Client Spotlight: Our Time with Epiphany

Epiphany Cafe is a steadily growing franchise of cafes headquartered in Te Rapa, Hamilton. With 8 locations (and more on the way) they are steadily acquiring a cult following with their Donuts, Muffins and Scones. They are moving into a brand new factory to keep up with demand, and as a part of this process they also made the conscious decision to implement back-office systems to serve as a platform for their future growth. Upon meeting with Epiphany for a consultation, it was decided that Unleashed would be a fantastic candidate for them to manage their production supply-chain. Unleashed is a powerful inventory and production management system that tightly integrates with Xero, it is our system of choice for food & beverage manufacturers (our other F&B clients such as Sal’s Pizza and North End Brewery also use Unleashed).

Implementing Unleashed for Epiphany was no small feat, with many moving parts in the wider solution. One problem Epiphany faced was that their pre-existing process for franchisee ordering was riddled with time consuming manual data entry, something that was not scalable. As a solution to this problem, we implemented the Unleashed B2B Portal to streamline this process. Franchisees can now log in and place their daily orders seamlessly, and thanks to the B2B Portal we eliminated the manual data entry aspect of the ordering process. Since all of the food items Epiphany produces are made to order, each order gets consolidated at the finished good level ready to go into the Unleashed production module. Since we loaded Unleashed up with the recipes for each item Epiphany makes, head office is then able to quickly determine whether they have enough raw ingredients to complete the day’s production run (and easily send out a purchase order to replenish inventory if needed). Another complex requirement of Epiphany’s was the need to track every batch of Donuts they send out, from the finished good right down to the milligrams of food colouring they used. If there was ever a problem with a batch of Donuts, they needed a full audit trail of each ingredient that went into the batch and whom the supplier of each ingredient was. Unleashed makes simple work of batch tracking for compliance, and offers Epiphany the peace of mind that they have full control over their batches.

Once we had taken care of the extensive data and configuration work to get the organisation ready for Unleashed, we began with running on-site training sessions to get the business ready for go-live. The purpose of the training is to ensure that every staff member knows how to leverage the system. We did training sessions split across two days, the first day for back-office processes and the second for the production module. Once training was complete, we were present for the scheduled go-live day in the new system. ALTSHIFT believes in mitigating go-live day risk by having consultants on-site in case of any hiccups.

Going live in a new system is extremely risky business, but with the execution of a specific sequence of events disaster can be averted. Careful project management is the key to a successful software implementation as well as ongoing support post go-live. ALTSHIFT is a specialist in managed systems implementation, we have delivered countless cloud-based solutions to business across many industries. If you are in the process of comparing different software solutions, get in touch with ALTSHIFT for a vendor neutral assessment of your specific business requirements.

Why should my business use a 3PL?

One of the most complex components to effectively scaling up a business is the management of an efficient supply chain. As a product-based business grows, so too does the throughput of product through an ever thinly stretched supply-chain. All of the moving pieces in your supply chain must continue to operate in perfect alignment to avoid bottlenecking in process, and unfortunately in the costs associated with deploying a new fulfilment/dispatch location can be quite high. Thankfully the option of utilising a third party logistics partner (3PL) exists.

3PLs are uniquely positioned in the fulfilment space in that they are equipped with the knowledge and resources for businesses looking to expand their reach (whether within their existing territories, or into new ones). One of the advantages of using a 3PL is the sharing and distribution of costs among partners. Simply put, instead of your business paying for an entire facility, your business is able to use the space in the facility that it requires. This way your business is only paying for what it uses. This aspect is particularly useful if your business has regularly fluctuating inventory levels (selling seasonal stock being the example). Other costs associated with warehousing such as labour are proportionately distributed among the 3PL’s clients. If your business cannot keep a warehouse full of product year round, this makes partnering up with a 3PL a very cost effective option.

Another reason to partner with a 3PL is the ability to leverage their international reach. As opposed to investing in a warehouse in a foreign territory and shouldering the burden of operating a warehouse in a country with different regulations and currency, you could partner with a 3PL that has locations globally and leverage their local know-how in the territory you want to expand in. To increase service levels and reduce costs, it is essential to have your product based close to where your customers are. Engaging with a 3PL is typically done so on a contractual basis, meaning visibility at a transactional level. This holds 3PLs to a much higher degree of accountability with tracking of key performance indicators.

