Women in ERP – April 2022
Juliette Samson, Nikki Gonzales, Cheri Baker and Lori McDonald
Hello, everyone! Welcome to our Women in ERP Show. This is a show hosted by Sarah Scudder from SourceDay, and I host the first Tuesday of each month to bring together women in our industry to talk about what really happens in the world of ERPs. Our initiative aims to bring together, educate, and empower women involved with ERP systems. The main theme of this series is to highlight the contributions of women, create social awareness to enhance women’s representation in ERP teams, and highlight their stories. And I’ve got a great group for you today. I’m Kris Harrington, president of GenAlpha Technologies, and today’s show host. I’ve spent the last 20 years working for and with industrial manufacturers, leveraging the ERP system to deliver better business outcomes. So, I’m intimately familiar with all that can go right and all that can go wrong when utilizing an ERP system to manage different business functions.
I’m joined by Juliette, Nikki, Cheri, and Lori. They have a wide range of ERP experience, and I’ve asked them to share their wisdom and stories with us today. To kick off our conversation, please put in the comments where in the world you are joining us from and the best ERP advice you ever received. Don’t be shy, please engage with us in the comments throughout the show and post your questions at any time. And I can kick off, at least, by sharing the best ERP advice I ever received. I can remember the day that I walked into a manufacturing organization. I was a young financial analyst hired into a very large manufacturing organization, and the VP of Finance told me on day one, and I didn’t even know what an ERP system was. I had never used one; I didn’t even know what ERP stood for. But he had shared with me to use the ERP system as a tool and recognize that it is the best tool in your toolbox. And I will never forget that he gave me that advice because it sure was true for me as I expanded my career in manufacturing. So, that is, for sure, the best advice that I’ve ever received related to ERP.
All right, so let’s kick it off. I want to hear from all these wonderful women. Juliette, we are going to start with you today, and I’d like you to please just tell us a bit about yourself and share one fun fact about you.
So, Kris, thank you so much for having me on this panel. I’m really very honored to be on with such amazing women, as you will all find out. My name is Juliette Samson, and I have, I would say, 25 plus years in the industry, and the plus is definitely a plus. So, I’m not going to talk about how many years. But I started out in the telecom industry, where we have utilized Oracle. And then I moved into the financial industry, where we used Oracle and SAP. And then I moved into Pfizer in the pharmaceutical industry, where again we were using both SAP and Oracle. So most of my career has been in Fortune 50, in both telecom, financials, and pharmaceuticals. And the last eight years, I was with a small, or I would say mid-sized, food and beverage company that basically markets and sells food and beverages from all over the world, exclusively in the United States. And in this role, in addition to being their CEO as well as their Head of Supply Chain, I spent a lot of time re-implementing our Oracle ERP. And I’ll talk about it a little bit later in terms of the details. One fun fact is I speak four languages. I was born in Eastern Europe, and right now I’m on vacation in Cartagena, Colombia. And I also have two children, 27 and 29.
Oh, wonderful. That the fact that you would join us all the way from Colombia today, take time away from your vacation. We’re so thankful that you’re here. Thanks for sharing that. So the first question for you, Juliette, today is how does one select the right ERP for their business?
So, Kris, this is a very common and a very important question. And a lot of companies, as they make a decision, they really get engaged in doing some research. So first of all, you were talking about what ERP is, and ERP obviously stands for Enterprise Resource Planning. And essentially, it automates the back office processes. And so you really have to take a look at your business in terms of many different aspects. One of them would be the size of the business. Another one would be, are you a manufacturer? Do you own your own warehouse? What kind of a business are you in? And so there are several ERPs out there. I personally have only worked with Oracle and SAP, but clearly, there’s Microsoft out there as well. And even within Oracle and within SAP, there are several different options. You can do an on-premise solution; you can do a cloud-based solution. So, it’s really, really important to take a look at, again, the size, what kind of a business are you, do you or don’t you have manufacturing, how much money are you trying to spend. But I think, you know, more importantly, taking a look at, you know, your overall business and making those decisions are really very important. The other piece which I would want to also comment on, obviously cost is very important as well, but the other piece that I really want to comment on is it’s not so much the ERP that you select but also who is your implementer, right? Who is your partner that would implement it? Because you could select and in fact, all of these ERPs, you know, Oracle, SAP, Microsoft, NAV, all of these are very good ERPs, right? The question is how are you implementing it? And later on, we will talk more about the difference between installing and implementing such a very important and expensive and strong system.
Let’s see if we get her back. All right, well, some great advice there from Juliette, and good to know her. I’m just going to go ahead and mute her, and we’ll move on until she comes back with us. So, Nikki, I’m going to move to you next. Please tell us a little bit about yourself and share one fact about you.
