Manufacturing index

Manufacturing Index Rises for a Fourth Straight Month

Author: Chris Vavra – Associate Editor, CFE Media

Economic activity in the manufacturing sector grew in August 2020. The overall economy notching a fourth consecutive month of growth, say the nation’s supply executives in the Institute for Supply Management’s (I.S.M.) Report On Business. The August purchasing manufacturers’ index (PMI) registered 56%, up 1.8 percentage points from the July reading of 54.2%. New orders rose more than six percent to 67.6%; production also increased over a point to 63.3%. Fifteen of the 18 industries involved in the index reported growth in August.

“After COVID-19 brought manufacturing activity to historic lows, the sector continued its recovery in August, the first full month of operations after supply chains restarted and adjustments were made for employees to return to work,” said Timothy R. Fiore, CPSM, C.P.M., chair of the Institute for Supply Management Manufacturing Business Survey Committee in a press release. “Survey Committee members reported that their companies and suppliers operated in reconfigured factories, with limited labour application due to safety restrictions. Panel sentiment was generally optimistic (1.4 positive comments for every cautious comment), though to a lesser degree than July.”


BMAC Fall 2020

Continuous improvement has become the new normal in manufacturing in the age of COVID-19 and beyond.

Microsoft & VOX ISM has assembled the top 10 Manufacturing Apps in one place for you. All products are industry leaders & certified by Microsoft.

The Best Manufacturing Apps Conference (BMAC) is the one-stop experience that brings together Canadian manufacturers and industry experts and keeps them ahead of manufacturing’s digital transformation.

Enjoy the opportunity to join the top Microsoft Dynamics 365 Manufacturing Partners in one session, saving you hours organizing these one-on-one personal contact meetings. Register today, at no cost to you!

For manufacturing executives, what are the top lessons learned during the COVID-19 crisis?

For manufacturing executives, what are the top lessons learned during the COVID-19 crisis?

By Jeffrey Hojlo, Program Director, Manufacturing Insights & Product Innovation Strategies

IDC’s 2020 manufacturing predictions focused on digital transformation’s impact on the entire manufacturing value chain. Now we ask: In response to COVID-19, how are manufacturers proceeding with their organizational and technology plans and investments in the short term and beyond?

  • Manufacturers that were digitizing their businesses and investing in technologies such as cloud, artificial intelligence, analytics, low-code software development, mobile, are better positioned to move more quickly to recovery.
  • Digital collaboration platforms and tools that enable visualization and communication of information will become critical for manufacturing workforces. An extended team approach will become a regular part of how manufacturers do business.
  • According to recent IDC research, a primary goal during and after the current crisis is “connecting organizations and individuals, regardless of location, situation, or context.” This goal speaks to the need for distributed, virtual team collaboration both within the company and with suppliers and partners.
  • According to IDC’s COVID-19 Impact on IT Spending Survey, the top focus initiatives for manufacturers are:

» Engendering trust with customers

» Rethinking how to work with ecosystem partners to deliver products and services

» Connecting organizations and individuals seamlessly

» Ensuring resiliency in digital infrastructure

  • Supply chains will become more intelligent through AI, risk modelling, and assessment. As they gain better visibility into
    potential and existing disruptions, service capability and profitability will improve.
  • By the end of 2021, half of all manufacturing supply chains will have invested in supply chain resiliency and AI, resulting in productivity improvements of 15%.
  • The need for operational resiliency with data-driven processes will lead 60% of manufacturers to shift their smart factory strategy focus from technology implementation to process change management by 2022.

Join Toronto’s biggest manufacturing conference on September 24 at 1:30PM (ET) to learn about the latest technology innovations for
Canadian Manufacturing Industry Trends as we come out of the COVID-19 lockdown. Register now!

BMAC Fall 2020

How Canada’s SMB Manufacturers are Future-Proofing Their Businesses After COVID-19

How Canada’s SMB Manufacturers are Future-Proofing Their Businesses After COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has put unique pressure on the Canadian manufacturing industry. Competitive advantage has never been more important. And at a time when your customers are turning to online business, e-commerce and digital payment are key differentiators.

