Transcript: Women in ERP – December 2023

Women in ERP – Dec. 2023

Featured Panelists:
Kris Harrington and Keiwana Eaton

This is our very last Women in ERP show of the year, which kind of makes me sad. Kris and I have been hosting the show, now I want to say, for over two years. So, last show of 2023. The purpose of this show is to bring together women who work in the ERP industry to talk about what really, really happens in the ERP space, and it is not all fun and pretty. There’s a lot of not-so-fun, crazy stuff that happens behind the scenes. So, the purpose is for us to build a community, to bring women together to speak about and highlight some of those challenges, but also the wins and all the stories and things that we’ve lived through. I am Sarah Scudder, marketing maven at SourceDay, and I am hosting the show today. Kris is also co-host of the show. I’ve asked her to actually come on with Keiwana, and we’re kind of changing up the format a little bit for our December show to close out the year. We are going to actually talk about insights and learnings from 2023, and then some 2024 predictions, instead of our normal flow and format. For those of you that are with us live today, drop us a note in the comments and tell us where in the world you are joining us from, and then a word to describe how you are feeling today. With that, I’m going to have Keiwana start with a very quick intro. So, Keiwana, tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into the ERP space. Thank you for that. Okay, my name is Keiwana Eaton. I am the supply chain director for two hotels and 10 restaurants in Auburn, Alabama. I have been working in the ERP space and supply chain, which includes purchasing, inventory management, manufacturing, and e-commerce since 2003, so a little over 20 years. And yeah, that’s who I am. I love all things supply chain and ERP. Awesome! Kris, you and I have known each other for a few years, so again, happy to have you come on as our final episode of the year. Who are you, and how did you get into manufacturing? Yeah, thank you, Sarah, and Keiwana. It’s so great to be joined with you today. I’m Kris Haring. I’m the CEO of Gen Alpha Technologies, and we are a company that works with original equipment manufacturers and aftermarket organizations to really help them sell and service their products online. Typically, this is relatively new to these organizations, and a big portion of what we do is integrate with the ERP system. So, we are leveraging that source of truth data in the digital experience. So, I come with many years myself working in manufacturing. So, I was a user of ERP systems for a good portion of my career. So, not only do we integrate with them today, but I’ve had to utilize them in my business processes in the past. So, that’s a little bit about me. Okay, so we’re going to start off with learnings and things that happened to both of you this year that we think are important to share with the others working in or around the ERP space. So, Keiwana, my first question is for you. What is one thing you predicted or thought would happen this year that, in fact, did happen? So, one of the things that I predicted that would happen, that is happening, is small business owners getting an increased knowledge in inventory management, inventory control, especially in e-commerce. Since COVID, when e-commerce took on rapid growth, I could see then that there would be some problems with inventory management because of all of the gaps and the delay that was happening within the supply chain. So now, what I’m seeing is more people, not small businesses and large businesses alike, well, for large businesses, they’re increasing their awareness, learning how invaluable people that know inventory management are, and small businesses are looking for ways to increase their knowledge since they can’t have the budgets of a large corporation to hire or outsource the inventory control. They are increasing their knowledge base in understanding how inventory control affects everything in their supply chains and inside of their companies as a whole. So, that’s what’s happening; that’s what I’ve seen; that’s what I predicted would happen. Yeah, and Kris, just before this show, we have partnered with an economist named Dr. Robert Iser, who does a lot of work in the manufacturing space, which is the world that my team and I live in at SourceDay, and Kris does a lot in the manufacturing space as well. And one of the things that he talked about in regards to inventory is the pivot away from just-in-time. So, we had companies who were completely, almost