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Working from Home: Advice from an ERP Consultant

Working from Home: Advice from an ERP Consultant

Tips to Survive a Transition to Remote Work

 

Several years ago, I made the switch from working each day in a manufacturing plant to working from home as a consultant.  My home office was a dramatically different environment, and I wasn’t prepared.  As a consultant, I readily give technical advice to my customers about everything I’ve learned over the years, but I’ve also learned some lessons along the way about working remotely.

 

 

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.

 

 

EstesGroup specializes in providing both on-site and remote consulting assistance, aligned with our Managed IT, Epicor ERP, Prophet 21 and CyberSecurity services.

 

 

Is your team working from home?  EstesGroup works with companies to set up and secure remote devices and obtain remote access.  Learn more about our remote offerings here.

 

 

For more advice from Joe Trent, check out his blog: Epicor ERP Data Management Tool, The Tool That Keeps On Giving.

Epicor Optimization Success for Remote Teams

Epicor Optimization Success for Remote Teams

Rock the House by Refining Your Epicor Application

 

After completing an implementation, you can continue fine-tuning your processes to gain maximum return on investment through Epicor optimization.  If your team is working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, the temptation might be to stall ERP optimization (Phase 2) steps.  Such delay has been the pattern among Epicor customers over the years.  But home can be the ideal environment for managing these Phase 2 actions.  Epicor optimization activities that improve the utility of your Epicor application can be accomplished via remote work.

 

ERP Optimization

 

 

Improve While in the Home Office Groove

 

By necessity, companies implement ERP with an initial push for the system’s essentials, as to go live in a timely manner with the intention of circling back and further elaborating on the ERP application as time allows.  When implementing Epicor as a customer, I once had a teammate bemoan this delay in the implementation of a certain element of functionality: “If we push it to Phase 2, it’ll never happen!”  The functionality was, to his dismay, postponed until after cutover.

 

His concern was not unfounded: Epicor ERP implementation Phase 2 activities frequently get set aside in lieu of the daily grind.

 

You might similarly worry that if you push tasks to Phase 2, they’ll never happen.  This is a good reason to be proactive in your Epicor optimization.  The remote organizational structures necessary to stop the spread of COVID-19 give you time to focus on process improvement, leading you toward improved on-site ERP functionality in the future.  Remote Epicor ERP optimization allows for time to be spent knocking off Phase 2 projects that will help you make better use of your application.

 

Let’s look at some of the optimization steps that your ERP team can do from home:

  • Data Cleansing: It’s not uncommon for a company to look back at its data and note the places where data discipline has been found wanting or where additional data could be updated to improve downstream processes.  Use remote ERP team time to query the data out of your system, massage it in Excel, and run updates through Epicor’s Data Management Tool (DMT).  DMT is a great tool when it comes to data cleansing—use it to your advantage.
  • Improving visibility across the enterprise: This is a great time to improve visibility to processes and data throughout the organization.  This is necessary in any organization, but even more so when the workforce is distributed.  Dashboards provide the simple kind of visibility that streamlines business processes and improves communication across your company.  But dashboards take a certain amount of quiet time to work through the underlying queries and predict how users might look to access the data.  Remote work gives your team those quiet hours.  Similarly, a well-done SSRS report can save time and effort, and remote work assignments to create these reports can help bridge communication gaps.
  • Enhancing existing modules: It’s not uncommon for customers to buy more functionality than they actually use at cutover.  Each functional area within an organization likely has some application capabilities that have gone underutilized, and Epicor optimization often begins with revisiting usage. You can also introduce or refine existing supplier and customer price lists, or even dust off the Buyer’s Workbench or the Fulfillment Workbench and put them to use in relating supply and demand.
  • Implementing new modules: Beyond utilizing existing licenses, some customers may take this time to implement new modules entirely.  Case Entry and Field Service are customer-facing modules that often get pushed to Phase 2 and are comparatively easy to do when implemented on top of an existing system configuration.  Project Entry is another module that can provide benefits when implemented on top of a live system.  Similarly, a customer looking to implement product configurator, to further enhance order entry and engineering processes, recently reached out to me, and remote consulting was a good way to address this Epicor optimization step.
  • Bullet-Proofing: Once a company is live, a number of places where processes can be tightened up always surface, such as missing steps or missing data that can create downstream troubles.  Optimization of your Epicor application can be remotely organized to help with tightening up or bullet-proofing existing processes.  Extended properties are a simple way to make fields mandatory or read-only, which may be of use in a given situation.  Similarly, a few well-placed BPMs can assist in providing extra validation or automation as needed. Cumulatively, these simple fixes go a long way in standardizing a given process.

