By Todd Waterman, Velosio Solution Architect
How you use or don’t use technology has a direct impact on your business. During conversations with hundreds of greenhouse growers over the past five years, we have identified three common factors that keep holding growers back from running their operations efficiently:
- Manual processes to input data and generate reports on business performance. This approach drains resource time and is error-prone, which leads to more manual time to fix the mistakes.
- Multiple disconnected systems. It’s difficult to share data across the business, and manual processes are called on, once again, to move data from one system to another. In some cases, two systems handle the same function, so it’s difficult to know which one has the most current and accurate data.
- Older legacy technologies are more difficult to maintain and more susceptible to cyberattacks. They also limit the capabilities of your end-users and your ability to interact with customers.
When manual processes, multiple systems, and older technology are all in play, it’s simply a lot more work and more difficult to get business done. As more data errors occur, there’s extra work for the staff and frustrated customers—who might know another greenhouse grower that has things operating more smoothly.
Consolidating Data and Automating Processes
Excel spreadsheets can work well to a certain extent to alleviate these factors. But they still require manual manipulation, and if something goes wrong, it’s difficult to figure out where the mistake occurs. It’s not meant to be a database.
The most effective way to take on these challenges is to deploy an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution with automated functionality and integration that encompasses your entire business process—from production to purchasing, sales, warehouse, fulfillment, service, financials, account management, and shipping.
When working with greenhouse growers to implement an ERP solution, such as Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central, we recommend focusing initial efforts on collecting data in five key areas:
- Master Data is where you store and maintain your single source of truth for all your business records—customers, suppliers, the products and services you sell, inventory, and pricing. With everything stored in one place, you don’t have to worry about someone leaving the company who has vital knowledge specific to a customer or supplier. You can also apply algorithms to generate pricing for specific customers based on pricing groups, promos, and volume discounts. And when looking up a product, you see complete information on item attributes such as color, hardiness, and bloom times.
- The Sales module shows you which flowers, plants, shrubs and trees you are selling, who’s buying, and at what price. You can also see when customers need orders to be delivered, who will handle the shipping, and the current status of their sales orders. For historical views, you can see what each customer has purchased in the past. All this information is handy when you’re on the phone with a customer. You can answer questions about availability and order status without having to track down other people to find out. And because the system is fully integrated with Microsoft Office, you can still use spreadsheets that work well and have that data automatically flow into D365 Business Central.
- Purchasing reports help growers know what’s currently in inventory and available to sell so they know what to procure and when. D365 Business Central also uses artificial intelligence to make purchasing recommendations and is constantly updating your inventory needs as the demand and supply change. You can even automate the creation of purchase orders to bring in products that are in short supply. Then, when you receive the purchase orders, it updates the inventory so you always know quantities on hand in real time.
- Inventory is tightly linked to Purchasing and tells you what you can sell and when it will be ready with the ability to break reports down by time periods and by item. With the Inventory module, you can create purchase orders to fill any gaps. And at the end of a month, quarter or year, you can run reports to look at what was planned and how the business actually performed so you can make adjustments for the next time period. Everything’s a click away to drill into details on why something happened.
- Financials is where all the master, sales, purchasing, and inventory data flow into to drive accounting processes. You can run financial statements as well as manage receivables, payables, and invoicing. You can also run reports on sales orders with rolled-up costs to measure the profitability of products and customers and check on the margin you generate from each vendor. You can even see how much promotions or perks, such as free shipping, are costing you.
Another facet that your end-users will appreciate is the seamless integration with Microsoft Office applications. Excel reports can automatically tap into data stored in D365 Business Central. And if someone is checking email in Outlook or collaborating in Teams, they can see data in D365 Business Central without leaving those applications. This makes it easy to report on or discuss customer and vendor activity and sales order status.
The Bonus of Running in the Cloud
Because D365 Business Central runs in the Microsoft Azure cloud, your team can easily access information while they are working from home or traveling and talking with customers and vendors. Using mobile devices, they can put sales orders and purchase orders right into the system instead of waiting until they are back at the home office and slowing up the process. They can also check on product availability, delivery times, and other data that customers and vendors need to know.
From the IT perspective, you don’t have to worry about managing the infrastructure supporting your ERP system. Microsoft updates and maintains the system and applies cybersecurity best practices to keep your data as well as your customer and vendor data safe. The infrastructure is constantly improving and always current with the latest technologies.
The cloud also makes it much easier to handle spikes in activity when you need to add more employees
During the busy season, you can add temporary employees to the system, and when the season is over, remove them with just a couple of clicks. The system resources you pay for expand and contract according to what your business needs each month.
To learn more about how Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central can help greenhouse growers run their businesses, check out our webinar, Small Growers: Solutions to Fit Your Operations. And if you need help with deploying ERP technologies, Velosio is here to help—contact us today to start your journey.