When I was about ten years old, my family lived in an old frame house. I have a lot of fond memories from our time there, but it had some quirks.
Originally a two-bedroom house, a third bedroom had been added onto one side. Built in sort of a lean-to style, the roofline didn’t match, of course. And it was added against the dining room/kitchen side over what was formerly the back door, so you could look out the kitchen window into my parents’ bedroom. It was built on a concrete slab instead of the pier-and-beam construction of the old house, so you stepped down into it, and then there was another back door in the bedroom opening to the backyard. It was an interesting place.
I’m reminded of that house occasionally when I encounter an aging software package that we’re replacing with a modern Epicor ERP system.
When the old stuff was installed, the implementation team made modifications to tailor it to the company’s operation and crafted operating instructions to guide the team. Over the years, the company and its requirements evolved, so more changes and additions were tacked on, old features were abandoned but not removed, and documentation was bypassed in the name of expediency. “Spaghetti Mess” is the technical term for what you get after ten, twenty, or thirty years. That’s just the way of life.
Eventually, a company makes the painful choice to start afresh with current technology and fresh eyes, and we find ourselves on the brink of an adventure. As we all know, adventure is rarely experienced without peril, sacrifice, and hard work. But it also can bring us reward and satisfaction.
When IT comes to IT, our consultants will be there.
Partner with EstesGroup for your entire ERP journey.
Are you researching Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and seeking help understanding what your ERP vendor has to offer? Software vendors aside, an initial ERP implementation or ERP upgrade should improve your user experience, streamline business functions, and create new management systems that optimize your core business processes. With real-time data, a single system (deployed in a private or hybrid cloud) can be the software program that gets your business beyond the burdens of the computer system itself – meaning that your ERP software gives you a clean solution across all business units and future software development projects. EstesGroup offers custom solutions for your unique business needs.
When I work on-site, I see a number of individuals every day, as well as a stream of customers on their way through. There’s lots of talk, small and otherwise. Little stories from home, triumphs, jokes, and worries. And there are meetings to attend, and donuts and coffee. All that changed when I began my journey as a consultant working out of a home office. With my wife working, my days were spent alone, and only the occasional phone call or online meeting kept me interacting with others until my wife returned in the evening.
Too, the codes, written and otherwise, for personal dress and hygiene were no longer enforced by company or public opinion. So, I found myself, among other things, sitting in front of a computer in my boxers, wondering about the date of my most recent shower, and making sure the video camera was shut off during meetings so no one would see my free-spirited appearance (not exactly reflective of my constitution as a consultant). For many (many) years, part of my identity was bound up in the daily routine. It’s difficult when your identity suddenly changes, as mine did when I became a consultant.
So, here are a few recommendations for your new office stay (may it ever be temporary):
Keep Your Routine
I try to get up about the same time each morning. It’s a little later than if I had to drive to work, but still consistent. I get dressed for work. It’s blue jeans and boots instead of slacks and dress shoes, but I’m dressed, nevertheless. Then the dogs get potty time, and I get coffee.
I’m “at work” by 8:00, whether there’s a scheduled meeting or not. I try to take a lunch break but sometimes I grab a sandwich while I’m working. (I probably need to work on that.)
My day as a consultant while working at home ends in the style of a normal office work routine. It’s tempting to just keep going when there’s a project that has work left on it, but I try to trim the evening work to a minimum when it’s not urgent. Just like for the coyote and sheepdog, there’s a whistle at the end of the workday for a reason.
Have a Place
For several years, I commandeered a bedroom for my desk and accoutrements. I recently built a small office in my shop and opened that bedroom up for grandkids. Whatever choices you have, set aside some space that is your work area. When my grandkids are here during work hours, I have to let them know I’m “at work” and can’t pay them as much attention as I’d like. You’ve probably seen videos of parents embarrassed by their kids, dogs, or husbands in their undergarments wandering into view of the video camera during video chats, or even newscasts. Secure your place. And laugh at the unexpected.
Get Some Exercise
Early on while working at home as a consultant, I started trekking to the bathroom at the other end of the house—a routine enforced by large quantities of coffee. At least I get a few steps in. Since acquiring a couple of dogs, I get outside at least a few times a day. You can vegetate in your home office chair if you aren’t purposeful about stirring.
Communicate and Recreate
If you don’t get enough time with people otherwise, take a break from work to call a friend. It’ll do you both good. Find something you enjoy. If you can’t leave the house, watch a good movie or read a good book. We had a video chat recently with all our grandkids and a story visit from “Grandad the Pirate.” (I hope there’s no recording of that loose on the interwebs.)
Be Thankful and Find Your Rhythm
You’re working. That’s a good thing. Rinse, repeat, and do it all again tomorrow. As a consultant, I eventually found my working from home rhythm, and I hope I’ve helped you find yours.
An ERP system is like a person or a house: without integrity, you can’t put your trust in it.
One of the great things about Epicor ERP is its openness to customization. That feature can also be a source of trouble. It’s all in how you use the power.
Strictly speaking, you can’t directly modify Epicor’s software without a special Software Development Kit. Changing the base software opens the proverbial can of worms and has lots of ramifications we won’t discuss here, so what we’ll be talking about is the traditional “customization layer” the 99% uses.
Terms to Remember:
Business Object (BO). Data manipulation is governed by Business Objects. You hand the BO a dataset and let it figure out how to care for the data’s integrity, rather than writing directly to all the tables in the dataset.
