Navigating Drupal: End of Life and Upcoming Releases

Navigating Drupal: End of Life and Upcoming Releases

Drupal 7 and 8 reach end of life in 2022, and Drupal 10 is scheduled to release in 2022! Are you confused?

By: Rakesh James, Drupal Architect at BORN Group

It is true that Drupal 7 and 8 are reaching the End of Life in November 2022 & 2021. Here we outline and clarify what this transition should mean to you as a Drupal consumer or user. As a leading digital transformation agency, it is our responsibility to provide our partners with the correct information and direction to smoothly transform your Drupal website into the latest version of the software, as efficiently and comprehensively as possible.  

What is meant by the end of life for both Drupal 7 and 8?

Drupal community will no longer support versions 7 and 8. Thus items including; security fixes, updates on the admin interfaces, bug fixes on the existing contributed projects like modules and themes documentation, will not be supported.

As a Drupal 7 or 8 owner, what does this mean for you?

This means your Drupal sites need to be upgraded to the latest version of Drupal. By upgrading Drupal to the latest version, you can continue to receive security updates, updated admin interface features, a receive continuous adaption of new features and modern technologies. As technology continues to develop and move faster, Drupal as an ecosystem is expanding and adapting as well. Upgrading will allow you to scale your application into other platforms on the internet.

How does one navigate a Drupal 7 to 9 uprade?

Drupal 7 or 6 site owners are a big step toward Drupal’s latest version, Drupal 9 because it’s needed as part of the migration process. Drupal’s latest versions significantly changed the way content and configuration is stored within the database. For a complete transformation of Drupal 6 and 7 sites to the newest version of Drupal, we need to address the following steps;

Step 1: Migrate Configurations and Content

It’s critical to migrate configurations including; content types, field definitions, and user roles. The content migration includes nodes, users, and taxonomy terms, which are examples of content entities.

Step 2: Upgrading Contributed and Custom Modules

Almost all the significant modules offer an upgrade path to Drupal’s latest version, Drupal 9. If not, you may need to do custom migration or port to the newest version of Drupal. Since Drupal 6 and 7 utilizes procedural programming style and since Drupal 8 there were significant changes made to Object-Oriented programming, your custom module and functionality leveraged in Drupal 6 or 7 needs to be rewritten to achieve Drupal 9 version compatibility.

Step 3: Theme Rebuild in Drupal 9

Following the migration of content, configuration and modules, we need to rebuild the theme in Drupal 9. As the structure of the theme has changed significantly, the theme cannot be migrated automatically. Drupal 9 leverages a twig template system for theming instead of PHP. 

In Drupal 9, core ships with migration modules that helps you to migrate content and configurations. Another automated migration tool, Acquia, allows us to migrate available modules leveraging the Acquia Cloud Platform. 

How does one navigate a Drupal 8 to 9 uprade?

Compared to Drupal 7, Drupal 8 to 9 is the easiest upgrade available and doesn’t require a full migration process. First Drupal 8 sites should be updated to the latest release of the Drupal 8 version. Then using depreciation API, BORN Group rewrite’s the custom module and code to achieve Drupal 9 compatibility. The newest version of almost all the major Drupal 8 contributed modules is compatible with Drupal 9. 

In conclusion, If you are a Drupal 7 site owner, it is best to upgrade your website to Drupal 9. But it is a bit more significant process compared to upgrading from Drupal 8 to 9.

For more information regarding our Drupal service offerings or to connect with out team, please visit here.

How to Increase Customer Lifetime Value With Visual Product Discovery

How to Increase Customer Lifetime Value With Visual Product Discovery

The global pandemic prompted a huge shift in consumer behavior — including notable breakdowns and disruptions in customer loyalty. 

As supply chains suffered a shock that restricted inventory and forced long-time customers to look elsewhere, another important transformation was taking place. 

Brands and retailers that hadn’t been focused on their eCommerce presence suddenly went “all-in.” And those that already had strong websites and solid operations in place to serve online shoppers took things up a notch. 

The resulting advancement in customer experience created a new breed of consumers. These shoppers have sky-high expectations from brands when it comes to everything from product recommendations to fulfillment to customer service, and more. 

Building Loyalty in the Post-Pandemic Landscape

Now that the initial “shock to loyalty” is leveling out, the onus is on brands and retailers to create customer experiences that are so intuitive, delightful, and memorable that they’ll entice these new, more demanding shoppers to come back time and time again. 

The brands that invest in keeping the new business they’re seeing in the long-term — or those that crack to code on how to increase customer lifetime value (LTV) — are poised to be at a tremendous advantage in the coming months. Today’s blog post with BORN partner Syte helps illustrate that advantage by going into detail on LTV and how visual product discovery helps win over shoppers. 

LTV is so essential because loyal customers don’t just return to your website more often, they are also more eager to spend with your brand. In fact, 39% of loyal customers will spend more on a product, even if there are other, less-expensive options available elsewhere.

Still, when looking to build lasting relationships with customers, brands and retailers often overlook the most critical element of the customer journey: product discovery

After all, if shoppers can’t find what they’re looking for in the first place, why would they come back?

Why Visual Discovery Wins Over Shoppers 

Innovative brands and retailers are increasingly using visual AI to take their product discovery experience to the next level. This emerging technology, which includes image recognition capabilities, allows retailers to pinpoint specific details about each product in their inventory and to use that unique visual data to surface the most relevant items for each shopper. 

Visual discovery tools that leverage AI, including camera search and smart recommendation carousels, enable shoppers to easily find products that suit their tastes, even when they don’t have the right search terms or the time to navigate through dozens of product listing pages. 

Connecting shoppers with their ideal products so seamlessly leads not only to a higher conversion rate but also to a dramatic rise in customer lifetime value. 

In fact, Syte’s data analysis from July-December 2020 found that when shoppers interact with on-site visual product discovery tools — specifically those powered by visual AI — they are more likely to become long-term, high-value customers:

  • Compared to high-intent “add to cart” shoppers, those who engaged with on-site product discovery tools had a 12% uplift in retention rate at the end of a 30-day period
  • The higher retention rate among users of visual discovery technologies also translated to a 19% uplift in customer LTV within a 30-day period, compared to all customers.

These numbers demonstrate that today’s shoppers deeply value brands that help them find what they want intuitively and quickly — and that they see this process as a core element of an improved customer experience. 