Okay, so I’m Nikki Gonzales, I’m Head of Partnerships at Quotebeam, a marketplace for industrial automation. I currently work with a lot of distributors, so I’ve been getting into ERP systems more and more lately than I used to. But my background is I started out as a sales engineer in factory automation, and I worked directly for manufacturers. And so I’ve always sort of tangentially been involved with ERP systems. At that company, I wasn’t allowed to touch it, and we couldn’t even do our own code, so we had sales support that would touch the ERP system. Salespeople stay out of it, CRM is your thing, ERP is somebody else’s. The next one I worked at, for a different technology, we actually got to touch the ERP system, which was interesting. I got to learn quite a bit more about how that happens, how to handle stock things that are waiting, large orders, all kinds of stuff, different pricing, and I learned quite a bit, some of it the hard way doing that. So, I could see why sometimes salespeople don’t touch the ERP.
And then I’ve also been involved with data analytics and AI implementations where we take data from ERP systems and other places and make predictions for things like demand planning, inventory optimization, that sort of thing. And now working on the e-commerce side, we’re integrating with all kinds of ERP systems for companies that have and carry stock. And then, so I’ve been learning a lot more about that lately, but that’s kind of where my background is. Very heavy on the factory automation, although my stint in data analytics was also related to retail demand planning.
And one interesting thing about me, I guess, I have a daughter named Elsa, she just turned four in January, and the fun fact is I had never seen Frozen before we decided… I actually watched it while I was waiting for my delivery in the hospital, seven weeks early, and I realized it’s an amazing movie. But I’m from Iceland, and we chose Icelandic names for my two kids, Elsa and Finn, so that they can work in both places, but nobody forgets the name because they always say, “I have to imagine there are a lot of little girls with the name Elsa out there.” So, you actually have not met many?
Well, that’s good, yeah. So, but I would be interested to know how much the usage spiked after the movie came out.
Well, thank you, thank you for that wonderful background, lots of different experiences that add to the show, so great to have you. So, first question for you, Nikki, is you know, you’re working with distributors mostly at Quotebeam, connecting their ERP systems to your marketplace. How important is having an ERP system to growth in the distribution business?
I think it’s definitely imperative at this point. If you don’t have an ERP system, it’s not like you’re going to go out of business, but it is becoming more and more difficult to handle the back office. And what we’re seeing in the industry right now is there’s just such a huge demand for automation in general. Manufacturing is growing, automation is growing at a huge pace. Anybody that carries anything is going to sell some of that regardless, as long as they’re connecting to the right customers. The customers are able to find them. We have a lot of small to medium-sized regional distributors that have done business a certain way for the last 20, 30, 50 years in some cases. And they have processes that used to work for them, and they don’t anymore. And what we’re seeing is they’re having a difficult time handling the increase in business because their systems are really inefficient. And they want to hire more people, but there’s this talent shortage, and especially it’s hard to attract good employees when your systems are really hard to work with, right? You’re telling people that they gotta answer the phone and then go into this system and then check stock here, and then make a quote here. And what we’re seeing is the distributors that don’t have an ERP system are having a much harder time keeping up with their inventory. And they’re not… you know, just their daily business, their order-taking, their customer service. And they’re having a harder time taking advantage of new opportunities and new business, especially that’s coming with the increased movement of the buyers. B2B buyers are going online so much more, both to online marketplaces as well as they want to see a company’s individual e-commerce site. It’s much harder to build out those capabilities, and I’d love to hear you know at some point from you, Kris, about this, what you see, but it’s difficult to integrate with any other systems when you don’t have a system yourself. So, what we do is we have workarounds, you know, companies that don’t have an ERP system yet, they probably have an inventory file.
So we can create automations that upload that automatically. We’re trying to work with them on, you know, automating emails so we can adjust their purchase orders and different things, but it’s definitely an uphill battle if you don’t have an ERP system. And I think there are so many choices now. You know, in the past, it was the Oracle or the, you know, the on-prem solutions, the SAPs, which are very effective but also very complex. I think there are a lot more options out there now for cloud-based systems that are tailored to certain industries. So if you can find the right partner and the right system, I think it’s much easier to implement now, especially if they’re already tailored to sort of the business that you do. It shouldn’t be as big of a problem or as big of a hurdle as it used to be. So I’d say it’s not, you know, imperative to have one, but if you’re not already thinking about it, you definitely should be because it is an avenue of being able to then grow many, many other facets of your business once you kind of have that system on your back end to work with.
Yeah, all great points, and I love that you shared not just the customer experience but also the employee experience because there’s so much talked about today about customer experience, but really the employee experience has to be brought into this as well. I have to just share this comment from Sam Gupta, “Have you ever implemented an ERP in Iceland, Nikki Gonzales? I wonder how that would look.”
I have not, but you know what, Sam, we should find somebody. I would love to talk to somebody about that. I’m always looking for business opportunities to do business in Iceland, but the population there is smaller than your average small city in the U.S., so just it’s not a big enough market for most companies to focus much on.
Yeah, our product owner is from France, and she always is ready to go back to Paris whenever we have clients with the prospect to go back there, so I understand that feeling with Iceland. All right, so Cheri, you’re up next. Please tell us a bit about yourself and share one fun fact about you.
