BizSlate Part 1: Newcomer Cloud ERP for Small Distributors




Like in real life, while old on-premises enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems are either going into retirement or getting major facelift procedures, new cloud-based ERP startups and products keep cropping up left and right. One such product is BizSlate Inc., a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offering that aims to improve the way small and medium sized businesses (SMBs) in distribution- and retail-centric environments manage their customers, vendors, orders, inventory, logistics, and their overall supply chains. Established in October 2011, BizSlate ERP is designed and developed under the collaborative efforts of a management team possessing small business supply chain expertise and a customer steering committee comprised of 20 small apparel, footwear, and housewares businesses that have between $1 million and $200 million (USD) in revenue.

The company’s management team has a wealth of supply chain and software experience, and a proven track record for success. BizSlate CTO Michael Park was formerly VP of technology of FreshDirect, the U.S.’s largest online distributor of fresh produce and grocery products. Marc Kalman, BizSlate’s CEO, has a background comprising a 25-year career in distribution supply chain and operations technology. Prior to BizSlate, Kalman was co-founder and CEO of eZCom Software Inc., a SaaS Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) provider that he ran successfully for 10 years. Under his leadership and with little outside capital, eZCom evolved from the ground up into a well-respected and competitive company.

Enter BizSlate
While at eZCom, Kalman recognized the opportunity to help small to medium businesses (SMBs) with increasing supply chain pains, based on his experience and track record helping customers transform their businesses by addressing their most crucial technology challenges. Indeed, many small manufacturers and distributors struggle due to a lack of adequate ERPs designed for small businesses. As a result, Kalman left eZCom to spinoff the ERP business and position BizSlate to capitalize on a large and growing market opportunity.

With small businesses generally being understaffed, employees commonly working long hours, and each employee being responsible for up to five different jobs (on a good day), it is essential for small businesses to invest in tools that maximize their ability to survive and succeed in a global Marketplace. Small distributors need access to key information, inventory accuracy, shorter sales cycles, and high customer retention. An astute SaaS ERP system should give small distribution businesses the opportunity to afford the tools that their bigger counterparts use, provide a secure and redundant environment that is accessible from anywhere, and be a clear non-disruptive option for keeping current with technological advancement.

BizSlate is headquartered in New York City with customers across the United States and Canada. Over the next 12 months the vendor expects to expand its reach into Europe, Asia, and South America. With about a dozen employees, BizSlate is staffed at the level one would expect any early stage software business to be staffed. But the company prides itself on the high quality of its customer service and product development.

BizSlate ERP Advantage
Traditional ERP products that have either financials or discrete manufacturing origins do not talk in the vernacular that retailers and their distributors demand. The incorporation of product attributes (size, color, fabric, texture, instructions, etc.), packaging requirements (handling open packs, pre packs, master packs, box vs. items relationships, etc.), and many other features that are a matter of course for retailers into the ERP requires serious retrofitting of manufacturing-oriented ERP systems. In contrast, BizSlate offers a slew of these tricky retail and consumer goods features in its first V1.0 release.

BizSlate’s Batch Product Creation process begins with the ability for users to make their own customer fields for products, in the form of text fields and dropdown lists. Users can optionally specify distinction of these custom fields, designating to BizSlate if the fields represent color and size values. They can also create Product Templates that eliminate the need for re-entering the same data for products over and over again, as well as the need to copy one product’s information to another product’s entry one at a time (see Figure 1). Users can then incorporate these product templates to drive creation of products containing over 300 variations in less than five minutes.

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Figure 1

Once users have created sales orders in BizSlate, instead of having to go into each order one at a time to make changes, they can take advantage of BizSlate’s Multi-Edit Sales Order form that is a real-time update allowing users to make changes across hundreds of orders simultaneously. Let’s imagine the scenario whereby a user receives a couple hundred orders from a large retail chain. After he/she receives the orders, the retailer makes a change to one or more of the fields, let’s say ship date, across all of 200 orders. In most ERP systems this would require either a manual update one at a time, or some sort of a batch job submission. Via BizSlate’s Multi-Edit Sales Order Form (see Figure 2), a user can instantly change fields across hundreds of orders in seconds.

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Figure 2

Moreover, the old ERP methodology of adding products to sales orders and purchase orders at a line level is outdated and inefficient. BizSlate separates the concept of adding products to an order from displaying them. This is done via BizSlate’s “Add Products” sub-tab, whereby users can determine on-the-fly the best option for the particular product(s) being added to the order.

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Figure 3

Using BizSlate From a Trade Show Floor
BizSlate is developed in Java, uses Oracle for its database, and runs on Linux and Amazon Web Services (AWS). One of the key benefits of SaaS ERP for small distribution businesses is having access to important information to make quick and accurate decisions from anywhere at any time. BizSlate customers are able to take orders via smartphones, tablets, and laptops from trade show floors and incorporate the orders directly into their ERP systems in real-time. There is no need to sync up disparate applications since everything is live and in real-time, whereby users can also see actual inventory, including “open to sell,” ensuring products are being accurately promised to customers (the Open to Sell inventory can be based both on the current date and future dates, and tracked across multiple warehouses). This mobility also eliminates tons of paperwork, and eliminates a multi-week process of data entry and fixing issues caused by not entering orders at the time they were taken.

Additional nifty features are the ability for users to manage products the way they use them, including Open Stock, Size Run, Pre Pack, Master Pack, Assortment, and Bill of Materials (BOMs). They can also create custom Landed Cost categories as well as assign and manage UPCs, GTINs, EANs, and ISBNs. The Receiving Documents feature can accommodate multiple purchase order receiving. Future product versions will feature integration with Intuit QuickBooks, e-commerce, and payment processing, and some more advanced logistics features.

BizSlate plans to offer e-commerce capabilities later this year, and it will be taking a 'Best of Breed' approach instead of Netsuite’s “all in one” approach. BizSlate feels that this approach is a better solution for small businesses that may have already invested considerably into another e-commerce tool. Instead of requiring that they throw it away and be forced to use BizSlate’s, the vendor will instead offer real-time integration and bridge the gap between the e-commerce solution and the BizSlate system.

BizSlate’s competitors are Netsuite, Microsoft Dynamics, and Sage (although these vendors are really looking more at the mid- to large-size Market now while BizSlate is focusing on pure SMBs). On the newer, cloud side, BizSlate would compete with Kenandy and Acumatica. Although being a SaaS ERP, BizSlate charges annual support and maintenance fees on top of traditional subscription fees for software. While this approach is against the traditional cloud ERP wisdom (given that cloud vendors cite the elimination of these costs as major advantages over their on-premises counterparts), BizSlate claims that its solution is still at least 30 percent cheaper than cloud ERP competitor solutions.

For a deeper look at BizSlate and its ERP offering, please see this recent TEC interview with BizSlate CEO Marc Kalman.
 
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