Brands that rise to the challenge of creating an outstanding product discovery experience will become a trusted destination for shoppers and drive long-term value from new customers. To learn more about how these solutions impact customer experience and drive business value, take a look at our partner Syte’s blog.

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Welcome to BORN’s Partner series! Through this program we look to highlight thought leadership from our vast array of technology partners. Follow along using the hashtag #thisisBORN and #BORNpartner!

Today, we’re happy to call attention to our visual search partner, Syte, and talk about how they help transform Customer Lifetime Value with effective visual product discovery.

How to Leverage Technology to Improve CX and Build Loyalty

How to Leverage Technology to Improve CX and Build Loyalty

What turns a browser into a customer, and a customer into a repeat customer? It may be as simple as listening and helping shoppers find what they want. That can be done face-to-face in a brick-and-mortar store. For online sellers, it requires technology.

Though brick-and-mortar retail stores have reopened nationwide, the coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to drive record online sales. July’s ecommerce sales were lower than June’s, but still up 55% year over year. Adobe Analytics expects online sales for the year to surpass 2019 online sales by October 5, 2020. For many consumers, including some who didn’t shop online before the pandemic, ecommerce is still the best option.

To capture new customers and retain old ones, retailers must provide the essentials: easy browsing, a secure ecommerce store, seamless checkout, and trackable delivery. Yet today’s savvy consumers often want more. They like to see themselves wearing your products. They may want to connect with a sales associate — like they do when shopping in person.

It can all happen online with the right technology. Chatbots powered by artificial intelligence (AI), authentication tools, and curation services can help customers navigate product catalogs. When a shopper needs more detailed assistance, human experts jump in.

Business intelligence platform PSFK examines how technology helps shape customer experience in its Digital Commerce Playbook. Key findings on the importance of customer education and assistance are summarized below and all statistics are attributed to this study;

Help them find what they want

Customers value clear information, well-timed input, and expert opinions. That’s hard to offer when consumers are anonymous, but increasingly, online shoppers are letting themselves be known. About 58% of millennials are willing to share personal information in order to get attuned product recommendations. And 36% of customers (not just millennials) expect a company to be able to provide “relevant recommendations for additional products and services after a single purchase.”

It would take an army of sales associates to offer that sort of personalized shopping experience for all browsers. Fortunately, AI-enabled support can assist with the early stages, narrowing down choices and gleaning preferences. If more personalized help is needed, it can gather information to share with human successors.

Be there for them

Consumers want to feel connected, perhaps now more than ever. Prior to the pandemic, 72% of consumers aged 18–64 said their overall customer experience would be better if they could text with a live agent in real time — too many of us have spent too many hours of our lives caught in endless cycles of automated help lines that provide no answers. Offering different, more human ways to connect can give you a competitive edge. 

Authenticate

Consumers want access to human help, but they also want assurance the products they’re buying are authentic. And unfortunately, the rise of marketplace sales was accompanied by an increase in counterfeit products. More than 70% of products purchased from marketplaces annually are counterfeit, and consumers spend almost $0.5 trillion annually on counterfeit goods.

Marketplaces are aware of the problem and working to stem the tide of counterfeit sales. Meanwhile, customers need assurance they can trust retailers. You can provide that via AI verification and blockchain tracking, among other tools.

In short, people like supporting businesses they can trust. They respond to ecommerce stores that curate selections to their taste and provide personalized assistance. It’s what they expect when they shop in person, and they’re coming to expect it online. Retailers that can fulfill those expectations are likely to outperform those that don’t.

Want more key insights about how technology can improve consumer engagement? Get the report from Avalara. 

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Welcome to BORN’s Partner series! Through this program we look to highlight thought leadership from our vast array of technology partners. Follow along using the hashtag #thisisBORN and #BORNpartner!

Today, we’re thrilled to call attention to our longtime partner, Avalara. Through this insightful piece, we hope you gain an understanding of what types of commerce technology can lift customer experience and bring loyalty to a brand.

The Benefits of Centralizing Your Business with an ERP System: Part II

The Benefits of Centralizing Your Business with an ERP System: Part II

We return here to flesh out a Part II for our article, The Benefits of Centralizing Your Business with an ERP System. So far, we’ve explored how centralizing ERP functionality has become critical in today’s commerce space. Rather than launching multiple applications and burning through valuable company resources on human error and mistakes, a single elegant ERP solution saves both time and money. 

We’ve now seen this at play in business analytics, Key Performance Indicator (KPI) tracking, project management, resource management and other metrics, and gaining operations visibility across the organization. An effective ERP solution puts all of these items in one central location.

ERP Solution Features

There are other important features that a centralized ERP solution should offer. In addition to business metrics, KPIs, and project and resource management, executives will want to have a clear grasp of profitability and a firm’s bottom line through revenue recognition tools along with utilities for billing and time and expense management. Other tools include features such as work-in-progress (WiP) management and estimate management.

One of the key benefits of centralizing these operations with a single solution is that executives and project managers no longer need to waste time toggling between multiple applications while risking data integrity. Another benefit concerns the streamlining of operations. Without an integrated ERP system, obtaining useful business data such as profitability can be a lengthy and convoluted process—drawing from expenses, billing, revenue, and other sources—that ultimately puts a strain on your company’s bottom line.

Effects on Today’s Companies

Such strains can be more than trivial in today’s commerce landscape where even the slightest inefficiency is magnified as your organization scales. What may seem like a small compromise, even at the executive level, once multiplied across your business this can become a significant detriment to your profitability and, in the end, your company’s success. Centralizing your firm’s ERP solution anticipates growth and changes in operations, especially as they concern the rapid pace of today’s commerce landscape.

One of the key terms introduced in our first article on the benefits of centralizing your business via ERP was the Agility Era, a phrase that describes the advertising industry’s recent turn toward flexibility and streamlined production over stable client of record relationships. 1

Here, as in our previous discussion, this term acquires significance because of the fact that an integrated ERP solution will help to navigate this commerce landscape in crucial ways. As opposed to stringing together multiple applications to handle key tasks, an integrated approach saves valuable time and resources that are crucial in adapting to the Agility Era.