Do More Than Float While Working Remote

 

Even if you’ve always used on-site consulting for your ERP implementation, you can, with a simple click into a web conferencing tool, have an expert consultant helping you with your Epicor optimization.  Sure, face-to-face meetings can be the ideal way for you to manage your team, and we’re all excited to eventually get our projects back in the office, but many Epicor ERP optimization project activities can be completed through remote consulting.

 

Looking for ways to use remote work time to improve your existing Epicor ERP implementation?  In addition to Managed IT, Epicor ERP, Prophet 21 and CyberSecurity services, EstesGroup also specializes in providing remote consulting assistance.  We’ve been working remotely with customers for years, providing the necessary assistance to knock off optimization tasks that help companies make better use of their Epicor application.

 

 

 

Learn a few more ways to use remote consulting to boost your team’s performance by checking out our blog on COVID-19 Remote Consulting Strategies in Epicor ERP.

Why Buy an ERP Software?

Why Buy an ERP Software?

Why Buy an ERP Software?

Businesses who are happy with the money they’re making and don’t wish to grow or to improve their relationships with their customers often don’t think about the need for ERP software. However, those businesses are few and far between. For the rest of us, the need for streamlined business processes has never been greater. ERP software helps businesses remain competitive by providing tools necessary for operating efficiently.

Why Do We Need an ERP System?

Gone are the days of companies have an employee or a department specifically devoted to manually entering information. Gone are the days when customers only had one choice when it came time to order the products they need. Today’s business processes must be done quicker and more efficiently than ever in order for a company to keep pace with its customers’ demands. An ERP package helps you to provide quick, accurate, and efficient service to your customers by providing a centralized hub in which all of the data from the various departments is managed.

The following symptoms show that your business is ready for an ERP package:

  • You’ve outgrown your business software and it is no longer capable of doing all of the things you need it to do.
  • Your existing business processes often result in missed deadlines, wasted materials, unused machines or labor, and other inefficiencies.
  • You need to track data across existing systems or in multiple departments and you’re unable to do so.
  • You don’t have the transparency you need in all aspects of your business to make informed decisions as to future opportunities.
  • Your employees are often tied up with tasks that could be automated.
  • There is little communication or information sharing between the various groups in your organization.
  • You’re spending too much on licensing fees, staffing, training, operations, and labor all for the sole purpose of integrating multiple applications.

Should Every Business Buy an ERP Package?

The simple answer to this question is: Yes. While small to medium businesses may be able to get by on a patchwork of different software, multiple systems are less effective for your business processes as they quickly become outdated and also require a lot of manual and duplicate entries. ERP systems streamline the various processes you use in your day-to-day operations, working off the same, shared database. This not only gives you a complete view of all of your processes and how they relate to one another, but also improve collaboration and provide you with the analysis you need to make decisions that will impact your bottom line.

Additional reasons why every business should buy an ERP package include:

  • Automated management of business tasks which free up employee time for other critical work.
  • Reducing errors that come with manual entry, saving your company’s precious resources, including money and time.
  • Increased productivity due to real-time coordination between groups within your organization.
  • Creation of a clear audit paper trail that can withstand the compliance regulations of your industry.
  • Reduction of labor costs and IT expenses.
  • Improving customer relationship management by allowing your sales department to have the information they need about the customers they deal with and the information they need to know about inventory and availability.
  • Flexibility to handle organizational growth and its impacts to each individual department.
  • Knowing that your software is up-to-date, secure, and maintained and that there is support available if you should have any questions.

We Can Help

EstesGroup is a certified reseller of Epicor products, including Epicor ERP and Prophet 21. We also provide ERP consultations, regardless of what system you select for your business. We will not guide you toward our own products if they are not a good fit for you. Contact us today for a free, in-depth consultation so that we may discuss your business processes with you and find a solution that will advance your company’s initiatives.

Are you looking for an ERP system, or have questions about what ERP is best for your business? Ask Us.

The Company You Keep: Deploying Company-Specific Customizations in a Multi-Company Environment

The Company You Keep: Deploying Company-Specific Customizations in a Multi-Company Environment

Setup is crucial for a successful company-specific customization in an Epicor ERP multi-company environment.

