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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?

Paying the Piper in Epicor E10, Kinetic & Prophet 21

Paying the Piper in Epicor E10, Kinetic & Prophet 21

Best Practices for Paying Supplier Invoices in Epicor ERP

There are many challenges when it comes to paying supplier invoices in Epicor E10, Epicor Kinetic (E11), or in Epicor Prophet 21. In simple terms, a company purchases goods from a supplier according to pre-established and carefully-specified terms. In most cases, a company needs to pay them within the specified terms, waiting as long as possible, as to keep the cash flow within the confines of the company’s banking system for as long as possible. 

But the payment must not be so late as to incur the wrath of the supplier and avoid the inconveniences that credit hold will place on subsequent purchases. And the company may elect to take advantage of an early payment discount, if one exists.

Sounds simple enough. But a company also must ensure that invoices are accurate. The amount invoiced must correspond to the quantities that were actually delivered. Some many-to-one complexities muddle the water a bit, given that a supplier invoice may cover several purchase orders and that each PO could be dozens or even hundreds of lines in length.

Supplier Invoices Epicor Kinetic ERP Cloud

Automating the Three-Way Matching Process

At this point, we haven’t even begun to validate the amount that was on the original purchase order. Such is the magic of the three-way match: cross-referencing the information that was on the PO with the information on the receipt and matching both of these with the invoice from the supplier.

The matching process differs by company, as many companies have different rules and tolerances that govern the matching process. This can make the process laborious and time consuming for accounts payable staff, and it’s not uncommon for many accounting departments to spend inordinate amounts of time matching invoices and cutting checks for routine purchases. 

Given that the three-way matching process is largely mechanical in nature, one would think that it could be automated. But what would it look like for a system to perform some of the heavy lifting, allowing your AP staff to focus on the critical few problems, without having to grind thought the invoices that went through without a hitch?

  • Firstly, the system would need to read the invoice. It would need to read and digitize supplier invoices, whether they’re sent as PDFs Word documents, or in some other format.
  • Secondly, it would need to validate the invoice. It would need to review the past POs and match the invoice lines with the corresponding PO lines, whether they come from multiple Purchase Orders or a single PO.
  • Thirdly, they’d need to perform the three-way match. Using the rules that your company has configured, the system would need to compare line items from the purchase order, the invoice, and the actual receipt of goods.
  • Finally, the system would need to generate payment vouchers with the click of a button.

The benefits of such a system should be self-evident. Automation works to secure your supplier relationship, while minimizing invested time and effort. Moreover, such a system would be the kind of repetitive and rigorous data-driven analytical work that computers are made to do:

  • Processing matched invoices
  • Kicking out exceptions

Automation allows skilled staff to focus on the real work, not the grunt work. 

Are you in search of such a solution? Our supply chain automation partner SourceDay will be presenting a webinar entitled “3-Way Matching Success Through AP Automation” with Epicor ERP software solutions expert Jim Frye.  

SourceDay Logo

The webinar will focus on the final stage of the purchase order process: paying supplier invoices. Anyone who’s navigated the perils of accounts payables in Epicor knows the burden of matching purchase orders and invoices. There has to be a better way!

Join Epicor ERP expert Jim Frye to learn how SourceDay helps Epicor customers reduce the time and effort it takes to pay supplier invoices, resulting in early payment discounts, efficiency gains, and hard cost savings. The webinar will cover the following:

The challenges of paying supplier invoices in Epicor
The measurable benefits of faster invoice payment
How to increase operational efficiency and automation

Learn more about Epicor software by attending an EstesGroup Summit! Whether you’re a small business or a global manufacturer or distributor, our world-class enterprise resource planning (ERP) consultants can help you with everything from raw materials management to ERP cloud migration. Our Epicor consulting team can help you move from the paper based systems of the past to the cloud based applications of the future.