Recognizing revenue—and driving profitability through the smart management of resources—is a key part of the success of companies in today’s fast-paced and flexible environment. Here we’ll look first at how an integrated ERP solution can help drive profitability by staying on top of expenses, billing, and revenue. Clean and clear access to this data is a must for executives and reap the rewards of doing it all one place.

Tracking Your Bottom Line: Revenue Recognition, Expense Management, and Billing

One of the most important challenges facing executives and managers today is the ability to track your bottom line. Revenue recognition is one art of this important puzzle, while expense management and billing play important roles as well. 

Prior to comprehensive integrated ERP solutions like Oracle’s NetSuite, firms typically monitored revenue through manual spreadsheet entries characterized as “manual, error-prone, and a time-consuming process.” An integrated ERP solution automates this process, leaving little room for human error.

Revenue Recognition

Using manual practices, alternatively, leaves companies vulnerable to calculation lapses and misinterpretation of important revenue data points. Furthermore, with the introduction of ASC 606, which addresses the recording of revenue garnered from customer contracts while governing how businesses report specific details of those customer contracts, standards compatibility is a chief concern.

As the importance of such standards increases, companies will need to remain more vigilant than ever to ensure the accuracy and diligence of their revenue recognition processes. So, how can an integrated ERP solution overcome shortcomings and pitfalls introduced by human error to provide full visibility into and recognition of revenue?

The key to rigorous revenue tracking lies in a combination of flexibility and robustness. Ultimately, a comprehensive revenue recognition engine like the one included in NetSuite provides a fully automated revenue recognition process while ensuring that firms meet important requirements such as ASC 606. 

This engine spans from simplistic revenue recognition to more complex rules defining how and when revenue should be reported. Specific events such as milestone completion or billing can be used to trigger revenue recognition in an advanced integrated ERP solution. Rules such as these can be defined at the Statement of Work (SOW) level or the project level. 

One important feature of more advanced and integrated ERP solutions, like NetSuite, lies in the ability to decouple such rules from billing. For instance, an executive may want to know revenue data based on the percentage of completion of all projects, taking into account numbers beyond those generated through billing and expenses. 

Billing and Expense Management

Nevertheless, billing and expense management are also important dimensions of managing your company’s bottom line. One of the important features of an integrated ERP solution is the ability to combine these metrics into revenue recognition and project planning. As with revenue recognition, billing and expenses should be automated and included as core functionality in an effective ERP solution.

The same kinds of pain points found in manual revenue recognition processes rear their heads in haphazard billing systems that are not automated or include error-prone, human-executed steps toward receiving visibility into billing.

Another difficulty lies in systems that are too rigid and allow only one billing method for all clients. Instead, an integrated and robust ERP solution provides a single system with multiple billing methods, along with an ability to define and combine billing rules at the project level. Such an approach—which, as we’ll see, is similar for Work-in-Progress and estimate management—is crucial for project managers across the eCommerce industry.

ERP for Work-in-Progress (WiP) and Estimate Management

Two important components of an effective ERP system involve the management of WiP projects and the generation and delivery of project estimates. WiP management, which will be of interest to controllers, project managers, and A/R, concerns the ability to monitor and regulate current projects that are somewhere between project launch and completion. Estimate management, which is mostly a concern for project managers and accounting, allows a company to manage estimate versions, send working estimates to clients, and for accounting to track approvals and ongoing work.

WiP Management

WiP management can be segmented into three main areas of engagement: visibility, enforcement and control, and automation. As for visibility, with an effective ERP solution, project managers should be able to receive an informative overview with data on each WiP. This includes, for instance, a “WiP aging report,” which shows how long each work-in-progress has been in such a state along with anticipated releases. Auto-releasing and a portfolio-based display of WiPs are two other important forms of visibility included in an integrated ERP solution.

Another level of WiP management concerns enforcement and control, in which compliance and hierarchy come into play. How is the workflow and approval process handled for a project? Real-time integrated reports are important for knowing the exact status of WiP projects. 

As many project managers know, it would be disastrous to isolate this data in proprietary spreadsheets, especially if such platforms remain on local or unshared repositories. An integrated ERP solution ensures that WiP enforcement and control are shared laterally across your firm. Finally, automation ties back into release management, revenue recognition, and other tasks.

Estimate Management

Prior to releasing a WiP—in fact, before a project is even underway—an effective ERP solution will allow project managers to control all of the different versions of an estimate to be presented to a client. The key areas of interest for estimate management include pitch visibility, version control, and forecasting and reporting. 

As for pitch visibility and version control, an integrated ERP solution provides insight into pre-sales costs, while different versions of an estimate are shared and updated in real-time across your company. Finally, forecasting can allow collaboration between creative directors, account directors, and project managers to ensure an accurate understanding of revenue and profitability.

Conclusion: Putting the Puzzle Together

As many executives and project managers can attest, the individual tasks required to run a commerce solution can feel like a complicated set of puzzle pieces. When considering elements like revenue recognition, profitability tracking, expenses, and billing, these elements can seem like an unwieldy set of incongruous elements that don’t seem to fit any pattern or ruleset.

Furthermore, executives often sense that even when one department gets a piece in the right place, it takes a while for the rest of the firm to follow suite. This “a while” is no small concern. In fact, with poor management, such disconnects can cause crucial losses and drops in profitability.

Integrated ERP: The Right Fit

This is where an effective and integrated ERP solution becomes one of the most important decisions that a firm will make. There are of course many dimensions that figure into such a decision. But as we’ve seen throughout this two-part article series, one of the principal concerns should be the centralization of functionality into a single ERP solution. 

Whether concerned with billing, expense management, WiP management, estimate management, business analytics, KPI tracking, resource management, or profitability and bottom lines, the key to an effective ERP solution is that this information is shared and updated in real-time. Only with a truly integrated solution can your company put all of the puzzle pieces together and excel in the fast-paced and competitive commerce landscape of today.

For more information surrounding BORN Group’s ERP practice, please visit here.

