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by: Kristen Kelly

I was working with a customer recently, who suddenly asked me the big question: “How’d you get into [managing software applications], anyway?”  I had to peel back a few layers to answer the question.  How did I end up, here?  Just a short time ago, I was a project manager for a 130-end user Epicor Prophet 21 implementation, and before that I was a Quality Manager – so landing in Business Application Management didn’t seem to correlate.

Managing software applications and quality systems have strikingly similar concepts.  They both require practical, systematic and bullet proof solutions.  They both must assess risk mitigation and change management principles.  When designing processes and system controls, it’s natural for me to reference FDA and ISO standards as a baseline.  It’s not only applicable, it also safeguards any business type, large or small.  It works for service, distribution, sales or manufacturing companies.

Process is a Key to Quality

As a Quality Manager, I always found the root cause to any non-conforming condition to be 1) people and, or, 2) process inefficiencies.  The valuable relationship between the end user and the data, always routed to the same logical answer:  increase efficiencies with workflow automation.

In my experience, most employees want be able to be successful at doing their job.  Any function outside the box, where workarounds are prevalent usually has negative side effects such as

  • Discouraging employees
  • Increased opportunity for error
  • Longer processing time
  • Higher administration costs.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard management say, “Then, we’ll hire more qualified people.”  This isn’t the point.  You can hire the most intelligent employees on the planet, but if there are too many variances in a process, the overall system becomes convoluted, unstructured, and vulnerable to risk.       Achieving standardization, lean practices and fact based-decision making, requires you to keep process, design, and implementation bullet-proof and very simple.

Bring the Process to Prophet 21

Once I understood this concept, I adapted a Prophet 21 Quality Management methodology and stopped fighting manual work arounds.  As we began to see small victories, it became easier to develop solutions and obtain buy-in from management and end users.  Mistakes were either prevented or caught faster with automated tasks, and the process started moving faster.

Planned and executed well, it is typically fairly easy, and cost effective, to incorporate Quality Management into their Prophet 21 ERP system.   Here are some examples of how Prophet 21 Quality Management can be implemented:

Traceability and Prophet 21 Quality Management

 The ability to trace an origin from conception, measure it against design and development, for both the back and forward stream of visibility, is vital for organizations.  This is critical for those who are in the pharmaceutical, medical, or manufacturing business. Prophet 21 does a good job of documenting such outputs, but as with anything, there is always room for improvement.

The Prophet 21 Audit Trail

The audit trail is probably the most data intensive function in Prophet 21 because it not only tells you when an event or change occurred, but it also satisfies traceability requirements found in most standards.  Unfortunately, the audit trail does not trace user define fields (UDF’s), segregate line level information.  The system doesn’t also provide out of the box audit trail reports.

With a simple additions to database triggers, UDF’s can be quickly added to the audit trail.  With custom tabs and portals, the audit trail can be incorporated to the line level. This allows information delivery that is specific and easy to understand.  You can easily add reporting functions, as well with Crystal, portals, or SSRS.  Let’s say you wanted a report on how many purchase orders each receiving clerk received a month or how long it takes for a pick order to be confirmed.   It’s this kind of information managers and CEO’s love to see and actually motivates end users to do better through awareness, accountability and benchmarking actions.

User ID & Password Subsystems

I had an auditor tell me one time, “Ok, Kristen, so the system recorded “Jon” was the technician, but how do you know someone didn’t walk by his computer and input this information for him?”  This was hard to answer.  Prophet 21 is great for a lot of things, but it out of the box it may not be quite enough for businesses who require identification and skill level validations.

As a solution, we created a UDF in Technician Maintenance to store a five-digit password.  A business rule was then in added to the Labor ID field in both Production and Service Order Entry to check against the password.  If the password did not match, the system would not allow the technician to continue to the next step.  With one business rule, the buddy punch was effectively eliminated.

The labor type password prompt was especially important because it verified against the end user’s skill level, which was also set in Technician Maintenance.  If the technician was not qualified, the system would also prevent the end user from completing the process. This was a huge boost in out Prophet 21 Quality Management efforts.

