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Out-of-the-Box vs. Best-in-Breed Credit Card Processing

Out-of-the-Box vs. Best-in-Breed Credit Card Processing

The (ERP) Credits Are Rolling

ERP was once a battle between “comprehensive” and “best-of-breed” solutions. While the “comprehensive” solution providers claimed to offer a one-stop-shop of business functionality, providers working under a “best-of-breed” model constructed simpler overall ERP systems that were easier to integrate with third-party solutions. 

The debate has morphed over time, as “best-of-breed” providers try to progressively dress themselves as comprehensive ERP solutions, while the old dinosaurs are working to make their systems more interoperable.  

Credit Card Processing in Enterprise Resource Planning

For customers, this has served to muddy the waters. At a macro level, it seems safe to say that ERP has increasingly moved to a best-of-breed model, where customers are willing to manage an increasing number of third-party solutions, provided that they provide “best-in-class” functionality. 

Credit card capabilities find their place among this morass of functionality, with third-party solutions competing with the integrations provided directly by vendors. Let’s look at some of the challenges that companies normally face when implementing the out-of-the-box solutions that ERP vendors provide.

Configuration Issues

We see customers frequently complain to us of the challenges in configuring their credit card modules. A customer purchases an integrated module from an ERP vendor’s feature card and expect that it should be as easy to implement as the rest of the application. Normally, we only hear from them after those hopes have been dashed. 

It’s worth noting that these “modules” are modules in name only—in truth, they are loosely integrated third parties, sold as a comprehensive, out-of-the-box solution. Some ERP vendors even offer multiple versions of credit card integration, which further complicates the situation. As such, a consultant may become savvy in configuring one payment model in one licensed module, only to stumble at the next implementation. 

Testing

Testing credit card solutions is always a daunting task—there is private information and money involved, after all. But a clumsy integration can exacerbate the problem. When vendors integrate with third-party solutions, but the third-party solutions themselves do not “own” the functionality and the integration, a situation where a diffusion of responsibility is likely to occur.  

 

In such a situation, neither side of the functionally can adjudicate the outcome of testing, and provide guidance to the causes for errant outcomes. In an ERP system, the customer invariably wants a single throat to choke—a party who can assume responsibility for the functionality in question. 

I’ve seen too many cases where vendor integrations leads to situations where the customer ends up paying a consultant to determine that there are bugs or unknown limitations to the integration that will hamper the use of the advertised functionality. 

Functionality Limitations

It’s not uncommon that a company’s needs exceed the capabilities of the solutions that the vendor’s out-of-the-box integrations provide. Because of the specialized functionality and capabilities involved, it is often the case that the credit card capabilities provided by a vendor are a “minimal acceptable solution” variety—a solution that barely meets the base requirements, but offers very little “wiggle room” for customers whose requirements step over the vendor’s proverbial line. Such is often the problem with vendor-supplier solutions, and one of the reasons customers leverage best-of-breed solutions in their place.

“Comprehensive” Credit Card Processing or Best-in-Breed?

With all the challenges to credit card processing, we’ve found the best-of-breed solutions to be generally preferable to the comprehensive but underpowered solutions provided out-of-the box by the ERP vendor community. In that light, our work with Century Business Solutions and their EBizCharge payment platform has proven to help customers handle complex payment requirements, helping them extend their operations and shorten their order to cash cycles.

Interested in e-commerce, cloud, backup and disaster recovery, and other services and solutions that complement your ERP system? Watch our videos to learn more!

Doctor Who Regeneration for Digital Transformation

Doctor Who Regeneration for Digital Transformation

Regeneration as a Metaphor for Digital Transformation

As a Canadian living in the American diaspora, I’ve had fun, at times, playing with my adopted country’s misconceptions of my homeland. I once convinced a room full of Texans that I had a pet wolf back home, à la Jon Snow, and that I culled dinner from the nearby caribou herds with a hand spear. Easy pickings, they were — the Texans, not the caribou.

