How to choose an ERP vendor

future of ERPs in blockchain

Blockchain And The Future of ERP (Part 2)

In my previous article, I discussed how blockchain helps create legally enforceable trust across organizations. By providing a distributed digital signature capability, enterprise blockchains like Hyperledger Fabric give us a strong foundation to build on.

However, this impressive technology is involved and, depending on the use case, could be a perfect fit or overkill. FIDO devices that are being adopted for user authentication can also be used to digitally sign business transactions, providing a low-cost and easy-to-deploy alternative. Let’s explore in more detail how such solutions might look.

Business View

Let’s consider a large company that’s conducting business electronically with a smaller vendor. The company, let’s call it ABC, is designated as a “holder of records” for mutually signed digital transactions. Based on the nature of the business, the risk of company ABC deleting the records and claiming that no agreement was ever reached is considered immaterial, but both companies want to ensure that the details of the agreed-upon transactions cannot be disputed.

Technical View

First, a quick background on FIDO. The goal of FIDO is to eliminate passwords by introducing new authentication technology based on biometrics and/or special hardware tokens. It may come as a surprise that most of us already have FIDO-enabled devices. Every Android 7.0+ or iOS 13.3 phone, Windows 10 or Mac OS computer is a FIDO-enabled device. Most FIDO hardware tokens cost less than $50. The Chrome, Edge, Firefox, and Safari browsers already have built-in support for FIDO through WebAuthn standard. As such, it’s easy for software vendors to add support for FIDO devices, and it’s a low-cost option for organizations to enable their users to use FIDO devices.

While there is a lot of information online about FIDO as an authentication technology, we are going to focus on a less-known capability of FIDO devices to digitally sign any information we want — in our case, business transactions.
FIDO devices can generate a virtually unlimited number of private/public key pairs that can be used for various purposes. Private keys never leave the FIDO device, and public keys are shared with the target application (e.g., an ERP system). A typical authentication use case involves an application sending a user browser a random string (challenge), asking a user to sign it using the private key within a FIDO device. The application can then verify the signature by using the public key stored for that user. If the signature is valid, it proves that a user is in a possession of the originally registered FIDO device and, in the case of biometric-based devices, the FIDO device successfully verified biometrics (e.g., fingerprints on a phone).

However, we can easily modify the above flow and replace a random challenge with the data we want to digitally sign from our business transaction. More specifically, we can follow the same overall approach as used in blockchain ledgers: Combine all the business data we need to sign using JSON, XML or any other format. Generate a hash of that business data, and then send that hash to a FIDO device to be digitally signed. We can then store our business data along with a hash and its digital signature, thus creating our own digital ledger.

Almost done, but it’s important not to lose track of our final objective: creating trust by making transactions legally enforceable. We can now verify that the transaction was signed by a user with a given FIDO device, but if the dispute goes to court, then we need to undeniably tie it to the organization that a user belongs to (i.e., prove that the company agreed to both this user and this particular FIDO device being used for signing transactions on behalf of the company).

This can be done by creating a file with a user public key and a statement authorizing the user to use it on behalf of his company. After being signed with a corporate certificate the file can be uploaded into an ERP system to prove that a public key is tied to the user’s company. This is a one-time registration process that each user has to go through.

Let’s review how the process would look from an end-user perspective:

One-Time Registration

• A user representing a vendor is set up in company ABC’s ERP system with FIDO authentication. To make it more specific, let’s say a user is using a Windows 10 laptop with facial recognition.

• The system generates a file (could be a PDF, CSR, etc.) that includes the user’s public key.

• A user signs the file with their company (vendor) certificate. This can be done in more than one way. For example, a user may already have a company-issued certificate and use Adobe UI to sign a PDF file. Alternatively, a user may forward the file to the legal or the IT team for a signature.

• A user uploads a signed file into the ERP.

Day-To-Day Use

• A user logs in into the ERP, picks a transaction and clicks on the “sign” or “approve” button.

• Windows 10 confirms the user’s identity through facial recognition and digitally signs a transaction.

• Company ABC’s ERP stores a transaction with a digital signature.

Dispute perspective

In case of a legal dispute, company ABC, as an agreed holder of records, has to produce a transaction along with both parties’ digital signatures. A transaction is digitally tied to a user with a given FIDO key, and that the FIDO key is digitally tied to the vendor’s corporate certificate, thus creating a digital chain directly from the business transaction to the vendor company.

