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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.

Book an hour with a software expert & find new value in your business.

Custom Cloud: Public Cloud Choices, SaaS Challenges

Custom Cloud: Public Cloud Choices, SaaS Challenges

What to Do When ERP Turns SaaS

I once sat in at a sales conference for an ERP vendor and listened as the CEO explained sales strategy as it related to their ongoing movement to the cloud. He described the situation as one of configurability vs. customizability. There were some customers who could live with and work within the configurable features and capabilities of the base application as they existed “out-of-the-box.” These customers would be targets for the vendors single-tenant and multi-tenant cloud (or SaaS) offerings. For the subset of customers whose needs extended beyond the system’s base configuration, and were in need of custom functionality and integrations, the vendor would still offer the traditional perpetual license. This would allow customers with more complex needs to deploy their applications on-premise or in a private cloud.

ERP Public Cloud Software as a Service

That was the CEO’s perspective. Customers have their own perspective. 

Configuration & Customization to Order

I recently talked with a customer who was struggling to implement the cloud version of an ERP to the vendor’s public cloud. The customer had purchased the software based on a set of assumptions, assumptions that were not instantiated by the vendor’s public cloud (or SaaS) platform. For one, the customer had come from a highly customized in-house suite of applications, and had a highly developer-centric approach to application implementation: if the app didn’t do what you need, customize it so that it would do what you need.

This approach is anathema to ERP implementations in general, and as a customer implementing on a public cloud SaaS platform, the shock was only intensified. The customization toolset to which they believed themselves to be privy to was less than advertised. And the documentation that explained just what was and was not possible was all but nonexistent. As the customer put it, his team’s vast C# skillset went largely underutilized.

Frustrations abounded on all fronts. Creating the necessary reports and labels, whether through Bartender or SSRS had been a disaster, as both the licensing and underlying architecture made for an untenable situation. Development and deployment of new solutions was cumbersome and time-consuming, as it required the vendor to perform the deployment every time a change was made. Similarly, the approved third-party applications that they had purchased in conjunction with the base package didn’t integrate as well as advertised, and they turned out to be even less configurable than the base ERP system.

Worse still, the customer was a user of the ERP’s product configurator module. This mode was itself a mini-development platform, but its features were largely server-side and thus greatly hampered in the vendor’s SaaS platform. The ability to use the module to look up and retrieve data, for instance, was greatly limited on the SaaS architecture, and the customer struggled to construct configurators to handle their complex product needs. Beyond functionality, the overall performance of the application was a drag. For many customers, the move from whip-fast, green-screen legacy platform to a contemporary ERP brings an unfortunate surprise when it comes to basic performance at a user interaction level. But in this case, it was magnified by the performance of the underlying cloud platform.

It was a disheartening conversation and I struggled to offer suggestions, outside of a reimplementation under a perpetual license model. The strange thing was that the customer did not really even come to me looking for help. He was really just venting his frustrations. He had learned enough of the application, its architecture, and the Service-as-a-Software (SaaS) deployment model to know that whatever help he might receive, he was constrained by the architecture to which he had bound himself. The cloud, whose name implies boundless opportunity and possibility, had become a crippling constraint.  

Different ERP systems provide different levels of configurability and customizability. Some systems offer a basic platform with robust tools to use to build custom functionality with which to tailor the base platform. Others provide extensive configurability, as to avoid the need for additional tailoring. The systems that best combine configurability and customizability capabilities stand the best chance of supporting the needs of complex organizations. Even still, the unbridled requirements of a given company can often exceed the combined abilities of an ERP system to handle it.

This may necessitate the need for third-party integrations, to atone for liabilities in the base system. It may require integration to a pre-existing home-grown system, to address the specific needs of the organization. In the most extreme of cases, customers may look to modify the system’s source code to make the system do what it needs. At some point, it should be considered whether such extreme measures justify the investment in ERP at all. Sometimes it is simply a cultural conundrum: if an organization is unable to bend some of its needs to the will of the application, they may truly be better off with a homegrown system, and live with the liabilities that come with such a decision. 