But as a Canadian, I’ve also fielded my share of awkward questions, most often in relation to my country of origin and its relationship with its ancestral United Kingdom. To summarize: no — we don’t send tax dollars to the queen anymore. And no — I couldn’t give a rip about Harry and Meghan. But when it comes to contextualizing Canada’s relationship with the UK, I often find myself quoting Robert Frost, who was himself quoting an Englishman, when he said, “Canada ripened off the tree — you fell off green!”

Digital Transformation ERP System Upgrades

Not to get too mired in post-modern discussions on post-colonialism, I will admit that I’ve long held onto my commonwealth membership card over the years, pulling it out whenever it was useful. One such case was the matter of Doctor Who. As part of my cultural inheritance, I was rather fond of that man of manners and madness. As a child, I remember wanting a characteristic Doctor Who scarf for my birthday almost as much as that red Michael Jackson leather jacket that was also popular at the time — the one with all the zippers… ah… the 80s…

ERP System Time Travelers

So when I heard that the latest rendition of the “The Doctor” was on the precipice of a regeneration into a new incarnation, it seemed fitting that my mind would wander into the dimension of digital transformation, and pluck a few parallels where they hung out in front of me. For all you time-travelers out there, the EstesGroup has helped countless companies over the years transition ERP systems that were 40+ years old — systems that go back to the Tom Baker era, if anyone is keeping track. For such companies, the shift from a character-based system to a contemporary ERP is enough to tear a hole in a company’s fabric of time. But what does that mean for a company facing such a change?

System Regeneration

Digital transformation is like a regeneration in the Doctor Who series. ERP systems are a new incarnation of the Doctor — they come into being, replacing their predecessors. They go on adventures, solve problems, and take their companion companies to unexpected places. And in so doing, they amass monumental amounts of experience and ingenuity, and ultimately encapsulate the worldview of the time in their rows and their columns.

The worldviews themselves amount to the business requirements of the organization, as they relate to the system in question. Worldviews are not fixed in time, and evolve gradually, as the system is further modified, fine tuned, reconfigured, and integrated with other systems. While this worldview continually changes, the changes are rarely as abrupt as a new body fitting an old suit. 

A migration to a new ERP system, on the other hand, amounts to a much more radical shift in worldviews. The challenges really have to do with the wisdom and knowledge that is bundled up inside the legacy system, and with finding a way to translate that information into the new ERP system without compromising the integrity of the new system.

Don’t blink — it’s no easy task. In this context, the question you must ask yourself relates to how you approach a regeneration, knowing that it must happen. This might be a good time to lean on the good Doctor for assistance. Fortunately, there are several of them from which to choose:

You might approach the needed changes in the spirit of the Tenth Doctor and simply exclaim “I don’t want to go!” That is, you can fight the new system and cling to the old, as it slips away, like breath on a mirror.

Or you might approach an impending regeneration in the spirit of the Eleventh Doctor, understanding that “times change and so must I.” That is, you can get ahead of the transition and maximize the time you have, to remember as much of the legacy system as possible, such that it is not forgotten in the new system. 

The truth is, regardless of your reaction, some form of digital transformation is inevitable. Any moment now, he’s a’ comin’.

I’ve had many customers migrate simply because the current state was no longer tenable: ancient hardware, out-of-date operating systems, applications lacking the faculties to keep up with the current needs of the business, much less lead them into the future.  

I‘ve also seen customers delay a regeneration until the 11th hour, or a minute before midnight, and have thus dragged into a transformation without preparation. When it comes to transformation, preparation is key. Good preparation allows you to understand the business requirements that underly your legacy system. This gives you a better chance of incorporating your requirements into your new system, without trying to forcibly alter the new system to mirror the old.

In working with system implementations, one comes to understand that over the course of a company’s existence, systems change. And that’s ok, that’s good. You’ve got to keep moving, so long as your system remembers all the systems that it used to be.  

We all wish that our digital transformations would have an orchestral accompaniment as the universe sings our legacy systems to their sleep. The truth is, you have to provide the soundtrack. And that soundtrack is a manifestation of the attitude you bring into your system’s story. The song of your legacy system is ending, but the story of your organization never ends — as long as time passes really slowly, in the right order, and the next season does not get cancelled.

Are you seeking an ERP system or technology update?

