Friday, July 25, 2014

Ready for Takeoff?

Control towers made easy

Control towers made easyCompanies seeking to manage complex global supply chains traditionally set up a control tower to manage operations. With MDS-Nx System you can create your own.

For those unfamiliar with the term, a control tower is an information technology system that allows a company to monitor and manage its carriers, logistics service providers, and suppliers. Essential to a control tower's operation is the implementation of an "information hub" that connects a company to its suppliers and carriers.

Users of the MDS-Nx System will have implemented these technology solutions multiple times over, so we have the framework of a process in place, With the base process already there, we can just make configuration changes for each customer."
In addition to providing a technology platform we recognize that most distributors like the idea of retaining control of their strategy but outsourcing the execution. By automating the monitoring and updates for your the MDS-Nx system gives you control and visibility without any manual overhead.


Control towers first emerged in Europe in the late 1990s. They evolved from managed transportation programs, where 3PLs oversaw the movements of multiple carriers for a shipper client. When 3PLs began managing orders and inventory along with carrier movements, those programs became known as control towers,

Multinational companies turned to the use of control towers as a way to manage complex global supply chains. Industry verticals in which control towers are being used today include automotive, aerospace, electronics, paper, food and beverage, and industrial manufacturing.


Not surprisingly, setting up a control tower takes some prep work on the distributors part. requirements need to be captured in detail and in depth, and properly documented with process maps. Other examples of important information can be Service-level agreements, standard operating procedures, and work instructions.

Besides providing better management, the tower can usually assist in benchmarking carrier and supplier performance. Vendor and Customer Scorecards can easily be created.  Other services that a control tower can offer future scenario planning and supply chain modeling.

One of the biggest advantages of a control tower is its ability to react to changing events and take corrective action. If, say, a hurricane or tsunami jeopardizes a your ability to fill an order, the control tower can reroute the shipment or locate an alternative supplier. Advise you if you need to drop ship and in real-time communicate to customers where the product will be coming from.


As for the payoff, companies typically see savings in transportation costs as a result of efficiencies related to centralizing logistics operations in the tower. begin able to view inventory on the water, track inbound and outbound shipments against promise dates and better schedule inventory.
Another payoff is increased warehouse utilization as you can match Inventory space to inbound logistics and outbound demand.

Although freight  and warehouse savings can justify the investment, most companies electing to set up a control tower do so as a way to keep better tabs on their supply chain.

Control towers are an easy way to add a value-added service to simplify managing complex supply chain logistics,it minimizes the risk of not having products on time to customers, and allows you to offer your customers visibility into your supply chain as well.

For more information on TSH or MDS call The Systems House, Inc. at 1-800- MDS-5556. Or send a message to

Click here and tell us how we can help you with your business solutions.

Friday, July 18, 2014

What, Me Worry?

Backup and Recovery,  some questions to ask...

Take a moment to think about all of the information stored in your company’s Software (ERP) solution. Now consider what would happen if that data were all gone. How many man-hours would it take to rebuild that database? What would happen to business processes like invoicing, receiving, and shipping? How would you pay bills and collect money? How much would it cost if your business were to suddenly stop?

Extra points if you email me who the gentleman in the picture is.

Disaster recovery can slip through the cracks, because people often associate it with natural disasters like a fire, tornado, flood, earthquake, or hurricane. Because these are not everyday occurrences, it’s easy to forget about recovery until it is too late. More commonly, it’s too late when a motherboard fails, the database becomes corrupted, or something else less spectacular than a disaster of epic proportions occurs.

Many organizations have seen these situations become a reality because they were not prepared with an adequate backup and recovery plan for their ERP solution that has been thoroughly tested to make sure everything is covered. Most ERP solutions are implemented with redundancy in mind so that the application itself can be backed up in a minimal amount of time. To make sure that the data are restored along with it, it’s good to ask these questions of your current backup and recovery solution.

How Reliable is the Restore Process?
A quote form Gartner Research states that a ridiculously high number of tape backups fail. Gartner denies ever having reporting the number that’s tossed around, but anyone who has worked with disaster recovery knows that the restore process can be subject to problems that result in failures. To that extent, it’s good to find out how well a solution did in testing, and then test the recovery process, as well, using your data set. Not only should the data be restored without problem, but the process should be easy to manage.
Do you have adequate documentation or knowledge on how to do this ? If not put on your list for tomorrow. 

How Long Does it Take to Restore Data?
white paper from Vision Solutions reported that on average, businesses lose between $84,000 and $108,000 for every hour their IT systems are down. The longer it takes to get ERP data back up, the more costly it is to the organization. Knowing ahead of time how long this process might take could help the company better prepare for downtime with contingency plans that address how to remain productive while the ERP solution is out of order. An ounce of Prevention.... 

