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5 Signs Your Business Needs Cybersecurity Training

5 Signs Your Business Needs Cybersecurity Training

Cybersecurity Education Begins With Ownership

Small and medium sized business owners beware! 65% of attacks that originate in cyberspace are aimed at companies that think they’re too small to be of interest to cybercriminals. If you think you’re at low risk, read on and see why our IT security consultants recommend cybersecurity training for everyone.

Cybersecurity Training Hacker in Network Security Lock

Are you a small business owner? Or are you a once-small company now grown into the medium range of corporate presence? When it comes to cybersecurity solutions for businesses, you always have to structure your services and behavior to prepare as if you’re bigger than you are. This involves a comprehensive security solution that covers your entire company network, from suppliers to employees. Do you have an enterprise-level cybersecurity strategy that protects every connection and end user from digital harm?

If you own a business, you know how precious your data is to daily operations. Profitability depends on good data management behaviors. Because all companies are vulnerable to hackers, your data should be presumed insecure. Cybersecurity should be a proactive approach to cybercrime, rather than a reactive (disaster recovery) move.

Are you on a cybercrime watchlist?

Breaches happen, even to the most prepared companies. Therefore, your risk management policies should be revisited frequently. Business owners should be part of this process. A board of advisors might be beneficial, and it can be cost-effective to outsource this high-level cybersecurity work to a virtual CIO or to a firm with the technology skills that guarantee security for your data.

What happens when a hacker is watching your business?

It takes about a half of a year for business owners to become aware that a hacker has breached the network. It also takes about two months to react to a cyber attack. 

Here are five signs your business is at risk and in need of cybersecurity training:

1. You are a small or medium size business.

Far less likely to report cybercrime to the authorities, small and midsized companies are viewed by hackers as a low-risk target. Manufacturers and distributors are often looking to scale, and maintaining a good reputation is key to a successful future. As a growing business, you wouldn’t want your reputation to include a history of victimization by way of ransomware.

2. You think it’s a small problem or that someone else is addressing the issue of cyber safety.

Fear of expense often prevents small and midsize manufacturers and distributors from securing the technology solutions and services they need to protect their data. A good backup solution isn’t enough, even though this is what many company owners depend on for risk management. When planning your IT department budget, price out outsourced help, especially when it comes to cybersecurity. Often, the experts at an IT managed services provider (MSP) will be more friendly to the budget than on-site technology staff.

3. You think you need to cut the IT budget… but IT costs are actually decreasing.

Firewalls and phishing filters are a necessity these days. Due to a mix of popularity and availability, technology cost trends show that business owners can get enterprise-level technology services with affordable pricing. Cloud-based IT services, such as SECaaS (Security as a Service) look at the unique needs of your business and adjust pricing accordingly. Only pay for what you need.

4. Your employees don’t know what they don’t know.

Cybersecurity training might be the most important activity you schedule for the end of 2021 or the beginning of 2022. The time is now. Hackers take advantage of poorly trained employees on a daily basis. 95% of security breaches are successful because of human error. Train, train, and train again. Technology is an ever-evolving field, and this ripples into the dark web as cutting-edge malware. Protecting your talented staff from the dark web is key to employee retention in today’s culture.

Fortunately, cyber education is often free online. Formal training is easy on the budget. If you have a million customers relying on your manufacturing operations to maintain uptime, your cyber security plan needs to defend more than credit card numbers and social security numbers. You need an IT solution that comprehensively protects the countless connections along your supply chain, right down to the home offices of your remote workers. 

Sign up for a ransomware simulation attack today to see if your employees are ready for disaster. Employees are eager to learn security breach mitigation strategies because their personal information is at risk in the event of a data leak. Information security begins with security training.

5. You’re likely to pay the ransom if you are attacked.

More than half of small businesses pay a ransom. Reasons revolve around damage control: you definitely don’t want your data or your reputation harmed by a ransomware attack, so in the moment you are likely to pay the attacker. If you think you’d be likely to pay a ransomer to get your data back, then you stand unprepared. Once you have a solid cybersecurity plan in place with a crew of talented IT staff to support your solutions, you’ll know that you’ll never pay a hacker a dime of your earnings. In the event that you experience a breach, you’ll know that you have an incident response plan that won’t involve a ransom payment.

Today’s cyber landscape is riddled with massive corporations hitting the news for million-dollar ransomware attacks. When was your last security audit? It’s better to act as a big little company in a technology culture in which the hackers are frequently more skilled than even the best IT staff.

