A Dynamic Answer to Enterprise Resource Planning for Services

Although revenue for Microsoft Business Solutions hovers around the $1 billion (USD) mark (only 1/40 of Microsoft's total revenue), Epicor has strategically carved out a significant niche in the Microsoft enterprise resource planning (ERP) market.

Epicor, a Microsoft BackOffice certified company, has built nearly a $400 million (USD) business by being early adopters of .NET technology and one of the first enterprise applications to have 1,000 customers running on Microsoft SQL Server (for the first time in its history Epicor surpassed the $100 million (USD) mark in the fourth quarter of 2006). In addition, strategic acquisitions of Scala Business Solutions in the global mid-market sector and CRS Retail Systems, Inc. in the retail industry have established Epicor's growth in the ERP market. The Scala acquisition has solidified Epicor's global presence in over 140 countries around the world.

With the Scala channel and the aggressive Microsoft-centric technology road map, Epicor has filled a gap within the Microsoft Dynamics family of products. However, it remains to be seen how Microsoft will respond to Epicor's growth. Will ERP for the services market experience another acquisition? Or will Epicor continue on its own path, chipping away at the Microsoft ERP marketplace?

In ERP for the services industry, Epicor has established its presence and its fully integrated offering in the upper mid-market (user organizations with revenues between $250 million {USD} and $1 billion {USD}). In the Microsoft world, where Dynamics SL caters to small services organizations and Dynamics AX competes in the mid-market services sector, primarily through Microsoft's industry builder initiative partnership with Foliodev, there is significant room for Epicor to dominate this space. Epicor delivers a complete ERP solution for larger services organizations targeting the architecture, engineering, construction, Marcom, management consulting, accounting, and software industries that require strong project accounting, resource planning, and time and expense capabilities. With the combination of its customer service model, market expertise, and comprehensive functionality critical to larger services organizations, Epicor delivers a Microsoft-centric ERP for services offering where the Microsoft Dynamics product line falls short in delivering a complete ERP system for services organizations in the upper mid-market.

Epicor Focuses on Its Customers

Epicor's emphasis on customer service has and continues to fuel its growth and success. More than any other mid-market ERP player (except for Microsoft) Epicor has an impressive 15 support centers around the world, consisting of 250 specialists that provide support to clients in 20 languages. In today's marketplace, features and functions play partial roles in the selection process of buyers evaluating ERP solutions. More frequently, ERP players focus on value-added capabilities, such as the quality of their support and customer service, as critical differentiators in the marketplace. In fact, many smaller vendors leverage their higher quality customer service and industry expertise to differentiate their offerings when competing against the tier one ERP giants (such as SAP and Oracle) in the mid-market. During Epicor's user show last October, an overwhelming majority of clients expressed that Epicor delivered excellent customer service by ensuring timely responses and resolution of user issues. Consequently, Epicor has capitalized on its leading customer service approach to gain market share from large tier one ERP vendors.

What's New in Epicor for Service Enterprises?

Epicor for Service Enterprises 8.1.1 focuses on delivering expanded capabilities in the customer relationship management (CRM) and project modules, together with new capabilities in account management. To better serve the upper mid-market in the services industry, Epicor has tuned performance in a number of key areas. Over the course of 2007, Epicor is planning on delivering new capabilities in resource management, multisite, and collaboration in order to better meet the demands of mid-market services organizations with multiple locations.

Epicor has overhauled its resource management module for the upper mid-market services industry including enhancements that streamline its ease of use, develop a resource workbench for capacity and resource planning, and offer off-line capabilities in Excel. Similarly, Epicor is aggressively pursuing its development strategy in the resource management module to grow market share in the mid-market services industries where resource management capabilities are core to the business. Furthermore, the enhancements will serve larger customers with international operations, delivering new features to address multi-company requirements, multiple tax issues, multiple currencies, multiple sites, global resources, and varying business rules in order to manage the diverse data of global services organizations.

Epicor's new information worker (IW) initiative will provide unparalleled collaboration capabilities for Epicor clients that are power users of Microsoft Office applications. Today, Epicor IW leverages Microsoft Office 2003 applications, integrating the ERP capabilities of Epicor with Excel, Outlook, Word, and SharePoint (Microsoft Office 2007 support is coming in a future release). This will help Epicor improve its clients' productivity by extending the use of Microsoft Office with Epicor. Epicor IW clients are able to synchronize their customers, bids and opportunities, client histories, and resource schedules with Outlook contacts, appointments, and tasks, eliminating duplicate entry into each system.