How Canada’s SMB Manufacturers are Future-Proofing Their Businesses After COVID-19

As a proudly Canadian digital commerce provider serving Canada’s SMB manufacturers with more than 20 years of expertise in B2B digital commerce, we wanted to understand better the impact of the crisis and how businesses have coped.

To this end, we surveyed our customers. We asked them detailed questions on how the pandemic has affected their sales, operations, marketing, and infrastructure.

The responses we gathered came from numerous industries and businesses of every size, B2B and B2C, from North America.

And if we learned one thing, having a recovery plan is critical in the face of COVID-19.

The Canadian manufacturing industry wasn’t ready for the pandemic. Supply chain problems, particularly for businesses that rely on overseas trade, resulted in losses of up to 86% when COVID-19 hit.

As our economy recovers, businesses are already preparing for another possible emergency. For example, many companies running Microsoft Dynamics invest in ERP-integrated digital payment solutions to enable early invoice payment. Among other things, this helps suppliers operating in heavily affected regions to maintain their operations.

Part of a solid recovery plan for Canadian SMB manufacturers involves retooling your operations to optimize and accelerate production efficiency, getting your products to your customers more quickly. This is one more reason to support the Made in Canada strategy, boosting the sales of Canadian-made goods.

But above all, this much is clear:

The success of SMB manufacturers is key to Canada’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. E-commerce and digital payment provide a future-proof solution for businesses like yours, but you need a good place to start.

To learn how e-commerce can make a difference to the operations and growth of your business, join Rob Cook, Senior Business Development, k-eCommerce, at the Best Manufacturing Apps Virtual Conference on September 24.

BMAC Fall 2020

World Premiere- Microsoft 365 Release Wave 2 Plans

World Premiere: Microsoft 365 Release Wave 2 Plans

Microsoft has published the first edition for the Dynamics 365 and Power Platform 2020 Release Wave 2 plan. The next release wave will be available from October.

The 2020 release wave 2 for Dynamics 365 brings innovations that provide you with significant capabilities to transform your business. The release contains hundreds of new features across Dynamics 365 applications, including Business Central (NAV), CRM Sales, Power Apps (Power BI & TEAMS), Power Automate, and the Common Data Model and data integration.

Key Dates of the Microsoft 365 Release Wave 2 Plans

Key Dates of Microsoft 365 Release Wave 2 Plans

Microsoft 365 Release Wave 2 Plans Overview

The enhancements to Dynamics 365 applications include hundreds of new capabilities across the business process applications. 

  • Sales (Dynamics 365 Sales, Sales Insights and Product Visualise) 
  • Marketing (Dynamics 365 Marketing) 
  • Service (Dynamics 365 Customer Service, Customer Service Insights, Field Service and Report Assist) 
  • Finance & Operations (Dynamics Business Central 365 Finance, Supply Chain Management, Guides and Project Operations) 
  • Human Resources (Dynamics 365 Human Resources) 
  • Commerce (Dynamics 365 Commerce, Connected Store) 
  • Fraud Protection (Dynamics 365 Fraud Protection) 
  • SMB (Dynamics 365 Business Central) 
  • Customer Data Platform (Dynamics 365 Customer Insight and Product Insights) 
  • Microsoft Forms Pro

For the full detail, visit the Microsoft Docs site to download the 2020 Release Wave 2 plans.

Join our upcoming webinar!

Learn about the new features and capabilities that will be part of the October update of the 2020 release wave II before they are automatically enabled. There are 405 new features in this release; the Vox team voted on the top 30 to share with you!

Join our upcoming webinar on August 11 to learn about these new features.

World Premiere Microsoft 365 Fall Release Software First look

NAFTA died on June 30th, is your ERP software ready for CUSMA?

I attended the APMA webinar “Preparing for the CUSMA Implementation” and was very impressed by Flavio’s and his in-depth knowledge of CUSMA (They lived it for the last 18 months).  

The most common question I get is, “From July 1, can I continue to use my NAFTA certificate?” The answer is NO! NAFTA is gone…It is not acceptable to use NAFTA certificates! NAFTA certificates of origin, need to be redone! 

Certificate of origin – is now removed; there is no standard form. This is a process, a living agreement over the next 12-18 months to get this to be consistent—lots of changes happening, with the rollout compounded by a pandemic.

What is CUSMA?

