Bigger, bolder, and prouder, Epicor launched their user conference to an audience of about 4,000 attendees. Here, Epicor focused on major releases of the flagship products Epicor ERP and Profit21, among others. They also introduced the new management team to the audience, many of whom had not yet met the team leading the company today.
As analysts, we often get special sessions before the main conference begins where we can get the highlights and ask our questions up front and personal with the executives.
This closed-door session featured Joe Cowan, Chairman and CEO of Epicor; John Hiraoka, Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer; Donna Troy, Executive Vice President and General Manager, who has had an illustrious career selling to the mid-market and ERP before joining Epicor to lead North America; and Noel Goggin, who now leads Retail.
As many know, Epicor had been through a major transformation since the merger of Activant and Epicor led by Pervez Qureshi. Joe Cowan’s goal, now, is to raise the bar on the company’s products and performance. In fact, he told the audience, he is not merely interested in customer satisfaction, but wants to create a customer base of Raving Fans for Life.
From speaking with many on the team, we learned that during the last few months of Joe’s leadership he has been doing just that—raising the bar on people, products, and performance. An interesting example is the launch of Epicor University. For several years, Epicor has been building a world-class educational asset that features embedded training and content to augment eLearning and on-premise training. The company took one more leap forward in this pursuit in concert with the launch of E10: creating a certification program1 so that any Epicor personnel who support projects have to take the E10 training—and not just pass the test—but score 100. Together with the E10 launch, Epicor has over 250 Epicor field personal certified and ready to support customers, and they expect to quickly double that number. Think about this—ultimately, it is not just a good product that determines success in implementing ERP. It is also the people: sales, who direct the customer to the right products; consulting, who help implement; and customer service, who provide ongoing support. No one wants to pay for service and then find that the people are uninformed and lack skill.
As Donna Troy told us, Epicor employees have, on average, 10 years’ experience at the company. That helps. They know how, who, and where to get things done in the company.
Noel Goggin, Executive Vice President and General Manager, Epicor Retail,told us that Epicor, who has prime leadership in retail, intends to continue that leadership with intense investment in the products. They will ensure that Omni-channel, merchandise planning, and POS support the retailers they boast of as customers. (We will have an entire article dedicated to ERP in retail in the next issue in which we will pass along the insights shared by Epicor customers such as Donna Karen, Perfumania, Michael Kors, Payless, Jones New York, and others.)
So What’s New in E10?
During the last few years Epicor has been on a journey to move solely onto the Microsoft platform (away from Progress). This opened the door to significant improvements in performance, and gave access to a world of deployment options, devices, and a rich partner network.
By utilizing touch, the new UI (Figure 1) moves beyond the paradigm of menu structures to embrace touch and search. Search is the core architecture. It is not an add-on. Everything—field, person, content, text strings, is searchable in the system. It not only helps with usability (no training is involved in finding and accessing content or reports), but also empowers employees. Employees can learn more about a topic, the products, the customers, the processes. And this informs their work and their ability to make decisions.
Figure 1: Epicor’s New UI
In “finally” completing the migration from E9 to E10, Paul Farrell, Executive Vice President, Worldwide Research and Development, ERP; and Erik Johnson, Vice President of Technology Strategy, showed the audience reduced time to implementation and improved overall system performance. Erik showed several impressive numbers (see chart, Figure 2) on the run-time performance improvements. This is important not just for single tenant or enterprise users who can expect their company to be able to take orders, manufacture products, and discover issues significantly faster, but for any tech company that provides a multi-tenant solution. For the latter, poor performance is the death knell.
Figure 2: Epicor Performance Improvements
Performance is critical today because ERP systems have moved beyond the data-based tables and rows to embrace Big Data—user-generated content, sensor data, GIS, and other data from the Internet of Things; social, and unstructured data from web and streaming sources that all can be analyzed by multiple users, consuming tremendous system capacity. And user expectations are for split-second response times, whether at their desk, or more and more often, remotely, on their mobile devices. Solution providers need to embrace all these data streams and modes of computing in order to support today’s customer. Because their customer’s customer expects it. As John Hiraoka said, “If you can't respond, your customers will notice.” How true!
