Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Epicor Manufacturing Express Edition Up Close and Personal

I sat in on a webcast hosted by Epicor today on Epicor Manufacturing Express Edition, complete with a demo of the product. Epicor had pre-briefed me on its Express Edition back in August 2009 and then again when it was released in May 2010. For those of you not familiar with this Express Edition, here’s a very quick summary….
Epicor Manufacturing Express Edition is a simplified version of Epicor 9, developed specifically for job shops and discrete manufacturers and delivered only using a SaaS model. But Epicor is quick to point out that SaaS is a delivery model, not a product. The product itself is Epicor 9, simplified. By “simplified” I mean that Epicor has hidden selected bits of functionality in order to remove some of the complexity inherent in a comprehensive enterprise-level ERP solution… hidden and not actually removed. Built-in best practices are also layered on top of the software and templates and even a chart of accounts can be delivered right out of the box. The target go-live date is 20-30 days after installation.
Epicor Express includes CRM, product management, production management, materials management, financial management and built in business intelligence. Data migration tools can be included in the Express Start package or not, including the ability to import data from QuickBooks. Customers also have the option of using Sage Peachtree for accounting and financials and Epicor Express for CRM and production management.
Because Epicor Express is derived from Epicor 9, as companies grow (needing more features and functions), there is a good chance the features are already included in Epicor 9. In some cases those hidden features can be turned back on, allowing the customer to remain in a SaaS environment. But generally speaking, if you outgrow the Express Edition, you will likely be moving to another edition of Epicor 9 (Standard Edition or Enterprise Edition) and an on-premise environment or a hosted environment. But this hosted environment can include managed services, allowing customers to continue to avoid investing in their own IT infrastructure and staff. It is an evolutionary (and not revolutionary) path.
While I was quite familiar with the strategy and Epicor’s roll-out, until today I had not seen a "public" demo of the product. There were a few thoughts that struck me as I watched.
1.       The person doing the demo was a “Territory Manager,” which I interpreted it to be a sales function. This tells me two things: the Epicor sales folks know a thing or two about the needs of their prospects and clients (the demo was real and credible and did not appear to be “canned”) and you don’t need to be a product specialist to use the system. No offense to sales, but they typically have much more of a business development orientation than a deep product orientation.
2.       The system is relatively easy to navigate, which lessens the need for training. There is just one potential downside to that. As solutions become easier to navigate, customers make the mistake of thinking they don’t need any training. My experience tells me that users of ERP solutions still need to be trained procedurally, as much from a business perspective as a system perspective. Without some level of training, business processes get mucked up and users never take full advantage of the solution.
3.       And finally, I thought, “My, how far things have come since my days of doing demos.”  In the mid-to-late 1980’s my best demos were the ones where my hands never touched the keyboard. Of course most of those demos were done in the ERP vendors’ offices or via a dial-up modem. But in those days, you really needed to memorize all the various codes (since there were few, if any lookups); you spent as much time navigating the hierarchical menu structure as you did demonstrating “real” work. You spent far more time putting data into the system than you did showing how to retrieve it. Because getting data out was pretty hard, and usually ugly. This demonstration featured a series of what Epicor called “minute of your day type features” and I would venture to say in the old days, those “minutes” would have been hours.
Part of Epicor’s “pitch” is the level of experience it brings to small manufacturers. Founded in 1984, Epicor’s been around since back when I was doing demos. Today they are a public company with about $440 million in annual revenue, 2700 employees and more than 20,000 customers. In defining the simplified version of Epicor 9 that forms the basis of Epicor Manufacturing Express Edition, of course the company will draw on the experience it has gained in dealing with small manufacturers, perhaps many of them still running older Epicor products such as Vista, which over time has merged with Vantage and then morphed into Epicor 9. The only question I have is, how many of those Vista customers are still operating back in the world I knew when I was doing demos? What will it take to get them to venture into the 21st century? Perhaps Epicor Manufacturing Express Edition will lead them out of the darkness.

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