Although food distributors and manufacturers handle routine business with complex Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems, too often application specific solutions can be left out. Tasks with forms requiring approvals through various departments not typically covered by an ERP system are particularly at risk. Whether this involves managing sales, returns, food safety traceability, or marketing and distribution by certain target dates, successfully integrating all of these areas and more into an ERP system requires creating application specific solutions.


Ideally the process would start with an automatically generated form at the point of sale, combined with a data sharing and approval process that streamlines coordination throughout the company and its partners.

Streamlining for a national brand

When a chocolate candy manufacturer and distributor grew rapidly into a nationally recognized brand, for instance, specific applications were left uncovered by its ERP system. This led to challenges in efficiently managing and coordinating its field sales targets, pricing, approvals, auditing, and marketing.

Much of this process was time consuming for its sales reps in the field, using a combination of email, phone, typed notes, and Excel spreadsheets to take orders from supermarkets and convenience stores nationally.

An automated method to track and manage distribution, invoice the candy sold, and meet the company’s manufacturing quota was also required, but their ERP system was not set up to accommodate this. Better coordination among order changes, sales audits, and invoice reconciling was also necessary. The candy company sought to streamline its process from the point of order through manufacturing, distribution, delivery and invoicing.

This sort of situation leaves food distributors and manufacturers with the unpalatable option of paying existing ERP providers to add new modules or programming to accommodate the required changes. However, this is often a costly approach that can take many months and hundreds of thousands of dollars to implement.  Since this only addresses the challenge at hand, additional costs are required the next time the food distributors and manufacturers need tweaks to the system.

Fortunately, there are electronic document management solutions already being used in the industry that are designed to address just such scenarios.

Faster, Cheaper Workflow and Auditing

What many food industry manufacturers and distributors actually require is a quick, cost effective way to add application specific solutions without costly ERP upgrades.  Such an electronic document management solution would be flexible enough to create a workflow system that allows individual departments to easily follow and approve documents wherever they go – for better management, control, service level tracking, and auditing.

Now the advent of secure Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions, tailored to the food industry’s unique workflow requirements, is allowing seamless function with existing ERP systems.


One example, for instance, of this streamlined, workflow-based strategy is a cloud-based, electronic document management solution called Kern EDGE, by Kern, Inc., a document output management company that services companies nationally, including one-third of Silicon Valley’s largest companies.

Because the software suite is offered as SaaS and usable by anyone with a browser, it does not require any capital investment, requires minimal IT attention, can be connected to existing ERP or CRM solutions, and can go from concept to implementation in less than a month.

In order to streamline food companies’ handling of workflow, the Kern-EDGE software suite is tailored to work seamlessly within the framework of each food company’s workflow and applications. To ensure this, Kern consults with the company to understand their process, anticipate the flow of information, as well as identify and satisfy any existing business rules. A flow chart is created and approved and a proof of concept delivered in as little as a week.  This workflow can later be modified if slight changes are required.

For instance, to improve workflow, customer communication, distribution by target dates, and marketing exposure, Kern helped to automate the chocolate company’s workflow process from taking the order through invoicing. To do so, they took the chocolate company’s sales order form and business rules and created an online portal so their sales reps could log on from laptops by sales number ID and remotely submit orders.

Since each entry automatically communicates with the company’s ERP system, the Kern EDGE software suite acts like an extension of the system. It manages not only the customer order, their discount, order process and delivery date, but also workflows this data throughout the company to those who require it regardless of department – from accounting and distribution to marketing and advertising.

Now sales reps can track their own sales figures, commissions, and other vital info from their laptops in the field for greater accountability, and the system tallies cooperative ad credit for the company’s retail partners.

Additionally, the system allows complete access and tracking of every transaction, including the optional creation of a PDF of the original sales order, accessible by multiple index fields. If an order is changed, sales reps can remotely use the portal to create another PDF of the change, with each version saved, dated, and attached to the original order. Appending additional documents, such as invoices or checks, to the order can also be done at any time, which can further help with sales and accounting reconciliation audits.

Unlike complex ERP software that must be programmed, the software suite is quickly adaptable to business process requirements, such as adding new offices, user groups, and required authorizations. This flexibility is designed into the system because it is easily configured into an existing software engine as definable parameters, rather than programmed from scratch.

While the electronic document management software suite costs a fraction of ERP reprogramming and implementation, it is very secure. With built in redundancies, backup power from Tier IV data centers, and multiple layers of document security, it provides a safe, high-level private cloud solution.

Unlike most SaaS, Kern-EDGE is not priced on a per-seat basis, but rather on the complexity of the project and amount of data involved.

For food manufacturers and distributors that seek to improve workflow and efficiency from their sales force onward, the bottom line is that such cloud-based SaaS solutions will allow them to nimbly adapt and respond to customers at a fraction of the time and cost of modifying their ERP system.

Author: Sarah Mead