  • Empower your workers with the best solutions so that they can use their talents to their full extent.
  • Prevent identity theft of employees by securing personal data and corporate data.
  • Bring in a white hat hacker to test both onsite and remote cybersecurity solutions and services.

Can your staff respond properly to a data breach? Do you have an incident response plan clearly delineated so that all employees understand your disaster recovery process? Have employees been thoroughly trained to recognize cyber threats lurking in their email accounts as phishing attempts?

Cybersecurity training involves both on-premise and cloud-based breach mitigation techniques. EstesGroup offers coast-to-coast onsite and cloud IT services, including everything from project and budget planning to education and monitoring.

Scaling Up & Scaling Out in a P21 Ecosystem

Scaling Up & Scaling Out in a P21 Ecosystem

P21 System Performance in Accordance

When deploying any enterprise-level application such as Epicor’s Prophet 21 ERP, system performance is an extremely important consideration, one that can have significant impact on the successful use of the application. Memory allocation, transaction logging, network connections and a litany of other factors can affect the user community’s experience of the application. Failures in any one of these areas can bring an application to a grinding halt. This is certainly the case in a P21 environment.

As such, the work of a P21 administrator is critical in the successful deployment and maintenance of the Prophet 21 ecosystem.

While the successful administration of a P21 environment will differ on several factors, such as the version installed, the presence of a middleware server, the use of terminal services, and the use of the legacy desktop application, the actions taken to attain, maintain, and sustain a P21 ecosystem can be summarized by the two following principles:

  • Scaling Up: Stacking up resources onto a single existing server, user terminal, network, or device to allow it to perform better and bear additional load.
  • Scaling Out: Branching out by breaking out additional servers, terminals, network connections or devices to improve the capacity and capability of the overall P21 infrastructure.

Scaling up in a Prophet 21 Ecosystem

Scaling up involves the addition of resources, most often to a server, to address issues with usage and performance. In many cases, the performance of a single server, whether it is an application server, a database server or a user terminal, can be improved by identifying the problem in question and judiciously allocating some additional resources, such as RAM, CPU, or storage.

Let’s use the Prophet 21 desktop application as an example. The architecture of the legacy desktop application was such that a single desktop client generally consumed one entire CPU when in use. This creates a challenge for terminal services, given that two users logged into the same terminal server cannot share the same CPU, as is the case with other applications.

To address this, system administrators need to “scale up” and add CPUs to the terminal server, to allow multiple users to work from it in parallel. This is of course easier to do when the computer is virtualized, so admins will want to consider this should they have the need to build out a remote desktop for their user community. Depending on the number of users in your company, such an approach to your P21 environment may be satisfactory. 

With the shift from the legacy P21 desktop application to the P21 middleware server, the concern with scale similarly shifts. Scaling up under the modern architecture now involves the resources allocated to a given middleware server to allow it to handle heavier loads. Even here, it is not uncommon that companies encounter scaling issues with the P21 middleware server, as the company grows. In many cases, the answer is not to scale up, but to scale out.

Scaling out in a Prophet 21 Ecosystem

Using the example of the Prophet 21 desktop application, a company can scale up a single remote desktop so high before the additional building blocks no longer elevate its cause. In the case of a remote desktop, a single terminal server can support approximately 12 CPUs to support roughly 15 users working in parallel—any further and the platform begins to bend under the weight of its own design.

In this case, it is preferable to spin up a separate P21 terminal server to support additional user requirements, and to integrate the multiple servers with a broker to create a server farm.

A similar but updated concern relates to Epicor’s middleware application server layer, and the number of users it can support. As with the development of a Prophet 21 server farm for remote desktops, the need might arise to create a load-balanced farm of Prophet 21 middleware servers, in order to meet user needs.

The shift from a 2-tiered architecture, in which the fat client speaks directly to the database to a 3-tiered architecture, where the thin client speaks to the middleware server naturally shifts much of the heavy lifting from the traditional desktop client to the P21 middleware server itself. 

Again, the specifications are ambiguous, but we’ve found that often a single Prophet 21 middleware server can be scaled up such that it will support roughly 50 concurrent users before the server can no longer perform any additional heavy lifting. In these cases, it is preferable to build out a new Prophet 21 middleware server in a load-balanced environment.

P21 Economies of Scale

In practice, helping users often involves some combination of scaling up and scaling out. It begins with an understanding of the scope and limitations of the Prophet 21 architecture and an understanding of the size of the user community and their needs. From there, the combinations and permutations become an intriguing and multifaceted challenge for the P21 administrator to circumnavigate.