On November 30, 2018, Canada, the United States, and Mexico signed an agreement to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA). 

CUSMA will reinforce the strong economic ties between the three countries and support well-paying middle-class jobs for Canadians. Subsequently, on December 10, 2019, Canada, the United States and Mexico agreed to update some aspects of CUSMA to improve the final outcome and clear the path toward ratification and implementation of the agreement in all three countries.

Screenshot from KPMG Report - Prepared for APMA Memembers

Learn More about CUSMA and How Will it Affect Your Software Deployment Plans?

Join us for an exclusive webinar on July 8, where we will discuss and explain the rules and requirements of the new NAFTA II agreement and what you need to do differently in your ERP software.

CUSMA /NAFTA II - How will it affect your software deployments plans? - July 8 - Webinar VOX ISM
Jim Heaton_Vox ISM

Blog Post by Jim Heaton – President, VOX ISM

Jim graduated from Victoria Park High school, University of Toronto, and has a Western MBA. Jim started out as an accountant and has worked in the IT industry for the last 30 years. He is the president of VOX ISM, which has twice won a two-time Microsoft Partner of the Year award winner (#1 of 12,000 Microsoft Partners).

Read Full Bio

Power BI

Top 5 Ways Microsoft Power BI can Benefit Your Organization

You might have already heard about Power BI, and you probably have two questions to ask: What exactly is Power BI? and How Microsoft Power BI can benefit your organization?

Power BI

Let’s answer your first question. 

What is Microsoft Power BI?

Power BI is a business analytical tool by Microsoft that helps users visualize data, create stunning dashboards and embed them into any application. It is available on a cloud platform, which means it can be used without any IT infrastructure support or capital expenditure. The most striking aspect of Power BI is that it enables end-users to create reports and dashboards independently, without any dependency on IT experts or database administrators.

Gartner recognizes Microsoft as a Leader for the thirteenth consecutive year in the Gartner 2020 Magic Quadrant for Analytics and Business Intelligent Platforms. Read Report

2020 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Analytics and Business Intelligence Platforms

Now let’s answer your second question.

How Microsoft Power BI can Benefit Your Organization

  1. Centralize Your Data

Today, many organizations operate with vast amounts of data. However, much of the data sits in different systems, and there is a lack of a centralized perspective.

With Microsoft Power BI, you can bring together data from your diverse line-of-business systems and visualize it clearly and efficiently through visually stunning pre-built dashboards.

  1. See the future

Power BI helps you to spot trends faster and provide you with insightful comparisons and analysis. For example, it simplifies year-to-date sales numbers for this period against the corresponding time last year. Slice it down into customer segments, analyze your margins, stock holding, customer performance, and plenty more.

  1. It connects to the software you already use 

Your company runs on a few essential software. You would have accounting software, a payroll application, and possibly another type of software that runs the specifics on your product or service – project management, inventory management, or maybe even a proprietary software you wrote to service your clients. The great news is, you can connect Power BI to most of these software.

Also, Power BI integrates with all the Microsoft suite of products you already use. It also integrates with other ‘non-Microsoft’ databases, such as Oracle, IBM DB2, SAP HANA.

  1. Mobilize your workforce

Power BI is a cloud-based solution that helps your team to the business insights they need from any device at any time – which means they are no longer tied to their desks. By removing the need to return to a central location to access critical information regularly, your team can work more effectively and respond quickly.

  1. Easy to use and learn

Power BI has a very simple and easy to use interface. Your team doesn’t need any programming experience to use this tool. It has inbuilt intelligence features, which helps you to select attributes for your reports by suggesting the best reporting element.

Power BI is developed on the founding platform of Microsoft Excel, and it follows a similar approach to design a report. Microsoft Excel is globally accepted and widely used software, which makes Power BI easy to learn.

Learn More about Microsoft Power BI

VOX ISM is a Microsoft Triple Gold Partner. We specialize in ERP, CRM and business analytics and provide fully customized business intelligence solutions for our clients using Microsoft Dynamics 365 and Power BI.

Join our upcoming Power BI training sessions to kick-start your Power BI journey.

Disaster Recovery Plan_VOX ISM

Do I still need a Disaster Recovery Plan if I use Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central SaaS?