DRaaS for SaaS: When the Public Cloud Vendor Needs to Adapt

Beyond configurability and customizability, the questions of functionality and integration as they relate to an ERP system’s deployment model complicate matters further. The textbook cases regarding ERP customization nightmares from the 1990s all occurred within an on-premise context. The evolution of cloud computing had not yet thrown this new variable into the mix. But with the improvement of server processing power, the expansion of data centers, and the ability to pass larger and larger amounts of data over networks, ERP vendors were able to construct ERP applications that conformed to the public cloud software-as-a-service (SaaS) deployment model.

This shift toward a SaaS model allowed for highly available and highly scalable ERP solutions, whose subscription-based model provided ERP services for a monthly rate. But in doing so, the features and capabilities that these vendors offered were often scaled back significantly, when compared to their on-premise, perpetual license predecessors. Similarly, the integration capabilities of such platforms were drastically reduced to the web APIs that the ERP SaaS platform supported. This made the extension of the application’s capabilities much more difficult to achieve. For customers needing robust and expansive ERP functionality, as was the case with my customer above, the results of a mismatch between business requirements, customization tendencies, and deployment models can lead to a perfect storm of failure and disillusion. 

How does one avoid such a problematic situation? To begin with, there are some key questions to answer at the time of software selection before you’ve signed the dotted line:

  • Firstly, you need to understand the background of your own organization. Are you coming from a standard system or from a highly-tailored home-grown system? Are your business requirements of the variety that are commonly managed by a packaged system? Is the shift from your current system to the future system a small shuffle or a quantum leap?
  • You also need to understand your own expectations for the new system: are you trying to fit your organization into the system, or are you trying to tailor the system to fit your business? Do you see an ERP system as a packaged application or a custom development platform? Companies differ in this approach, and this greatly affects how they intend to use the system, so you need to be explicit about your expectations.
  • Finally, it should be noted that in many cases, a software’s public cloud version will differ markedly in functionality from its cloud cousin. As such, be careful to understand the version from which the Sales Engineers are basing their demonstrations. If you’re looking at a cloud deployment, ensure that the sales team demonstrates the application, as you will experience it as a customer, and not the products more robust, on-premise version.

Cloud services are as unique as business processes, and SaaS companies / SaaS, or public cloud, applications aren’t always as “internet connection, web browser, go” like they’re often advertised to be.

If your corporate office is mandating some form of “cloud” solution, understand that not all clouds are created equal. A system’s deployment mode is not as simple as choosing between an on-premise dinosaur and a public cloud popsicle. One significant alternative to the SaaS vs on-premise dichotomy is a private cloud deployment. Private cloud allows an ERP customer to install an on-premise, perpetual license version of the software, but in a virtual cloud environment. This allows customers to leverage the full set of capabilities, functionality, and integration opportunities that the software offers. For customers bent on heavy tailoring and customization, this allows them to leverage the full set of tools tailor the application to the customer’s specific needs. Further still, this model makes integrations much easier, as it provides access to the application and database server layers, as needed, which can greatly simplify integration architectures. 

Cloud Customs of Custom Code

A company’s implementation story should be neither a laughable comedy nor a disheartening tragedy. With planning and discretion, companies can formulate a successful narrative. Are you in search of an ERP story with a happy ending? Talk to us, and we’ll spin you a yarn.

You can consolidate everything from software licensing and updates to hardware inventory management with EstesCloud Managed Application Hosting. We offer custom solutions for web-based transactions. We might not be famous like Amazon web services, but our private cloud, hybrid cloud, IaaS, and PaaS solutions offer you the personal attention of world-class IT and ERP consultants.

