BizSlate, an ERP for the Small to Mid-Size Distributor

If you’re a small to mid-size distributor, with revenues under 100 M who is still running on QuickBooks (or even Microsoft dynamics), BizSlate is an ERP solution that you should be looking at — right now! BizSlate is doing for small-and-midsize distributors what Compiere and Made2Manage, are doing for small-and-midsize manufacturers — bringing usable, affordable ERP with exceptional supply chain support to the masses. And even though the official release of V1 doesn’t come out until Q4, BizSlate is already approaching two dozen distributors who are already using the solution, almost a dozen of which pre-paid for it over a year ago to be part of the usability design team.

With the sheer amount of data an organization needs to keep track of these days from an e-procurement, e-sourcing, spend analysis, risk management, and compliance perspective, it’s almost impossible for an organization with more than 10 Million in revenue to do without an ERP, but given that the annual total cost of the big ERPs still end up being in the seven figure range once implementation, training, maintenance, and infrastructure are factored in, these solutions are not affordable for the average small or mid-sized business. And while there are a number of SaaS best-of-breed solutions in each of the aforementioned supply management areas (like Coupa, iValua, Iasta, BravoSolution, BIQ, SupplierSoft, Vendormate, Lavante, etc.) that will allow an organization to collect and retain all relevant data, this data still needs to get into a centralized data store for inventory, warehouse, and logistics management; accounting; and spend analysis — a central data store that should probably take the form of an ERP solution. (And we recently pointed out how best of breed on an ERP backbone provides the best of both worlds.)

But not any ERP will do if you’re a small to mid-sized distributor. It has to be lightweight (as small to mid-size organizations don’t have the needs of large multi-nationals), SaaS (as they don’t have the IT departments either), low-cost (as they also don’t have large software budgets), and come in default configurations appropriate for distributors in different verticals (apparel, food & beverage, pre-manufactured components, etc.). And while Compiere and Made2Manage do well in the manufacturing world, and for the distributors who handle manufactured components and electronics, it can require some consulting and effort to customize them for apparel and food and beverage distributors, especially for certain organizations with certain processes.

Enter BizSlate. Before they spun it off from Ezcom software, the founders of BizSlate — who were focussed on low-cost EDI solutions for retailers — noticed the lack of appropriate ERP support for the small and mid-sized retail and distribution space, and decided to do something about it. Over the past year, they have designed a new SaaS-based ERP from the ground-up that addresses the everyday accounting, inventory, catalog management, and order management / e-procurement requirements of small and mid-sized distributors through a simple web-interface that is as easy to use as most of the new SaaS enterprise e-Procurement systems on the market. And they did it with the unique needs of the retail distribution space in mind.

The importance of their focus on the retail space, and the apparel space in particular, cannot be overlooked. In this space (as in food and beverage, but to a much greater extreme), it is generally the case that each distinct instance of a product (which is often a combination of colour, size, and style) needs to be its own line item and have its own SKU. As a result, setting up a clothing line in a traditional ERP system can often require days of manual entry as a user often has to create up to 100 products just to handle one shirt (10 sizes * 5 colours * 2 styles). If an average clothing line contains six shirts, two sweaters, four pants, three jackets, etc., and four new clothing lines are being carried, it is easy to see how thousands of new product records might need to be created in a traditional ERP, making the data entry so egregious that the ERP is almost unusable. In BizSlate, an administrator can batch-create new products simply by entering all the base product information and then defining the characteristics that define different instances and the set of values for each characteristic. A user can create hundreds of combinations in a matter of minutes.

In addition, they also looked at how orders were created and came up with bulk order template functionality that allows a user to quickly generate an order form for a product group, with a line for each instance of each product in the group, and a default order quantity for each group, or product. As a result, a user can generate an initial start-of-season order in a matter of minutes as all the user will have to do is change a few order quantities.

And this focus on process support is not limited to product and order creation. They also looked at the inventory management and accounting processes and made each step as easy as they could for the average user, focussing on collecting only the information that is required and only when it is required. The entire goal of the design is to keep the user out of the system as much as possible as success in this space depends on selling and generating orders, and then optimizing the inventory levels and logistics, not on mucking around with an ERP or trying to optimize pennies when the volume doesn’t exist to achieve FTL discounts from a big carrier.

As they are only in the process of releasing V1, there are still a few week areas, such as reporting which is limited to canned reports and accounting which only supports GL integration with QuickBooks, but even the functionality in these areas supports 80% to 90% of the needs of a typical distributor in retail or a related channel. V2, slated for Q2 next year, will have a fully integrated report writer, a (punch-out enabled) shopping cart, and support for carrier integration. But from an efficiency perspective, which was their goal, they’ve hit the nail on the head. The manpower savings alone will more than pay for the solution, and the value that a company will be able to generate through even the most basic spend analysis effort after deploying the solution for a year will be substantial.

In summary, if you are a small to mid-sized distributor, with revenues under 100M, in a retail vertical, and you don’t have an ERP, BizSlate is one company that you have to check out. They’re on the right track, and once you have your data in a centralized data store, bolting on a best-of-breed e-Sourcing or Spend Analysis engine will be a breeze, and your savings will multiply. (And yes, the doctor hasn’t been this impressed with an ERP effort since the early days of Compiere.)