Naturally, switching to a 3PL blazes a path for the automation of the fulfilment and dispatch functions of your business. This extensive automation frees up staff to perform higher value tasks. In order to achieve this, it is key to have the right technology and business processes in place to facilitate this. ALTSHIFT has consulted upon and executed numerous extensive cloud ERP implementations, which have included platform integrations to 3PL partners. The scope of these integrations include automatic fulfilment of e-Commerce orders, fulfilment of wholesale orders and more. Have a question about your systems and scope for 3PL integration? Have a chat with the experts.

What is EDI?

EDI, standing for Electronic Data Interchange, is the electronic transaction of business data between business partners that follows a standardised format. EDI facilitates the ability for one business to send information to another. Many business documents are transacted through EDI, however the two most common are purchase orders and invoices. The expenses incurred with traditional business communication (mail handling, paper, reproduction, filing, storage and retrieval) are effectively eliminated, and EDI has been found to reduce associated administration costs by at least 35%.

Why should my business use EDI?

Another benefit of using EDI over traditional transaction methods is the elimination of data entry errors. This further reduces your cost of doing business, and frees up your staff to perform higher value tasks. The real-time nature of EDI also allows increased visibility which allows for more strategic business decisions. Consequently the reduced order processing and delivery times allow for reduced inventory levels. With less inventory on hand, there is less precious capital tied up in product and more cash-flow.

As a business grows and begins trading with bigger customers, they may quickly find that their trading partners require them to transact with EDI. In order to be compliant with these types of customers, small businesses may be provided with an EDI web portal to make or receive orders. When starting out your business may be able to shoulder this administrative burden, but it does not make for a scalable process. Thankfully with the right technology EDI can be implemented into your business processes, and you too could reap the benefits.

ALTSHIFT is a consultancy firm that implements cloud business solutions, and consequently we have also done a wide array of EDI connections as part of bigger cloud ERP projects. If you are thinking about scaling up your business but not sure whether your systems stack is up to the task, get in touch with one of our experts for a consultation.

How to scale your small business

A common misconception in the business community is that the “start-up” phase is typically the riskiest stage, when in actuality small businesses are at most risk of failing in their growth phase. With growth comes an increase in critical mass, significant capital investment and an increase in overhead costs. A business operating with more staff, more locations and more revenue shows growth on paper. However the truth lies in the Profit & Loss, this same example could well be making the same or less profit as before they grew with increased administrative burden. The most important thing to know when growing a business is the difference between growth and scaling; growth is an overall increase in critical mass, however scaling is an increase in sales while decreasing costs.

As a business owner, your job is to make calculated decisions while mitigating risk. The difficult reality for business owners is that even the most meticulously managed scaling costs money and capacity. When planning to scale up a business, the key is to assess the cost versus benefit of every decision to ensure that the returns on successful scaling are higher than the potential risks.

When scaling a product based business, close attention must be paid to cash-flow and the cash burn rate. Not every small business can afford a clever CFO to manage this perpetual machine, however negotiating better payment terms with your suppliers will help you increase your stock-turnover rate. If you can effectively forecast that you are going to sell around 25 widgets next month, and you negotiate for 30 day payment terms instead of prepaid, you will tie up no capital in that stock but still collect all of the profits.

Another tip for scaling a product based business is to introduce a wholesale channel to your operation. There are an array of risks involved with establishing a wholesale channel, thankfully with the right processes and technology you can get this up and running with minimal cost or disruption. Businesses who implement wholesale the right way will quickly see turnover and profits soar, and small businesses will commonly seek wholesale as a viable method of scaling. On the flip side, the implementation of an e-Commerce sales channel can also broaden your number of potential customers.

The common theme when discussing options for scaling with minimal risk is technology. The implementation of a cloud solution is the natural progression from manual record keeping like spreadsheets, and when configured correctly will provide you with the insights to scale your business; without the cost of installing an incumbent ERP system. ALTSHIFT has provided a platform for many small businesses to scale upon, and our expertise across many different industries and verticals will ensure we see you through your growth phase. Need a hand? Talk to the experts.

ALTSHIFT to become a Xero Platinum Partner

We're not usually driven by titles but this one means a lot to us. It’s a very proud moment to become a Xero Platinum Partner because it represents a coming of age for our business - we’ve reached a level of maturity and that’s something to celebrate for any small business.