P21 Ecosystem Server Upgrade Cartoon
9 Questions to Answer at P21WWUG CONNECT

9 Questions to Answer at P21WWUG CONNECT

P21WWUG CONNECT – BOOTH 25

The 2021 Prophet 21 user conference (P21WWUG CONNECT) is less than a week away. For those of us in attendance, it is an exciting time for collaboration and discovery. User conferences are a great opportunity to trade ideas with other users and get a sense of the shared and unique challenges faced by different companies, in different industries. 

Having manned a few booths over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to hear many ERP stories and more than a few customer ERP quandaries. One such quandary that cyclically arises has to do with the question of application deployment. As hardware ages and operating systems expire, customers often find themselves scrambling to determine whether to replicate past deployment models or explore new options. 

Distribution business worker using cloud hosted ERP technology

Software-as-a-service, public cloud, private cloud, managed hosting, infrastructure-as-a-service—the options abound and overlap, and it’s easy for options to slip though the cracks. As such, customers sometimes approach our booth simply looking to understand what options are available, relative to their current situation. In our conversations with such customers, we normally run though a set of questions to better understand our customer’s current state, the issues they face, and the opportunities available to them.

With that in mind, and with the P21WWUG CONNECT 2021 event on the horizon, it might be beneficial to understand some of the early considerations to make, as you approach the question of application deployment. Answers to these questions can set you on a path to understanding how you might want to deploy the next generation of your P21 application.

Do you have outdated hardware? How old are your servers?

As your hardware ages, it becomes an increasing risk to your organization, and many companies are accustomed to the 5-year cycle of hardware replacement. But the technical footprint of our current world differs considerably from five years ago, and this provides new options in 2021 that would not have been viable in 2016. Server deployments do not mandate an on-premise data center. Review the options for private cloud server deployments before signing the check for a new server stack. 

Does the customer have outdated operating system of RDBMS versions causing downtime, security risks, lack of backups, compliance or cost?

Like hardware, an operating system can exceed its use-by date, creating several potential issues. This overlaps with version upgrades of your P21 ERP, as ERP versions are restricted to specific operating system and database versions. As such, ERP upgrades are often partnered with upgrades to a customer’s database and operating system. 

Like hardware, an operating system can exceed its “use by” date, creating several potential issues. This overlaps with version upgrades of your P21 ERP, as ERP versions are restricted to specific operating system and database versions. As such, ERP upgrades are often partnered with upgrades to a customer’s database and operating system. 

Are you struggling to find the right IT support for your hardware, your server, or your application?

Whether IT support is internally supplied, or outsourced from a managed service provider, companies frequently encounter support challenges, whether it is with capacity, capability,  or delivery. Most often, as your business grows, your IT capacity might be stretched beyond its original capacity. Such is an opportunity to evaluate a cloud deployment, to apportion the management of the application to a partner, allowing you to focus on mission-critical IT projects and initiatives. 

Is your P21 application currently hosted by another provider and are you looking for different options? Are you unhappy with your current situation due to downtime, latency, security, compliance or cost? 

Even within a private cloud hosting environment, different options are available, in which certain resources are dedicated, while others are shared. These differences can impact price, performance, and service levels, and its important to understand whether the cloud configuration you’ve been provided is meeting your needs, or whether a different configuration, perhaps though a different provider, would be preferable.

Are you thinking about moving your Prophet 21 install “to the cloud” and looking to know more about what that might mean?

A cloud deployment of your P21 ERP application could mean different things. On one end of the spectrum, you have software as a service (SaaS). In SaaS, the application is deployed to a public cloud.

Is the customer on P21 SaaS and considering moving back to an on-premise / hosted /perpetual license version?

A software-as-a-service (SaaS) deployment of any ERP application can bring many benefits to an organization. But a SaaS deployment does not work for all customers, and it is not uncommon for customers to purchase a SaaS version of an ERP and decide to shift to its more robust and fully-functional perpetual-license counterpart. But moving back to a perpetual license does not mandate a move to an on-premise deployment. Cloud options are still available. 

Are you planning for a P21 upgrade and looking for options?

An upgrade, especially a major release, can be an opportunity to consider your deployment options. What is the best way to deploy the new version? Does the new version change the server configuration in any way? Prophet 21’s deployment evolved across versions, as Epicor deployed a middleware application server layer as part of the new architecture. The change required a new server stack. Understand how big a jump you have in front of you by developing a P21 upgrade roadmap that includes a deployment that matches your business needs.

Are you concerned about Epicor dropping their support for the Legacy client and looking for options?

