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When Your Value Stream Begins With Software

When Your Value Stream Begins With Software

Stay in the Flow: Estimate Your Software Value Returns

Businesses are supposed to earn a profit. New software can quickly lead to debt. Before you commit to a new software acquisition, know if your new possibilities will also be new expenses. If one of your customers wants to open up new product channels and your legacy systems will not work to meet development needs, the software selection process begins. You want to keep the good relationship you have with your customer, and you also want the new business. If you’re a small business, this means exploring the greater world of enterprise resource planning (ERP) software.

Software Value Stream Mobile Device Cloud ERP

Can you forecast the revenue stream for this incremental product or channel?

Your customer will have their estimate. You might also be able to increase sales to other customers with the capabilities the new software brings. Is there new business you can develop that did not exist yesterday? Maybe you can win some business from your competitors using your new capabilities. Incremental revenue will also have an incremental cost of sales. The additional margin is what you need to estimate for this analysis. Some of the new sales might replace existing orders and, if this is your case, subtract the forgone revenue associated.

All You Need to Know About the Savings Game

During the meetings you and your team hold for developing software requirements and talking in general terms about this new software, you will hear excited thoughts about sales orders moving faster into production. People will talk about how you can manage inventory much better. Another one might suggest that you could produce the same level of product with half the personnel in a department.

Some “software value stream” thoughts will make it to your software selection requirement list.

Here’s a potential thought stream surrounding value potential, especially when considering adding or upgrading an ERP software.

  • What can I do to enable a 25% reduction in inventory levels?
  • How can I ensure that all new sales orders will be in production or shipping within four hours of receipt of the order? Can I achieve this using only one support person to handle exceptions? Can I do this if I reduce staff to one from the current level of five people?

With new software, value can now be seen everywhere in your company’s future. Other potential savings are not requirements but remain as expectations. You know that you and your team will benefit from this software. Develop your list of savings and describe those savings in monetary terms divided into time phases. Remember that reducing your sales order support staff as described in your requirement only counts when you actually reduce staff.

Downstream From Your Software Value Stream: Ensuring Future Business

Often some of our software requirements enable us to meet new demands such as a new compliance regulation that our legacy system cannot support. When our new software allows us to meet that compliance, we cannot say we increased revenue or reduced cost. But we can continue in business so that there is a clear value. We could say the cost avoided is the loss of any margin that comes from an entire product line, so the loss would have been significant.

Your Total Value Stream

Evaluate all of your cost savings and incremental revenue and any other measurable improvement related to your new software. Lay these objective benefits out in time buckets over the next several years. You will probably be able to name other benefits that are not easily measurable. An easier user interface will be valuable to your employees, but there might not be any cost savings related. Keep your benefits simple and only use those that you can measure. When in the selection process and considering your software value stream, get your costs of acquisition and usage defined, so that you can compare these benefits directly with your costs later.

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6 Steps When It’s Time for a Software Demo

6 Steps When It’s Time for a Software Demo

STEP 1: Contact providers and arrange demonstrations

A new day is here and you can finally start contacting potential suppliers for your new software. If you already have a short list to begin with, you can start right away. Software suppliers come in several flavors, so it makes sense to set up multiple ERP (enterprise resource planning) solution demos. A variety of demos with help you find the perfect ERP software for your business. It might seem boring to sit through one software demo after another, but putting in the time to find the perfect fit will allow you to swiftly return to focusing on your business, rather than on its infrastructure. During your demo, be sure to also consider and question ERP deployment options. Your company might be heading toward SaaS (software as a service) when it’s truly a private cloud hosting platform that you need to sustain operations.

Enterprise Software Demo

STEP 2: Compare different types of software suppliers

You might see a particular brand of software and one option is to get your software directly from the business that developed the system. Many work directly with end customers and have adequate tools to provide the support you need for implementation and maintenance of your system whether you choose to install it on premises or use the cloud version of the system.

There are providers that primarily are third-party consultants that can help you with some of the same software brands. Often these will provide better ongoing support compared to the developer company that has a continued interest in maintaining the software and perhaps less time to provide support.

Some of those third-party consultants represent more than one software brand. You might contact them regarding brand X but after getting to know your business they might suggest brand Y could be a better fit. You will need to make the choice and keep in mind that it is also possible that they earn more money from brand Y.

