Epicor ERP Software
Upgrading Your Inside Sales & Customer Service Teams Part 3: MS Word Tips

In our previous blogs, we started discussing the need to focus on upgrading employees through skills enhancements, and shared some cool tips and tricks that can be applied in Microsoft Outlook to provide added efficiency and organization.  Now let’s expand upon that and discuss another application from Microsoft Office, Word.

Quite often, I see front line employees using the mouse and keyboard to accomplish tasks within Word, which is sometimes a necessity. However, many individuals heavily rely on using the mouse when the keyboard is faster (and thus more efficient). Here are the basic keyboard shortcuts that individuals can use to save time and eliminate the need to drag a mouse all over the screen:

Ctrl + N: This creates a new Word document
Ctrl + O: Open an existing Word document
Ctrl + C: Copies highlighted text or objects in the document
Ctrl + X: Cuts text or objects from the document
Ctrl + V: Pastes text or objects from the document
Ctrl + Z: Undo the last action performed
Ctrl + Y: Redo the last action performed
Ctrl + P: Print the current document
Ctrl + A: Select all text and objects in a document

All of the above keyboard shortcut keys have contextual drop-down menu equivalents, which is where the inefficiency lies. It requires the physical movement of a mouse to drop down menus, oftentimes in multiple, in order to find the command the user wants. If you were to conduct a time study, you’ll likely find it takes 10-25 percent longer to use the mouse with contextual menus than to use the keyboard keystrokes.

Here are some other quick keystrokes and mouse combos your users may have never heard of, but could provide significant value:

The Triple Click:  By triple clicking anywhere in a paragraph, a user can highlight the entire paragraph. No more clicking and dragging down, hoping to not race past the paragraph; only having to start the process all over again.

Alt & Drag:  This allows the user to create rectangular boxes across text, and then apply the formatting window to change only the area they’ve selected.

Hide the Ribbon:  Users can hide the ribbon at the top of the screen by double clicking the Ribbon Name. This creates more visual real estate, and therefore less movement to read a document.

Ctrl + Click: Allows users to select an entire sentence.

Format Painter: Use the paint brush icon to apply a particular format to another area of the document.

Ctrl + Shift + <&>:  Users can increase or decrease their text font size by selecting the text to change; to increase, use “Ctrl + Shift + >” and to decrease, use “Ctrl + Shift + <”.

Create an Excel Table: Users can quickly create an Excel table within a Word document by typing a plus sign (+), then pressing the Tab key. Repeat this for however many cells you want in the table and then press “Enter.”  The table will magically appear.

Ctrl + H: This opens the traditional Find and Replace window.

Ctrl + Tab: Allows users to jump between the document and the Find menu.

F7: Initiates a Spell Check.

Shift + Arrow Keys: Allows the user to quickly select entire rows of text. This works very well with the Copy, Cut and Paste keys.

This is by no means an all-inclusive list of shortcuts, but you should find a majority of them will provide lots of value and efficiency to you and your fellow users.  Stay tuned for the next blog, where we’ll be covering great tips and tricks using Microsoft Excel.

Posted by Brad Vance, Epicor Senior Business Process Consultant

Upgrading Your Inside Sales & Customer Service Teams – Part 2: MS Outlook Tips

In the previous blog, I stated that business professionals seeking efficiency, additional sales opportunities and better ways to do business, can upgrade not just systems or processes, but also employees, through skills enhancements.

This type of upgrade starts by observing your best employee(s) and writing down the attributes that you believe make them your “A” players.  What is it that they do that you believe gives them a “leg up” over their peer group?

The next step is to then sit down with each employee and ask them what they believe are their greatest skills.  Be sure to ask them what they do to ensure success in their daily workflow.  Is it their attention to detail? Perhaps it’s the way they start off each day, with a few moments spent prioritizing their tasks before getting knee-deep in the day-to-day activities of the business.

Next, consider how these “cream of the crop” employees might improve themselves, as well (because there’s no such thing as an employee who can’t).  How do they interact with the organization’s business system (e.g., ERP system)? How efficiently are they using the other applications on their computer or virtual terminal? 

Because a majority of the front-line employees in almost any distribution or manufacturing organization use Microsoft Outlook, let’s take a look at some best-in-class features in Outlook that can increase an employee’s efficiency exponentially:

Organizing folders
How does the employee manage their e-mail inbox?  If while looking over an employee’s shoulder, you see only the Inbox and the Trash folder, you’ve got A LOT of work ahead of you!  Employees should be using folders broken down into a tree structure that makes sense to not only them, but to others, as well (i.e., if they win the lotto and take off to Tahiti, the company needs to be able to access the e-mails quickly and find what they need).

