Tag Archives: Business Blog

ERP systems or your kid’s bedroom…nothing improves without a little extra work

11 May

messy room

(In the voice of the late Andy Rooney) “Did you ever wonder why clothes never pick themselves up off the floor?”

I have a degree in mechanical engineering, and though I’ve spent the better part of the last two decades working with ERP software, it seems I’m an engineering nerd first and software geek second. Sometimes that engineering nerd leaks through when working with ERP software.

Many times over the last 20 years or so, I’ve encountered the Second Law of Thermodynamics in action. What does that have to do with ERP systems? It’s actually a great analogy to what I observe time and time again.

The second law deals with Entropy. Entropy can be defined as a property of a closed system and is a measurement of the amount of disorder in the system. Organized = low entropy. Chaos = high entropy. My wife’s closet = low entropy. My basement shop = high entropy. The second law says, left to itself, the entropy in a system will either stay the same or it will increase (become more disorganized). It never decreases by itself. In order to decrease entropy, you have to add work.

You see this all the time. A common example is adding some sugar to a beverage. It may sink to the bottom at first, but it will eventually dissolve, becoming diffused through the beverage. It has gone from an ordered state of a solid to a less ordered state of a solution. The sugar will not, by itself, “un-dissolve” to the bottom of the glass again. If you want to get the sugar out, you will have to do work.

You see it every day next to the kitchen sink as dirty dishes, or the clothes on the floor in the kid’s bedroom. Or the autumn leaves in the yard, or the general state of the garage. Entropy is all around us, and it’s always increasing unless we work to reverse it.

I see this also applying to ERP software. ERP software is all about making order from chaos. It allows organizations to know the financial position of the company, or the state of inventory in the warehouse, or the planning of materials in manufacturing. Companies see features like locations in warehouses, or item lot control, or multi-dimensional accounting; and they think they can get better control over their business processes. And they can. But they forget that they are trying to reverse entropy and that requires work.

ERP systems promise to make it easy to add control. Just create locations in the warehouse so everything has a place. Or add commodity codes to the part numbers so you can report on them. Or have a gazillion ledger accounts to track the most minute cost. If that is what your business needs, great. But regardless of what the ERP system promises, remember that essentially what you are asking for is a reversal of entropy. If the organization is not willing to put in the work to maintain the commodity codes, or mapping costs to ledger accounts, or making sure everything is in its place in the warehouse; you can actually end up with more chaos.

When implementing ERP systems, or any system for that matter, organizations should think about the effort required to maintain that system and if they are willing to expend the effort and define who is responsible for the effort. I have seen many instances where an organization decided to put a control in place, but never assigned responsibility or allocated the resource to maintain it, and as a result ended up with more entropy than when they started.

Entropy… it’s so prevalent we don’t even notice it unless we think about it. But when it comes to ERP systems, we need to be mindful of it when making configuration decisions.

 

Dave Trayers- ERP Business Development Manager

Dave Trayers- ERP Business Development Manager

Based in the OST Minneapolis office,  Dave Trayers is the Business Development Manager of the OST ERP team with over 17 years of Baan/ERPLN experience.  A native of New England, Dave holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering; and before getting into IT worked in diverse fields ranging from nuclear attack submarines, aerospace materials, snack food production and automotive tools.  He’s held the position of manufacturing engineer, production supervisor, engineering manager and operations manager.

Immediately prior to joining OST, Dave was the IT Director for Nilfisk, a manufacturer of commercial cleaning equipment in Plymouth, MN and throughout North America.  He helped implement Baan IV in the late 90’s and two major upgrades to ERPLN (FP3 and FP7) since.  Nilfisk made several acquisitions over the years, so Dave has lots of experience in bringing new facilities into ERPLN.

Dave lives in Minnesota with his wife Liz.  He has two grown daughters, one in college and the other lives in Washington, DC.  In his spare time, Dave is a part-time professional photographer, and enjoys golfing, cycling, sailing and target shooting.  He is also chair of the board of Saint Paul Ballet, which means he has very little time for golfing, cycling, sailing and target shooting.

When work-life balance doesn’t come easily

6 Apr

One morning last week, I left Lambeau, our dog, outside.

Now, normally this wouldn’t be an especially notable incident – after all dogs are sort of built to be outside – however in this case I was not SUPPOSED to leave the dog outside. I was SUPPOSED to walk the dog, make sure he had some water and leave him to lounge around all day shuttling between the couch and the easy chair to await our arrival back home as a family that evening. This would be his regular and expected daily schedule – leaving him outside would certainly be considered as aberrant to the norm.

