Scenario: Your business has grown, and you’re moving to a rich ERP system that may include industry-specific ISV solutions. That’s very good news. But you know growth is more complex than it was even 5 years ago, and if you’re a manufacturer, you may be looking at an issue that the best industry ERP system can’t resolve for you: managing product information that’s grown along with your product portfolio. In the past, adding items for new products might include an item number, pricing, description, and a handful of other requirements. Not so in a sprawling, virtual marketplace where suppliers come from all over the world, systems are integrated all over the world, and the technology used for products requires entry of granular data that’s simply impossible to handle through ERP alone or with a workaround spreadsheet solution. Growth is not good news if your people are managing thousands of items, and every item includes or is associated with volumes of specific information.
Risk to products can increase with modern ERP, but there’s an integrated solution to “keep it simple”
Both new and seasoned product and IT managers know how acutely important it is to input all item data for product models into the ERP system quickly and precisely. Plus, all teams need quick access to information for quotes, orders, and production. A minor mistake early in the process can lead to orders that don’t reflect current offerings, inventory, parts availability, customer-specific information, and more. If sales, back office, and all other teams aren’t in sync with information, they’ll be spending too much time fixing problems, chasing suppliers, or even going back to the customer with bad news about their order and delivery.
There’s a way out, of course, and it follows the adage, “Keep it simple.” If you’re using a sales and product configurator along with ERP to create quotes and orders, your configurator can be even closer than your ERP system to your products. A really good configurator can also provide an automated workflow and user interface that transforms the process of adding product items into ERP. Let’s look briefly at a Netherland s manufacturer that faced and resolved our scenario.
BERG: The delight and dilemma of keeping more kids happy
BERG designs, produces, and sells robust outdoor toys such as go-karts, trampolines, balance bikes, and beach wagons. All products are designed and built to ensure years of playtime pleasure, and delivered worldwide.
Over the years BERG has experienced steady and gratifying success and growth. Ultimately, they reached the point where they needed a strong and scalable ERP system—Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012. Making that move improved the full spectrum of business and manufacturing processes, and gave the company a system that could play in a connected but sprawling, 21st century marketplace. But they also faced the issue we’ve touched on that comes with 21st century ERP and 21st century manufacturing—the need to manage mounds of complex data with precision and speed. Getting new products into the ERP system involved entering more data than a company stocked with geniuses could handle. Making products simpler to manage when they were finished introduced more data, and more complex data, up front. Pricing, Logistic parameters, barcodes, translations, vendor and customer aliases, Warehouse Management System data, external descriptions, categories—the list is dizzying.
The company tried to remedy the issue with Excel and even Mastersheets. But ad hoc solutions still left them with near disasters that began with empty input fields and ended with emergency stock flights from Asia to Europe. What BERG found was that they could use e-Con, their sales and product configurator, to serve as a one-stop shop for entering item data. A complicated web of teamwork and timing turned into an automated, orderly process that kept them focused on “playing with the toys.”
Keeping it simple with e-Con—and a flawless, integrated approach to entering product data
BERG wanted a single entry point and dedicated resources for entering products. e-Con made that possible. Users can open e-Con from within Dynamics AX 2012. If they’re entering items for a product, they use an intuitive interface with mandatory data entry fields. Just as important, e-Con can display all data needed for item entry—there’s no need to go to different areas of ERP to find information. The UI is comprehensive and orderly, with tabs for grouping data into areas that include sales, purchasing, and logistics.
A guided workflow shows users how to enter information in appropriate fields that include the information we’ve already mentioned. It’s easy to enter all sorts of information relevant to a company’s products: item number, search name, kitting item, netWeight, Taraweight, Price, QTY, and more. It’s possible to add logic that makes variations easy and accurate. IT staff or administrators can quickly tailor the workflow—for example, disabling fields if “semi-finished product” is chosen. BERG doesn’t need to worry that sales will add incorrect information, regardless how specialized an order is. Region-specific information is accounted for, which solves the problem of ensuring that divisions in other countries have accurate information. e-Con even calculates fields such as barcodes or other granular data points that the company wants as part of their automated quote through production flow.
The burden of worrying about innumerable error risks is simply gone. e-Con works as a native extension of Dynamics AX, so after it sends the information into the ERP system, all updates and changes will synchronize for all teams. From sales through delivery logistics, everyone has the latest information and intelligence about products. BERG can focus on offering more choices for customers for both standard and custom products.
That’s the benefit of using Dynamics AX to store item models. The ERP system is designed to welcome tools like e-Con, the configurator that can keep the clamor about what’s happening with products to a happy roar from customers. The upcoming blog will the describe the practical side of an automated, flexible approach for adding new product.