Quick search tools (e.g., Ctrl + Shift + F)
Ask an employee to find that one e-mail you know they received six months ago or more, and you’re likely to see them spend 30 minutes plus tracking it down by searching frantically in an unorganized fashion. Outlook has a very powerful search tool that you can access by hitting Ctrl + Shift + F. The search query window that pops up lets the employee search by any number of fields, date periods, folders and subfolders, and the results come back very quickly. 

Managing tasks
Did you know you can click and drag an e-mail onto the Task icon in Outlook and it will create a task for you automatically? There’s no need for yellow Post-Its when it can all be kept within the confines of the computer screen.  Outlook tasks allow employees to create deadlines for themselves, set reminders, assign tasks to others, and even track progress of a project to completion.

Creating calendar events
Employees who understand not only how to create a calendar invitation, but also how to confirm availability of other employees they want to invite to an event, will save time avoiding countless back-and-forth e-mails.  There are a number of fields and functionalities available throughout the Outlook application, such as color-coding, which can be used as prioritization tools. It only takes a minute to establish the meaning of each color.

Creating rules
Quite possibly the most controversial functionality in Outlook is the ability to create rules. I’ve witnessed many a horror story on how a critical e-mail was missed because an employee had inadvertently created an e-mail rule to forward any e-mail with “X” in the subject line straight to a special folder for later review.

Creating rules can be of great benefit with the right education on the impact and power of this tool.  I’ve seen individuals create multiple Inbox folders, each with its own purpose.  For example, they’ll have their main Inbox, an “Inbox – CC” for any e-mail where they are in the CC field of the e-mail, “Inbox – Outside” for any e-mail where the sender is from outside the company, and “Inbox – Invites” where any Outlook calendar invitation goes. 

The argument can be made that you are simply increasing the opportunity for errors, but I believe there are ways to leverage this functionality to increase efficiencies.  By setting these various folders as Favorites, and retraining ourselves to manage our e-mails from the Favorites drop-down, you can prioritize and focus on the folders that mean the most to you (which will vary by company, for obvious reasons).

Stay tuned for more posts on skill sets (Microsoft Word, Excel, etc.) to improve your team.

Posted by Brad Vance, Epicor Senior Business Process Consultant

Upgrading Your Inside Sales & Customer Service Teams

As business professionals, no matter the industry, when we are looking for efficiency, additional sales opportunities and better ways to do business, we usually look to upgrade our system (e.g., implementation of ERP, CRM, etc.), or our processes (though process improvement), but very rarely do we ever look to upgrade our employees, through skills enhancements.

The process of upgrading our employees requires a two-pronged approach: Upgrading through skill set improvement, and the much less comfortable upgrading through replacement (which will not be covered here). Both upgrade paths can yield significant improvements in our company’s efficiencies, allowing for higher output and having a direct impact on profitability.

Why Upgrade?
In the case of industrial distributors, for decades, they have been family owned and family run.  While many of these companies still exist and are profitable, there are even more distributors that have grown, or have been acquired, and are part of a much larger global organization. But the type of employee and the skill level of these employees have yet to be looked at and improved.  Let’s explore a real-world example of how a simple skill improvement can drastically improve efficiency.

Most distributors have large customers with special annual contract pricing.  Each year, those prices need to be tweaked, usually as a result of the distributor’s suppliers raising their prices.  Inside Sales or Customer Service is quite often tasked with the spreadsheet side of the project.  This involves:

  1. A spreadsheet of the previous year’s sales
  2. A spreadsheet of all the supplier brands the customer buys from the distributor and the expected price increase (expressed as a percentage)
  3. Merging the two spreadsheets and formatting the result before sending it to the individual responsible for setting the new price (oftentimes the outside sales rep)

The average, less skilled employee will take up to two weeks to complete the project in their spare time, in between phone calls, quoting customers, processing orders and working with their backlog.  TWO WEEKS! The process usually goes something like this:

  • CRS goes line by line on the sales history report, sorts by part#, removes duplicates, adds the supplier name if it’s not already on the report.
  • CRS goes back through each line, finds the supplier for each item and compares it to the other spreadsheet.
  • CRS populates the sales history report with the percentage from the price increase spreadsheet.
  • Repeat the process for the two hundred or so lines on the sales history report.

Now let’s take a similarly skilled employee performing the same job functions, but add one skill the other does not have, Microsoft® Excel.  We can take what would otherwise be a two-week project and have it completed in less than two hours (giving us plenty of time to spend on cleaning up the formatting).