The rush to Epicor’s middleware server is too hasty for many in the user community, and customers are still trying to make sense of P21’s web client and hybrid client deployments. With this change comes opportunities to deploy hybrid client models, to allow certain users to continue to leverage the legacy client.

Is the customer looking to update overall technology stack as part of the implementation of an integrated system (E-commerce, SRM, CRM)?

Sometimes, the integration of a third-party platform requires an upgrade to the overall ecosystem. Such is an opportunity to review your server installation and consider your options.

 

Will you be at the P21WWUG CONNECT user conference this year? If so, come find us at Booth 25. We’d love to talk about application deployment, or whatever else is on your mind.

Custom Cloud: Public Cloud Choices, SaaS Challenges

Custom Cloud: Public Cloud Choices, SaaS Challenges

What to Do When ERP Turns SaaS

I once sat in at a sales conference for an ERP vendor and listened as the CEO explained sales strategy as it related to their ongoing movement to the cloud. He described the situation as one of configurability vs. customizability. There were some customers who could live with and work within the configurable features and capabilities of the base application as they existed “out-of-the-box.” These customers would be targets for the vendors single-tenant and multi-tenant cloud (or SaaS) offerings. For the subset of customers whose needs extended beyond the system’s base configuration, and were in need of custom functionality and integrations, the vendor would still offer the traditional perpetual license. This would allow customers with more complex needs to deploy their applications on-premise or in a private cloud.

ERP Public Cloud Software as a Service

That was the CEO’s perspective. Customers have their own perspective. 

Configuration & Customization to Order

I recently talked with a customer who was struggling to implement the cloud version of an ERP to the vendor’s public cloud. The customer had purchased the software based on a set of assumptions, assumptions that were not instantiated by the vendor’s public cloud (or SaaS) platform. For one, the customer had come from a highly customized in-house suite of applications, and had a highly developer-centric approach to application implementation: if the app didn’t do what you need, customize it so that it would do what you need.

This approach is anathema to ERP implementations in general, and as a customer implementing on a public cloud SaaS platform, the shock was only intensified. The customization toolset to which they believed themselves to be privy to was less than advertised. And the documentation that explained just what was and was not possible was all but nonexistent. As the customer put it, his team’s vast C# skillset went largely underutilized.

Frustrations abounded on all fronts. Creating the necessary reports and labels, whether through Bartender or SSRS had been a disaster, as both the licensing and underlying architecture made for an untenable situation. Development and deployment of new solutions was cumbersome and time-consuming, as it required the vendor to perform the deployment every time a change was made. Similarly, the approved third-party applications that they had purchased in conjunction with the base package didn’t integrate as well as advertised, and they turned out to be even less configurable than the base ERP system.

Worse still, the customer was a user of the ERP’s product configurator module. This mode was itself a mini-development platform, but its features were largely server-side and thus greatly hampered in the vendor’s SaaS platform. The ability to use the module to look up and retrieve data, for instance, was greatly limited on the SaaS architecture, and the customer struggled to construct configurators to handle their complex product needs. Beyond functionality, the overall performance of the application was a drag. For many customers, the move from whip-fast, green-screen legacy platform to a contemporary ERP brings an unfortunate surprise when it comes to basic performance at a user interaction level. But in this case, it was magnified by the performance of the underlying cloud platform.

It was a disheartening conversation and I struggled to offer suggestions, outside of a reimplementation under a perpetual license model. The strange thing was that the customer did not really even come to me looking for help. He was really just venting his frustrations. He had learned enough of the application, its architecture, and the Service-as-a-Software (SaaS) deployment model to know that whatever help he might receive, he was constrained by the architecture to which he had bound himself. The cloud, whose name implies boundless opportunity and possibility, had become a crippling constraint.  

Different ERP systems provide different levels of configurability and customizability. Some systems offer a basic platform with robust tools to use to build custom functionality with which to tailor the base platform. Others provide extensive configurability, as to avoid the need for additional tailoring. The systems that best combine configurability and customizability capabilities stand the best chance of supporting the needs of complex organizations. Even still, the unbridled requirements of a given company can often exceed the combined abilities of an ERP system to handle it.

This may necessitate the need for third-party integrations, to atone for liabilities in the base system. It may require integration to a pre-existing home-grown system, to address the specific needs of the organization. In the most extreme of cases, customers may look to modify the system’s source code to make the system do what it needs. At some point, it should be considered whether such extreme measures justify the investment in ERP at all. Sometimes it is simply a cultural conundrum: if an organization is unable to bend some of its needs to the will of the application, they may truly be better off with a homegrown system, and live with the liabilities that come with such a decision. 

