Epicor 9: Delivering What Oracle and Others Are Yet to Achieve? - Part 3

Part 1 of this blog series outlined Epicor 9 (a.k.a., Epicor ERP [evaluate this product]), Epicor Software’s next-generation converged product suite. A similar feat is yet to be accomplished even by mighty Oracle within Oracle Fusion Applications.

The article also discussed Epicor’s accompanying “protect, extend, and converge” strategy for providing customers with a migration path choice at their own timetable and convenience. The article then went on to dig deeper and explain a number of enabling technologies and concepts within Epicor 9, starting with Epicor BPM (Business Process Management).

Part 2 then analyzed the major enabling concepts and technologies within the product, such as Epicor ICE (Internet Component Environment) 2.0 Business Architecture, which is based on Epicor TrueSOA™ and includes the Epicor Everywhere Framework™. The article also dug deeper into the suite’s built-in business intelligence (BI) and enterprise performance management (EPM) capabilities.

Part 3 of this blog series analyzes further unconventional and nifty tools and technologies within Epicor 9, and concludes the series with some insights into the product’s future enhancements.

But Wait—There’s More…

This group of extra functionality starts with Epicor Enterprise Search, which is a "Google"-like mechanism for searching for information. This search appliance of a sort delivers secure, role-based results and permits further actions to be taken upon those search results.

As explained in TEC’s previous article “Why Enterprise Application Search Is Crucial to Your ERP System,” since search engines are a de facto means for finding what users need on the Web, why should enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems be any different? Enterprise search should get users quickly to the information they need, in the context of what they are doing, without needing to know how an ERP system works.

Epicor Enterprise Search uses Microsoft’s technology to combine both structured data (i.e., fields from Epicor’s database) and unstructured data (e.g., Microsoft Word documents, Adobe Acrobat PDF documents, Web pages, etc.) in searches. The tool can be invoked from anywhere to find information. Users do not consume a license unless they elect to link to an Epicor application (a particular session).

Related to search is the integral Epicor ECM (enterprise content management) capability that provides the ability to store and manage all Epicor application attachments as documents in Microsoft SharePoint. The module adds a level of document management system capabilities to storing attached data elements, such as version control and check-in/check-out. Epicor ECM is not a mere Microsoft SharePoint repository, since it also ensures effective management of all content and easy access to it using Epicor Enterprise Search.

Additionally, Epicor RSS Support is a nice-to-have feature that allows subscriptions to syndicated information in a Real Simple Syndication (RSS) manner. The tool allows users to subscribe to any data and have the system pro-actively push information to the user about changes. We are all used to this syndication outside ERP systems for getting timely updates, and now Epicor users can use the same easy mechanism within the application suite.

“Cloudy” Future

While the enterprise search capability is already fully available with Epicor 9, the cloud computing-based version is not yet ready, as the Azure Services Platform is not yet officially commercially available from Microsoft. Epicor 9’s business architecture (Epicor ICE, explained in Part 2) was designed to support any deployment scenario, so the product can be installed as on-premises software, hosted in a  single-tenant manner, or even delivered on-demand via multi-tenant installs.

As far as cloud computing goes, the entire Epicor 9 footprint is not yet Microsoft Azure-based, but might be over time. Epicor likes Azure as the platform as a service (PaaS) of choice, since it is based on the Microsoft .NET Framework. In other words, it should be reasonably easy to move the current Epicor 9 code to the cloud.

As of today, Epicor feels that more customers will want a hybrid combination (software plus services) approach and look for suitable cloud and software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications to add value to their vast premise-based ERP investments. The applications the vendor is currently enabling for Azure include the aforementioned Epicor Enterprise Search (to make use of the utility capacity of infrastructure as a service [IaaS]) and the Epicor Everywhere Framework that was explained in Part 2 (essentially with system performance benefits from hosting the Web server in the cloud). In my view, other likely candidates for the cloud could include Epicor’s supplier relationship management (SRM) applications as alluded to in my previous blog post on Epicor SRM.

Enabling and Running “Business Without Barriers”

Another major trait that Epicor 9 brings is the product’s global and multinational capabilities, which is in contrast to most of its brethren products’ regional focus. To that end, the Epicor Global Business Management module provides a means for creating a single virtual enterprise, as well as the essential tools needed to create and maintain a “single version of the truth.” Regardless of how the customer’s business is distributed or where the business goes in the world, Epicor 9 was designed to keep it all in synch for seamless operation and total visibility of the enterprise.

Thus, the Multicompany and Global Multisite Management capabilities provide support for centralized and distributed functions and processes across distributed operations, and transactions between them. The modules support intercompany trading, centralized purchasing, global credit checking, company-wide forecasting, local pricing, and more capabilities, all in real time. The idea here is to ensure that all business entities and operations can be handled appropriately and securely, and consolidated with ease, as required.