Summary

We’ve already seen software vendors (Oracle and Amazon, for example) expand their solutions to offer new blockchain-like alternatives with the aim of building trust for stored data. However, any lightweight alternative to blockchain sacrifices on some aspects of trust. It’s important to fully understand the level of trust required in a given business scenario and then pick a technology that does it in the most economical way.

Source: Dmitri Tyles


Data V Tech is proud to be one of the leading ERP vendors in the Asia Pacific. We have implemented Epicor ERP for many businesses in manufacturingdistribution, and retail in Vietnam and China. For direct consultation, please feel free to contact us.

blockchain and future ERP

Blockchain And The Future Of ERPs (Part 1)

Let’s start by asking ourselves a basic question: How has the ERP industry been making money since inception? The high-level answer is obvious: by selling solutions for automating business processes within an enterprise. The word “within” is critical. Whether it’s front- or back-office functions, it’s still all about internal business processes. However, most businesses operate within an ecosystem of partners and vendors. With the economy becoming more and more integrated, the need for cross-company collaboration only grows. But how many ERPs today offer a comprehensive set of “out of the box” solutions for automating external business processes? None.

How did we end up with a very mature industry for automating internal processes and a very immature industry for automating external business processes? Why is it that the capability to approve an invoice within the AP department was offered by most ERPs years ago, but if a vendor needs to approve your invoice, it’s likely done via a semi-manual process outside of an ERP even today? What is that invisible barrier that separates often rather similar business processes inside and outside of the enterprise?

It’s All About Trust

Let’s consider a scenario where an ERP used by company ABC offers secure screens specifically designed to make business arrangements with its vendors (deliver or buy goods, approve invoices, etc.). This is not an unrealistic scenario if company ABC is big and has a lot of pull over vendors in its ecosystem. Can’t we then automate business processes between company ABC and its vendors in the exact same manner as if we are dealing with internal automation? It’s not that simple.

Let’s say an agreement was reached through the above solution but later two companies are involved in a lawsuit. Can company ABC use records from its own ERP database to prove specifics of the contract? Probably not, as anybody knows that company ABC can easily manufacture any transactions in its own system (i.e., the above solution is not legally enforceable and has limited business value). The lack of trust between businesses is that barrier that was holding external automation back for so many years. To cross this barrier, we need to make records in an ERP legally enforceable for all collaborating parties.

What About Digital Signatures?

Digital signatures have been around for years and are accepted by courts in most countries. It seems like a great technology for creating legally enforceable transactions. However, it’s rare to see this capability built into an ERP. There are a few reasons for that.

The first challenge is the need to procure and store private/public keys (effectively SSL/TLS certificates) for each user. If a third-party vendor is used, then we run into the cost, privacy, usability and scalability concerns. Existing software used for digital signing is generally built around documents (i.e., real legal paperwork), but this paradigm doesn’t necessarily scale well or provide the necessary user experience if we need to sign transactions in an ERP.

Is there a light at the end of the tunnel? I believe there is, and it comes from what, on the surface, looks like an unrelated technology — FIDO (fast ID online) or Web Authentication standard. While the primary purpose of FIDO is to solve the authentication scenario by digitally signing a random string sent by a server, FIDO devices can also be used to digitally sign any business transaction. Imagine a vendor digitally signing any cross-company ERP transaction using facial recognition or a fingerprint scanner on a phone without the complexity or inconvenience of a third-party solution.

Why Blockchain?

If digital signatures combined with FIDO authentication devices are so great, then why do we need to talk about blockchain? It all comes down to one simple scenario: While a digitally signed transaction can’t be altered without detection, it can still be deleted without a trace.

In other words, regardless of how unbreakable the digital signature is, if it’s only stored in one place that’s owned by an interested party, we still can’t achieve legally enforceable trust. This is exactly where blockchain comes in, since it is essentially a distributed digital signature. In case of enterprise blockchains, such as an open-source Hyperledger project, each participant in the blockchain has their own node and stores their own copy of all signed transactions, protecting themselves from a scenario in which company ABC may decide to delete its own entry.

Incorporating blockchain technology into ERP products while allowing partners in the business ecosystem to store their own copies of digitally signed transactions in an economical way would be a transformational step for the ERP industry. It would open the door for ERP systems to no longer be internally bound but instead focus on and automate the entire end-to-end business processes.

