One of the primary reasons for the differences between the configuration of two Epicor® Kinetic environments has to do with licensing. The Epicor® application has a broad suite of licensed modules, and most customers do not license the exact same Epicor® modules. So, how do you decide how to drive your Epicor® license?
Considering the complexities and capabilities of manufacturing and distribution companies, Epicor® has created ERP systems for these industries that are ready for the unique challenges business owners face, from office to factory to customer. Each Epicor® application is a many-headed hydra, and with each head comes different modules and different capabilities. The number of heads determines the character of the monster.
If you are an ERP system user, it is similarly helpful to understand which Epicor® Kinetic modules are licensed, when working with support and troubleshooting unexpected behavior.
As you will see, the modules you license impact the behavior of the system, and unexpected behaviors might actually be explained by the underlying Epicor® license.
In the past, accessing Epicor® licensing was a bit of a pain. You needed to be able to access the Kinetic application server’s admin console to be able to gather licensing information. This required additional access levels and many additional steps.
Now, as a function of Epicor’s more recent versions, you can access licensing information directly from the application.
When logged into the application itself, you can access Epicor® license information through the Epicor® Company Configuration module by simply navigating to the “License” tab and clicking the “Retrieve License Info” button to load the Epicor license information that would previously be retrieved via the Epicor® Admin Console:
You no longer need access to the Epicor® Application server to extract this information. All you need is the appropriate Epicor® security permissions to access the Epicor Company Configuration screen.
As with any Epicor® grid, you can also export the license into a spreadsheet format, using the “Copy to Excel” or “Copy All Include Labels” commands.
This new functionality makes it much easier to get licensing information at the tip of your fingers, when working with Epicor® support or your customer account manager.
Do you need to get your Epicor® Module list in a hurry? Are you chasing down an issue with support and need the details now? Look no further than the Company Cig screen, and be on your way to fast and good answers about your system.
It seems that every discipline has its share of jargon.
You see it when accountants throw around terms like “EBITDA”, engineers speak of “TQM”, and I.T. staff reference “API” or “DMZ”.
These are the words and phrases used by specialists as they discuss their work. The beauty of this insider jargon is that it allows greater efficiency in communication, but it comes with the trade-off that it creates an ingroup and an outgroup who struggle to understand each other. And those in the ingroup are rarely aware of how it limits communication with those on the outside.
So, with that in mind, let’s consider six terms that are often used with Epicor projects.I’ve sequenced these common Epicor project terms, so they are linked together logically.
When we implement new versions of Epicor, there is always a set of tests done to validate that the application is correctly supporting business functions.
A Test Scenario is the set of instructions, steps, and expected results used to do that. A “test scenario” might include who will do the testing, the objective of the testing, the sequence of steps to follow, the data entered the application, and the results that should be expected.
This information should always be available in printed form so that it can be reviewed and used by those doing the actual testing.
So, when you hear the term “test scenario” it is important to ask several questions. What is being tested? Who is doing the testing? What is not being tested? How will we know the test is comprehensive?What sequence will the testing be done in?
With test scenarios, there are several ways they can be applied, and it starts with our next term.
In an Epicor project, there are two general types of application testing. The first is “Unit Testing” which is focused on validating stand-alone functionality that accomplishes a single task.
It answers business questions like “Can I enter a new vendor in Epicor and include all necessary information without issues?” or “Can I create a new Customer Payment Terms record?”.
So, we see that Unit Testing is always focused on a simple process that is relatively self-contained.It is simpler and usually easier to do but because it is so focused, there are usually dozens of unit tests required in a project.
But unit tests are not enough to accomplish the goal of thoroughly testing the Epicor application.
Cross-functional / Integration Testing
The second type of application testing, seen in Epicor project is “cross-functional” or “Integration testing”. While “unit testing” is focused on simpler processes, this type of testing is more complex.
It will involve testing transactions that process through Epicor from start to end. This could include accounting transactions, customer order transactions, manufacturing transactions, purchasing transactions or payroll transactions. Each of these involves multiple steps involving multiple departments to work well.
