The Attivo Blog

Aug 10 2009

When to Use Standard Costing

Standard Costing has long been used in manufacturing and some distribution environments as a control for measuring variations from expected results.  Everyone has expected results of some kind...purchase price of materials, amount of labor required for assembly, amount it will cost for outside processing, etc.  So shouldn't everyone use Standard Cost? 

After having developed and implemented dozens of cost systems for clients over the last 30 years, I've learned that the answer is "it depends" -
on two issues. 

First, are you a make to stock widget manufacturer, making the same things in the same way over and over? Or are you more of a job shop, make to order type of company? 

Secondly, do you have the resources on staff that can manage standard costs in a timely manner, before any transactions happen?
Make to stock environments make sense for standards since most things are made over and over again, and are supposed to use the same effort and have the same input costs.  If they don't, management should know about it promptly to get things back on track. That's the role of standard cost variance reporting.

Make to order businesses rarely produce something in the same manner, since each job differs based on the customer's quote.  In this case, it is important to understand the actual cost of a job once completed (or during the process) as compared to how the job was quoted.  Usually not a lot can be done about the actual cost incurred, but a lot should be learned about improving the quoting process from the comparison of actual cost versus quoted cost.


Enterprise software that controls the accounting, inventory, procurement, fulfillment and manufacturing process (referred to ERP systems), provide a choice of cost methods to use.  Mid-market systems such as Macola ES and Microsoft Dynamics GP (Great Plains) not only give you a choice of which inventory valuation method to use, but if you choose standard costing, you also get visibility into weighted average and last cost as well.  Unfortunately, unless you are using a much more expensive software solution, you can't pick and choose costing methods at the item level.  Once chosen, it applies to all inventory for the whole company,

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Jul 08 2009

Customer Service - Please be Reasonable!

I recently took a day trip to Block Island, Rhode Island with my family during some much needed vacation time.  What a gorgeous and peaceful place!  After a long day of sightseeing and geocaching via bicycle, it was time for some rest on one of the beautiful beaches there.  Not having more than a towel or two with us, I was delighted to see that they had beach chairs for rent there.  The price was $10 per day per chair for rental (the kind that you can buy at Costco for $12.95).  I was informed by the attendant that they would be closing in 45 minutes.  "No problem, that's all we need them for.  How much for two chairs until closing?" I asked. "That will be $25 please, which includes a $5 deposit", she said. "You're joking, right?  You're not really going to charge me the full day rate for less than an hour?" I asked. "I'm sorry, sir.  That's our policy", she replied. "Are you the manager here?" I politely asked, to which she replied "Yes". "You must be able to do better than that", I pleaded.  "I really feel like I'm being ripped off." "I'm sorry sir, no exceptions" she said (plus a whole long explanation story which I completely tuned out). At the conclusion of our little exchange, almost like it was staged, a guy walked up with his family to return two chairs.  While still standing with the rental manager, I sensed opportunity and quickly explained my plight.  He gladly offered the chairs to me, and I offered to split the cost with him, which he refused.  Five minutes later, I was sound asleep for a much needed half hour nap. Time was up.  No problem...it was time for dinner anyway.  I then returned the chairs and collected a $5 deposit (courtesy of my earlier friend) from my inconsiderate attendant/manager, along with a no-charge dirty look.  In case you haven't been following, the score is attendant zero, Len $5 ahead. For all of you loyal Attivo Group customers out there, if we ever have a policy in place that doesn't make sense, please notify me at once so we can fix it immediately.  Customers should never feel like they're getting ripped off.  Also, please review your own customer policies on a regular basis, and solicit feedback from your customers on how to improve your products or services.  You just might wind up with more business, not to mention a whole lot of goodwill.

