The Role of Order Entry in ETO and CTO Environments
Epicor Engineer-to-Order environments are their own special breed. Based on an almost infinite notion of product variability, their business models are hard to shoehorn into an ERP system. I once had a job shop employee describe his product variability with ultimate pliancy: “If they want us to wrap it in toilet paper, we’ll wrap it in toilet paper.” That would be a costly proposition these days. In light of this, I often get requests from my customers for “best practices” in handling various Epicor ETO environments.
The If-Then-This-That of E10
When it comes to questions regarding Epicor Engineer-to-Order, I always preface my answers with a de facto “it depends” before diving deeper into all the variables at play. Best practice for one company might not be the same for another. Ironically enough, it is almost as if I need to configure an answer for my customer, and discussions tend to take on the following format: “If this and that and/or this or that, then do this…”
One such question came to me recently from an Epicor customer, with regard to the role of Order Entry/Customer Service employees in an Engineer-to-Order organization. The company was debating the benefits and liabilities of having their inside sales staff perform rudimentary engineering activities as part of the entry of a sales order. In such companies, product details tend to arrive comparatively late in the quote-to-cash cycle, and the folks responsible for pounding in the orders often find themselves as the purveyors of this information, as received from the customer. These changes often require tweaks to manufacturing methods for a given product, and companies struggle in determining who should own these changes.
The In-the-Know of ETO
Who do you know on your team who could best own these changes? As I’ve noted above, “It depends.” But what does it depend on? I can think of a few of the variables that you would consider when deciding whether Order Entry should handle Engineering tasks:
- Technical efficacy and product knowledge of the Order Entry team: The higher the efficacy, the more liberties you can give someone to alter MOMs when quoting. In some environments, where the estimators are highly technical, Engineering is strictly focused on new product development, and Sales owns what is sometimes called “project engineering.” In other environments, this role is staffed by folks in the engineering department.
- Complexity of the product: The higher the complexity, the less you’d want Order Entry muddling with the engineering of the product. In low-complexity job shops, I’ve seen order entry or customer service staff handle the engineering implications of order changes.
- The implementation of Epicor: There are a number of ways in Epicor to get from a Quote to a Job, and few companies in the CTO/ETO world do it exactly the same. Depending on the overall architecture, the MOMs in question might be modified through the quote module, the part master, or in the jobs themselves. This architecture will affect the processes needed to make changes: do you need to modify MOMs through the quote, or will you perform modifications to the Part Revision through the engineering workbench? Quote MOMs are much more apt to be modified by sales staff than are part master records.
In general, I have found that in most environments, Order Entry is focused on specifying product characteristics, features and options and that Engineering is responsible for defining the engineered product to satisfy these requirements. I often recommend that Engineering be the party responsible for what we normally understand to be the engineering function.
This model works well as companies sufficiently standardize their product offerings to support Epicor Configure-to-Order business models, as the delineation between features and options vs. product design are more pronounced in these environments. But there are certainly cases in which the composition of the entire sales staff, the nature of the product, and the system architecture determines that Sales is the optimal department to make these changes.