DRaaS for SaaS: When the Public Cloud Vendor Needs to Adapt

Beyond configurability and customizability, the questions of functionality and integration as they relate to an ERP system’s deployment model complicate matters further. The textbook cases regarding ERP customization nightmares from the 1990s all occurred within an on-premise context. The evolution of cloud computing had not yet thrown this new variable into the mix. But with the improvement of server processing power, the expansion of data centers, and the ability to pass larger and larger amounts of data over networks, ERP vendors were able to construct ERP applications that conformed to the public cloud software-as-a-service (SaaS) deployment model.

This shift toward a SaaS model allowed for highly available and highly scalable ERP solutions, whose subscription-based model provided ERP services for a monthly rate. But in doing so, the features and capabilities that these vendors offered were often scaled back significantly, when compared to their on-premise, perpetual license predecessors. Similarly, the integration capabilities of such platforms were drastically reduced to the web APIs that the ERP SaaS platform supported. This made the extension of the application’s capabilities much more difficult to achieve. For customers needing robust and expansive ERP functionality, as was the case with my customer above, the results of a mismatch between business requirements, customization tendencies, and deployment models can lead to a perfect storm of failure and disillusion. 

How does one avoid such a problematic situation? To begin with, there are some key questions to answer at the time of software selection before you’ve signed the dotted line:

  • Firstly, you need to understand the background of your own organization. Are you coming from a standard system or from a highly-tailored home-grown system? Are your business requirements of the variety that are commonly managed by a packaged system? Is the shift from your current system to the future system a small shuffle or a quantum leap?
  • You also need to understand your own expectations for the new system: are you trying to fit your organization into the system, or are you trying to tailor the system to fit your business? Do you see an ERP system as a packaged application or a custom development platform? Companies differ in this approach, and this greatly affects how they intend to use the system, so you need to be explicit about your expectations.
  • Finally, it should be noted that in many cases, a software’s public cloud version will differ markedly in functionality from its cloud cousin. As such, be careful to understand the version from which the Sales Engineers are basing their demonstrations. If you’re looking at a cloud deployment, ensure that the sales team demonstrates the application, as you will experience it as a customer, and not the products more robust, on-premise version.

Cloud services are as unique as business processes, and SaaS companies / SaaS, or public cloud, applications aren’t always as “internet connection, web browser, go” like they’re often advertised to be.

If your corporate office is mandating some form of “cloud” solution, understand that not all clouds are created equal. A system’s deployment mode is not as simple as choosing between an on-premise dinosaur and a public cloud popsicle. One significant alternative to the SaaS vs on-premise dichotomy is a private cloud deployment. Private cloud allows an ERP customer to install an on-premise, perpetual license version of the software, but in a virtual cloud environment. This allows customers to leverage the full set of capabilities, functionality, and integration opportunities that the software offers. For customers bent on heavy tailoring and customization, this allows them to leverage the full set of tools tailor the application to the customer’s specific needs. Further still, this model makes integrations much easier, as it provides access to the application and database server layers, as needed, which can greatly simplify integration architectures. 

Cloud Customs of Custom Code

A company’s implementation story should be neither a laughable comedy nor a disheartening tragedy. With planning and discretion, companies can formulate a successful narrative. Are you in search of an ERP story with a happy ending? Talk to us, and we’ll spin you a yarn.

You can consolidate everything from software licensing and updates to hardware inventory management with EstesCloud Managed Application Hosting. We offer custom solutions for web-based transactions. We might not be famous like Amazon web services, but our private cloud, hybrid cloud, IaaS, and PaaS solutions offer you the personal attention of world-class IT and ERP consultants.

ERP Deployment Options & Cloud Services

Infrastructure as a Service

Platform as a Service

Software as a Service

IT Management Models

In pure form, a public cloud deployment limits your control and troubles cybersecurity and compliance management efforts. Know your enterprise resource planning options before you deploy. The cloud should be one of your most powerful tools as you move your company forward. But cloud computing terminology is hazy, and cloud migration can be a step backward if the deployment model isn’t a good fit. Do you understand your cloud options? Our cloud ERP experts can walk you through the cloud spectrum and help you find the best platform for your business. When a complex ERP like Epicor’s Prophet 21 is going through client-server architecture changes, EstesGroup consultants are here to answer questions so that you can focus on your business, rather than on its supporting software.