A common example of “cross-Functional testing” is testing all business processes required to move from a Quote to Cash Received from the customer. Within these two endpoints there are many distinct business processes involving multiple business areas (finance, order entry, engineering, customer service, purchasing, production, receiving and shipping).
This type of testing ensures that multiple business processes are supported completely by Epicor and that each business area in the organization can complete their work, validate the results, and manage exceptions that occur.
Together, “unit testing” and “Integration testing” provide the most thorough validation of the system. Which leads to our next term which describes how these tests are created and monitored.
Subject Matter Expert
A Subject Matter Expert (SME) is a person who is the most knowledgeable about a particular business process. They might be the Purchasing SME and understand each of the steps and requirements for successfully purchasing materials in the organization. That person would be able to describe the details and process for Vendors, Purchase Orders, Lead Times, Inspections, and Receiving of purchased goods. They literally are the expert on this area of the business and often have years of experience to back up their knowledge.
And SMEs are critical to the success of any testing done on a project because they know the business processes very well and can quickly spot gaps where the Epicor application may not be working well.
Typically, SMEs are responsible for specifying the requirements for how application software should function to best support the organization’s needs. And SME’s either build or review “test scenarios”.
This ensures there are no unexpected gaps between organizational business processes and the way Epicor operates. Ideally the “test scenarios” are designed so that application testers simply work through the steps, gather feedback and in the process, validate the needed functionality in the application. The Testers shouldn’t need to be experts on Epicor or all the business processes. Their skill should be in following the steps and verifying results.
When it comes to “cross-functional” testing, multiple SMEs are often outside their area of expertise. So they will collaborate with other SMEs to design an integration testing process that includes the best scenarios to support company needs.
All this testing and effort is usually grouped into specific timeframes in the Epicor project. One of those is User Acceptance Testing.
User Acceptance Testing
User Acceptance Testing (UAT) is the phase in a project where the application users work as a team, to verify that Epicor changes support all their business processes. Typically, the UAT is several weeks in length. During this time, selected application users will use multiple test scenarios (usually created by SME’s) to verify that all business processes are supported by Epicor. This will include both changes made and other areas that might be impacted.Both unit and cross-functional testing will be used.
All the results will be logged, and any exceptions will be documented and reviewed. The logged exceptions will become a list of issues that must be resolved before the organization can continue using the Epicor application.
The list of issues is then prioritized, and work is assigned to resolve them. They fall into these categories:
1. Modifications to Business Processes to better use Epicor capabilities
2. Modifications to Epicor to better adapt it to business needs
3. Some combination of #1 and #2
The purpose of the UAT is to fully test the changed functionality of Epicor to verify it meets the requirements for supporting the business in its new form.
This leads to a common question about the differences between User Acceptance Testing and the term “Conference Room Pilot”. Both terms are often confused.
Conference Room Pilot
A “conference room pilot” (CRP) is focused on testing the functionality of Epicor with the intention to identify the differences between it and the needs of the organization.
The second point is at the final point of implementation when the focus is to confirm that the needed business process functionality of the organization is fully supported by the data, configuration and customizations made to Epicor.
If the answer is “yes” then the system is moved to Production status. In this situation, the CRP is the final “gate” before the Epicor application is used for company operations.
The CRP does share similarities with a UAT.Both look at Epicor from end-to-end, both include demonstrations of functionality, and both often include non-functional testing (such as performance).
But they differ in that a Conference Room Pilot is measuring where Epicor meets the business needs and where the gaps are, while User Acceptance Testing is confirming any changes made are working as specified.
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There’s always something new with Epicor Kinetic and P21. And here’s something new that is coming!
At the annual Epicor Insights conference, in Nashville, there was an announcement about “Epicor Automation Studio”. The word “Automation” caught my attention because it is a popular term right now.It can describe everything from complex machinery in the factory or warehouse to event-driven even software that runs on the desktop (like the inbox rules in Microsoft Outlook).