In 2010 we brought on our very first Xero customer, today we service more than 400 customers in 4 different countries. During that time, app trends have changed, SaaS companies have come, some have gone, but one thing remains constant - our affiliation with Xero. We see Xero not as an app but the pillar of SME business, the focal point of a business software solution, we see Xero as a platform. It’s the backbone of ours and many businesses.

Today we become the first cloud integrator in the world to be a Xero Platinum Partner and possibly the only Xero Platinum Partner that isn’t an Accountant or Bookkeeper. This achievement puts us in the top 2% of Xero partners, a place usually reserved for the big accounting firms. It affirms something we already knew, that the role of an accountant is changing and so is the pecking order. Despite the perceived food chain, we know our clients come to us first for Fintech advice.

Of the 400+ customers we have on Xero, more than 130 are using one or many add-ons for a total combined eco-system of more than 70 apps. That means we have helped our customers integrate Xero with more than 70 different online applications. When others are talking about SaaS and the cloud, we are the ones actually doing it.

Despite this, there are those (Xero NZ included) that fail to recognise Cloud Integrators as an industry. So we won't be complacent and we'll continue to educate the market that what we do isn’t Accounting, Bookkeeping, nor is it I.T, what we do is business automation through app integration, and we do it in person not via Team Viewer or video.

For now it’s important to celebrate our success, to thank the team for all their hard work, to thank our clients for their ongoing support and most importantly thank Xero for providing us with the encouragement, tools, and framework to do what we do.

Without Xero we wouldn’t be ALTSHIFT.

Effective demand forecasting models

Demand forecasting is the complicated science of hypothesising expected sales demand for a given product or series of products. Typically demand forecasting consists of assessing future demand based from historical sales data, and is used to aide businesses in making decisions on what inventory should be held to make best use of cash. The absence of demand based forecasting leaves businesses vulnerable to lost opportunities through stock-outs, or could leave your business with a surplus of stock.

Pursuing demand forecasting to maintain a lean inventory has a number of benefits, one being increased sell-through. Sell-through is the number of times inventory is bought and entirely sold in a given time period, the goal here should be to purchase and entirely sell the inventory of a given product within 90 days. Achieving this will result in reduced holding costs and increased cash-flow. Being able to effectively anticipate customer demand will also allow you to make smarter staffing decisions around providing resource to facilitate spikes.

One method of demand forecasting is a time series analysis, this method is best suit for businesses that have several years of sales data to work from. When trends are clear, businesses will use their historical sales data to get an idea of the seasonal fluctuations of sales volume. This method will work best where sales trends are relatively stable.

In the absence of historical sales data, a method called qualitative forecasting can be used instead of the time series analysis. The qualitative forecasting methodology is typically used with new businesses, or where a new product line is being launched. This method will typically use market research to make a hypothesis on forecasted demand.

A factor to consider when demand forecasting is seasonality. Seasonality is a characteristic where sales experience regular cyclical changes that recur over the calendar year (such as an increase in sales during the holiday season). Trends can also occur over time that signal a shift in behaviour such as a product increasing in popularity. When it comes to demand forecasting both seasonality and sales trends should be taken into account when hypothesising the demand of a particular product. This data should then be used to prepare your inventory, marketing activities and overall operational processes. By effectively forecasting anticipated sales of a particular product, you’ll be able to increase your sell-through rate and reduce stock-out scenarios leading to increased customer satisfaction.

Your business ERP system will be the starting place demand forecasting, as this is where most of your data lives. Having worked with wholesale/distribution businesses of all shapes and sizes, ALTSHIFT has successfully executed ERP projects that serve as the backbone to effective demand forecasting. Planning to implement a new ERP system? Get in touch for a free consultation.

Flicking the switch on your new ERP

The beginning of the end of your ERP implementation project is go-live day, this is where you start to use your new system in your business. The many man hours spent on scoping, configuration, data entry, testing and training amount to the execution of this day. Most business owners fear this day, as it’s execution will make or break the entire project. There are three methods that “go-live” is typically executed with; all-in-one, parallel or phased. Each method has their own positives and caveats, however no one of these methods is the right way to tackle go-live. Your business must decide which method best fits your objectives and resource.

