2020 has reached the mid-year mark and Avalara is delivering a live presentation on this year’s sales tax changes. The report takes stock of what’s taken place in the world of sales tax since the year began. This includes emerging trends, unforeseen changes, and the curveball this year threw the world with the COVID-19 pandemic. Join us for a live webinar presented on July 15 at 1 pm by the sales tax experts at Avalara on their 2020 Sales Tax Changes Midyear Update.

COVID-19

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic hamstrung brick-and-mortar commerce with a tremendous shift to digital operations and eCommerce.

All the while, businesses scrambled to deliver on fulfilment obligations to customers, remain solvent, and even retool to meet the demand for specific products.

Governments addressed the issue in a number of ways, with delayed VAT filings or temporarily cut the VAT rate for industries bearing the largest impacts. For example, the United States pushed back to state and federal income tax deadlines. This provides more time for individuals and businesses to file and pay.

2 Years Beyond South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc.

If you recall the 2018 United States Supreme Court decision in South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc., the ruling enabled states to tax businesses that have economic activity but no physical presence in the state. Otherwise known as economic nexus. It was a big deal. It still is. At the time, only a handful of states moved on the new ruling and began charging states without physical presence sales tax.

Fast-forward to the June 2020 sales tax situation and the vast majority of states have signed on to adopt these economic nexus laws. COVID-19 has only heightened awareness among states that remain on the fence and it won’t be long before these convoluted rules apply to all 50 states.

States Need More Money

As the last six months have proven, the states are on their own in a number of social and economic areas. As the pandemic continues to send shockwaves through economies of every scale, states are sure they’ll need to supplement their coffers one way or another to remain effective in serving their residents. 2020 sales tax rules for individual states are likely to change to address the need for making up lost revenue.

Digital And Streaming Services Can Expect To Pay More

If you haven’t heard of Zoom or GoTo Meeting, chances are you’ve been living under a rock for the past six months. States are anticipated to raise taxes on these heavily utilized platforms. As a result, digital meeting and entertainment services are likely to see sales tax legislature expanded at their expense.

More Collection Requirements For Marketplace Facilitators

Marketplace facilitators like Etsy, Amazon, eBay and others, are expected to collect and remit sales tax at an increasing rate. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Most states already have such laws governing marketplace facilitator sales tax collections on the books. Just four states remain in this situation in the entirety of the US. One is already closely eyeing the implementation of such legislation.

The Dynamic Nature of 2020 Sales Tax

Nothing is guaranteed but death and taxes. Unfortunately, sales tax rules seldom retain the same state for very long. The last six months have seen reductions or eliminations of sales tax rules for feminine hygiene products. There’s even been discussion within some regions on the elimination of sales tax for firearms. Now, groceries are a focal point for communities hardest hit by job loss and economic downturn.

You can read more in Avlara’s comprehensive report, here: 2020 sales tax changes midyear update.

About Encompass Solutions

Encompass Solutions is a business and software consulting firm that specializes in ERP systems, EDI, and Managed Services support for Manufacturers and Distributors. Serving small and medium-sized businesses since 2001, Encompass modernizes operations and automates processes. Whether undertaking full-scale implementation, integration, and renovation of existing systems, Encompass provides a specialized approach to every client’s needs. By identifying customer requirements and addressing them with the right solutions, we ensure our clients are equipped to match the pace of Industry.


An Encompass customer in the Industrial Heating industry recently fell victim to an opportunistic ransomware attack that had encrypted all internal system files, as well as their Epicor application files. As a result, work was unable to continue, bringing operations to a standstill. Encompass’ Managed Services (MS) were enlisted to help get things back up and running. The company requested this case study be posted anonymously

Ransomware Recovery Project Background

The company’s network fell victim to a severe ransomware attack. Unfortunately, it had affected all internal systems, including backups. The attack took down the company’s systems completely in a matter of hours, forcing the company to rebuild from scratch.  Fortunately, the company was able to save its Epicor Database.

The Plan

Initially, there was no internal plan in place at this company to address the initial attack or the fallout from such an event. The results from the attack were focused effort to get systems up and running as fast as possible and restore a state of operational functionality.

Objectives for the engagement were to recover system use, rebuild what was lost, and establish backups.

A plan to instate standard operating procedures that would minimize the potential for reoccurrence and maximize the efficiency of response and ransomware recovery followed.

The Execution

The company’s staff were able to provide Encompass with the necessary documentation, in the form of a blueprint of the existing Epicor environment, to rebuild the system in a more structurally sound way than the original.

Encompass’ MS team worked with corporate IT staff to ensure backups and other security precautions were in place moving forward.

Overall, Encompass has just been a great asset to our organization. We have been through both a major Epicor upgrade and recovery process with them, and I am extremely impressed with everything they have done.  They definitely make my job easier.

– C.R., IT Manager

The Results

Encompass’ managed services team were able to work with the parent company to reestablish a stable network and functional Epicor system in less than one week.

Next Steps

Documented SOPs were put in place to routinely establish backups and test recoverability on a regular basis.

This company was pleased with Encompass’ level of service and expedient reaction to the situation. The two organizations will continue to work together on future Epicor projects and system maintenance.

About Encompass Solutions

Encompass Solutions is a business and software consulting firm that specializes in ERP systems, EDI, and Managed Services support for Manufacturers and Distributors. Serving small and medium-sized businesses since 2001, Encompass modernizes operations and automates processes for hundreds of customers across the globe. Whether undertaking full-scale implementation, integration, and renovation of existing systems, Encompass provides a specialized approach to every client’s needs. By identifying customer requirements and addressing them with the right solutions, we ensure our clients are equipped to match the pace of Industry.


The free sales tax risk assessment is a self-serve online resource that helps companies determine where they have triggered economic nexus. Companies answer three questions and receive a PDF report that provides a map and details regarding where they have triggered sales tax obligations and which states they need to watch.