Footnotes

1. https://www.forbes.com/forbes/welcome/?toURL=https://www.forbes.com/sites/onmarketing/2014/08/27/how-a-creative-cfo-will-save-advertising/&refURL=&referrer=#2607740412ea

2. https://view.pointdrive.linkedin.com/presentations5e7289ae-cbb3-4f8c-9581-1c7af9e58433/preview/cab338b3-acc9-4c8d-a3ed-d32fec84dee0?auth=48e9df2d-f52b-4b02-af8c-93c80239e39f

3. http://ww2.cfo.com/revenue-recognition-accounting-tax/2018/03/asc-606-whats-impact-far/

4. https://view.pointdrive.linkedin.com/presentations/5e7289ae-cbb3-4f8c-9581-1c7af9e58433/preview/cab338b3-acc9-4c8d-a3ed-d32fec84dee0?auth=48e9df2d-f52b-4b02-af8c-93c80239e39f

5. https://view.pointdrive.linkedin.com/presentations/5e7289ae-cbb3-4f8c-9581-1c7af9e58433/preview/b68b1261-573b-41bb-b4e6-1934726d7b85?auth=48e9df2d-f52b-4b02-af8c-93c80239e39f

6. https://view.pointdrive.linkedin.com/presentations/5e7289ae-cbb3-4f8c-9581-1c7af9e58433/preview/b68b1261-573b-41bb-b4e6-1934726d7b85?auth=48e9df2d-f52b-4b02-af8c-93c80239e39f

7. https://view.pointdrive.linkedin.com/presentations/5e7289ae-cbb3-4f8c-9581-1c7af9e58433/preview/1ebef84d-f911-4108-af84-54b1ddd6c47f?auth=48e9df2d-f52b-4b02-af8c-93c80239e39f

The Benefits of Centralizing Your Business with an ERP System

The Benefits of Centralizing Your Business with an ERP System

In today’s digital world, no other decision is perhaps as all-encompassing and essential as choosing an effective Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system. One of the questions confronting executives is understanding and implementing the appropriate system to fit their current and future needs. Does a firm go with several individual applications for business analytics, Key Performance Indicator (KPI) tracking, project management, resource management, and other metrics? Or does an executive seek a range of features in a single ERP solution that addresses each of these needs together?

There are other concerns, such as company-level organizational goals, that executives and resource/project managers take into account when considering an ERP solution. These goals include gaining better visibility across the organization in order to achieve insight into the operations of disparate areas of the firm. Another key component that comes in making the decision of an ERP solution is the ability to streamline operations. Rather than hold on to difficult and convoluted processes, an executive will prioritize solutions that allow for better workflow and tighter integration. Upgrading legacy systems with a more current solution positions an organization for growth and overall company improvement.

Specific areas of growth include the ability to scale operations in an efficient manner. Executives want to see concrete productivity improvements along with increased profitability. Today, firms must adapt to many kinds of changes, especially those demanded by the industry. Firms require technological solutions that adapt to what Forbes had dubbed the fast-paced Agility Era—a phrase that refers to the industry’s preference for flexibility and streamlined production over stable and unshakable client relationships1. These are goals that an effective ERP solution will help bring to life. Such an ERP solution gains its effectiveness by integrating multiple interrelated parts into a single application, providing a centralized hub for all creative projects. There are several reasons that a single solution with multiple functionalities is preferable over using several separate applications. 

To begin, the need to switch between more than one application to perform a single task introduces the potential for human error, which increases as the task becomes more complicated. Along with that human error, such a human-led process introduces significant room for error that multiplies over time. Furthermore, using more than one application can have a significant decline in visibility into performance2. Many of the metrics available to an effective ERP solution will simply not be viewable through separate apps.

We’ve broken this article into two components that together provide a comprehensive guide to centralizing business operations leveraging a single ERP solution. In the first section, ‘Roles in an Integrated ERP Solution,’ we’ll look at the ability to switch between different user profiles in order to take advantage of the different ERP features such as the dashboard display and custom KPI metrics. Here we’ll explore some of the advantages of cloud-based systems such as the ability to log on via a web browser using any device from any location. We’ll also look briefly at analytics and time-based metric displays.

In the second section, ‘Integrated ERP Solutions and Resource/Project Management,’ we’ll outline how an ERP solution allows for effective resource allocation with team calendars and availability updated in real-time, along with automatic reminders and notifications once a team member is allocated to a project. We’ll also cover, in the cases where an internal resource is not available, the ability to consult outside talent through freelance resources—all through the same interface accessed through a consolidated ERP solution.

Roles and Metrics in an Integrated ERP Solution

The key to centralizing projects within a single ERP solution lies in the use of clearly defined and separated roles. Oracle’s NetSuite ERP solution, for instance, allows users that fit different profiles to log in accordingly. In one scenario, a user can log in as an executive and receive full access to KPIs, employee data, transaction logs, and other important and potentially sensitive data. In another case, one can log in as a project manager and be greeted by a different but related dashboard, replete with issue tracking, task management, budgetary numbers, and team member status. Still another profile, such as a resource manager, can be accessed with its own set of tools and settings. This profile might focus on resource allocation, timesheets, and financial data.

The paradigm outlined here is known as a role-based platform. The ERP defines exactly what one can see and do within the system and this role-based system is based on a set of defined permissions and access levels. As NetSuite describes it, “roles are based on a robust set of permissions and are the means by which we manage our segregation of duties.”3 These permissions are correlated to different respective user profiles that contain specific levels of access. While not every scenario is contained within the existing user profile sets, the profiles can be modified and tailored to suit the interests of any user. This role-based functionality is essential to centralizing your projects within a single ERP solution by enabling everyone on the team to have a one-stop portal.

Metrics, analytics, and KPIs are valuable as they provide useful insights, especially for executive users and managers. Using an executive role login, a user can select a KPI (or set of KPIs) to display as a graph over time. This will show fluctuations in performance during the selected time window. For instance, an executive may want to view a utilization summary—which shows hours tracked to billable services against project actuals4—over the course of a single quarter. Other KPIs may include timesheet summaries, jobs by company, and a full jobs summary, all data that benefit project managers and other users5.

Beyond the view of graph data displaying a longer period of time, a user can also drill down into specific numbers included in KPI and data views such as revenue reports. When viewing revenue from an income statement, for instance, an executive can choose between different time periods—monthly, quarterly, yearly, etc.—and compare the results. The same executive user can drill further down into the number to reveal details at the transaction level. From there, information pertaining to the client, along with associated brands (or other parent/child information), is available for the user to peruse. 