Another possibility is open-source software. These can be downloaded free or at little cost for your use. There are consultants that specialize in these systems much like those that represent branded software. If your business has substantial resources in software development and maintenance, this could be an excellent choice.

STEP 3: Make the right software selection contacts

Any of these sources can provide the support you need. Contact them and provide some background for your business, why you are looking, a description of your business, and a list of the requirements you have defined. Most of them will reply quickly and will be happy to introduce themselves and begin to get to know each other.

STEP 4: Control your software demonstrations

A vendor might suggest a demonstration of their software to enable you to make a choice. They already have a standard, prepackaged demonstration ready. Hold off because you should keep some control over the demonstrations. The company has your requirements you’ve provided, so they should be ready to demonstrate how the software answers to every one of your needs. Ask the vendor to customize the demonstration to show exactly what you have requested from the software.

Keep an open mind though. Their business is the software and they have experience with many customers. If they suggest that one of your requirements should be modified, they might be right. If they suggest that a requirement is not possible using their software, they might have a work-around that will satisfy your requirement. These are your choices. You can insist on your requirement list and simply keep looking at other software providers who can fill your needs.

Schedule a demonstration. Find a time that allows representatives from all your stakeholders to attend. Even if the software is intended for production, it will affect finance and engineering and others and they should attend for their own evaluation. If two demonstrations are needed to ensure your team can attend, ask the supplier to schedule two demonstrations.

STEP 5: Evaluate each software demo systematically

Before the first demonstration, prepare a common survey or questionnaire for your team. Ask each attendee to use a common format to evaluate the demonstrations. Collect the questionnaires quickly after the demonstrations. After several different demonstrations no one will be able to remember specific points and how each supplier covered specifics.

When the demonstrations are finished, combine the individual questionnaires into a common report. Work up a point value system for each question point. Summarize the demonstrations and total the points for each supplier. Ideally one will have more points and you will have your objective winner. You might ask one or two of the suppliers to provide additional demonstrations and reply to specific follow-up questions.

STEP 6: Check references and read customer testimonials

Contact the references your top supplier candidates gave you. Learn what they felt went well and what they wish might have gone differently. Ask if they know of any other business that used that supplier. Use the internet to find additional customers you might use as references that were not provided by the software supplier. When you feel you have found the right supplier, you can begin negotiations.

After the software demo, the software

Do you need help comparing software supplier data? Are you still watching software demo videos looking for differentiators? When creating a software demo, suppliers often skip the details, and our business experts can assist in determining potential pain points after your installation. Our IT experts can assist with everything from system software compatibility to software license protocol. Our ERP and managed IT specialists understand everything from source code to supply chains.

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Software & Vendor Selection: Where to Look

Software & Vendor Selection: Where to Look

The Best ERP Software Begins with the Best People

At every step, from software selection to ERP implementation, people are always your best resource.

Software and Vendor Selection Team

Back-feed your software & vendor selection script with experiential feedback.

Now that the internal part of the work is done, you can start contacting people outside of your business to help with your software & vendor selection process. Before you call any vendors or developers, there is another step. Peer and expert help is a good idea, especially when considering new enterprise resource planning (ERP) software.

Where to look for feedback and ideas

Advice from industry peers and other groups will help you understand your software application options. Cloud-based ERP education is easy to come by, but it is important to have a trusted person explain the fine print. ERP solutions are often sold in a pure SaaS (Software as a Service) deployment, and this might not be the perfect fit for your business. You might be a small business looking for your first ERP software solution, or you might be a complex manufacturing company looking for the real-time flexibility of a cloud hosted ERP system.

We all have friends from previous jobs and alumni groups that we can lean on when making big business decisions. The internet is full of advice and much of it is useful. Chase answers, seek multiple views, and engage in a business process review if you’d like an assessment of where you’re at before adding anything new to the mix. An ERP vendor will give you one perspective, and those near and dear to your internal business processes might have different opinions.

