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Prophet 21 Middleware Server Going Up

Prophet 21 Middleware Server Going Up

Moving Your Distribution Operations to the Cloud?

How to Understand Prophet 21 Client Deployments

As we near the point to which Epicor will no longer support the legacy P21 desktop application, it feels like a good time to once again review the architectural changes that have been made to the P21 ERP application — the P21 client and the P21 middleware server — and better understand the implications for members of the Epicor Prophet 21 user community still using the legacy P21 desktop application.

Prophet 21 Middleware Server Options

Talking Tiers

Historically speaking, Epicor’s Prophet 21 application has undergone a rather significant transition over the past few years. While the Epicor Kinetic application leveraged a client-server model, going back to its Epicor 905 incarnation and before, the Epicor P21 application possessed a two tier architecture — a bit of an aberration in the ERP community.

In a two tier configuration, the user’s client application communicates directly with the database:

Prophet 21 Database

Two Tier Architecture: End User > Fat Client > Database

A two tier architecture places a lot of the weight of transactional processing on the client or desktop application — hence, the term “fat client.” Traditionally, the most effective way of managing the legacy P21 desktop application in a two-tier context was to deploy the P21 application to a terminal server (for small companies) or a terminal server farm (for larger organizations) to prevent the P21 application from hogging too many resources on an individual user’s PC.

A robust server farm allows for a comparatively thin array of user PCs:

Robust Prophet 21 Server Farm

Two Tier Architecture: End User > Thin Client > Terminal Server Farm Fat Client > Database

Because of the familiarity the user community has with the legacy Prophet 21 desktop application, the “fat client” architecture has been somewhat slow in being replaced. Customers have grown accustomed to the P21 desktop application, with its large file footprint, deployed directly to workstations or installed on scaled-out RDP farms, and communicating directly to the SQL server with no application server layer is present. This allowed for the conventional use of all traditional P21 customizations, dynachange activities, and third-party development performed on this platform. 

Sounds simple enough. But technology never stands still, and the limitations of a two tier architecture, with an inordinately heavy P21 client application, creates understandable challenges. To address these concerns, Epicor has been evolving the P21 application. This change has come in two parts.

  • The first was the addition of a P21 middleware server layer, similar to the architecture of the Kinetic application server, moving the bulk of the P21 application logic from the client to the server. Such a model better supports API-level integrations, makes upgrades easier, and allows for a more scalable overall deployment.
  • The second was the development of a web-based client application, to replace the P21 desktop application. This allows for a more mobile, device-independent, and potentially better-performing means of communicating with the application.

As you can see, the three-tier P21 architecture greatly differs from its antecedent:

Prophet 21 Middleware Server

Three Tier Architecture: End User > Thin(Web) Client > Middleware > Database

Web / Hybrid Prophet 21 Client

As you can see, the modern P21 architecture leverages a “thin client” — most often in the form of a web client. Initially, Epicor also provided what was called a “Hybrid Client” — wrapping the web client’s functionality within a desktop application that gives a modicum of the look and feel of the legacy client, while still communicating at the middleware server level.

Implications on P21 Client Deployments

So, what does this mean for the distribution industry and for Epicor Prophet 21 customers? There are several implications:

  • Support: One of the most significant implications of the above architecture is the downturn of support. No new iterations of the P21 desktop application are pending in the current or future versions. Moreover, bug fix support will conclude by the end of 2022, leaving the application in sunset mode. While users may choose to still use it, without support, the interoperability with future versions remains in question.
  • Elimination of the Terminal Server: For companies moving to the P21 web client, it generally implies a move away from terminal server farm deployments. It is generally a best practice to avoid the use of browser-based technology on terminal server environments. For this reason, it is preferable to access the Prophet 21 application through a client on the user’s own device, and not through a remote desktop or Citrix app. The implications of this approach on user performance is still being evaluated.
  • SaaS / Web Client Confusion: It is easy to confuse the Prophet 21 web client with the P21 Software-as-a-Service deployment option. We’ve had customers approach us, believing that the elimination of the P21 desktop client necessitates a move to a P21 SaaS deployment. In fact, a company can move to the P21 web client without the need to move to a P21 SaaS deployment. The web client can be used in support of an P21 on-premise deployment, a SaaS configuration, or a P21 private cloud.
  • Blended Options: Transitioning from the Prophet 21 desktop application to purely using the P21 web client can be a complex process. Depending on the number of changes, enhancements, customizations, and modifications in place, retro-fitting these into the web version can be a challenge. Moreover, it can be a time-consuming challenge. To address these challenges, we’ve seen several customers implement blended deployments, where the P21 middleware and web client deployment operates in parallel with the P21 legacy desktop client. Based on the user base, and where the upgrade challenges exist, specified users leverage the web version, while others utilize the P21 desktop client. This occurs while the more complex area of the software are retro-fitted to accommodate the web client. As these challenges are overcome, users begin to migrate to the web version. In other cases where the web client migration is more a matter of change management, the legacy desktop provides a backstop for users still acclimating to the new system. Existing users continue to use the Prophet 21 desktop application, while early adopters and new employees take on the web version. The presence of parallel deployment paths, connecting to a single, centralized database, make this possible. In fact, this is our most common cloud deployment to date.
Server Deployment Cloud Architecture
  • Blended Architecture: Connecting though a combination of the P21 web client / middleware server deployment and the P21 desktop application (locally installed and/or via terminal services).

Software migrations are no laughing matter, even when they are within the same application. The enhancements made to the Epicor Prophet 21 application are significant and groundbreaking, and will ultimately work to successfully support the members of the P21 community. But getting there will often be a matter of incremental steps. Fortunately, there are deployment options available to make this transition both incremental and successful. 

Hybrid and Private Deployment Options for Epicor’s Prophet 21

Are you looking to move to P21’s three-tiered architecture? Do you need some guidance in understanding your options, and how you might make it work? Are you thinking about migrating your on-premise platform into the cloud while you’re at it? Estes specializes in private cloud P21 deployments, providing the flexibility for blended options, while also providing you with all the access and control of your environment that you need, allowing your migration to occur according to your schedule, in a manner that will support the needs of your business.

Learn more about private and hybrid cloud options with a free demo of EstesCloud services.

Understanding Your ERP System & Your Users

Understanding Your ERP System & Your Users

I once had a mentor tell it to me straight: Those who learn earn. Not bad advice… Read on to learn more about how to apply this to your ERP system users.

If you want to understand your application and your ERP system users, you had better be ready to learn. Why? ERP systems are multifaceted and complex. Your perspective of a car, for instance, may differ if you’re in the driver’s seat, the back seat, the trunk, or under the hood. Same thing goes with your perspective of how your drive your ERP system users toward success.

ERP System Users Conference

An ERP system user’s experience, such as is available with the wide variety of pathways intrinsic to a distribution application like Epicor’s Prophet 21, can differ significantly, depending on your perspective. If you’re a network engineer, you may have a different perspective of an ERP system, when compared to an ERP administrator, much less an end user. 

That said, it’s always good to expand your understanding of ERP systems and your users, and to do so from multiple perspectives. As a former end user, I tend to think that understanding the technical foundations of an application are as important as understanding the application itself. I normally divide the overall ERP ecosystem into three sections:

Application

Parts, Customers, Supplier, Quotes, Orders, Work Orders, Purchase Orders, Inventory, Purchase Orders, Shipping, Invoicing, etc. These are the functional building blocks of an application, and the core of the many processes that you might perform in order to run your business. 

Architecture

AppServer, Database & Database Server, Client Access, Terminal Server, Server Farms, Load Balancing, etc. These are the elements that are key to a robust P21 environment, whether deployed to an on premise environment or as part of a private cloud deployment. Understanding these elements can help you optimize the stability, reliability, security and performance of your Prophet 21 ecosystem.

Integrations

Where application meets architecture… all the functionality extensions that elaborate an ERP application: Ecommerce, Document Management, Quality, BI & Reporting, Label Printing, Shipping, AR Automation, etc. To understand a given integration, you may need some understanding of both the place within the application where this functionality is an interaction, and the technical means though which this interaction is enabled.

Are you interested in growing your Prophet 21 knowledge in these areas? One option would be to attend the P21WWUG CONNECT 2022 conference. 