Know Where You’re On The Hook With Our Free Sales Tax Risk Assessment Tool

Get a breakdown of states where you may be obligated to collect sales tax. The free Avalara Sales Tax Risk Assessment can help you determine where your sales have created a need to register to collect and remit sales tax — and guide you on a cost-effective automation solution.

Still Need Convincing To Use This Free Sales Tax Risk Assessment Tool?

Has your company triggered economic nexus, or do you want to find out if it has? Try our tax expert partner’s free online sales tax risk assessment today – Avalara will give you your own report.

Selling into states where you’re not physically located? You might be on the hook for sales tax if you’ve sold a certain dollar amount or volume.

Give our tax expert partner Avalara some of your time, and they’ll give you a customized PDF featuring each state where your sales have likely triggered a sales tax obligation and suggestions on an automation solution with strong ROI.

Get a breakdown of states where you may be obligated to collect sales tax. The free Avalara Sales Tax Risk Assessment can help you determine where your sales have created a need to register to collect and remit sales tax — and why.

43 states tax remote sales so it’s hard for businesses with national (or international) sales to know where they’re required to register to collect tax. Avalara’s new tool provides that clarity. Check it out and let’s talk about automating that knowledge.

About Avalara

Offering end-to-end tax compliance solutions to enterprises big and small, Avalara makes automated certificate validation, storage, and management easy. Avalara’s cloud-based sales tax automation software provides accuracy for all of the 12,000+ tax jurisdictions in the United States. Avalara ensures that automating sales, tax calculation, and maintaining compliance are all possible within your existing ERP, POS, or e-commerce system.

About Encompass Solutions

Encompass Solutions is a business and software consulting firm that specializes in ERP systems, EDI, and Managed Services support for Manufacturers and Distributors. Serving small and medium-sized businesses since 2001, Encompass modernizes operations and automates processes for hundreds of customers across the globe. Whether undertaking full-scale implementation, integration, and renovation of existing systems, Encompass provides a specialized approach to every client’s needs. By identifying customer requirements and addressing them with the right solutions, we ensure our clients are equipped to match the pace of Industry.


The article “How to Consider the “What-ifs” in Times of Uncertainty” by Wayne Slater was originally published on the Prophix blog in April, 2020. you can read the original article, Here.

The word “uncertainty” immediately invokes feelings of anxiety and fear. This is not unusual, as it’s a natural human reaction to prefer the comfort of predictability over the vagueness of uncertainty. It’s in our nature to plan our day, week, and year on the data available to us. Businesses and finance professionals are no different. When the future is uncertain, this increases the risk to businesses and anxiety escalates around how to tackle the situation quickly.

Uncertain times are just that, uncertain. They make predicting the future much harder at the precise time you need to plan for it the most. Like people, businesses need to change with the times as well. Plans are no longer set in stone and need to be revisited more than twice or thrice in a year.

The need for active forecasting based on real data is paramount to making well-informed decisions about the future. In uncertain times, it’s all about becoming agile. Think about how the United States went from one COVID-19 case in Jan. 2020 to over 140,0001 by the end of Mar. 2020. Whether your organization operates in healthcare or hospitality, your plans need to adapt quickly because new decisions need to be made. Project management has already started moving from waterfall methodologies to agile for more frequent output. Ask yourself, has this sort of innovation happened in FP&A? It’s high-time finance teams are equipped with the right tools to “shift from generating data to producing insights2” that drive superior decisions.

Get access to our short 20-minute webinar on how your business can better react to and prepare for market volatility with CPM software.

an image of the future-proof your business webinar hosted by Prophix

The World of CPM

Welcome to the world of CPM – Corporate Performance Management – a tool that transforms your finance department by making processes more efficient, agile, and automated, so that you can leverage your data to improve planning, reporting, security, workflows, and consolidations, all while reducing human error. Ultimately, CPM lets your organization be proactive, forward-thinking, and enables finance leaders to better guide the organization during uncertain times.

Agile Scenario Planning

An especially important application in these uncertain times is scenario planning (see Fig.1 for contextual and transactional environmental factors involved in scenario planning). What realities is your business facing? What happens if consumer spending falls by 25%? Or if product revenue falls by 15%? Or customers need to renegotiate payment terms? Whether sales are booming or declining, finance leaders need to go back and revisit their forecasts to assess the impact to cash flow and profitability and set correcting strategies. Having a centralized CPM tool like Prophix can make your life easier because it allows you to easily run scenarios on-the-fly.

Fig. 1: The Role of the Contextual Environment in Scenario Planning | https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/using-scenario-planning-to-reshape-strategy/

an iamge of how to future-proof your business using contextual planning

Powerful tools let you transform your data and allow you to better model your operations, especially in regard to “what-if” scenario planning. Positioning your company for success involves tough modeling to ensure business continuity.

Some industries are experiencing tremendous growth like healthcare, pharmaceuticals, and groceries. Concurrently, there are those that are being hit hard financially such as hospitality, aviation, and retail. Cash flow planning becomes critical during uncertain times. With a robust CPM tool, you can easily model changes to your plans and move forward. It’s all about enabling you to plan smartly.

Your finance department probably spends long nights doing month-end and operational tasks. If they’re already spending 80% of their time on transactional tasks, it can be hard to shift focus to complex planning. Is your team equipped and ready to model endless scenarios in price adjustments, changes in capital spending, and fluctuating labour needs? Now, try to imagine a world where you already had a plan and solution in place to successfully steer you out of uncertainty…

Unsure how to move forward in uncertain times? Listen to the upcoming Prophix webinar on the benefits of proactive scenario planning.

Planning for Uncertainty

So, how you do you plan for uncertainty (see Fig. 2 for some tips on scenario planning)? Well, it depends on many factors, but it starts with having a tool that can effectively and centrally manage your data, so that all your users can view and interpret the same information.

To prepare for uncertainty, you need to set the baseline financial plan and the appropriate objectives/strategic goals. Next, prepare for different outcomes by involving more people in your planning process and consider best- and worst-case scenarios. CPM software lets you do this seamlessly through workflow project management capabilities.