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Jun 12 2009

SQL Server Made Easy - Finding Specific DATA in a database

Looking for something?  Let's say you're looking for a specific data value in a database, but you don't know which table or data elements contain the value.  The SQL procedure below will scan all character string data elements in the database for the specified value.    I. Create the procedure in the required database.  SQL Script below: CREATE PROC SearchAllTables  (@Search char(100) ) AS BEGIN                    CREATE TABLE #Results (ColumnName nvarchar(370), ColumnValue char(3630))                   SET NOCOUNT ON DECLARE @Table char(256), @Column char(128), @XSearch char(110)                   SET  @Table = ''                   SET @XSearch = QUOTENAME('%' + @Search + '%','''')                   WHILE @Table IS NOT NULL                   BEGIN                              SET @Column = ''                              SET @Table =                              (SELECT MIN(QUOTENAME(TABLE_SCHEMA) + '.' +                              QUOTENAME(TABLE_NAME))                              FROM  INFORMATION_SCHEMA.TABLES                              WHERE TABLE_TYPE = 'BASE TABLE'                              AND QUOTENAME(TABLE_SCHEMA) + '.' +                              QUOTENAME(TABLE_NAME) > @Table                              AND OBJECTPROPERTY(OBJECT_ID                              (QUOTENAME(TABLE_SCHEMA) + '.' +  QUOTENAME (TABLE_NAME)), 'IsMSShipped') = 0)                 WHILE (@Table IS NOT NULL) AND (@Column IS NOT NULL)                 BEGIN                             SET @Column =                            (SELECT MIN(QUOTENAME(COLUMN_NAME))                            FROM  INFORMATION_SCHEMA.COLUMNS                            WHERE TABLE_SCHEMA= PARSENAME(@Table, 2)                            AND TABLE_NAME = PARSENAME(@Table, 1)                            AND DATA_TYPE IN ('char', 'varchar', 'nchar', 'nvarchar')                            AND QUOTENAME(COLUMN_NAME) > @Column)                            IF @Column IS NOT NULL                            BEGIN                                        INSERT INTO #Results                                        EXEC ('SELECT ''' + @Table+ '.' + @Column + ''',                                                    LEFT(' + @Column + ', 3630)                                                    FROM ' + @Table+ ' (NOLOCK) ' +                                                    ' WHERE ' + @Column + ' LIKE ' + @XSearch)                                                   END                                       END                            END             SELECT ColumnName, ColumnValue FROM #Results END   II. To search all columns of all tables in database for the keyword "Computer" EXEC SearchAllTables 'value' This may be a long running process.  The amount of time to execute is dependent on the size of the database you are scanning.

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Jun 07 2009

SQL Server Made Easy - Search for data elements or columns

Ever need to find all the places where a data element might appear in a database?  You might need to make a change to the format of the column, or you just need to know where it is used in order to make a global update.  This can be very time consuming if you try to do it the hard way.  Here's a few easy to use scripts for you to run instead, using Macola Progression SQL and Macola ES (ERP systems) databases as  examples: I. Macola Progression SQL database: a. Example: Find all tables in the data base that contain the data element "Prod_Cat" select  TABLE_CATALOG, TABLE_NAME, COLUMN_NAME from dbname.information_schema.columns where column_name = 'prod_cat' order by table_name b. Example: Find all tables in the data base that contain a data element with the value of "Prod" somewhere in the element name. select  TABLE_CATALOG, TABLE_NAME, COLUMN_NAME from dbname.information_schema.columns where column_name like '%prod %' order by table_name II. Macola ES Data base a. Example: Find columns with a specific name select  TABLE_CATALOG, TABLE_NAME, COLUMN_NAME from information_schema.columns where column_name = 'prod_cat' order by table_name b. Example: Find all tables in the data base that contain a data element with the value of "Prod" somewhere in the element name. select  TABLE_CATALOG, TABLE_NAME, COLUMN_NAME, DATA_TYPE, CHARACTER_MAXIMUM_LENGTH, IS_NULLABLE,COLUMN_DEFAULT from information_schema.columns where column_name like '%prod%' order by table_name c. Example: Find columns from a specific table select  TABLE_CATALOG, TABLE_NAME, COLUMN_NAME from information_schema.columns where table_name = 'cicmpy' order by table_name

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May 27 2009

Economic Downturn Forcing More ISO 9001 Certifications?

The economic downturn is causing many large manufacturers, particularly in the aerospace industry; to look for ways to streamline their approved suppliers list (ASL). In addition to looking for cost reductions from their vendors, companies are looking for ways to reduce their own overhead costs associated with doing supplier audits and site surveys and vendor qualifications. One of the expected benefits for companies to get certified should rightly be that their customers and/or prospects can spend less time auditing or qualifying them as a supplier when already ISO 9001 certified. Several larger aerospace customers are not only making their tier 1 suppliers be certified to the ISO standards, but in fact requiring or at least preferring companies that meet the more comprehensive AS 9100 requirements (ISO 9001 with aerospace-specific requirements added). So unfortunately, for some smaller companies supplying their aerospace customers; they are facing the expense to implement an ISO 9001-based quality management system at the very same time that severe revenue reductions, cut-backs in personnel and capital acquisitions are the norm. It may be counter-intuitive to these times, but survival for some may just come by making the investment in corporate infrastructure, which includes a corporate culture for reviewing and streamling processes to be "customer-optimized" best practices. When you've made that commitment in expense and effort, then by all means...you should reap the rewards which may include keeping your customer's auditors "out of your hair." An ISO certification can provide this additional benefit. By: Claude Cormane - "ISOMan"

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May 12 2009

Windows 7: The "productive, reliable" child of Vista and XP.