Feeling the pressure to upgrade your ERP system to a new SaaS version? Know your options before you commit to the public cloud. Get a free demo and consultation with our cloud experts today.

Hosted or SaaS ERP? Understanding the Differences

Hosted or SaaS ERP? Understanding the Differences

In the world of enterprise resource planning (ERP), companies spend a lot of time on the software selection cycle. Determining which application will best fit the needs of the business also brings deployment model questions to the table. Currently, many manufacturers and distributors are trying to understand the differences between hosted ERP and SaaS (software as a service) ERP. Whether you’ve already chosen your ERP or are in the process of selecting your software, understanding your on-premise and cloud deployment options is key to enterprise resource planning success.

Hosted or SaaS ERP Infrastructure with Cybersecurity Locks

An application’s functionality is understandably important. The best fit that a company can find with its ERP system will very likely lead to a better implementation, with lower costs and reduced risk surfacing as essential benefits. Ideally, you’ll build a solid foundation for all business activities that follow your ERP implementation. Your computing costs should go down, and time formerly spent on technology and software should shift into more time to spend on your business.

What is ERP deployment? 

A key consideration, one that I do not believe receives enough time and effort during the software selection phase, has to do with the deployment of the solution itself. The implications of such a deployment are life-changing for any company, and particularly influential in the manufacturing and distribution industries.

At the time of software selection, it’s important to understand how you intend to deploy your new ERP system. An application’s functionality is almost as important as the functionality itself. For this reason, you’ll want to ensure that the deployment model you choose successfully overlaps with the functionality that you need.

What is a deployment model?

By deployment model, I am not referring to the operating system or the underlying database management system, whether the system is Windows-or Linux based or whether it sits on top of an SQL server or Oracle database. Those are in themselves important considerations, but the deployment model has more to do with installation and accessibility. How will the application itself be installed and accessed by the customer?

What is cloud deployment?

There are two very general classifications of cloud ERP deployment models that you can make to try and understand your cloud options. I would classify these as SaaS (software as a service) and hosted deployments.

The Software as a Service Deployment Model

Software as a service, or SaaS, is the model in which the application lives somewhere in the vendor’s data center, and the consuming customer has no line of site to its deployment. The customer subscribes to the software and consumes the application on a client-only basis, often in the form of a web browser. There is no need to manage a complex installation or oversee the application’s administration. The SaaS deployment model limits your control by limiting your responsibility in regard to application management.

The Hosting Deployment Model

The other common deployment model you could classify broadly as hosting. In a hosted environment, the application is deployed to a known server architecture. This architecture could be an on-premise or a local host, or a colocation facility, but I’m seeing much less of that these days, except with larger organizations that are comfortable with large hardware investments. Most often, I find hosting to refer to some form of cloud data center hosting, where the resources are consumed over the cloud as a service. In this scenario, the software itself is purchased using a perpetual license model and deployed to and administered from a discrete platform.

Hosted & SaaS ERP: Two Roads Diverged

So SaaS and hosting are your two basic options for the underlying technology that will serve as the foundation for your ERP. If you are a customer in the midst of an ERP software selection journey, you need to understand what deployment options are available and how they differ, relative to the specific software you are evaluating. That said, I think some generalizations can be made regarding the two models.

SaaS itself can be divided into two categories. The first would be the family of applications that were built from the ground-up to be browser-based, web applications. Plex, NetSuite, and Salesforce are examples of purely web-based applications. 

Another class of applications would be vendors who are retrofitting their older, on-premise applications to be web-enabled and centrally installed and administered, like any other SaaS application.

In general, SaaS is a great option, especially for what I would consider lightweight applications. The software as a service deployment model provides the functionality you need with a costing model that your accountants will like, and it does this without a lot of administrative IT overhead. 

I say lightweight because I’ve found some challenges with some of the limitations of SaaS functionality. In my own efforts, working within various applications, I’ve found that SaaS applications provide a more limited functionality when it comes to the need for more robust capabilities. This is especially true in terms of reporting or administration, or in the construction of specialized business logic.

If you take a well-known software like Salesforce, for instance, and compare its capabilities to traditional on-premise enterprise systems, you’ll see some challenges or differences in the relative functionality of the two systems. An example might be the administrative tools provided to manage, load, and update data. The capabilities are somewhat comparable, but on-premise applications will almost always be more robust, easier to use, and more effective.