The Short Answer Is: Yes, You Do!

Disaster Recovery Plan_VOX ISM

Here’s Why You Need A Disaster Recovery Plan:

Disaster Recovery Planning is not just about backing up and restoring your database – Microsoft has you covered there – It is about preparedness, so you aren’t caught flat-footed if some catastrophe happens. A delay of even one day to get people up and running is costly. If it takes longer, the costs escalate rather quickly in lost productivity or sales.

Disasters can happen in a number of ways:

  1. Loss of Internet connection
  2. PC\Device connectivity issues
  3. Ransomware or other Virus attacks on your PCs\Devices
  4. Physical damage to your devices (fire, flood, etc.)
  5. Machine related issues (e.g. your CNC goes down, etc.)

What can you do?

Have a Documented strategy for what to do in case of a Disaster and keep this in a well-labelled binder in a location where people know where to find it (not hidden in someone’s desk). You should also have an electronic copy kept wherever you have a Company shared document folder.

Identify what to do and who to contact in the case of the various “disaster scenarios” and provide estimates where possible as to expected response times (e.g. “…it takes about x hours to get a new server in”)

  • Loss of Internet connection – who is your internet provider? Are there specific steps the average user can take to troubleshoot first?
  • PC\Device connectivity issues – is this your in-house IT support or 3rd-party IT? Are there specific steps the average user can take to troubleshoot first?
  • Ransomware or other Virus attacks on your PCs\Devices – who should you contact?: internal or 3rd-party IT, key company officials, ERP support providers, etc.)
  • Physical damage to your devices (fire, flood, etc.) – who provides your hardware?
  • Machine related issues (e.g. your CNC goes down, etc.) – who services the manufacturing hardware?

Identify interim, short-term and long-term workarounds until you are “back up.” This is extremely important for owners to know their options

  • How do you continue to take and record orders, ship, etc. if your systems are unavailable for longer than a couple of hours?
  • What is your process for re-entering the recorded data (who does it; who is responsible for managing it)?
  • Are there other dependencies involved (do you have to provide electronic versions of things to customers\vendors, and how do you do this if your systems are down)?

The Disaster Recovery Plan steps should be reviewed, tested and modified as new processes\people\software become available. This is more of a “living document” and not just something that you did once 5 years ago. Technology and systems change, as well as staff, and you must make sure your information is kept up-to-date.

Some suggestions for, say, troubleshooting Internet connectivity are as follows:

  1. Identify whether the internet connection is still working. Test accessing other websites.
  2. If the Internet is not working, spend no more than one-half hour troubleshooting the problem with your provider and IT staff (provide contact information here). 
  3. Your IT support should have a process in place to set up cellphone hotspots (or the equivalent) to get your key users working again. Certain users may have paper forms ready to go in an emergency, which can then be input into the system when it comes back up. Have a plan ready, train your users, and document the emergency procedures to follow.
  4. If the Internet is working and access to Microsoft seems to be lost, contact your Business Central partner as quickly as possible to make sure they are working on the problem. Outages are rare and generally short in duration, but they could, in theory, occur.

So what DOES Microsoft SaaS do to help mitigate disasters?

The urgency of response is significantly less when you use Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central in a Software as a Service (SaaS) configuration. This is compared to having an in-house server running in with on-premise installation. Having your Accounting\ERP system running in the cloud removes or reduces the number of risks, though it won’t solve all your problems in the event of a catastrophe, as previously discussed.

Microsoft’s dedicated SQL Azure servers have a guaranteed uptime of 99.9%.

Microsoft is continually scanning the environment for problems and fixing them proactively. With on-premise systems, you generally find out about problems after they happen, and your system is down. Even if you do identify a problem early, it may still result in significant downtime if it is hardware related.

Each Business Central database has four live copies: the first three are in the customer’s primary data center, and the last one is in a geo-redundant location.

If the primary database copy goes down, the system automatically flips over to the secondary copy, and a new live copy is spun up. If the entire primary data center goes down or contact is lost, the customer is connected to the fourth copy in the second center.

Microsoft identifies vulnerabilities quickly, develops patches, and applies them generally before viruses exploit them to become wide-spread.

