GrowthPath Cloud ERP Implementation

Cloud software is simple. Implementations should be too.

Since 2013, a 100% success rate (client still using the system three years after going live).

 

We reduce risks

By being vendor neutral, and using our Go/No-Go milestone, we eliminate the wrong-system risk.

We focus on pragmatically getting ready to go live. There are always surprises after going live. We build that in to the project plan, an approach born of our experience on both sides of ERP implementations.

Advanced Data Conversion

With deep expertise, automation, API scripts and a lot of business feel, we treat your valuable historical data very seriously. Data conversion done wrong is huge business risk.

We build self-sufficiency

Our fixed price implementations finish with a Handover milestone, not with a Go Live milestone. We guide implementations with a strong focus on knowledge transfer. 

This is your new system. Your key users need to explore it and learn it, which is why we guide the implementation, rather than manage it. The result? No reliance on third parties to keep using the system.

In-house CRM, Analytics and 3PL connections

GrowthPath has mature CRM connectors with both a simple CRM, CapsuleCRM, and an sophisticated CRM, Zoho CRM. Our integrator goes well beyond standard connectors, include two-way contact sync and quote sync.

We have a sophisticated and powerful Dear to Zoho Analytics connector, which can even source data from different Dear instances in different base currencies. 

We have a framework for powerful 3PL integrations

We have advanced reporting for long-lead-time businesses, including promise date calculations based on in-bound POs, even fast enough for dynamic updating of Shopify shopping carts.

Project Phases

A GrowthPath project proceeds in milestones, until all the key pillars of the ERP implementation are ready.

Reaching the Go/No-Go milestone is the first part of the project.

Cloud ERP Implementation FAQs

How long does it take?

Three to five months, typically. Very hard to do it faster and do a good job. If you want to rush, you can expect higher fees because the risk of rushed projects goes up a lot, and we value happy, self-sufficient clients. To succeed, we need real users to work in this project, and real users have real jobs to do in the meantime.

What about the planning fallacy?

The planning fallacy means projects usually take longer and cost more than people think, because people are biased towards optimism (which is usually a good thing) and because there are people who benefit by promising a faster completion date than they actually think is possible. 

The best advice against falling into the planning fallacy is to

(a) not to treat the next project as something completely new, but to instead respect the experience of previous projects

(b) make sure people don't have incentives to over-promise

GrowthPath does fixed price projects, and we base our estimates of experience.

 

How long does it take someone to learn the new system?

A a rough rule, users should allow 20 hours of good quality system exercises to reach sufficient competence to go live.

Most of of this is self-directed learning. GrowthPath does have project options where we provide a lot of hands on training, but most clients don't pay for that, and have very successful implementations anyway. In these standard implementations, users get about five to seven hours of training with GrowthPath. We prefer this approach, because it cements knowledge transfer and the objective of becoming self-sufficient.

How much does it cost?

GrowthPath does fixed price quotes. Our proposal is based on a quite a lot of preliminary information gathering. The proposal will include options regarding the amount of data conversion required, the type of training, whether GrowthPath does project management or not, the integrations required, the functionality required and the selected ERP system.

The fees are designed to reduce risk. This means you can stop the project if the Go/No-Go decision is unfavourable, and you will only be charged for the clearly defined fee to proceed to that point.

Does GrowthPath visit on site?

It's the cloud, so we do most of our implementations using remote technologies. We can be on-site, particularly in Asia where travel times from our Australian/ASEAN home base are reasonable. If you are based in Melbourne, you can expect onsite visits. We have implemented in Europe, Asia, and through Australia, many times without being on-site.

For business which have staff in multiple locations, our ability to remotely manage these projects is a big advantage, since even if you bring everyone together for training, multi-location support is unavoidable during and after the project. Better to choose an implementation partner who knows how to make this work.

Should we do a parallel run of old system and new system?

No. We go live when we are ready to use the new system, and that's it. Running two systems is much more than twice the work, and because systems work in different ways, you can even in a perfect world get different results.

What is the best time of the year to go live?

Our clients go live around the year. You don't have to go live at the start of your financial year. It is better to time it for a quiet period, if you have seasonality. Going live part way a financial year means some extra work bridging old and new (in payroll, for instance) but this only happens once.

