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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
Preventing Ransomware in the Automotive Aftermarket

Preventing Ransomware in the Automotive Aftermarket

How to Secure the Automotive Aftermarket

To help develop awareness of cybersecurity needs in the manufacturing and distribution industries, EstesGroup conducted a joint education session with the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA). SEMA is a trade association composed of manufacturers, distributors, retailers and specialists focused on automotive specialty parts and accessories.

Preventing Ransomware in the Automotive Aftermarket

The educational session,“Preventing Ransomware in the Automotive Aftermarket,” focused on the steps that SEMA members can do to mitigate cyber threats. These steps can help any business improve digital security, so I’d like to review some of the material covered concerning the landscape of cyber threats.

What is the Threat?

Threats to organizations are widespread and increasingly prolific. According to the 2021 Malware Report from Cybersecurity Insiders, 88% of a survey of 500,000 IT professionals and 76% of 30,000 small and medium-sized business owners say that cyberthreats are a significant and growing risk. The attack vectors are multifaceted, including spear phishing emails, domain spoofing, and man-in-the-middle attacks.  

Cyberthreats are impacting organizations at all levels. On the business side, malware attacks caused both an increase in IT security-related spending and a decrease in productivity. At the IT operations level, ransomware is forcing cybersecurity professionals to update IT security strategies to focus on mitigation, as they struggle with data loss, downtime, and business continuity.

Watch the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) of “Preventing Ransomware in the Automotive Aftermarket”

Ransomware Questions, Security Answers

One might beg the question: Why is this happening? The reasons are surprisingly straightforward—the business of cyber warfare is a low-barrier, high-reward enterprise. The “startup costs” for a hacker who already has the necessary technical acumen are comparatively low, when compared to a traditional business environment.

The Reward is a Handsome Ransom

Cybersecurity is not merely an IT problem. It’s an enterprise-wide issue. As business owners, we do things to make our enterprises more integrated and efficient, and share information across the organization. But this creates new potential opportunities for exploitation. Moreover, since March of 2020, we and our fellow employees have been accessing our work environment from an increasingly remote context, further complicating company networks and creating new vulnerabilities.

Where are the Attacks Coming From?

The threats that proliferate our contemporary cyber landscape can be described as “hidden in plain sight” — the threat is as broad as the number of connected users, connected devices, and connected programs. It is not an exaggeration to say that every touchpoint is a potential threat. Some of the most common infiltration paths include the following:

  • Email: Email is a constant target of schemes and scams, and the attacks are getting more nuanced and personalized.
  • The Internet: Online infiltration dressed as information continues to be a source of attacks, with increasing attempts from hackers to disguise malicious domains to appear like the familiar sites that you know and love.
  • Programs & Applications: Within daily business operations, a company uses a surprising number of discrete applications. Whether online or installed on your devices, every program that we use for business purposes is a potential threat.
  • Integrations: The integrating of core systems with third-party applications increases the threat risk. We want the benefits of interconnectivity—for instance, we want our e-commerce system to speak to our inventory system so we know what is available to sell and ship. But in the hands of a hacker, that is a dangerous amount of information to possess.
  • Authentication: The credentials that users apply when accessing company resources can be a significant source of risk. Weak user credentials, simple passwords, and basic authentication policies can allow for significant system breeches.
  • The IOT Movement: The “internet of things” or “IOT” movement increased points of connectivity, and the number of viable targets. Who would have ever thought that you could get hacked by your refrigerator!
  • The BYOD Movement:  The “bring your own device” or “BYOD” movement lowered the bar for device management. Increasingly, smartphones and other devices are accessing social media social media to access system resources.  The risk here should be self-evident.
  • Remote Access: VPNs (or virtual private networks) provide extensive access to company networks. VPNs often provide more access than a user actually needs—it’s like providing access to the entire gymnasium just so you can reach the janitor’s closet.
  • COVID: The pandemic expanded the threat landscape, by increasing the number of remote users connected from a broader array of devices, many of them being inadequately-connected. On a broad scale, shared family devices were suddenly connecting to company headquarters.

The Future of Preventing Ransomware in the Automotive Aftermarket

As you can see, the threats are abundant, and the targets are many. The future of security in the automotive aftermarket depends on you and on your cybersecurity strategy. There are some simple steps that companies can take to mitigate the challenges of our current cyber landscape. To see what companies are doing to secure their organizations from threats, and what you can do to secure your future, please watch the recording of the SEMA educational session and come to our managed IT experts with any questions you have about current best practices for threat mitigation for businesses.