Today is Tuesday, May 12th. This officially makes it 1 week since I installed Microsoft Windows 7 Release Candidate 1 on my 3 year old Dell XPS laptop; and as I glance over at the screen, I still see the little betta fish ("beta fish!") swimming in the blue desktop. That's right, I haven't even considered going back to XP or Vista. Not this time. Not ever. I have a little experience with beta testing windows.  A few years ago, I was one of the early trial users of the new Vista operating system: then known as Longhorn. Quite a while before that, I was one of the first to try out a vastly new operating system upgrade to Windows 98 to be named Windows 2000. I would compare the changes Windows 7 brings to that first change to Windows 2000 and not the debacle that was Vista. RELIABILITY When I look back to my first experience with Windows 2000, I remember being struck by how astonishingly stable it was.  In hindsight, this was due to it being built upon the same architecture of a Windows NT server as opposed to the old MSDOS structure.  A welcome change to the all-too-common blue screen of death in those early Windows 95/98 days. Windows 7 RC1 has had just 1 application crash on me in the past week. (On day 1 it apparently didn't like my choice to install FireFox as the default browser: a second try accomplished the task.)  This may not sound so impressive, but you really need to see the new ways that Windows 7 handles basic tasks to appreciate the additional thought and design that must have gone into the new interface. Every tool, every icon, even Windows Explorer has been redesigned...not just aesthetically, but also functionally. Yes, Windows Search is still built into the start menu like in Windows Vista, but it now works all the time and is an invaluable file and application management tool. USABILITY Back when I beta tested Windows 2000, I was just an average Desktop OS user with little server experience.  Still, the user interface made the new tools and functions very simple to understand.  Disk Defragmenter, for example, was no longer the only useful item found in System Tools, but instead was located in a brand new folder called "Administrator Tools," side by side with a host of other useful goodies. Windows 7 is alot like that, but on a much grander scale.  The Windows 7 interface is remarkably intuitive when paired with our existing experiences with Windows operating systems. Back when we were introduced to Windows Vista, we were told again and again how "cool" Windows Aero would be.  Then, once I had Vista, I had to do some extensive research to learn that Windows Aero was simply a glorified Alt-Tab. A great example of an easier introduction to new Windows 7 technology is that one can learn about what a button or tool does by simply hovering the mouse over the taskbar icon.  In Windows XP and Vista you would see a little tooltip caption that would explain the window to be restored. Windows 7 has gone visual.  Now you see a thumbnail representation of the window to be restored. If that window has multiple tabs - as is now the rage in web browsers - you see a separate thumbnail for every tab within the minimized window. Then the correct tab is just a single click away - on the thumbnail - at any given moment.  PRODUCTIVITY Windows 7 is entirely about Productivity.  In addition to the mouseovers described above, the OS has made open windows easier to navigate by automatically making open windows slightly transparent as you roll your mouse over other open windows.  This reduces the NEED to repeatedly Alt-Tab or resize windows on smaller monitors as you can often see the data you need to recopy right through the window you're currently utilizing. This also works with the new and improved show-desktop tool in the tray. Mouseover that tool, and you can quickly open a new application from your desktop without minimizing a single window. MAINTAINABILITY My number one problem with Vista has always been its overbearing security features. While great for the casual employee with a Windows Vista Certified IT department monitoring the needs of the company, the security features severely increase the time it takes the casual user to get up and running with a new computer system.  The constant prompts and administrator logins are a huge pain.  But I was very pleased with Windows 7's new approach in this area. Many of those same security features are now only defaulted in the public domain.  If you are signed in with an Administrator Role, you can continue doing whatever you like unless you choose to increase the security on yourself.  Within just a day I was able to successfully install MS SQL Server 2005 Developer, MS Office 2007, and Exact Synergy Enterprise (using IIS 7.5) without problems.   The only software I have so far been unable to install has been the enterprise version of Trend Micro antivirus that we use here at Attivo, but Windows 7 was even helpful on that problem too. With just one click Windows redirected me to the Trend Micro website for a special Windows 7 supported version of their antivirus software.  Now think back to Windows Vista for a second. Do you remember any kind of help like that when Windows Vista went live? How about during it's BETA? Yeah, I didn't think so.

