Epicor Claims The Forefront Of CRM.NET-ification Part 1

Epicor Epicor Claims The Forefront Of CRM.NET-ification
P.J. Jakovljevic & L. Talarico - June 11, 2002

Event Summary

On May 21, Epicor Software Corporation (NASDAQ: EPIC), one of leading providers of integrated enterprise and e-Business and collaborative commerce software solutions solely for the mid-market, announced Clientele Customer Support 8.0, the first application of the Clientele CRM.NET Suite that is completely built on the architecture of the Microsoft .NET Platform. Clientele Customer Support 8.0 is envisioned to provide a "hands/administrator free" deployment model allowing the application to be distributed from a single Web site. In addition, product updates, enhancements and new releases will from now on be automatically deployed to the client. This allows businesses to cut down on expensive client/server administrative time and thereby enhance overall operational efficiencies and return on investment (ROI). In BETA release since May 1, 2002, Clientele Customer Support 8.0 is currently expected to be generally available to customers mid-year, 2002. Epicor intends to deliver additional applications in the Clientele CRM.NET suite, including sales and marketing, over the next twelve months.

Epicor's new .NET CRM architecture should provide businesses with the ability to take advantage of all the benefits that extensible markup language (XML) Web services potentially can offer, including access to needed information anytime, anywhere and from virtually any device. Going beyond simply offering products compatible with Microsoft .NET servers such as SQL Server 2000 and IIS 5.0, as many other products have in the past been claimed as ".NET compliant", Clientele CRM.NET utilizes the Microsoft .NET Platform to create an application built using Web services. The new .NET CRM architecture should therefore afford Clientele customers new levels of flexibility and customization, easier application integration and lower total cost of ownership (TCO). The new Clientele release provides the same CRM functionality in use today at thousands of Clientele customer sites, but it has been completely re-architected using the Microsoft .NET Platform.

In addition to the new architecture, the Customer Self-Service Portal, a companion to Clientele Customer Support 8.0, provides customers access to account information via the Web to access a wide variety of account information including call logs, service agreements, and account balances at any time of day. Used as an additional channel for customer support, the Self-Service Portal could provide a benefit of ensuring customers are getting the information they need, when they need it. The Customer Self-Service Portal is also built on a .NET based portal framework that is fully integrated with Clientele Customer Support 8.0. Additionally, by using Microsoft Visual Studio .NET as its single, standard customization tool, Clientele Customer Support 8.0 should minimize proprietary development learning curves. This is in contrast to many CRM products that currently use specialized development toolsets that require expensive consultants and training, which increases the cost of deployment and makes customization impractical. The enhanced customization model enabled by .NET means custom features can be isolated from source code, so that future upgrades and migrations do not overwrite custom changes.

To support the claim of Clientele's traditionally strong CRM functionality across the board - integrating sales, marketing and support departments - on May 8, Epicor cited that Geac Restaurant Systems, a provider of point-of-sale (POS), back office reconciliation and inventory control software for 11,000 restaurants uses ClienteleNet. This division of Geac Computer Corporation Limited (TSE: GAC), one of Epicor's competitors in the ERP space, stays on top of call management and problem resolution solution for supporting external customers by using Clientele Customer Support and ClienteleNet. ClienteleNet, a Web-based application used in conjunction with Clientele Customer Support, gives Geac's customers access to call history information, and, with the AnswerBook feature, the ability to search in an online knowledgebase for solutions to common support problems as well as submit new questions to the support team.

This is Part One of a two-part analysis of news from Epicor. Part Two continues to examine the Market Impact and makes User Recommendations.

Market Impact

Unfazed by its partner-competitor Microsoft's blatant intrusion into the enterprise applications space (see Microsoft Throws .NET At SMEs, With CRM As Bait and Microsoft 'The Great' Poised To Conquer Mid-Market, Once and Again), Epicor has accepted the challenge of co-opetition and has decided to bet on its strong CRM heritage and identity, which has possibly been sidelined amongst many brand names/products that emerged during last few years of now proverbial merger of its ancestors, former Platinum Software and DataWorks.

Epicor seems to have fruitfully refocused on its core areas following the turmoil of the merger and steep revenue decline due to other relevant factors (i.e., soft economy and product divestitures) in addition to the above-mentioned internal tumult. Although the acquisition initially made Epicor one of the largest mid-market ERP vendors (with ~$250 million in 1999) and the company thereby gained some strong products and a large customer base in a number of new markets, especially in the realm of manufacturing, distribution and supply chain management (SCM), the burden of an unfocused, multi-product and multi-technology (Microsoft, Oracle, Progress Software, etc.) strategy in markets with diverse dynamics had also bloated sales, R&D, and service & support costs, while many of these products could not have sustained long-term success in their respective target markets.

The divestiture of some secondary product lines (see Latest Development on Epicor's Trying The Divestiture Tack) has therefore allowed Epicor to lately concentrate solely on developing applications and functions based on Microsoft's .NET technology framework and SQL Server database. Consequently, it is more likely Epicor will succeed in integrating its internally developed applications by concurrently expanding its Web services and collaborative commerce capabilities.

With its solid cash position and current development work in progress for contemporary Internet-based, 'software as a service' ERP and collaborative commerce applications, and given its intentions to continue to sell both directly and indirectly with accredited partner system implementers, a return to prosperity does not seem as a far-fetched possibility for Epicor. Attempting differentiation, Epicor will continue to invest in its products in order to assemble the right mix of back-office, front-office, and collaborative e-Business functions, delivered under a single-point accountability (one-stop shop) approach that is desired by its target market.

One may also note that some of its more advanced modules, like advanced planning and scheduling (APS), have been sold via OEM agreements by other software vendors. The company will particularly strive to make the similar success with its Clientele CRM product. While Epicor is continuing to develop its core enterprise applications, it is also building a 'collaborative framework' to allow on-line collaboration, XML-based Web services allowing user-definable/preferred presentation interfaces may it be rich Windows client, web browser, or wireless application protocol (WAP).

The R&D effort with Clientele is, nonetheless, only a harbinger for what is coming for the next generation of all Epicor's product lines throughout next year and beyond, with new web-based technology that exposes all the business rules and logic (via XML and BizTalk) as web services, and one should expect that in the long term (although quite a long term) the suites will converge in this way.

This completes Part One of a two-part analysis of recent news from Epicor. Part Two will continue to examine the Market Impact and make User Recommendations.

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