Let’s Talk About Cybersecurity & Your Business Now

Views from Booth 25 – P21WWUG CONNECT 2021

Views from Booth 25 – P21WWUG CONNECT 2021

Prophet 21 Trade Show Truths

Dining and whining with the end users in the trenches of Prophet 21’s annual conference can elicit frank and poignant sentiments regarding the state of software and the state of the broader markets that it works to support. Listening to the triumphs and tribulations of the P21 customer base, we’ve gained a much better understanding of the challenges that face the distribution world in 2021 and beyond. With this in mind, we thought we’d pass along a few lessons learned from our time in our P21WWUG CONNECT booth this year.

P21WWUG CONNECT 2021 Booth 25 Miranda Fallas Chris Koplar Epicor Prophet 21

Many business owners find themselves at a crossroads, where they need to take the next big step to scale up their existing operations and to compete more effectively and support strategic growth initiatives. This growth might even involve developing a more global footprint, and this has massive infrastructure, cybersecurity, and compliance regulation needs.

Distribution Industry Material Supply Challenges

Material supply continues to be a primary concern for organizations, one that unfortunately extends beyond the capabilities of an ERP system. Shipping lane stagnation, port congestion, raw material shortages, truck driver labor shortages, offshore vendor shutdowns, and a variety of additional factors have thrown traditional supply chains into disarray.

Addressing the Challenges

Companies are taking various approaches to address many of the above situations. Pathways might include outward-focused initiatives like EDI, punchout, SRM, e-commerce to improve communication between suppliers and customers. More internally-focused approaches also abound, as companies try to get more efficient and effective in the areas of warehouse management, AP automation, AR collections and credit, and in the pursuit of more cost-effective application deployment strategies.

Suppliers vs. Distributors

Over the years, suppliers have developed an increasing and disproportionate influence on distributors, more than ever before. Supplier mandates are forcing distributors to sometimes take radical actions to reorient themselves to address new demands. The breadth and depth of new demands often corresponds with the comparative size of the suppliers in question, but may also relate to the commodities being supplied and their relative scarcity. That is to say, when demand outstrips supply, the suppliers can be more demanding.

New Software, New Support Needs

The release of new versions of the software, coupled with the expiration of legacy version support, has put many users in a heightened state, as they scramble to determine what the next steps of their upgrade and deployment lifecycle will entail. Related to this, the migration to the web-based interface is an area that many companies are struggling to work out, given their existing application footprint, and the differences in look, feel, and functionality between the new and the P21 legacy client versions.

Labor Shortages

While material shortages are a well-known and overarching concern related to the pandemic, shortages in labor are also becoming increasingly problematic. The inability to find able-bodied individuals to fill positions within supply chains caused significant changes for organizations in 2021 and distributors are concerned that they will persist into 2022.

Application Deployment Differences

Overheard at the conference: “I didn’t know there were any other options!”—as legacy versions approach their end-of-life dates, customers find themselves looking at alternate application deployment options—from continuing to locally host the application on-premise, to moving to Prophet 21’s SaaS version, to hybrid private cloud infrastructure-as-a-service models. In spite of the tumult, different options exist, and P21 customers are discovering just what is out there.

As supply chains become more complex than ever, Prophet 21 customers are looking for control, access, and visibility. Critical to the goal of ultimate control, especially in terms of access, cloud deployment can make or break the chain.

Cloud Crossroads or Crosshairs

Also overheard at the conference: “Cloud without access means no job—cloud with access means I still have a job.” A common theme with the P21 customers we’ve talked to with regard to cloud deployment has been a question of access. Customers generally require varying levels of control and access over their application deployment. Solutions that limit access and control create problems for companies not only in terms of employment but in terms of efficacy. At the end of the day, distribution industry leaders are hoping the crossroads of growth won’t put them in the crosshairs of a cluster-cloud.

This concludes our episode of “tales from the booth.” Were you able to attend this year? Tell us what you learned. Did you miss it this year? Let us know and we’ll tell you all about everything we learned at P21WWUG CONNECT 2021!

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.

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.

Please fill out the form below or chat with us now to begin a network assessment today!