Once your data is centralized, it’s easy to assess your performance against planned objectives. As you understand your variances, you can measure performance, visualize the future, and adapt accordingly with agility. Once everyone agrees, you can automate report distribution, buying you more time for value creation and generating insights.

Get your guide to corporate financial planning during the pandemic – watch the webinar.

Fig. 2: The DOs and DON’Ts of Scenario Planning | https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/strategy-and-corporate-finance/our-insights/overcoming-obstacles-to-effective-scenario-planning

an image of how to future proof your business using the do's and don'ts of scenario planning

As you can see, scenario planning is closely linked with both budgeting and forecasting. Things change, uncertainty arises, and plans evolve. In finance, scenarios act as guiding frameworks about events that may or may not take place in the future.

As finance leaders, we must proactively plan for the unknown and incorporate it into our forecasts. We must assess more frequently whether we are meeting our objectives, and if these objectives need to be changed. Scenario planning helps mitigate variances by focusing on the realities of the business. It helps finance leaders manage resources and improve decision-making by considering opportunities and risks.

In summary, the strategy is all about envisioning and implementing ideas and goals that let you compete and win in the marketplace. Don’t let old habits of the past slow down your organization and its predisposition to change. CPM tools like Prophix provide you with the technological solutions that help innovate the Office of Finance in a rapidly evolving environment to give you a competitive edge in a world of big data and increasing complexity.

Consider the “what-ifs” in Prophix’s webinar on proactive scenario planning – watch now.

Join the live discussion with Q&A to learn what CFOs around the globe can do to respond to changing conditions and ensure business continuity while improving planning and minimizing risk.

Footnotes:

1 – https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/cases-in-us.html

2 – http://images.info.deloitte.ca/Web/DeloitteManagementServicesLP/%7B161111db-4cc2-4d68-a272-96bd0a7d551a%7D_ca_en_FinanceTrends_16_3730T.PDF

About Prophix

Prophix develops innovative software that automates critical financial processes such as budgeting, planning, consolidation and reporting — improving a company’s profitability and minimising its risks. Thousands of forward-looking organisations in more than 90 countries use software from Prophix to gain increased visibility and insight into their business performance.

About Encompass Solutions

Encompass Solutions is a business and software consulting firm that specializes in ERP systems, EDI, and Managed Services support for Manufacturers and Distributors. Serving small and medium-sized businesses since 2001, Encompass modernizes operations and automates processes for hundreds of customers across the globe. Whether undertaking full-scale implementation, integration, and renovation of existing systems, Encompass provides a specialized approach to every client’s needs. By identifying customer requirements and addressing them with the right solutions, we ensure our clients are equipped to match the pace of Industry.


The article “It’s 2020 — Should Business Owners Fear The Cloud?” was written by Epicor Software Corp. CEO Steve Murphy and published by Forbes on March 2, 2020. You can read the original article here.

The cloud. It’s a small word that packs a big punch. Defining what cloud is can cause confusion for some, while implementing it raises concerns for others.

We should consider three key factors as we continue into a new decade and business owners ask if they should fear the cloud: privacy, interoperability and cost.

But first, what is the cloud, and why are businesses migrating to this solution?

Essentially, the cloud is a delivery method for your software. It’s a network of servers that are linked together and operate as a single system. The cloud can perform a variety of functions (e.g., storing data, running applications, delivering content, etc.), and you can access it online. There are both public and private cloud options. The biggest difference with the cloud is what it doesn’t require. You don’t need any hardware or networking gear on-site – all you need is a tablet or a phone to run the software.

One of the major reasons I believe cloud adoption continues to grow is the flexibility and productivity enhancements it offers. As the CEO of a company that offers cloud platforms, I’ve found that these features are particularly attractive as business owners look to build resiliency in the face of unpredictable trade wars and other geopolitical changes. Business owners often look to business management software to provide stability. According to Goldman Sach’s 2020 review (via CNBC), 23% of IT workloads are now in public clouds.

So, should business owners fear the cloud when it comes to privacy, interoperability and cost?

Should I fear privacy in the cloud?

There is no denying privacy is a major concern when it comes to data. Data breaches continue to increase, as does the projected production of data. To keep pace, both software solutions and IT departments will have to up their game.

First, I’ll share the bad news. According to Hiscox’s 2019 Cyber Readiness Report, most businesses are unprepared for cyberthreats. In fact, in the U.S., 73% of businesses are “novices” at cyber readiness.

The good news, however, is that the public cloud has proven safer than on-premise data center environments. Specifically, Gartner found that “to date, there have been very few security breaches in the public cloud” and that “through 2020, public cloud Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) workloads will suffer at least 60% fewer security incidents than those in traditional data centers.”

If you decide to move to the cloud due to these safety findings, you should still be mindful of cloud vulnerabilities. Take stock of what kinds of sensitive information you are putting in the cloud, and ensure you understand how the cloud provider will protect that data. The time needed to safely migrate systems and data can be lengthy, but it shouldn’t be rushed at the expense of security infrastructure. Select a provider who prioritizes security during the migration process and who has a solid reputation for getting the configuration right, and communicate with your team so that they understand the migration timeline and can manage their expectations.

Regardless of your software solution, privacy issues will continue to be a concern. One of the most important things business leaders can do is ensure they have a crisis management protocol in place if and when a breach should occur.

Should I fear cloud interoperability challenges?

I have great news on this front. There have been major strides toward interoperability. In fact, multiple systems can exchange and use information easier than ever before. This is due to a variety of reasons: Many application programming interfaces (APIs) continue to get better, and standards continue to improve, and, notably, I see tech giants such as Google, Amazon, and Microsoft Azure frequently expand the universe of applications that can easily be put in their clouds. I believe their efforts have significantly moved the needle.

While interoperability isn’t perfect, there’s a lot of upward momentum. I expect that to progress.

Should I fear the cost of the cloud?

If you’re a business owner and you aren’t sure cloud makes sense for you from a cost perspective, ask yourself if you have a good grip on how much it costs to have your own data center in your business. Do you already have the IT skills in-house to run your own system? If so, the cloud may not make sense.