zero inventory levels, what I would call almost just-in-time, where they were literally producing things as they were ordered. COVID hit, and we saw people absolutely freak out, weren’t able to get their parts and materials, and had major backfills and issues filling orders. So, we saw almost the pendulum swing completely the other way, where companies were stockpiling inventory. I mean, we have clients that had two to three years’ worth of inventory stockpiled. Now, if you’re a smaller, midsize manufacturer, that’s a big challenge for cash flow. You are not able to reinvest in your people, reinvest in your infrastructure, or your technology if you have it tied up in inventory that you may or may not move. Now, he said, from an economist’s perspective and looking at the data, he’s seen companies now coming to what he would call more normal inventory levels. So, not just-in-time; that may be kind of a thing of the past now, where people are not going to fully go back to that model, but people are trying to get a better manage of their inventory. So, instead of two to three years, going back to more normal, like quarterly or biannual terms. So, my point of saying that is he was kind of in line with what you were just talking about, how companies really had to figure out this whole inventory thing, and that more companies are aware of it and putting processes and systems to better manage that. Kris, one thing you predicted or thought that would happen this year that did, in fact, happen? Yeah, I would say, well, first, I just want to comment that I really appreciate all the comments on inventory management because in our world, we know that inventory sells, right? Like, having availability of inventory helps people sell their goods, and a good inventory management plan and structure is critical to ensuring that you can display accurately and securely that you have inventory and when that inventory is going to arrive for a customer. So, appreciate those comments. So, something that I predicted and continues to be true, not just this year but in previous years, is that people continue to, and I would say companies continue to, underestimate the time it’s going to take them to implement an ERP project, whether that’s an upgrade or for a new ERP solution. Oftentimes, our technology follows an ERP upgrade. They want the best ERP technology with the newest APIs and ability to integrate, so they delay the decision on maybe some of the customer-facing aspects to get the backend under, you know, correct and available and easy and seamless to integrate. So then, their plans for that customer-facing portion often get delayed because of the underestimating of the time it’s going to take. And, you know, these projects just continue to delay. I wish it wasn’t true, but, you know, they will typically say, “Oh, in 12 months, we’ll have it all set; we’ll be tested; everything will be working in 12 months.” It quickly turns into 16 months or 18 months before they’re truly ready, and sometimes for some companies, it’s even longer than that, depending on the size. Kris, and I would also add on to that, it’s also about budget. Yes, so we hear a lot. If an upgrade is planned, then all other spending, like anything that has to do with an ERP bolt-on or integration solution, is kind of frozen because the funds are going towards the cost of the upgrade and the cost of the implementation and all the change management associated with it. So, it’s not only the brainpower and the brain space, but it’s also the budget as well. Correct. Yep, good point. Keiwana, most difficult ERP-related lesson that you learned this year? I would have to piggyback off of what Kris was just saying, and what you were talking about with implementation. My company, we were integrating; we purchased new software, and we were having the team integrate our software with our current processes, and it has been, for lack of better words, kind of haywire. So, it’s just the learning aspect where I think that the key people that should be a part of the implementation team, on the client side, for instance, in my company’s stance, the key people that should be in those roles to help with the implementation and that understand, for instance, like inventory or purchasing, the part of the ERP system should already be in place so that they can be a part of the team to make those decisions and that implementation more streamlined and easy so that, on the backend or the later end, we’re not going back and trying to redo things that weren’t done the correct way the first time around if that makes sense.