The all-in-one method of going live in your new ERP system is exactly as it sounds. Once all training, configuration and testing is complete, the entire ERP system is switched on and used all at once. Typically with this method, your staff will log out of the old system on Friday afternoon and log into the new ERP on the following Monday morning. This strategy is the quickest way to be fully operating in the new system, and your staff will not have the opportunity to revert to old processes. On the other hand, if there are any errors in the implementation or your staff have not been properly trained then this method carries the biggest risk of disruption.

The parallel method of going live is the act of using both the old and new systems in tandem over a defined time period. Your staff will learn the new system whilst still operating the old system leading this to be the lowest risk of the three methods. The caveat of this method being that your staff will need to twice the amount of work for the same outcome. This can lead to overworked staff and errors between the two systems if close attention isn’t paid. This method would only be recommended for businesses that have the resource capacity to execute.

The phased method of going live differs from the aforementioned methods. In essence, the phased method involves turning on certain modules on the new ERP and switching progressively. For example, you may decide to leave the core ERP functions of your old system on but move your purchasing over to the new system. This strategy averts much of the risk of the all-in-one go live as this is less of a shock to the business and staff. However by the same token running different parts of your business across two systems is inefficient and can lead to confusion among staff and departments. Connections that bring data from the old system into the new system during this phase can be very costly, and only provide the bare minimum ties. There is lower stress and risk involved with this method, however this method also drags out the timeline of your ERP implementation.

There is no one right way to execute go-live day, it is important to assess which of these three methods will provide the least disruption and can be effectively resourced. Working with an ERP implementation consultant like ALTSHIFT will take away much of the pressure of going live. With many successful implementations under our belt, we have the expertise to mitigate the risk of going live. Planning an ERP project, get in touch with us to discuss your options.

E-Commerce: Why you should integrate into your ERP

According to Statista, we’re projected to hit $2,842 billion (USD) in worldwide e-commerce revenue in 2018 alone (with that number almost doubling to $4,878 billion by 2021). Is your business ready for this unprecedented demand? Having your e-commerce platform integrated into your ERP system is commonly overlooked due to the perceived disruption a change like this can cause to the business. Unfortunately not having these critical sales channels tightly integrated into the rest of your operations will be detrimental.

Connecting your e-commerce platforms into your ERP system not only pays dividends in the form of customer experience, but also allows you to take a holistic approach to your distribution and fulfilment functions. Not only will integrating eliminate double data entry of sales from your e-commerce channels to your ERP, but it will also provide your e-commerce channels with up to the minute stock levels for each of your products. Having up-to-date inventory information available to your e-commerce channels avoids overselling of products and in turn makes happier customers. Just as having extensive per-channel sales data allows you the ability to plan for demand not only for purchasing, but also for managing your stock across your warehouses and 3PL providers.

The benefits of integrating your e-commerce platforms with your ERP are not exclusively limited to transacting sales and inventory data. Another key function people commonly overlook is shipping. Staff can make mistakes entering address information from one system to another leading to an unhappy customer. Completing this integration will allow you to enable live shipping rates to your customers, and your staff will be able to generate a shipping label at the picking stage with no additional work. Further to this, your e-commerce store can be setup to receive tracking information. This affords you a great opportunity to engage with your customers, sending out personalised emails updating them with their shipment details at scale.

Have you considered your process for releasing new products across all of your sales channels? If you’re an omni-channel retailer, it can become quite an arduous process to ensure your products and their associated pricing information all match across different systems. Centralising your products and pricing to your ERP will allow you to automate this release process allowing you to enter in the new product information, images and pricing tiers once. Your ERP will then update all of your different sales channels with these new products.

Leaving your sales channels to operate independently is a very unscalable practice, and with e-commerce sales rapidly growing your business may not be able to keep up. At ALTSHIFT, we specialise in working with omni-channel retailers to consolidate their business systems into a single translatable process across channels. If you’re not sure where to start when embarking on an integration project, get in touch with us to talk about your needs.

Improving warehouse efficiency

As more and more businesses move into omni-channel distribution, the efficiency of ones inventory operation becomes relevant. But one may ask, when is a warehouse considered to be at capacity? The answer to this may vary, but typically a warehouse is at peak efficiency where space utilisation is at 80 - 85%. Breaching this threshold will see diminishing efficiency from a movement and space perspective. Pallet movement is restricted making each replenishment take more steps to complete, temporary storage of pallets on the floor will also inhibit efficiency. More steps to complete a move results in increased costs and slower processing, a business in this position will also have to expand to more locations quicker.