There is a “Part” business object, for instance, that governs the Part table and its dependent tables. It won’t let you change the base unit of measure for a part if there is any activity like transactions, open orders, or open job materials for a particular part so you don’t, for example, make an material’s on-hand quantity of 10 Each suddenly 10 Gallons, or orphan transaction history by deleting the part.
Embedded Customization. Also known as a “screen customization” or just “customization” (client side) that sits on top of a form such as Part Maintenance. You can add a new field on the screen and attach it to a data source or use C# code to add and modify events happening inside the form to suit your business practices.
Personalization. Similar to the customization, the personalization is a user-made modification that sits on top of the form/screen customization (that sits on the base software). They’re mostly used to modify field placement, grid layout, etc. to let the user see and arrange things in a way useful to them.
BPM. Business Process Management Method and Data Directives (server side) modify data actions triggered by events on the form. They are typically accessed in record updates, new record creation, and so on. The Part BO has many methods like add, update, and delete, so you can say, “when this thing happens to the data also do this other thing,” or “when we create a new record add this thing to it.”
In generic terms, a typical Epicor ERP session works something like this:
An Epicor form loads with standard (out of the box) data views, operations, etc.
Epicor then looks for a screen customization and applies it on top of the standard form.
Epicor looks for a personalization for the current user to layer over the form and over the customization, if any.
The form displays and allows the user to do things.
BPM – Method and Data Directives (server side) hang around and wait for the appropriate signal to take action, say, when you click the save button.
This is what I’m calling the customization layer–the places Epicor gives us to add in/change functionality.
So, where’s the danger? Here’s an example.
When we store data changes through Epicor’s Business Objects, we trust the BO to keep us out of bad trouble. But the data is stored in a SQL Server database, and it’s possible to go outside of Epicor and write directly to that part table or delete records via SQL commands without checking any dependencies. It can be much faster, in the same way ignoring the speed limit in your car can get you home sooner. Maybe you won’t corrupt your data. Maybe you’ll make that turn on four wheels.
There are occasions and circumstances when it’s okay to skirt the rules.
Rarely, something gets stuck and the BO won’t let you correct it, so a SQL fix is in order. Since directly using SQL commands on your database can invalidate your Epicor service agreement, I’d recommend doing it with one of Epicor’s folks on the phone.
Some simple tables and some fields don’t have dependencies that the BO cares about. It’s possible to take a more direct approach within Epicor—when you know what those are.
This topic comes up periodically when we developers talk amongst ourselves. In our company, the standard is to operate from within the Business Object unless there’s a compelling reason for something different.
Currently, sales order entry staff do just what their title implies: they enter orders. Sure, an order might be generated from a quote, but someone must enter that first. Data entry, day after day. What if your customer could send you a purchase order and it just magically appears in Epicor?
It’s not quite magic, but pretty close. Here’s the basic operation of Epicor ERP’s Automated Sales Order Entry:
Your customer sends an email with a PO attachment to a designated email address.
Intelligent Data Collector (IDC) identifies the attachment and pulls it into DocStar.
DocStar creates a “pre-order” and automatically filters it to a workflow.
A user steps in at this point and checks for exceptions. If there are exceptions, they are corrected by the user.
The pre-order passes validations.
An order is born, demand is created, et cetera.
Oh, I see you’re starting to get the implications, so I’ll give you a moment. Okay, moment’s over.
How handy is that? Imagine how much more of your sales order processing staff’s time can be spent on value-added processes, versus mindless data entry, and how errors can be reduced through automation.
It’s not a panacea. It won’t handle parts-on-the-fly or configured parts. It will bring in sales kits, but there’s no way to edit the kit within DocStar. Still, exciting news.
Epicor has made a commitment to provide us with tools to rationalize our work processes and give us the information we need to make intelligent decisions, and we know more is coming.
In the beginning there was Epicor Vista. Then Vantage brought a new user interface. Epicor ERP incorporated a version into the name, E9, along with major changes to underlying structure on a Progress database. With E10.0.xxx, the structure was streamlined with a switch to Microsoft SQL Server, bringing huge increases in performance and a new (modern) menu, as well.
With the first major upgrade to E10, E10.1.xxx, incremental features were added, increasing ERP’s functionality. It was faster, more polished, did more. But from a user standpoint, most basic operations worked pretty well like they did in previous generations. Order entry was order entry, was order entry.
A couple of years ago we heard rumors: get ready for some new stuff.
DocStar-enabled application allows automated entry from a scanned image or email attachment of your customer’s purchase order.
REST-enabled communication lets EPICOR get information directly from shop floor machines and other devices via the IoT (Internet of Things).
Kinetic-enabled user interface allows MES (Manufacturing Execution System) operation via touch-screen devices such as smart phones or tablets.
Kinetic-enabled versions of Job Scheduling Board, Resource Scheduling Board, and Resource Scheduling Board make it easier to drag/drop and drill down, dynamically change timelines, and schedule jobs in “what if” mode.
Time and Expense Mobile App
Provide the capabilities to access and maintain time and expenses via smart phones and tables, including a “read-only” offline mode.
Project WBS Phases Revenue Recognition
Allows revenue recognition of WBS phases independently of the entire project.
OData 4.x and REST v2
Tools allowing communication among many sources, including Excel spreadsheets and the Internet of Things.
All right, there’s a ton of information here, but difficult to fit into a single blog post.