When Microsoft has identified a vulnerability, they develop a patch and apply it to their servers immediately. On-premise servers will not be updated as quickly, and so they are at higher risk of becoming a victim of a virus. 

The latest versions of Business Central (v. 15+) now allows copies of databases to be downloaded.

This means customers can now keep database backup copies locally and in another web location in case they want to have greater control over their database backups. This process needs to be scheduled or done manually, but it does offer some additional assurance beyond already having four live copies of your database in two different locations.

We hope this helps answer some questions you may have about Disaster Recovery Planning and the benefits of Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 SaaS. Please feel free to contact VOX ISM if you have any questions.

Microsoft Dynamics 365 Online Training

VOX ISM will be hosting 105 training webinars in the next ten weeks, yes two every day, for your enjoyment and continuing education, please make us part of your daily routine during our COVID 19 lockdown. See all the events here:

Trevor Reid_Vox ISM

Blog post by Trevor Reid: Senior Technology consultant

With over 25 years of experience in the Software and IT Industries (and 20 years with VOX ISM), Trevor has been involved in hundreds of software implementations and upgrades. Currently, he is VOX ISM’s “go-to” resource for anything technical having to do with SQL Server, SharePoint, Mobility/IFD, Remote Access, Database migrations and other areas of IT infrastructure and administration. Trevor works closely with our customers and their IT personnel and is always eager to share his wealth of knowledge.

Read Full Bio

production scheduling concepts

Let's talk production scheduling concepts, not scheduling solutions (Mike Fontaine)

VOX ISM’s Solution Expert, Mike Fontaine, also known as “Manufacturing Mike,” recently recorded a podcast with Martin Karlowitsch, CEO and Co-Owner of Netronic on production scheduling concepts. 

production scheduling concepts

Click here to listen to the podcast on Spotify.

On this episode, you’ll learn:

  • That scheduling just single make-to-order jobs can be easily done manually. However, scheduling becomes rather tricky when there are dependencies between multiple make-to-order jobs.
  • Why switching to a new ERP system – such as Dynamics 365 Business Central – can be hard in the beginning, and unleashes its full value only at a later stage.
  • How old manual scheduling procedures and routines can and should shape the future – e.g., bringing artificial intelligence (AI) to manufacturing.  
  • Why the traditional concept of running a pure priority-based schedule does not work well in a high-speed make-to-order environment (spoiler: because it takes too much time to maintain the schedule).
  • That a good scheduling system should plan against capacity on the one hand, but on the other hand, leave decision power with respect to the sequencing of operations at the shop floor.  
  • How “black-box scheduling” can (and should!) also work in a time when we are getting to real-time information.
  • The best strategy in times when things get more hectic, customers become more demanding, and the need for changing the continually changing schedule seems to be higher than ever … is: resist the temptation. Apply the concept of a frozen, a slushy and a wet schedule.
  • Recommendations on the length of the period of a frozen schedule.

What to listen for:

  • [02.08] How Mike initially did not use an MRP system, but actually became the MRP system of the company he worked for (and how this felt).
  • [03.44] That adding the variables of “time” and “change” to a schedule is what makes scheduling and time-phased material planning rather sophisticated.
  • [07.10] Experiences gained when switching from Infor Visual ERP to Microsoft Dynamics NAV (which is now Dynamics 365 Business Central).
  • [10.30] The impact that a high-speed make-to-order environment has on the dynamics of the appropriate scheduling framework.
  • [11.49] What you can learn from baseball for scheduling: how to translate the roles of players (at the batt, on deck, in the hole) to the priority of work orders and operations.
  • [14.10] Why it makes sense to leave some sequencing decisions with the people on the shop floor.
  • [16.58] The term “black-box scheduling” – explained. 
  • [20.48] The concept of a frozen, a slushy and a wet schedule – explained.
  • [24.25] The Best Manufacturing Apps Conference (BMAC) 2020: what it is, when it is and why you should attend.

Microsoft Teams

3×3 for Microsoft Teams is Now Available

VOX ISM uses Microsoft Teams every day as a collaboration tool. Every Friday, we have a virtual staff meeting with 25 team members to coordinate next week’s schedule and projects.