The Future of ERP Deployment Makes All the Difference

Currently, ERP software vendors understand this gap and are working to close it over time, but this process is years in the making. For vendors that offer both on-premise and SaaS versions of their applications, I’ve found that the functionality available in SaaS has a long way to go to catch up with their on-premise antecedents. If you were to purchase the SaaS version and the on-premise version of an ERP from the same vendor, you should expect the SaaS version to underperform compared to the on-premise version.

The resources on ERP deployment out there are not always very clear on what those differences actually are, especially when the information comes from the vendors themselves. 

For a hosted model, whether it is some form of self-hosting on top of an infrastructure as a service model, or a managed hosting situation, where a group is providing the entire platform, you can think of it as an on-premise installation without the risks and costs and overhead that come with an on-premise install. This is great from a functionality standpoint, as the control provides over the server architecture allows you to really leverage the full functionality available to you as a customer.

From my perspective, the difference between SaaS and hosted ERP really comes down to expectations with regard to functionality.

I have seen cases during the software selection cycle where the solutions engineers of various companies demonstrate the capabilities of their ERP systems using their full-bodied on-premise versions, only for the sales reps to actually sell the SaaS-based version of the application to the customer. 

This is done with the implicit assumption that the SaaS-based version contains all the rich features and functionality of its on-premise sibling. But as we’ve discussed, that this is not always the case, and I’ve known more than a few customers who express tremendous frustration over this experience—believing they are buying a luxury car, only to have the dealer deliver them the base model. 

How to Choose SaaS or Hosted ERP

If you are looking at a software that sprung from the web fully formed, like a NetSuite or a Plex, the question is a little more straightforward. There is no option to host the application, and from a functionality standpoint, what you see is what you get.

But if you’re working though the decision as to whether to purchase the SaaS subscription license or the perpetual license of an application, you really need to understand whether the functionality will be available in both versions. Essentially, you need to understand how the user experience might differ between the two versions, and then make your choice from there. 

Companies that need the robust functionality that comes with a perpetual license and an on-premise installation and can’t afford to lose that in moving to a pure SaaS or purely web-based architecture have hosting options. If you wish to avoid the liabilities and costs of an on-premise install, then you need explore some of the hosting alternatives available. There are plenty of benefits to be gained through leveraging the cloud:

  • the scalability
  • the dynamic consumption model
  • the benefits of adaptive computing

With these in mind, your cloud migration should also be done in a process that ensures that you are leveraging the full functionality of the software and not limiting yourself, your business, and your future in the process.

Cloud environments like hosted or SaaS ERP systems demand that your team is ready to handle everything from basic business processes to highly sensitive data. Cloud ERP is becoming the go-to jump, and a cloud based software solution could become a downfall without expert project management.

Software applications are becoming more complex, and your ERP solution will change regularly as your vendor adapts to changing technology. Are you looking for help understanding cloud infrastructure? Our cloud computing consultants have answers. Whether you’re trying to head out of community clouds or get lightning-strike level understanding of single tenant infrastructure, our EstesCloud team is here to help make your business run better.

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A Business Automation Nation – How AI Helps Us Connect

A Business Automation Nation – How AI Helps Us Connect

The 2020 shift to remote work forced small to medium companies to increase business automation. To quickly become touch-less and contactless, owners used technology solutions managed by third-party suppliers to guide the new network of online business communication, home offices, and third-party vendors. As the world reopens, AI continues to help businesses network for future growth, especially for organizations leveraging ERP (enterprise resource planning) software.

Business Automation Virtual AI Interface

Artificial intelligence (AI) is human, too

Do you trust your software? Do you trust the humans supporting your software? Consider everything that your ERP software and its underlying technology supports:

  • Internal and external communication
  • Supply chain management
  • Customer transactions and interactions
  • Software integrations
  • Sensitive data

Large companies and global enterprises shifted their cultures to automation long ago. Cloud-based solutions are not new. Successful management of company resources has depended on internal or external IT support since the dawn of the internet. Now it the time for small and medium-sized organizations to access the same business automation tools used by the world’s wealthiest companies.

“As a Service” Business Strategy: Automation as a Service

AI supports your company reputation and culture, so it’s often best to consider automation with experts guiding the process. Focus areas might include the following:

  • GENERAL: How to automate business processes
  • SPECIFIC: How to use data analysis to optimize insight
  • INTERNAL: How to support employees securely as they interact with one another and with your customer base
  • EXTERNAL: How to keep your customers happy, even when supplies are running low and shipping times are burdening relationships

AI, AI, O!: Create a Real-Time Data Window For Your Business

Business owners use tracking tools and data analysis software to understand everything from organization performance to customer behavior. Google tracks search quantity and quality. Amazon compiles endless data on customer purchase intent. Apple allows customers to use their fingerprints, their voice, and their app interactions to optimize device interactions. Microsoft creates data for every email click and innovates based on how clients are using the software. All of this data is useless if not organized and managed properly.