We see this trend starting already with large companies (e.g., in the supply chain sector) initiating projects to create blockchain-based solutions and include smaller companies within their ecosystems. However, few organizations can afford such projects. While major cloud providers are already offering blockchain as a service, it’s a PaaS-type offering. This means you get blockchain nodes deployed for you (which certainly helps), but all the business rules (smart contracts), flows and interactions need to be designed per the needs of a specific project. Not only that, but the company driving the project needs to get buy-in from its partners to participate in the blockchain and maybe pay for their nodes.

We can think back to the days when ERPs were not widely adopted and companies typically had their own homegrown solutions for HR, billing, payroll and other workplace functions. This is where the blockchain technology is today, with larger enterprises seeing so much value in automating external business processes that they are willing to invest in and create their own unique homegrown solutions. But what we really need is for ERP vendors to step up, think through most typical business flows and deliver those blockchain-based solutions as SaaS offerings with all the smart contracts and flows provided as part of an ERP.

Source: Dmitri Tyles


Data V Tech is proud to be one of the leading ERP vendors in the Asia Pacific. We have implemented Epicor ERP for many businesses in manufacturingdistribution, and retail in Vietnam and China. For direct consultation, please feel free to contact us.

signs to replace ERP software systems to enhance manufacturing

5 telltale signs it’s time to replace your ERP system

New software, systems enhance responsiveness, save time for stampers and other manufacturers

Most stamping manufacturers have integrated an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system of some sort over the last decade. Most likely it ushered in operating system improvements and efficiencies not experienced before. However, modern technology improvements—especially Industry 4.0—may have made those legacy ERP systems obsolete.

Now it’s easier than ever for manufacturers to update their systems using the features of Industry 4.0 so they don’t have to rely on outdated ones. Today’s ERP software harnesses data so that manufacturers can make better decisions, faster.

Here are five signs that your ERP system is outdated.

1. Lack of Real-time Data

Speed to market and critical decision-making during the production process are competitive advantages. That means every minute counts. Time is money, and digging through data is tedious and time-consuming.

That critical time is wasted when staff on the production floor and in the front office have to wait for reports to be generated to make their next moves. Modern manufacturing ERP software offers individual users access to the reports they need at the click of a mouse from their own dashboards.

Cloud access and mobility features are also important for those in the field, whether for the sales team, remote employees, or technicians serving a client. Having up-to-date business intelligence about inventory levels, sales orders, and where things are in the production cycle is critical.

Your ERP system should allow access at the touch of a button and on any mobile device to these and other types of information to help you make better decisions, capture more sales, and satisfy customers.

2. Too Complex for Users

Is everyone across your organization comfortable using your ERP software? Do they use it at all? Or are you finding more and more employees using workarounds to accomplish tasks that your ERP system should be capable of handling?

You also may find yourself hiring software programmers to write new capabilities into your ERP software. Inevitably, such efforts will likely make it, even more, complex—depressing user adoption instead of enhancing it.

Lack of employee buy-in and chronic complaints about how challenging a system is and how much time it takes to enter and extract data are telltale signs of an ineffective ERP system.

ERP software today is equipped with intuitive interfaces, making them easy to catch on to and use. For example, role-based configured dashboards turn data into usable information without tapping into IT capacity. Automated work instructions address workforce succession. Merging machine data and financial performance can pinpoint where true profitability is or is not occurring. ERP software includes customizable reporting tools. Its anywhere-accessibility supports quick responsiveness, and that equates to time savings and better customer service.

In addition, reputable ERP system providers will include training as part of their ERP implementation and provide support to encourage user adoption. Be sure to take advantage of it.

3. Reliance on Multiple Platforms

One of the biggest benefits of current ERP software is its ability to minimize duplicate data and duplicate work. A major goal of any ERP system is to create efficiencies and make sure everyone is on the same page and working together as a team toward the same goals. When individuals and departments use multiple systems or add-on tools that are not integrated into your ERP system, that is a recipe for miscommunication.

If you are using nonintegrated systems or a separate customer relationship management (CRM) tool, you’re likely missing productivity and profitability opportunities.

