inc.?
Kim: Dynamic Communities, Inc. (DCI) is the supporting organization behind GPUG and our sister global user groups - the Dynamics AX User Group (AXUG®), the Dynamics CRM User Group (CRMUG®) and the Dynamics NAV User Group (NAVUG®) - as well as our Dynamics partner group Dynamic Partner Connections (DPC). Dynamic Communities is independent from Microsoft; however, our close working relationship positions our groups to be a collective voice to Microsoft on user concerns, needs, and requests.

Friday, March 27, 2015

A Closer Look at Dynamic Partner Connections

This month’s blog has focused on Microsoft Dynamics solutions and the resources available to partners and end users. In this article, we will be diving deeper into a vital part of the Microsoft Dynamics ecosystem with an interview from the Program Director of Dynamics Partner Connections, Joe Carroll. Joe’s organization is one of many resources available from Dynamics Communities. This resource is particularly valuable to Microsoft Dynamics partners.

Joe Carroll is the Partner Connections Program Director. Joe is a versatile and disciplined channel sales and marketing leader. Accomplished in creating and implementing channel programs to recruit, develop and manage business partners in diverse B2B environments. Recognized for establishing and managing multi-million dollar partnerships, producing market differentiation and consistent revenue growth.

What is Dynamics Partner Connections (DPC)? 
Joe: Dynamic Partner Connections is the global community for Microsoft Dynamics® GP, AX, CRM and SL partners. Our mission is to improve the success of Dynamics partners through community. Our mantra is ‘raising the tide for all’ in the Dynamics partner ecosystem.

DPC is part of Dynamic Communities, Inc. the organizing group of the Dynamics user groups of AXUG, CRMUG, GPUG and NAVUG.    

In addition, we just announced the formation of the Association of Dynamics Professionals,, which will expand our partner offerings.

The Association of Dynamics Professionals is an independent, not-for-profit membership organization devoted to the Microsoft Dynamics community. The Association exists to serve its members and to improve the community as a whole through education and the establishment of competency standards and assessments. This association will formally commence in September, 2015. The Association of Dynamics Professionals is an individual membership organization, open to any professional (consultants and users) seeking to better themselves and the Dynamics community. Many members are also seeking certification test to their level of expertise and ability to participate in or lead projects related to the Microsoft Dynamics family of products.

Who is eligible to join Dynamic Partner Connections?
Joe: Everybody (or nearly so J)! Every product -Dynamics AX, CRM, GP, SL and NAV-, every role–consultant, developer, sales, marketing, operations and leadership– and every organization –VAR, ISV and independent consultant- within the global Dynamics ecosystem is welcome to join. There is no charge to join DPC today.  

What are some of the key benefits of DPC?
Joe: DPC offers many ways to increase the effectiveness of individuals and organizations in the Dynamics ecosystem. This includes educational and informational webinars, speaking opportunities to act as a subject matter expert in the partner community, partner-to-partner networking to learn from like-minded business professionals and access to Microsoft teams and individuals.
The events and programs are organized around community, competency and advocacy. 

‘Community’ is about bringing together folks from the Dynamics ecosystem: resellers, ISVs, consultants and Microsoft. We all have a vested interest in making the Dynamics community grow and thrive because a diverse, healthy and growing community helps everyone. DPC's is to focus on what we have in common. We recognize that our biggest competition is outside of the Dynamics community, and ignorance and lethargy within it. When the community comes together we talk about common challenges and come up with new solutions. We do this through formal and informal networking events. This year, we are hosting three formal events: PreGAME to Convergence and PreGAME to Summit for all Dynamics partners, and reIMAGINE, specifically for Dynamics GP partners.

