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What’s It Good For Anyway? Why You Need to Include Epicor ERP in Your Manufacturing ERP Software Selection

What’s It Good For Anyway? Why You Need to Include Epicor ERP in Your Manufacturing ERP Software Selection

The Epicor ERP consulting life is a tale of many worlds.  There is the world of travel, with its flights and sights, with its energy pulsing through everything, making me feel at times like I’m still the college student backpacking across Canada with a copy of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road in one pocket and Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey in the other.  And then there is the solitary work of the hotel: the late-night coding, the endless hours studying a new module, feeling as if stranded on a strange and seemingly uninhabited island, like Robinson Crusoe, searching for a fellow IT islander to help me understand my new world.  This country, with its beautiful natural landscapes and stunning human-created terrain, is a vast and amazing place, and the more of it I see, the more it humbles me with its immensity and variety. 

 

An old chum of mine, a WWII vet, and thus a rather well-traveled man in his own right, would often interrogate me over the spaces and places I’ve been with the simple question, “So wha’s it good fer, anyway?”  

 

He was looking for something about my new acquaintances and places that distinguished them from other populations or locations.  To his entreaty, I’d tell him of some local natural wonder, or some landmark, a historical site of interest, or else a local signature building, like Louis Sullivan’s “jewel box” bank in Owatonna, MN, or Frank Lloyd Wright’s Price Tower in Bartlesville, OK.  “I see,” he’d respond once I was done, nodding approvingly at whatever little tidbit I offered.  

Customers in the midst of an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software selection cycle have an outlook not unlike that of my old friend.  They are trying to understand how different enterprise platforms compare with one another and whether those differences hold any specific extraordinary meaning.  When customers in search of an ERP system come to me looking for insight into the Epicor ERP application, their question is usually the same one my old friend posed to me so many times: “So, what’s it good for, anyway?”  The answer to such a question should help a customer understand whether or not a given ERP platform is the best fit for them, and is thus an important question to ask and answer thoroughly. 

 

So, what is Epicor ERP good for anyway? 

Epicor’s ERP application is a mature manufacturing platform that provides considerable functionality to assist manufacturing companies in a variety of industry verticals.  Among the many capabilities of the application are the following:

 

Support for Deep Bills of Materials (BOM): 

 

Companies with large, complex product often need ERP systems that can handle deep bills of materials (BOMs).  Epicor ERP’s engineering capacities match these needs, offering the ability to define extensive bills of materials for complex products, for the definition of standard product through the part (item) master module and also at the quote and job (work order) modules, allowing for the definition of product at key points of the sales and fulfillment cycles.

 

Robust Quoting Module:  

 

Speaking of the quote module, Epicor ERP’s estimating capabilities are extensive, and allow companies to handle Requests for Proposal (RFP) with speed and efficiency, while providing the necessary information to ensure accuracy.  The ability to build a cost model from a bill of material, and routing at the quote line, allows the salesperson to understand costs before determining prices, and the quote worksheet capabilities allow for a variety of cost-based markups and discounts.  The module also integrates with Epicor ERP’s product configurator, enabling systematic feature-based quoting.  Moreover, the Epicor ERP platform allows for quotes to be pushed to sales orders, ensuring a seamless transition from pipeline to backlog. 

 

Well-Integrated and Fully Functional Product Configurator Module

 

Many software vendors run away from developing integrated configure-price-quote (CPQ) modules, opting instead to let their partner community fill in this gaping hole.  Epicor ERP took the opposite approach and built a robust product configuration module.  The module integrates with the quote, sales order and job (work order) modules, allowing for reconfiguration at each step, as customer requirements become better-defined.  Epicor ERP’s product configurator allows components to take formerly engineer-to-order products and standardize them, based on the product’s characteristics needed, the time of sale, and a set of rule-based actions to generate the bill of materials at the time of manufacture.  This eliminates the need for companies to define every product from scratch.  It also eliminates the need to build out an extensive array of stock-keeping units to address each permutation and combination of options. 

 

The Ability to Handle True Engineer-to-Order (ETO) and Configure-to-Order (CTO): 

 

For customers who work in a true ETO environment, where every product is so unique that it requires custom engineering, Epicor ERP supports the flow of such products through the application using “parts on the fly”—products that redefined at the quote, order, and/or job levels, but do not exist in the part (item) master.  This allows companies to define and deliver products without having to clutter their part master file with such “one-off” products.  Additionally, Epicor ERP’s partner product CADLink allows for the transfer of bill of material data from CAD systems to the ERP application.  This allows engineers to develop product models in their CAD system and then efficiently transfer the data to Epicor ERP, to support the production and delivery of the custom product in question. 