By investing in the right training and enhancing our employees’ skill sets, we will save in both man hours and payroll.  Now imagine the savings that can be gained with a workforce that knows two, three, or 10 specialty tools. 

How to Upgrade?
First, we create a profile of our ideal employee. What skills would this employee have? What core competencies would they possess? A good place to start would be to look at our best performers and add to the list from there.

A starter list of skills that will help our employees perform could include Excel, Word, Outlook (e-mail) and Internet Explorer. We’ll be covering these skill sets in more detail in future posts. Stay tuned on the many different ways you can improve your team.

Posted by Brad Vance, Epicor Senior Business Process Consultant

Going Beyond Technology: ERP Process Review and Graphical Modeling
There are a number of ways to help ensure a timely, on-budget enterprise resource planning (ERP) system implementation. One key area revolves around properly planning and documenting business processes that will be used with the new solution.
 
Graphical modeling is often perceived as a narrowly focused tool for documenting the flow of isolated processes. However, by using a more flexible tool to expand that view to create a hierarchical, top-down map of the entire system, organizations get the full picture of how the processes can be made most effective.

Starting from the high-level perspective, it is necessary to drill down further to get to heart of detailing what really should occur for each business process. This “stage” level consists of the major steps taken to complete the process. This is also where responsibility should be assigned to particular roles within the organization that are affected by each particular stage.

The goal is to utilize these models throughout the implementation and beyond. The ERP implementation team can use the completed models to assist during the implementation with role-based activities and training, and to serve as a repository for important implementation documentation. After go-live, the models should be updated as the business grows and changes to help ensure the organization is getting the best return on its ERP investment.

To learn more about the benefits of conducting a process review, and the use of a graphical model as the repository of project documentation and “guiding light” of project continuity, download the white paper Effectively Documenting Business Processes for a Successful ERP Implementation here.
 
Posted by Beth Karlin and John Steele, Senior/Principal Consultants, Epicor Professional Services
Epicor Optimization Services for Prophet 21 and Eclipse ERP

Epicor Prophet 21 and Eclipse customers can take advantage of post-implementation Optimization Services to improve the return on their ERP investment. By leveraging optimization around key business areas such as accounts payable, accounts receivable, production orders and secondary processing, distributors will typically enjoy more efficient processes and better system utilization.

Common challenges in these areas that can be addressed through optimization include:

Accounts Receivable

  • Profit margins are decreasing and cash flow is becoming an issue
  • Having more customers on credit hold than on approval

Accounts Payable

  • Managing multiple dates and check payments to vendors
  • Having inconsistent vendor terms

Production Orders

  • Using manual processes for allocating materials
  • Using too many steps to create a production order
  • Having difficulty tracking an order in the system

Secondary Processing

  • Set-ups are taking a long time
  • Having to do multiple set-ups for the same process

Epicor Optimization Services help distributors capitalize on Prophet 21 or Eclipse system efficiencies to benefit both employees and customers beyond the ERP go-live date. Sometimes these efficiencies may be achieved by leveraging new or updated system features that have not been used up to this point. A typical engagement involves working remotely with an Epicor Application Consultant for about 2-4 hours to review and refine processes.

For more information about Epicor Optimization Services, contact your Epicor Customer Account Manager or email cams@epicor.com for more information.

Posted by Epicor Social Media Team

Epicor University Provides Safety Products Distributor with Learning Support to Introduce New Technology and Business Workflows
Safety Supply Illinois (SSI) is a distributor of safety products ranging from earplugs to high-end safety equipment, including fall protection and confined space solutions. SSI converted to the Epicor Prophet 21 enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution in 2012.

According to SSI Owner/Chief Operating Officer Mary Porter, “The online learning classes from Epicor University were extremely helpful in introducing the new functional aspects of Prophet 21 to our employees. The online training schedule provided by Epicor’s Learning Management System (LMS) allowed me to create, schedule, and track user-specific training timelines.

“The LMS is wonderful for training new users on Prophet 21, and because it is organized by business function, I encourage our existing employees to listen to other classes and learn about all functional areas,” continues Porter. “We are slowly incorporating many of the Prophet 21 enhancements into our business practices with help from the Epicor Learning Center.”

The results speak for themselves. Porter observes, “In the last three years, we have tripled sales, in part because we converted to Prophet 21. In addition to increasing our overall customer base by about 20 percent, we are also attracting much larger customers such as utility companies. The Epicor technology and tools for learning and growing are all there; you just need to access them.” To read the full story of SSI’s success, go here.
 
