Product Review: Epicor 9 Delivers Next Generation Apps Capabilities Today
Epicor Succeeds On Delivering A Converged Product Line
Epicor's latest release, Epicor 9, provides a proof point that an acquisition intensive vendor can keep their promises to both acquire and deliver on innovation. Under the themes of "Protect, Extend, and Converge", the Irvine, CA based mid-market software provider committed to its customers to support prior releases, standardize key apps and infrastructure to deliver common solutions, and complete a super set solution.
Epicor 9 became generally available (GA) as of December 10th, 2008. After almost 11 months in the market, most customers and prospects confirm that Epicor has delivered on their three promises. More importantly, they have achieved a converged super set of solutions from Avante, Clientele, DataFlo, Enterprise, Manage 2000, ManFact, iScala, Vista, and Vantage. Key suites in Epicor 9 include:
- Financial management
- Customer relationship management (CRM)
- Sales management
- Production management
- Supply chain management (SCM)
- Planning and scheduling
- Product data management
- Service management
- Human capital management (HCM)
- Enterprise performance management (EPM)
Point of view (POV): Epicor's business strategy to grow via acquisition may seem to mirror the business models of Oracle, Infor, and Sage. However, Epicor is the first to deliver on a converged solution while supporting all existing releases. This is no small feat as the first phase of convergence brings together the largest base of its acquired products. In addition, Epicor consolidates a multitude of Microsoft and Progress technology platforms via ICE 2.0, an SOA based foundational middleware. Epicor rolled out Epicor 9 with significant beta testing from 70 customers and 13 partners.
Phase 2 of the convergence strategy will most likely involve the Epicor Retail line and Epicor's Enterprise Services Automation. Other details of Phase 2 may involve greater adoption of the Azure platform for delivery in a Software plus Services model.
ICE Architecture Bridges The Gap Between Web 2.0 Innovations And Enterprise Class Requirements
ICE 2.0 is Epicor's business architecture built to SOA design principles and Web 2.0 sensibilities. As a next generation middleware, ICE 2.0 separates the applications layer from the presentation and logic layers - enabling flexibility to update and modify the middleware and presentation layer at separate times from the applications through different release cycles. Server and client logic outputs as business services that can be made available and modified by users. These loosely coupled business services improve connectivity and integration and carries critical XML metadata. Users benefit from much desired Web 2.0 capabilities that support application to application integration and business to business collaboration (see Figure 1).
Figure 1. Epicor Innovations Stem From Strong Middleware Foundation In ICE 2.0
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(Source: Epicor Software)
Consequently, ICE 2.0 delivers on many of the 10 elements of Social Enterprise Apps and includes dynamic user experiences, business process focus, and community connectedness. Key tools include a technology platform based in Microsoft .NET and business logic via Progress' Open Edge offering. On the usability front, Epicor 9 addresses role based design, consistent experiences, and contextual and relevant delivery of information through:
- Improved user experience. Epicor 9 takes advantage of new Microsoft Office UI/UX paradigms and portal design elements to provide themes, styles, skins, tooltip controls, drag-and-drop designs, and floating palettes & previews. Users may also drill into and around reports and data. Key personalization features include favorite groups, sheet and toolbar layouts, options windows, short cut bars, and a theme maintenance wizard.
POV: Users immediately gravitate towards the Office- styled ribbons. Leveraging the XML schema, Epicor Portal enables role specific content and allows users to craft queries and personalize access to information. Personalization capabilities smartly tie back to the user ID and persist throughout all solutions.
- Consistent user experience. Regardless of the user interface, customization and user personalization remains intact because everything starts from the same meta data. Consequently, Epicor 9 can run on a C#.NET Smart Client, any web client, and mobile devices on platforms such as Blackberry, Windows Mobile, Symbian, and Apple iPhone
POV: Epicor's Everywhere Framework smartly stores client business logic as XML metadata and generates AJAX base forms. This allows client agnostic rendering of the apps in any UI presentation layer and personalization format using the same source code. The result - a consistent user experience across any channel and even operating system.
- Business Activity Management (BAM). BAM tools enable users to track changes, create even triggers, and send alerts based on parameters and rules. Out of the box, Epicor 9 supports auto print reports or labels, BAM rules, change logs, custom global alerts, and custom procedure extensions.
POV: BAM tools provide contextual and relevant delivery of information across the enterprise. By being able to monitor changes to database fields and tables, useful alerts can be set up for scenarios such as a customer exceeding a credit limit, a workflow approval that's on hold because of a approver's vacation, or the automation of defined and common outcomes.