Sponsored by the Prophet 21 World Wide Users Group (P21WWUG), and colloquially pronounced “The Wug,” P21WWUG CONNECT is a great way to learn more about the capabilities from the system, as a network architect, a system administrator or a super user. The session schedule is extensive and covers all aspects of the P21 application. If you’re a growing wholesale distribution company, CONNECT is a great place to network to learn more about your options for supporting robust distribution operations. You’ll learn more about Epicor’s offerings while also surrounding yourself in a community of supporting services like EstesCloud private and hybrid cloud hosting options.

Are you attending CONNECT 2022? 

EstesGroup is this year’s Platinum Sponsor. You can find us in booths 6 & 7 of the Main Hall at JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort on August 29th – August 31st. We’ll have P21 technical experts on hand who can help you answer any questions that you may have about the Prophet 21 application, its deployment, the integration options available, and some best practices for configuring and managing your P21 ecosystem:

  • AutoCrib
  • Cribmaster
  • Pathguide’s Latitude integration
  • MITS
  • WebQuery
  • Portals
  • RePortal
  • B2C integrations
  • B2B implementations
  • Business Rules
  • Dyna Change
  • Database Maintenance
  • Crystal Reports
  • SSRS
  • WWMS
  • EDI
  • TCP  

Come stop by and have a chat! We’d love to tell you everything we know and more! Ready to talk to someone? Contact one of our Epicor Prophet 21 experts today.

Walk for Charity EstesGroup
Walk for Charity at P21WWUG CONNECT in San Antonio

Walk for Charity at P21WWUG CONNECT in San Antonio

Technology is on the move. Chase it down at P21WWUG CONNECT in San Antonio this August. Cloud options, web client deployments, integrations, middleware installations: the road ahead is replete with opportunities and obstacles, with shortcuts and fast lanes — not to mention the occasional blind alley. 

P21WWUG CONNECT in San Antonio Charity Walk

EstesGroup is excited to be the Platinum Sponsor for the Epicor Prophet 21® event of the year! We will begin the show with a cause dear to our hearts. In the spirit of meaningful motion, DCKAP & EstesGroup teams have banded together to walk for charity at P21WWUG CONNECT in San Antonio.

Are you attending the annual P21WWUG CONNECT event?

CONNECT is a great opportunity to learn more about Epicor’s P21® application — what it can do, how it can be used and, most importantly, where it’s headed. Applications are always on the run. Events like P21WWUG CONNECT are a great opportunity to catch up and head them off at the proverbial pass.

Run Your Business With Prophet 21®, Walk for Charity with EstesGroup ERP Experts

WHO: EstesGroup, DCKAP, and YOU!

WHAT: A charity walk that will benefit the Save the Children Foundation (FREE to attend, as donations are optional, with FREE breakfast following the walk)

WHEN: August 29th from 7 AM to 10 AM (CST)

WHERE: At P21WWUG CONNECT in San Antonio at the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort

WHY: Find community with ERP, technology, cloud, and commerce experts while supporting a good cause!

This is a great opportunity to clear your head, and meet some great people while helping the world, before the P21WWUG CONNECT event activities and festivities commence.

Walk With EstesGroup and DCKAP this August

Get some exercise and enjoy a good meal afterwards! We’ll meet at a designated area on the grounds prior to the P21WWUG Connect event, where we’ll start the day with coffee and refreshments before heading out on the walking path. Then, we’ll provide attendees with a hearty breakfast and grab-and-go goodies, too.

Low Code or No Code: Citizen Developers on the High Road

Low Code or No Code: Citizen Developers on the High Road

I’m a project manager. So I was looking at some Project Management information on the web. And something caught my attention. I noticed that there is a new certification for a “Citizen Developer”.

Hmmm. What’s that about, I wondered. I found that this is a new persona that is being recognized in many organizations. And it ties neatly into something I recently blogged about. In my last blog entry, I discussed the trend of offering “low-code / no-code” options. These support creating reports, forms, workflow, adding new data tables, and application connections. But they don’t require knowing a coding language.

Low Code Platform Citizen Developers

Instead, application users can use them to directly customize the application to simplify processes and improve their productivity. And they are supported by the IT department at the same time.

Consider this common application life cycle.

Your organization implements a new business application (Epicor, Prophet 21). There are lots of customizations to fit the business need. Everyone is excited when it happens. Fast forward several years. Customizations are slow to appear, yet the organization processes continue to change. The screens and reports work but there are many changes needed. And there is a backlog of work for the IT developers to complete. Frustrated users look for options.

