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Best wine business software helps key staff escape redundant work, focus on product quality

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IT Matters

Soni Lampert is principal and CEO of KLH Consulting Inc. and Vintegrate Winery Software in Santa Rosa. Read past editions of IT Matters at nbbj.news/itmatters.

Choosing the software you will use to manage all of the operations of your wine business is one of the most impactful choices you will make.

An enterprise application capable of addressing winemaking; production; inventory, both bulk and bottled; accounting; wholesale and direct-to-consumer sales; and reporting and compliance, must be sufficiently robust and reliable to rise to the challenge. In order to choose successfully, you need to know what each application is capable of, its shortcomings and be able to plan with them effectively. Here are some of the most common enterprise software considerations you should be looking for in an enterprise suite.

1. Have you identified and prioritized your specific software needs?

To determine whether an application will meet your needs, you may wish to segment the components of your operation, i.e., winemaking; production; inventory, both bulk and bottled; accounting; wholesale and direct-to-consumer sales; reporting and compliance, and so on.

For each segment, list and prioritize what the application(s) must do for you. As you evaluate your options, it will be helpful to refer to this list. You may choose to prioritize by “must have” and “want to have.” Reputable vendors will often work with you to develop these lists and priorities in order to better understand whether their product will be a good fit for your business.

The software selection process will often involve various departments and many perspectives. It will be helpful to have an agreement on the “must have” items for the organization. While work tasks are often managed in a decentralized fashion, choosing an enterprise system for the entire organization requires collaboration and consensus regarding the objectives that must be achieved for the implementation of your new application to be successful.

Some key items you may want to add to your list that you may not consider as “features” are: the vendor’s development path and frequency of update releases; ability to work on multiple devices; ability to work securely and productively from anywhere; interfaces to third-party applications that may be important to your business; and vendor willingness to customize when needed.

2. Do you want an out-of-the-box application that requires little more than install and configuration, or do you want to be able to customize to your specific business processes?

It is my experience that most wine businesses have a distinct preference in this area. If you have little to no tolerance for work process change and all of the features you want are “must haves,” it will be important for the application you choose to be sufficiently flexible in either its configuration tools or customization options to match the way you currently work. Experienced vendors will advise you in advance when you describe processes that will require customization of their application and will work with you to understand the pros and cons of customizing and the potential costs involved.

If your business is flexible in its work process, the ability to customize features and obtain functionality that is not in the product out-of-the-box will be of less importance in your selection process. When a solution is only available as an out-of-the-box option, understanding the vendor’s commitment to releasing features you may come to need takes on added importance.

3. What should I look for in my vendor?

Look for and value a long-term partner relationship. Choosing a partner is as important, if not more so, than product features. Great features, poorly implemented will never meet business objectives and a great partner will be able to help you realize the maximum value of your investment.

IT Matters

Soni Lampert is principal and CEO of KLH Consulting Inc. and Vintegrate Winery Software in Santa Rosa. Read past editions of IT Matters at nbbj.news/itmatters.

Given the important role the application(s) will play in your business success and the amount of cost, effort and training required to implement the solution, it is unlikely that you will want to replace the partner or the application very frequently.

Yes, everyone talks partner, but not all vendors are equal in this area. The partner vendor will be forthright. They will be transparent when describing their product, how well it matches your business priorities, what will be required to close any gaps between what is in out-of-the-box, and what requires additional work.

They will work through implementation plans that accommodate the seasonality of your business, and they will identify items for which they are responsible and items that will require time and input from your staff. They will provide solid estimates of cost upfront for items that can be scoped. They will describe their process for estimating costs for items that are out of current scope.

A partner will work to prepare you and your team for success. They will not tell you that an enterprise implementation is painless, nor that they can do it all without your commitment, input and validation testing. They will not represent that a significant effort is otherwise. They will provide training in a format that works for you, whether it be large groups, by department or one-on-one.

A partner will stick around postsale and go-live of your solution to provide the level of support you need. They will have advised you that when a new solution comes online, even the best trained staff will likely have deer-in-the-headlight moments when they start to do a familiar task with a new tool.

Support needs will be higher than usual in the initial months post-go- live and you will need a partner who provides excellent response time when you have questions or issues to avoid negatively impacting productivity. These initial months are critical to staff perception of the system and their satisfaction in using it.

Carefully consider the experience of the partner. You will benefit from experience in the smoothness of the implementation and in the insights that can be provided by those who have seen multiple ways to accomplish your objectives. Those who have brought live many systems will have a tried and true implementation process. Discuss this with them and, to the greatest extent practical, agree upon and follow it. Obtain references from those who have worked with the partner over time.

4. How well will the application help you to meet regulatory and compliance requirements?

It seems that regulatory requirements come from every direction and meeting them can be a time-consuming and manual process if your application does not address them well. From Tax & Trade Bureau reporting to lot tracking for recalls, to financial accounting requirements, an enterprise application will need to address them all.

You may consider the ease with which the applications pass data from sales channels through the system as this is often a pain point for many wineries. In tasting rooms, you will want to make sure the application will support chip-and-pin technology as required for credit card processing.

5. What will be helpful in securing the data in your system?

A network security assessment is a great idea as a part of your system changes to pinpoint any vulnerabilities that might be exploited to get into the application and its confidential data. A well-done assessment will highlight and prioritize vulnerabilities, allowing you to address them before an issue presents.

As for the application itself, if the application is hosted, as most are today, you will want to consider the security of the hosting location. Locations should have physical security and redundancies.

A patching program will keep the operating systems updated to reduce cyber risk.

Applications running on Microsoft operating systems will often have vendor certifications to confirm their compliance with best practice standards in the development and testing of the application. The application should not save credit card numbers in text format for club or loyalty processing. This information should be accessed via a tokenized system in place between the application and the card processor. Credit card input should be obtained via chip and PIN technology.

Devices used to access the application should, as general practice, be encrypted and remote access to the environment should require a second factor for authentication. Mobile devices (iPads and other tablets, as well as mobile phones) should be enrolled in mobile device management programs to provide security and traceability of these devices.

The investment you will make in your winery enterprise software will pay big dividends. A solid enterprise solution will utilize a single data source to minimize redundant work throughout your business. It will support your work processes to enable your team to focus on product quality, sales, and longevity of customer relationships. Your well-implemented solution will enable business insight to help you control costs and grow customer relationships and your bottom line.

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