An effective ERP solution gains its traction by centralizing these kinds of metrics in one single location across multiple user profiles. Rather than requiring several different applications, all of the necessary information is displayed in one convenient location. KPIs, metrics, and analytics provide invaluable visibility across the performance of a business, all viewable from a single dashboard. This strength is extended further through the advantage of multiple user profiles wherein views are customized and duties are segregated and related to user permissions.

Integrated ERP Solutions and Resource/Project Management

Another challenge for today’s businesses is the ability for resource and project managers to have clear visibility into the availability of those in their resource pools. Determining availability and forecasting for new hires and freelancers can be difficult, especially when relevant data is inaccurate or not up-to-date. With such unreliable information, resources can easily become double-booked and can often fail to keep track of regular assignments6. Attempting to cobble together this data from multiple sources may only add further confusion to an already challenging situation. This is why a single integrated ERP solution for resource and project management is imperative.

Using an integrated ERP solution for resource allocation allows a resource/project manager full visibility into the calendars and availability across the entire resource pool. The resource manager user profile, for instance, contains a home dashboard with metrics and query results that provide insight into the status of the team’s various projects7. Resource managers need to be kept up to date on this information through reminders, report links, and portlets that relate to hourly burn reports and overdue task and milestone indicators. Only a comprehensive and cross-functional ERP solution will allow such visibility for resource managers while displaying imperative data for other user profiles as well.

An effective ERP solution such as Oracle NetSuite will provide a resource manager a full view of each project which they are currently assigned. Such a view provides a full work breakdown structure with a display of tasks that remain to be completed, the resources required to complete them, how much work has already been executed, and the amount the agency expects to collect when complete8. The view will also display scheduling requirements along with standard billing rates for each resource9. From there, each task can be assigned to a specific resource such as a designer. The replacement will then appear throughout the project displays.

Another important tool included in an effective ERP system is a calendar that shows individual resources and their respective utilization. What is the current utilization of team members throughout your resource pool? Who, among your designers, is available for a two-week period starting one month from today? A resource allocation chart tool allows a resource manager detailed insight into these variables. It allows a resource manager the ability to assign resources without overworking team members, causing burnout, or neglecting important talent. Upon selecting a team member, with an integrated ERP solution, the calendar of that resource will be updated automatically.

Conclusion

Executives and project managers face important decisions on a daily basis. Choosing the right ERP solution is one of those decisions that has a deep and lasting impact on a firm’s success. A number of concerns figure into this decision. At the top of this list of concerns should be the centralization of functionality into a single solution. 

Does the ERP solution require numerous third-party applications to work? Or does it truly scale with your business as you grow? Does it work to streamline your business’s mission-critical processes10? Does the solution provide better visibility across the organization overall in order to achieve insight into the operations of disparate areas of the firm?

We’ve seen here how multiple user profiles—from executive to project manager to resource manager—allows multi-functional ERP within a single elegant solution. We’ve also explored how KPIs, metrics, and analytics can be used to monitor performance to ensure the health and viability of an organization. Then we turned to resource management and saw how an integrated ERP solution can keep resources organized and ultimately help to streamline operations. 

Centralizing all of this functionality into one single location is critical for an effective ERP solution. As opposed to launching multiple applications and using up valuable resources on human error and mistakes, a single elegant ERP solution saves both time and money. By using a flexible dashboard that adapts to different profiles, users can see what’s genuinely important to them on a project. When one considers these benefits, a multi-use ERP solution will greatly benefit companies in both the short and long run. 

For more information surrounding BORN Group’s ERP practice, please visit here.

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Footnotes

1. https://www.forbes.com/forbes/welcome/?toURL=https://www.forbes.com/sites/onmarketing/2014/08/27/how-a-creative-cfo-will-save-advertising/&refURL=&referrer=#2607740412ea

2. https://view.pointdrive.linkedin.com/presentations/5e7289ae-cbb3-4f8c-9581-1c7af9e58433/preview/34cf1b5b-c90d-4c76-8f7e-8a0ecaacf931?auth=48e9df2d-f52b-4b02-af8c-93c80239e39f

3. https://view.pointdrive.linkedin.com/presentations/5e7289ae-cbb3-4f8c-9581-1c7af9e58433/preview/34cf1b5b-c90d-4c76-8f7e-8a0ecaacf931?auth=48e9df2d-f52b-4b02-af8c-93c80239e39f

4. https://functionpoint.com/4-important-kpis-to-measure-in-your-ad-agency/

5. https://functionpoint.com/4-important-kpis-to-measure-in-your-ad-agency/

6. https://view.pointdrive.linkedin.com/presentations/5e7289ae-cbb3-4f8c-9581-1c7af9e58433/preview/c57918a7-ae28-47f7-87a1-dd19c39db461?auth=48e9df2d-f52b-4b02-af8c-93c80239e39f

7. https://view.pointdrive.linkedin.com/presentations/5e7289ae-cbb3-4f8c-9581-1c7af9e58433/preview/c57918a7-ae28-47f7-87a1-dd19c39db461?auth=48e9df2d-f52b-4b02-af8c-93c80239e39f

8. https://view.pointdrive.linkedin.com/presentations/5e7289ae-cbb3-4f8c-9581-1c7af9e58433/preview/c57918a7-ae28-47f7-87a1-dd19c39db461?auth=48e9df2d-f52b-4b02-af8c-93c80239e39f

9. https://view.pointdrive.linkedin.com/presentations/5e7289ae-cbb3-4f8c-9581-1c7af9e58433/preview/c57918a7-ae28-47f7-87a1-dd19c39db461?auth=48e9df2d-f52b-4b02-af8c-93c80239e39f

10. http://www.netsuite.com/portal/products/erp.shtml

Best Practices: 10 Trends in ERP Implementation

Best Practices: 10 Trends in ERP Implementation

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software has undergone significant changes since its earliest incarnations. ERP has historically consisted of monolithic standalone systems dedicated to specific business processes found, for instance, in early Manufacturing Resource Management (MRM) systems1. These implementations were limited in scope and restricted to local instances unlike the distributed systems in use more recently. That sort of system did not last in the fast-paced world of today’s digital agencies.