ERP Deployment Options & Cloud Services

Infrastructure as a Service

Platform as a Service

Software as a Service

IT Management Models

In pure form, a public cloud deployment limits your control and troubles cybersecurity and compliance management efforts. Know your enterprise resource planning options before you deploy. The cloud should be one of your most powerful tools as you move your company forward. But cloud computing terminology is hazy, and cloud migration can be a step backward if the deployment model isn’t a good fit. Do you understand your cloud options? Our cloud ERP experts can walk you through the cloud spectrum and help you find the best platform for your business. When a complex ERP like Epicor’s Prophet 21 is going through client-server architecture changes, EstesGroup consultants are here to answer questions so that you can focus on your business, rather than on its supporting software.

Feeling the pressure to upgrade your ERP system to a new SaaS version? Know your options before you commit to the public cloud. Get a free demo and consultation with our cloud experts today.

A Business Automation Nation – How AI Helps Us Connect

A Business Automation Nation – How AI Helps Us Connect

The 2020 shift to remote work forced small to medium companies to increase business automation. To quickly become touch-less and contactless, owners used technology solutions managed by third-party suppliers to guide the new network of online business communication, home offices, and third-party vendors. As the world reopens, AI continues to help businesses network for future growth, especially for organizations leveraging ERP (enterprise resource planning) software.

Business Automation Virtual AI Interface

Artificial intelligence (AI) is human, too

Do you trust your software? Do you trust the humans supporting your software? Consider everything that your ERP software and its underlying technology supports:

  • Internal and external communication
  • Supply chain management
  • Customer transactions and interactions
  • Software integrations
  • Sensitive data

Large companies and global enterprises shifted their cultures to automation long ago. Cloud-based solutions are not new. Successful management of company resources has depended on internal or external IT support since the dawn of the internet. Now it the time for small and medium-sized organizations to access the same business automation tools used by the world’s wealthiest companies.

“As a Service” Business Strategy: Automation as a Service

AI supports your company reputation and culture, so it’s often best to consider automation with experts guiding the process. Focus areas might include the following:

  • GENERAL: How to automate business processes
  • SPECIFIC: How to use data analysis to optimize insight
  • INTERNAL: How to support employees securely as they interact with one another and with your customer base
  • EXTERNAL: How to keep your customers happy, even when supplies are running low and shipping times are burdening relationships

AI, AI, O!: Create a Real-Time Data Window For Your Business

Business owners use tracking tools and data analysis software to understand everything from organization performance to customer behavior. Google tracks search quantity and quality. Amazon compiles endless data on customer purchase intent. Apple allows customers to use their fingerprints, their voice, and their app interactions to optimize device interactions. Microsoft creates data for every email click and innovates based on how clients are using the software. All of this data is useless if not organized and managed properly.

The Automation of Cybercrime – When Malware Uses AI Against You

Ransomware is in the daily news because cyber warfare leverages the same technological innovations that global companies are using to stay ahead of the competition. If malware gets into your backups, you might have a security breach that turns your own AI against you.

Software as a service platforms are especially vulnerability because you’re completely depending on the third-party to handle a large piece of your automation. A hosted environment often provides a more secure infrastructure, especially for companies on the move. An off-site data center can be regulated by compliance regulations. The IT team is required to abide by best practices for cybersecurity. As a result, your data is set up, monitored, and maintained according to the highest security standards. This keeps ransomware from troubling your servers or your software.

Automation for CRM (Customer Relationship Management)

A business wouldn’t be a business without a product or a service to market and sell. Customer data is key to streamlining your sales process. AI allows you to track, analyze, and save valuable information about your relationships:

  • Buyer behaviors
  • Market trends
  • Customer preferences
  • Budget concerns
  • Business direction / business strategy

A business process review can be a great way to get instant insight into how your employees are supporting your customer base.

Pricing Automation: The AI Will Bill You Now

Automated pricing and billing is everywhere in the virtual world, especially when it comes to e-commerce. When customers shop for something using the internet, pricing visibility is critical to buyer engagement. “See the price in cart” might work, but “contact us for pricing” can be a turnoff in this new world of instant gratification automation and digitization.

