If you haven’t changed your computer systems recently, you’ll probably be quite surprised (and hopefully pleased) by some of the features that are considered standard these days. Modern software has evolved to keep up with changes in hardware, networking and devices. Some of the more obvious benefits include:
- Access anywhere – regardless of how you choose to host your system, you’d expect to be able to access it from anywhere in the world these days, and to be able to offer access to your trading partners both up and down the supply chain. Embedding a modern system within the business in this way can reduce the administration workload and increase accuracy, as duplication of effort and transcription errors are dramatically reduced.
- Security – one consequence of opening up your system is the need to secure it from unauthorised access, and to audit all data changes throughout. In the case of security, you’d expect the system to be very “fine-grained” in terms of allowing access to, visibility of and update of data on a field-by-field basis. And in terms of auditing, you’d expect to be able to track the changes made to a piece of data, and also all changes made by an individual user.
- Mobile access – over the last few years smartphones and tablets have taken over from PCs as the most common platform to access information. Note that the key word here is access, PCs are still the most common data entry method, and face it – you wouldn’t want to use a smartphone keyboard for entering a lot of data. But these devices can be very useful for ad-hoc enquiries on the move.
- Integration – most modern systems are capable of importing and exporting information to and from common third-party systems, both within your business and with your business partners in Shipping, logistics, fulfilment etc. Integration for the most part should be a data mapping exercise, and not require custom programming.
- Data density – monitors have come a long way since fuzzy VGA graphics on a CRT screen at 640 x 480 pixels. Most monitors are now full HD TV format (1920x 1080, or more than 6 VGA screens simultaneously), with Quad HD (4K) monitors starting to be affordable for data entry users (4k monitors are equivalent to more than 24 VGA screens!). And power users are often seen with multiple monitors on their desks. This richness of pixel density translates into applications that can put a huge volume of data in front of you, and modern applications will have features to highlight the areas you need to look at, to make them stand out of the crowd.
- Reporting – since modern systems can put more data in front of the user, it can replace a number of the simpler reports that may have been required previously. The ability to sort, group and sub-total in real time on the screen and then export to Excel, PDF or printer if a hard copy is required should be the least you expect from your new system.
- A richer user experience – you’d expect to be able to upload and attach images, tech packs, contract T&Cs, shipping documentation and more so that your system becomes the single point of reference for all the company information. Disk space has never been cheaper, and disk storage itself is a robust storage medium, particularly used in fault-tolerant (Raid) structures, or in the cloud.
- User Interfaces – there is no doubt that for data entry tasks, keyboard input is the fastest and most efficient way of getting data into a computer system. But increasingly, common interface standards can mean that the data can be imported rather than re-keyed. Where modern interfaces win is in their data browsing and enquiry responses. Typically, less than 10% of data accesses are to update, the vast majority are for enquiry purposes,
- Forms – even in our relatively paperless environments, if you want to get paid you’ll still have to send an invoice, even when this is done via email. So a document Is still required, and you should expect tools to be allow you to redesign, update and change the document formats, logos and T&Cs without needing custom software changes.
Of course, there will be many other advantages in replacing your systems, but in this post we’re just considering those which are generally applicable.
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