One of the first things to look at when assessing warehouse efficiency is by looking at each product on the shelves. In order to understand your specific situation, you need to assess the sell-through rate of each SKU sitting in inventory. This is the rate at which you sell through your entire inventory of a given SKU within a defined time period. Using this information, make an assessment on which products you may be overstocked on. With this in mind, here are some tips to make most efficient use of your warehouse.

Quantify the storage profile of your warehouse in terms of capacity and utilisation, look up and ensure you’re making best use of your vertical space. How many cubic meters of overhead space are not used? When discussing vertical space, make sure any changes you plan to make do not conflict with the fire safety installation of the building. While you’re on the subject of vertical space, identify functions where stacking heights are lower. It isn’t uncommon to observe empty upper rack space in areas of a warehouse where packing and dispatch take place. Another aspect of shelving that is often overlooked is depth, switch to double-depth racking to further increase efficiency.

If you are holding the same SKU across different bins or locations, try to consolidate these to increase space utilisation. Matching the size and sales of your different SKUs to an appropriate sized pick slot will also maximise the efficiency of your picking slots. If you find you’re overstocked on a couple of products, consider storing this inventory off-site to free up rack space for products with a high sell-through rate. Where possible, introducing drop-shipping for these products will further decrease your in-house inventory costs.

Another factor to consider is the width of your aisles, you don’t want these to be too wide as this will lower your overall space utilisation. By the same token you don’t want your aisles to be too narrow to the point where they inhibit picking equipment from operating effectively. Try to keep your inventory of packing materials relatively lean to retain space for other products. A good way to do this is by taking with your packaging supplier, aim to have them hold some inventory for you and simply take delivery every few days.

Managing the efficiency of your warehouse is made far simpler with specialist warehouse management software. At ALTSHIFT, we have worked with businesses of all shapes and sizes to introduce solutions to improve operations. Thinking of overhauling your inventory operation? Get in touch with us.

What does an ERP implementer do?

When it comes to business software, the options are truly endless. Software to serve a particular purpose can come in all shapes and sizes requiring business owners to make snap judgements on which to purchase. Fortunately a cloud implementer can make this process easier. Cloud implementers are vertical experts that comprehensively understand the wider app ecosystem, and how these business apps can interface with one another. A good cloud implementer has an understanding of the issues you may be facing specific to your business or industry, and how to solve them. These issues you could be facing include:

Process inefficiencies
Manual data entry between systems
Concerns about business scalability
Lacking visibility into core business functions
Low customer service levels
Legal compliance
Vendor/Customer compliance

Unfortunately simply swiping your credit card and purchasing a software package will not exclusively solve these issues, in fact this step is only the beginning. In order to leverage the power of business systems to solve these issues, your business has to undergo a vast transformation to ensure your people and processes are ready for the new system. A good cloud implementer will take the reins of the software implementation, managing it like a project.

This process begins with a consultation, once you start engaging with a cloud implementer they will begin a comprehensive evaluation of the business. This consultation phase looks at what systems and processes are currently in place at your business, in order to get a snapshot of the current situation. They should also during this stage be collecting key metrics about your business, in order to understand how future changes impact the business. They will look to understand how your systems/functions currently talk to each other and start piecing together how any integrations should be set up if applicable. With all of the information collected about your business’s situation, the cloud implementer will begin to recommend a solution. The implementation firm will be able to leverage relationships with the different software vendors to negotiate a contract on your behalf. Once licenses for the software have been acquired, the implementer will begin with the project.

The process of implementing a new system is unique for each business, but generally consists of data entry, configuration and testing. A bulk of that time will be spent cleaning up your pre-existing database, or building a new one from scratch. The exact time this process takes depends on how many customers and vendors you do business with, the number of products (and variants) you stock and any associated production processes that need to be implemented. Once a database has been established in the new system and it has been configured, tests will be conducted on all of the workflows and processes. This testing is performed by inserting false transactions, and could involve multiple systems within your organisation. When testing is complete, the most important component of the implementation begins; change management of the business. Working towards a predefined go-live date, your consultants will begin training all staff on how to operate the new system.

At ALTSHIFT, we have successfully executed many ERP implementation projects with businesses in all kinds of industries. This multifaceted expertise helps us to understand your business goals, and to set in place the platform to allow you to exceed those goals. If your business is thinking of change, get in touch with us for a free consultation.