So, my learning has been this year the biggest learning lesson for me is making sure that we have those key people in place that are part of the implementation team for the client company. So that when we are purchasing a new software or system to be integrated with our current SI processes, then it’s a streamlined process and will reduce hiccups along the way. You want a question around that? You mentioned having the right people in place so the implementation goes smoother. Are you, in your current company, having people manage that internally or are you leveraging third-party resources, or a combination? Because I know there’s very differing opinions about whether you should or shouldn’t use consultants, especially when it comes to implementations.

Well, okay, so in this particular instance, I was brought in at a later time. So, in the beginning of the integration, I don’t think we had a consultant at that time, but he wasn’t brought in to help with the integration. So, he was just really consulting on the setup of the physical products and locations, storerooms versus the software integration. So, to your question, I don’t think we had one. I think it was just internally managed and not with a third-party consultant, which made it very difficult. So, that’s important.

Yeah, in my experiences, I have found great value in using a third party, an expert who knows the ERP that you’re implementing and knows the space well. A subject matter expert to come in and help. Teams are often very short-handed as it is, and adding on the additional task of managing an implementation on top of somebody’s day-to-day workload can be very cumbersome and very challenging as well, just a big resource constraint. So, historically, I know there’s always unique circumstances, but I am a fan of bringing in a third-party expert to help with things like that.

Kris, most difficult ERP-related lesson you have learned this year?

Yeah, and it kind of ties into what you guys just said as well. You know, we have, so this is personal to us as a Gen Alpha team. You know, there are many ERPs that we can integrate to, and sometimes you don’t need to have an update or the best and latest solution to solve other business problems with technology. And so, we have done integrations to older platforms, and what we have learned is that when you are doing that, it does require a dedicated resource, you know, essentially from that company’s perspective. So, that they understand the system well, they understand where the fields are being used, how information is being used, and they can extract the data with ease and efficiency. And it does require that dedicated resource to be available to the project because when it’s not one of the newest ERP systems and you’re integrating to something older, it’s always going to take more time in testing. And, you know, so if you plan for that, that’s fine. But if you don’t have a dedicated resource, then it extrapolates that time and the testing that it’s going to take, and, you know, then there are risks that can occur as well.

So, I would say, you know, for those companies that aren’t ready to upgrade or make those investments, or they’re just so invested in the ways that they’ve customized their ERP systems already, no problem. You can still move forward, but make sure that you allocate the right resources to projects to make sure that those projects can be implemented in time.

Kris, in your experience, how do you know when it’s time to upgrade your ERP?

I would say when you’re starting to see manual processes or things being done outside of the ERP system, that’s a red flag. So, either you’re not using your ERP functionality accurately, and you may need to bring in someone who can help guide you on the better use of your current technology. So, that people aren’t doing things outside of the system. And the other thing that I would say is when you see a business need and you can’t easily adopt that new business need, whether that is technology. And I do think there are many technologies that benefit our businesses today, and the ease with which your backend system can communicate with other technologies is really important, and it’s going to be important for the future. So, if you’re finding that you can’t move forward with these technologies because your ERP system is holding you back, or there would be such a workaround to make that happen, it’s probably time to look at an upgrade.

I would add to that, Kris, upgrade and or an alternative ERP system. Now, I know that’s scary because we spend so much time and resources implementing an ERP solution, but there are some cases where the system you picked 20 years ago maybe isn’t the right system for the business that you’ve grown into. So, not only an upgrade, but I think it’s looking at the actual ERP that you have too.

Yeah, I agree with that 100%. And certainly, I’ve used that interchangeably because sometimes upgrading just means the current ERP system that you’re in is just not the right one for your business. So, agree.

Keiwana, what surprised you most this year? So, kind of like an aha moment where you something you weren’t even thinking about, totally out of the blue, and you’re like, wow, this is not even something that was on my radar.

The difference in corporations’ opinions of small businesses, of what makes up a small business. I was at a conference earlier part in September, listening to some of the heads of a very large technology company speak about small businesses and what they were missing. And when he said what small businesses were to him, which was businesses that had 50 employees, I was like, wow. So, because I’m also an influencer on another platform, I work with some small businesses directly. I’m part of the boots on the ground, and I know that some of those small businesses don’t have 50 employees, but they are a consumer of the product that this technology company had, and they are not the target audience of this technology company because the gap was large.

So, that was an aha moment for me, is that small businesses, the size of a small business is not the same in the minds of every person in corporations or people in general. So, that was a surprise.

How would you define what does a small business mean to you?

Well, I would say for the businesses that I am an influencer for in health, these are companies that have employees, maybe one employee, my mom and pop, or these are companies that have five employees or less. So, to me, that segment of people, that segment of businesses, is being left kind of behind when it comes to technology.

What are your thoughts around ERPs servicing small businesses? When you say there’s a gap, are you meaning that a lot of the ERPs are either cost-prohibitive or not even built out for small businesses?