Users not only want world-class functionality in their software, they also want flexibility without paying the price for customized software. Here is where Epicor’s focus on the transformation of the Epicor ERP architecture comes in.
Services—Users need to access functionality or services from anywhere today—remotely, by mobile or web; on the factory floor; or sitting at their desk. Service Oriented Architecture not only allows the components of software to be managed and maintained, but to be accessed using all these methods. For more advanced enterprises with a lot of IT support, the SOA approach provides a great deal of flexibility in application design and use case development as well as integration to many third-party applications. For enterprises with fewer resources, it still allows for flexible workflow and configurability in using the applications. E10 has over 1200 services, each with a variety of standardized operations.
Critical to the overall Epicor strategy is ICE, Internet Component Architecture, which not only serves as the gateway between applications, but enables Business Process Management (BPM) to weave applications, services, and devices, allowing for tremendous flexibility of applications, yet low maintenance for users and developers.
Never Have a Backlog
In the ERP race, keeping up with the market is essential to winning new sales and getting those raving fans. Performance, which we discussed, is one part of the race. But less obvious is the software backlog, although it is expected in the industry that there will be backlog and a list of unfinished requirements. At Epicor, about 80% of the company is devoted to product development or customer services. Only 20% is sales and marketing.
Those 80% resources are being utilized to keep up with demand. Epicor implemented agile development methods a few years ago and now this is being reflected in their new release schedules. Rather than having the big semi-annual releases, Epicor will provide smaller quarterly releases. They don’t intend to go to the other extreme as some cloud companies do, though, and issue daily updates. After all, users need time to understand and embrace change. This speed to value is not only reflected in the product releases, but also in the way Epicor does projects. Having great software that users can’t use certainly defeats its purpose; thus the methodology for software implementation is key.
In past issues, we talked about Epicor embracing social as a core component of the architecture. Last year at Insights there was raging debate from customers about how social should be implemented. Now social enterprise is here. (Read more about Epicor’s social solution in Is Business Social?) Epicor had a deeply involved beta customer program, many of whom shared their experiences with us at the conference regarding the use of and other aspects of E10.
Donna Troy with some Beta customers
Why is Epicor Social Enterprise different? It is essential to understand that for Epicor, social is not external to the product, unlike many other firms who have added on social as an addendum. (More about social approaches and Epicor in Is Business Social.) It is not a tacked-on chat feature. Social—whether on Epicor or Facebook—is an architecture that supports the creation and management of relationships. These can be quite complex: who is in which group, who you don’t want in one group but find necessary in another.
Social also supports multi-threaded communications between people, unlike email. So groups can be working collaboratively on multiple problems at once. And unlike email, the whole group can see the whole history, have access to the content, and so on.
With social part of the enterprise platform, security is crucial. So validating and monitoring groups is critical.2 Within the customer file, customers are already there. Within the supplier file, suppliers are already there, and so on. This provides a potential source of vetted people to form groups. Unlike Facebook where each person can add anyone to their own group, in the enterprise there is more to the process in order to ensure security. But once you have an established group, collaboration can commence.
It will be interesting to see how social evolves now that it is in the heart and soul of the ERP. This is an area that is evolving fast and users will ultimately decide on the use cases.
The Internet of Things
IoT at its heart is about anything to any way and anywhere connectivity—not one of ERP’s fortes in the past. Mobile and RFID + Cloud providers have been championing this concept for a decade. Now the industrial sector has embraced it. Epicor’s position is to provide the platform—services, analytics, mobile integration and so on—and let the users develop their own use cases.
In the next few issues we will review other aspects of Epicor in:
Traceability and Manufacturing
ERP and Retail
And stay tuned for our mini report on ERP 2014—Moving On and Moving Up.