Modern ERP systems unite various departments with a single technology system rather than separating them into silos with their different management tools. But that doesn’t mean you need to abandon systems that are working for you. If you like, for example, the simplicity of QuickBooks®, newer ERP technologies can integrate seamlessly with many existing platforms and do not have to be complex and difficult. Workflow automation in these new systems has pushed complex routines behind the scenes, allowing users to analyze data; make decisions fast; and avoid lengthy, frustrating keystrokes.

4. Still Performing Manual Processes

In an age when reliance on computers and online connectivity has become a part of our daily lives and imperative for business success, it’s unnecessary for manufacturers to still rely on manual business processes.

Your finance department may run manual end-of-the-month reconciliation reports. The sales department may send orders through interoffice mail. Engineers might route papers for approvals with no way of tracking where they are in the approval process or whose desk they’re sitting on.

ERP technology is intended to automate labor-intensive processes and keep workflows running smoothly. When your ERP fails to achieve these most basic functions, it’s time to look at an upgraded system.

5. Lack of Support

As legacy systems age, they often require more calls to the software vendor’s customer support center or help desk. To resolve problems, technicians often need to perform upgrades or maintenance.

Eventually, however, the computing power of legacy systems simply cannot keep up with the mountain of data that is generated in today’s business climate.

This can lead to slower performance, increased downtime, and susceptibility to security breaches or cyberattacks. Some ERP software applications may even become obsolete or no longer be supported.

A lack of available support isn’t a problem just with legacy ERP systems; it’s also critical to ensure that your new ERP system has people who will be there to stand behind it. Choosing the right ERP vendor is just as important as choosing the right software. The vendor can help you through each phase, including discovery, selection, implementation, customization, user training, and ongoing support.

Source: Mark Stevens


Data V Tech is proud to be one of the leading ERP vendors in the Asia Pacific. We have implemented Epicor ERP for many businesses in manufacturingdistribution, and retail in Vietnam and China. For direct consultation, please feel free to contact us.

cloud erp mistakes

Rootstock: 10 mistakes to avoid with Cloud ERP

Cloud supply chain and manufacturing Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution provider, Rootstock Software, identifies ten common challenges to overcome to ensure a quick solution rollout for your organization.

Mistake 1: Not knowing why you need cloud ERP

Don’t just gather requirements for moving business as usual into the cloud. Take the time to think and talk about what you want your operation to look like after implementation.

Mistake 2: Letting your expectations get out of hand

Be patient. If you choose the right solution and implement it in a deliberate, strategic fashion, you should expect meaningful results. For example, Matouk, a high-end, custom linen manufacturer, implemented Rootstock Cloud ERP and Salesforce CRM. In six months, they achieved an ROI of 223%.

Mistake 3: Moving ahead without a committed executive sponsor

ERP will be the central system of record that impacts your end-to-end business processes, so getting cross-functional involvement is critical. The ideal sponsor is a CTO or a senior operations executive with technical expertise. But whoever takes on this task must be committed, engaged, vocal, and visible.

Mistake 4: Ignoring the change management imperative

Accounting for the human factor is paramount. Be honest with the change management involved because some won’t like change and others will embrace it. Be prepared and empathetic but be clear that this is happening.

Mistake 5: Not having enough (or the right) people assigned to the implementation project 

You’ll need a seasoned project manager to guide this implementation. Someone who knows how to define the new business processes you’ll want to enable with your new ERP solution, and the cloud platform you’re migrating to, is critical.

Mistake 6: Ignoring maintenance requirements 

Maintenance is no longer a dirty word with the cloud. It’s prudent to make someone responsible for ensuring that your system is always running well, progressing in capability, and is functionally up to date.

Mistake 7: Limiting your vendor evaluations to the usual suspects 

Competition has also created more vendors focused on the needs of specific manufacturing verticals. Consider both large and small ERP vendors that have real experience in your chosen industry.

Mistake 8: Implementing everything at once

Break your implementation into small steps, consistently seek user input on requirements, test the system, solicit feedback on results, and adjust as needed.

Mistake 9: Automating what you do rather than thinking about what’s possible 

Keep an open mind. Native cloud ERP brings many benefits: scalability, a platform that offers plug and plays customization, mobility enablement, the agility to simultaneously support multiple manufacturing modes, and so much more.

Mistake 10: Keeping things quiet

The best way to keep an implementation moving forward in a positive manner is with clear, open, and frequent communication.

Source: Daniel Brightmore