Keep your search organized

Develop a questionnaire. This will help keep the members of your team unified when they begin gathering information. The questionnaire also keeps the questions useful. For example, the question “Did you like the software?” is not a very powerful question. Instead, use questions such as, “What was the primary requirement you wanted to satisfy?” Then you might follow up with a related question like, “In what specific ways did the software satisfy that requirement?” The final value of your questionnaire is that you will be able to compare and relate responses from a variety of sources to each other. You will also be able to develop a value scale that can allow you to have an objective scale to compare the responses and their value to your business.

Talk to people 

When trying to choose ERP software, it is helpful to contact people from industry and trade groups. These will often be businesses that are similar to yours and their input can be useful in helping you make your decision. Use a little caution and avoid sharing where your next growth is expected and understand these businesses will be wary of sharing anything that might allow you to become a better competitor.

Your CPA and other resources that you have can benefit you as well when selecting software. Other clients that your CPA has might have been through a software search of their own. At this stage, you are not ready to take action yet and your CPA probably is ready and willing to act as a consultant helping in your search for a fee.

Use the internet for software & vendor selection research

The internet can provide examples of other businesses who have experience with software selection. Often you can find these businesses on the fifth page of your Google search and once you find them, even a quick phone call will frequently yield a person who directly participated in their selection and software implementation and has useful experiences to share. Many people are more than willing to help if you ask them.

Now take action

Once you have done your research, you might first decide to re-evaluate your requirement list. You might find some listed requirements to be of less value than originally considered or have found a point from one of your sources that should be added to your requirement list. Through this research, you probably learned of a software provider, previously unknown to you, that was highly recommended. You certainly learned new ways that others found that helped in their search or even helped their business operations after their implementation. You also learned of search actions others would have done differently if there were an opportunity to make their search again.

Now you can develop a list of only a few software providers or brands that likely will be beneficial to you. An internet search might list a thousand systems, which are too many to evaluate. Focus on your short list and begin contacting those few. The goods or services you offer will greatly benefit from new solution, whether you’re adding a third-party business intelligence platform or a new accounting software to your resource pool.

Remember that people are your best resources for ERP and more

Mid-sized manufacturing and distribution companies are especially vulnerable right now to supply chain management issues. Make sure you have the in-house human resources it takes to ensure that warehouses managed during a pandemic are restored to pre-crisis stability. If you need help with inventory management, enterprise risk management, cloud migration, or other critical business operations, EstesGroup offers you a one-stop-shop approach to operational optimization.

Are you ready to talk to a software & vendor selection expert? Let’s begin a conversation today.

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Getting Selective with Software Selection

Getting Selective with Software Selection

Begin by gathering both business requirements & software requirements

After all that inward looking, it is time for some more inward looking. It’s now time to set a basis for communication that will help keep current and future software projects on track. It’s time to begin the process of discovering and sorting out the real requirements for your business as they relate to software acquisition.

Cloud Software Selection Process

A conversation that leads to a complete requirement list

When it feels like every possible software and technology requirement is on the table, publish the list for your entire company to review it. Let the whole business know what software is under consideration and what you hope to achieve through the new software. This could be a subject for the next company-wide get-together or a post on the company intranet. Give everyone a little time to consider the potential requirement list and ask for feedback. The guy at the shipping dock might offer an idea no one yet thought of. A remote worker might demand additional integrations in order to optimize a virtual office.

Try to separate the team members from the business processes to let your selection project entertain every product or service that could benefit both people and infrastructure. This is especially important when considering ERP systems. Every software system has its challenges, but as companies grow and enterprise resource planning increases in complexity, due diligence in the software selection process will overcome both high level and more detailed problems along the way.

Your software selection team

Always choose a selection team that represents departments from across your business. You will have some managers and directors, but also include people who will benefit from working on this project by getting to know the bosses while contributing to the cause.

Your potential requirements list is probably quite long, so take a comprehensive approach when it comes to team building. When it comes to software requirements, specification is key. When you have a talented team working together to brainstorm every potential problem and solution, you’ll likely surface a long list of needs and expectations. Likely some of the items are duplicates, or very similar. Combine those and shorten the list a little. It is not yet time to strike any ideas out yet. And avoid assumptions: take time to understand what the proposals really mean lest any good ideas become diluted beyond the original intention.