- Software-as-a-Service. Customers can choose among various deployment options from on-premise, hosted, to multi-tenant SaaS. Epicor 9 is designed to support multi-tenancy and metadata configuration.
POV: Today's mid-market organizations share strong opinions on whether or not to take a SaaS deployment option or stay on-premise. For this reason, Epicor wisely offers a choice to its customer. Unlike most of Epicor's competitors, Epicor 9 delivers a true SaaS solution because it supports multiple customers sharing a single shared instance.
On the business process side, Epicor 9 meets key criteria in configurability and adaptability, outcome focused & results oriented, and proactive - predictive - actionable categories with:
- Business process management (BPM). Epicor BPM exposes all business services so customers can apply business rules, monitor actions, and modify processes. The system uses a Microsoft Outlook style rules engine which allows business users to make changes without painful customization or coding. Users can define actions, condition statements, holds, and set data triggers.
POV: Next generation apps utilize BPM tools to enforce controls and enhance policies and processes. Epicor provides a rich BPM tool that not only extends base capabilities without customizations but also saves time and money by reusing common established processes. Existing users find the system easy to use and note the ease of use with HTML e-mail formats, Microsoft .NET Action Content, Property Bag Support, and XML Data Nodes.
- Epicor Service Connect. Using the graphical workflow designer, users can map out and modify business processes. The system automates business processes such as task assignments, logical routing, and human interaction points. Epicor Service Connect delivers on message based SOA through XML messages and mapping and leaving a complete audit trail.
POV: Customers who have used Service Connect rave about the ease of use in copying and sharing common processes. The system makes these changes without modifying source code and the Visio-like usability is key to its successful adoption. Customers benefit from BPM without the complexity.
- Role based dashboards provide actionable insight. Users are treated to a series of role based interactive dashboards. Dashboards take advantage of Microsoft UI metaphors such as the outlook navigation pane and ribbons. Users can drill into and around data, export to excel, make changes, and come back to the same screens. Role based security at the field level ensures the protection of confidential information. More importantly, the dashboards support offline disconnected scenarios as well as mobile EPM delivery.
POV: Users immediately find value in the support for ad-hoc reports, monitoring tools, workbenches, and alerting capabilities. Existing Epicor users will take for granted the large number of out of the box reports. New customers will be surprised by the quality and relevance of the 100 dashboards and 250+ key performance indicators (KPIs).
On the community connectedness end, Epicor 9 meets many of the key criteria to engage stakeholders, foster collaboration, and provide enterprise class security via:
- Epicor Information Worker integrates with Microsoft Office technologies. Information worker usability leverages Office Business Applications. Users improve access to business data through this desktop productivity solution and can work in native applications such as Outlook, Word, and Excel. Other key features include disconnected lists and offline transaction support.
POV: Most users expect Microsoft Office integration but remain disappointed with what's been delivered by most vendors to date. Clients express amazement with the ability to use Epicor Portal to work within Office and execute actions that propagate into Epicor 9.
- Epicor Enterprise Search. The solution builds off of Microsoft Search capabilities such as SQL Full Text indexing to return structured results such as Epicor data and unstructured information such as a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. Search results can be ordered by relevance and tuned to meet role based requirements and priorities. Key features include advanced searches, business activity query searches, named searches, and user configurable quick searches.
POV: Users gain quicker access to information resulting in increased productivity and knowledge sharing. Existing clients enjoy the tag clouds and ability to directly access the application from the search results.
- Epicor Presence and RSS. Out of the box support for really simple syndication (RSS) feeds gives users the ability to consume information at their own pace. Support for presence will enable collaboration via tools such as instant messaging (IM). Key containers include the Windows Gadgets and the Outlook Syndicated Content Directory within Microsoft Office.
POV: With growing use in mobile form factors, expect presence capabilities to play a greater role as next generation apps incorporate this design element. Support for RSS feeds delivers on a key Enterprise 2.0 capability representative of next generation apps. Most users will access this via the Epicor Portal or Outlook to monitor any changes to subscribed topics or sources.