Yes, so thank you so much for inviting me to this wonderful panel. It’s great to be with all these ladies today. My name is Cheri Baker, and I’ve come into the world of ERP sort of in an indirect way, I would say, through roles in customer service. So not really an IT or technical background, but I’m currently the Head of Customer Service for the North American Headquarters for a company called Chr. Hansen. And it is their headquarters located here in Milwaukee, but it is a Danish company, and they are a global business-to-business food ingredient manufacturer. So mostly you will not find us on any labels of any food ingredients. We are making the cultures and enzymes and the good bacteria strains that go into yogurts and fermented beverages, probiotics and things like that. So it’s a very exciting company to be a part of. So I head up their customer service team, and they are currently on SAP. They’ve had SAP, I think, for like 20 years, but sort of surprisingly, most of their expertise is in Denmark at their main headquarters. And so locally in the U.S., there’s a big gap with how to really make SAP work and all the tips and tricks in there. So it’s definitely been a great time with them. I’ve been with them for the last three years, but have had SAP experience over the last 10 years of my career, I would say.
I would say a fun fact about me is that I’ve proven to myself that I can do a 180, going from something I absolutely hate to something that I absolutely love, if properly inspired is the caveat to that. And so I will credit my husband for that. Before I met my husband, I would not step foot in a kitchen. I would not cook a single piece of food, and that was not my thing. And I was kind of inspired by him to cook a meal one day, and all of a sudden, I produced this awesome pasta dish that I was shocked that I could do, and kind of was like, “Oh, this is an undiscovered passion,” and I’ve been cooking ever since. So thanks to him for that.
Oh, that’s wonderful. I, Sarah Scudder, I think you’re out there listening. Maybe we need another show that’s just food-related because I love all these stories I get about food, and I’d love to try all these special dishes that everybody can do. I would serve the drinks just so you know.
So, Cheri, first question for you today: You are going through an SAP implementation currently, bringing an acquired company from their ERP into your current instance of SAP. What are the unique challenges in having an existing ERP that you need to fit the needs of a new company into?
Yes, we acquired a company that also makes probiotics, like we do. So it seems like it would be an easy thing, that they have a similar product, similar processes, should be an easy fit. But I will say that discovery is super important when bringing in a business into your existing ERP. Really understanding the needs of the business so that you are able to use your ERP in the most efficient way. And it’s easy to miss things because the new business coming in doesn’t know what they don’t know. So that’s why it’s really important for us, as the existing business, to really ask all those questions: How do you do these things? To ensure that we have a solution that’s in SAP.
Interestingly enough, it’s not as similar as we first thought it was, where they have a lot of different processes that we did not have an SAP solution for in our current environment. And so what we’re doing right now is creating new workflows that Christian Hansen has never had before. And now it’s a dynamic of also training the new team members coming in on SAP in general, but then training the existing employees in the new SAP workflows that we’re putting in place. So it’s kind of two-fold in that regard. And I would say UAT testing is super important. Like we have a lot of robust UAT testing to ensure a successful go-live. And a very interesting experience in the fact of you know, learning that SAP specifically can always be changed, right? Even though we’ve never operated in some of these, we’re now bringing in these new processes.
One of the other challenging things, I would say quickly, is just, you know, processes of the business. So outside of the ERP system, putting in this ERP system will define a lot of the roles and responsibilities of the team members. And that can be different. Something that the warehouse or shipping coordinator does today is now something customer service is doing tomorrow with the system because of these rules and responsibilities. And so it’s important to understand how that changes the dynamic of the day-to-day workflow as well, depending on what ERP system you’re putting in and who then needs to do what.
Yeah. Oh, that’s so good. You know, it’s interesting because when we’re bringing other organizations into our organization through acquisitions, everybody talks about synergies, right? There’s going to be all these synergies and we’re all going to be better for it afterwards. But you forget about all of the challenges and the hard work that it takes to ever realize those synergies. And when two companies are even using the same ERP system but using it in a different way with different business processes, combining that is always an interesting opportunity and challenge. Right. So thank you for that.
All right, Lori, we’re going to move to you next. Please tell us a bit about yourself and share one fun fact about you.
Yes, I’m super excited to join the conversation, and I’ll share my fun fact as I introduce myself. So, a little bit of background on me: My background’s in computer electrical engineering. I went to school at Purdue, and what most people remember about me, my fun fact is that I worked at NASA Johnson Space Center as a flight controller for the space shuttle program before starting my business. So, through an internship at Purdue, I ended up at NASA, and I got to send commands to the space shuttle, which was a super, super amazing experience. I eventually, when I graduated from Purdue, got a full-time position at NASA, and I also met my husband at NASA. He also was a flight controller for the space shuttle program. And he, when he graduated from college, he went to work for Rockwell Automation. And so, for a few years, we were in Houston, Texas. I was at NASA, at a Rockwell field office. And then eventually, he had a promotion to Milwaukee, to Rockwell’s headquarters here in Milwaukee, which is how we ended up here in Milwaukee in 1998. And I was trying to figure out what could be his coolest space, and so I decided to start a web development company. It seemed like a neat place to be.
