Epicor Insights 2014–Raising the ERP Game

Epicor’s recently appointed new CEO Joe Cowan started his keynote presentation at the recent Epicor Insights 2014 conference in Las Vegas by comparing rock bands and enterprise software vendors—both are only as good as their latest release and both are always striving to raise their game.
The major “game raising” news at Epicor Insights 2014 was the availability of Epicor ERP version 10 (and the underlying Epicor ICE 3.0 architecture). This release seems to be about “cleaning the house” and becoming fully Microsoft-centric (the Progress OpenEdge database and development platform is out), with better scalability, speed/performance, interoperability, and extensibility than Epicor ERP version 9 and Vantage/Vista 8.0, and the ability to go after larger global companies as a result. Also, the newest version should make upgrades easier and offer more simplicity and ease of use.
Epicor ERP version 10
Figure 1: Epicor home screen (click for larger images)
Epicor ERP 10 was designed based on five principles: collaboration, choice, responsiveness, simplicity, and mobility, and promises to help organizations work better, both internally and externally. It comes with a streamlined experience across multiple devices and expanded deployment choices—on-premise, cloud, or managed service. The new touch- and gesture-enabled consumer-like UI is designed to work with touch screen devices (see Figure 1).
During the analyst pre-briefing, Cowan and John Hiraoka, Epicor’s chief marketing officer (CMO), admitted that Epicor did not try to do too much at once with Epicor ERP 10 (as the company did with Epicor ERP 9/ICE 2.0, and then had quality and performance issues—users would often have to reboot), and involved customers earlier in the process via improved development methodology, an extended beta program, and more quality testing. The main mantras at Epicor lately seem to be “engaging more with customers” and “reworking all processes around customers,” such as research and development (R&D), sales, implementation, service, etc.
Epicor’s new flagship enterprise resource planning (ERP) offering is a blend of rich global functionality built on agile technology that eliminates complexity to make ERP easier to use, more collaborative, and more responsive, while supporting today’s business imperatives: social collaboration, deployment flexibility, accelerated performance, and broad device accessibility (see Figure 2). Some customers are already live with Epicor ERP version 10, including Allambi Youth Services, Boers & Co Fine Metalworking Group, Cylicron Engineered Cylinders LLC, Enpress LLC, Habasit America, Hallmark Building Supplies, Humtown Products, MK Products, and XT (previously Xstrata Technology). Epicor ERP 10 is available in 35 languages and 26 countries worldwide.

Figure 2: Epicor 10's 5 key principles
A significant Epicor ERP 10 new enhancement is the Commerce Connect platform, which uses rewritten e-commerce intellectual property that came with the Solarsoft acquisition and leverages Magento. Epicor has always had a number of disparate e-commerce products (its own and partners’), but the Commerce Connect platform can now be used both as a turnkey and for customized uses (to create unique consumer stores) via e-commerce consultants.
With Epicor ERP version 10 companies gain a technology platform that can support them as they conduct business on any device, anytime, anywhere in the world. Epicor has long had multi-OS mobility, but now Windows developers can write mobile apps in Visual Studio and port them onto Android and iOS operating systems, in addition to Windows Phone 8.

Figure 3: Epicor Mobile
Epicor’s new ICE 3.0 framework is fully .NET-based and thus much faster than its predecessors. ICE 3.0 resembles the Salesforce1 or Infor10x platforms—all have done things right when it comes to mobility and extensibility for all constituencies (end users, administrators, developers, partners, etc.). Consumer-grade search anywhere capabilities in ICE 3.0 enables users to do cross-company searches, drill down into live information, and call and return data from any application in context, all from their own view into the ERP system.
Epicor ERP 10 embodies the evolution to a fully socialized system of engagement, as Epicor Social Enterprise (formerly referred to as “activity streams”) delivers an extensive collaboration and personalization environment. For example, activity streams like Tweetdeck, where a user can not only follow things like invoices, shipments, and orders, but also chat with others in context of an event or item. Epicor Social Enterprise users are thus able to effectively and efficiently handle information overload through activity stream management, following application data or people alerts on an ad-hoc basis. Paul Farrell, EVP of R&D at Epicor, demonstrated at Insights 2014 how to take action directly from activity streams. Social streams are integrated with ERP data and in context on every screen (see Figure 4). In the future, one could have Business Activity Queries (BAQs) driving results into the activity stream as well. Another future direction is going tabular in database and using Microsoft SQL Server’s in-memory capabilities, which will hopefully become more affordable to regular mid-market users over time.

Figure 4: Epicor Social Enterprise
Other “Raising the Game” Aspects
Epicor has also recently attracted a number of notable senior executives, such as Donna Troy (formerly at SAP SME), who is now running Epicor ERP Americas; Craig McCollum (formerly at Sage and Microsoft Dynamics) as executive vice president and general manager for  retail distribution; and Noel Goggin (formerly at RedPrairie/JDA Software),who now heads up Epicor Retail.
CEO Cowan was very frank in his presentation at Insights 2014 when it came to business issues, admitting that Epicor should be a much stronger global company (Epicor is still not very present in some countries in Latin America and Europe) with higher license growth (currently licensing is only 15 percent of total revenues). The company’s growth strategy is as follows: go upmarket, go into emerging markets, and go to more verticals via partners (since the ERP 10 platform is now leaner and more extensible). One way to get much higher software vs. service revenue ratio is via getting more sales and implementations via the channel (currently only about one-quarter come from the channel). Also, fewer customizations and shorter implementations mean less consulting revenue. The question, however, is how can Epicor be an attractive practice to global consultancies and system integrators such as Deloitte or Accenture, if it is working on less customizations and more out of the box (OOTB) functionality?