‘Competency’ refers to a structured approach to increase the skills and experience of members. Pick a topic, train and talk. VARs, ISVs and Microsoft all share their experience and knowledge to increase the value and competitive position of the ecosystem. Two things about DPC make our approach unique in this regard. One, the community delivers most of the courses and content, not Microsoft; and two, the delivery is not simply a lecture but a collaborative, didactic approach.
‘Advocacy’, which isn’t about lobbying. We don't take lots of actions on 'your' behalf. We don't write about issues and publish papers, BLOGs or 'letters to the editor.' We don't take and publish the results of polls or use these results to draw conclusions of our own. Rather, we provide the forum to bring the community together and have a collective voice for change. We collect the views of many individuals to form a single, combined voice for the community. Our voice is really your voice. We then share this with Microsoft and others to bring about changes for the good of all. Think: focus groups, conduit sessions, question and answer sessions, executive briefings.

How did you get involved with DPC?
Joe: My entire career has revolved around working with and for partners in the business solutions software industry. Last year Dynamic Communities decided to create a single Dynamics partner entity, Dynamic Partner Connections. Joining DPC allows me to apply 25 years of experience to help increase the success of Dynamics partners by bringing together like-minded individuals for learning, sharing and networking.

What makes you passionate about your role within the organization?
Joe: Microsoft Dynamics channel is the best in the industry, all things considered.  We just have to see, believe and act like it. What I really love doing is bringing together like minded individuals for peer-to-peer sharing and community involvement to help others to succeed.

Monday, March 23, 2015

7 Essential Resources for Microsoft Dynamics® Customers

The great thing about Microsoft Dynamics® is the wide variety of customer resources available their software users. In this blog we will discuss seven essential resources that I find to be very helpful for any Microsoft Dynamics user no matter which product your company is currently utilizing. Whether you are using Dynamics GP, SL, NAV, or AX you will find answers to the questions within these websites.

7. Dynamics World-Microsoft Dynamics Reference Library: This is a private LinkedIn Group, so you must request permission to join. This group is exclusively for the Microsoft Dynamics channel. The community has been established by an alliance of skilled IT professionals in the Microsoft Dynamics channel and they are building and promoting the interest to those within this environment.

6. The ERP Software Blog: If you a looking to make a buying decision, this blog is a fantastic resource. Microsoft Dynamics vendors provide comparisons and opinions to professionals in the ERP/Accounting software selection process. You will find comprehensive articles on both the Microsoft Dynamics suite of products, but also Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) horizontal and vertical solutions.

5. Dynamics University: Dynamics University is an association of premiere Microsoft Dynamics Partners and Trainers focused on providing exceptional learning opportunities to Microsoft Dynamics customers. Their mission is to increase your satisfaction and return on investment related to your Microsoft Dynamics solutions. The site has access to excellent knowledge based articles, op-ed blogs, and training courses.

4.  Microsoft Dynamics CustomerSource: This is an essential website that every Microsoft Dynamics user should save to their bookmarks. Here you find information directly from Microsoft. You can do everything from log a support case, register for online training,  search the knowledge based articles, find current Microsoft events, and download information on your service plan.

3. MS Dynamics World: is the leading global independent authority covering the world of Microsoft Dynamics. They are dedicated to publishing the leading integrated content for Dynamics users, partners, independent software vendors (ISVs), and consultants around the globe. is the Microsoft Dynamics community's resource for news, expert advice, tips, best practices, white papers, case studies, and analysis. Keep up to date on the latest developments and information relating to Microsoft Dynamics applications and breaking news.

2. Dynamics Communities Inc.: Dynamic Communities Inc. is the organization behind professional associations and software user groups such as the Dynamics AX User Group (AXUG), the Dynamics GP User Group (GPUG), the Dynamics CRM User Group (CRMUG), and the Dynamics NAV User Group (NAVUG), and the partner community Dynamic Partner Connections (DPC). Their vision is to engage every individual and company in value-added networking and knowledge sharing. This includes local, regional, and national User Group meetings, webinars, and annual Summit & Expo.

1. Your Reseller: A Microsoft Certified Partner is always a reliable way to get the answers you need. Not only do you have an established relationship with you Microsoft Dynamics partner, but they also have been with you along the way to help guide you through your implementation and training. Microsoft partners also have 24-hour access to Microsoft Support, which enables them to give better customer relations and support to a customer. Many resellers will hold customer events and educational webinars.