However, many business owners are surprised to find that their IT operations cost them a lot more than they think and that implementing cloud solutions can save them both time and money when it comes to issues such as automatic upgrades (which keep your company current and competitive), labor and maintenance costs, or increases in workforce productivity, to name a few.

Just remember that the decision between on-premise and cloud will be unique for each business. When you’re evaluating your IT operations cost, ask yourself how scalable you need your solution to be in the future. How adept is your IT department at staying up to date with evolving technology? Will you need additional data storage, and do you have the physical space to accommodate an expansion of your on-premise data center? Do you need access to data on the go? If a natural disaster hits your business, how will you back up your data?

What it comes down to is the total current cost of your on-premise data center versus a cloud solution. For business leaders who are still on the fence about expense, make sure you evaluate your options regularly. Cloud providers will have to continue to be cost-competitive, which could work in your favor.

Bottom line: Don’t fear the cloud. It could be a safer option than on-premise data. Its interoperability continues to improve. It can be highly effective at increasing productivity. It can save you money long-term. And the cloud will likely continue to improve over time. The year 2020 may be the one for you to move forward with implementation.

About Encompass Solutions

Encompass Solutions is a business and software consulting firm that specializes in ERP systems, EDI, and Managed Services support for Manufacturers and Distributors. Serving small and medium-sized businesses since 2001, Encompass modernizes operations and automates processes for hundreds of customers across the globe. Whether undertaking full-scale implementation, integration, and renovation of existing systems, Encompass provides a specialized approach to every client’s needs. By identifying customer requirements and addressing them with the right solutions, we ensure our clients are equipped to match the pace of Industry.


The recent Financial Service Network (FSN) survey on Planning, Budgeting and Forecasting (PBF) showed two key characteristics for those organisations that produced the most insightful finance forecasts. First, was the ability to leverage non-financial data. Second, was the application of advanced analytics. We will look at how the most successful organisations expand their vision beyond the narrow financial view of the future to produce more valuable foresight in their PBF processes.

Finance: The Home of Truth

The financial component of enterprise resource planning, whether part of a full-fledged ERP system or a mom-and-pop shop running Quickbooks, has historically been the ‘home of truth’. Finance was where everyone turned for answers, since the only quantitative test of performance and sustainability was the P&L and the balance sheet. Finance largely birthed the IT function in a bid to automate the production of some of these answers. Most famously, in the production of payroll. Despite this, finance has now lagged in technology investment for some years, being overtaken by marketing, sales and operations.

With new technology at their fingertips and an increasingly scientific approach, other functions in the business have begun to answer their own questions, collecting and analysing their own data. The numbers in marketing may still be a little hazier than in finance but marketing has begun to offer insight into things that finance cannot, or has not. Market trends and consumer behaviour tell leaders not just about what is but what might be. This forward-looking insight has often contrasted with finance’s view of the future.

The Past, Give or Take

Finance’s view of tomorrow has, by contrast, been rather singular in its source – the past. Predictions of tomorrow have been based on the evidence of the most recent year, with management’s desire for growth most often being the biggest factor steering the positivity, or otherwise, the forecast for the year ahead. Only negative macro factors have dissuaded forecasters from positivity about the bottom line and all the pressure that brings to bear on sales for revenue growth and operations for ever greater efficiency.

The figures from FSN’s report might suggest this had changed. 72% of finance leaders say their forecasting processes are now inclusive, drawing on sources from across the company but dig further into the figures and this starts to feel more like an aspiration than a reality.

78% of the senior finance executives surveyed agreed that greater use of non-financial data is the best way to improve their PBF process and outcomes. 76% recognised the importance of connecting with more stakeholders from outside of the finance function to improve the accuracy of forecasts. The need to connect with other functions and share data is clearly acknowledged.
But 74% say they are struggling to identify all relevant non-financial data sources. Why? Over 55% of respondents say that the lack of involvement of non-finance personnel is amongst the greatest barriers to forecast accuracy.

The obvious conclusion is that the connections between finance and the rest of the organisation just aren’t there.

Additional Barriers

The lack of cross-cutting relationships through the business is not the only issue blocking the better application of non-financial data for improved forecasts. A quarter of respondents say their senior managers do not appreciate the value of non-financial data. And surprisingly, 23% delegate non-financial data tasks to more junior staff despite 43% of respondents ranking it in their top 3 sources of ‘most insightful data’.

Insightful it may be but there remain concerns about the quality of non-financial data when compared to the sources with which finance professionals are more familiar. 41% of CFOs are concerned about its integrity and believe it is less reliable than financial sources. This may well be true but these issues can be addressed, with appropriate weighting and analysis. The potential value of the data is clear, to ignore it would be nonsensical.

Taking Steps

So, how do finance leaders address these issues in order to improve insight into their planning, budgeting and forecasting?

Relationships across the business rely on reciprocation and communication, not just shared goals. Finance has to be able to bring value to the other functions of the business if it is going to extract value back.

That value comes from the insight finance can bring. Most functions in the business are seeking better analysis of their situation and environment, and finance should have the skills to deliver that.

That comes with a time penalty of course but increasing automation of the base functions of finance should be releasing resources. This is a great way to apply the released resources to improve results.

Relationships will be hard to build without the soft skills of communication, and this is another area where finance has historically fallen down. In our interactions with younger members of finance teams, we consistently find a lack of training on offer in anything beyond technical skills. This frustrates the ambitious and leads them to move on. Training then offers a two-fold benefit to the business: better collaboration and a greater chance of retention.

This isn’t to say technical skills aren’t important. Finance leaders need to be constantly up-skilling their teams in planning and analysis, and equipping them with the right tools to apply their learning. Then, they can efficiently integrate non-financial data into their models, improving forecasts and returning value to the other business functions.

As FSN says in its own report, “Mastering non-financial data is the key to being able to forecast accurately and further into the future.” The only way to do this is to enhance the relationships that finance holds across the organisation, by investing in the skills of its people.