 

Simple and Collaborative Implementation Projects

Cloud systems are simple and fun to use, and I keep the same approach with project management. Trello is a good tool. It manage due dates, it assigns tasks to people, and it's easy to use. Visually, it is easy to see what needs to be done. All key users are board members.

 

KelatoA copy of a typical Trello project board

The Project Milestones

1. Preliminary Shortlisting

Based on interviews, a recommendation is made, addressing the scale of the business, the processes of the business and the information requirements. You should see a demo of the recommended solution, and spend some hands on time in a demo environment, to get a high level feel for how it works.

A very early GrowthPath question is: what reporting, analysis and insights do you need?

We have a detailed on-line interview used to gather a good foundation, and then we use interviews and reviews of the existing reports.

Sometimes, there may not be a clear candidate, but this is rare. Also, it is possible that a business is too complex for cloud ERP.

 

Progress by end the of Phase 1

2. Validation/Go No Go: The most important milestone


In the Validation phase, we prove that the selected system has a high chance of succeeding.

This is the most important phase. A possible conclusion is not to proceed, but if we do proceed, we can be confident of a successful implementation.

 

This phase is a careful balance of investigation, setup and system exploration, without investigating every nook and cranny of the business.

It is not feasible to test every possible situation because of the time and effort applied. Auditors face a similar problem, and we use the same type of risk evaluation approach.

For success in this phase, we do a good chunk of data conversion, so there is real data to use for the validation testing. This involves key users, which is is why their system knowledge takes big steps.

Show Stoppers

Key functional areas to examine for the go/no-go decision include:

  • Transaction volume
  • Price rules
  • Backorder management
  • Manufacturing/contract manufacturing
  • Critical reporting requirements
  • Critical compliance requirements

Progress by the end of Phase 2

3. Go Live

Going live focuses on data conversion, getting forms and reports ready, and completing the training of key users. This is a busy phase, with a lot of attention to detail, and with users doing considerable self-learning.

 

You may consider this as the real go/no point, but GrowthPath has never had a project fail if the decision at the end of Phase is to proceed.

Progress by the end of Phase 3

4. Support

Depending on your agreement with GrowthPath, you will have a period of support, usually two to three months.

5. Handover

When the support period is completed, we have reached handover. Your ongoing support needs should be met by the vendor of your system. GrowthPath is always available to help if required, but we do not make ongoing support an expected revenue flow. Our clients achieve self-sufficiency.



Project Timing and Client Commitment

The exact time for a project depends on the complexity of the project, the time required for technical work and the availability of key staff.

GrowthPath proposals provide more information based on the specifics of the project.

Typical projects take three months to reach the Go Live milestone, and three more months to reach Handover.

 

Advanced and Custom Cloud Integrations

Custom Integrations for Cloud APIs

About Integrations and Cloud apps

Large business systems are built from modules. This is very ancient tradition of accounting: way, way back in the day, accounting was run with different ledgers, such as the sales ledger or the stock ledger, and periodically summaries were copied to the general ledger. When you implement a system, you choose a provider of these modules. If you choose different providers for different modules, you need to understand how they integrate, which means how they exchange information. 

When functionality is very generic, it's common to find a single solution with a core set of modules which integrate. It is very rare to find an accounting system which does not provide ledgers such as sales, bank, AP and AR, and you don't need to worry about the integration. Not so long ago, accounting applications still required you to post transactions from one module to another, but this vestige of the middle ages is gone in Xero.

But as requirements get more specific, it's harder to find satisfactory one-size-fits-all solutions, because the compromises between what you need and what a vendor sees as common requirements start to diverge. 

This becomes really clear as you move closer to what makes your business different to its competitors. For example, the sales process and the customer relationship can be quite specific to a business, so generic CRM packages often don't fit well. There are a lot more CRM web apps than accounting apps. 

Eventually, you will need to integrate something with your core systems, such as a B2C website.

Out of the box integrations

Cloud apps have taken-off due to simplicity and price. And a reason for that is that they focus on doing a focused set of things quite well, rather than trying to many things less well. They can afford to ignore some important functionality because integrating with other cloud apps is so easy. So integrating with an "ecosystem" has become a selling point. Most apps come with a core set of integrations bundled with the package. ERP apps, such as Dear and Cin7, include integrations with Xero and Quickbooks Online, for instance, and also with Shopify, WooCommerce, eBay etc. 