Is the Data Safe?
First, determine where the backup data information is stored. In the cloud somewhere or sitting in a vault on premises? Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Onsite data storage is good if there are communication outages that restrict access but can present a problem if a fire destroys the building along with the contents of the backup. Some companies find storing backup data in two locations to be the safest route.

Another thing to look at is how the data is stored. is it encrypted? or is it visible to people who shouldn’t have access to them? Leaving data unprotected could cause greater problems than just those associated with downtime.

Making sure that backup and recovery solutions work and keep the data safe are the key elements to a successful strategy. Policies, processes, and everything else can be addressed to fit the needs of the individual industry and company as long as you can get the data back into your ERP system and no one else has the ability to poke around in it.

Another Option is our MDS -SaaS Clould offering which takes all this responsibility from you.  Interested?

For more information on TSH or MDS call The Systems House, Inc. at 1-800- MDS-5556. Or send a message to

Click here and tell us how we can help you with your business solutions.

Friday, July 11, 2014

People are People...

Avoiding Errors In Your Software System

“Two men were examining the output of the new computer in their department. After an hour or so of analyzing the data, one of them remarked: "Do you realize it would take 400 men at least 250 years to make a mistake this big ?”

Errors are a fact of life in ERP systems due to either numbers getting transposed, entered incorrectly, or entered in the wrong place. A well-designed ERP system will minimize errors, but you can further reduce them by setting policies and standards for ERP data entry.

While errors are less likely in a good ERP system (like the MDS-Nx System), they have more serious consequences because they proliferate through the entire system. Since finding and fixing them is expensive, it's best to take steps to eliminate them up front.

Don't Rely on Humans
As much as possible don't rely on humans to avoid errors. People have a lot of strengths, but error-free data entry isn't one of them. Proper training and vigilance can greatly reduce errors, but they can't absolutely eliminate them.

As much as possible, don't use humans to enter information. This is in keeping with efficiency anyway, but the less data entry your people do the fewer mistakes they will make.

Wherever you can only enter information once and let it proliferate through the system automatically. There's no point in having someone repetitively enter basic account information which is already in the computer. 

One perfect example is our updated Optional EDI Transaction Module, this will save you time money and errors by allowing automated update of: 

  • Purchase Orders In/ Out (850)
  • Order Acknowledgements (855)
  • Advance Shipping Notices (856)
  • Invoices In/Out (810)
  • Product Transfer Account Adjustment (844)
  • Sales Tracing Report (867)
  • Advanced Shipping Notices (856)
  • Accounts Payable ACH (820)
  • Catalog and Price File (832) 

Use Lots of Sanity Checks
Sanity checks confirm that the information entered is broadly correct. Numbers that are out of range, suspicious values and such should be automatically checked and the user should be alerted if something looks funny.
It's important to give users a chance to check their work if something looks odd. It is not only cheaper to fix faulty data at the time of entry, it helps keep employees aware of errors.
By Default the MDS System Includes Price Hold features with a High and Low water mark designed to alert you and your managers if a price or cost is outside of the normal ranges for Profit.  This is an example of a built in sanity check but there are many others as well. 

Cross-check Where Possible
Wherever possible cross check new information against existing information in the ERP system's database and alert the user to any discrepancies. Much of the information entered into an ERP system will be related to what is already in there. For example use a standard customer and ship branch code throughout the system and be consistent - this will  make it easier for people to understand and remember what the value they are entering is for. 

The objection to this cross checking is that it slows down data entry – and it does. But the gain in accuracy and avoiding errors is almost always worth the extra time. If necessary use faster hardware or we can tune your database to speed things back up.

Train Your People to Value Accuracy
You want to create a culture of correctness where errors are avoided rather than fixed after the fact. The start of building such a culture is tracking errors and making your people aware of them.
Make sure your people understand the cost of errors and how to avoid them. Reward them for error-free work.

Make it as easy as possible to do things right
and difficult to do them wrong

There should be a logical work flow, both on the individual screen and leading from screen to screen. The users should know instinctively where they are in the process. Judicious use of colors to relate items can help without being garish. Use design elements to tie together related operations.
see our previous blog post on the power of colors and how you can implement them in the MDS-Nx system. 

Minimizing errors is a matter of execution. That means it requires keeping a close eye on them, tracking their rises and falls and always looking for ways to do the job with fewer mistakes. This isn't hard, but it is a matter of constant vigilance to keep error rates low.

With a little help from your system and some basic changes to how your business operates your company can also be error free.