Posted by Epicor Social Media Team
Getting the Most Out of Your Epicor Prophet 21 ERP Investment

Implementing an enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution is not a “once and done” activity.  It is vitally important to continue proper maintenance, reviews, and education for your company’s system and employees after go-live.

Whether you went live last week, last month, last year, or several years ago, there are a number of things you can do to get the most out of your system. Like many Epicor Prophet 21 users, you have probably spent a lot of time and effort getting ramped up. Now that you are fully up to speed on the system, it is important to keep the momentum going by developing a timeline for leveraging additional features and processes that will have the greatest impact on improving your business.

Immediate action items after go-live can include:

  • Gathering feedback from your management team on current system usage, challenges and desired improvements
  • Determining priorities for the next year
  • Developing a Business Continuity Plan to protect your data and put failover solutions in place
  • Reviewing the Epicor Learning Management System (LMS) for employees with incomplete courses

In the months following, you can:

  • Review Business Alerts to optimize productivity and profitability
  • Assign additional LMS courses that were not a priority during implementation
  • Take advantage of DynaChange to alter the appearance of screens to suit the needsof your employees and business processes, and create your own drilldowns from any field in the Prophet 21 system
  • Opt-in for e-mail alerts from the Epicor Customer Web Site
  • Develop a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) strategy
  • Assign shortcut and efficiency training courses to all end users
  • Conduct a process review to prevent the inadvertentintroduction of bad habits
  • Create a Business Intelligence framework for your organization
  • Review new feature training courses

Epicor Business Consultants can provide you with additional recommendations, roadmaps and checkpoints to advance your business with Prophet 21.

Posted by Epicor Social Media Team

Epicor Prophet 21 Helps Medical Distributor Achieve World-Class Results
Since Mercedes Medical of Sarasota, Florida, first started using Epicor’s Prophet 21 software in 2004, their sales have almost doubled. Margins have increased by 15 percent, and A/R days outstanding have decreased by about 20 percent. In addition, sales per employee have increased by almost $100,000.

Every year, the company benchmarks against competitors in the healthcare industry, looking at everything from inventory, to gross profit margin, to financial performance. “We consistently perform at the top of the benchmarks, and I think our Prophet 21 system has a lot do to with it,” says Chief Operating Officer Andrew Wright.

Analyst firm Nucleus Research found that the Epicor Prophet 21 implementation enabled Mercedes Medical to improve visibility and efficiency, accelerate collections, reduce bad debt, and increase profits, for an estimated ROI of 605 percent and an average annual benefit of over $2 million.  To read the full story, including a detailed financial analysis by Nucleus Research, go here.

Posted by Epicor Social Media Team
Implementing Consignment Inventory (Part 3 of 3)

In previous blog posts, we covered the definition, initial setup and advantages of managing consignment inventory using Epicor ERP v9 or v10.

Several other questions remain to be answered, i.e.: “How do we verify the consignment inventory quantities?” and “How do we finish the contract without ending up with extra inventory?”

Cycle Counting/Physical Inventory
Consignment inventory is still an asset of the company that currently owns it. It is therefore the distributor’s fiscal responsibility to periodically count that inventory to make sure it is still in its proper place. If you have used the procedures defined in the previous blog posts, then you can use the standard cycle counting or physical inventory module that is built into Epicor ERP v9 or v10.

Since Epicor supports counting by warehouse ID, you can simply initiate a physical inventory for your consignment warehouse. If you have multiple customers, you would have multiple warehouses, with each warehouse to be counted separately.

Of course, in order to do this inventory check, you still need access to the inventory itself, or you need a trustworthy customer that will return the physical inventory results.  It is up to you to determine what you are going to do with any adjustments that are found.

  • If during the count, you find more parts that were supposed to be there, that may mean:
    • You have overbilled your customer for product they did not actually use, or
    • You shipped more parts than you acknowledged in the electronic transfer order.
  • If during the count, you find fewer parts than you were supposed to:
    • Your customer has used more parts than they have told you about.

In either of the above two cases, you need to confirm that there is a clear declaration of who is responsible for any variances found during the physical inventory. If you followed all of the procedures, there should be no unverified variances in the shipment. This would then leave only one option for the variance: issue a credit or an invoice for the difference in inventory quantity.

Closing the Contract
As the contract is coming to an end, you want to ensure that you do not end up with large quantities of inventory sitting in your customer’s consignment warehouse. At some point, they will not want that inventory anymore, and you will need to take it back (unless you have a clause in your contract to protect you).

Our recommendation is to closely monitor those parts as the contract is winding down, to make sure you have reduced or eliminated the minimum on hand/safety stock levels that you have defined throughout the system. Also, verify that any forecasts that the customer has delivered represent real, sellable product.