And what I realized after a few years in this business was that we were kind of uniquely equipped to work with manufacturers and distributors who were looking to sell products online. My husband, Dave, was the manager of the largest data warehouse at Rockwell, and so he had a really good understanding of the complexity that existed for distributors and working with Rockwell’s distributors with data and selling products through different channels. And so that was what we developed as a niche at Brilliance: working in B2B e-commerce. And so over the years, we’ve grown. My husband left his job at Rockwell, like, 12 years ago, and now he leads our development team. And so we’re a team today that focuses on working with mid-market manufacturers both in digital commerce and now in ERP back-office management software solutions as well.
Very cool. Sam Gupta has a question here for you, Lori. Which ERP did you use at NASA, and did it…
You know, I was not introduced to the back-office software at NASA. I would have to say I would imagine it was a legacy solution. But of course, I was there 20 some years ago, so I don’t have an answer for you on that. More to come on that. Yeah, smart account.
So interesting. I’ve never had an opportunity to interview somebody from NASA. This is great. Check it off the list here.
So, Lori, Brilliance has spent most of your 23-year history working in B2B e-commerce. You are newer to ERP. Yep. So, what do you see as the relationship between ERP and e-commerce?
Yeah, it’s really interesting because, so, we’ve been focusing on building sites to help manufacturers and distributors sell products online. And since the very beginning, we’ve been working with ERPs because, you know, there was always an element of integrating with an organization’s ERP in order to help them sell products online. You know, as a part of our growth, we a few years back implemented a customer advisory board, and one of the things that we heard from them and that we seem to be true as well, but one of the greatest challenges that exist in terms of an organization’s digital transformation and selling products online is data integrations. And one of the most important data integrations for an organization is their integration to their ERP when it comes to digital commerce. Because to sell products effectively online, you need to have product availability, you need to have fast fulfillment, you need to have rich product data, the ability for customers to look up information on an order they placed. And all of that is driven from the quality of your architecture, implementation of your ERP, and that integration.
So true. And you know, we operate in somewhat the same space in the… Nikki as well with the marketplaces, and I think that what sometimes manufacturers who are yet to make the decision, or any company for that matter that has an ERP system, that has yet to make the decision to move online and open an e-commerce sales channel, they sometimes forget that they’ve been working on all of this data that’s necessary for a long period of time. And sometimes it’s just leveraging through the integration to make that information available to your customers and partners. So enabling that is such a key component to what you do today. I love that.
All right, Juliette, we are going to circle back to you, and we’re sorry that we lost you with your connection earlier. Hopefully, we’ll be fine now. But can you please tell us a bit about the difference between installing an ERP and implementing one?
Yeah, so I’m sorry I lost you guys, but to finish up the story, if I may…
When we re-implemented SAP and we implemented it across the business in every single business unit, it was very successful. So we actually did that again five years later. This was at AT&T. Then when I went over to Pfizer, the same CFO moved over to Pfizer, and we did it with a top-down meeting. So that was really important. The one other thing I wanted to mention in terms of selecting an ERP, you have to also look at the complexity of the business. Pricing is a big issue, and also, you know, e-commerce and B2B and B2C and direct to consumer and all of those different aspects are very important to understand. That Oracle and SAP both have really, really strong capabilities to be able to do those things.
As far as installing or implementing, so I really think it’s very important to make sure that every single part of the business is included in your implementation process. I think either Nikki or Cheri was talking about how it’s, you know, how important it is to make sure that, you know, as you integrate or as you re-implement or as you do a merger and acquisition, you understand your process flow. And in order to understand your process flow, your operations people, your finance people have to be part of that implementation. You need to understand what is the business process, and until you understand that really well, it’s very difficult to properly implement. So what I would say is you really want the business to be involved with you as you’re doing the implementation. What I call installation is when it just goes and installs the software. That is not an implementation. You want to make sure that you can utilize it, it’s easy for the user, the user understands how to use it. And more importantly, again, understand all the business flows, and they’re different, you know, the difference between all the mergers and acquisitions. So at Pfizer, I did a merger with an acquisition between Wyff and Pfizer. I did divestitures into Nestlé’s, into Zoetis, which is animal health. At Merrill Lynch, I did the integration of five banks. It’s really, really important to understand those processes and the overall business flow in order to be able to implement it and include the business. If the business is missing, you’re going to have to redo your implementation, I guarantee it. So, I think that’s really… That’s what I want to leave people with, is that if your business is partnering with you in the implementation process, you’re going to be missing a big piece.
Yeah, I absolutely agree with you, Julia. That’s great advice.
It is good advice. I think about all the different silos in the business, right? And we have to have alignment if we’re going to successfully implement and really understand what is the goal for the business and for each of the businesses and their functions as well. I mean, to give you an example, for example, Cloud Netsuite is a very, very good system, but it’s not very good for crosstalk. So if you have crosstalk needs in manufacturing, you really have to take a look and understand how you would utilize it. So, you know, it’s just, you know, the idea, folks, they don’t understand the business. And so in my role at World Finer Foods, I had supply chain and CEO, so I had both. So I was very lucky because from a supply chain perspective, I knew as a user what I needed. So, again, it’s really, really important to partner with super users. You talked about one of us, I think Cheri thought about UAT testing. Really, really important. You have to test everything before you put it into production. Never put anything into production right away. Always test it out. So, just, you know, these are just tidbits in terms of what you really should be doing for it to go right. Yeah, great. Thank you. Any questions?