They begin creating custom systems outside the application to get their work done. Excel spreadsheets are everywhere. Users rely on tools like Microsoft Access to get their work done. Everyone works with multiple tools to do their job.

Then someone decides it’s time for a change. Let’s do a new business application! So, the cycle repeats itself. Ugh. This isn’t very efficient, is it?

But what if the customizations were faster and easier to do because more users knew how?

And the application evolved along with the business changes, not behind them? 

And there was less frustration and more productivity?

In the past there was always this “Superuser” who showed up in most organizations. They were the person in the organization that learned how to tweak things that were frustrating and repetitive. They weren’t IT staff. But they were quick to see things that could be improved and were willing to invest extra time to figure out a better way. You may be this person or know one because they are in every organization. 

But there was a downside. Often their work would be discouraged by the IT department. Why? Because the changes were not documented, or the data wasn’t included in backups. Or worse case, that person would leave the company, and no one knew how to maintain their changes.

What was initially a great solution would slowly become unsupportable and out-of-date. It was a natural process. The organization was always changing. And there were only a limited number of people who could customize things. So, the problem continued.   

We should all agree that business applications need to change so we can stop this wasteful cycle. We need business applications to:

  • Be simpler to customize/adapt to meet changing business needs
  • Be customized in small ways all the time, not only during initial implementation
  • Not need more and more IT staff to do all the changes
  • Allow those persons closest to the problem to have more input on the solution
  • Ensure that customizations are documented and integrated into the application for future-proofing
  • Allow users the greatest freedom to adapt, without damaging the integrity of the application data (security, quality, access)

And that’s where the role of Citizen Developers might contribute to a better future. But what is a Citizen Developer?

A good definition would be the right start. Here’s one I found on Gartner: “A citizen developer is an employee who creates application capabilities for consumption by themselves or others, using tools that are not actively forbidden by IT or business units. A citizen developer is a persona, not a title or targeted role. They report to a business unit or function other than IT.”

So, let’s visualize this persona in your organization.

There is this employee who likes new challenges and knows the business process well. This employee is willing to learn how to customize the application. They get started by watching some videos and learning about a new development tool. 

The development tool doesn’t require a coding language or week-long classes. It supports drag and drop changes which focus on what is to be done, not how it is done. The tool supports validating that information before it goes into the system.  

And just as importantly, the customization works when new releases of the application are installed.

This user can always experiment with this new tool and try things in a testing environment.  They can show other users the results, using their feedback to fine-tune the change.

And when it is time, they can coordinate with everyone to release the new functionality to other users who immediately benefit. 

The result is that certain processes are now simpler and faster. Users do less manual work and communication (Trackers / Reports) is improved.

This is the future we are looking at. And it’s not that far away. In fact, some of these features are now available in Epicor Kinetic and Prophet 21. But we aren’t yet recognizing the persona of Citizen Developer and encouraging it because we are stuck in the past ways of working.

For example, in Epicor Kinetic, users can adjust column layouts on and save them according to their preferences. That’s a start.

And those who want to delve deeper can explore Business Activity Queries, Dashboards and BPM’s. These take some time to learn but are powerful and flexible. Plus, they are part of Epicor and upgrade with it. And the learning process is becoming simpler because of videos and support sites.

There are a growing number of examples on YouTube of how users can do customizations. And a growing community of users that are willing to share their questions, knowledge and examples.

So, what do you think is needed for your situation, to increase the Citizen Developer persona? How could the concept help in your organization? Let me know your thoughts!

Rob Mcmillen ERP Consultant

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.

Are you still wondering “what is a citizen developer?” or have other questions about new low-code or no-code platforms? Talk to us now about citizen developers (or any other topic on your mind)!

Introducing Epicor Automation Studio

Introducing Epicor Automation Studio

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). 

Epicor Automation Studio

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 ERP Consultant

Rob McMillen
Principal Consultant / Project Manager at EstesGroup

Ready for digital transformation? Talk to us using the chat, or fill out the form below, to begin a conversation with our Epicor Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) consultants!

Out-of-the-Box vs. Best-in-Breed Credit Card Processing

Out-of-the-Box vs. Best-in-Breed Credit Card Processing

The (ERP) Credits Are Rolling

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.  

Credit Card Processing in Enterprise Resource Planning

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.

Configuration Issues

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

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. 

Functionality Limitations

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!