Maintenance of the Epicor ERP menu in multi-company environments can be unintuitive, and many customers come to us looking to better understand its capabilities and its limitations.  One area of special frustration is the deployment of customizations in multi-company environments.  Deploying company-specific customizations—especially since ERP version 10.1.600—has been a point of confusion.  Fortunately, once the steps are understood, the act of getting your customizations to the menu becomes less ambiguous, even if a little cumbersome.

 

When creating customizations, you can develop one that is specific to a single company or one that applies to all companies.  Let’s assume you were making a customization of the Epicor ERP Part Maintenance form.  For instance, perhaps you thought the Part Maintenance form would look better with a big green spot:

Let’s also assume you wanted the big-green-spot version deployed only to the company you were working in (in the case below, this would be the “EPIC06” company).  As such, you’ve saved the customization by not setting the “All Companies” flag and allowing the company to remain the one you’ve been working in.  This creates what is called a “company-specific customization”:

Now, deploying this customization to the standard “System” menu is not possible—the customization is not available when you click the “Customization” drop-down in Menu Maintenance:

To deploy the customization to the currently company without affecting all companies, navigate to the “Actions” menu in Menu Maintenance and select “Copy to Current Company”:

When this is done, the application makes a copy of the system menu.  In doing so, the new menu carries over a number of values from the original menu: the Menu ID, the Name, the Security ID, the Parent Menu ID, and even the Order Sequence is carried over.  But a number of key fields change.  The duplicate menu is no longer a System Menu, as it now has a Module type of “UD.”  The menu no longer applies to All Companies, as the owning company is now the company in which it was deployed. 

Most importantly, the “Customization” drop-down now allows you to select the customization that you’ve created:

When deploying a company-specific customization in a multi-company environment, the above steps allow you to create a menu deployment that will replace the system-based menu deployment for the company in question.  To demonstrate this, log out of the application and back in. 

 

As you can see, only a single menu node for the Part form is displayed:

And when this single node is selected, the customized version of the Part form that was previously created (big green spot and all) is displayed:

If, for some reason, you need to revert to the base “System” menu, you can always delete the duplicated menu from Menu Maintenance.

 

The ability to manage company-specific customizations in a multi-company environment is of great importance, especially in environments where companies have vastly differing business requirements and require highly-specific form deployments.  Such capabilities will keep your requirements aligned with your environments and keep you user base in good company.

Have any feedback or questions about customizations?

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?

How To Manage Inventory Using Epicor’s Fulfillment Workbench

How To Manage Inventory Using Epicor’s Fulfillment Workbench

Have you ever told a customer that you had product in stock – only to find that you couldn’t fulfill the order because the inventory was sold or used in production before you got to it? Or have you ever expedited-in material for an important customer or job, only to have that material used to fulfill a different order or produce a different job? Or maybe you resorted to hiding parts in your desk so that it doesn’t get used to “Rob Peter to Pay Paul”. Frustrating, isn’t it? That’s why Epicor ERP’s Fulfillment Workbench is a critical application for many of my clients.

It’s a common occurrence, in both the retail and manufacturing world, having too much demand for a limited supply and seemingly no way to manage the available inventory. Wouldn’t it be nice to “set-aside” material so that it’s available when it comes time to ship or produce the product?

Fortunately, Epicor’s Fulfillment Workbench has a great way to manage those times when demand exceeds supply. Using the concept of Reserve, Allocation, and Cross-Docking, the Fulfillment Workbench allows management to decide how to best utilize limited supplies in the face of current and future demand. The Fulfillment Workbench has the option to do “soft” and “hard” allocation. In Epicor Parlance, Reserve equates to “Soft Reserve”, and Allocate is equivalent to “Hard Reserve”. Cross-Docking in essence “Hard Reserves” material that is not yet received into inventory and keeps it from being used to satisfy demand other than what it is specifically allocated to.Epicor Fulfillment Workbench Material Basics by EstesGroup

The “Reserve” function places a “soft-hold” on available material and keeps it from being used to satisfy other demand. However, this “reserve” status is easily removed if that material is needed to satisfy other demand. Whereas material that is “Hard Allocated” needs management permission to be remove that status so it can satisfy a different demand.

Using the Fulfillment Workbench, you can manage inventory for all three sources of demand: Sales Orders, Jobs, and Transfer Orders (inventory coming from another inter-company location). The Fulfillment Workbench provides additional functionality, like Cross-Docking, sorting by priorities, allocation templates, and many more. By utilizing this incredibly useful tool, managing your inventory supply becomes a much less complicated task, and helps make for satisfied customers and efficient manufacturing personnel.

Do you have more questions on Epicor’s Fulfillment Workbench or want to learn more about the product?