Look for requirements that probably cannot be helped by this particular software acquisition. Don’t simply strike the idea; move it to another list for future consideration. Someone thought they had a requirement to be solved, so keep it as it still needs a resolution, just not now with this particular software.

Prioritize software selection process outcomes

Prioritizing is the next step. Split your list into one section that truly is a requirement and another that is very nice to have but truly less than a requirement. Sort each section into your best consensus of priority. Theoretically, the required list is all number one, but there is still a good chance that less than 100% can be attained. A software selection process doesn’t always end with a new software. Keep an open mind when considering all options and how they might affect your business. Stuck on old software or technology? A growing manufacturing company will struggle without the move to an ERP software, and an ERP system will most likely benefit from a cloud hosting environment. Know your history and know your goals and choose your system and its deployment model wisely.

Communicate still more

Time now for more communication. This time upwards: meet with your executive sponsor and consider each requirement again. Be certain your sponsor agrees with your breakout of priorities and good ideas, and also with the sorting. Your sponsor might have other ideas too on how to revise some items, or they might have entirely new items for the list. Your executive sponsor must agree with the requirement list and commit to supporting your future efforts.

Communicate again with the rest of your business by sharing the current requirement list and a second list of items you hope to achieve. Let all know you will soon look for software that meets every one of the required points and as many as possible of the nice-to-have list as well. Be sure to thank everyone who helped with requirement points and with the enterprise evaluation of your requirements.

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How To Begin Your Software Selection

How To Begin Your Software Selection

Toward a Simple Software Selection Process

A very typical software selection process begins by clicking on “I am interested” after reading about a software product. Someone replies, and pretty soon a salesperson has you convinced their product will have you living the Life of Riley.

Is that narrative oversimplified? Maybe, but all of us have followed that process at times and possibly even with enterprise-level software products such as Enterprise Resource Planning, or ERP solutions

ERP Software Selection

A simple selection process can work because there are many very good systems on the market, and they are flexible enough that good value is there for many businesses. None of us knows what we don’t know. Choosing an off-the-shelf software could lead to an 80% or even 90% satisfaction, but the 100% solution we hoped for could be beyond reach.

Software Selection First Steps: Look Inward First

Rather than taking a chance, consider yourself, your business, and your co-workers. You might have had past success at developing workarounds to resolve little shortfalls in software. The cost wasn’t too high, and the work still got done. There is nothing wrong with this approach and possibly a lot right. The workaround gave someone in your business a successful win. You did not need to pay any additional money to arrive at your satisfactory solution.

The Old ERP & the New ERP

On the other hand, you might want to replace an ERP that your business has used for many years, and although it began as off-the-shelf, you have modified and customized it over the years. Your users are comfortable with the software, and their work gets done well. That legacy system is not available now and can no longer be maintained. Do you want to get another similar system and begin again to modify and customize it?

Software in the Cloud

Today we need to consider the platform in addition to the software itself. In the past, companies bought software and installed it on in-house servers and managed the system internally. However, many ERP systems run in the cloud now. 

Cloud-ready software, like SYSPRO or Prophet 21, requires substantially less money up front and the maintenance is provided as a part of the ongoing fee. For many the total cost of ownership is much less than running a system on your own server.

But What Cloud?

There are several varieties of cloud, beyond cumulus or cirrus. A very common option is a shared system provided by the software company. The software is a single instance and each multi-tenant customer has secured storage for their own data. You set your own configurations and can personalize user interfaces. But little or no customization is available, as that single instance is shared. Integration of other systems might be possible, but automatically updating files or uploading data from another system will be tightly controlled by the software cloud managers.

A second option is single tenancy where you have your own instance of the software in the cloud and your data is similarly secured. Here your options to customize or integrate are a little more flexible, but the ongoing cost is higher.

The third option is to purchase the on-premises version of the software but install it in a cloud server. With this option, the system is yours to customize or integrate as your business needs. But the system is yours so that your business also must manage ongoing maintenance. You have many options related to the software and to the platform. 

Consider carefully how your system will work best for your needs and with your style of operating. Only after knowing your own business and its culture and style should you begin a search for your future software.

Do you need help with software selection or management? Contact us now, chat with us, or ask an expert about IT or ERP. We love to talk about ERP software. EstesGroup provides a unique value to businesses like yours: we understand your software and its underlying technology. Learn more about our EstesCloud managed services and how EstesGroup ERP & IT consultants work together to help you optimize your infrastructure so that you can focus on the work you love while we secure your foundations.