Both, both actually, both. What have you seen work or be impactful for small businesses? If I’m a business and I need some sort of ERP-type solution. So, for me, what I know for sure they need is something that integrates vendors and purchase orders and inventory management, not necessarily the HR function side of it. So, something simple, maybe like a plugin or an app. So, something simple that would be where they could streamline their processes together when it comes to vendor management, purchasing specifically for e-commerce owners. I’m sorry, specifically for e-commerce owners, and the inventory management, something like that, something cost-effective and that’s simple.

Yeah, I feel like Kris, that could be a future show topic, talking about ERP solutions for small businesses. Because I do agree, it’s a very different need and very different price point for a small business versus a midsize or enterprise-type company.

Yeah, and I do think they’re being left behind as well. It was a good comment.

Yeah, what is your big surprise of the year, Kris? Or a big aha moment, and again, something that you did not expect, just kind of happened, and you were like, wow, I wasn’t even, I wasn’t on my radar.

Yeah, well, I have two of them because one just came last week. But I’m going to say my first one, I guess it’s more a surprise, and that was the rising interest rate and how it did cause some delays in spending. And, you know, companies who I thought would be moving forward with specific projects internally just didn’t move forward because of the uncertainty. So, it had an impact with manufacturing companies, and I think that, you know, I don’t think that’s going to be part of my predictions, you know. But I do think that it will play a role going forward for the next few months as well.

But, you know, kind of an aha moment for me, last week I was at the Association of Equipment Manufacturers annual event, and they had a speaker there about ESG and sustainability, and some of the reporting and the requirements that are here, they’re not going away, and they’re coming with more regulation and scrutiny in the future. And that companies need to be prepared for these. Now, I don’t fully know what that means for every organization today, but it just, there was a real aha moment for me that, you know, manufacturers have to grapple with this information that, and it’s, I’m not suggesting it’s bad or good, it just is, and it’s something that they need to be working on. And the level and speed in which it’s coming, I, you know, should make it, should increase its importance for companies.

And I think ERP, you know, data that comes from the ERP and data that comes from suppliers, is going to impact what is reported. And you know, how management systems, and the data that comes into these management systems, flows into the reporting is where there’s going to be things that have to be solved. Yeah, dirty data is always near and dear to my heart. It’s a problem that we focus on pretty heavily at SourceDay, and when you have crappy data, you’re guessing when you’re doing your planning and predictions for your supply chain. And it’s hard to get the data in your ERP clean, but then it’s also hard to maintain it as well. So, anything organizations can do to have more accurate data can have a major impact company-wide, and in particular, on the supply chain. Yep.

K, want a favorite innovation this year? This could be a new product, this could be an enhancement, something that you found that you thought, “Wow, this is a big deal, this is really cool.” So, I went to a conference again in September, and what they introduced to us was how AI was being merged to help clients and manufacturers reduce the time as well as the cost in creating products or giving the supplier the mockup of the idea what the client wants. So, what they did was they used Midjourney, and well, the mid-journey is what produces the imagery, but ChatGPT creates the prompt, you know. So, they were using ChatGPT to integrate with Midjourney to create this product and then giving it to the suppliers. Yeah, great. So, that was fascinating to me.

I’m curious, is Midjourney a solution, is it a software, or could you just explain Midjourney, what that is? Yeah, Midjourney, it is a software. Discord is like an app that you download onto your phone, and then through Discord, you can sign into Midjourney. I’m not sure if you can sign into Midjourney without Discord, but if you cannot, then you have to go through Discord. And then you just give it a simple prompt. You could tell it, “I need an interior design for my living room,” for example. I’ve seen them create a picture of a chair and then create a picture of a man’s wallet. So, it does several different things. It’s really great.

Yeah, no, I love that. And thank you for explaining it to us because, you know, I think one of the greatest things that happened this year from an innovative perspective is that we all got excited about AI. And I would say some of us got excited about how we can explore and use this in our business, and others of us got excited and said, “Whoa, I’m a little nervous about this,” and are taking a much more cautious approach. So, the fact that you brought up AI and some software that you’ve identified that can help bring that to life, I think, is wonderful. So, thanks for sharing that.