Okay, good. We will. And of course, if there’s anybody in the audience that has a question for any of these wonderful women, please put your questions into the comments box. It does look like something just came in for you, Juliette. How much do you see integrating with external systems like PLM or MES?
So yeah, that’s another very good point. You want to make sure that you select a system that can well integrate. So I think Oracle and SAP both are very good. There’s lots of APIs out there. So one experience that we’ve had is we wanted to use an API to connect to Amazon. So, you know, we started to do e-commerce business. And to be honest, there’s many APIs, but there was not one that fit our business because our business was so complex in terms of taxes, in terms of where the product is coming from, in terms of the pricing structure. That we actually had to build our own interface. So I guess the answer to the question, if I remember the question, it kind of popped up real fast. But yes, you have to take a look at the interfaces, and yes, it is possible to integrate, and there’s lots of integrations that we’re doing. So I’ve integrated with WMS systems, integrated with traffic management systems, I integrated with Amazon Seller Central, which is mostly direct-to-consumer integration. Amazon Vendor Central is really not difficult at all. That’s pretty smooth. But to Vendor Central, to Seller Central, it was quite complex, and we had to build our own integration.
So yeah, you know, this system definitely has the capability, and that’s an aspect you have to look at. Make sure your ERP can’t do that, and you know, implement the stallion principle. They can, but again, the devil is in the details. Business partner there with you to really understand your process flow, because implementers will say, ‘Yeah, sure, you know, you can do it.’ And theoretically, yeah, you can do it. But effectively, you really need to understand the details. That’s right. With technology today, everything’s possible, but is it the right solution for you moving forward? That becomes the question.
And risk and financially effective. That’s a very right economics of it. You got it. Very good.
All right, Nikki, we’re going to come back to you. Considering your background in data analysis and AI, should companies invest in those areas if they don’t have a dialed-in ERP as their single source of truth?
Great question, Kris. I think, to me, okay, my life motto is the answer to everything is ‘it depends.’ There’s always the option, right? Should you invest in these areas? My answer, honestly, is yes, or at least look into it if you don’t have, and I mean, of course, it depends on the size of your business, the maturity of your business, what your priorities are, whether you’re in growth mode or defense mode, or you know, trying to become more lean or whatever. But in my experience, I’ve seen some companies hold off on investing in anything else while they wait for their ERP implementation to be done. And hopefully, this is more of a thing in the past, these giant, complicated, over-budget, over-time, never-get-accomplished, and then possibly fail implementations. But the last thing you want to do is if you’re in the middle of or considering an ERP implementation, is to put all other growth initiatives or analytics initiatives on hold because basically what you’re doing is you’re risking everything. You’re putting everything into this one bucket that is potentially going to take longer than you think. And you don’t want to sort of put all your eggs in one basket, so to speak. So, there are a lot of options now on the AI and data analytics side. If you’re looking to potentially find more sales opportunities for your salespeople, you can use data from your CRM, even if you don’t have a dialed-in ERP system. Or, you know, it depends on what you’re trying to look at these things for. If you have a product that you think you can have a feature, let’s say you’re collecting maintenance data from some of your machines, and you want to implement AI to give you better insights into anomalies that are happening in your business, definitely you can do all of that, being cognizant that you’re still running an ERP implementation or considering implementing an ERP system.
What I would recommend is you make everybody aware of that, that’s the situation. If you’re going to work with the vendor that is providing you with data analytics, or you’re trying to implement data science capabilities in-house, have as much cross-functional collaboration as you possibly can. And vendors can work with you, whether it’s you or your team, to concurrently develop these solutions so that when the ERP system is implemented, you can connect those systems.
I don’t think the reluctance of, ‘Well, once we have our ERP ready and we have our single source of truth, then we can do x, y, z.’ That is usually not what I would say to do, because you’re jeopardizing a lot of other things. My suggestion is always to take steps at a time. Kind of try to take a really big transformative initiative and break it into bite-sized chunks that each chunk, once you complete, has some value. So that you’re not waiting for a really long time to hopefully realize some value that if you fail, never gets you anywhere. Take small steps that each build on each other that add value, so that if you need to make a change or something isn’t working, you’re not going right back to square one to do it.
ERP systems are important for you know sort of a from a data standpoint when you’re doing things like AI, but it also very much depends on what is the function that you’re trying to implement that technology for. Is the data coming from the ERP the only place that data exists? And if it isn’t, then work with the data that you have and just have a plan in place for when, at what point in the cycle, do you integrate that with your ERP, so that everybody’s on the same page and you can lay the foundation for connecting those systems later, but you’re not putting everything on this ERP implementation. Because I’ve definitely seen those fail, and that is really rough when you have a huge domino effect because your entire business was sort of predicated on that, right?
Yeah, no, those are some really good examples there and good storytelling. I like, you know, there is sometimes this situation that occurs, right, when you’re implementing an ERP system, but in parallel, the business has to still keep functioning and you know, you have to keep performing, so you don’t want everything to stop while you’re implementing your ERP. And I really like some of the examples that you gave there.