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Apr 22 2009

Multi-Step Events in Event Manager

We all know that Event Manager is a terrific data-entry slave for businesses. Need Table 1: column A totaled and copied into Table 2:column B?  No problem. Need Table 3: column B tallied and copied into Table 3:column C? Cake. Need Table 1: column A to somehow related all the way across to Table 3: column C? Might be a little messy in SQL, but Event Manager can handle it with relative ease. But sometimes our linking between tables forces Event Manager into the position of needing to separate rows that later we need to be totaled, or vice-versa.  The quick solution to this would be to populate a free-field on each individual row with that total amount; but it's easy to see that so many "writes" are unnecessary and can cause confusion later on.  Instead, it is much more beneficial to split up the single event into 2 or more separate queries. One of The Attivo Group's customers recently needed to implement an Order Acknowledgement that would be automatically distributed when certain criteria were met.  Event Manager satisfied that initial requirement easily with a simple Order Acknowledgement Event provided with the software.  Then the customer recognized that the canned event contained Total Amounts on the order that deducted back-ordered items. While this logic makes sense to many businesses; this customer preferred to include the total amount of all order lines on the acknowledgement.  When initially contacted about this task, I explored the idea of combining the total process into the existing query, but found that I was always forced to convert linked tables from outer joins to inner joins, thereby removing my ability to display multiple rows on the acknowledgement itself.  With that idea shelved, I split my task in two. First I wrote a query to total all the order lines at the line level, and store that total on the order header.

SELECT sum(line.qty_ordered*line.unit_price) AS "total", header.ord_no, header.ID FROM (line LEFT OUTER JOIN header ON line.ord_no = header.ord_no)   GROUP BY header.ord_no, header.ID
Then the triggered event stored the "total" above in a free field at the header level, virtually next to the "incorrect" amount. 
update header set freefieldX={total} where ID={ID}
Finally, I then added an additional filter to my separate Order Acknowledgement query/event that made it ONLY query orders that had a filled in freefieldX.
SELECT line.id, line.ord_no, line.(...),header.freefieldX, header.ord_no, header.(...), etc... FROM (line LEFT OUTER JOIN header ON line.ord_no = header.ord_no)  WHERE header.freefieldX <> 0 AND header.freefieldX is not null, etc...
Notice I did not group the resulting rows together this time, as I no longer needed them to be totaled; this was already done in the previous event!  I then let the second Order Acknowledgement run as designed, with the single exception of replacing the default TOTAL AMOUNT with the amount stored in freefieldX. While this nearly completes the event's multi-step procedure, there's two small steps needed to be absolutely sure that query/event #1 always runs before query/event #2.  First, I make sure the queries/events are on the same schedule in the system.   Then I set the priority of the first event to be higher than the priority of the second event. These steps prevent event #2 from waiting until the next scheduled time before processing - thus allowing event #2 to process immediately after event #1 completes.

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Apr 19 2009

Time for Spring Cleaning at Your Company?

I love my GMC Yukon XL. Easy to drive, roomy, the dog loves it, and pound for pound, not bad on fuel mileage either. I also love my '57 Chevrolet Bel Air - and I hope I can get it put back together some day. Check it out... Len's 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air I'd love to own one of those new 2010 Chevrolet Camaros...might help extend my midlife crisis. And the Cadillac CTS - what a great car! But don't ask me to buy a Chevrolet Cobalt. Not going to happen. If I need a small car (and I do), I will probably buy a Honda Accord or Civic.  Honda really knows how to build a great small car.  They last forever, and rarely break.  Nothing against people who have purchased a Chevrolet Cobalt - but it just isn't the first small car that I would consider buying.  I just know that Honda builds a high quality, fuel efficient small car. What does this have to do with Productivity?  A lot.  I think it is very important to do what you are very good at, and keep getting better at it.  Forget the rest.  Why are we forcing GM to build small, fuel efficient cars?  Can't we let them build the big cars and trucks, and leave the smaller cars to the experienced like Honda, or the new upcomers like Tata Motors in China?  GM actually makes money selling those big cars and trucks, and loses money on the small ones. Consider that we are a global market, and that so much of the components and technology is made right here in the USA anyway.  What I'm suggesting does not mean our auto industry will shrink any.  It just means that Toyota or Tata or Honda might sell more units than GM, since they are making cars for the masses.  But GM can own a very big share of the truck and luxury vehicles market - where they actually know how to make money. So, what is it that your company is really good at?  Got any losers you need to unload?  This is a great time to do just that - a little spring cleaning will improve your bottom line.