Talk to our consultants now to begin a conversation that will make your system sing. Get help now with business processes, ERP implementation, digital transformation initiatives and digital transformation strategy. Ready for digital transformation in ’22 style? Go cloud, and get ERP business consulting experts for time-consuming hard and soft digital technology upgrades. Create the ultimate user and customer experience with new cloud computing platforms, without losing historical data. Meet customer expectations by combining a new version of your ERP solution with cutting-edge technology and optimized control over both the data migration process and migrated data. Hoping to use a newer version of your software to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic? Use cloud hosting technology to compete with the best of digital businesses, incorporating third-party integrations easily, to maximize machine learning, artificial intelligence, and other cloud-based digital transformation services.

P21 Integrations: Best Practices & Lessons Learned

P21 Integrations: Best Practices & Lessons Learned

Epicor Prophet 21 System Software Integrations

The most challenging part of a Prophet 21 migration are the P21 integrations. For many companies, third-party integrations are a necessary component of their P21 ecosystem. Compared to many ERP applications, Prophet 21 has been highly reliant on third-party software to round out the functionality necessary to support the needs of many Epicor customers. 

With this necessity comes the challenge of integration. Third-party solutions differ in their integration strategies, and depending on the P21 version and the architecture of the bolt-on, one of many integration strategies may be employed.

P21 Software Integrations Futuristic Technology Retail Warehouse: Worker Doing Inventory Walks when Digitalization Process Analyzes Goods, Cardboard Boxes, Products with Delivery Infographics in Logistics, Distribution Center

Seamless Integrations 

Speaking of architecture, historically speaking, the P21 application traditionally possessed a two-tier architecture, with the P21 desktop application acting as a fat client, talking directly to the P21 database layer. In the absence of a Prophet 21 middleware or application server layer, third-party applications, out of necessity, interacted with the P21 application at the database level. 

Logical Business Logic

Only over the past several years has the Prophet 21 ERP expanded to include an application server layer, known as the P21 middleware server. This allows for a new layer of P21 integrations. These integrations can speak to the P21 application at the application server level, or even at the API level over the web. But for customers yet to migrate to P21’s three-tier architecture, or customers with legacy integrations that are not yet API-compliant, these new opportunities are still a work in progress.

The combination of a two-tier architecture and a “best-of-breed” approach to functionality resulted in a significant number of integrations speaking to the database directly. This was the case whether the applications in question were external applications conversing over a given communication protocol, installed applications functioning through Windows scheduled tasks or ongoing services, or installed directly into the Prophet 21 database, through a combination of SQL Server stored procedures and scheduled jobs. Add the middleware server, the web-based and hybrid clients, and the expiring legacy desktop application to this already-complicated situation, and the plot thickens.

Custom Development, Access, Control

Not surprisingly, access and control are critical to a Prophet 21 installation, if you intend to integrate your P21 ERP with a family of third-party applications. That is why our private cloud hosted architecture has been such a great fit for P21 customers, removing the challenges of on-premise installations while retaining the full functionality of the P21 application, and a hybrid cloud integration platform that can support third-party integrations at any level. 

P21 Software Integration Worries, Care

All said, customers come to us with many questions regarding their Prophet 21 software and its integration environment:

  • What is the best way to integrate an application with the P21 environment? 
  • How much programming is required? 
  • If my third-party vendor only integrates over the REST API layer, what do I need to do to make this work? 
  • If I’m implementing a solution that has multiple integration layer options, which layer should I choose? 
  • What about home-grown apps? 
  • Are there security concerns? 
  • How many holes do I need to punch in my firewall? 
  • With all these options, what are my best options for Prophet 21 server care? 
  • How bolted-on should a bolt-on be?

How EstesGroup Can Help

As a company whose specialty is the migration of the P21 customers into private cloud environments, and integrating their entire P21 ecosystems, we’ve learned many lessons in the trenches. On May 11th, at the P21 Midwest User Group meeting, EstesGroup’s Daryl Sirota and Chris Koplar will be discussing Prophet 21 integrations, and some of the best practices and lessons learned, as they relate to Prophet 21 integrations. Bring your integration questions and we’ll tell you everything we know when it comes to creating a seamless hybrid cloud environment.

