If Your Software Don’t Dance then it’s No Friend of Mine – Understanding Epicor’s Release Cadence

If Your Software Don’t Dance then it’s No Friend of Mine – Understanding Epicor’s Release Cadence

Don’t ever let grass grow on your wheels

According to sociologists, my brother and I are from the same generation.  Sometimes I wonder… with nine years between us, we occupied two very different points of time, especially when it came to music.  My brother was a man without a hat, a child of the 80s, while I left my toque at home so I could let my hair hang low à la Kurt Cobain.  But in spite of the age gap, we shared an abiding mutual interest in contemporary sounds, and my brother once remarked, when comparing my Pearl Jam to his Bruce Springsteen (Springfield, after all, had been his generation’s Eddie Vedder), that my music was sure easier to dance to.  That was certainly a surprise to me.  I always thought of myself as a double-left-foot biped, and moreover I’ve long suspected that I have no genetic predisposition to dance—our father’s visits to the local dancehalls were to roughhouse, not to two-step, and I’ve often wondered if he only met my mother because he couldn’t find another ruffian to dance with that night.

 

For many years I was close with a World War II veteran who also met his spouse at a dance hall.  As a man of the Greatest Generation, he felt the Great Depression firsthand, served in the European Theatre, and returned to the States to become a successful business owner and family man.  But if you asked him what he really was, he’d tell you he was a dancer.  

 

His greatest joy was to fling himself and his dancing partner across the parquet of a long-forgotten ballroom, with the band laying it down in the corner.  And whenever I’d make it home to see him after an extended consulting gig, he’d ask me if there were any polka bars in the town where I’d been.  It broke my heart to disappoint him that I couldn’t find a polka venue to spend my nights, as his dance hall culture had long since become an American timepiece.  

 

My crowd, for one, never caught onto it, and I personally never learned how to dance.  I didn’t exactly need to be Jean Erdman to make my way through a mosh pit, and my crowd later gravitated to house and electronica music, where dance meant minimal vertical sufficiency while moving to the beat.  Even still, I found one abiding continuity between my companion’s old-style Polka and my Mosh.  Always keep moving, always keep to the beat.  Or, as he loved to say after reminiscing about his dancing days, “Don’t ever let grass grow on your wheels.”  

 

Good software is like a good dancer—it doesn’t stop moving. 

Has anyone on this dance floor ever worked on a green screen application?  Or does anyone remember the look and feel of Netscape Navigator?   In spite of my nostalgia for 90’s apps, baggy jeans, three-chord anthems, and a full head of hair, I realize that software doesn’t stand still—a software package that can’t dance soon becomes a two-left-feet wall-flower.  And a software package that can’t teach its users how to dance might lose out to nostalgia.  It was the twist that put my polka buddy out for good: “I just can’t understand how a guy can do nothing but put out cigarettes all night on the dance floor and call that dancing.”

 

Fresh off Epicor’s annual Insights conference, I’m ready to tango and tangle with all the new capabilities that are in development or already in the process of being released to the user community.  Needless to say, there is a whole lot of shaking going on at the great Epicor Code Laboratory, where Epicor’s waltzing wizards ply their trade.  And the release of this functionality for public consumption is more than just movement for its own sake.  Like a good ballroom turn, software release requires a cadence, and Epicor has been hard at work perfecting its rhythms. 

 

New releases of Epicor functionality conform to the Major.Version.Release.Update structure. 

For example, a company on version 10.2.300.4 would be broken out in the following manner:

  • Major: 10
  • Version: 2
  • Release: 300
  • Update: 4

 

These different elements are further described below:

 

Major:  

  • Major Product changes occur when fundamental architectural changes are made to the product.  From a customer perspective, a new product level may require significant changes at the database or application server level. 
  • Any customizations in the previous product level need to be retested, and many may need to be rewritten entirely.
  • Significant functionality or user-interaction changes may also be included, which may require retraining of the user community.
  • The most obvious example of this was Epicor’s monumental move from 905 to E10.  This was a fundamental change to the database and all the levels of its server-side business logic. 
  • Major Product deliveries are planned to occur approximately every 60 months. 

 

Version:

  • New versions may have a significant impact on Epicor’s data schema—fields may be added or removed. 
  • These changes may be substantial to BAQs, BPM’s, and screen customizations.  As such, ample testing in a pilot environment should occur prior to deployment. 
  • For example, Epicor’s move from its 10.0 to 10.1 brought with it important improvements in performance, stability—not to mention a ton of new features.
  • New versions of the software are planned to occur every 18 months.

