Encompix--Thriving on Encompassing Complexity Part One: Event Summary

Event Summary

Encompix, Inc. (www.encompix.com), a privately-held North American provider of enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions that helps mid-size engineer-to-order (ETO) and project-based manufacturers to improve their business is a stellar example of a focused niche vendor. As an illustration, seven US-based ETO companies recently selected the Encompix ERP system within a thirty-day time bracket.

Encompix, which has a single focus in the ETO market, has therefore recently captured a significant market and mindshare, particularly given that the following manufacturers have thereby decided to partner with the Cincinnati, Ohio-based (US) firm:

  • Air Enterprises, Inc. of Akron, Ohio, a global leader in designing, engineering, manufacturing and supporting custom air handling systems.

  • Cross Bros. Co., a leading Rochester, New York (US), material-handling company dealing with high-quality custom fabricated equipment and custom conveyor systems.

  • Gehring L.P., based in Farmington Hills, Michigan (US), is part of the Gehring Group, the leading corporation for honing technology worldwide. Their customers include all of the major engine manufacturers (General Motors, Chrysler, Ford, Honda, Saturn, Caterpillar, Harley Davidson).

  • Kvichak Marine Industries, based in Seattle, Washington (US), a worldwide leader in the design and construction of high quality, customized aluminum workboats, from twenty to one hundred feet in length.

  • Rimrock Automation, Inc. of New Berlin, Wisconsin (US), a provider of robotic automation solutions for industry.

  • Rough Brothers, Inc., based in Cincinnati, Ohio, designs, engineers, manufactures, and installs custom greenhouses with capabilities to build any number of structures using a variety of coverings including glass, polycarbonate, film, and more.

  • Wolf Robotics, based in Fort Collins, Colorado (US) designs and manufacturers industrial welding cells.

Encompix refers to its 270 customers as a close and happy extended ETO family, a feeling that can particularly be noticed during its annual users conferences, where most attendees share the same issues and concerns about running their businesses. Such was the recent event, when Encompix' customers from the US and Canada met in Cincinnati for the Annual User Conference, on October 15-17, 2003. Around eighty attendees participated in the three-day event with over thirty-five general and breakout sessions. Showcasing Encompix version 9.2B, the vendor gave detailed educational sessions on key components of the system. Its partner presentations from Configure One, a provider of product configurator software solutions; Cimmetry Systems, a provider of visualization and collaboration solutions for the architecture and engineering, construction (A/E/C), manufacturing, and electronics markets; Aimasoft, a computer-aided design (CAD) integration provider; and Prism Software, a provider of software products for the distributed project management, helpdesk, and e-business, updated attendees on new third-party add-on functionality. The conference also included five separate special interest groups covering the major product areas with time set aside for users to share ideas.

Hence, Encompix continues to add new functionality to address the needs of ETO and project-based companies, whereby the customers play a big part in the development process. Many enhancements are a direct result of their input, while most support calls that require development work get resolved by maintenance releases, which are provided on a regular basis to existing customers. To that end, the recent release contains major enhancements to financial accounting, shop floor control, purchasing, sales and job orders, shipping, inventory control, advanced planning and scheduling (APS), subcontracting, progressive billing, and revenue recognition. Further, for ETO companies who operate a major spare parts business, Encompix has developed new material planning functionality and multi-warehouse capabilities to support the manufacture and distribution of spare parts.

The next release, Version 9.3 which is planned for the 1st Quarter of 2005, is supposed to feature the following enhancements:

  • Non-Conforming materials management: An integrated solution between manufacturing, purchasing and inventory management to provide visibility throughout of the application of parts or work-in-progress (WIP) in non-conforming materials (NCM) defect tracking

  • Project reserve inventory management: This should provide the ability for customers, especially those with government project costing and tracking requirements, to purchase inventory with project funds, track its use across individual orders within that project and report on the actual costs throughout the life of the project

  • Complete integration of approved alternate parts

  • Integrated item revision control from the engineering bill of materials (EBOM).

  • Improved long lead item processing: This should allow customers to purchase their long lead items early in the project and then assign them to the appropriate jobs as the project structure matures.

The recent success of Encompix is one of the strong indications that after years of hesitation and caution, ETO manufacturers have begun to demonstrate a new economic confidence. For a comprehensive discussion of the ERP requirements of project-oriented and ETO manufacturers, see ERP Systems and the ETO Manufacturing Market.

This is Part One of a two-part note.

Part Two will cover challenges and make user recommendations.

Market Impact

Project manufacturers have to seek out ERP systems that will plan and account for activities before and after the "factory" activity. Thus, through the Program Cost Accounting, Project Accounting, Project Definition and Project Resource Planning sub-modules, to name only some, an ETO focused vendor should take a holistic approach to the needs of project-driven manufacturers, as to address the entire process life cycle, beginning with the bid and estimating processes, all the way to installation and service management. The company should thereby be able to connect the project status tracking with back-office processes. The system should also have a bidirectional interface to CAD design and project management tools such as Microsoft Project. Many customers require weekly progress reports and are comfortable with the MS Project format, but the product on its own cannot give the visibility and scheduling over a great number of concurrent products, and that is where the products like Encompix come into the picture.