Epicor has also simplified the collaboration between its system and Microsoft Office applications, such as Word and Excel, by quickly searching and dragging information from the Epicor task pane to fields in Microsoft Office. Moreover, Epicor users can save these documents to the SharePoint server, and then initiate a workflow process to create a transaction in Epicor along with the necessary document link managed by SharePoint server, thus ensuring improved collaboration and tracking of data. The addition of Epicor IW will improve the efficiency of an Epicor organization that is a power user of Microsoft Office applications, and that is looking to reduce multiple data entry and to streamline Epicor's interoperability with Microsoft Office.

Product Strengths

Epicor's biggest strength lies in its strategic technology partnerships with Microsoft. This partnership enables Epicor to deliver complete functionality on the popular Microsoft platform. Epicor's commitment to Microsoft technology also enables its clients to fully take advantage of Microsoft's technology road map to deliver a service-oriented architecture (SOA) framework. In fact, Epicor's current SOA offering is based on a Microsoft .NET framework, which is easily adaptable to client environments running on a Microsoft platform. Epicor's use of Visual Studio leverages Microsoft technology to assist organizations in their SOA strategies in the customization, reuse, and integration of the Epicor system within their existing infrastructures. Additionally, Epicor's tight integration with Microsoft Office (through its IW module) and Microsoft Project provides above average collaboration and project management integration for project-oriented organizations in the services sector. Consequently, services organizations with Microsoft shops can optimize their productivity with Epicor for Service Enterprises.

Epicor's focus on delivering a competitive best-of-breed professional services automation (PSA) solution provides the advantage of offering comprehensive project management and time and billing functionality, in conjunction with complete back-office capabilities critical to running a successful, billable services organization. With respect to features, Epicor offers above-average resource management capabilities with its resource workbench module, assisting organizations in managing the resources that drive their businesses. Moreover, its Microsoft-centric solution is ideal for Microsoft shops that are looking to maximize the collaboration between Epicor and such Microsoft solutions as Dynamics GP for accounting, ProClarity for business intelligence (BI), SharePoint for collaboration, and Microsoft Project for project management. As a result, for an organization seeking a fully integrated ERP system, Epicor's solution delivers fully integrated PSA capabilities (including complete project accounting) on a single platform.

Product Challenges

Epicor's biggest strength also represents its biggest challenge. Its Microsoft-centric application comes with the obvious limitations of Microsoft. Specifically, limitations include working with Microsoft SQL Server and its potential barriers of integration with non-Microsoft environments. For example, large organizations that have Oracle and IBM environments are faced with integration issues when working with Epicor's strictly Microsoft platform.

Similarly, Epicor's project portfolio management (PPM) capabilities are not as competitive as those best-of-breed PPM offerings that generally focus on aligning an organization's business strategy with project deliverables. Although ERP for services organizations tend to market to project-centric organizations, their PPM capabilities (as is the case with Epicor) are less robust and do not deliver the depth of functionality as PPM vendors focused on internal information technology (IT) departments. Similar to most integrated ERP for services offerings, Epicor has not yet fully embraced portfolio management capabilities and project governance methodologies to address the strategic issues faced by the executives of services organizations. Consequently, as portfolio management extends its influence in all areas of project management, ERP vendors will have to expand their PPM functionality.

User Recommendations

For service organizations that are believers or staunch adopters of Microsoft, Epicor is an excellent choice, and likely should be on their short lists. Leveraging both Microsoft Office applications and Microsoft technology, Epicor delivers a superior ERP for services offering for mid-market organizations than the Dynamics product line. However, for organizations that are seeking capabilities beyond the limited scalability of Microsoft (as is the case with SQL Server), Epicor may not offer adequate scalability. In addition, organizations should be cognizant of the current state of ERP for the services marketplace. In a consolidating marketplace, buyers considering Epicor should track its current growth that is making inroads into Microsoft's ERP market share. These inroads could potentially lead to an even deeper business relationship with the software giant. With a strong global presence through its Scala network, and Microsoft's gap in the mid-market services sector, Epicor could fit in the Dynamics family, serving a global audience.

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