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Apr 09 2009

QuickBooks for Manufacturing?

QuickBooks doesn't do manufacturing, does it? Well, kind of. It does have a basic bill of materials, which will consume components and create a parent item. But that's where it stops. Intuit QuickBooks Pro, QuickBooks Premier or QuickBooks Enterprise Suite have never been known as robust manufacturing solutions. Manufacturing Systems Designed to Work with QuickBooks First, I should tell you that our company, The Attivo Group, is an Intuit Solution Provider, and that we sell and support QuickBooks Enterprise Suite.  We also sell and support several tier 2 ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) systems such as Microsoft Dynamics GP and Exact Macola.  These are wonderfully capable systems, but may be more expensive or overly complex for the smaller, $1-10 million manufacturer. The reason I wanted to point this out is to help small manufacturers understand that they should implement good planning and control systems, but they shouldn't overspend to achieve the goal. Fortunately, there are several great software applications that are designed to work with QuickBooks to support manufacturing needs.   Here's the great part - you don't have to disturb your accounting department to implement them!  There might be some small process changes to deal with, but no major overhaul of your entire business.  This is like remodeling the house without ripping out the kitchen or either of the bathrooms. The key is understanding those requirements, and choosing the right solution.  Although it might seem like there are a lot of software choices, the choices are narrowed when specific requirements are considered.  First, narrow the field with basic choices, by identifying the type of manufacturing support that you need, such as:                     -  Make to order                     -  Configure to order                     -  Make to stock                     -  Process Manufacturing, etc. Then, consider unique requirements such as compliance needs, serial or lot traceability, project management needs, labor tracking, outside processing or other needs.  Each application provides a different set of functions, and in some cases are designed to support particular types of industries.  So get some help on determining your needs before you start looking - or you will be looking for a while, since there are over 100 options out there.  Some of the more widely used applications are (click on them for more information):

Check out the Intuit Marketplace, and see for yourself.  There is a lot of good software out there to manage your operations.  Our experience is that most of the $1-10 million manufacturers are using QuickBooks for accounting, and Excel for everything else, as tedious as that is.  Even though Microsoft Excel is a great application, it's time to put in an easy to use system that can really save your company time and money.  And you don't have to throw QuickBooks out to do it!

