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How to Find a Food Specific ERP Vendor

Your aim is to build the best food distribution business. This means investing in the best available business software. However, it can be very difficult to determine what the best ERP supply chain software is for your specific business because many software companies are a wolf in sheep's clothing. Meaning, they really have a horizontally focused ERP package, but they pitch it as a food specific solution. What they try to hide is that it will take many customisations, add-ons and pounds to get you to the point where their ERP software is usable for your business. There are two main areas to look in to tell if a vendor is a wolf in sheep's clothing: functionality and implementation.

Functionality

Make sure you find an ERP vendor that has a software product specific for food wholesalers. The more industry specific features and functionality the software has out-of-the-box, the quicker your implementation and the less money out of your pocket. You know what it takes to run your business on a daily basis. Many ERP vendors will dazzle you with functionality that looks great, but you will never use. Focus on the tools that are most important to food distributors. Some examples of functionality to look for are:

Full Traceability

One of the most important areas for food distributors to focus on is traceability. The right software vendor will make it as easy as possible to stay in complete compliance with FDA, USDA and COOL regulations. They will have built-in tools for full forward and backward lot traceability for improved visibility no matter where your products are in the supply chain. Another key element is a lot audit trail so you can view who updated lot information throughout its entire lifecycle. Each lot should automatically be tracked by a minimum of shelf life, born on date and manufacturer lot number. In addition, lot numbers should be able to be assigned to containers so they will be automatically assigned to inventory as soon as it arrives.

EDI

Finding ERP software vendors with integrated electronic data interchange (EDI) is a good way to determine which ones are focused on your industry. Companies with a core competency in EDI will save your business money and resources over time. Integrated EDI has been proven to bring a higher level of compliance, faster information processing, decreased costs, improved shipping accuracy and much more.

You should also look for ERP software vendors that offer both managed and non-managed EDI services. Managed services allow you to offload all your EDI processing and other responsibilities to your EDI vendor. Managed services include ongoing map creation and management to the specifications of your trading partners, daily transaction monitoring and full technical support. In contrast, non-managed services provide you with all the necessary tools to manage EDI, but your team must handle the daily tasks. Many food distributors switch from one to another over time, so it is worthwhile to ensure your vendor focuses on both.

Inventory Management

Running an efficient warehouse is paramount to being a successful food distributor. While many ERP vendors have similar warehouse functionality, there is some specific functionality to look out for. Your vendor of choice should offer both paper and wireless options for receiving, putaway and picking. Their software package should also contain functionality to seamlessly handle lot tracking, returns and inter-warehouse transfers. One main area of concern should be finding a vendor that offers flexible warehouse processes that conform to your business, rather than forcing you to alter your business to fit their warehouse module. Many companies will state that their warehouse runs on best-practices. However, if their so-called best practices do not mesh with how you currently run your warehouse, additional time, money and resources will need to be spent to either customise the software or adjust your business processes.

Forecasting For Long Lead Times

ERP software companies that focus on your industry know you need the right forecasting tools for long lead times. Their forecasting should integrate point-of-sale data, customer forecasts, historical sales trends, seasonality, supplier lead times and more to help you optimise purchasing decisions. Time-phased tools will help improve your forecasting accuracy even further when dealing with imported food products.

Mobile Tools

No matter where you are, you always need to have access to important and up-to-date business information. ERP vendors should realise this and have readily available mobile tools that work across multiple tablets and smartphones. With the right mobile tools, you will never be more than a couple clicks away from sales, profitability and other critical data you need to run your business.

Software vendors focused on food distribution will also recognise the importance sales representatives play in your industry. Their mobile tools will enable sales representatives to complete tasks such as taking orders remotely, viewing current and outstanding invoices, indentifying sales trends and viewing account histories.

Implementation

A quick search on Google will reveal numerous cases of ERP projects that failed at the implementation phase. No matter how perfect the software seems for your business, if the implementation is not handled correctly then the whole project will quickly turn sour. This usually happens when you are assigned a project manager who is not familiar with the food wholesale business. There are some proactive steps your company can take to help make sure that your company never appears as an implementation casualty result on Google.

One mistake food distributors make is not pulling the ERP vendor's project manager into the sales cycle. You should ask to speak with the project manager who will be assigned to your implementation so you can get a feel for their industry experience. Having a project manager lead the implementation that is familiar with your business means a smoother, quicker implementation since they do not need to take time to familiarise themselves with your business.

Another benefit of having an industry expert lead your implementation is that they can provide you with a realistic implementation plan that encompasses the true resources needed each step of the way. Many ERP vendors set up unrealistic goals prior to implementation, which leads to unrealistic budgets and resource allocation. This means either your company ends up spending more money and using more man hours than originally thought, or that shortcuts are taken and things are set up improperly from the start.

An expert project manager that has successfully led similar implementations will also be able to help your company outline goals for the implementation. They will walk you through the different business areas in which you should expect to see business benefits from their ERP software, and help you determine how best to judge the improvements. This will help ensure your company has documented areas to look for improvements as your company gets up and running on the software system.

About Apprise Software

Founded in 1984, with offices in North America, China, Korea, Australia, Czech Republic, and the Netherlands, Apprise Software is a leading provider of integrated ERP and SCM software and services for food wholesalers. Leveraging the latest technologies — such as Microsoft® .NET, wireless warehouse solutions, RFID, cloud and iPad applications — along with industry best practices, our solutions deliver reduced costs, improved efficiencies, enhanced revenues and profitability, and a quick return on investment.