Posted by Tim Shoemaker, Senior Principal Consultant, Epicor Professional Services

Implementing Consignment Inventory (Part 2 of 3)

In the previous blog post, we covered the definition, initial setup and advantages of managing consignment inventory using Epicor ERP v9 or v10.

Below are the steps that must be done to implement a new consignment customer with a new consignment part, assuming that you already have a consignment plant (in v9) or site (in v10) set up in the system.

  1. New consignment agreement is placed by the customer
    • Create a “Consignment Warehouse” for this new customer (one time for each customer).
    • Define minimum stocking levels in the consignment plant/site; i.e., if your contract says you are to always have 100 on hand, then set 100 as the minimum on hand for the consignment plant/site.
    • Define minimum stocking level at the manufacturer’s local plant. This would be any inventory that you want to keep on hand to fulfill any rush requirements. Typically, this is less than or equal to the minimum consignment level above.
    • In the consignment plant/site, specify that this item is a “Transfer” item, and that the “Supply Plant/Site” is your main manufacturing plant. Also specify the transfer lead time (the number of days that the item will be in transit).
    • Create the MRP forecast for this customer part in the consignment plant (i.e., you are forecasting that the inventory will be consumed from consignment, not from your local stores).
    • Note: at this point, you do not have to have any firm Sales order entered… MRP Forecasting + minimum on-hand will drive the first fulfillment of consignment inventory.
  2. Run MRP
    • MRP will see that you are currently below the minimum in the consignment plant, and will generate suggested transfer order requirements from the manufacturer’s plant to consignment.
    • MRP will then add these requirements to the minimum on hand specified in the manufacturer’s plant, and will generate “unfirm jobs” to fill these demands (even without a firm sales order).
  3. Firm Job, and Make Product
    • This is a normal job in your local plant.
    • When complete, the product is received to stock.
    • Once in stock, it will show on the suggested transfer order shipments.
  4. Ship Transfer Order from the manufacturer’s plant
    • Transfer orders generate Transfer Order Packslips. These packslips show the address of the demand (the consignment plant). It is your paperwork that goes to the customer.
    • Note that this is not a customer shipment…it is a transfer, because you are not transferring ownership, only moving inventory locations.
  5. Receive Transfer Order into Consignment
    • This is done once you receive confirmation from the customer that they have received the shipment.
    • This function actually takes the inventory out of “In transit” and puts it into the consignment plant.
  6. Consumption of Consignment Inventory
    • In most cases, your customers give a report showing what items were consumed. When this happens, an order needs to be entered, shipped and invoiced.
    • There are several ways that this can be done, but easiest is to create a new “counter sale” sales order. Counter sales allow for an order to be entered, “shipped” and immediately invoiced without all the extra processing.
    • When you create the counter sales order, you tell the system that you are selling it from the “consignment warehouse” location. This then automatically reduces the quantity on hand in consignment.
    • If there are a large number of parts consumed each day, then this could be automated with a Service Connect process to create and ship the orders. Alternately, an Excel spreadsheet could be copied and pasted into the counter sale section on the sales order.
  7. Replenishing consignment locations (basically, Go to Step 2 above)
    • If the customer’s consumption above did not reduce inventory below the “minimum” on hand in the consignment plant, then nothing will happen.
    • But, if it does reduce the on hand below minimum, then when MRP has its nightly run (see step 2 above), it will create another transfer order suggestion to move more inventory from your main stock to consignment.

Consignment Summary
While there are “urban legends” that Epicor ERP v9 and v10 cannot do consignment inventory because there is not a consignment module, this is not true, and as shown above, the actual steps are not difficult. In fact, once set up, the system will self-fulfill as the customer consumes the inventory. The manufacturer may need some help from an Epicor consultant in setting this up the first time, but once the model is complete, it can be easily replicated.

In the last part of this series, we will discuss how to verify the quantities and finish the contract for consignment inventory.

Posted by Tim Shoemaker, Senior Principal Consultant, Epicor Professional Services

1 - 10Next

 



Distribution RSS Feed




Network with Epicor customers, employees, industry experts, and more.
Facebook Facebook
Connect with your peers and discuss best practices.
Twitter Twitter
Tweet, re-tweet, and stay up-to-date on the latest happenings with Epicor.
LinkedIn LinkedIn
Connect with your peers and discuss best practices.


© Epicor Software Corporation Home |  Investors |  Partners |  Privacy
Terms of Use |  Privacy Policy Industries |  Solutions |  Products |  Company |  Customers |  Services |  Careers