Never before have we had such a vast array of resources and information readily available to users. If you have an answer to a Microsoft Dynamics question, one of these seven sites will most certainly have what you need.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

What the heck is Microsoft Dynamics®?

If you are running a successful business, you know that you need an accounting/distribution system to keep your company going. You need a software system to manage financials, reporting, and daily operations.

In 2001, Microsoft® entered the ERP software market through acquisition of four premier applications in that market at that time.  Microsoft then re-branded them all under the name Microsoft Dynamics and took control of all development efforts. Since that time Microsoft grown to become as a significant player in the market. With cloud and mobile options already available, they are in it for the long run. Each of the four applications have strong and extensive installation bases of customers. Microsoft has become a dominant player in the ERP industry.

Microsoft Dynamics is the brand name for the accounting and distribution solutions. Vicinity software integrates exclusively with Microsoft Dynamics providing specific manufacturing functionality to process manufacturing companies.

At Vicinity Manufacturing, we integrate with three of the four accounting solutions offered by Microsoft Dynamics. Specifically, Microsoft Dynamics GP, SL, and NAV.

  • Microsoft Dynamics GP (formerly Great Plains Software) - Microsoft Dynamics GP is widely used in the United States and was developed in Fargo, ND.  Since 1985 Microsoft Dynamics GP has lead the US market with easy to implement and core out of the box functionality.  It has a rich tradition of involving a diverse set of Independent Software Developers (ISVs) and Value Added Resellers (VARs) to address very specific challenges customers address.  Microsoft Dynamics GP is the gold standard in ERP software in North America for companies or divisions of companies from start up to $100 million in sales.

  • Microsoft Dynamics NAV (formerly Navision) – Microsoft Dynamics NAV was acquired largely due to its market position in Europe.  It is the most customizable of all Dynamics ERP products in which Vicinity integrates.  That makes sense when you consider in Europe a business must deal with far more financial reporting variations than in the US.  Multi-currency and flexible customization tools makes Microsoft Dynamics NAV a natural fit in industries that have very unique requirements that can only be addressed via customization.

  • Microsoft Dynamics SL (formerly Solomon IV) – Microsoft Dynamics SL has largely been relegated to project management and costing since its acquisition by Microsoft.  While Microsoft Dynamics SL has a loyal reseller, consultant and install base its market share has decreased significantly over the years.  With that said it remains a terrific inventory and distribution system with surprisingly robust customization capability.

Vicinity’s role in the Microsoft Dynamics community is to address the unique requirements of formula/batch manufacturers.  From formula management to batch ticket processing – from quality to scheduling Vicinity provides what is needed to address the operational concerns of process manufactures and integrates identically well with each of the Microsoft Dynamics offerings.

While Microsoft Dynamics AX is a member of the Dynamics brand we at Vicinity find that the cost of implementation and ongoing maintenance of that platform far outpace the cost of the other software solutions in the Microsoft Dynamics brand.  For that reason we find adding Microsoft Dynamics AX to the integration stack is not warranted at this time.

Microsoft Dynamics as a brand is scalable which allows companies to start with what you need now, and easily adapt as your needs change—in the cloud or on your servers.  The key is to identify the flavor of Dynamics that is right for your business.

Rest assured that not matter your choice Vicinity Manufacturing works with these great accounting and distribution offerings to build a complete, industry specific ERP solution.

Check out this short clip from Microsoft Dynamics.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Spotlight on Solver’s BI360 Business Intelligence Solutions

In this article, we’ll discuss financial report writing, budgeting, and forecasting demands specific to the manufacturing industry that can be met by today’s premier BI solutions, like Solver’s BI360. 

In the modern era of business, Business Intelligence (BI) analytics are solidifying their place in decision-making processes, utilizing company data to plan for the future.  However, if your job doesn't typically involve researching and comparing BI software solutions, it is likely that you can get lost in the sales and marketing language, especially in regard to finding the right features and functionality to address your industry-specific data management and analytics goals.  Therefore, this article will discuss the top features and functions you should be familiar with in regard to today’s financial reporting and budgeting software, using Solver’s BI360 as an example of a premier offering to assist you in flexibly accessing, managing, and analyzing your manufacturing company data.