 

Support of Mixed Mode Manufacturing: 

 

Few companies operate exclusively in a make-to-order or a make-to-stock model.  While companies may produce some products only as needed, it is often financially impossible to do this with all items, especially high-volume products.  Epicor ERP’s ability to mix and match fulfillment methodologies allows customers to aggregate stocked supply for efficiency, while supplying make-to-order products directly, allowing for greater visibility and priority.  Such capabilities allow companies to leverage the benefits of both models. 

 

The ability to combine Discrete and Project-Based Manufacturing: 

 

According to the textbooks, project manufacturing functions at an aggregate or “bucket” level, where labor and materials are rolled up against a single entity, as opposed to discrete manufacturing, where discrete items are built, shipped, and invoiced.  In practice, Project manufacturers frequently operate in hybrid models, where the needs of the market demand more than simple project manufacturing approaches.  Epicor ERP’s project module integrates with its quoting, order management, and job management modules, providing the ability to handle large “buckets” of work while also supporting the delivery of discrete goods, while rolling up costs and revenues for all items sold under the same umbrella.  Further still, Epicor ERP’s project module provides planning tools that allow oversight to the many facets of a project.  This allows companies to execute large projects with the necessary level of detail to match customer expectations, while also supporting internal cost, revenue, and delivery objectives. 

 

Fully-Featured Manufacturing Execution System (MES): 

 

Epicor ERP offers a seamless transition from planning to shop floor control with their Manufacturing Execution System (MES) module.  MES supports all aspects of shop floor management: production control, material issue, material movement, and shipping.  Employee records can be configured to allow access to one or more areas within MES, based on employee roles.  The use of MES within a manufacturing environment allows for the real-time collection of manufacturing information, providing status to the shop floor activities to the whole organization.  Also, by providing the ability to track actual labor in real time, MES supports a customer’s expanding need to understand actual production performance. 

 

A Robust Material Resource Planning (MRP) Engine and the Related Tools to Support the Planning of Manufactured Supply: 

 

The use of Material Resource Planning MRP-based planning methods can be problematic in to-order organizations, but Epicor ERP’s MRP module ties tightly to its job management and inventory modules to provide mixed mode supply in support of various forms of demand.  Users can run MRP based on the facility in question, based on a product family or a commodity class, or even on a specific product itself.  This reduces the time required to generate the needed supply records.  MRP can also be scheduled on a routine basis, and offers the traditional regenerative and net change options.  Multi-level pegging capabilities can also be woven into the fray, in order to give users the ability to trace the supply to each discrete source of demand.  Epicor ERP also provides a number of tools to review the output of MRP, review exceptions, and convert MRPs supply selections into actionable work orders. 

 

Analytics: 

 

Epicor ERP offers a number of different analytics capabilities.  At the simplest levels, Epicor ERP provides the ability to create reusable queries that serve as the foundation for real time reporting tools.  Moreover, Epicor ERP’s Business Activity Queries form the foundation of Epicor ERP’s new Data Discovery (EDD) platform.  Data Discovery allows for the creation of real-time Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), which can be deployed to an Epicor ERP user’s homepage, providing metrics to allow managers to gauge their business performance across the workday.  Additionally, Epicor ERP’s Data Analytics platform provides the ability to cube Epicor ERP data and analyze it across multiple dimensions. 

 

Those are just some of what Epicor ERP is good for, so why not give it a look?

 

Having worked with the Epicor ERP application (and prior versions) for two decades, I’ve seen its horizons expand, both from a technology and functionality perspective, and this trend continues.  A few weeks ago, I took the interstate from Syracuse, NY to North Philly, and the drive through Pennsylvania’s breathtaking slice of the Appalachians left my mouth open in amazement as my car seemed to float me in a space above the lines.  And the company I left behind me in Syracuse, after we celebrated the culmination of a two-year project that brought them live with the newest Epicor ERP system, filled me with as great of awe.  I advise manufacturing companies in search of a new ERP to give Epicor ERP a test drive.  It’s a system that inspires human greatness and allows companies to build wondrous IT landscapes for consultants like me to travel in, surrounded by flights and sights of creativity, of new worlds.

 

Questions or desiring additional information about Epicor ERP? Contact Us to Talk with an Expert:

Did you like this blog? Check out “Why On Earth Do I Need an ERP System?”

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.