We call these "out of the box integrations". The advantages of these integrations are they are cheap (often bundled for free) and supported by the ERP vendor. 

However, there will be gaps. There are so many CRMs, for instance, that ERP vendors would be exhausted providing their own integrations. 

You may also find that even when an out of the box integration exists, it isn't good enough

Bridges such as Zapier and OneSaas

There are services which let you build connections between apps with no coding. These work by distilling certain core functions. For example, a CRM app always lets you define a new contact. Likewise, every CRM lets you define a new contact. So if Zapier knows how to detect a new contact created in five ERPs and if it knows how to create new contact in 50 CRMs, then with a few clicks, it offers 250 new connections.

These services are convenient, but not very powerful, since they exploit "lowest common denominator" features. They can be expensive too, in the long run. 

Custom Integrations and Workflow Customisations

The most expensive but most powerful integration is coded specifically for your requirements. This has higher upfront costs, but lower ongoing costs, and on this basis alone it may be a good choice, althouth compared with Zapier, you would see payback untl between three to five years, typically. The business case for custom integrations must be based on the advantage of an integration which does exactly what you want. 

Integration between software applications is not new: an entire layer of enterprise software called Middleware is well know to IT managers in large firms. But the way you built such integrations was not standardised. Integrations required a huge mix of proprietary technologies, and simply accessing interface documentation required large licence fees. 

Cloud apps are radically different. Documentation is free, and the interfaces are defined with open source technologies. Most cloud apps allow free access, or cheap access, to their interfaces.

As part of our integration work, GrowthPath has written a number of advanced integrations using cloud APIs.

In some cases there are solutions in the market, but our clients wanted a more specific solution that provided better value and automation. 

Workflow Customisations

Cloud software is largely 'what is see is what you get'. Vendors don't do customisations per client (except Cin7). New features and improvements are frequently rolled out, but you don't have much influence is setting development priorities. 

However, the APIs allow automation to be built.

Here are some examples:

  • Reordering based on sales history and custom forecast logic
  • Integration with global corporate procurement systems
  • Advanced customer service forecasting of order completion dates

Also, integrations can include business logic, not just information exchange. For example, data can be transformed before being sent to a data warehouse for advanced reporting. 

 

Integrations and customisations typically cost AUD $3000 - $5000. We treat them like fixed price projects, so there is no monthly fee, although there are some annual costs to pay for a dedicated cloud server, which can be up to $300 a year. 

Some GrowthPath Integrations

Dear Inventory Capsule CRM: Dear to Capsule sync

Dear Inventory - Zoho CRM: Sync of customers, contacts and quotes

Dear Inventory -> Zoho Reports: feed of transactional data for advanced reporting

Dear Inventory -> internal global procurement system

Unleashed -> Zoho Reports: feed of transactional data for advanced reporting

Accpac ERP -> Shopify Take orders and payments from Shopify and integrate to Accpac. Send stock levels back to Shopify

MYOB to Zoho Reports

  • take data daily from MYOB Account Right desktop and send it to Zoho Reports. 

  • Can consolidate multiple MYOB instances into one pool of data

Dear Inventory <-> Pepperi: Contacts, Product and Orders

Micropay to Xero Journal Processing

1C Invoicing to Xero

Dear interfaces to Corporate Purchasing

 

 

 

MYOB AccountRight Premier / Classic and ATO Single Touch Payroll

On July 1, 2018, the ATO requires all Australian businesses with more than 20 employees to use Single Touch Payroll. The census date is actually in April 2018. Users of MYOB Account Right Premier face an interesting problem. They are using software which doesn't really get feature updates because MYOB is encouraging subscribers to move to Account Right Live, a monthly-subscription product. This product was called Account Right Live for a few years. MYOB now calls it AccountRight, and calls the legacy product AccountRight Classic.