There a few major elements to consider when seeking to implement a modern, powerful BI tool.  First of all, you will want to decide if you would like to query data live from your accounting system (or other data sources), rely on a high performance integration that a BI data store, like an online analytical processing (OLAP) cube or a data warehouse, or a hybrid approach to pulling your data for analysis.  You’ll also want to consider what platform you would like to regularly interact with, whether that’s an Excel add-in, a web portal or interface that you can access from anywhere you have access to the internet, a proprietary platform that can be either on-premises or hosted in the Cloud, or a combination of a couple of these options.  You should evaluate how easy-to-use, how collaborative, and how secure a particular product is before you decide to implement.

When it comes to BI reporting and budgeting for manufacturing, you’re going to seek financial and operational modules for analysis.  You’re likely going to need a product that at least offers a financial reporting module, a sales module, a purchasing module, a survey data module, an inventory module, and a manufacturing/production module that produces a Build of Materials (BOM) report.  When it comes to budgeting and forecasting, your manufacturing organization can benefit from a payroll module, a capex module (for your capital expenditures), an inventory manufacturing module, and an expenses module, to professionally and efficiently structure your planning processes. 

There’s a lot to consider, and Solver offers Excel, web and/or mobile-based reporting and budgeting as stand-alone tools or as part of the comprehensive suite of BI modules and would be happy to generally answer questions and review BI360’s easy-to-use solution for collaborative, streamlined decision-making capabilities for manufacturing organizations.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Microsoft Dynamics Business Analyzer

Not all BI tools are for every user.  Each have their own purpose and each have their own strengths.

I have found Microsoft Dynamics Business Analyzer a tool that I cannot live without.  With a quick review of 5-6 key metrics I can bring myself up to speed on the key levers I use to run the business.

For me cash is king.  So a metric of cash on hand and aging receivables is a graph I use daily.  Without complicated reports or loads of detail I can get that executive view to keep me on task for other important issues in my day.

I once heard a Microsoft executive explain it this way.  “On the drive into the office I looked at 5 key measures to help me get to the office.”  Of course I was thinking “How reckless looking at reports on the commute to work.”  She continued and said “I checked the gas level, the speed, the overall performance of the engine and the temperature of the cab.”

So BI is not about reports.  It is about getting the information in a format and at the level of detail that is not too much but also enough to make decisions.  Whether you are looking at financial, sales, quality or scheduling data you can make a significant change to the way you make daily decisions with the right tool.  For me it is BusinessAnalyzer.

Microsoft Dynamics Business Analyzer is a free download on all the major platforms (Windows, IOS and Android).  Check out the appropriate store and take a look.  It comes with sample data so you can see what I am talking about prior to hooking it up to Microsoft Dynamics and Vicinity.

When you do choose to utilize this tool you already own everything you need.  Microsoft Dynamics ships with the connector to access the data and the graphs are created in SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS).  So there is only a bit of configuration and you are off and running.

For what it is worth – I don’t think I would have as much insight to the running of Vicinity without Business Analyzer. It gives me what I need when I need it and nothing more.

Take a look at a walk through of Business Analyzer and download your own copy and see for yourself.

Check out this short video on Business Analyzer

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Making Intelligent Decisions with Your Data

Using Excel Report Builder with Dynamics GP

Imagine making an ERP report such as “Inventory Stock Status” available to be viewed and formatted in Excel?  All a user needs to do is open Excel and there is the data refreshed real time.  All this done from the comfort of Excel.

Microsoft Dynamics GP Excel Report Builder is one of a variety of reporting tools that that can make this happen today.  No programming, no configuration – just send the report to excel and format the report to look the way you want to see it.  No fuss no mess.

The Excel Report Builder generates an Excel report with live data connections automatically.  These connections link back to Microsoft Dynamics GP without the user having to configure servers or authentication. If the user has rights to view the report they have rights to format it in Excel. 