So, what’s one thing you want to have happen in the ERP space next year that you think won’t happen? You know, I don’t know if this is… Well, this is part of ERP, but if I could, I would love to see manufacturers create some type of opportunity where small businesses can work with manufacturers with maybe lesser MOQs, because, you know, they’re large on the manufacturing side, but again, small businesses are being left behind. But I wish that there were opportunities for small businesses to be able to tap into some of this potential that we have and that we know exists, but I don’t know if it’s gonna happen.

Because, I don’t know, you know, we are on the same wavelength here because my answer to the question was exactly that. I hope more small and midsize businesses will upgrade their ERP systems and enjoy the benefits of what is available. But I’m just not seeing them either thinking they need it, or they have so many other positive ROI projects that they could be working on, or they have resource constraints that they think prevent them. Their people are already constrained, and they’re not bringing enough workforce in fast enough that they could allocate their people to an ERP upgrade. So, I really wish more small and midsize companies were using these technologies or upgrading their current technology, but I’m just not thinking that next year will be the year that they’re going to do it. And unfortunately, I think that means that they’re going to start falling behind. So, I hope that they will take a good look at what is available and look at their business processes and make sure that their technology is helping them have a good, strong foothold to build upon. But I think we’re completely aligned there, that we would love to see more doing more.

So yeah, yeah, yeah, they’re literally like the missing piece of the puzzle, and it’s just, I don’t know, but yeah. And there are so many more small to midsize companies in the world, right? So we need them to be as forceful and strong as the large companies.

So, what’s one thing that you want to have happen next year that you are pretty confident is going to happen next year? I’m pretty confident that more and more of AI will be taken over. I’m pretty confident that software and more integration between software, especially with how common, I mean, e-commerce is taking over with TikTok, you know, platforms like that, how e-commerce is growing leaps and bounds. We will have more AI and more software integrations with multiplatform functions. That’s what I think is going to happen.

Yeah, interesting that you’re bringing the AI piece into that because I definitely agree that there are going to be more integrations. And I guess because of the large data models that are needed by AI, you have to have the integration so that AI can consume all of the data it needs to create the answers to the problems it’s asked to solve. So, yeah, that makes sense.

And in my answer to the same question, something I’m really confident is going to happen is that I think that large organizations, particularly in the space that I’m in, because that’s what I know well, which is manufacturing, I think the larger manufacturers will continue to consolidate to a single ERP system. You know, when we formed our business 12 years ago, it was very common to walk into a large manufacturing company, and they had multiple locations because they’ve acquired businesses over the years. So, that meant that they were in multiple locations, and each location had its own ERP system, which created a lot of complexities in all types of strategies. But in their go-to-market strategies, it was creating an inconsistent experience for their customers. I think, and we’ve seen this over the years, that these companies are consolidating into a single ERP system across all those locations so that they gain the efficiencies of everybody understanding the same ERP system. And those ERP systems and any technologies that they go on to purchase can be leveraged by all of the different locations, divisions, brands, whatever you have. So, that’s something I’m fairly confident about.

That’s good and very efficient, right?

Yeah. And you know, I would say the companies that I’ve seen make that investment, they’re doing really well today. And their people, they seem to understand and have more knowledge across the business functionality because once you’re in that broader ERP system, and it travels across the goods, you have access to data and information across as well. When you were siloed in your own ERP system, you just couldn’t even answer questions about what was happening in another ERP system, which meant another business unit because you didn’t have access to the data and information to get the answers to your questions. So, just having that information really helps people feel like they have more knowledge. They can answer more questions and therefore they feel more empowered. So, I love that aspect.

What’s one prediction you have for 2024? Oh, let’s see. One prediction for 2024, I think it’s just that AI is going to revolutionize the way that product-based businesses do business with suppliers and manufacturers.

Well, that’s good. Yeah, I think AI is gonna definitely be a theme for sure. I’m going to go out on a limb because this is a company that I haven’t seen much in the manufacturing space, and that is Epicor Kinetic. So, I’m going to speak to a very specific ERP solution. I think that we’re going to see it pop up in more midsize manufacturing companies in the future, and specifically in 2024. They seem to have built a solution and a team that is able to speak to that midsize group. And again, in my experience, we weren’t running into many companies with Epicor, and now we’re seeing more and more companies have that solution. So, that’s my prediction. We’ll see more manufacturing companies using them.