All these automations are designed to reduce the mindless tasks that we humans often do, so we can ideally spend more time on Facebook work and being more creative/human!For hundreds of years we’ve automated the physical world (washing machines).Now we see increased automation of our digital worlds to better fit our personal needs.
So, how does Epicor Automation Studio help?
Here’s what we heard.
It is a low-code/no-code toolset for P21 and Kinetic
It will support integrations between Epicor and other applications
This sounds interesting.We all know that there are significant needs for “integrating” various applications.I discuss this topic of “integration” with Epicor Kinetic and Prophet 21 clients weekly.
Often the need is to integrate EDI, e-Commerce, scanners, shipping packages, factory floor vending, or third-party applications so that they work seamlessly with Epicor and P21.So, anything that would simplify that effort would be great!
A quick “google” check helped me find an Epicor article about Epicor Automation Studio, here.It is just an introduction and discusses, in a video, how “Citizen Developers” will be able to use this new tool (I will discuss these Citizen Developers terminology in another article!).
This Epicor article adds more information about what Automation Studio does.
Helps bridge the business / IT gap
Connects Epicor / P21 to thousands of applications
Allows Epicor users to share and store automation “recipes”
What is Epicor Automation Studio?
At first glance it sounds like an Epicor version of Zapier.Zapier has been around for many years.It’s a subscription cloud service with pre-built connectors that allow a non-developer to link applications, so they share information.This involves picking two software products from a list on the screen, determining what actions you would like them to do and selecting it.
The beauty is that it focuses on “what” you want to do without requiring you to know “how” it is done.
Each Zapier process starts with a Trigger and is then followed by multiple steps to complete it. As a user you just click on options to define the one or more steps. It’s intuitive and flexible.
I’ve seen Zapier used to send texts every time you get an email in your Inbox from a key customer or open a help desk ticket if a message has certain words in it or send updates from your Contacts to Salesforce or load new information onto a website page.
However, Epicor Automation Studio will need to handle more complex situations that involve Orders, Customers, Parts, User ID’s, Jobs, Vendors, and Purchase Orders. And to do all of that, there will have to be underlying processes that likely use Application Programming Interfaces (API’s).
Today, it would take a good C# developer to integrate an application with Epicor using API logic. That skill involves knowledge about the plumbing between the two applications and also the time to fully test it.
And that’s why Epicor is moving this direction.They realize that automation is a growing trend.Particularly the trend to involve Epicor users in more of the work that has traditionally been an IT function.
We’ve already seen some of this where Epicor allows users to customize their menus, favorites and screens in Kinetic and P21.For example, in Kinetic, users can rearrange data columns when displaying information.Then they can save the format for future use.Every time they access this data, it appears in their preferred column sequence.
Another area, we see, is the use of Business Activity Queries (BAQ’s) in Epicor products.BAQ’s do require more technical knowledge than a screen customization but have opened the door to some end users creating custom dashboards and reports (SSRS).For those who are not developers they offer a simpler way (point and click) to display information and improve productivity.
What is interesting is how widespread this is.In almost every organization there is at least one non-IT person, that has decided to invest time learning how to create BAQ’s, Reports, Dashboards and even BPM’s.I’m always amazed and grateful for their skills because they are the real changemakers!
With Epicor Automation Studio, the trend continues where we see several business changes that are merging.
The first change is the widespread use of point and click interfaces (who doesn’t have a cell phone?).
The second change is the introduction of low-code/no-code tools to automate and accomplish more without having to know the details of the system.
The third change is the sharing of information (“recipes”) with others, so they don’t have to start from scratch.
While there will always be work for those who are highly technical you should expect to see more of the application customization shifting to tech-savvy end users who know what the business needs and have better tools to implement those changes.So get ready.
Who knows?Maybe someday you will start a new job and use a “studio” to design your digital workspace to your personal preferences.That would be interesting, right?