Brad Feakes SVP of Professional Services

BRAD FEAKES

SVP or Professional Services

EstesGroup

Jim Frye SourceDay Epicor Expert

JIM FRYE

Enterprise Sales Director & In-House Epicor ERP Expert

SourceDay

Phillip Pavelka SourceDay Supply Chain Expert

PHILLIP PAVELKA

Solutions Engineer

SourceDay

Leveraging Union Queries in Epicor Kinetic BAQs

Leveraging Union Queries in Epicor Kinetic BAQs

BAQs — Becoming One Data

A fundamental value of your Epicor ERP system is the data that it holds — all that data sits there, nicely organized and begging for consumption. But good data needs to be converted into information to be of value. As such, getting good data out of your ERP system is key. Often, it takes a good query to perform that information transformation. A Union query is one tool in the Epicor BAQ toolbox that can perform this action.

Data Server Epicor BAQs
Within the Epicor Business activity query toolset, Union queries combine multiple data sources into a single results set. Union queries are a great way to combine data from different tables that are, for whatever reason, sufficiently similar as to combine them into a single dataset. Some examples might include:

  • You are using the project module and wish to combine project phases and project tasks into one single set of activities
  • You are tracking the completion of manufactured parts in a mixed mode environment, and need to merge the Job Assembly and Job Material tables
  • You are reviewing sales activity for a customer and wish to combine open orders and open quotes

The UNION command in some ways functions like a JOIN command. It is used to select related information from two related tables. The biggest difference is in how the two tables are related and returned. A JOIN returns multiple table data elements combined into a single row, while with the UNION command, the records from different tables are returned as separate rows. It’s important to note the following: because records from different tables are being combined into a single set of rows, the rows returned need to be of the same data type. We will spell this out further below.

Let’s look at the attached Epicor BAQ example and better understand the UNION command in an Epicor business activity query.

The following query combines three sets of supply-side data into a single dataset:

  • Purchase Orders
  • Jobs
  • Inventory
SubQuery1 is the top-level query. It pulls data from the PartBin and PlantWhse tables:
Epicor SubQuery1
SubQuery2 is a Union query, from the JobPart and JobHead tables. Note: the data types are organized in the same order as the top-level query:
Epicor Kinetic SubQuery2
SubQuery3 is also a Union subquery that returns data from the PODetail and PORel tables:
Epicor Kinetic SubQuery3
Note: UNION command requires all selected columns to be of the same data type. If these returned values are not of the same type, you will receive error messages, per the screenshot below:
Epicor Kinetic Union Command
The value of Union queries is far-reaching. For example, the above query can then be used in a job shortage dashboard, such as the one below. In the following dashboard, the main query returns all past-due job material records where the material’s related operations have been started, but the material has not been issued. The main query published out the material part number, such that the child query can subscribe to this value and present the collected supply for the part in question, whether coming from inventory, from a job, or from a purchase order:
Epicor Kinetic Job

Need help with Epicor Kinetic BAQs?

Epicor Kinetic User Summit Fall 2021

Like BAQs? Looking for more Epicor Kinetic tips and tricks?

Meet us at the EstesGroup Kinetic Summit!

Scaling Up & Scaling Out in a P21 Ecosystem

Scaling Up & Scaling Out in a P21 Ecosystem

P21 System Performance in Accordance

When deploying any enterprise-level application such as Epicor’s Prophet 21 ERP, system performance is an extremely important consideration, one that can have significant impact on the successful use of the application. Memory allocation, transaction logging, network connections and a litany of other factors can affect the user community’s experience of the application. Failures in any one of these areas can bring an application to a grinding halt. This is certainly the case in a P21 environment.

As such, the work of a P21 administrator is critical in the successful deployment and maintenance of the Prophet 21 ecosystem.