Account Right (Live) is not available as an upgrade for legacy MYOB users, because the new product does not have quite all the features of the existing product (although this may change). There may be other reasons it does not appeal: it requires a Windows computer. It can store data in the "cloud", but it's is often too slow and larger businesses are most likely going to revert to local data, which means you basically have your old MYOB, with all the funny limitations and dated reporting. Many businesses have stayed with legacy MYOB because they can't use AccountRight (Live) or don't find it worth the effort of changing.

The end of the road is approaching for AccountRight Classic, no doubt. However, if you are a diehard old-MYOBer, there is a solution which means you can stay with legacy AccountRight Classic at least for a little bit longer. 

Read more: MYOB AccountRight Premier / Classic and ATO Single Touch Payroll

Dear Inventory B2B Portal overview

Dear Inventory has a fundamental B2B portal which is in its second release. Bottom line: it's easy to setup (a couple of hours at most to get up and running), it's free and it automates basic order enquiries and order entry. You control exactly which customers can use it.

Read more: Dear Inventory B2B Portal overview

Dear Inventory: Advanced Pricing Module

Easier access to Dear Inventory advanced pricing

Dear Inventory has a powerful advanced pricing module in addition to the standard ten price lists and customer-level discounts. Not many clients use the advanced features because it's hard to understand and hard to set up; for example, the second step requires a CSV upload in many cases.

Dear has now put a graphical front end to advanced pricing, making it easier to use. Advanced pricing is the place to add quantity breaks and free shipping rules, as well as much more.

In 2019, Dear Inventory has several ways of calculating pricing. Pricing for many businesses in complex, and Dear is rising to meet this ... with complex choices.

1. Simple price lists. Dear has ten.

2. Customer discount percentage of a simple price list

3. Customer price lists, at sku level. You can upload CSVs of SKU-based pricing per customer.

4. Markup pricing: You can define pricing based on cost price data

5. Advanced pricing, the topic of this article. Advanced pricing arrives at a particular price for a customer/product combination, the same as (2). However, you can define rules for groups of products, group of customers, and you can do quantity breaks too.

Finally, the rules can have start and end dates, something else you can't do with standard price lists.

The spur for this has been the drive to add B2B and later B2C portals to Dear, and there are some features added to the advanced pricing module which are only for these new sales channels. 

In Advanced Pricing, there are two concepts: Discounts and Deals.
The 'Discount' says what will happen, and the Deal defines when it happens, based on the date, the customer and the product. 

The rules have start and end times (for promotions) and can trigger on products based on SKU, tag, brand or category, and on customer code, customer type or tag.  That's very powerful. 

You can access it via Settings -> Reference Books -> Product Deals. Although first, you need to define a Discount rule to add to the Deal.

To use it:
The new form lets you apply a discount to some customers for some products, over some period.
You need to create the "discount" first, though.

Also, you must click the "Apply Discounts" button in order entry. I don't know why. I guess this is a transitional setting.

Step 1: Create discount rules

Creating discounts is done in Settings -> Reference Books -> Stock -> Product Discounts
There are three types of discounts, but 'Free Shipping' and 'Order Level' are only applicable to the Dear B2B portal.

So for the usual Dear order flow, you consider "simple discount" and "volume discounts". Volume discounts are commonly known as quantity breaks. The "volume" refers to the quantity sold on the order line. 

The Dear support article is: http://dearsystems.freshdesk.com/support/solutions/articles/1000132666

"Discounts" are the "what happens" part.

Simple discounts are the most common. They include quantity breaks,
The discount and markup rules apply to the price the customer would get if the discount rule were not applied. 

From the Dear article:

Types of Discount values:

  • Discount amount – all prices will be reduced by this Amount, e.g. ‘$10 off all stock’ campaign. That is, the change modifies the price calculated by the standard pricing (based on the price list and any customer or product discounts).
  • % Discount– all prices will be reduced by the percent specified, e.g. ‘10% off all stock’ campaign. 
  • Markup Amount – all prices will be increased by this Amount.
  • % Markup – all prices will be increased by the percent specified.
  • Price Override –this Amount is new price for the product, with no reference to what was there before.
  • Flat Amount – total line cost will be this Amount.

Note that Flat Amount caps the line price, completely regardless of quantity ordered. 

Step 2: Create Deals

A Deal lets you choose when a discount rule is triggered. The selections include a date range, specific or groups of tagged customers, products specified by SKU, category or brand.