Prophet 21 Midwest User Group Meeting – May 11th

The P21 Midwest User Group meeting starts on May 11th, at 9:00. The event will be held at the following location:

Lee Mathews, a Cogent company

4525 NW 41st St, Suite 400

Riverside, MO 64150

 Are you a member of the P21 Midwest User Group and interested in attending? If so, contact Joseph Babbit ([email protected]) and spread the word!

Need help with Epicor Prophet 21 or general ERP system management, business processes, supply chain management, customer relationship management, or other key P21 challenges? Chat with us now to get real-time help with your P21 system, or fill out the form below, and our ERP experts will be in touch with you soon.

 

Trailer Telematics: How Cloud Technology is Driving Success

Trailer Telematics: How Cloud Technology is Driving Success

As trucking companies move closer to the goal of driverless vehicles, the technology that will enable this mission continues to improve. With this improvement comes a vast amount of information regarding the status of a given load. Enter the fleet of trailer telematics fueled by cloud technology.

Trailer Telematics Cloud Technology

What is trailer telematics?

Trailer telematics refers to a suite of technologies that provides the visibility needed to allow fleet managers to better control the key elements that impact the effectiveness of their fleet out in the field:

  • Finding viable trailers to use out in the field
  • Optimizing the rate that trailers get loaded, to ensure that as many tractors as possible have a viable load
  • Providing alerts when pickups and deliveries are made
  • Tracking the location and status of trailers between the point of load and the point of delivery
  • Tracking the status of various elements of a trailer (wheels, lights, etc.) to ensure that they are in working order

How does trailer telematics work?

Essentially, a suite of devices are installed on a given trailer, and these devices monitor various aspects of the trailer in question, and relay them back to a cloud server, where the data is delivered back to the trailer owner, normally via a web interface.  

The presence of cloud technology here is key.

Telematics companies are really SaaS solution providers masquerading as hardware dealers, and this allows for surprising extensions in functionality. While many of these capabilities are reactive in nature, an additional and still-evolving benefit to these technologies is the ability to provide predictive analytics to proactively react to potential problems.

With all of this data in the cloud, the application of AI analytics allows providers to mine this raw data for useful information, which can allow companies to proactively manage everything from security to regulations:

What does this mean for distributors?

For distributors leveraging their own fleet, the benefits should be self-evident — better opportunities to keep trucks on the road. But even for distributors working through third-party logistics providers, there are several potential benefits that might be available.    

Location Control

One immediate opportunity relates to visibility of delivery. The location control aspects of telematics allow for a real-time understanding of where your delivery currently resides, whether incoming or outgoing. This should allow distributors to plan for the realities of delivery timing, while also providing opportunities for expediting, negotiation, and accountability management in real time, allowing proactive companies to be the “squeakiest wheel” on the trailer.

Time and Tracking

As customers demand tighter delivery schedules, the ability to track your product to the day and to hour becomes critical, and your 3PL (third-party logistics) should, at some point, be able to provide this level of information. Moreover, as trailer location control becomes a reality, the ability to locate and schedule backhauls, based on the specific location of a given rig at any moment, becomes a reality.

Cloud technology helps distributors get the information they need to stay competitive.

The lesson to be learned here is that the information is out there, and it’s only getting better. Ask your freight provider whether they have that information, and how they can make it available to you.

Wondering how cloud technology will fit into your distribution technology plan for 2022 and beyond? Contact our cloud specialists today. Our IT industry experts would love to begin a conversation about trailer telematics solutions, supply chain management, data analytics, or other trends affecting distributors of the future. Reduce costs today by moving your trailer data to the EstesCloud platform, a private cloud hosting solution with hybrid cloud options. Support your telematics technology with help from our cloud consultants.

EstesCloud is the ultimate cybersecurity and backup and disaster recovery solution for manufacturers and distributors. Keep web-enabled and web-driven data safe. Secure your telematics devices through the preventative maintenance strategy of cutting-edge cloud technology. Private cloud technology helps you reduce maintenance costs while also protecting you against the risks of highly connected solutions like trailer telematics systems. Got trailer tracking on your company roadmap? The weather’s never been better to drive your commercial vehicles into a custom cloud built to fit the needs of your business. Smart cloud, smart trailer.