For more information on TSH or MDS call The Systems House, Inc. at 1-800- MDS-5556. Or send a message to

Click here and tell us how we can help you with your business solutions.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Becoming The Key Part of the Solution....

How to make yourself an invaluable part of the team

Being stuck in the middle is often a bad thing. But what if you’re not stuck? What if, instead, you’re the key part of the operation? A distributor, for example, would likely be in the driver’s seat, capable of straddling manufacturers and customers and calling the shots to their strategic benefit if they can be key part of the operation. The stuck distributor, on the other hand, probably has fewer options and is at risk of being marginalized or, even worse, being squeezed out of the supply chain altogether.

IBM’s Guy Blissett, author of the tenth edition of Facing the Forces of Change (a publication of the NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence), recently told an audience of distributors that they must innovate now or risk becoming obsolete. “For a variety of reasons, distributors are thinking about who they are, what they want to do, what value they bring to their customers, and how they want to differentiate themselves,” said Blissett.

Information is Currency

Whose job is it to look for customer buying patterns that show preference, fatigue and transition? It’s easy to say that it’s the manufacturer’s or supplier’s job, but it’s more forward-thinking to say that anyone in the supply chain can own this. Perhaps even you.

Information on what’s selling well, what’s not and what might be trending is as valuable as hard currency. You can use it to buy access to new partners or new markets, to elevate your standing with existing partners in your supply chain or you can simply apply it toward making your own business more efficient and profitable. Perhaps a simple example can bring this home.

Let’s say you want to provide better suggestions to your customers and increase your purchasing level with a supplier to take better advantage of pricing breaks. 

Using our MDS-NX Remotenet Suggested Items feature you can easily identify items ordered together and recognize a trend. 

An idea soon emerges: what if the manufacturer packaged the two items, named the bundle and added a special price? Imagine the response from customers and suppliers. 
If the supplier doesn't see the value of creating the bundled item, you can create it yourself. 

Customers will not easily switch to a competitor when they cannot get the same item in the same packaging.. 

This is just one example of adding value by simply having access to information.

Profiting from Information

Information flows freely throughout your company, but consolidating and deriving insights from that data isn’t as easy as it seems. But that’s changing. Today, thanks to barcodes, tablets and even smartphones, we can capture so much more in digital format than ever before. And with a little extra work, you can go almost completely paperless. When you reach that point, you’re able to do things within your supply chain that make partners happy, lower operational costs and increase margins.

Pressure to keep costs down and demonstrate value to partners is never-ending. Face it, if there’s any chance of dropping you – or, equally disconcerting, channeling less business your way, manufacturers and suppliers will do so. And, even if you’re able to fight for your survival, it’s likely you’ll lose anyway if you start offering incentives, promises or extras that your business’ numbers won’t support. Once you’re in a margin death spiral, the only way out is to make decisions with near perfect information.

How Information Adds Value

Information offers infinite possibilities. You can discover things about your business each day that drive greater efficiency or increased profits, but the impetus for becoming more data-driven can be as simple as providing better service. Large businesses have spent decades investing in customer relationship management (CRM), but it’s as much a change in business philosophy as it is technology. Understand your data and you will understand your customer.

Technology Isn’t the Hard Part

Automation and integration aren’t ends, they are means. Once you implement technology, the hard part is adapting your organization, including your extended supply chain, to capitalize the insights. And capitalize you must, because your customers have a very different expectation today than a decade ago. Our experiences as consumers – speed, self-service, loyalty discounts, expedited shipping, etc. – changes what we expect for our business relationships. And the dramatic evolution that’s taken place in the consumer realm was data-driven. So, it stands to reason, data is rapidly transforming this industry.

So it’s data, not technology, that’s transformational. And, thanks to decades of tinkering with complex technology platforms such as ERP and CRM, much of the kinks, as it were, have been smoothed out. And with the recent explosion of cloud technology, the barriers to technology adoption have never been lower. Even the smallest distributor can become a data-driven enterprise by simply clicking a button.
Fortunately, you and your employees don’t need to learn the cloud. That’s just an information superhighway and online bank (for data withdrawals) rolled into one. The technology that makes it easy to collect, store, and draw insights from data isn’t hard to learn either. And all of this is possible without expensive capital expenditure, space and expertise to operate.
All you must do is commit to use readily accessible data as a way to become more deeply entrenched in your existing supply chain, prove yourself to be a key part of the solution. 

Need more information? 

For more information on TSH or MDS call The Systems House, Inc. at 1-800- MDS-5556. Or send a message to

Click here and tell us how we can help you with your business solutions.