Deals also offer "order-level" discounts. A pre-configured example is free-shipping once an order reaches a value threshold.

Allocations in Dear Inventory

Allocation Logic in Dear Inventory, explained

Dear Inventory has two order flows, Standard and Advanced. They both let you prioritise stock with soft and hard allocations if you use manual picking. The Advanced module has another option: authorised orders with no allocation at all. In this article, we see the differences between soft and hard allocations, and how to override soft allocations to prioritise which customers get scarce stock.

You can swap a Standard order to Advanced. An order created in the standard process can move to the Advanced process via the Convert button. See the picture below.

Read more: Allocations in Dear Inventory

Per site cost valuations in Dear Inventory

Some tips on getting per-location costing in Dear Inventory for more accurate margins.

Dear Inventory is a cloud-based inventory system which is currently GrowthPath's default recommendation for general purpose cloud ERP systems. 

Dear has a well-thought approach to stock valuation. From the beginning Dear was designed to give users the chance of activate batch and serial number tracking for receipts, and Dear decided to fully support this with FIFO product costing per batch or serial. In fact, Dear users FIFO costing as its costing method for standard stock as well; the common choice is weighted average. FIFO and weighted average are the same over time. 

Like its competitors, such as Unleashed, Trade Gecko and Cin7, Dear allows multiple locations, but it does not keep costs per location. 

Imagine that you are receiving stock into an Australian warehouse and a New Zealand warehouse from a Chinese supplier. You may have the same FOB price, but different landed costs. Dear handles landed costs very well and they are practical to use, so you would like to see different costs at the two different sites. However, if you have a standard product without batch or serial, the FIFO calculation is maintained across all locations: the next item you sell with have the same cost price regardless of the warehouse it is shipped from. Not what we want. 

But if you activate batch costing for this product, you can solve the problem. When you receive goods, you provide a batch number. You can leave it blank, and Dear will create a batch code based on the PO number. If you apply landed costs to the order, they are also tracked against the batch. Because the batches are stored by location, shipments from the NZ warehouse will only involve batches received there. Auto-pick is smart enough to manage that if you don't want to manually choose batches. 

With this approach, costing per warehouse is quite easy, and you will have more meaningful margins. The one thing we can't do with this is keep NZ stock in NZD: if AUD is the base currency of the system, stock with supplier and third party costs in non-AUD is converted to AUD and only AUD. There is no solution.

A note about Dear's landed costs: costing is updated retrospectively, so with Dear, you can receive and ship goods without waiting for supplier and third-party invoices, and still get the benefit of landed costing. 

 

Advanced use of information for SMEs

Applying relevant information to make better decisions is a very important outcome of a medium-term IT plan. Cloud solutions are really good at enabling this, even if the first phase focuses more on the operational foundations. There are many options available for cost-effective business intelligence solutions in the cloud. Amazon, for example, has developed a rich layer which has stimulated many offers: Google for “Amazon Redshift marketplace”.

 

Advanced reporting, or business intelligence, has three components. It has a reporting or data visualisation front end (graphs, dashboards, reports etc). It has a data store and analytical logic layer, which imports data from different sources and allows us to group and relate the data to support the visualisation layer. Business Intelligence products always include these two layers. Many of the cheaper cloud solutions, such as Zoho Reports, effectively stop with these two layers.

 

The third layer is very important. Technically it is know as Extract and Load, (or data transformation). This retrieves the data and processes it ready for import. It would certainly include sales data at the invoice line level, but may include other data such as Google Analytics, Facebook analytics, marketing spend, out-of-stock scores, inventory aging KPIs etc. Extracting that data is some times not simple. Possibly you have sales data coming from different systems (perhaps due to an acquisition): this extract and load layer needs to standardise the data into a common format.


The benefits from this phase really leverages the investment in the cloud-based foundation layer; it taps the potential of cloud-based systems … for a fairly small incremental cost, there is a lot of value.

A hidden gem: Neto/Saasu Integration

A hidden gem: Neto/Saasu Integration

Neto is an excellent hosted online store. It handles wholesale and retail very well (simultaneously), and has the best-on-the-market integration with Australian shippers, anywhere. Better than Unleashed, Dear Inventory, Shopify ...