Pricing can get complicated if you’re offering custom products or complex services. Let’s look at medical billing as an example of a complex business service. HIPAA regulates all third-party interactions. So medical professionals need to ensure that any automation tools that are outsources are in compliance with these medical industry standards. In manufacturing and distributions, everything from shipping costs to supply chain management falls within similar, often less famous, compliance regulations. Pricing and billing can benefit from automation, but the AI software must be managed according to professional standards.

Outsourced Services: A Bot That Never Sleeps is Part Human

To use the medical industry as an example again, anyone offering professional health services needs 24/7 IT support. Why? In the off-hours, portals are still open, networks are still vulnerable, and emergency services are offered around the clock. Often, small and medium-sized businesses can’t afford an in-house employee to handle the 24/7 monitoring of sensitive information and infrastructure. Automation software can help monitor your system while sleeping. If your data is sensitive, your AI tools should come with a 24/7 IT help desk that is continually on watch for a potential or an attempted security breach.

Computer systems are nothing without people. AI systems are developed as a way for machine intelligence to supplement the problem solving skills of people. Strong AI is impressive: computer science continues to build automation systems that play chess or accomplish specific tasks that most humans want to avoid. AI development continues to reduce mundane tasks within a data management system, for example. AI research is focused on creating vast and intelligent artificial neural networks capable of driving cars. To control systems remotely is no longer science fiction. With an intelligent system, even small business owners can save time on routine tasks.

Automate Your Virtual Presence

Your virtual office makes your online presence paramount to the reputation of your business. Other online interactions create a complex representation of who you are as a business owner. Do you have a website or a virtual storefront? A strong web presence can bring you global success, or propagate mass reputation damage. With an internet culture of constant connectivity, automation can help you reach potential clients, even while you are sleeping, by promoting your brand, your ethics, your differentiators, and your value that only you can bring to your customers.

E-commerce comes with high risk, but with proper technology management, the virtual markets can only bring success to your business. You might be able to open new sales channels by offering direct supply to potential and current customers. Don’t be limited by your zip code: use AI to grow your business outside of your region, offering more people the services and products that you believe in as a business owner.

Using Business Automation to Scale While Lowering Costs

AI should help you streamline operations so that you can optimize your budget. However, poorly managed automation solutions can quickly overwhelm your staff, opening the doors to chaos. Fortunately, this loss of productivity is easily avoided when automation begins with expertise. EstesGroup’s staff includes ERP and IT experts that bring complete understanding to your business:

  • Project timing
  • Budgeting
  • Software selection
  • Infrastructure planning and deployment
  • Enterprise risk management
  • Enterprise resource planning
  • Business process improvement

Save time and money while focusing on the work you love. As a Managed Service Provider and ERP consultancy, we can help you choose the latest business solutions that can help you avoid time-consuming tasks by safely using business automation to gain wealth, health, and reputation.

Are you ready to automate success? Let our IT experts help you up your AI IQ.

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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.

Ask an IT or ERP expert a question now.

Understanding the New Client Architecture of Prophet 21

Understanding the New Client Architecture of Prophet 21

Software development never stands still. I remember a time where I felt like I had finally come to understand DataSets, DataTables, DataRows and DataViews, only to have a much more experienced developer inform me that the System.Data namespace was old, antiquated, and no longer used in the development of cutting-edge applications. I had walked the prescribed trail, only to realize that it dead-ended in a software swamp.

Epicor Prophet 21 Warehouse Worker

The implications of such rapid movements in application development are significant, as software vendors often find themselves down similar dead ends and are forced to backtrack their way out of them. I liken software applications to my great-grandaddy’s venerable old axe: two new heads and seven new handles later, yet still seen by everyone in the family as the same axe.