I did not realize I left the dog outside. Certainly, if I had realized, I would have taken steps to get him back inside into his preferred environment prior to departing for the office.

So, fast forward to around 10:15 am and I am having a discussion with coworkers, John and Andrew. It was a really good discussion, we were making great progress and finding lots of areas of agreement and alignment – and then my phone beeped. And then it beeped again. So I excused myself to check it and it was a text from my wife, with a picture of Lambeau and the following question:

“Problem with Lambeau this morning? Glad he was still here when I got home.”

vancil- work life balance

Uh-oh.

I shared the content of the message with the group, and Andrew commented something about what’s the big deal, it’s a dog. To which John responded “Lambeau is not the problem, Amy is the problem.”

And of course he was right! The dog had no issues with the situation, in fact as I understand it, he was excited and energized by the whole adventure. Amy, on the other hand, was not pleased. And rightfully so, I might add. I had a responsibility to my family and the dog to make sure I met my commitments and paid attention to the things which are important to us as a group. And I did not – I let myself get consumed by the day ahead of me, the meetings and discussions and the problems at hand waiting to be solved and I forgot about my responsibilities to my family.

So first off, I apologized to Amy and professed the probable need for a lobotomy – which I offered might be self-administered or if she preferred she could do it herself.

And then I started thinking about the situation, and examining why it happened. What could possibly cause me to forget these responsibilities?

You, dear reader, have most likely jumped to the conclusion already. The conclusion that I came to was that I had done a poor job of establishing and maintaining the boundaries of my work – life balance. I let my focus and attention move solely to what was ahead of me in my work day and allowed that to take over my conscious thoughts and intentions. In other words, I absent mindedly forgot the important things right in front of me for the other important things down the line.

It is easy to do, isn’t it? Our work life can be pervasive, and we carry it around with us all day and all night on our smart phones and tablets. I can grab my phone or my iPad and surf my email at any time – and I often do. I respond to emails at all hours and when I have an idea I will pick up the phone, capture it in an email and shoot it off to someone. I respond to texts as they come in and even when the phone isn’t in my hand, thoughts of work are not far from my mind. This is not singular to me either, I notice it all around me.

And guess what? Every time I send an email at 9:00 pm or give in to the 3:30 am idea I had when I couldn’t sleep and send it off to someone, what am I doing? I’m setting expectations for others! That is not good! “John does his email at 9:30 pm, I guess that is what is expected!” This is an expectation I don’t want to set and should not be setting. We want our OST team members to be able to go home and be there for their families and in the “life” side of their world. We want our OST team members to be able to shut things down and recharge – to have outside interests and hobbies and passions which relate in no way to OST and are allowed to get their full attention. We want our OST team members to be able to regulate their work-life balance, and the key word there is balance!

So… what to do? I’m not totally sure at this point – but for sure I have decided to be much more diligent about putting down the phone when I get home. I have decided to be purposeful about separating my thoughts from OST and focusing on my family and personal responsibilities and interests. I have decided to carefully evaluate the situation any time I am thinking about emailing or communicating outside of traditional work hours so that I do not send unintended messages to others.

How successful will I be? Time will tell… I know there will be times and circumstances where I will break my rules – and that will just have to be okay. There will be good reasons for it. But in the main, in the norm, in the day to day, my goal is to find that point where we have more equilibrium and set my fulcrum right there!

And if you have left the dog out lately, euphemistically of course, I think you should spend some time on your work –life balance too… just a thought.

 

Director of Professional Services

Director of Professional Services

John Vancil is a twenty-eight year veteran of the Information Technology field, currently holding the position of Director of Professional Services for Open Systems Technologies (OST) in Grand Rapids Michigan. During his career, John has held numerous development, support, management and staff level positions with companies ranging from enterprise (Electronic Data Systems, Baan) to the SMB space (Nucraft Furniture, OST). Today John is responsible for a $29 million dollar services operation which encompasses Data Center Solutions, Application Development, Data Analytics, Design, ERP and Advisory Services, Security, and Managed Services. John shares his life with wife Amy, daughter Catherine and Lambeau the world’s most exuberant Golden Retriever. When he is not serving the OST team, John likes to golf, fly-fish, compose and perform music and hang out with the family.

How to plan a successful enrollment fair for the adoption of a new technology solution

30 Mar

If you are just joining us, be sure to check out Part 1, “Why hosting an enrollment fair is crucial to the adoption of a new technology solution”.

What goes into planning, executing, and ensuring a successful enrollment fair? There are a few key resources and processes that we need for this.

  1. Location
  2. Equipment
  3. Volunteers
  4. Schedule and Communication
  5. Script, Elevator speech, and tracker

A location must be secured for the enrollment fair. Ideally this is a public area where you can interact freely with your end users. The tables and volunteers should be highly visible.