Current ERP solutions are more flexible and configurable than ever, with many ERP vendors moving to cloud-based solutions. These systems can be upgraded and configured on the fly with little to no need for on-site support. Alongside this shift toward configurability and flexibility afforded by cloud solutions, we’ve also seen a broader movement to integrate a range of innovative contemporary technological paradigms. For instance, with the use of the cloud, many vendors have begun to conceive of ERP as a SaaS rather than a traditional licensing model. Other offerings include increased integration of data and analytics, which can help improve productivity, more tiered ERP services, security features, support for mobile devices, the Internet of Things, and the use of Artificial Intelligence.

Overall, many of these trends can be attributed to a significant change in the landscape of the ERP vendor industry. Particularly, we’ve seen a movement away from yesterday’s monolithic ERP behemoths and toward the possibilities introduced by smaller industry players and startups. It is because of these “disruptors” to traditional ERP solution models that we’ve seen ERP integrate many of the advances that erupt in other areas of the tech industry while also offering novel innovations that stand on their own. Here we outline ten of the top trends occurring in the ERP landscape today, especially as they apply to digital agencies.

1. Cloud solutions 

With the fast-paced nature of today’s digital landscape, the ability for your ERP solution to be distributed, scalable, and configurable on-the-fly has become perhaps more important than ever. Recall, for instance, Forbes’s recent description of today’s ad industry as The Agility Era,2 a phrase that poignantly captures the industry’s need for flexibility and on-demand configuration. This designation comes into particularly sharp focus when choosing an ERP solution. You need to be agile and flexible. The cloud helps to facilitate this need in unprecedented ways.

Note, that the shift to cloud-based ERP solutions didn’t fall out of the sky. The trend has been emerging since the mid-1990s wherein, rather than concentrating on enhancing core functionality, ERP companies are moving toward reconfiguring their systems for cloud compatibility. As Frank Scavo, president of management consulting firm Strativa, explains, “Many companies are finding it easier to add in cloud-based point solutions for things like human capital management, CRM [customer relationship management], expense management and other functions.”3 With the cloud, such improvements can be thrown in ad-hoc with minimal to no downtime.

2. SaaS systems

As part and parcel of the move to the cloud, many ERP solutions have begun to operate through a software subscription model or as a Software as a Service, or SaaS. For digital agencies, this adds an important layer of convenience and flexibility over a traditional software licensing model. With ERP delivered as SaaS, many of the time-consuming software pitfalls like site-wide upgrades, security issues, and costly user provisioning, are reduced or eliminated altogether. As Pcmag explains, “Traditional ERP applications are stored on your servers, which means you’re responsible for upfront hardware costs, long-term hardware maintenance and expansion, and data backup and recovery. SaaS-based apps are stored on cloud-based servers, which are much less expensive, much quicker to update and scale, and don’t take up any valuable office space”4. By using a multi-tenant SaaS model, your ERP is fully scalable and grows as your agency increases in size, impact, and productivity.

3. Data Utilization

The move to the cloud has also allowed the broad-level use of data to improve ERP functionality. Imagine a customer relationship management software that is capable of building sophisticated models of your highest performing customer demographics and then integrate this information across your agency’s business operations. Or perhaps you’d like to base a proposed HR investment in business development on analytics that relate BD employee performance with overall profit figures. These are only a few of the applications that become possible with a robust ERP solution that integrates powerful data sources for a competitive advantage.

Such possibilities based on the integration of data in ERP solutions will only continue to expand. As TriCore Solutions CEO Mark Clayman noted, “Having powerful, cloud-based platforms allows companies to use predictive analytics and analyze business operations more closely.” He continues, “Companies are just now skimming the surface of what’s possible when aggregating data from outside their company—pooling information from suppliers, for example—to make real-time operational adjustments”5.The best advice for marketing and ad agencies: start utilizing data in your ERP solution today.

4. More tiered services

As digital agencies grow, some will adopt multi-tiered business structures. If your agency does not already have an HQ and subsidiaries, the prospect may be just around the corner, or it may remain for some time a distant goal. Traditionally, ERPs have not addressed these tiered structures directly; ERP functionality was generally the same regardless of which business hierarchy was using it. Over the years, though, many have asked how an effective ERP solution could better support such a tiered business structure. Thankfully, ERP systems have begun to fully support such tiered structures, for instance, by offering specific services to the top-tier headquarters and others as designated for the operation of subsidiaries6. Regardless of the size of your agency, you’ll want to seriously consider the benefits of future-proofing your operation by choosing an ERP solution that supports tiered services.

5. Security

Alongside the increased dependency on cloud-based connected ERP solutions, the need for intelligent and reliable security has grown exponentially. Importantly, the shift toward cloud-based ERP solutions has occurred alongside a sharp increase in security threats across the board, creating a potentially alarming demand for security as an integral component of an effective ERP solution. Cyber attacks, in general, cause immense irreparable damage. Estimates have put the total global cost of cybercrime at roughly $6 trillion by the end of 20217. A trend that will be increasingly important for agencies is the prevention of such cyber attacks, especially where an ERP system is involved.

6. Artificial Intelligence (AI)

AI has been a driving force of the rapid transformation of technologies across industries, and the ERP landscape is not exempt from these changes. Broadly speaking, AI is a field of computer science that is concerned with the modeling of human cognitive processes for use in any and all computational applications. The implications for ERP systems are innumerable, in that virtually every ERP component can utilize AI for performance enhancements and improvements in integration and productivity.

Take, for instance, the use of AI for improving customer relationship management. According to a noteworthy CIO article, “An AI-enabled ERP solution for customer service integrates the customer interaction with the work order management process. The AI solution understands and learns from historical inspection reports and work orders.” The article explains further, “Depending on the nature of the customer inquiry, it gives a proposed answer to the service agent. The AI solution assists with the planning and scheduling of the work by finding the earliest possible date to dispatch a service technician,” which is possible because the AI agent knows the required skill set and availability of the required parts.

7. Mobile device support

For those of us who have used smartphones on a daily basis now for years, it may be somewhat difficult to comprehend why mobile support is considered a new trend for ERP solutions. Why is it that seemingly every other form of computing and communications tech has received a mobile treatment, while ERP mobile support has been scarce to nonexistent? To understand this, one must keep in mind that Enterprise Resource Planning software is, first and foremost, enterprise software. This means that some of the trends found in modern consumer products are applied to a different timeline in the enterprise world. Fortunately, the time for ERP to support mobile devices like smartphones and tablets has now finally arrived.