On top of that, Neto looks after multiple price lists, variations, multiple stock locations,has a decent template engine, a fast backend, good ebay integration. It does backorders like MYOB, which is actually much more suited for smaller wholesalers than the current approach of Dear and Unleashed. A startup from Queensland with Telstra as a significant shareholder. It's not perfect: It doesn't do multi-currency, its reporting is average. And it has no purchasing module. It doesn't do supplier invoices, receipts and costing. For this, is expects you to integrate it with something else. A Neto / Saasu integration offers a lot for the money.

Read more: A hidden gem: Neto/Saasu Integration

Cloud ERP FAQ

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Common questions about cloud ERP

Cloud ERP (Dear Inventory, Unleashed, CIN-7, Trade Gecko, Stitch...) has huge advantages: fast to deploy, easy to learn and with much better reporting and insights that traditional ERP software. Above all, these packages integrate so easily with CRMs, accounting, online stores, third-party fulfilment, shippers. The business model is different: you pay per month, you no longer host the data. Here we quickly cover the main questions, advantages and disadvantages of cloud ERP for SMEs.

We have a much more in-depth review of common cloud ERP solutions here: A review of cloud ERP for Australian SMEs

Read more: Cloud ERP FAQ

IT used by GrowthPath

Here is the IT in use at GrowthPath.

Accounting

Since our foundation, GrowthPath has used cloud accounting. Initially we used MYOB Essentials, then Saasu, and as of 2016 we are on Xero. 

CRM and Project Management

We use Pipedrive. Pipedrive is an excellent CRM for deal-based businesses.

We have become big fans of Trello.

Quotes are prepared with Nifty Quoter.

Email & Cloud Apps, Client OS

We use Google Apps/Google Drive. Desktop OS is a mix: OS X preferred, Chrome OS and Windows get some use. Mobile devices are now mostly Android.

Web services, Analytics

We have servers, and client servers, hosted with AWS and Digital Ocean. We use Ubuntu as the platform of choice. We use namecheap for SSL certificates, and a variety of registrars for domain names. Analytics is 100% Google. 

Content Management

GrowthPath uses Joomla, self-hosted, although we have good Wordpress skills.

Traffic Generation

GrowthPath does not currently use any paid traffic generation techniques. Our SEO is good and organic traffic is sufficient.

 

 

 

Cloud Accounting and ERP Security Risks

Business risks of cloud software

Cloud software has security risks, data-lock-out risks and connectivity risks. These risks can be avoided, and cloud software eliminates other major IT risks. Overall, moving to cloud apps such as Xero probably increases overall security and lowers data risk if sensible policies are in place. Before moving to cloud accounting such as Xero, or to a cloud ERP system, it's worth reviewing these risks.

Read more: Cloud Accounting and ERP Security Risks

Xero limitations: very large transaction volumes & test results

Xero Transaction Limits: Nov 2018 test results

There are questions about how well Xero performs under "higher loads". Our first concern was for medium-sized wholesalers. Xero talks about limits as low as 1000 'transactions' a month. Our testing shows that Xero performs well at much higher transaction volumes. The first test results are based on 3 years of 2500 transaction rows per month (and then matching payments uploaded via a bank CSV). The second test run was much larger.

Note that after some discussions with Xero and based on our own experience, we (GrowthPath) believe that businesses can interpret the 'limit' of 1000 invoices a month as advisory. This limit does not form part of the terms of service. In Jan 2017 Xero published some small changes to the API limit, and these limits, which are enforced, allow a much, much higher load than Xero's advisory limits. Hence, stress testing is relevant because you will reach the practical limits of Xero before you exceed API limits. Exactly what are those practical limits? That's the point of this article. 

For a medium sized wholesaler, we assume that Xero is the backend to a cloud-based inventory package, such as Unleashed or Trade Gecko, so we did not use Xero's inventory module.

Compared with a B2C (retail) business, a wholesaler has fewer customers, fewer invoices but invoices which have many more lines. Most sales are on credit, so reconciliation of bank feeds is important. 

Testing was initially carried out in June 2015 with a standard Xero trial account and then updated in November 2018 with much higher loads, in preparation for a talk at Melbourne AccountTech 2018. The browser used was Firefox on a fast Linux notebook. The testing environment ranged from an office 100 Mb/s connection (at the computer) to 5 Mb/s Indonesian hotel wifi.