Sam is being a little silly here, but you know, the ‘vow, single source of truth’ is fascinating. Nikki, he says, is there anything called ‘single source of lies’ as well?
Anybody would call it that, but yes, I’ve never heard it either.
But Dan does have a question to the group here, and I wondered if there was anybody that wanted to take this one on. You know, what is a bit better system for manufacturing, an ERP or MES, and what are the positives and negatives of either? Anybody want to take that one?
I guess, Juliette, I was thinking you maybe.
Oh, you’re on mute. I’m going to unmute you. Let’s see here. Okay, you’re going to hear me. Yeah, yeah, we can hear you now. Okay, great. Great. So, you know, it’s a, it’s a question of… It’s a real question in terms of how is your manufacturing, you know, is it your own manufacturing? Is it third-party manufacturing? How you’re trying to connect to it? I would go with ERPs just because I know ERPs are better. But I think it’s a good question, and it, again, depends. If your business is only manufacturing, you’re manufacturing for others, is it your own manufacturing? You know, how does it interface with the different businesses? I mean, I would definitely, you know, I think the ERPs are very, very robust. Again, I think Oracle and SAP are extremely robust. They have manufacturing modules, and they work really well, and they’re built for that purpose. So, you know, in a simple way, I would definitely say ERPs. MES is an add-on, not a replacement. Yeah, you can certainly use MES as an add-on. Totally agree. Yeah. And I like the way Nikki answered earlier, it depends, right? So, I think there’s so much more you need to understand about the business. So, thank you for answering that.
All right, Cheri, we’re gonna, we’re gonna continue to move on to you. So, how has your knowledge of ERP helped you advance in your career?
Yeah, I think, you know, it’s definitely, I would say, has been, I think, the determining factor and even the role I have today, in getting that position with customer service. Like I mentioned earlier, Christian Hansen has been on SAP for quite some time, but I think having somebody coming into the organization locally here, to head up a team, with the knowledge that I’ve had in SAP specifically, was definitely seen as an asset for this role by the company. And so even, you know, being in the role, being able to demonstrate how the system can work for you and what it should be doing that it’s not doing today, that the, you know, even like the customer service team that I’m working with, you know, it would be nice if this would happen, and I’m like it can actually. And being willing to ask for those changes, right? So there are paths to requesting from your SAP team. I needed it to say this, can it be structured this way? I want my output to look like this, that kind of a thing. And being able to have the knowledge of what it can do, and then being able to ask for it, and, you know, not everything was a yes, but I was able to get quite a few things approved and implemented that have created efficiencies for the company and for the department, and that kind of thing. So that’s definitely been seen as an asset. I think any of that ERP knowledge, companies will quickly recognize that as a need for their business and want to really retain that. In fact, then recently, I was able to be asked to join a North American business partner management network that the company is starting. So someone had come to me and said, ‘I hear that you ask for a lot of SAP changes. We think you should be on our network.’ So that’s definitely another networking path within the organization and even kind of broadening career path opportunities that may not have been there before had I not had that background in that particular area, even in a customer service role.
Yeah, thank you for sharing that. I can, you know, there’s so many different functions in an ERP system, right? So, if you can keep yourself open. I remember when I started off using BaaN as an ERP system, people would say, ‘Don’t put shortcuts to the areas in the ERP that you’re going to use every day, navigate through, so that you are aware of the different opportunities that there are in the ERP system to see different screens and do different things.’ And again, it was really good advice for me because the way purchasing people and the way we in sales were using the system were very different. In giving you two different pieces of information. But as I gained access to more areas and I poked my head in there, you start to really begin to understand all the different functions, and I think it can be great. So, certainly, yeah, absolutely. Because I mean, it hasn’t even just been just customer service, but yeah, with our shipping and purchasing and warehousing and, you know, just the knowledge where someone’s like, ‘I’m not sure how to reverse that,’ I’m like, ‘Well, I do, even though that’s not my role, but I can help you.’ Beware, yeah, that’s great. That’s great.
So Lori, can you share a story of how you have seen limitations in organizations’ ERP limit their ability to grow revenue?
Yeah, definitely. So, one of our earlier customers was a large domestic manufacturer of ribbons. They sold ribbons to places like Victoria’s Secret, Coach handbags, and Tiffany’s. And they had decided they wanted to sell online to open up sales to smaller organizations without growing their sales team. Previously, their sales were all direct.
But the challenge that they had was about sharing inventory and product availability, as well as opening up all of their pricing specifically to the customer. They had a legacy ERP system. And most of the… and this is the part that always makes me smile a bit… most of their inventory was actually tracked on index cards. So, I mean, they had these huge customers and their inventory was tracked on index cards. Also, their pricing for their customer base pricing was captured in a memo field on the customer record. Like, the salespeople would just kind of enter in some notes on the memo field and they just kind of handled it manually. So, you can imagine when we went to implement an e-commerce site, there were a lot of challenges around, ‘Well, how are we going to display inventory? And how are we going to show the customer the right price?’ Because the data wasn’t in the ERP in a way that made that straightforward. You know, we came up with workarounds and processes. And Nikki, I loved your point about figuring out how you can incrementally work towards value. You know, we couldn’t… we weren’t able to say we’re going to fix the ERP situation before we implemented digital commerce, although that would have ideally been a great path.
