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Surviving 'Mack Truck Syndrome,' Part II

In our last installment of the InformationWeek SMB On Location blog, we talked with Torelli Bicycle's Product Design Manager Christian Feldhake about the benefits of his company's new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system.

In our last installment of the InformationWeek SMB On Location blog, we talked with Torelli Bicycle's Product Design Manager Christian Feldhake about the benefits of his company's new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system.In that interview, Feldhake acquainted us with the concept of the "Mack Truck Syndrome," an insidious ailment that often afflicts small and midsize businesses (SMBs) such as Torelli. In simple terms, the malady describes companies that would be hard-pressed to carry on if something untoward were to happen to a key staff member - such as (Heaven forbid!), getting hit by a Mack truck.

In fact, with companies as small as Feldhake's four-person firm, even something as minor as a sprained ankle or a drained cell phone battery can have a devastating impact. Relatively low sales volumes and slim margins mean that every sale counts against the bottom line, and any missed opportunity can be deeply felt throughout the organization.

While the Mack Truck Syndrome can present itself in companies of any size, it is more likely to affect SMBs that lack a sophisticated ERP system capable of capturing important details regarding customers, specific transactions, orders and inventory, as well as company financials and related information. Without such systems in place, it is common for employees to store important information only in their heads, or in various manual processes (such as in handwritten notes or spreadsheets) where it is not readily accessible to colleagues. When it hits with its typical unexpected force, the Mack Truck Syndrome can render a small company extremely vulnerable, Feldhake warns, but there is a remedy.

"It comes down to a lot of different things, such as price lists and discounts, and so many things that you can give people access to," Feldhake said, describing the many real-time data points that can be made instantly available to team members, allowing them to step in and fill gaps left by colleagues who are incapacitated, or just otherwise engaged.

Feldhake also talked about additional tools, part of the company's new integrated ERP software solution from SAP, which will further improve access to Torelli's business data. "The way you can set up the 'cockpit' in SAP, you'll be able to give employee who are new - or give an existing employee - a very good dashboard [where] they can have everything available via quick buttons and quick links right on their screen, and exactly what they need," Feldhake said. These dashboards can be customized to the needs of each employee, he added, "so someone who is never going to see production orders won't have that up on [his or her] screen ready to go, but someone who is on the phone and immediately needs a sales order right in front of [him or her] - one click and you've got a sales order from your main screen on the computer."

It's a far cry from the world of single-purpose bookkeeping applications and spreadsheets with which Torelli operated for most of it 30-year history, and according to Feldhake, and a potent remedy for the Mack Truck Syndrome.

What hot keys would you add to your ERP dashboard? Share your wish list for the information you'd like to have at your fingertips when that (Heaven forbid!) Mack truck comes calling.

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