Our review was written by Michael Burns based on an interview and demonstration by Blue Link in April 2013
Blue Link Associates Limited is a small Toronto-area company with about 20 employees that competes against NetSuite, some Sage products, and certain industry specific solutions. How can such a small company be successful? When it was first created 21 years ago, Blue Link carved out its niche by providing the “perfect fit methodology” – its own version of customization, which includes fix-price updates calculated as a percentage of the original customization. But a few years ago, it realized the only way to compete with the major vendors is to specialize. So it took a different and smarter approach by focusing on specific target markets — primarily wholesale and distribution.
Today Blue Link targets small to medium-size companies with 5 to 100 users, who are distributors/wholesalers of durable and non-durable goods or food and pharmaceutical companies.
Perfect Fit Methodology
The Perfect Fit Methodology combines offering industry and function-specific components with the availability of customization. Around 10% of new (last 6 months) Blue Link clients have had notable customization. Blue Link will fix price the update of customization at a percentage of the original custom fee (usually 20%). Customizations that Blue Link makes for one customer are sometimes made available in future updates for other customers.
Perfect Fit Components
Blue Link has 26 different optional components including advanced back order fulfillment, intercompany and inter-warehouse transfers, lot tracking, landed cost tracking, a colour/size (apparel) matrix, credit card processing and 2-way eCommerce integration.
Blue Link uses a 3 tier product architecture with Microsoft SQL Server as the database, .Net compiled DLLs for the business rules and Microsoft Access for the user interface and built-in reports. Access is considered ideal by Blue Link for making changes to the user interface and Microsoft keeps improving it as can be seen in their 2013 release.
Blue Link’s focus is on companies that buy and sell products. 75% of development tends to focus on inventory management and inventory handling functionality, including reorder tools, RMA’s, process management for sales and purchase orders, drill downs to product availability information, bar code scanning pack verification tools and a configurator. Blue Link facilitates process management by controlling the steps in a process such as order processing. For example, the system will automatically update the status when an order moves to the next step and prevent orders from moving to the next step based on rules such as the customer does not accept shipments with fill rates less than a certain percentage. Systems that cater to larger organizations often use workflow to control processes by automating approvals and generating alerts for exceptions. Blue Link’s approach is that small companies don’t want workflow except in a few key areas such as approving cheques. Blue Link’s configurator tool is ideal for companies that create simple custom configurations such as in assembling computers.
The system allocates landed costs such as duty, brokerage and freight based on quantity, dollars, weight, volume or a custom allocation. Variances between estimated and actual are tracked in a variance account.
Warehouse screens are optimized for warehouse personnel and are bar code aware using scanning for picking, packing, shipping etc. Blue Link tracks items into specific containers and has two-way integration with shipper software such as UPS, Canpar and Fedex.
2 way integration for Business-to-Consumer (B2C) eCommerce
Blue Link integrates with Magento eCommerce Stores using web services. The integration is 2 way, and sufficiently detailed to automatically handle the “what-ifs” like shipping of partial orders, substitute items, pre-authorizations and re-authorizations. B2C integration is much more than processing an online order. It also includes checking inventory availability in real-time, calculating a customer’s price based on the pricing rules in the ERP system, and credit card processing. Credit card processing is not trivial. It starts with a preauthorization on Magento to process the order but the credit card is only charged if the order was shipped in full. If the order can’t be shipped, Blue Link will send an appropriate message suggesting a substitution which can change the amount that is charged.
Hosted and On-Premise
Blue Link Elite is available either on the traditional on-premise basis, or as a hosted (“cloud”) system. Blue Link offers users the ability to switch from one method to the other and obtain partial credit for payments made. 80% of Blue Link’s new customers choose the hosted option. Even existing on-premise clients are switching. Unscheduled downtime in 2012 was just 6 ½ hours and 6 hours was not a server-based problem but rather an issue at Bell and Rogers. Nevertheless Blue Link issued a credit to their clients for the inconvenience based on their contract agreement.
When organizations outgrow systems like QuickBooks, they find that there is a huge jump in costs from entry-level systems to mid-market systems. Blue Link is positioned pricewise between the entry-level systems and the well-known mid-market systems.
It’s great to see that a small Canadian company can successfully compete with huge multinational software vendors. Blue Link’s customers have direct contact with the company’s developers to ensure enhancements meet their needs. The president of Blue Link, Mark Canes, CA, told me he meets with at least 10 customers a month. Some of Blue Link’s customers would rather be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in the deep blue sea.