 

Release:

  • Releases are fully-packed new instances of the software, with significant functionality enhancements, but the enhancements are limited as to allow for an easy upgrade process from a prior release. 
  • Releases (or patch-levels) include additive changes to Epicor’s data schema, but no deletions.
  • These changes may have minor impact to BAQs, BPM’s, and screen customizations, but these are smaller in scope and gravity than with new versions.
  • For example, in the .300 version of Epicor’s 10.2 product, Epicor’s License Plating (PCID) functionality was greatly enhanced. 
  • New releases are deployed every 6 months. 

 

Update: 

  • Updates are smaller, release-specific changes, constructed with the intent of addressing issues within the current release.  Changes are restricted to minimize disruption.  As such, technology or schema changes are not present in these packages. 
  • User training is not required for updates—the system will function as it previously had, only with fewer issues.
  • Updates are released every 2-3 weeks.

 

Within this structure, it is important to understand the rationale of Epicor’s release cadence.  The goal of their rhythm is to minimize business disruption, while at the same time quickly providing resolution to issues, and providing functional enhancements at a reasonable rate.  The implementation of this cadence has allowed Epicor to balance functionality and support, while allowing the customer base to focus on running their businesses without interruption. 

 

For cloud customers, these upgrades happen automatically, with prescribed periods set aside for preparation, testing and validation, prior to deployment.  For customers who have the application installed on-premises, the cadence is customer-defined.  I have found that customers who keep their system up-to-date reap the benefits of this decision—new versions are easier to maintain and support, and they perform better and have fewer issues.

 

As such, my advice to customers with regard to the frequency of upgrades is simple: learn how to dance and don’t ever let grass grow on your wheels.

Have a question about Epicor ERP, Prophet 21, or ERP system updating cadence? Let us know.

Why on Earth Do I Need an ERP System?

Why on Earth Do I Need an ERP System?

My boss once said to me that nobody wakes up in the morning and cries “I’m going to implement an ERP system!”  

 

It’s a fair point.  Apart from a few business process masochists that I’ve met over the years, few people out there really go out of their way to implement an enterprise system.  Enterprise systems are costly and they drain a lot of time and energy from key resources within a company.  They can be generally…painful to implement.  And yet I’ve seen so many companies make the move to enterprise systemand benefit greatly from the transition, in spite of the challenges.  This raises a question that I’ve had more than a few prospects ask me: “Why on earth do I need an ERP system?”

 

Pundits have long noted that the “E” in “ERP” is the most important of the three letters.  The value ian ERP system comes iits applicability to the entire enterprise and not just to a few selective functions within the organization.  And while ERP has been around now for many decades, there continues to be ample opportunity for better enterprise-level integration among companies.  Quite often, the “why” of ERP comes in a quick analysis of a Company’s current-state application architecture. 

 

With many of the customers that I’ve helped migrate to Epicor’s ERP platform, I’ve observed a current state application map to include one or more of the following:

  • The utilization of stand-alone financial modules such as QuickBooks for financial management.  Such systems are good for counting waves, but not for making them.
  • The use of manufacturing oriented work order systems for managing the shop floor.  Job Shop-oriented systems can be effective in defining product structures and working them through the shop-floor, but are less effective in managing the selling and shipping of manufactured products anin comparing the resultant revenues to costs.
  • 1980s-era ERP systems, with one or more bolt-ons for managing product configuration and/or the shop floor.  First-generation ERP systems are generally solid when it comes to inventory management, and basic order-to-cash cycles, but are limited in many areas, and are a burden to maintain.
  • Paper-based systems for inventory management & time card entry—some customers are still pounding the paper when it comes to basic warehouse and shop floor transactions.
  • Varieties of macro-enhanced spreadsheets for doing one of many things.  Spreadsheets are a great gap-filling tool, but their limitations quickly become apparent as multi-user capabilities and large data requirements become a necessity.