Epicor ERP vs. Epicor Retail

Epicor ERP America’s Donna Troy spoke at Epicor Insights about pleasing customers with easier upgrades, simplicity, and more functionality. One aspect of simplicity is the new graphical business process management (BPM) designer (see Figure 5).

Figure 5: Business Process Management Workflow Designer
Manufacturing-wise, the Mattec manufacturing execution system (MES) from Solarsoft (acquired by Epicor in late 2012) is now integrated within ICE 3.0/ERP 10. From Solarsoft also came Informance for enterprise manufacturing intelligence (EMI), which will also be integrated within ICE 3.0 down the track. This should be a nice feature for manufacturing customers (Epicor Insights attendees could see a demo of Mattec MES monitoring multiple Afinia 3D Printing operations at the expo floor—see Figure 6). This and the aforementioned mobility enhancements are obvious paths for Epicor into the Internet of Things (IoT) realm.

Figure 6: Mattec MES on the expo floor
Epicor’s ERP and Retail divisions are making similar moves to engage with customers, but are still separate businesses, and will likely continue to be so (the HCM suite from the Spectrum HR acquisition is standalone and can be integrated to both ERP and retail, but it reports within the ERP group). The retail division, accounting for about one-third of total Epicor revenues, seems to have much larger customers and a more established channel, but is currently largely North American.
Epicor's retail strength is evident, with its 500 brands as customers, equitably represented in Tier 1, 2, and 3 retail segments, and Epicor is number one with respect to the point of sale (POS) software market share. Epicor Retail is going more and more towards a single platform and a single business logic (integrating e-commerce and back-office databases), i.e., a single view of customer, order, promotion, return, etc. via any touch point (see Figure 7). The company is also working feverishly on delivering omni-channel enterprise order management capabilities, to be like a “lite” version of IBM Sterling Order Management, i.e., much simpler to use.

Figure 7: Epicor Retail Platform
And Epicor has a new “Engage – Transform – Inspire” strategy for retail customers. Engage is about involving customers in retail councils, user groups, etc. to provide more input and direction, as well as providing value engineering and case studies to prospects (à la SAP) with potential high value projects. Transform is along the lines as the Epicor ERP group’s pursuit: agile implementation technology, agile R&D, deployment choice (cloud, hybrid, on-premise), expanding partner ecosystem (especially globally), and having a single platform with shared business logic (product, sales, payment, inventory, orders, customers, etc.). It is also about providing vertical solutions and trying to convert customer customizations into core features, both of which should result with quicker implementations. Last but not least, Inspire is about helping retail customers inspire their own customers with their brand experience. One should like Epicor's chances here, as a viable alternative to SAP, Oracle, JDA, IBM, Microsoft, and other retail heavy-hitters.

Epicor ERP 10 a Brave Step Towards Solving Past Issues
Epicor ERP 10 appears to be a stability release that finally removes the Progress layer. One should imagine that Microsoft SQL Server 2014 is up to the job, as Epicor has likely done plenty of performance testing. The long reliance on Progress OpenEdge was definitely an issue and precluded an all-in-the-cloud move in the way that was wanted. This release should make it easier to shift deployment model to Windows Azure Cloud.
But where the things are still unclear for us is integration with and roadmaps for the various ERP products on somewhat older Microsoft technologies and even non-Microsoft technologies (i.e., former SolarSoft’s CMS ERP on System i and AVP packaging ERP on Progress). Think also of iScala, Prophet 21, Eclipse, Prelude, Tropos process ERP, LumberTrack, Avante, Manage2000, Dataflo, etc. It is likely some of them will be rejuvenated and unbundled into services so that there could be integration to ICE3 and Epicor ERP 10. Also, the deployment choice, hybrid, will help with keeping these legacy offerings on premise with new modules being deployed in the cloud. iScala is likely to get such due attention, given that the product still has some defendable niches, especially in hospitality. Also, Epicor has learned from iScala how to develop global ERP products, while the Epicor Service Connect middleware within ICE also came from iScala.
Apparently, Progress took the bad news on its chin without much fuss, and was even sponsoring the event and featured its Rollbase platform as a service (PaaS). However, 30 percent of Epicor ERP 9 users are still on Progress (while that percentage is even higher with Vantage/Vista 7 and 8 users). Epicor plans to offer them financial incentives to migrate to SQL Server, but it is not all about money, as there is the inconvenience factor and learning .NET (versus the Progress ABL language). Apparently, many Progress users have been using the popular SAP Crustal Reports as well, and are not too thrilled with moving to SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS), the latter being already on Azure but currently without feature parity. Also, it is an open secret that Microsoft’s SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS) will likely never go to Azure Cloud, as Microsoft’s cloud business intelligence (BI) offering will likely be Power BI, which would mean yet another migration and re-learning down the track.
Epicor’s customer relationship management (CRM) offering is not market leading—Clientele is a legacy CRM product, while Epicor had at some stage even considered embedding Microsoft Dynamics CRM into ERP 9. The decision was then made to add CRM within Epicor ERP, but those capabilities are just good enough for manufacturers. The situation is different on the Epicor Retail side, where the CRM-Clienteling module is quite strong, and future capabilities are to include social media integration and location-based marketing.
In conclusion, Epicor has bitten the bullet and taken brave steps towards solving some issues that have plagued it in the past. If the company can solve quality and performance issues and move away from some negative past publicity that market observers and competitors have occasionally talked about, it should continue to fiercely compete in the ERP and retail segments. Let’s also hope that the more recent news about Epicor being put up for sale by its current owners will not be much of an unnecessary distraction.
Related Reading
Epicor Retail: Behind the Counter (April 2012)
Epicor 9: Delivering What Oracle and Others Are Yet to Achieve? (August 2009)
The (Perhaps Not So Sudden) Change of CEO at Epicor (October 2013)
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