Layered Client Stack In ICE 2.0 Provides Flexibility Across Markets, Sizes, and Industries
The Epicor layered client stack provides a key framework for organizations and partners to make modifications regardless of business size, country and industries. The seven levels include:
- Base Form - provides the foundational source
- Productization - allows different editions of Epicor 9 to be created
- Verticalization - stores industry specific functionality and terminology
- Localization - delivers geo specific capabilities and terminology
- Extension - gives partners and orgs the ability to change look and feel
- Customization - supports standard customization capabilities
- Personalization - allows end users to make modifications to their environment
POV: Through the layered stack, Partners and companies claim that Epicor 9 is easy to modify and provides a strong framework to deliver last-mile solutions. Technically inclined business users can also use Epicor Composite Applications to create mash-ups that bring web forms, analytical web parts, search queries into a portal served up in Microsoft Office SharePoint Server. Key industries with deep support include:
- Aerospace and defense
- Consumer goods
- Electronics and electrical equipment
- Fabricated metals
- Financial services
- Furniture and fixtures
- Industrial machinery
- Measuring and controlling devices
- Medical devices
- Primary metals
- Rubber and plastics
- Stone, clay, glass, and concrete
Epicor 9 Designed For Organizations With Global Requirements And Ambitions
Epicor 9 provides growing mid-market companies, subsidiaries of large enterprises, and aspiring ventures capabilities to conduct global commerce. Key capabilities include:
- Global Engines. Epicor ships a number of global engines designed to support global deployment and adoption. Using a series of interlocking global engines, configuration rules determine postings, regulatory support, tax rules, rounding, books, and multi-currency. For example, the global posting engine provides rule based capability. The global tax engine supports country and local specific tax rules.
POV: With each country roll-out and localization, Epicor enables the mid-market organization to span geographies while meeting key regulatory and local requirements. Even domestic companies with expansion aspirations will gain the capacity to truly conduct global business.
- Global Capabilities. On the localization front, the solution currently supports 18+ languages for 30+ countries delivering unicode and double byte support throughout the product. Mulit-currency addresses exchange rate effective dates and multi-book integration. Multi-company supports intercompany requirements. User's can determine their language as a personalization preference.
POV: Epicor currently supports a limited number of localizations with a goal of 30 languages in 50 countries by 2010. However, partners have been able to cost-effectively and rapidly deliver on localizations due to the configurability of Epicor 9.
- Global Multisite Management. Organizations with federated production or distribution capabilities and centralized shared services can take advantage of the multisite capabilities for key areas such as financial consolidation, forecasts, inter-company trading, plant scheduling, and global customer management. Multisite management allows customers to synchronize master data and goods across multiple sites.
POV: Multisite capabilities are often provided as workarounds. Epicor's approach applies an SOA philosophy to supporting this level of complexity. Support for visibility across multiple facilities gives Epicor 9 the ability to move into the large enterprise space over time.
Customer feedback to date has been mostly positive.
As with each new release, beta customer often find the bugs and unexpected deployment issues. Most complaints about Epicor 9 come from clients who chose to self implement or provide a considerable amount of implementation resources. Not surprisingly, early issues focused on a need for more detailed documentation, best practices, and Microsoft technology skill sets required to self deploy. With almost a year under their belt, newer customers have mostly expressed satisfaction with the productivity gains, ease of use, and ability to scale up as their business expands.
The Bottom Line For Customers - Consider Epicor 9 For Mid-Market Organizations And Subsidiaries/Divisions of Large Enterprises
Continued enterprise software vendor consolidation has resulted in limited choices for enterprise. Vendors such as Epicor who acquire, streamline, and adequately reinvest will most likely emerge as leaders in their markets. Epicor 9 provides customers seeking an alternative to large enterprise apps force fit to meet mid-market requirements. As customers consider replacement strategies for old generation enterprise apps, Epicor 9 should be considered in short lists for vendor selection. Organizations betting on Microsoft platforms will also want to evaluate other offerings built on Microsoft .NET tools and technologies to gauge their level of adoption and sophistication. In general Epicor meets the key needs that SMB organizations have expressed (see Figure 2.)
Figure 2. Mid-market organizations seek enterprise class solutions but lack the resources to support complex deployments
The Bottom Line For Vendors - Middleware Matters, Invest or Perish
Enablement of Social Enterprise Apps and their related Enterprise 2.0 capabilities require rich middleware platforms. In each advancement from mainframe, mini-computer, client server, web based, to this current phase of social enterprise apps or social business solutions, vendors who wait to late to invest will relegate themselves to the has-been pile of vendor companies who failed to make it. (e.g. Burroughs, Wang, Control Data, MSA, McCormack and Dodge, etc.). Success and survival requires a software vendor to deliver across the 10 elements of Social Enterprise Apps in the next 2 to 3 years.
Quick Facts: Epicor Software
Location: HQ in Irvine, CA, globally located in 50 countries
Revenues: FY 2008 $495M
Are you on Epicor 9? In the midst of a vendor selection for a mid-market ERP solution? Any problems and issues? Let us know how to assist or please post or send on your comments to rwang0 (at) gmail (dot) com or r (at) altimetergroup (dot) com and we’ll keep your anonymity.
Copyright © 2009 R Wang. All rights reserved.