Data was created with python scripts and automatically imported with CSV files, and browser automation was used for bank recs, document approvals and simultaneous invoice entry, using Python & Splinter. We also did some uploads via the API mainly to load Xero for testing. GrowthPath can perform custom load testing as a consulting assignment if these results do not provide the required insight.

Our Xero Review

Read more: Xero limitations: very large transaction volumes & test results

Cloud inventory management review Dear Inventory, Unleashed, Cin7

Cloud-based Inventory Management: Review of Unleashed, Dear Inventory, Cin7

Detailed review by a CPA & supply chain expert for small and medium sized businesses needing a cloud-based inventory management solution.

GrowthPath has migrated clients to cloud ERP systems in Malaysia, Singapore, New Zealand, the UK, PNG and around Australia. Over the years, and before founding GrowthPath, we have worked with ERPs since the 1990s. Tim Richardson started his career as a developer and then implementation consultant with QAD ERP, and has several SAP R/3 implementation experiences. He then moved into finance roles around Asia and Europe with Philips.

GrowthPath was founded in 2011 to help small and medium businesses unlock the incredible power of cloud inventory management, accounting, CRMs and analytics.

At the moment, we recommend Dear Inventory for most clients needing a supply chain solution, and Cin7 for more advanced requirements. We see the competitive pool also including Unleashed and Trade Gecko, but at this stage Dear and Cin7 are our recommended solutions.

Why is Inventory Management called ERP? How is it different to accounting software?

ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) is an acronym which doesn't actually mean much. Key functions are taking orders from customers, managing stock levels, reordering, suppliers. So even desktop software like MYOB can be considered an ERP, by that definition. So ERP is simply core business software to manage a supply chain.

The SME cloud ERPs reviewed here offers serious functionality:

  • multi-warehouse stock management
  • Partial shipments, drop-shipping
  • Multi-currency customers and suppliers.
  • Pricing rules. Shipping rules. Backorders.
  • Online stores. 
  • Auto builds, and even simple backflush manufacturing. 
  • Reordering
  • Contract manufacturing
  • Serial numbers, batch tracking, expiry dates
  • Landed Costing
  • Pricing rules to deal with customer-specific pricing, quantity-breaks, discounts, multi-currency, markup pricing
  • 3PL, EDI and all manner of integrations with sales channels, CRMs, reporting and analytics.

The Business Case for investing in a Cloud ERP

The business case for a business currently without an ERP is based on: greater efficiency, much greater cost insights, much better stock control and better reporting. On top of that, cloud ERP offers incredibly cheap and easy integration with modern sales channels.

Cloud ERP is different to legacy ERPs such as MYOB Advanced, Accumatica, Microsoft Great Plains, Netsuite in a couple of important ways. Firstly, these cloud ERPs don't do the accounting. Secondly, they integrates really well with the modern, web-based business software which is transforming customer relationships: online market places, omni-channel sales, marketing automation, 3PLs and support for staff in the field and at remote locations. Integration is the biggest single differentiation. Cloud ERPs are very disruptive because web technologies have turned software integration from a very expensive, difficult process to the natural state of modern software. 

You might think the most obvious difference is that cloud ERPs run in the cloud, but a lot of legacy vendors now host their software on a cloud server too, claiming the cloud mantle. But integration is not in their DNA, unlike the true pure cloud solutions we consider here. They fundamentally don't talk very easily to other software; they were not built for it. This is why older ERP systems do so much under one roof: it was cheaper to reinvent yet another accounting general ledger than integrate to a better one someone else had already built. 

The leading cloud ERP choices

Broadly, Unleashed, Dear Inventory and Trade Gecko are competing for the same target market. They are good general purpose supply chain solutions for wholesalers, and they provide a number of integrations for e-commerce sales channels and cloud CRMs.

Cin7 has some points of difference that appeal to more complex businesses.

The traditional server-based monolithic 'do-everything' systems are dying, but some have emerged as hosted solutions. This article doesn't consider these systems, such as MYOB Advanced or the Microsoft cloud-ports of Dynamics which come under different names. These systems generally offer a more sophisticated accounting solution than we can offer with a Cloud ERP solution, but they have a much smaller base of connectivity with e-commerce, CRM and other cloud-solutions.