So think of the possibilities you can use today.  List of purchase orders needed from the Vicinity MRP or truck routings for delivery by day.  Raw material usage with costs and production schedule data.  All within excel and easy for the user to consume.

So start using Excel as a reporting tool rather than a databases.  You will wished you have found this a long time ago.

If you are currently using Microsoft Dynamics GP contact your reseller or give us a call.  We are always here to help.  If you are new to the Microsoft Dynamics community take a look at what you are missing.  Before no time you will be up and operational wondering how you lived without Microsoft Dynamics. 

 Vicinity & Dynamics GP with Excel Report Builder
Check out this video featuring Vicinity software with Dynamics GP using Excel Report Builder.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Business Intelligence for Beginners

Excel Pivot Tables

Vicinity Software

By utilizing Business Intelligence (BI), manufacturing operations will have increased visibility, improved efficiency, and most importantly the ability to turn data into actionable information.

So let’s begin by looking at your options for bringing BI into your manufacturing organization.
The most basic way to begin with BI is Excel Pivot Tables. This is a free tool that anyone with Microsoft Office already owns via Excel. Pivot tables are one of Excel's most powerful features. A pivot table allows you to extract the significance from a large, detailed data set.

Excel Pivot Table help manufacturers look at KPIs such as:
  • What products are we getting the best yield?
  • What products are costing me more or less than it significantly should?
  • How much labor do I think I am consuming versus actually consuming?

Manufacturers are looking at exceptions rather than static pieces of data. Production by month, by formula over time is an example.  Trends and outliers can be identified easily.

How can you access data that you did not key into Excel? You can use a data connection  to connect to a Microsoft SQL Server database from a Microsoft Excel file. All you need are rights to read the database and the tables within the database which you probably already have.

So while I don’t encourage using Excel as a replacement for a database it is a terrific tool to analyze data you already own with a tool you already use.  If you need assistance in using Excel Pivot tables to access Vicinity software or Microsoft Dynamics data don’t hesitate to reach out.  Once you have created your first data connection and pivot table you will truly see the power in this starter BI tool.

Here is a quick video example. 
Simple BI with Vicinity and Excel Pivot Tables

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Improving Operational Efficiency: Part 4

Labor Resource Planning

Vicinity Software

Every organization is constrained by the resources available to them. Utilizing those resources effectively is a key to success. 

Manufacturing is constrained by labor, raw material availability and equipment scheduling. The ability to optimize any one of these can make a big difference in helping your company’s bottom line. Labor is often overlooked in the planning process but a key element.

Gaining insight into how much labor is needed to complete a job, enables your scheduler to match labor resources to production requirements efficiently. 
Key questions to monitoring labor include: 
  • Do have enough people to complete a job in a timely manner? 
  • What adjustments need to be made to avoid unnecessary overhead?
  • Can I extend, delay or consolidate work to avoid overtime?
  • Do I have any upcoming bottlenecks? Can I move jobs from high volume days to level the workload and avoid a conflict that could strain limited resources?
  • Can I reduce the cost of Training new workers?
  • Can I reduce the complications caused by over staffing a project, such as excessive layers of communication?

Vicinity helps process manufacturers get the most out of their labor resources.  Vicinity records labor standards by formula. By setting a standard requirement Vicinity can calculate how many labor hours will be needed to execute the schedule and identify resource bottlenecks. This allows the scheduler to match the labor force to meet production demand reducing surges and lulls in production time. Bringing the labor requirements into the scheduling process will save your scheduler time and your company money with a very quick return.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Improving Operational Efficiency: Part 3

Tracking Batch Yields 

Measuring yield loss (input vs. output) is critical to improving operational efficiency for formula-based manufacturers.

When process manufacturers calculate and review yield by batch or formula the result is identification of below-normal yields.  Once corrective action is taken the pattern is broken and profits increase.

Increasing batch yields by 1-2% can result in a significant reduction in raw material cost and plant overhead. The results in overall production efficiency and saves money.
As manufacturers we spend a great deal of time analyzing our raw material costs but little time on batch yields.  An increase of 1% yield can be equivalent to 5-10% or more reduction in raw material costs.  So why would a company not monitor this powerful profit lever?