For more information on ERP and the future of financial systems, read the FSN report on the topic – HERE

About Prophix

Prophix develops innovative software that automates critical financial processes such as budgeting, planning, consolidation and reporting — improving a company’s profitability and minimising its risks. Thousands of forward-looking organisations in more than 90 countries use software from Prophix to gain increased visibility and insight into their business performance.

About Encompass Solutions

Encompass Solutions is a business and software consulting firm that specializes in ERP systems, EDI, and Managed Services support for Manufacturers and Distributors. Serving small and medium-sized businesses since 2001, Encompass modernizes operations and automates processes for hundreds of customers across the globe. Whether undertaking full-scale implementation, integration, and renovation of existing systems, Encompass provides a specialized approach to every client’s needs. By identifying customer requirements and addressing them with the right solutions, we ensure our clients are equipped to match the pace of Industry.


The article “How Multiple Generations Can Work Together in a Changing Workplace” By Editors Audrey Lecker and Lauren Mauldinwas published on the Epicor Shop Floor June 8, 2020. You can read the original article here.

How Multiple Generations Can Work Together in a Changing Workplace

Working from home is nothing new. For decades, many businesses—especially tech companies—have offered remote working options. In recent years, that popularity has grown even more.

It stood to reason that remote work would continue its upward trajectory. Eventually, working from home could become the rule rather than the exception.

COVID-19 condensed that timeline. From 2017 to 2018, only about 29% of U.S. workers were able to work from home. Compare that to 57% of Americans in March this year who reported they now work remotely due to current events.

Making the Switch to Remote Work

The global health situation forced businesses to install telecommute policies almost overnight. Now they must support employees adapting to a new way of working, especially in industries where working from home wasn’t an option to begin with.

Interpersonal relationships may be harder to manage online than by the water cooler.

Shifting from office life to working from home has allowed a multitude of businesses to survive during a time of economic uncertainty and health risks. But it doesn’t come without a cost.

Interpersonal relationships may be harder to manage online than by the water cooler. Those not used to working completely via phone, video chat, or email may miss face-to-face office interaction. Workers and businesses had to establish entirely new ways of getting work done, and that came with a steep learning curve.

For some employees perhaps, but not all. Gen Z and Millennials have been getting work done and nurturing interpersonal relationships online for years. This way of working may not be as new to them as it might be for generations like Gen X and Baby Boomers.

This mass exodus from the corporate office to the home office is an opportunity for all generations to learn from each other. Baby Boomers and Gen X watched the workplace change around them for years, while many Millennials entered the workplace during a recession. They’re all used to working through tough periods of change and know how to adapt to a “new now.”

We can leverage the strengths of each generation to grow and transform the modern workplace.

Boomers Bring Experience and People Skills

During their careers, Boomers have seen the working landscape evolve in dramatic ways. Most technology we now use every day did not exist at all during their formative years. They’ve had to learn how to work through multiple recessions and constantly evolving tech.

Boomers bring a significant amount of experience to the table. They know how to manage people and business relationships. How to work through periods of great change. When to have a face-to-face conversation versus shooting off an email. These lessons, learned and honed over time, can be taught to younger generations through mentorship or other educational means.

Gen X Navigates Economic and Technological Change

Statistically, Gen Xers  tend to be loyal to their companies and therefore  hold institutional knowledge.  Though they may not have grown up with as much technology as their younger counterparts, they see the value in it and navigate the digital workspace with confidence.

Along with Boomers, Gen X brings people skills and traditional leadership honed throughout their careers. They can serve as a bridge between the younger Millennials and Gen Zers to the Boomers.

Millennials Push for Use of Tech in the Workplace

Growing up as older kids and teens when the internet and smart phones first became widely used, Millennials already know the value of technology. They drive the use of collaboration tools that make working with a remote team easier.

With many entering the workforce during the 2008 recession, it gave them skills to not just survive but thrive during difficult circumstances. They share this experience with Boomers and Gen X, who were already well into their careers at the time.

Millennials have had to learn to be resourceful enough to find new opportunities both for themselves and the businesses they work in.

Gen Z is the Technological Multi-Tasker, Eager to Grow

Gen Z is the newest generation to enter the workforce and has a natural affinity with technology. The grew up as toddlers playing on smart phones while Millennials were already young adults. Technology is almost a natural extension of themselves.

Gen Z is the expert multi-tasker. They’re naturals at navigating multiple apps, communication tools, and digital tasks. Because of this, Gen Z employees can wear many hats. Companies needing to operate “lean and mean” through unexpected disruptions lean into the value of workers with these skills.

Because Gen Z entered the workforce during a time of drastic change, it’s going to shape what they expect from employers in the future. As the first generation of “digital natives,” they’re used to personalization in the tools they use—and this extends to the world around them. They are the generation that can think beyond the current status quo of the company’s tools, and develop sharp, streamlined, and individualized technology for future growth.

Multi-Generational Collaboration in the Future Workplace

Each generation faces different challenges when it comes to working from home; Gen Zers may fight for elbow room alongside family or housemates. Millennials and Gen Xers may balance work with educating young children at home. And Boomers, while most likely to have dedicated office space, could have less digital experience.

Because all generations are becoming more comfortable working from home, there may be a big push for this way of working to continue. From reducing overhead costs of facilities to protecting employees from public health issues, some believe it’s highly unlikely we’ll see things go back to exactly how they were.

Some Boomers and Gen Xers might have a learning curve when it comes to online collaboration while Millennials and Gen Z thrive in a remote environment. Generational trends aside, intentionally building collaboration between the more and less tech-savvy employees is critical while adapting to the massive change current events wrought on the traditional workplace.

A Transforming Workforce

While having face-to-face time in a physical office still has undeniable benefits, flexible working has evolved from a desire into a necessity. And it’s not going to go away.

