Businesses who ‘make things’ understand the importance of forward planning and maintaining good relationships with their suppliers. Having a good relationship with your suppliers can ensure that you always have the supplies you need to keep your business running smoothly.

Collaborating with your suppliers to develop a shared understanding of their capabilities, capacity and plans helps reduce surprises when market conditions change. This collaboration enables you to develop better contingencies for fluctuations in demand.

But what about technology suppliers?

They’re kind of invisible a lot of the time… Until somethings not working, and then you need them – stat!

The problem is, if you’ve put no effort into maintaining these relationships and developing working processes, then you’re in unfamiliar territory when you need it most.

A client recently told me of the deep, decades-long relationships they had cultivated with their suppliers. He was quite rightly proud of this work and effort and pleased with the advantage that this gave the business.

We were there to review processes and systems, and I asked, ‘What about the supplier of your core systems?’

And you could see in the moment that something shifted for him. It was one of those ‘a-ha’ moments. The way he was thinking about system suppliers and product suppliers was different. He had not invested the effort and care in the same way as the suppliers of his core systems.

What’s in an ERP (MIS or core) system anyway?

ERP systems contain the data for those products, the recipes for how to make them, the quality assurance, specification and compliance documents that prove their authenticity. These systems contain customer records; who bought your products in what size, colour shape and for how much. If they purchased something else with it, where it was purchased, what payment method was used, whether it was returned and why. Whether they paid for shipping or insurance, or an extra warranty, these systems contain data about those who made the products, how much they cost, how many of them were made and where they were shipped from and distributed to.

Product, cost, specification, price, margin, supplier, and customer data is all stored in these systems. ALL this information (and often more) is contained in the systems that run your business.

And yet, these relationships are so often undervalued and undermaintained. Why is that?

Visibility & Capacity

It’s hard to put a daily value on something that’s not visible.

My working theory is that it mostly comes down to visibility and capacity.

The software doesn’t sit on a shelf and take up physical space. As long as it’s ‘not broken’, it’s not really attracting much attention. Just like maintaining fitness or speaking another language, the maintenance of systems or skills can atrophy over time. If you don’t put effort into looking after your core business systems, they can move from being an enabler to becoming a constraint. Software that is not regularly maintained by upgrading and cleaning up old data becomes less stable and more vulnerable to ‘unplanned outages’.

The capacity of business owners is limited. Until a business gets to a size that warrants a dedicated IT team where the relationship can be owned and managed, it’s often left with someone who is doing it as well as another job. Someone whose core passion is not systems or IT. If it’s not your core purpose to care about the systems that support the business and how we use them, it’s not going to get a lot of focus and attention. It’s easy to see how the cycle of ‘not much effort’ leads to systems that are only just hanging together and not really fit for their intended purpose.

“The way that that technology supplier is managed and the relationship that you have with your technology suppliers is just as important as the relationships that you have with your product suppliers. “

So what can a time-poor business owner do to better maintain core systems?

Core Systems Maintenance (Cheats) Guide

This guide provides tips for staying up to date with system information if you don’t have a dedicated IT team.

  1. Turn it into a group activity, and gamify it a bit (giving yourselves some business challenges to solve and work on together can lighten the load).
  2. Have one or two people in the business own the relationship; be clear about the best ways to log issues, how to request improvements and keep the lines of communication open.
  3. Go to the conference, the user group or the meetup. Connect with other customers/ users of the software and get inspired by what they do. Read the release notes and stay at least up to date with new developments.
  4. If you don’t have the capacity to upgrade regularly, make a point to review security patches and keep those up to date. Make a ‘rule’ that you’ll do an upgrade once a year (or a time that works for you) and pick a time of year that’s less busy.
  5. Get some outside help to support you if you need it.

The suppliers of the systems that run your business deserve the same investment in collaborative planning and ongoing sharing of information as those who make the products.

We can help you with an upgrade and help you get the processes in place to support developing better working relationships and cadence of work with your software suppliers. The goodwill and effort, though, comes down to you.

At 6R Retail, we specialise in helping businesses upgrade their software and processes to better support working relationships with suppliers. With our wealth of knowledge and experience, we can offer tailored support that will make a real difference to your business. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you improve your operations.