While the successful administration of a P21 environment will differ on several factors, such as the version installed, the presence of a middleware server, the use of terminal services, and the use of the legacy desktop application, the actions taken to attain, maintain, and sustain a P21 ecosystem can be summarized by the two following principles:

  • Scaling Up: Stacking up resources onto a single existing server, user terminal, network, or device to allow it to perform better and bear additional load.
  • Scaling Out: Branching out by breaking out additional servers, terminals, network connections or devices to improve the capacity and capability of the overall P21 infrastructure.

Scaling up in a Prophet 21 Ecosystem

Scaling up involves the addition of resources, most often to a server, to address issues with usage and performance. In many cases, the performance of a single server, whether it is an application server, a database server or a user terminal, can be improved by identifying the problem in question and judiciously allocating some additional resources, such as RAM, CPU, or storage.

Let’s use the Prophet 21 desktop application as an example. The architecture of the legacy desktop application was such that a single desktop client generally consumed one entire CPU when in use. This creates a challenge for terminal services, given that two users logged into the same terminal server cannot share the same CPU, as is the case with other applications.

To address this, system administrators need to “scale up” and add CPUs to the terminal server, to allow multiple users to work from it in parallel. This is of course easier to do when the computer is virtualized, so admins will want to consider this should they have the need to build out a remote desktop for their user community. Depending on the number of users in your company, such an approach to your P21 environment may be satisfactory. 

With the shift from the legacy P21 desktop application to the P21 middleware server, the concern with scale similarly shifts. Scaling up under the modern architecture now involves the resources allocated to a given middleware server to allow it to handle heavier loads. Even here, it is not uncommon that companies encounter scaling issues with the P21 middleware server, as the company grows. In many cases, the answer is not to scale up, but to scale out.

Scaling out in a Prophet 21 Ecosystem

Using the example of the Prophet 21 desktop application, a company can scale up a single remote desktop so high before the additional building blocks no longer elevate its cause. In the case of a remote desktop, a single terminal server can support approximately 12 CPUs to support roughly 15 users working in parallel—any further and the platform begins to bend under the weight of its own design.

In this case, it is preferable to spin up a separate P21 terminal server to support additional user requirements, and to integrate the multiple servers with a broker to create a server farm.

A similar but updated concern relates to Epicor’s middleware application server layer, and the number of users it can support. As with the development of a Prophet 21 server farm for remote desktops, the need might arise to create a load-balanced farm of Prophet 21 middleware servers, in order to meet user needs.

The shift from a 2-tiered architecture, in which the fat client speaks directly to the database to a 3-tiered architecture, where the thin client speaks to the middleware server naturally shifts much of the heavy lifting from the traditional desktop client to the P21 middleware server itself. 

Again, the specifications are ambiguous, but we’ve found that often a single Prophet 21 middleware server can be scaled up such that it will support roughly 50 concurrent users before the server can no longer perform any additional heavy lifting. In these cases, it is preferable to build out a new Prophet 21 middleware server in a load-balanced environment.

P21 Economies of Scale

In practice, helping users often involves some combination of scaling up and scaling out. It begins with an understanding of the scope and limitations of the Prophet 21 architecture and an understanding of the size of the user community and their needs. From there, the combinations and permutations become an intriguing and multifaceted challenge for the P21 administrator to circumnavigate.

P21 Ecosystem Server Upgrade Cartoon
Preventing Ransomware in the Automotive Aftermarket

Preventing Ransomware in the Automotive Aftermarket

How to Secure the Automotive Aftermarket

To help develop awareness of cybersecurity needs in the manufacturing and distribution industries, EstesGroup conducted a joint education session with the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA). SEMA is a trade association composed of manufacturers, distributors, retailers and specialists focused on automotive specialty parts and accessories.

Preventing Ransomware in the Automotive Aftermarket

The educational session,“Preventing Ransomware in the Automotive Aftermarket,” focused on the steps that SEMA members can do to mitigate cyber threats. These steps can help any business improve digital security, so I’d like to review some of the material covered concerning the landscape of cyber threats.