Teams is Microsoft’s fastest-growing business app ever. As of April 29, Teams had 75 million daily active users. That month, Microsoft saw more than 200 million meeting participants in a single day, generating more than 4.1 billion meeting minutes.

New 3×3 Teams Meeting Format

Microsoft Teams

Above, you can see the nine staff that are talking on the Microsoft Teams Meeting, and in the bottom left, you can see the text of what they are saying being displayed as they talk, real-time. Microsoft Teams is the hottest technology in the time of COVID-19 and is very cool.

Until earlier this month, Microsoft Teams only allowed viewing up to 4 members that were the last active in a meeting session. After the latest update (May 18, 2020), we can now see up to 9 participants in a 3×3 format when conducting a video conference.

Since Teams meetings support up to 250 participants, the rest of the members will be shown as icons at the bottom of the screen.

“I really do think it’s an inflection point. We’re going to look back and realize this is where it all changed. We’re never going to go back to working the way that we did.”

– Microsoft 365 chief Jared Spataro

Teams Template

Microsoft will soon release Templates in Teams, which will allow users to pick from various customizable templates while creating a new team.
Teams Templates will roll out in the coming months. Templates will allow creating custom templates to suit team structures common to different industries, such as manufacturing, healthcare, banking or event management.

Learn more about Microsoft Teams at our exclusive webinar on June 3.

June 3 Webinar

tips for Canadian manufacturers

k-eCommerce Tips for Canadian Manufacturers: Optimizing the E-commerce Customer Experience

The next year will see global e-commerce sales grow explosively, breaking $4.88 trillion by 2021. In North America alone, more than 90% of B2B executives consider the development of an e-commerce channel vital to long-term strategic growth.

For Canadian businesses already selling online, all this growth represents a significant competitive advantage. In the manufacturing sector, already 43% of business clients would purchase directly from the manufacturer rather than third-party resellers.

E-commerce empowers manufacturers to meet this growing customer demand. But they must be ready to process large-volume ordering, and optimize their logistics and accounting for swift fulfillment.

Here are three ways manufacturers can optimize their customer experience to differentiate their brand and keep their clients coming back.

ERP-Integrated Efficiency

With the rise of the smart factory and Industry 4.0, manufacturers across Canada have shifted toward data-driven technology and automation. ERP-integrated e-commerce takes this a step further by automating many of the processes involved in selling online.

ERP integration lets your e-commerce solution communicate directly with your back-office systems and accounting software to share business data in real-time. It transfers right over to your ERP when a new order comes in on your web sales platform. This saves you the trouble of entering the order manually.

This positions your company to sell to B2B clients directly. No matter how many orders you get, you won’t be held back by the time-consuming task of copying them back and forth.

Product and Price Transparency

B2B purchases are known for long sales cycles. Companies carefully compare products, services and prices, but the decision itself is a collaborative effort. The best choice for IT may not be the first pick for Marketing or Finance. Making a purchase that everyone agrees on often takes time.

One of the most common mistakes we see with manufacturers in the e-commerce sector is product catalogues with nothing but a part number. Your online product catalog is where you showcase your offering and connect with prospective buyers.

At a bare minimum, your product pages should feature high-resolution, full-colour images, engaging descriptions and exhaustive specs. In many cases, the video makes a valuable addition to a product page. This is especially true if your products have special assembly or installation requirements.

B2B Personalization

The Internet has been at the center of modern life for more than two decades now. With the rise of Amazon, customers expect your brand to have an online presence where they can find information about your business, and ideally a way to buy from you.

Years of B2C best practices have profoundly influenced the evolution of B2B e-commerce. B2B web sales platforms are built to meet the needs of sales and marketing, IT and finance teams while giving their customers B2C-style shopping experience.

An excellent example of this is personalization. Customer relationships are at the heart of the B2B engagement model. Manufacturers spend years developing relationships with their clients, which often extend to specialized pricing and even unique product offerings for particular clients.

B2B e-commerce platforms like k-eCommerce are specifically built to foster these B2B customer relationships. For every customer (or group of customers), you can define personalized pricing structures and even dedicated product catalogues that are only accessible to that customer.

To learn more about how to optimize the E-commerce Customer Experience join Rob Cook, Senior Business Development, k-eCommerce at the Best Manufacturing Apps Virtual Conference on May 26.