Like the axe, Epicor’s Prophet 21 ERP application has been refitted over time. P21 helps distribution companies with a variety of features and capabilities. But like many such applications, the vendor found that over time, there was a need to reshape the application as to better position it for future use. Limitations to the existing architecture could not support the long-term needs of the industry. For that reason, Epicor has been reworking and fine-tuning its P21 architecture, moving towards a more scalable, interoperable and accessible application. Understanding where P21 has been and where it’s going can be of great use for customers, as to help them chart a course for the future. 

The Old Prophet 21

Epicor’s E10 application followed an infrastructure that separated the user client, the application server, and the database itself. For someone coming from Epicor 10, P21’s original architecture might look a little strange. Traditionally, P21 employed a fat client architecture, in which a large amount of business logic was housed in the 32-bit client itself, and this client communicated with the database. A liability of this approach was the difficulty in deploying a full API that could be accessed externally. Also, this model created natural limits to the number of clients that could share a single terminal server, due to the size and scope of the fat client.

The New Epicor Model

As Epicor sought to develop a more robust and accessible platform, changes were made both to the client and the overall architecture. Epicor’s updated architecture inserted a new layer, referred to as the “Middleware Server,” that serves as an intermediary between the client and the database, and provides the foundation for API-level interactions. 

Logic that had previously resided in the “fat client” desktop version was moved into the middleware layer. This architecture more closely resembles Epicor’s E10 application server-based architecture. Communication with the middleware server occurs using Secure Socket Layer (SSL) protocol. This allows you to connect without the need for direct access to the network or a VPN connection. A web connection and an SSL certificate are all you need.

Beyond the API benefits, another benefit of this approach comes from performance, as the middleware server supports as much as twice as many clients as can be supported by a terminal server with the traditional fat client. For customers with high user counts, Prophet 21’s new architecture supports multiple load-balanced middleware servers.

Client Types: Understanding Your New P21 Options

From a client interaction perspective, two new options were developed to support the new architecture:

  • Web Client: The web client is a browser-based capability, allowing customers to access their system from a PC, a tablet or a mobile device.
  • Hybrid Client: The hybrid client meets the needs of customers who like the look and feel of a traditional desktop application, but wish to leverage the capabilities and features of the updated web client. The hybrid client installs like a normal Windows application, and connects directly to the middleware server, without the use of a browser.

Desktop Client – A Line in the Sand

Initially, Epicor’s web client lacked some of the functionality available with the traditional client, making things like DynaChange screen modifications difficult to accomplish without a traditional client. But as Epicor ramped up the capabilities of the web client, these differences have fallen off, such that as of spring of 2021, new P21 features will be available only in the web and hybrid clients. 

Epicor will slowly migrate away from traditional desktop application. By the fall 0f 2021, Epicor will no longer develop and release new versions of the desktop client. By the end of the year, Epicor will no longer release fixes for the desktop client. For P21 customers, this will require all users to migrate to the new architecture, both to retain support and to capitalize on the benefits of the newer releases.

The bottom line for P21 customers is clear: they can migrate to the new architecture or else work on the legacy platform, in an unimproved and unsupported state. In making this move, there are a few additional considerations to be made relative to the Prophet 21 deployment options available.

SaaS or Private Cloud Hosting for Epicor P21 Applications

Customers may opt to choose Epicor’s SaaS solution and place their application under Epicor’s control. This amounts to making two significant shifts, and many customers may not be sufficiently confident in Epicor’s SaaS solution to make the move. For customers suspect of SaaS, but looking for cloud options to host their new P21 architecture, private cloud hosting for ERP combines the new architecture with P21’s full functionality, without the hardware investments that come with an on-premise install.

Do you need help understanding your P21 deployment options? Do you need help migrating your existing architecture to take advantage of Epicor’s new features and capabilities? Give us a call — we are the #1 Prophet 21 consultancy in the nation, and we’d love to make you our “client”!

Warehouse & Inventory Management

Are you a wholesale distributor and planning for new P21 features and capabilities? Please take our survey as a step towards understanding the new client architecture of Prophet 21 and how it relates to your future!