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Apr 01 2009

Business Consulting and Software Sales in an Awful Economy - How We Have Adapted

What the economic melt down has meant to business consulting and software sales

The majority of our clients have been predominantly smaller mid-market sized companies, typically privately owned, with revenues in the $5-100 million range.  They have been absolutely frozen in place since about October of 2008.  Unable to make any decision whatsoever, they have stopped all spending on marketing, certifications, automation or any kind of improvement initiatives of any kind for their business.  Six months have now passed.  Still no signs of life.  You can probably guess what happened to the business software projects that we were supposed to work on with them.  Forget new system implementations.  The few projects on the street have had so many vultures flying around them that they are hardly worth chasing.  Not a very healthy situation at all. We've made a few very important shifts in our business model that have really helped a lot.  Here's a few:
1) Became an Intuit Solution Provider, offering the higher-end version of the popular QuickBooks software, QuickBooks Enterprise Suite.  This expanded our market dramatically.
2) Became a QuickBooks ProAdvisor, opening up access to 4,000,000 users of QuickBooks to help them with their software and provide unique software solutions to solve their business needs and integrate with their QuickBooks system.
3) Became a Microsoft Dynamics GP (Great Plains) and Microsoft CRM reseller.  Microsoft is very quickly becoming the 600 pound gorilla in the business software applications market.  Prospects have indicated that they perceive Microsoft as a very high-quality provider of business systems.  Marketing works.  Remember IBM in the 1980's?? 4) Exanded our product offerings - we now work with over 60 different business management software applications.  Check out our home page - after 16 years in business, we've accumulated a lot of partners! 5) Began focusing on service industries, rather that just manufacturing and wholesale distribution. 6) Began providing mid-market ERP solutions that integrate with QuickBooks.  In this way, a company can get the controls and functionality that they need where it counts, but maintain the simplicity and low cost of their QuickBooks Accouning system.
But here's the key - smaller, bite-sized projects.  Instead of $50-150,000 projects, we're working on $5-25,000 projects.  And they are coming from the $1-10 million revenue sized companies.  Not the mid market.  (Still no signs of life there - they still have their hands in their pockets holding onto their wallets). Service industries have less complex system requirements than manufacturers, but they have needs nonetheless.  We are working on some very interesting projects with service companies, and have gained instant entry into the market with the addition of Will Breiholz as our new Vice President of Business Development.   Will is a 12 year veteran of the Intuit Marketplace, and brought along plenty of knowledge and contacts with him. Will most recently served as General Manager for BQE Software, the developer of the popular BillQuick Software.  BillQuick is a professional services time and billing system, that is used by architects, engineers, attorneys and others that need to track their time and bill customers against projects or contracts.  We're implementing tier-two sized ERP offerings such as Exact MAX, Exact JobBOSS, MYSis and Fishbowl that are designed to integrate with QuickBooks for the accounting needs.  This saves clients a significant amount of money, since most can get away with basic accounting, but still need the functionality of bigger systems for their operations management.  This makes a lot of business sense to me.   Not only that, Eunice, the 40-year veteran bookkeeper, does not have to give up her QuickBooks system and learn a new system (which would have killed the deal, by the way).   I don't want to go too far out on a limb with this, but I see this as a real growth market for us. I welcome any and all comments on how you have changed your business in these tumultuous times - we could all use some good hints on how to stay alive!

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Mar 25 2009

"Don't start vast projects...with half-vast commitment!"

As a compliance consultant, I obviously believe that I provide truly unique and special value to my clients and prospects deciding to pursue ISO 9001 certification.  But one major advantage that I have, even over a very experienced and knowledgeable Quality Manager that's trying to go it alone from within his/her own company; is the commitment that top management has made to do what their consultant tells them. After all, "they're paying the big bucks", so usually the President or CEO has told everyone, "you WILL attend the training, you WILL meet your project deadlines, and we WILL get certified!" A compliant quality management system (QMS) is not rocket science, however; it is definitely a series of best practices and disciplines that often involves a [corporate] culture change. People that tend to resist change, either by their nature or because of the sheer habit of "we've always done it this way!" require the extra incentive or motivation that a top-down commitment fosters. So, if you're a company leader, don't "mail it in". You may have delegated the Quality Manager to be the Management Representative to develop your QMS, but your overt commitment and high expectations are imperative to your company's successful certification. A Personal Anecdote: After achieving ISO 9001 certification from within a company as Director of Quality and using the help of a consultant, I then left that company and joined the same consultant group and successfully prepared numerous clients to become certified, mostly in the Detroit area. Although the work was very rewarding, the excessive travel forced my decision to accept a full time position as the head of quality in a unionized manufacturing environment. The President himself did not support the effort to become truly compliant, yet he did want the ISO 9001 certificate. The short of it is that we never did get certified in the 18 months I was there. After deciding to leave that organization, I have since been involved again (very successfully) in preparing companies for ISO 9001 and AS 9100 certification, usually in under six months. Claude Cormane - "ISOMan"

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Mar 23 2009

Microsoft Convergence 2009 Conference

Microsoft Convergence 2009 Conference - A Great Show! As a Microsoft Dynamics Partner, I recently traveled to New Orleans to participate in the annual Microsoft Convergence Conference.  It was well attended, with approximately 8,000-10,00 participants, which is pretty good for any such conference with all of the travel restrictions that companies have imposed in this dismal period for our economy.  Our blogging coach, Ron Ploof, (check him out at RonAmok.com) suggested I purchase one of those ultra-portable Flip Video cameras for use in creating video for the blog, so now you can check out the lunchroom scene of 10,000 attendees.
Many of you who know me as a "glass half full" kind of person, and I'm always looking for good news to pass on.  I was pleasantly surprised at this conference. The mood was very upbeat with everyone that I spoke with.  Not knowing much about the economy in that part of the country, I was also pleasantly surprised to find out that New Orleans and most of Louisiana is in pretty good economic shape, with one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country.   Newscasts actually discussed how the state will hopefully dodge the bullet of recession for the most part.  I hope that is the case - Louisiana has surely seen enough trouble in recent years. I also had the opportunity to take a walking tour of the French Quarter one evening. While most of the area is quite charming, with great food and music, I would have enjoyed Bourbon Street a lot more when I was 22 years old.  The street is blocked off to traffic at night so people can freely walk around with a cocktail to visit the various bars and attractions - quite a party atmosphere.  Here's a good example of the Bourbon Street scene.
 