 

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ERP Implementation Best Practices: Closing the Gaps

ERP Implementation Best Practices: Closing the Gaps

ERP Implementation Challenges

Bridging functionality gaps in ERP is one of the great challenges in an Epicor implementation, or of any enterprise resource planning project. There are often visible gaps between a company’s business requirements and the system’s ability to address them. In a perfect world, the needs of the company perfectly match the capabilities of the system they are implementing. In practice, the gaps between an organization and its ERP application can be significant, and closing these gaps can take significant effort. The inability to successfully close these gaps is a leading cause of project failure. This guide will help you understand a few ERP implementation best practices to help address the great challenge of closing the gaps.

Time and ERP Planning No Gaps

ERP Customization

  • Find creative ways to use the system’s standard configurations to address the needs of your business.
  • Adjust your business processes to conform to the system’s recommended best practices.
  • Tailor the software in one form or another to provide needed functionality.
  • Combine the above methods to achieve a hybrid solution.

So why do businesses feel the need to tailor the applications they implement? ERP software customization is a means of closing gaps. Sometimes, it is the preferred means of addressing challenges before they start. Often, gap closure will involve some form of customization. The overall level of ERP project complexity will expand with increasing challenges and risks. In general, the different types of obstacles encountered in an ERP project can be grouped under one of a few headings. Customizing an ERP application allows you to do a number of things and to circumvent a number of issues:

  • Automate tasks. The standard system is too transactional and user-intensive.
  • Prevent errors. The standard system allows for too many points of failure as a function of user entry.
  • Integrate with third-party systems. The standard system does not provide specific functionality, necessitating a tertiary application. Similarly, the standard system does not integrate with the third-party module in question.
  • Extract and display data. The standard system’s out-of-the-box reports do not present the necessary information needed by the business.
  • Add business logic. The standard system does not possess logic needed by the implementing company.

The Total Cost of Ownership of an ERP Solution

The rule of thumb that came out of the first generation of ERP systems was simple: avoid customizing the ERP system at all costs. Fit the business to the software, not the software to the business. Considering the comparatively rigid systems of the era, this recommendation seemed valid. Earlier-generation ERP systems contained limited toolsets for tailoring the application to meet the needs of the implementing organization. As such, customization essentially implied a source code modification, and such changes were detrimental to the long-term maintainability of the systems involved.

ERP Implementation Best Practices Evolving

Next-generation ERP systems contained improved toolsets to provide non-source-code customizations that were upgradable and maintainable, but the disruptive effects of customization on the implementation projects nevertheless continued unabated. Why do ERP customizations continue to create challenges to organizations?

 

Customizations are disruptive—they introduce logic to the application that is not native to the core system. They may also behave in ways that are unlike the rest of the system, and tend to be less comprehensive than the source code that they are layered upon.

 

As they are developed and refined, they often contain bugs. For example, the custom business logic may be invoked at times when it isn’t expected, or may not be invoked in all cases that require it. Working though these bugs can be challenging. Moreover, when customizations run into bugs or undocumented features of the core application, an abundance of unexpected behaviors can result.

 

 

ERP Toolsets & Project Success

Everything said, how do companies successfully leverage the customization toolsets available? How do they provide the necessary functionality to their organizations without compromising project success? Consider the following observations:

  • On one hand, we’ve seen companies significantly customize their application in an organized and methodical fashion. Therefore, the customizations produced a limited disruption to the implementation.
  • On the other hand, we’ve encountered other companies that only modestly customized their application. The modest number of customizations significantly disrupted the implementation. Why?

Organize to Optimize Your ERP Software

The level of customization and the level of organization of a project are closely tied. Therefore, companies that organize their customization efforts carefully are much less likely to experience problems caused by customizations. Conversely, poorly organized customization efforts will create additional issues that will add complexity and disruption to an implementation that is already, by its very nature, complicated.

 

Quantifying the impact of these two variables (customization and organization) can be difficult, but a simple mathematical model might help to model their interaction.