Encompix indeed seems to have responded to many nitty-gritty aspects of the project-based industries. After over a decade of somewhat stealth operation, Encompix has begun to make some noise in the North American midrange ETO ERP market, with the above-mentioned recent wins and product related initiatives. The company was founded as a consortium of several ETO companies and initially named ShopPro Software in 1992, with the aim of developing an integrated solution for job-based manufacturing companies. Then, ShopPro merged with Paradigm Integrators in 1996, to first form CDC Holdings, and eventually became Encompix, Inc. Since then, the privately-held company claims to have experienced rapid and profitable growth.

The company attributes that growth to its narrowly defined focus on discrete ETO manufacturers, which may belong to a raft of seemingly diverse discrete manufacturing industries (such as machinery, tooling and molds, industrial conveyers, aerospace, oil & gas equipment, industrial ovens, metal fabrication, etc.), but they all have similar business processes and issues. (For a discussion of these processes and issues see ERP Systems and the ETO Manufacturing Market. When one narrows this down to a selected few regions in North America, and to selected company sizes (e.g., a sweet spot of companies averaging $30 million (USD) in revenues and thirty-five concurrent users), the notion of a laser-sharp focus emerges. However, the company also likes its future outlook despite its seemingly narrow marketing opportunity, as it estimates approximately 7,000 mid-market prospective customers in its target geographies in the US Midwest, Northeast, West Coast, Southwest, and Canada.

With the touted (approximately) 80 percent success rate against its usual suspect direct competitors, such as Lilly Software, Jobscope, Made2Manage, Epicor (the Vantage product), MAPICS (the SyteLine product), Visibility, and Microsoft Business Solution (MBS) Solomon, and with the average implementation of 150 days, whereby the ratio of software license fee versus professional service cost is often 2:1. This translates into a contract price of less than $200,000 (USD) for thirty users, we tend to concur with the Encompix' bullish attitude. One should also bear in mind strong references amongst its 270 customers, many of which will have a similar profile to prospective customers in terms of size, industry, geographic location and so on, knowledgeable and experienced Encompix staff with decades long tenures with the vendor (the vendor sells only directly) and a well-attuned implementation methodology.

Encompix Strategy

Following on the recent contract wins, in the near future, Encompix plans to particularly target five US states in the Midwest (Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconson), which will be the center of its marketing campaigns and direct selling. The vendor expects this region to account for over 50percent of new sales revenue. The company also continues to expand the functionality of its Encompix product, which capabilities go beyond traditional ERP functionality, as evidenced by this latest enhancements bonanza. Advanced planning and scheduling (APS), with visual drag-and-drop capabilities, is an optional module, which was built for scheduling time of key resources, and which is more applicable in project environment than expected. It comes in handy with the shop-floor data collection module, which is also available.

As for the customer relationship management (CRM) capabilities, the vendor had started by offering integration to the Best Software's SalesLogix product, but it has often turned out to be overkill for the customers as they typically have very few customers. Thus, Encompix has been building a native CRM product that will link its contact management with quotation and service modules. This is a part of a long term service life cycle management (SLM) vision ranging from CRM to field service to enhance its customers' capability to deliver service at a profit (for more on the SLM concept, see Service Lifecycle Management - Tapping into the Value of the Product Aftermarket). This feat is envisioned through building on the existing Encompix Service Management application and its forthcoming CRM application.

Further, WebCenter is the Encompix collaborative e-commerce module, which might prove the suspicion that the ETO manufacturing world is not at the leading edge of technology adoption. Namely, although WebCenter has been available for several years, it has only recently seen customers more and more looking at adopting this technology. In the long term, the vendor also plans to develop a data warehousing application to enable its customers easier business intelligence (BI) and analytics capabilities. It currently partners with CorVu for executive information system (EIS), alerting and scorecard capabilities, such as the tools to identify the fastest moving spare parts, warranty trends as well as tools to maximize inventory turns and measure lead-time to fill orders. However, Encompix might also be looking at more sophisticated BI applications like Business Objects and MicroStrategy down the track Encompix' optional modules include, CorVu BI module, WebCenter e-commerce module, Configure One Product Configuration module, Encompix APS, the F9 financial reporting product, Best's ABRA human resource and payroll suite, and Aimasoft's BOMLink module for two-way CAD integration. All optional modules are integrated into the standard product offering.

While many of the these functionalities sound ordinary and appear to be offered by many vendors as "supported" when responding to RFIs, subsequent product demonstrations often reveals the need for some tweaking or even for a major modification in order to satisfy stringent customer requirements. As the expression goes, "the devil is always in details." On the contrary, Encompix allows users to estimate and quote an overall project using "buckets" of time or dollars, which enables enterprises to perform actual rollups. In other words, companies can track orders and projects and compare their progress to the original estimate, as well as to previous iterative changes, all in the "bucket" form, such as total engineering hours or total dollars. Many other systems that claim to be ETO-oriented can only track the current iteration.

This concludes Part One of a two-part note.

Part Two will discuss challenges and make user recommendations.

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