What’s one functionality in the ERP system that providers should focus on next year? Simplicity. I think simplicity across the board because I’m not sure if when the developers are developing the system if they’re thinking about the end user not needing so much technical support all the time. So that they can just create it simply for the end user, that would be great.

So, simplicity. Actually, I want to back yours. You know, it does feel like you have to be trained a lot to use the ERP system. Well, when it requires that much training, you have to question the user experience a little bit. So, simplicity would be great.

You know, mine is more what I would like to see ERP software providers focus on is how to teach the current functionality and really ensure that companies are using what exists. I’ve our experience is that when we go in, we integrate with these ERP systems, often data is missing that could be there. And I guess at one point in time, they decided we don’t need to worry about that field today. So, they skip over it, they complete what is necessary or the MVP, but they never go back to it. And a great example is weights and dimensions, right?

Right. Like we meet so many companies who don’t have accurate weights and dimensions or anything in those fields. And that affects your ability to provide freight information and other things. So, it just has this impact down the line. And if we wouldn’t skip over those fields, and I know this comes back to the time and effort it takes, but there has to be a plan to come back to things. Good processes around supersession and obsolescence so that there are standards and procedures that are followed with respect to data that gets put into fields. I think that the more companies are educated on the impact and the outcomes that occur if they don’t have these standards, then maybe they’ll do some more of the work upfront. So, that would be my comment there.

That’s really good, actually. Oh, go ahead, I’m sorry.

No, no, you go ahead.

I said I was saying that’s really good because actually in my current role, we did exactly what you just were talking about, going to the MVP and then making sure we try to go back to whatever the most challenging parts were, and we never have, and we still haven’t got back to those parts yet. We’re only sticking to, so we’re not using the software to its full capacity or capabilities at this point. So, you’re right.

And you know, you talk a lot about e-commerce, so I’ll share because we’re an e-commerce solution. So, you know, when we’re pulling data from the ERP system, and we say that the ERP is the safe source, and now you want to expose data to your customers or dealers to enable the digital experience for them to have access to information at their fingertips, right? If it doesn’t exist in the ERP system, now companies say, “Well, to complete our e-commerce project, we want it to exist in your software.” Well, it’s like, but you have a field over here we can read that field. “Oh, but we just want you to put it in over here.” Well, now you don’t have the safe source anymore, and that becomes very difficult to manage. So, that becomes the way that, you know, we have to talk through. Yes, we can do it, but is that the right solution for your business? So, yeah, it’s happening kind of everywhere. You’ve got to go back and can do those things.

So, I guess just to close here, what do you think the future of the ERP space looks like? Probably more integrations. I’m going to stick with that one, more integrations with different other platforms and softwares because that streamlined process is what we need. So, yeah, more integrations.

Yeah, and, you know, I echo that sentiment. I think that the reason you need a good ERP system is that there are so many other technology solutions that can enable a business to do more, and those integrations are really key. I think that the ERP space is going to consolidate a little bit. You know, there are many different players out there, and like anything when there are too many to choose from, there is the desire to consolidate that. But I think it will be an area that will continue to grow because the needs are so high today for the different integrations that you mentioned. So, I think it’s going to definitely be a growing space. And for anybody that has wisdom and experience in the ERP space, companies need you too. So, don’t forget that. Take your experience, and a lot of people out there probably never thought, myself included, that you’d be working with something called an ERP, and so much of your time would be dedicated to the learning and understanding of an ERP system. Well, that becomes very valuable to other companies as well. So, don’t take that experience lightly. People need that experience.

Well, thank you so much Keiwana for being here with us today. I know that Sarah is, I’m sure that she’s disappointed that she had to drop off early, but thank you for your time. Thank you to the audience for listening in today, and we just want to wish you a really wonderful and happy holidays, and we hope that everybody finishes the year strong, prosperous, and, of course, healthy.