How do I get started?

The process is quite simple.
  • Target a formula that has a significant volume.
  • Look at the yields by batch for this formula over the pasts 6 months. Do you see a trend? Do you see variation? If either is true you have found a potential target.
  • Spend a little time with production and R&D to see if you can identify the source of the variation or change for that formula.
  • Watch the batch carefully the next time it is produced. What is causing the change or variation? The answer is probably staring you right in the face.
  • Are there other products that share the same characteristics and are of high volume?  You have now found your next candidate.
  • Repeat this process for the top 10 selling products. 
Before long your yields will increase and drive higher profits.  All with very little marginal effort.

By utilizing and ERP solution such as Vicinity software with Microsoft Dynamics a manufacturer can easy track and manage yield loss. Vicinity has a standard query that allows a user to view yields by formula/batch for any period of time. This data can be viewed in Vicinity or easily exported to Excel or statistical packages. Additionally,Vicinity has the ability to notify key personnel when a batch is out of a tolerable yield range. Corrective action can be taken immediately.

Using Vicinity, batch yields  can be reviewed by batch or formula through time. This lets process manufacturers identify those formulas requiring more raw material than anticipated to produce finish goods. The savings in raw material costs alone is significant, and the risk of missed shipments is reduced.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Improving Operational Efficiency: Part 2

Scheduling by Formula

A common challenge for process manufacturers is production scheduling. If only the production schedule could group products that use the same formula, manufacturers would gain efficiencies by creating longer runs.

In batch manufacturing multiple finished products can be made from the same formula. A scheduler may make cookies that go in a 50 cookie tin verses a box of 100 cookies.  Both products share the same formula but each have different packaging. The scheduler may have a requirement for tins this week and drums the following week.

What’s a scheduler to do?

When a scheduler has visibility into finished good demand and can view the demand by common formula the scheduler is able to create larger batches by combining demand for multiple container sizes. Creating a larger batch size by scheduling production by formula can increase operational efficiency. Scheduling by formula allows the production team to minimize clean ups and downtime. And machine downtime equals lower operational productivity.

vicinity software
See the Vicinity planning workbench in action.
What Vicinity brings to the table is the ability to see demand out into the future with forecasting and planning tools. Vicinity software gives users the ability to group the production schedule by formula allowing the scheduler the ability to view the production schedule over time so that like items may be grouped together. Many items can be produced from the same batch ticket or production run, if they share the same formula. The result is improved production efficiency and profits.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Improving Operational Efficiency: Part 1

Utilizing visual scheduling to reduce machine downtime.

How well raw material flows through the factory has a direct impact on costs, inventory levels and
reliability and responsiveness to your customers. 

The good news is that you don't need a crystal ball to improve your operational efficiency. 

Having the tools like Vicinity software to leverage production analytics to improve operational effectiveness by reducing machine downtime, changeovers, and cleans is critical.

Every company has limited production resources. Whether you run one, two or three shifts you have a finite amount of time to make your products.

What you do with your production time can directly affect profitability of your company.  

Every minute that your facility is not converting materials to saleable product is lost time that will never be recaptured. Much like a plane – if it takes off with a seat empty it will never get that revenue back.

So how can you make sure you are running to your maximum capacity?

Envision seeing your schedule on a Gantt chart or an outlook calendar.  When you can visualize your production starting and stopping you can easily see the gaps in your schedule.  If a machine is not scheduled it may be underutilized.

In today’s age there is no reason to wade through lengthy reports or lists of production batches.  View it on a calendar and the down times will become obvious.

At Vicinity Manufacturing we allow the user to display the production schedule on a calendar familiar to most users. We use an office look and feel to view, filter and manage the calendar.  Changing the production schedule is as easy as rescheduling an appointment.

Vicinity visual production calendar.

So take a look at how you are doing things today.  Can your production schedule be viewed and edited in a calendar?  You will be amazed at the insight you get.

If you would like to discuss this further feel free to reach out to Vicinity Manufacturing.  We are happy to help.

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