 Back to the conference.  Convergence is largely a user conference, although there were partner-only sessions a day earlier.  This is not the IT-focused conference where operating systems and development platforms are showcased.   Convergence is all about business applications - Dynamics GP (Great Plains), Dynamics AX (Axapta), NAV (Navision), SL (Solomon) and Microsoft CRM, as well as Sharepoint Services, Excel reporting, etc.  Lots of good product sessions, talking about new features and product roadmaps.  There was also a great learning lab, where you could speak with product specialists, and try out products 

Microsoft Convergence 2009 Learning Lab from Len Reo on Vimeo. I attended mostly Dynamics GP and CRM sessions.  There will be a service pack release for Dynamics GP Version 10 around mid-year, that dramatically improves the integration to CRM 4.0, which will certainly be welcomed.  Extender is also improved considerably, allowing addition of extensive additional data capture to fit unique requirments, in order entry, for example.  We were also given a glimpse of what's coming in Version 11 and beyond.  There is definitely no shortage of planned R & D investment in any of the Dynamics products, and there is no plan to consolidate their product offerings into one common platform or any such dramatic change. The trade show was huge - with approximately 200 third party vendors participating.  I knew lots of them already, since many of them support the Exact Software Macola products as well as the Intuit QuickBooks products.  You can solve ANY business problem with a Microsoft solution, I am convinced.  I was very impressed with the level of solutions available.  A good example is Data Masons Vantage Point EDI, whose product we work with for Dynamics customers as well as Exact Software and Intuit QuickBooks Enterprise Suite.  Here's Glenn McPeak, developer and General Manager of Data Masons at the show.   Glenn McPeak-Vantage Point EDI Software Attending this show was definitely time well spent, and if you are a Microsoft Dynamics user of any kind, I would highly recommend attending this event next year.

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Feb 18 2009

ISO Certification - Registrar's Survey Results

I found some interesting statistics that support my earlier post "ISO 9001 - Compliance, or just smart business..?" The main point I made was that although the top reasons for getting certified is typically the "arm-twisting" directly from customers or from corporate mandates responding to industry pressure, the seemingly unexpected result is that increased efficiency and improved financial performance ranked as high as third in the list of benefits cited in surveys from the International Association of Accredited Registrars (The organizations that would come out to audit & certify you) [caption id="attachment_205" align="aligncenter" width="615" caption="First Chart Reflects Top Reasons for Certification"]1st Chart Reflects Top Reasons for Certification[/caption] This next chart summarizes the top benefits actually cited after getting certified...It's kinda like the doctor making you join a gym for your health, but the unexpected benefit is that you look better, feel better and perform better in other aspects of your life.

This Chart Reflects Top Benefits Cited After Certification
This Chart Reflects Top Benefits Cited After Certification
Claude Cormane - "ISOMan"