GrowthPath emphasises software solutions which are built from the ground-up to integrate with other cloud apps: this does mean complexity with synchronising apps, but it offers much more flexibility and innovation. When we talk of "pure cloud ERP", we mean those systems which have open APIs and a deep ecosystem of connected apps. In the second half of 2018, both Dear and Cin7 are rolling out new tools to make the accounting integration better, which addresses one of the perceived weaknesses of the non-monolithic pure-cloud approach.

A note: this is a very competitive market. Features are being added quickly. Since 2018, we have moved to a new level of innovation. Unleashed has woken up, although not to the point where it is has caught up with Dear.

Review of Recently Added Features

Here are some examples of how fast these products are adding features, and it also shows the key points of market attention

TradeGecko's equivalent page requires a login

Cin7, in my opinion, targets more complex businesses. It is considerably more expensive, but it has features not found elsewhere, such as some multi-entity support, native EDI and 3PL, and the best POS and B2B portal, a mobile-friendly Pick & Pack module (Dear offers this too now) and more rigorous accounting integration tools. Cin7's pricing has become a bit complicated, unlike its competitors, which price purely by users. Cin 7 is more open to customising functionality; Dear and Unleashed do not entertain this.

Unleashed has the best user interface. But Dear radically overhauled its interface in the second half of 2017. The first phase of this was the introduction of an advanced sales module which enabled a more sophisticated multiple-fulfilment workflow and some faster processing of orders. Dear offers much more sophistication in its order flows, but I still think Unleashed has the best user interface.

Trade Gecko's interface is quite nice, no complaints.

Cin7 has a complicated and information-dense user-interface, which is overwhelming at first, but which rewards experienced users.

Neto is an odd fish. Mostly known in Australia, it was originally an online shopping product similar to Shopify (but more capable and better designed). It was able to serve both consumer and small-scale wholesale channels. Over time the product expanded to have a pick-pack module, beating every ERP except Cin7, and it has a POS option. Its once-rudimentary inventory management features have grown to include an attempt at purchasing and costing. Most businesses of any scale won't find it good enough yet: it is crippled by no real multi-currency, and it still lacks depth in its stock management. The 'pure-play' ERP vendors still have a large advantage in supply chain management, and at the same time they are all adding POS and B2B portals, although they are leaving B2B e-commerce to the specialists. I am not yet ready to group Neto with the genuine ERP products but it's one to watch. In its original role as a frontend for online commerce, it's a good choice, although Dear no longer integrates with it (Cin7 has a good integration). 

Small and Medium Businesses are migrating to Cloud ERP

It's not just a question of upgrading from MYOB or Quickbooks. GrowthPath implements cloud ERP for businesses leaving SQL Server-based mid-tier packages such as SAP Business One, MYOB Exo, Accpac/Sage 300, Sage X3, Prism and Attache. Integrated cloud ERP can't match the core accounting power of mid-tier systems such as multiple legal entities, but they have advantages in cost, simplicity, speed of deployment and vastly superior integration with CRM and online commerce. Also, they grow in value: you keep getting new features without the cost of upgrading. They remove the need for servers and remote access, which are both expensive and security risks. Cloud ERP systems are much easier to use. Clients see a much greater use of features among staff because these systems are simpler to understand. New hires get up to speed faster, and existing staff get more information more quickly.

The use of integration in these cloud systems is not all positive, but as a business looks to add more automation and business intelligence to the way it works, the plug-and-play approach becomes vastly superior. SMEs can access IT as good or better than anyone had five years ago. This is an incredible levelling of the playing field between medium sized SMEs and large businesses. It's bad news for traditional ERP vendors. The functionality gaps are closing fast and in core ERP and fulfilment, there are already clients leaving legacy ERP who don't find any backwards steps. The rate of innovation in the cloud ERP is concentrated among a small number of products, unlike the hundreds of SQL Server-based ERP choices, which means potential clients are getting a lot more innovation bang-for-buck. 

Read more: Cloud inventory management review Dear Inventory, Unleashed, Cin7