What is the Threat?

Threats to organizations are widespread and increasingly prolific. According to the 2021 Malware Report from Cybersecurity Insiders, 88% of a survey of 500,000 IT professionals and 76% of 30,000 small and medium-sized business owners say that cyberthreats are a significant and growing risk. The attack vectors are multifaceted, including spear phishing emails, domain spoofing, and man-in-the-middle attacks.  

Cyberthreats are impacting organizations at all levels. On the business side, malware attacks caused both an increase in IT security-related spending and a decrease in productivity. At the IT operations level, ransomware is forcing cybersecurity professionals to update IT security strategies to focus on mitigation, as they struggle with data loss, downtime, and business continuity.

Watch the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) of “Preventing Ransomware in the Automotive Aftermarket”

Ransomware Questions, Security Answers

One might beg the question: Why is this happening? The reasons are surprisingly straightforward—the business of cyber warfare is a low-barrier, high-reward enterprise. The “startup costs” for a hacker who already has the necessary technical acumen are comparatively low, when compared to a traditional business environment.

The Reward is a Handsome Ransom

Cybersecurity is not merely an IT problem. It’s an enterprise-wide issue. As business owners, we do things to make our enterprises more integrated and efficient, and share information across the organization. But this creates new potential opportunities for exploitation. Moreover, since March of 2020, we and our fellow employees have been accessing our work environment from an increasingly remote context, further complicating company networks and creating new vulnerabilities.

Where are the Attacks Coming From?

The threats that proliferate our contemporary cyber landscape can be described as “hidden in plain sight” — the threat is as broad as the number of connected users, connected devices, and connected programs. It is not an exaggeration to say that every touchpoint is a potential threat. Some of the most common infiltration paths include the following:

  • Email: Email is a constant target of schemes and scams, and the attacks are getting more nuanced and personalized.
  • The Internet: Online infiltration dressed as information continues to be a source of attacks, with increasing attempts from hackers to disguise malicious domains to appear like the familiar sites that you know and love.
  • Programs & Applications: Within daily business operations, a company uses a surprising number of discrete applications. Whether online or installed on your devices, every program that we use for business purposes is a potential threat.
  • Integrations: The integrating of core systems with third-party applications increases the threat risk. We want the benefits of interconnectivity—for instance, we want our e-commerce system to speak to our inventory system so we know what is available to sell and ship. But in the hands of a hacker, that is a dangerous amount of information to possess.
  • Authentication: The credentials that users apply when accessing company resources can be a significant source of risk. Weak user credentials, simple passwords, and basic authentication policies can allow for significant system breeches.
  • The IOT Movement: The “internet of things” or “IOT” movement increased points of connectivity, and the number of viable targets. Who would have ever thought that you could get hacked by your refrigerator!
  • The BYOD Movement:  The “bring your own device” or “BYOD” movement lowered the bar for device management. Increasingly, smartphones and other devices are accessing social media social media to access system resources.  The risk here should be self-evident.
  • Remote Access: VPNs (or virtual private networks) provide extensive access to company networks. VPNs often provide more access than a user actually needs—it’s like providing access to the entire gymnasium just so you can reach the janitor’s closet.
  • COVID: The pandemic expanded the threat landscape, by increasing the number of remote users connected from a broader array of devices, many of them being inadequately-connected. On a broad scale, shared family devices were suddenly connecting to company headquarters.

The Future of Preventing Ransomware in the Automotive Aftermarket

As you can see, the threats are abundant, and the targets are many. The future of security in the automotive aftermarket depends on you and on your cybersecurity strategy. There are some simple steps that companies can take to mitigate the challenges of our current cyber landscape. To see what companies are doing to secure their organizations from threats, and what you can do to secure your future, please watch the recording of the SEMA educational session and come to our managed IT experts with any questions you have about current best practices for threat mitigation for businesses.

Let’s Talk About Cybersecurity & Your Business Now