 

Based on the above, iis no surprise that companies come to us looking to implement Epicor because their current state is a drafty quilt of poorly-stitched and poorly-patched legacy applications, homegrown boondoggles, and siloed modules.  Customers come to us believing that there must be a better answer, anin most cases there is.  The problem is, most companies took a lifetime to grow into their patchy ponchos.  At certain early stages in their relative existence, most companies can get away with the above scattershot array of systemand pseudo-systems.  But these same systems become hindrances as the company looks to scale up, expand its offerings, ramp up its output, or better integrate with customers, suppliers or best-of-breed applications.  As these challenges become clear, the “why” of ERP begins to take shape.

 

Our work as Epicor partners quite often has to do with explaining the “why” of ERP.  My own “why” came to me many years ago.  At the time, I was still a customer and still quite naive regarding the ERP space.  Working on a process-improvement project with my company’s Vice President of IT, I asked him point blank whether our recent ERP implementation had been a success.  “Yes!” he replied, emphatically.  “Why?” I responded.  I was a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt at the time and was practicing my “5-Whys” methodology.  I only needed one of them, for his answer changed the way I’ve seen enterprise systems ever since.  By implementing an ERP system, we were laying the foundation for everything that was to come.  In our case it was configurability—we were an engineer-to-order company, living ian increasingly configure-to-order market, anneeded to make moves toward configurability before our old methodologies priced us out of that market.  By implementing an ERP system, we set in place the building blocks for product configurabilityand our subsequent initiatives took these building blocks and reshaped the way the company did business.  Fifteen years anan ERP system later, my old company is still successfully competing iits target markets, proffering configured products, andoing so profitably.

 

Now every company owns its own specific point in time, and faces its own set of unique challenges, as it tries to grow and thrive in changing markets.  I’ve seen a lot of good reasons for moving away from a patchwork of solutions to a more integrated and comprehensive system.  My own story may resonate with some, or there may be other stories that better answer the question as to why a company might make the move to an enterprise system.  This is all to say that there are a lot of reasons for implementing an ERP system.  And everyone here at the EstesGroup would love to hear your story.  Anif you don’t think you have a reason for implementing ERP, we’d love to talk to you about that as well.

 

Have a question for our consultants? Trying to determine if your company needs an ERP system?

The Material Handling Industry Continues to Trend Upward, Outward, Inward

The Material Handling Industry Continues to Trend Upward, Outward, Inward

Emerging Trends Impacting the Material Handling Industry

Pundits, progenitors, and prognosticators are apt to riff on the emerging trends of a given industry.  Not surprisingly, a longitudinal view of such trends leads us to infer that the emergence of such patterns is less an instance of Aphrodite’s divinity spontaneously rising from the primordial sea foam than it is one of the all-too-human Agamemnon and his men, rowing their long boat across to Aegean from his citadel at Mycenae to the broad plains of Hector’s Ilium. 

That is to say, a trend is a flower that opens not over the course days but of years, and while the attached article was penned in 2014, a quick look at its list trends tells us that these items are still unfolding into bloom: Ten Mega-Trends of The U.S. Roadmap for Material Handling & Logistics and Why 2025 Matters Today

A look over the many industry tendencies that have faced and continue to face the material handling industry tells us that these trends affect all aspects of the companies involved–from the HR and finance departments through to product design and delivery.  For companies producing the equipment that services the needs of the material handling industry, a few of these trends are especially noteworthy, and a number of these are important for their ramifications on business systems.  Companies can no longer rely on spreadsheets and CAD drawings to compete, as industry shifts apply greater pressure on companies to rapidly supply equipment that meets these changing needs. 

Below are a few items, culled from the above article, that will affect the business systems of the future, in support of the companies working within this changing industry. 

  • The prevalence of Robotics and Automation: With the increased desire to automate as much of the supply chain as possible, the ability to move product with a minimum of human intervention becomes increasingly important.  Companies need to be able to tailor their offerings to provide integrated solutions that address these requirements, and to be able to integrate these different elements into systems, not only physically, but from a sales and delivery point of view. 
  • The increased use of sensor, wireless, and mobile technology: Coupled with automation are the needs for greater integration, between material handling subsystems, and between the overall material handling system and the facility in which it resides.  From an enterprise application standpoint, the importance in being able to quickly and consistently translate new features and options into their component materials and related operations becomes of great importance. 
  • The continued emphasis on “mass personalization”: As mass personalization continues to figure prominently in the arenas of product delivery and distribution, companies producing equipment to serve these industries similarly encounter the desire for increased personalization and configurability in the equipment used as part of the delivery cycle.  No two warehouse facilities are the same, and material handling equipment frequently needs to be easily tailored to support the discrepancies between buildings. 