For its part, the Epicor MDM (Master Data Management) module establishes which data will be passed between the distributed enterprise and to external systems and businesses. The module ensures that master data meets regulatory requirements, and is secure and up-to-date, all of which leads to greater customer satisfaction, operational efficiency, and overall business performance. While the MDM capability is typically found within tier-one offerings at extra cost, Epicor 9 features the stewardship of master data as standard, keeping everything in synch automatically.

Furthermore, Epicor Distributed Deployment provides a complete logical and physical business distribution across hardware and networks. Customers have the choice of deploying either centrally on a single server/single database or on multiple databases/multiple servers around the world. The distributed deployment enables the system management capability of a highly distributed enterprise to act as a single logical entity regardless of its IT deployment choices.

Last but not least, the Epicor Multilingual Data Management feature enables simultaneous support within the application for users speaking different languages. The capability facilitates companies’ growth into new regions by supporting country-specific language needs. Languages are maintained in a separate layer, making them easy to migrate between versions.

It is worth noting that Epicor 9 is already available in 28 countries and in 16 languages, and those figures are expected to increase to 40 countries and 23 languages by end of 2009. That scale of adaptability (i.e., “virtualized, always on, run anywhere” regardless of country, industry, or access device) has reportedly been achieved by Epicor “drinking its own champagne” – i.e., the combination of service oriented architecture (SOA) components, abstraction layers, Web 2.0, and other Epicor ICE 2.0 features.

It is indeed unfortunate that this colossal investment and product delivery have coincided with the current economic downturn. Epicor 9 has thus far likely resulted in somewhat less revenue to Epicor’s top line than the vendor had initially hoped.

On the other hand, Epicor staffers keep telling me that they would much rather be facing this down market with Epicor 9 than without it. The vendor started that investment about five years ago. Although it’s no fun to launch a great product in a recession, it has really helped Epicor differentiate itself compared to other vendors that do not have much new and exciting to offer.

Back to Epicor SRM

In light of my recent blog series on the standalone Epicor SRM product and given Epicor 9’s best-of-everything functional footprint approach, I was a bit surprised that the Epicor Procurement module was not included (rewritten) in Epicor 9. Epicor believes that Epicor 9 has basic requisitioning features that suffice for many of its customers.

Namely, expense and general spend management is as important today as it has ever been and is a real focus area for Epicor customers. To that end, Epicor 9 has comprehensive request for quotation (RFQ), requisitioning, and buyer workbench capabilities built-in as standard. For many of Epicor's customers, these capabilities help them manage their supply chain operations effectively.

What these features perhaps do not do so well is overtly support customers’ corporate social responsibility (CSR)/governance, risk management, and compliance (GRC) initiatives or advanced strategic sourcing plans. Epicor Advanced Quality Management (AQM), which is an add-on module coming from Epicor Vantage, is effective at supplier conformance/compliance management and is a key element of Epicor’s overall production management and GRC capabilities. Epicor Sourcing is already available as an add-on capability to Epicor 9, which can help buyers with CSR/GRC (i.e. requiring bidding suppliers to meet certain non-price related requirements such as quality certifications, use of recycled materials, efficient transportation routes, etc.)

However, many existing Epicor customers and prospects might still want something more from the add-on Epicor Procurement product. In one of the future planned major releases for Epicor 9, Epicor anticipates it will rewrite Procurement on the ICE 2.x platform. In the meantime, I expect that Epicor’s prospective or existing customers will have to perform a standard Epicor Service Connect integration between Epicor Procurement and Epicor 9. Both the Procurement and Epicor 9 products already use Epicor Service Connect for other integrations.

Epicor Service Connect is an application (part of the Epicor Productivity Pyramid mentioned in Part 1) that orchestrates processes (workflows) at a more macro level, usually between applications (instead of within applications, where Epicor BPM plays a role, as mentioned in Part 1). For example, Service Connect would be used to bring transactions from another system into Epicor 9 (or vice versa).

The integration solution supports input and output channels of extensible markup language (XML) and Web services as well as flat-file databases and e-mail messages. Epicor Service Connect has a comprehensive data transformation capability where users can map the fields in one data entity to another and transform it (i.e., truncate, append, calculate, lookup, etc.) as needed. On the Service Connect design canvas, users can drag and drop elements and tie them together in a workflow, including application parts, decision points, and human intervention, if desired.

Dear readers, what are your views, comments, and opinions about Epicor’s lofty strategy? If you are an existing user, I would appreciate you sharing your experiences with any Epicor solution mentioned above or the company in general.
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