The merging of generational experiences during this global shift in working practices is something that will create stronger team bonds, now and in the future. A broad range of new skills are both taught and learned through collaboration. This is the perfect way to ensure the workplace of the future is full of close-knit teams leading a cultural change. Each generation brings something new to the table, and they’re already proving that the benefits of a blended team remain–even when working remotely.

Recognizing each individual’s strengths and value to the team—regardless of meeting in person or over the internet—is the best way forward to build a strong working culture.

About Encompass Solutions

Encompass Solutions is a business and software consulting firm that specializes in ERP systems, EDI, and Managed Services support for Manufacturers and Distributors. Serving small and medium-sized businesses since 2001, Encompass modernizes operations and automates processes for hundreds of customers across the globe. Whether undertaking full-scale implementation, integration, and renovation of existing systems, Encompass provides a specialized approach to every client’s needs. By identifying customer requirements and addressing them with the right solutions, we ensure our clients are equipped to match the pace of Industry.


The article “How Smart Factories Drive Remote Work Capabilities” by Poornima Apte, Contributor was previously published on the Epicor Shop Floor on May 21, 2020. You can read the original article on smart factory technologies, here.

At a time when China was going through a sudden economic disruption due to COVID-19, Hytera, a manufacturer of private communication devices, managed to do what many other manufacturers could not: It continued production in its Shenzhen facility. Hytera responded quickly to changing market demand and reassigned a few of its 10 production lines to produce disposable face masks.

Similarly, Baoshan Iron and Steel kept its facility in Shanghai running around the clock with automated production. The factory met new health guidelines with its existing operation. According to a news report, “The two 200-meter-long major production lines in Baoshan are fully unmanned, and each line needs just two to three workers for inspections.”

State of the art manufacturers like Hytera and Baoshan are likely the envy of companies that weathered a significant dip in production due to COVID-19. Close to 80% of U.S. companies surveyed by the National Association of Manufacturers in late February to early March said they anticipated a financial impact. More than half anticipated a change in operations.

Shift to the Smart Factory

That “change in operations” could be for the better. Manufacturers can follow the lead of other manufacturers like Hytera and Baoshan. To get there, they need to embrace the principles of Industry 4.0 for adaptability now—and for greater resilience in the future.

As Hytera and Baoshan show, human workers are still required to supervise operations and troubleshoot if needed, but these manufacturers were able to continue mostly autonomous production because of one important reason:  The factories are smart.

While manufacturing is no stranger to automation, a smart factory goes beyond compartmentalized automated processes. As Deloitte defines it, a smart factory is a “fully connected and flexible system—one that can use a constant stream of data from connected operations and production systems to learn and adapt to new demands.”

The smart factory anchors Industry 4.0, the next Industrial Revolution. This time around, the revolution is fed by data that can be aggregated and analyzed.

A smart factory that uses data is:

  • Connected: Data flows across all aspects of manufacturing from the supply chain down to production, distribution, and beyond.
  • Optimized: Machines that are idle can take on new work loads and that saves downtime and increases productivity.
  • Transparent: All stakeholders can access real-time data.
  • Proactive: Problems are spotted using data analytics and solved before they cascade into larger bottlenecks.
  • Agile: Can shift production according to market demands.

Studying the outcomes from simulations allows management to evaluate the risk of change and move forward (or not) accordingly.

What does a smart factory look like? The Nokia production facility in Oulu, Finland, which is 99% automated, is one fine example. If management wants to change any aspect of production, they conduct a dry run using a “digital twin,” that highlights how a change affects production and other processes. Studying the outcomes from simulations allows management to evaluate the risk of change and move forward (or not) accordingly. The plant developed a private wireless network to help speed up reconfiguration of production lines through data. And they use cloud technology to keep an eye on processes in real-time with automated internal logistics via connected mobile robots.

Nokia adopted the principles of Industry 4.0 so effectively that the World Economic Forum designated it as an “Advanced Fourth Industrial Revolution Lighthouse.” A “lighthouse” is a manufacturing facility that has integrated principles of Industry 4.0 to its entire operation, moving beyond the pilot stage. As of 2020, there are 44 lighthouses in manufacturing. The Nokia site goes one step further as an end-to-end lighthouse, meaning its smart principles go beyond the manufacturing site and up and down its supply chain, automating inventory management so vendors know when to ship new materials.

Lessons for All

While not all manufacturers need the scale of Nokia, the key takeaway is that the principles of a smart factory can apply to all businesses large and small. The journey to near-total automation comprises many incremental steps.

The first step starts with digitization. Since the smart factory runs on data that is easily available, aggregated, and analyzed, pen-and-paper processes no longer work. Petrosea Mining, a company in Kalimantan, Indonesia, suffered from a lack of data from all processes. Even when data was available, it was not easily aggregated.

Helping digitize all processes helped the company realize efficiencies in many areas including worker training. Where earlier, workers had to comb through long pages of standard operating procedures on the company intranet, they now access training through a proprietary mobile app on their phones. The company also “gamified” training, which led to more employee engagement. The app uses animation and visuals to make learning more fun. Employees compete to advance from a “soldier” to a “general” on a leaderboard by answering more than 3,000 training-related questions.

The Building Blocks of a Smart Factory

If data lays the foundation for a smart factory, a few technologies comprise the building blocks. Following are examples of how smart factories use these technologies.

IIoT

Schneider Electric, a lighthouse smart factory, uses IIoT to monitor production processes and relay information about production variations in real time. Vendors that access this data can adjust their inventory accordingly and ship supplies proactively.

Cloud Technology

In the case of a sudden disruption of labor, it would be ideal to move production to another location. Or to have plant managers monitor production from a remote location. Cloud technology provides those capabilities.

Volkswagen is investing in a proprietary cloud platform that will not just facilitate production, but also transmit data to their fleet of vehicles for enhanced customer experiences such as custom media streaming. With data from constant machine monitoring fed into the Manufacturing Execution System, cloud technology helps offsite plant managers view real-time data through mobile devices or computers. The technology enables remote access for oversight into the production line and bottlenecks.