Serial Numbers without Serialized Inventory

As a requirement during the manufacturing process, organizations who are FDA or ISO certified, must maintain linkage or connection between the output stage of the product and measuring resources used.  A popular method organizations use to satisfy this requirement is serializing each component used to build a finished good.  This ensures the part can be traced to its origin or lot in case of part failure.

I realized (the hard way) just how much this can slow the Production Picking Process. Production was almost practically halted, which resulted in a very frustrated CEO.  A new solution that balanced efficiency with traceability had to be found to meet the goals for out Prophet 21 Quality Management needs.

First, we created a new table to store serials. Any serial saved to this table was captured outside of Prophet 21 inventory management (which requires serial selection at the time of picking), but would still enable the PO Receiver to input them through a custom  ‘Serial Button’ on the header in PO Receipts.  These serials were also saved to the serial table.

This new process not only drastically reduced picking time, but parts were still able to be entered when building, instead of picking.  Any component or finished good, could then be traced from PO Receipts and production to outbound shipping, through a custom lookup window called “Serial Item Inquiry.”

Validating Against Non-Conforming Conditions

One of my biggest challenges after an audit, was offering cohesive solutions to non-conforming conditions which didn’t hinder uptime.  Before using Prophet 21 for Quality Management, I would try to introduce various methods (i.e. fill out forms, set reminders for managers, new training ideas, etc.) but as I got to understand the options to extend Prophet 21, it was easier to develop “If this – then that” controls within the system.

For example, the shipping department seemed to consistently miss special packing instructions and would often ship items without purchased accessories.  Inventory would also mis-pick items.  This  caused errors and upset customers.  Each problem was resolved on a case by case scenario.  For packing, we utilized classes in customer maintenance and inquiry.  If the sales rep selected this class, it not only alerted the shipper, but invoices and packing slips followed suit.

For missing accessories, we prevented the order from being confirmed unless a ‘Shipped with’ checkbox was checked (also added to the audit trail). For incorrectly picked items, we prevented mistakes by adding images through Prophet 21’s ribbon metrics.  This way, the picker could use a visual reference.  Those images were also added to the item’s physical bin location for easy identification.

Document Control in Prophet 21

This is probably the most important and highly sought-after requirement in all of Prophet 21 Quality Management.  It is the reason Quality Managers want a standalone system.  I’m not going to hinder against any Prophet 21 third-party provider.  I think some of the add on modules, could a benefit to the organization.  Personally, I got tired of spending time and the company’s money, to figure out yet another module to put in.  There is always the potential for scope-creep, budget slips and, unnecessary workarounds.  In this case, I just wanted to streamline and move on.

There are plenty of options within this realm.  Just a few to mention are:

  • Documents and Revisions with Lots
  • Document Process Controls
  • Storing High Quality Documents

Since this is such a deep topic on its own, I will be writing about incorporating documentation controls within Prophet 21 on a future blog post.

Last Thoughts on Prophet 21 Quality Management

So how did I end up where I’m at today?  I like the positive effects on how much continual improvement and positive change can help an organization succeed.  It’s like tending to a once weeded garden.  Once the roadblocks and workarounds have been weeded out, the business flourishes with opportunity, growth and development.  It’s absolutely wonderful to participate and see the results in action.

For anyone who is just starting out or has yet to configure Prophet 21 Quality Management to business needs, just remember this: out of the box, the system will not intuitively know or understand any company’s specific business.  So many forget this concept. They think what was sold to them is “plug and play” – thus plug it in, and all the old problems will go away.

Problems will eventually go away.  It takes a lot of work and sweat equity to get the right solution in place.  What Prophet 21 is great at (and what I feel separates itself from other systems), is flexibility.  The software will work for you.  You just have to come up with the right solutions to structure the system, so the system can do the thinking and the people can do the processing.

Unlocking the potential of the system is the fun part.  Run with it and grow.

Read more about Prophet 21