The Automation of Cybercrime – When Malware Uses AI Against You

Ransomware is in the daily news because cyber warfare leverages the same technological innovations that global companies are using to stay ahead of the competition. If malware gets into your backups, you might have a security breach that turns your own AI against you.

Software as a service platforms are especially vulnerability because you’re completely depending on the third-party to handle a large piece of your automation. A hosted environment often provides a more secure infrastructure, especially for companies on the move. An off-site data center can be regulated by compliance regulations. The IT team is required to abide by best practices for cybersecurity. As a result, your data is set up, monitored, and maintained according to the highest security standards. This keeps ransomware from troubling your servers or your software.

Automation for CRM (Customer Relationship Management)

A business wouldn’t be a business without a product or a service to market and sell. Customer data is key to streamlining your sales process. AI allows you to track, analyze, and save valuable information about your relationships:

  • Buyer behaviors
  • Market trends
  • Customer preferences
  • Budget concerns
  • Business direction / business strategy

A business process review can be a great way to get instant insight into how your employees are supporting your customer base.

Pricing Automation: The AI Will Bill You Now

Automated pricing and billing is everywhere in the virtual world, especially when it comes to e-commerce. When customers shop for something using the internet, pricing visibility is critical to buyer engagement. “See the price in cart” might work, but “contact us for pricing” can be a turnoff in this new world of instant gratification automation and digitization.

Pricing can get complicated if you’re offering custom products or complex services. Let’s look at medical billing as an example of a complex business service. HIPAA regulates all third-party interactions. So medical professionals need to ensure that any automation tools that are outsources are in compliance with these medical industry standards. In manufacturing and distributions, everything from shipping costs to supply chain management falls within similar, often less famous, compliance regulations. Pricing and billing can benefit from automation, but the AI software must be managed according to professional standards.

Outsourced Services: A Bot That Never Sleeps is Part Human

To use the medical industry as an example again, anyone offering professional health services needs 24/7 IT support. Why? In the off-hours, portals are still open, networks are still vulnerable, and emergency services are offered around the clock. Often, small and medium-sized businesses can’t afford an in-house employee to handle the 24/7 monitoring of sensitive information and infrastructure. Automation software can help monitor your system while sleeping. If your data is sensitive, your AI tools should come with a 24/7 IT help desk that is continually on watch for a potential or an attempted security breach.

Computer systems are nothing without people. AI systems are developed as a way for machine intelligence to supplement the problem solving skills of people. Strong AI is impressive: computer science continues to build automation systems that play chess or accomplish specific tasks that most humans want to avoid. AI development continues to reduce mundane tasks within a data management system, for example. AI research is focused on creating vast and intelligent artificial neural networks capable of driving cars. To control systems remotely is no longer science fiction. With an intelligent system, even small business owners can save time on routine tasks.

Automate Your Virtual Presence

Your virtual office makes your online presence paramount to the reputation of your business. Other online interactions create a complex representation of who you are as a business owner. Do you have a website or a virtual storefront? A strong web presence can bring you global success, or propagate mass reputation damage. With an internet culture of constant connectivity, automation can help you reach potential clients, even while you are sleeping, by promoting your brand, your ethics, your differentiators, and your value that only you can bring to your customers.

E-commerce comes with high risk, but with proper technology management, the virtual markets can only bring success to your business. You might be able to open new sales channels by offering direct supply to potential and current customers. Don’t be limited by your zip code: use AI to grow your business outside of your region, offering more people the services and products that you believe in as a business owner.

Using Business Automation to Scale While Lowering Costs

AI should help you streamline operations so that you can optimize your budget. However, poorly managed automation solutions can quickly overwhelm your staff, opening the doors to chaos. Fortunately, this loss of productivity is easily avoided when automation begins with expertise. EstesGroup’s staff includes ERP and IT experts that bring complete understanding to your business:

  • Project timing
  • Budgeting
  • Software selection
  • Infrastructure planning and deployment
  • Enterprise risk management
  • Enterprise resource planning
  • Business process improvement

Save time and money while focusing on the work you love. As a Managed Service Provider and ERP consultancy, we can help you choose the latest business solutions that can help you avoid time-consuming tasks by safely using business automation to gain wealth, health, and reputation.

Are you ready to automate success? Let our IT experts help you up your AI IQ.

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