8. Internet of Things (IoT)

Not unlike artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things has had profound implications for almost every sector of an industry. IoT refers to the proliferation of devices, products, and objects that are connected to the internet. What this means for ERP systems is that your entire infrastructure—including hardware, physical systems, and even employees—can be monitored and tracked. The data produced through this process can then be integrated into the functionality of the ERP system. Want to track how often a workspace is used in your ad agency to help determine future infrastructure plans? A room equipped with sensors and biometric tracking can provide real-time analytics to help with critical resource allocation decisions. Such a scenario represents only the beginning of possibilities that will arise with IoT.

9. Startups

Many of the recent and forthcoming innovations on the ERP landscape’s horizon, as noted above, can be attributed to the dynamism introduced by the increased presence of startups. The push toward cloud-based solutions, for instance, has come to a large extent from smaller ERP startups whose cloud-based features have, in turn, influenced larger vendors to follow suit. This is an example of the phenomenon that occurs when a smaller company is able to use their flexibility to their advantage by fulfilling a unique position in the marketplace.

“The bigger vendors are increasingly trying to be everything to everyone, which creates opportunities for startups to fill unmet needs in specific industries or functions,” Panorama Consulting founder Eric Kimberling has explained. “In other words, they are often able to use their focus to position themselves compared to the larger players uniquely.”[8] Such a situation is doubtless a boon to marketing and ad agencies, who continue to benefit from the kinds of rapid innovation we see regularly from startup disruptors.

10. Empowered users

Enhanced ERP features related to cloud-based services, SaaS systems, data integration, tiered services, security, AI, mobile devices, and IoT all mean that ERP users are more empowered than ever to make smart choices in selecting an ERP solution. With the introduction of new startups to an ERP landscape formerly dominated purely by large-scale vendors, the result is a more rapid turnover of new features and competitive functionality.

An equally valuable shift is the decrease in cost for ERP customers. As Amit Patel, managing director in the enterprise solutions business at Huron, has explained, “ERP vendors are being very aggressive in protecting their core offering and, as a result, pricing models are being updated to ensure they remain competitive9. This means that customers now get not only the best features but also receive comprehensive ERP features at highly competitive prices.

For more information on BORN Group’s service offerings across ERP, please visit here.


[1] http://whatis.techtarget.com/definition/Manufacturing-resource-planning-MRP-II

[2] https://www.forbes.com/forbes/welcome/?toURL=https://www.forbes.com/sites/onmarketing/2014/08/27/how-a-creative-cfo-will-save-advertising/&refURL=&referrer=#2607740412ea

[3] http://searcherp.techtarget.com/feature/The-top-seven-ERP-trends-for-2017-and-beyond

[4] https://www.pcmag.com/article/351807/5-enterprise-resource-planning-erp-trends-to-know-in-2017

[5] http://searcherp.techtarget.com/feature/The-top-seven-ERP-trends-for-2017-and-beyond

[6] http://blogs.ramco.com/10-emerging-trends-erp

[7] https://www.csoonline.com/article/3110467/security/cybercrime-damages-expected-to-cost-the-world-6-trillion-by-2021.html

[8] http://www.enterpriseappstoday.com/erp/7-cloud-erp-startups-to-watch.html

[9] http://searcherp.techtarget.com/feature/The-top-seven-ERP-trends-for-2017-and-beyond

How Structured Archiving Delivers an Enterprise Advantage

How Structured Archiving Delivers an Enterprise Advantage

Imagine a typical business success story: a mid-sized company built from the ground up starts by making an impressive mark on the industry. Over the years, the business improves operations while profits steadily increase. With only a few and relatively minor setbacks, the company flourishes, and business continues to grow. Concurrent with this growth are some important correlated changes. Specifically, in order to account for an expanding roster of clients, more and more database storage is required. And, in an effort to stay current technologically, new enterprise applications are brought on board while others are retired. Finally, discussions of compliance and compatibility with these new information technology components become an important part of infrastructure and development.

Everyone celebrates growth. Businesses need it. And, overall, commerce relies upon it. After all, growth is perhaps the primary goal of any business. What organization wouldn’t welcome an offer of expanded operations, broader market influence, and substantial increases among its market base? With such growth, though, businesses also see a requisite amount of change. Not only the faces of new clients and geographical environments, but shifts in technological platforms and IT infrastructure are expected parts of the success story of every business.

All firms are in the process of constantly acquiring new clients and business partners. And along with this regular accumulation of data, the question arises: where to put it for long-term storage? What happens to important archival documents when a company needs to significantly upgrade their IT infrastructure? One cannot simply discard such data—even from clients the company no longer works with. What happens, for instance, when such information is needed for litigation or an audit?

This is where structured archiving comes in. Structured archiving refers to the ability to store and catalog application data in secondary databases or standalone files for long-term retention, often by using less costly storage [1]. Such enterprise-level archival processes have a number of specific applications and related benefits that this blog post will explore in-depth. Taken together, these applications account for some of the various reasons for the increased import structured archiving has had for businesses across the board via management of data growth, application decommissioning, and compliance with enterprise IT infrastructure and legal.

Data Growth Management

Increases in data are a common part of the development of every business. Sales data, customer records, employee and HR information, client contracts, patents, project data, data from Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems, and analytics are just a few of the many points of information that are crucial to businesses today. As the sheer volume of data increases, some have suggested an updated framework for conceiving of the element that many consider to be the bedrock of modern commerce.

This framework is known, of course, as big data. Big data refers to extremely large sets of data that can be used to provide predictive behavioral analysis and other kinds of analytics and metrics. The regular use of such large volumes of data has become increasingly important to businesses. Big data can improve internal communications, customer relations and experiences while providing better overall market intelligence[2]. And the reliance upon big data will only increase. As Forbes recently noted, “It doesn’t matter what field you operate in or the size of your business; as data collection, analysis, and interpretation become more readily accessible, they will have an impact on every business in several important ways”[3]. Big data will only become a bigger part of businesses everywhere.