You’ll need some equipment to make this all work. Obviously, you need tables to work from. Chairs for the volunteers to rest. Banners and signs for way finding. Most importantly you’ll need the proper devices or technology to demonstrate the solution. If the solution requires users to input their data to be enrolled then ensure that the equipment has this capability otherwise you’ll have issues!

Volunteers have to drive this fair. Where do the volunteers come from? The organization itself! As this is a project, most likely, the project team members should volunteer and they should recruit others from their respective teams and departments to help. The executive sponsors of the project would be highly visible and should be encouraged to participate.

You need to develop a schedule for the enrollment fairs that coincides with your go live or deployment schedule. The enrollment fair comes first, then a deployment, then a fair, then another deployment… This plan needs to be communicated clearly and often!

Finally your volunteers need a process to follow. This process may be a simple script, an elevator speech for example. They will also need a way to track who comes to the enrollment fair. This is useful for gauging the impact of the fair and tracking how many people are educated about the technology solution.

If you’ve made it this far you probably have two opinions:

  • “This is a great idea and I agree that we should do this!”
  • “I don’t think this applies to me, this sounds like a lot of work, the end users will adapt anyways.”

If you have the first opinion then congratulations – you get it! You understand the important of connecting with your end users. You understand how critical it is to align with your business and partner for results. If you have the second opinion… I’m sorry but your project may be doomed for failure. However if you do have this second opinion and would like to discuss it more then give me a call – I would be happy to talk about the reasons why this applies to your specific situation and why you need to do this to be successful.

 

Sr. Enterprise Virtualization Consultant

Sr. Enterprise Virtualization Consultant

Richard Maloley is a Senior Consultant within the Enterprise Technology Services group at Open Systems Technologies. In this role Richard focuses on managing large scale transformational projects with a focus on end user computing technologies. Richard has been a consultant for 4 years at OST and worked in-industry prior. With a passion for people Richard approaches customers and projects with a people-first attitude in order to positively change and improve the relationships within an organization.

 

Start Somewhere

11 Feb

snow-shovel

Snow Business

Winter is here, at last, and as the primary snow shoveler in my family, let me say I’m none too happy about it. The past week brought me a foot of snow, and it’s not gonna shovel itself.

Staring out my kitchen window at twelve heavy inches of snow burying my driveway, it was daunting to imagine how I’d get the driveway clear, and just thinking about the work involved seemed more than I thought I could take. I’m not as young as I once was, and it sure seems like they’re making heavier snow than they used to. Plus – when did my back start to hurt all the time?

I didn’t do it. I didn’t shovel. I put it off for nearly a week, thinking it wasn’t really winter yet, thinking it would melt on its own, thinking the snow fairy would grant my wish for a clear driveway, thinking – somehow – that, if I just came up with the right plan, I’d be able to eliminate the snow without sloughing through it, one shovelful at a time.

Time to get to shoveling.

No matter what end result you seek, there’s only one way to get there. You’ve got to start. It may sound silly, may sound obvious, may seem like advice not worth giving … but we’re an easily overwhelmed species. Nothing ever got finished that didn’t first get started.

Come to think of it, that’s a foundational step in every project we work on at OST. We help our clients get things started. Our clients aren’t in the IT business – they’re looking to us to HELP them make smart IT decisions. That’s not easy – for them or for us. When you’re working with complex corporate systems, trying to determine where (and how) to begin can be overwhelming, even paralyzing. It can seem impossible to know where to begin, and sometimes it’s easier to maintain the status quo out of fear that anything else seems overwhelming.

My simple advice? Start. Start somewhere. Just start. You don’t have to know where you’re going to end before you start, and accepting that you DON’T know is powerful – it opens you up to opportunities for discovery that’d you’d be blind to if you thought you had to figure out where to end before you started. Start somewhere. Just start.

That driveway’s not going to get clear without a first shovelful. Dig in. Get that shovel down to the pavement and give it a good toss. Put your fear and loathing aside, toss away your anxiety and paralysis, and I bet you’ll discover the same thing I did:

It feels good to get started.

_ _ _

Andrew Powell edited photo

Andrew J. Powell

Andrew Powell serves the Application Development practice at OST , providing guidance, strategic support, and candy to more than fifty developers and consultants. Andrew has been a technology consultant for more than twenty years. In addition to consulting, Andrew is a frequent public speaker in technology circles, and loves to talk about the coming Robot Apocalypse and how application developers are positioned to defend the world against our future robot overlords. When not cowering in fear, Andrew makes his home in Grand Rapids, Michigan.