3D Printing

This is a manufacturing process that deposits materials layer by layer. A computer file stores information for the design, which is fed into a 3D printer. This kind of manufacturing is especially useful for precision parts with complicated designs. GE 3D prints a specialty fuel nozzle they developed. One of the biggest advantages of 3D printing is that it stores production information on an easily accessible data file. If the worst were to happen and production shut down in one facility, it could be kickstarted in another location with the file as input.

Robotics

Robots moved beyond the caged giants seen in automotive manufacturing. While large robots still perform welding, gluing, and fastening operations from cages so they don’t inadvertently harm their human coworkers, today’s robots are collaborative (cobots) working alongside humans. A vision-guided cobot, The Hulk, helps with order fulfillment at the Johnson & Johnson facility in Jacksonville, Florida. It helps humans by lifting heavy loads. Robots can also be used for visual inspection of goods and pick-and-place operations leaving humans to attend to less repetitive tasks.

Augmented Reality

Parts break. When they do and experts are not available onsite, augmented reality (AR) helps workers access remote help. The expert can remotely overlay a model of the broken part against the real-life equivalent and guide the worker with fixes in real time. This saves precious downtime. AR can also help with worker training. A worker who needs to run a machine but has no prior training can pull up a mobile device located at the station and run through an AR-driven process to complete a self-guided tutorial. This is particularly useful in training new hires.

Working Alone—or in Tandem

While the list of technologies driving smart factories might be long, companies can choose which ones to implement first, depending on the key performance indicators they want to realize first.

Almost all manufacturers can integrate these technologies into their practices and realize efficiencies.

KPIs that measure adaptability to change might include shortening change-over times (to accommodate production of new, in-demand items) and productivity increase.

The lesson here is that almost all manufacturers, no matter where they are on the path to digital maturity, can integrate these technologies into their practices and realize efficiencies. Many technologies depend on others, however, so it sometimes becomes difficult to implement just one in isolation. For example, effective predictive maintenance needs both IIoT and cloud technology to forecast machine failure.

Another lighthouse facility, Haier air-conditioning in China, uses an interactive platform where customers can design and order custom products. A performance monitor allows the product to be closely evaluated so the company can detect problems. Customer service calls retrieve performance data from a particular unit so problems are resolved faster. Customer-centric manufacturing allowing for customization at scale is another advantage of smart manufacturing.

What’s Next?

To adapt to new realities, many manufacturers could be managing non-essential staff offline and rotating necessary workers in staggered shifts to adhere to strict CDC protocols.

Digitizing data and understanding how to integrate new technologies with existing legacy systems is the next step. Sharing data intelligence can deliver efficiencies in inventory management and make for a more resilient supply chain.

One of the biggest advantages of Industry 4.0 is that it gives manufacturers the ability to adapt to change faster. For example, Hytera easily reassigned one of its production lines to manufacture disposable face masks, a product outside of its usual wheelhouse. A system that could react to real-time data from changing markets facilitated the pivot.

Prior to COVID-19 economic challenges, Industry 4.0 was expected to create nearly $3.7 trillion in value by 2025. Manufacturers looking to keep production moving despite the pandemic might find that they can learn and implement many lessons from smart manufacturing. Weaving these technologies gradually into the fabric of processes can increase adaptability now—and build a more resilient future.

About Encompass Solutions

Encompass Solutions is a business and software consulting firm that specializes in ERP systems, EDI, and Managed Services support for Manufacturers and Distributors. Serving small and medium-sized businesses since 2001, Encompass modernizes operations and automates processes for hundreds of customers across the globe. Whether undertaking full-scale implementation, integration, and renovation of existing systems, Encompass provides a specialized approach to every client’s needs. By identifying customer requirements and addressing them with the right solutions, we ensure our clients are equipped to match the pace of Industry.


The article “Returning to Work Safely When Change is Now” By Editors By Kristi Dorn and Lauren Mauldin was published on the Epicor Shop Floor June 3, 2020. You can read the original article here.

Returning to Work Safely

Workplaces of all shapes and sizes are weighing how to re-open safely while prioritizing employee and customer health. Restarting strong includes transforming physical spaces into safer environments in the era of Covid-19. While infectious disease experts say it won’t come without risk, business leaders are implementing immediate safety protocols to protect employees. From warehouses to retail stores and office space, find out how America is returning to work now—and reimagining the workplace of the future.

Protecting Manufacturing Workers

Not only is the manufacturing industry the backbone of America’s supply chain, but it also employs 8.5 percent of the workforce as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Roughly 13 million Americans rely on a safe, functional shop floor for their livelihood, making the need for proper pandemic guidelines essential.

Ford rechoreographed their assembly line to prevent overlap and human contact.

Opening its doors on May 18, NPR reported Ford as one of the first major players to get back to running under a new normal with 71,000 workers returning to its North American operations. Some of the guidelines from their extensive “Return to Work Manufacturing Playbook” are the expected—hand washing, face masks, and social distancing we’ve all become accustomed to. But the mandates are about more than that. Ford rechoreographed their assembly line to prevent overlap and human contact. With factories 3 to 4 million square feet in size, they changed density patterns to create appropriate distance for line workers.

Ford is far from alone in this endeavor. ABC News reports that Cummins Engine Plant in Seymour, Indiana added temperature checks and a “hands out” process each day for employees to use and dispose of PPE. They’re added to a list of plants spanning the country as leaders try to resume production while keeping employee safety at the forefront.

To guide manufacturers through this process, the Association of Equipment Manufacturers created a best practices guide for Covid-19 management. While you’d expect to see suggestions regarding the uses of masks, face shields and even gowns for staff, it’s important to think through how employees get to the work site. If they take public transportation, managers should share social distancing and hygiene guidelines for commuters. Additionally, high-risk and vulnerable employees should be assessed before they step on the property. For example, if an employee lives with someone presenting signs of Covid-19 or recently traveled on a cruise, they should quarantine for 14-day incubation period. To accomplish this, businesses need to conduct routine screenings. Additionally, PTO and sick-leave policies may need to be adjusted so employees who are sick or exposed aren’t disciplined for staying home to keep coworkers safe.