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Feb 16 2009

Everyone Can Benefit From Event Manager - Tips 2 thru 7

Improve Your Cash Flow Why not send out an automatic email message (or fax) to all customers, or just specific customers, regarding their balance due to be paid one week prior to the due date?  Include a request to "Please verify that these invoices are in your system and scheduled to be paid" message requesting that they contact you if there are any discrepancies. Event Manager can automate sending these messages, whether there's only one to send, or several thousands.  This is guaranteed to improve your cash flow. Insure Timely Delivery of Purchase Orders The requested ship dates on your purchase orders support your schedule and your commitments to customers. To help insure that all of your vendors are keeping their commitments, have Event Manager send them a notice a week in advance regarding the expected shipments. Include a request to "Please notify us immediately if you anticipate any problems meeting the ship date".  Also, have Event Manager watch for late shipments, and send an email notification to the vendor (copy to you, in this case) regarding the late shipment, requesting immediate status update.  This should save your Purchasing Manager a lot of phone calls (which might never get done to start with). These tools will send the message to your vendor that on-time delivery is very important to you, and their performance will improve.  Automate Sending Order Acknowledgements Whenever a new customer order is entered, or an order is changed, you should be sending an order acknowledgement to your customer.  This will save time, confusion and a lot of cost over the long haul if your customer has a chance to verify their order and notify you if there are any errors. Have Event Manager send these via email or fax immediately upon entering or changing an order.  Let this be the default, and if you need to, you can use a checkbox on the order to not send one when it is not necessary.  Notify Prospects of Expiring Quotes You spent a lot of time creating the quote for them, but they have not responded yet.  A simple call to action might do the trick to get a response.  "Your quote number 123 for Item xyz is scheduled to expire in 5 days - can we place the order for you?"  That might be a little bold for you, but something to get a response is the key here.  You should find out if they are not going to place the order, and what the reason was for not placing the order with you.  This could be helpful information for future quoting. Let Event Manager do this work for you.  Insure Sales Follow Up There is nothing more detrimental to a sale process than lack of timely follow up.  Use Event Manager to notify you when leads are not being followed up within 24 hours, or quotes have been given without a follow up phone call in 3 days, or (insert your pet peeve here).  Let Event Manager be the watchdog on these activities, and stop letting opportunities slip through the cracks.  Avoid Stockouts If you are a retail outlet, distributor or manufacturer, you probably use many different types of tools and strategies for managing procurement and planning to insure you have the right stuff at the right time.  But supply and demand doesn't always behave the way that you predict.  Event Manager can watch for these conditions, such as an unusually large order for an item.  Ordinarily, this may cause a stock out of the item until the normal procurement cycle replenishes it, causing some lost sales.  This could be caught as soon as the large order was placed, by anticipating normal demand through the replenishment cycle, and suggesting that an incremental order be placed immediately. There's a lot more suggestions where this one came from...  A Very Long List of Possible Uses The possibilities are endless.  We work with a few of these Event Management/Business Activity Management solutions. Check them out here, along with some other suggested uses.  These are extremely affordable applications, with very high return on investment.  They are designed to work with any ODBC compliant database, which includes pretty much every accounting, ERP, and business management system out there today.  Event Management software can do an incredible amount of work, safeguarding assets, improving throughput, lowering costs, and serving the needs of virtually every business objective.  In these times, we all need to be paying close attention to business - so...let's sit down and see how you can benefit ASAP!

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Feb 12 2009

ISO 9001 Certification – Compliance, or just smart business? Your choice.

Did you, or are you getting ISO 9001 certified because of the proverbial "gun-to-the-head" by your customers..? …Or, did you decide that certification would actually provide benefits in not only the area of quality, but also operational performance and business objectives? There is no question that it costs money for companies to prepare for and maintain ISO 9001 certification. It’s also arguable that many companies would not have opted to do so if they weren't forced to by specific customers or from competitive industry pressures. I’ve worked with a few clients that simply wanted the ISO certificate and the shortest route to obtain it. They would have just bought the certificate if they could have! I have also been fortunate to work with clients that opted to become certified as a way to implement an enterprise-wide, concerted effort to benchmark practices and make improvements where needed as a business improvement objective, where certification was simply icing on the cake. Case in point, my experience with All-New Stamping, Inc. of El Monte, California.  All-New completed the AS 9100 certification to support it's growing aerospace business.  Nick Kopinga, the company President, felt that even with close to forty years in business, the process of becoming certified would force them to properly document the things they were already doing well. Additionally, though, he knew it would also highlight new areas of opportunity to update and improve both their business systems and their management practices. And that’s exactly what they experienced. In particular, the ISO mandate for regular management review of the quality system, and the requirement to achieve continuous measurable improvement was widened in scope to include additional business objectives. Can there ever be any reason to separate quality from any other business objectives anyway? The objectives they monitored only intuitively before, such as on-time delivery, plant efficiencies, supplier quality, product conformance, etc. now have objective trend charts that are used as their dashboard to drive the organization’s priorities for action and improvement. Most importantly, it conveys the metrics in a very visual way to the entire organization, which has given everyone a continuous improvement mindset. What started out to achieve an objective (ISO Certification) has continued to provide true return on investment at All-New Stamping. Check out this case study about All-New Stamping - and call Nick Kopinga if you'd like to hear it straight from the top.

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