 

For producers of equipment serving these industries, the challenges not only manifest themselves in the material handling products delivered but also in the processes and systems used to orchestrate the creation and delivery of these products.  Making the best equipment isn’t enough if it cannot be designed, produced, and delivered at the right time, and for the right price points.  In support of this, configurability continues to be of great importance, as are the abilities to quickly generate requests for proposals and rapidly engineer custom orders.  With its extensive product configuration capabilities, which are tightly bound to its Bill-of-Material structures, Epicor ERP is an excellent enterprise software option  for companies looking to scale up their organization to meet the challenges of this evolving industry.  

 

Are you looking for a strong material handling industry-based solution? Do you want to talk with Brad Feakes, Director of Professional Services? Contact us, and together we can make your company run better.

Is your Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) System Dying on the Vine?

Is your Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) System Dying on the Vine?

 

Hi, I’m Brad Feakes with the Estes Group. Now, with summer a distant memory and autumn full upon us, the winter still ahead, it’s a fitting time if you’re the leader of a manufacturing company to ask yourself whether your legacy ERP system is dying on the vine.

Doesn’t it seem like yesterday when your company first turned on its new ERP system and went live? Everything was blooming with possibilities, and your company was in its earlier season with its ERP system.

And then the years slipped away, and now your organization finds itself struggling with its legacy system’s withering limitations. And these limitations become an inhibitor to future growth. The truth is, winter is coming for manufacturing companies living on legacy ERP systems.

But you don’t have to hang your head over it, the ERP market is blossoming with different options, such as Epicor’s Version 10, with it’s Microsoft centered stack, and rest service compatibility, it offers the perfect platform for scalable growth.

As you assess your organization and its IT infrastructure, you need to ask yourself the question, have you harvested all the benefits of your legacy ERP system? Are you tired of endless patches? Are you frustrated with the narrow field of vision that your current system affords you? Is your legacy ERP system a husk of its former self? And are you ready to put it to pasture? Are you ready to leave your legacy ERP system behind.

I’m Brad Feakes with the Estes Group, and I’d love to talk to you, see if could help put some spring back in your business systems. 

Have a question for Brad or another one of our experts? Let us know.

Levels of Leadership: The High-Flying and the Etherized

Levels of Leadership: The High-Flying and the Etherized

Photo by @rawpixel

“When the evening is spread out against the sky like a patient etherized upon a table” – T.S. Eliot

When I first began dabbling in the field of Business Process Management, the terminology of this new and strange body of knowledge perplexed me greatly.  The concept of elevation, for one thing, was utter babble to me.  Or Babel, perhaps.  My notion of “high level” carried with it certain ancient connotations—height was a luxury in the ancient world, and only the most powerful civilizations were able to get a view from above the tree tops: from a Babylonian ziggurat or an Egyptian pyramid, for instance.  Height, therefore, implied greatness, or to use one of Aristotle’s favorite terms Eudaimonia, sometimes translated as “flourishing.”  At the highest Olympian point, one breathes the rarest of airs, or so I thought.  But I was breathing the ether of an entirely different allegory.  Height, in this new world, dealt not with levels of greatness, but rather with levels of precision and abstraction.  In the business world, for something to be “high level” inferred that it was at some level of aggregation and abstraction as to be disconnected from the tactical nuances of day-to-day operations.  News to me.

Back in the day, it was common war room parlance to utter something to the degree of “we’re looking at this from thirty-thousand feet” at least once a day.  It was not until my first airplane flight that I truly understood what it meant, to look at something from that kind of distance—beautiful, and a little terrifying.  I’m more of a pavement-and-pothole kind of guy.  The other day, I was skidding down the highway in another rental, that was fortunate enough to still have a CD player hidden amongst its many modern accoutrements.  I had borrowed Jim Collins’ “Good to Great” in CD form the local lending library and spent the better part of my ride listening once again to his seminal work.  It was a fun listen: Collins began by underscoring some of the key principles of successful companies, and then went on to expound on some examples of excellence, such as…Wells Fargo, and um, Circuit City, and well…Fannie Mae?  My ride, all at once, seemed a little…dated.  I thought to myself that Collins would do well to write a follow-up to his earlier work and title it  “From Good to Great to God Awful.”  Now that would keep me engaged while ripping down the interstate!  So, maybe Lord Jim’s examples have not stood the test of time.  But I believe that the good leadership qualities that underscore successful organizations have outlived their exemplars.