Ask the Author About Epicor
Rob McMillen is a Senior Project Manager and Principal Consultant with EstesGroup, the premiere cloud provider for manufacturers and distributors. He has worked in the manufacturing industry for over 30 years supporting multiple implementations of new ERP systems and leading projects. Because his mom was an English teacher, he grew up with a love of writing. Combined with his working experience, he has written articles for LinkedIn and User Groups, and has published numerous blog posts. He is also a co-author of a book on technology and working collaboratively. He currently lives in the DFW area.
Rob McMillen Principal Consultant / Project Manager at EstesGroup
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ERP was once a battle between “comprehensive” and “best-of-breed” solutions. While the “comprehensive” solution providers claimed to offer a one-stop-shop of business functionality, providers working under a “best-of-breed” model constructed simpler overall ERP systems that were easier to integrate with third-party solutions.
The debate has morphed over time, as “best-of-breed” providers try to progressively dress themselves as comprehensive ERP solutions, while the old dinosaurs are working to make their systems more interoperable.
For customers, this has served to muddy the waters. At a macro level, it seems safe to say that ERP has increasingly moved to a best-of-breed model, where customers are willing to manage an increasing number of third-party solutions, provided that they provide “best-in-class” functionality.
Credit card capabilities find their place among this morass of functionality, with third-party solutions competing with the integrations provided directly by vendors. Let’s look at some of the challenges that companies normally face when implementing the out-of-the-box solutions that ERP vendors provide.
We see customers frequently complain to us of the challenges in configuring their credit card modules. A customer purchases an integrated module from an ERP vendor’s feature card and expect that it should be as easy to implement as the rest of the application. Normally, we only hear from them after those hopes have been dashed.
It’s worth noting that these “modules” are modules in name only—in truth, they are loosely integrated third parties, sold as a comprehensive, out-of-the-box solution. Some ERP vendors even offer multiple versions of credit card integration, which further complicates the situation. As such, a consultant may become savvy in configuring one payment model in one licensed module, only to stumble at the next implementation.
Testing credit card solutions is always a daunting task—there is private information and money involved, after all. But a clumsy integration can exacerbate the problem. When vendors integrate with third-party solutions, but the third-party solutions themselves do not “own” the functionality and the integration, a situation where a diffusion of responsibility is likely to occur.
In such a situation, neither side of the functionally can adjudicate the outcome of testing, and provide guidance to the causes for errant outcomes. In an ERP system, the customer invariably wants a single throat to choke—a party who can assume responsibility for the functionality in question.
I’ve seen too many cases where vendor integrations leads to situations where the customer ends up paying a consultant to determine that there are bugs or unknown limitations to the integration that will hamper the use of the advertised functionality.
It’s not uncommon that a company’s needs exceed the capabilities of the solutions that the vendor’s out-of-the-box integrations provide. Because of the specialized functionality and capabilities involved, it is often the case that the credit card capabilities provided by a vendor are a “minimal acceptable solution” variety—a solution that barely meets the base requirements, but offers very little “wiggle room” for customers whose requirements step over the vendor’s proverbial line. Such is often the problem with vendor-supplier solutions, and one of the reasons customers leverage best-of-breed solutions in their place.
“Comprehensive” Credit Card Processing or Best-in-Breed?
With all the challenges to credit card processing, we’ve found the best-of-breed solutions to be generally preferable to the comprehensive but underpowered solutions provided out-of-the box by the ERP vendor community. In that light, our work with Century Business Solutions and their EBizCharge payment platform has proven to help customers handle complex payment requirements, helping them extend their operations and shorten their order to cash cycles.
Interested in e-commerce, cloud, backup and disaster recovery, and other services and solutions that complement your ERP system? Watch our videos to learn more!
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.
Here at EstesGroup, we do a lot of customizations for Epicor ERP and P21 systems. These include adding new logic to processing, adding / changing reports, updating screens to add custom information and creating new dashboards to simplify business understanding. We love customizing both P21 and Epicor Kinetic / E10 because it drives customer efficiency and productivity. But the process of getting things done can be frustrating when delays set in. With that in mind, I want to give you six tips to streamline the customization process and save you time and money!