And yet what’s also interesting is 20 some years later, I can’t say I generally run into customers that are tracking inventory on index cards. That’s not an everyday thing. But it is common that we run into customers who don’t have the data captured and structured in a way that really makes the implementation of e-commerce straightforward. And it just really points to the need to ensure those systems are set up well to begin with.
Yeah, that’s a great story. And what is it Dan Bigger is saying? ‘I’ve seen it on a whiteboard.’ Yes, a whiteboard.
So, I think there’s certainly different stories. And yes, you know, customers want to know if a product is available, right? Number one, and if it’s not available, when is it going to be available? And, you know, in working with many companies, I think this is a really difficult area. I know when we’re in discovery, we talked for a long time about this. So, I imagine, just like you, Lori, and your story, we just see that still today, it’s a big topic of conversation and nobody wants to get it wrong because they know that availability is a big part of the buying process.
Absolutely. Yeah, great. All right, Juliette, we’re going to come back to you. And I think we’ve got about 12 minutes left. So, we’ll go around the room rather quickly just to make sure we get everybody’s questions in. But talk to us about why some ERP implementations fail and take twice as much money and time over what was originally planned. I think somebody touched on this earlier.
Yeah, so it’s kind of interesting. Yeah, I think somebody did. And I, you know, I did talk about earlier, you know, the difference between installing and implementing. And it kind of goes back to cost and time. Again, you know, you have to be, make sure you understand your business process. That’s the very, very first thing you have to do. Understand your business process, include your key super users, the key business users, because if you don’t, you will, you absolutely will, but you will do it much later, and it will cost you more money and more time.
And so, you know, it’s interesting because I want to go back to some of the comments that Lori made and also Nikki made about, do we wait, you know, until ERP is installed to get some reporting or, you know, do we have to use, you know, do we have to use the source of truth from your ERP or, you know, what do you do with direct-to-consumer type sales? And a lot of it, you know, as Nikki said, everything depends. It depends again how big is your business, how do you want to grow it? You know, some of the direct-to-consumer business may not need to be in your ERP. Being part of your ERP may make it much more complex. But again, if that’s going to be 100% of your sales, then you absolutely may want to look at that. If that’s going to be 10% of your sales, maybe not at the beginning.
So, at the end of the day, you know, when you do an implementation, and when you do a re-implementation, or you do a merge, as an… you know, in order for you to stay on budget and on time, you have to follow the process, business process. Users have to be part of it, make your decisions based on your strategy, on your complexity, and then do the implementation.
Yeah, you know, I think everybody, when they think about ERP stories, they think about how they went over budget or they took longer than… I mean, anticipated. And it’s just a partner, I remember… I remember when I came to World Final Foods, which is a midsize company, you know, I had a very well-defined plan and a very well-defined budget. The board was smiling at me, and I said, ‘Why are you guys smiling?’ ‘You’ll never do this in six months for this money.’ And I said, ‘Oh, of course, of course, I will.’ Well, sure enough, it took us double the time and double the money. They were right. And that’s it. It’s just, it’s just the way it is. You know, you again, you have to do the right, the right process, and you have to have the support, by the way, of your peers and of the CEO. It’s really important for it to be a top-down mandate. Nobody wants to sit in a room and talk about business process. They don’t want to do it, you know? They don’t necessarily want to test. You know, it takes time to test.
And that’s another thing, when you’re a small company, you know, the same person that actually transacts an order and does a purchase order and deals with the customer, you know, as Cheri may know in operations, you know, you do everything. And then now you have to take time out to test and to be a super user and to talk about your business process. So, people don’t really want to do that. It has to be a mandate. But at the end, people are very happy because, just… all of you have said, your function changes. The person that did something today may not. Any effect of foods, you know, I’m really very proud and very happy because I would say that through the implementation process of the re-implementation of Oracle, of what we’ve done, which was very heavy lifting, we did a major, major headcount ROI. And that doesn’t mean that we laid off people, we did not. The number of roles stayed the same. We turned the company around. But what we were able to do is we were able to open new sales channels because the same people that did all this… Excel now use the Oracle system and had more time to focus on other sales channels, like food service, like e-commerce, like dot-com, like Amazon, and so on and so… You know, when you build a business case of implementing an ERP, you will never have a positive ROI, right? Because you’re spending money to implement it. So, you have to think about what efficiencies you’re bringing and show it as a headcount ROI, human capital ROI, because that’s what’s happening. Your functions will be changing over time, and you will have more time to spend on other things.
Yeah, yeah. Thank you for that. I think ROI could be a whole discussion on its own when it comes to ERP. Thank you for that. So, Nikki, we’ll come back to you. How important is getting ERP right to the employee experience? And is that something leaders should be thinking about in relation to attracting and retaining talent?