To that point, whenever I think of flashy and charismatic leaders in business process management, I smell pizza. Not because of any neurological condition that would make me a risk on the open road, but due, rather, to a story a man recounted on a flight from Minneapolis to Memphis, regarding the former executive of a large manufacturing company.

Let’s call this former executive “Pep.”  Now Pep came to his role of eminence in this company not as an internal promotion, but as an outside hire, touting a flashy resume from one of America’s well-known pizza chains.  And his demeanor was more flashy than his letterhead, and greasier than the pizza he peddled.  He’d bound down the hallway in a shiny suit, talking like a sailor and firing off one-liners, like the proverbial mouthy guy at the end of the local bar.  One of his favorite lines was “yesterday’s news wraps today’s meat.”  It was a line, with his delivery, that could drive a man to veganism.  Another time, his personal assistant heard him cussing out his computer and rushed to his aide, not to discover that the company’s earnings report was unfavorable, but that he had just lost another game of solitaire.  All of this from a guy with a Fortune-500 pedigree.  It was his story, among others, that led me finally to realize that CVs are like statistics—they can be twisted to tell you whatever story you want to hear.

Of his many witticisms, one line stood out to me from the others.  When commenting on the company’s long-standing issues with the accuracy of its outside sales staff, he exclaimed.  “If they wanted you to be exact, they wouldn’t have called it estimating, they would have called it exactamating!” 

Exactamating.  As you might have guessed, Pep was a rather high-level guy.  He sounded like such a high-level, that I imagined him bantering about exactamating in the first-class section of a transatlantic flight, sucking down a gin & tonic, while eating a big greasy slice of pizza, all at thirty-thousand feet.

As you might imagine, he was also afflicted with many of the ailments that bother high-level fellows of his ilk.  For one, he didn’t sweat the details—he liked to make big decisions, make them fast, and then walk out of the room and have someone else fill in the finer points.  If you locked him in a board room with the VP of engineering, he’d find a way to slip out the ventilation shaft for a smoke before the hour was quartered.  To the folks in the trenches, it seemed like simple impatience—he seemed too impatient to be bothered with the details, and similarly too impatient or just incapable of holding any of his people accountable at any kind of detailed manner.  But at any level, the company’s failing business results empowered the CEO to request that this high-flyer to take the next flight out of town. 

Back to Good-to-Great, one of Collins’ key observations from the book has to do with the demeanor of those with good leadership qualities. Good leadership qualities for business process management, according to Collins, tend not to be of the flashy variety, full of id and ego. Rather, they tend to be soft spoken, less interested in their own presentation than in the success of their company.  Interestingly enough, this same company, who sent Pep the Pizza Man packing opted to replace him with a leader who fit Collins’ model.  For one, the new executive was a hire from within the company, and not a fly-in, as had been his predecessor.   Moreover, the new leader was much less of a showman.  Most importantly, the new leader’s obsession with the company’s success drove him to understand the company’s inner-workings at all levels.  Don’t get me wrong—he was never going to replace any of the data entry clerks, but his willingness to engage the organization, and its members at all levels was one important part of the success that the company went on to have under his leadership 

I’ll admit it: one of my guilty pleasures is the legalized blood-sport commonly referred to as mixed martial arts, or MMA.  As you may be aware, MMA involves the combination of multiple fighting arts, and they best fighters are often the ones who excel in combining these disparate arts into one integrate skillset.  One related skill in this field is the ability to “change levels”—to convince your combatant that you are going to attempt a strike, and then drop down for a wrestling takedown and quickly haul your opponent to the mat.  In my work as a consultant, I have had the good fortune to meet and work with many different managers and leaders, each with differing motives, differing personalities and differing intensities.  I find that the most successful leaders are those who similarly have the ability to change levels as needed—to move from high-level strategic thinking, down to tactical or operational problems, and then back up again.  The high-level folks often struggle with this: they are the proverbial kick boxer in a wrestling match—great when they’re on their feed, but hopeless at the ground-level.  All that being said, the next time that I have to take a flight, I think I might sneak a New York slice in with me, before I leave the ground.

Ask us any question you many have about good leadership qualities for business process management and ERP Software Implementations, we would love to chat.