Does your Epicor application have you caught in a cycle of subtraction?
#1 – You should consider having an ad-hoc Statement of Work (SOW) setup with EstesGroup.
Doesn’t it always seem that the more urgent the request, the more roadblocks you encounter?
Often you want something quick, but you find that your current SOW has expired.Or maybe is doesn’t have enough hours for the customization.This delays your request and adds more work for you.That’s why we offer our “ad-hoc SOW” as an option.
If you have an ad-hoc SOW established with us, we can skip the step of creating a new SOW (sending emails, getting signatures, entering all of that into systems, etc.) and focus on getting the work done.
Action Step: Contact us and setup an ad-hoc SOW now.Then keep it active so that there is no delay if you have an urgent issue.We usually set them up for 12 months long and we will contact you for approval to renew.And we always get your email approval before starting any work so there are no surprises.
#2 – Have the actual user write up what is needed so that you get the most accurate version of the request.
Remember the telephone game?You whisper in another person’s ear, and they then do the same?What you find is that a request that goes through multiple people can gradually change.Then when the estimate comes back, it doesn’t match the real user’s needs and we’ve introduced more delay in the process.
Action Step: If you are the intermediary at your organization and are gathering the information, have the actual user describe what they want in their own words.Don’t try to interpret it for them or make assumptions you haven’t checked out.
#3 – Focus on describing what you want and how you would like it to work not the details of how the developer should make the code changes.
Often, we get customization requests where the customer focuses on describing the details of how the customization should technically be done rather than what the customization should accomplish.
That’s helpful but overlooks the fact that a developer may know a better way to accomplish the same thing.Plus, realize that developers are naturally prone to find solutions that will not require more work in the future.And there is also a good chance they may have done this same change for another customer.
Letting them figure out the best way ensures they will offer a solution that doesn’t affect your next upgrade and is also simpler to do.
Action Step: Focus on what you want and how you would like it to work.Describe what the screens must do, or how the report should look. Trust the developer to use their expertise to find the best way to do it.
#4 – Use a standard set of questions for each customization request. Don’t settle for a brief email that can be interpreted several different ways.
We often let requests come in with partial information and the result is a lot of unnecessary back and forth conversations to get the information needed.Your time is valuable, so use a template.
We know that when the user answers the right questions, they offer the best information. And a template is a great way to simplify the process. Of course, we know that in some cases an internal discussion is best to gather the answers.But you can still use the template, right?
#5 – Be clear about what you want and don’t rely on assumptions!
Developers will make assumptions.It’s human nature and that will affect how they estimate the time to make, test and deliver the customization.If you can define those assumptions beforehand, it will reduce delays and improve the quality of the estimate.Here’s a list of common assumptions made by the developer:
The customer doesn’t need to license any new modules to complete the solution.
This area of the application hasn’t been significantly modified before.
The customer has a good testing environment they can use.
The customer has good data to test with.
The end user will review and help test the solution.
I’m the only person currently customizing the environment.
Action Step: If these assumptions are incorrect, include the information in your request so they include them in their thinking.Don’t make them guess!
#6 – Don’t wait to verify the developer has good access to your test environment.
One of the biggest delays in delivering customizations is when the developer cannot get working access to your test environment.We’ve seen delays of several weeks around this problem and we know that is frustrating for you.
Plus, we are prone to assume that because access worked once before, that it still works.New versions of VPN software and minor configuration changes in your network will easily break the process used only several weeks ago.
Action Step: Provide connection information to the developer early in the process and have them test their access as they develop solutions.If you can validate their access yourself by emulating the developer, we highly recommend doing that so that you know your connection information works.
Customizations are great but the process can be challenging.As you use these Six Tips to Save Time and Money When Customizing Your Epicor Application, you will simplify the process for your organization and save time in getting the solutions you need. Plus, you will feel less aggravation in the process!
Please feel free to share this information in your organization and let us know if you have any other suggestions as well!
Are you ready to begin a conversation about your Epicor application?