What Cloud is Your Cloud Provider On?

What Cloud is Your Cloud Provider On?

ERP Hosting is Better Than a Trip to the Ice Cream Parlor

The age of “mass customization” pervades many areas of our business and personal lives. The general populace has grown accustomed to being able to “dial in” solutions as needed, especially when it comes to products and services. Tailored solutions have become a competitive advantage, if not a necessity, these days, and every cloud provider claims variety and customizability, even in the ever-so rigid atmosphere of SaaS (Software as a Service). If you’re looking for a cloud provider for your ERP (enterprise resource planning) application, do you ask where your new infrastructure team will actually cloud your data?

Ice cream parlors have been playing the variety card for decades. I have always been a fan of a good sundae—a little of this, a sprinkle of that, one flavor, two… the combinations are endless, as are the effects on my palate. But no two ice cream parlors are created equal. Similarly, no two cloud providers are created equal. Sometimes it feels like there are no standards that govern what it exactly means to be “flexible” in the cloud or to have “scalability” in the cloud. Like with ice cream parlors, sometimes vanilla is nothing more than artificial vanilla flavoring. This means that as a cloud solutions buyer, you need to understand the unique build of your server infrastructure before you sign the cloud services agreement.

Cloud Provider for ERP Business Applications

In the cloud computing world, an ice cream sundae model for ERP application deployment is a natural progression of the mass customization movement. After all, flexibility and scalability are defining features of cloud computing.

Nevertheless, the big players in cloud solutions continue to pull us back into a world of vanilla (or vanilla flavoring). Tiered pricing models, service bundles, rigid step-progressions, and consumption models that do not adjust for seasonality leave many cloud customers feeling like they are trapped in an artificial vanilla apocalypse. Cloud computing is defined by its flexibility, but you wouldn’t know this when reading the fine print of your IT service contract.

That is to say, application deployment is not a one-size-fits-all proposition, even if your cloud provider is positioning it in that manner.

Some customers, with small footprints and standard business requirements, fit nicely within a software as a service (SaaS) framework when it comes to deploying ERP systems. However, many customers of greater size and complexity struggle with the limitations of SaaS. They want levels of access and control that are not normally afforded by SaaS deployment models. But exactly what a customer wants and needs differs from customer to customer. For suppliers offering very rigid solution sets, this can be a problem. 

Some customers want a level of access and control that SaaS can’t support. They still want their cloud server stack micro-managed, but they don’t have the internal resources to perform the management. These customers lean toward managed ERP hosting, which falls more closely under a platform as a service (PaaS) model, where the solution provider manages the infrastructure and application platform layers, and the customer consumes the final output.  

Other customers have the in-house staff and expertise to manage their own architecture. They want the solution provider to set up an ecosystem, but intend to take ownership and management of that ecosystem thereafter. These folks don’t need managed hosting, as they can perform any micro-management themselves. The solutions to satisfy these customers fall more under an infrastructure as a service (IaaS) model, where the solution provider provides the infrastructure, and the management of the application layer is the client’s responsibility.

But such simple distinctions between PaaS and IaaS seem too rigid for many customers. Many customers want something in between. They desire a combination of service, access, control, and responsibility. A sprinkle of this, a dash of that, a little smooth, a little crunchy. 

As a customer, you need to make sure your cloud solution provider can lay out the various features and options that comprise their solution and help you work though a combination that fits your business. This might involve user provisioning, backup and disaster recovery, performance monitoring and tuning, or general application administration. Whatever the case, make sure your cloud solution provider is not trying to drown you in vanilla.

A Few More Clouds (and Cloud Providers) to Ponder

What types of cloud computing would you trust with your ERP software deployment? If you are considering managed hosting, are you looking for other managed services as well, such as cloud security services? Are you looking for a flexible data center for a hybrid cloud deployment, perhaps with pricing on a pay-as-you-go basis. Do you know your hardware and software needs? When you open a web browser on a corporate computer, do you know if any of your business data is kept in a public cloud?

Are you in need of a tailored cloud solution for your ERP application’s deployment?