Of course, the only area where employers have true control is the property itself. AEM suggests adding thermal scanning to entrances and sending anyone with a temperature over 100.4 degrees home. Only one person at a time should go through doorways, and employees should be greeted with signage that reminds them of social distancing practices and additional hygiene measures.

Manufacturing facilities should also undergo additional and regular cleaning of break rooms, bathrooms and common areas. Taking actions like banning communal food, blocking non-essential visitors from entering the property, and ceasing long group meetings can go a long way towards providing adequate social distancing. AEM also suggests looking at the way your workforce flows across the factory. “Stagger shift start/stop times, break times and lunch times to minimize congregations at the time clocks and in the locker rooms and break areas,” they advise. New shifts can also be created to spread production across evenings and weekends to produce the same output with lower overlap. Or, cross-train employees so they can perform multiple roles to accommodate distancing measures or provide coverage for additional absences.

A New Way Forward for Retail

Unlike manufacturing plants, retail stores can’t prohibit customers from entering. What would be the point? So how can employees and customers stay safe during the shopping process?

By leaning into a digital and omnichannel approach, many retailers are offering delivery or curbside pickup.

As we begin a phased re-opening, retailers are implementing measures to address store exposure and density. Nike will sanitize its stores every two hours, provide employees with masks and hand sanitizer, and created a touchless experience where shoppers scan barcodes with their own phones. By leaning into a digital and omnichannel approach, many retailers are offering delivery or curbside pickup. This integrates the online shopping experience with an in-person, touchless, fast way to get merchandise.

For those who want to shop in physical stores, department store giant, Macy’s, began re-opening in early May with new safety measures. Fitting rooms are one person at a time and sanitized between visits. Clothes also need to “rest” before being returned to the racks. Social distance signs are used through the stores, and all makeup experiences are “no touch” with plexiglass shields protecting cashiers.

Additional safety measures popping up as people flock back to stores include placing tape or stickers on the floor to indicate proper social distancing and traffic patterns for narrow aisles. Visually directing shoppers can make it easier for employees to oversee that proper distancing measures are being followed by staff and shoppers.

Behind the scenes, the Retail Industry Leaders Association provides re-opening suggestions and best practices for employees including adjusting seating in break rooms and other common areas, prohibiting gatherings or meetings of 10 or more employees, and discouraging employees from sharing devices, work stations or any other tools and equipment.

Reconfiguring Office Space

The prevailing trend at office buildings in the recent past was to create bright, open spaces that shunned the cube farm walls of the 80s and 90s. Open floor plans designed to bring people together in environments that invited collaboration were the ideal.

Now, as employees return to the office, these spaces may need to be retrofitted. Plexiglass and other partitions are being used to create physical distance. But outfitting offices for Covid-19 extends beyond desk spaces. Companies must look at traffic density, temperature screening technology, and air filtration systems to create safer environments for workers. Since social distancing is the primary goal, that means less people, phased returns, and more employees working from home permanently.

Cushman & Wakefield, a global real estate services firm, offers in-depth guidance for return to work in their Recovery Readiness Guide. They call it the “6 Feet Office” and recommend minimizing density and touchpoints. The back to work guidelines for office buildings include:

  • Continued work from home for non-essential onsite workers
  • Space density monitoring
  • A strict clean desk policy
  • A supply of masks, gloves, disinfectants, and paper products including desk placemats
  • Stringent cleaning and hygiene protocols
  • Regular cleaning and disinfecting of meeting rooms, break rooms, bathrooms and kitchen areas

…organizations that are empathetic and prioritize worker safety can build trust with their employees to help alleviate that fear.

“The changes we need to make to the office floor plans initially and immediately are fairly simple,” Brett White, the firm’s CEO, tells ABC News. “We have to provide that safe six feet for every employee, not just when they’re sitting at their desk, but when they’re going to get a glass of water or they’re walking around to the restroom and back.” The article also reports that deep cleaning is probably one of the most important considerations—also currently one of the least talked about topics.

Forrester Analyst Andrew Hewitt tells ZDNet there’s definitively one thing not to do—and that’s to bring back all your staff at once. Hewitt explains that the stakes to get it right are high with more than half of U.S. adults afraid to go back due to risk of exposure. He believes organizations that are empathetic and prioritize worker safety can build trust with their employees to help alleviate that fear.

Despite preparedness, infectious disease experts also warn that a virus-free office isn’t possible. “Anytime people spend prolonged periods of time in a poorly ventilated small space there’s risk of transmission,” Dr. David Aronoff explains to WZTV. The Vanderbilt University Medical Center infectious disease specialist says that until a treatment or vaccine is developed, people who spend time together in close office settings can spread the virus via respiratory droplets.

Due to the challenges ahead, a new frontier of office space norms may be emerging. Current considerations include permanent reductions in density, stricter sick leave policies, and use of materials like antimicrobial copper surfaces. Office space of the future could also be used in much different ways. Possibly as more of a time share for collaboration and social purposes versus employee occupied space for the full five-day workweek.

We always expected the workplace to evolve with cool, new technology defining smarter ways to do things. But now there’s a new and immediate challenge that needs to be prioritized above everything else. No small task to be sure, but as employers and leaders, lean on the resources you need including health experts, CDC guidelines, and the safety protocols outlined here. It’s important to be thorough and to get it right to calm fears, ensure employee safety, and the overall health of your organization.

About Encompass Solutions

Encompass Solutions is a business and software consulting firm that specializes in ERP systems, EDI, and Managed Services support for Manufacturers and Distributors. Serving small and medium-sized businesses since 2001, Encompass modernizes operations and automates processes for hundreds of customers across the globe. Whether undertaking full-scale implementation, integration, and renovation of existing systems, Encompass provides a specialized approach to every client’s needs. By identifying customer requirements and addressing them with the right solutions, we ensure our clients are equipped to match the pace of Industry.