Yeah, so that’s actually a great question. I would want to roll back to what Juliette was saying. I think that that’s a wonderful example of how, when you’re doing a digital transformation or any other kind of transformation or implementing automation, whether that’s on the software business process side, back office, or, you know, increased analytics, or even if you’re a manufacturer of robotics and automation, who are your end users that are on the back end of that? Those are your employees, right? They are the ones that are going to have to put in the time to test, implement, describe their process. And that’s, hopefully, if you’re involving them, right? The super users and the operators or whoever is being touched by the transformation.
What I’ve seen is a missed opportunity is getting them early, getting them involved in the discussions. And this may be as simple as, like, an all-hands meeting where you just explain, ‘Hey, this is something the company is about to do. This is what is in it for you. Your job is not going to be replaced by this thing, but, in fact, it’s going to help you upskill. It’s going to help you make your job easier, the parts that you make, you tear your hair out when you come to work. We want to implement this system to help you not have to do that. And then you can have more time to work on passion projects or upscaling yourself or, you know, looking at what goes on upstream or downstream, or, you know, having more personal time to spend with your customers if you’re in sales or customer service. You know, there’s a lot in it for them. And I think a lot of times, when it’s a discussion between the c-suite and the IT people, it never comes down to the floor until it’s like, ‘Hey, here’s a new thing that you have to use. Now go do X.’ And that opportunity to involve everybody in the outcome, I think, misses the point that it is for everyone and there is something in it for everyone. And there can be an ROI in it from, you know, the c-suite to the shop floor. And if that’s what also enables a successful implementation, is when everybody is on board and is willing to put in the time to learn how to do something different, change the way they do things, if they know that the positive outcome is literally going to be positive for them, not just the company’s bottom line.
And I think that’s often missed. And now, in the environment we have with companies sort of scrambling to get talent, they’re having a harder time retaining employees with inflation and everything. People, you know, they need to see pay increases. You need to find a way for your existing employees to be more efficient. And you need to find a way to be able to attract and then retain the new people that you hire. Trust me, anybody under the age of, like, 40 right now that comes into a business that is primarily, you know, faxing, excelling, manually entering things that should be automated, they come from watching Netflix and doing business on Amazon. And they come to your business and they see this is what you do, they’re not going to stick around for very long. So, it is imperative, I think, that these sorts of back-end business systems transformations, you have a big voice of the customer, which your customer, at this point, is your employee. Be part of the transformation so that they know what the outcome is. And then they can get invested in it with you, and everybody works to succeed, rather than feeling like it’s something forced upon you that isn’t going to make your job easier.
Yeah, that’s great. Upskill. I love it. Yeah. And I think this is a great one that leads right into Cheri’s question. So, as a customer service leader, you are typically hiring people who have never worked with an ERP before. What advice do you give those individuals as far as learning the system?
Yeah, I think… Taking off of Nikki, and what she’s saying is definitely ringing true in my current implementation that I’m doing and bringing in this team and saying, you know, ‘Oh, this is what you do today. Just wait till you get SAP.’ I mean, they’re so excited. They cannot wait for our go-live because everything they do is so manual. And when you actually explain it like Nikki is saying, you know, you let them know, ‘This is really the process and how it’s going to change for you.’ You can get buy-in pretty quickly.
So, from an implementation training perspective, I think that’s key too, is letting, letting that business know, this, this is going to help you, this is a really good thing. With new cus, with new hires coming in and having to train on the existing system, I think one of the biggest things is having standard processes in place so everybody does it the same. You know, we make sure we have an SOP. That’s kind of the 80-20 rule. 80% of the time, this SAP is going to work for you. The other 20% is the on-the-job learning of the exceptions and the special situations. But the standardization of the process from order to invoice is key in making sure that someone has a successful onboarding experience to an ERP system, for sure.
All right, Lori, I get to save you for the close, closing thoughts, because we are right here. I know we’ve covered a lot of topics here. Is there just anything you’d like to leave people with after our discussion here today?
Yeah, well, you know, what’s interesting is I think I’ve heard a couple themes, and it’s what I see happening in the market too, is that generally we’re seeing staffing shortages and we’re also seeing a need to move to like omni-channel. And I think that’s where, so when we chose to become ERP implementers, we partnered with Acumatica, and part of that choice was because Acumatica doesn’t license like named users, but a lot of licenses based on consumption. And I think one of the interesting trends is that, like, we need people to be, when we think about staffing shortages, we need people to be able to, like, we want everyone in the organization to be able to leverage the back-office software. We don’t want to have to be limited by our license. And we also really want to create a 360-degree view of everything in the business so that, Nikki, to your point, and Cheri, to your point, like, that people can be more effective, efficient in their work. That’s all a part of dealing with the staffing shortages and this need now for us to be doing business within Amazon, within multiple channels, with the new distribution channels. It really points to the need to be working with software that supports and enables that. So, yeah, just, I’ve just so enjoyed the conversation with everybody. Yeah, thank you. Thank you. Well, that’s a wrap. So, a perfect ending here. I want to extend a special thank you to everyone in the audience for joining us today, and thank you to these fabulous women in ERP for sharing their wisdom and their stories with us. Our next show will be on May 3rd at 1 PM Eastern, and I will be your host. So, please join us again in May. Have a great week, everyone. Thank you, ladies. Thank you. Bye. Thank you. Bye.