How, then, does one approach archiving such extensive sets of data as a business matures? What happens when a business needs to store different kinds of data, for instance, or structured data versus document-centric records? Thankfully, there are different archival approaches suited for different purposes. The first, and perhaps most relevant archiving method, is known as full schema archiving. Full schema archiving takes the complex relational database format of structured data and transforms it to a structure that fits with the archival system to be used[4]. This means that the data remains “searchable” using existing business queries, which may deliver either structured or unstructured records. An important part of this archival method is the archiving of the actual meaning of the data—just how is the data structured?—not just the data itself.[5]

With table or partial schema archiving, only a specific table or part of the full database is used. Partial schema archiving can be a result of partitioning, which limits the size of what would otherwise be an inflated database with unnecessary or redundant entries. The example Paragon gives: “In supply chain manufacturing you might have an instrument calibration and maintenance system—Maximo, ProCal and other type systems. Perhaps the record is defined in terms of plant floor equipment and work orders that can be extracted from the whole and defined in a partial schema or cut of the database whole[6].” As long as the records and the data models are well-defined, this partial schema method here will suffice.

The last archiving method we’ll look at here is print streaming or report-based archiving. This technique works by archiving only the kinds of reports that are run mostly typically by a business. These can be common reports run by managers or technical queries for audits or litigation purposes.[7] A benefit of this archival approach is its potentially drastic reduction in the resulting storage size. Reducing a large database down, on the one hand, to its essential and/or commonly used elements can dramatically shrink an otherwise unwieldy dataset. On the other hand, though, this archival technique can leave a substantial amount of data out of the mix, as often critical data consists of entries not typically if ever queried in the past. As always, such techniques must be considered alongside a cost savings and benefits analysis to determine which is right for a specific business and a given application.

Application Decommissioning

During the lifespan of nearly every business, there will arise the need to retire certain applications as programs are superseded by comprehensive upgrades and other important changes to the IT environment.This process, known as application decommissioning, is a notable part of the structured archiving process. An example would be when a company adopts a new Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution. Typically, with such an upgrade the older system would be completely replaced. However, there remains a storehouse of important data accumulated through the legacy ERP system.[8] Application decommissioning deals with how this data is preserved. And the process has important consequences on the life and integrity of business data, hence it is crucial for the overall goals of a business.

There are an important set of questions that any business should ask itself when considering the process of decommissioning one or more legacy applications. The first of course is: precisely which applications should be retired and which should remain in operation?[9] The answer to this question involves a number of variables and can often appear as points of controversy for companies that have invested years of time and energy learning an IT platform. At the end of the day, though, a cost-benefit analysis can resolve the set of reservations concerning the prospect of any specific piece of legacy software. Such an analysis will reveal specifically how much will be gained by implementing the new system versus the losses of having to retire the current application or environment.

 Another important consideration regarding application decommissioning is preservation of the actual data accumulated through the usage of the application in question. For many platforms, not all of the data created will need to be stored. For instance, many applications, in addition to actual document data and database entries, will create preference documents along with various technical log files and operating system records. These data, for the most part, do not need to be stored. Most businesses will want to separate out the intentionally created documents—especially those deemed important data sources—from the more trivial data during the process of archiving. This way, once the legacy system is replaced by a newer version, the business will still have access to the legacy system’s most pertinent data.

Structured archiving can offer a measured solution to many of the problems that arise during application decommissioning. Of course, some of the problems may require intuitive responses if a full plan of action has not been drafted in advance. For instance, permissions for the archived data will need to be sorted out, along with the duration of the data storage. Additionally, a business may need to consider the way specific queries appear when accessing data from legacy applications. Thankfully, the majority of these issues can be decided before the application decommissioning process. By carefully considering these and other issues ahead of time, the structured archiving process will be a smooth and productive one with lasting impact.

Compliance with Enterprise IT Infrastructure and Legal

This last section will cover some of the issues that arise pertaining to compatibility with IT infrastructure and structured archiving along with compliance with emerging legal requirements. There are several reasons to be concerned with compliance and compatibility in this context. In fact, IT infrastructure compatibility arises as both a reason to retire legacy applications and emerges as an important consequence once such changes are put into place. In addition to software compatibility issues, similar problems arise from changes, for instance, in legislation that affects the IT industry. In any structured archival process, therefore, these issues will inevitably play a key role in an effective solution.

Take a common example of IT infrastructure compatibility: a new Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system is implemented. As a result of this change, many existing CRM documents will no longer be read by the new system. Therefore, a comprehensive structured archival process must be initiated in order to account for this data. This is, indeed, another way of thinking about decommissioning legacy applications. However, in this instance, we’re considering the consequences of an upgrade as requiring structured archiving due to compatibility problems instead of a broader plan to phase out legacy applications. Either way one views it, the process should include an archival approach that accounts for the best value in terms of the data will need to be chosen.

Regulatory compliance is an area that relates closely to the problem of infrastructure compatibility. Indeed, concerns about compliance are only due to increase as more applications are added to an IT infrastructure, but also relate to shifts in legal structures and cultural norms. As Jeroen van Rotterdam writes, “Regulatory compliance requirements are increasing and undergoing rapid change with new legislation,” going on to cite legislation such as the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFID), the “right to be forgotten,” and new legislation around privacy issues.[10] Taken together such changes can result in the same kinds of compatibility issues that arise from software and version problems.

We’ve now seen three different but related contexts in which structured archiving plays a crucial role for businesses today. Whether a company is managing significant data growth, decommissioning legacy applications, or working to maintain compliance with IT infrastructure or legal mandates, knowing and understanding effective approaches to structured archiving is invaluable for every business in operation today.

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Footnotes:

[1]https://www.cmswire.com/cms/information-management/these-trends-are-driving-structured-data-archiving-025614.php

[2]https://www.forbes.com/sites/bernardmarr/2015/09/08/4-ways-big-data-will-change-every-business/#1bbdc7c42729

[3]https://www.forbes.com/sites/bernardmarr/2015/09/08/4-ways-big-data-will-change-every-business/#1bbdc7c42729

[4] http://www.consultparagon.com/blog/data-archiving-structured

[5] http://www.consultparagon.com/blog/enterprise-archiving-advantages

[6] http://www.consultparagon.com/blog/data-archiving-structured

[7] http://www.consultparagon.com/blog/data-archiving-structured

[8] https://www.consultparagon.com/blog/decommissioning-legacy-applications

[9] https://www.consultparagon.com/blog/decommissioning-legacy-applications

[10]https://blog.dellemc.com/en-us/emc-named-leader-structured-data-archiving-magic-quadrant-application-retirement/