  • Assume that a project’s level of disorganization can be scored on a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being highly organized and 10 being highly disorganized.
  • Similarly, assume that a project’s level of customization can be scored on a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being lightly customized and 10 being highly customized.
  • Additionally, assume that a project’s success can be scored on a scale of 1 to 100, and anything over a score of 20 is a bad thing. For example, the project could be over budget, behind schedule, or low in scope or quality. In this context, a score of 30 might imply a project that went live late, or had to cut scope, or exceeded the budget, while a ruination score of 100 might represent a project that is years late, millions over budget, and so poorly designed that it will fail to go live.

A score of 1 (very low customization, very low disorganization) represents a very low risk score and a score of 100 (very high customization, very high disorganization) represents immense and catastrophic risk to your ERP and to your business:

ERP Implementation Best Practices Grid

The simple lesson to be learned here is that an organization can perform reasonable amounts of customization to their ERP application without destroying an implementation. A company needs to take steps to utilize an organized approach to customizing their application.

 

ERP Risks

A challenge with this dilemma is the reality that most companies do not launch an ERP implementation project believing that they will customize the application significantly. As a result, when these change requests surface, they are normally ill-equipped to handle them, and things soon spin out of control. As such, many customers come to us asking the simple question: What does it mean when one’s customization methodology is highly organized?

 

ERP Project Risk Management

There are a number of characteristics that an organized implementation possesses. They include the following:

  • First and foremost, governance is in place, to control when customizations occur. Governance is the best way to keep the degree of customization from spinning out of control.
  • Solutions are tracked. The implementing company understands which modules have been customized and which reports have been altered. They have identified all truly custom entry screens, reports, and dashboards. This information is put to use whenever an ERP upgrade occurs or a new site goes live.
  • Business requirements and functional specifications are developed as solutions are developed, and these solutions are constructed using these specifications.
  • Guidelines are defined ahead of time. These are conventions that describe how custom solutions are to be constructed, organized, and named.
  • Solutions go through careful testing. They receive a unit test to ensure that the basic requirements have been met, and then a regression test, to ensure that they function appropriately within the overall application, and don’t break anything else.
  • Solutions go through careful deployments to the production environment. When old solutions replace new solutions, the old solutions are removed from the environment as part of the deployment, to prevent the environment from getting cluttered with old, inactive solutions.
  • When an ERP module is customized, the developers take into account the full suite of new and pre-existing customizations, as to ensure that new elements are optimized to efficiently work in concert with existing custom solutions.
  • Environments are constructed as to segment various activities such as functional design, custom solution development, and upgrade verification. When these activities overlap, conflicts invariably arise, and these can slow down the progress of a project and create needless confusion.

The Goal of an ERP Implementation is Twofold

How do you implement a system that satisfies the needs of your business? How do you stay scalable and maintainable and also support the future requirements of your organization?

 

The future of your business is always unknown, and often unpredictable. Therefore, cutover will surely present new unknowns. Heavy system customization often results in the achievement of the goals of business needs. Unfortunately, this can risk the long-term maintainability of your ERP system. An organized and methodical approach to system customization supports a more successful implementation. Moreover, it provides easier long-term maintenance of your application. Likewise, it holds the ability to support the business requirements of the future.

 

After the ERP Vendor, the Software

Are you trying to improve your manufacturing processes? Do you need user training to empower your ERP project team? Are you looking for the competitive advantage that cloud ERP offers? Do you need help with data migration to an ERP hosting environment for a complex enterprise resource planning software like Prophet 21, E10, or Sage? We have experts for everything ERP, whether you need Epicor consulting assistance or QuickBooks hosting guidance.

 

For 17 years, EstesGroup has served clients at every step of the ERP implementation process. We offer real-time support 24/7/365 for your implementation team. We optimize your technology, and we lighten the burden on the precious human resources that make your company unique. Your team can work according to their talents, while we do the routine work involved in managing your ERP software and the technology that supports it.

 

 

Learn More About ERP Implementation Best Practices for Cloud

A good ERP balances your budget, opens your resources to new possibilities and opportunities, and improves everything from customer relationship management to industry-specific compliance and cybersecurity. ERP cloud hosting provides an ideal platform for your work. Request an ECHO demo today to see how EstesCloud managed services can help your business.