Epicor ERP Software
Upgrading Your Inside Sales & Customer Service Teams

As business professionals, no matter the industry, when we are looking for efficiency, additional sales opportunities and better ways to do business, we usually look to upgrade our system (e.g., implementation of ERP, CRM, etc.), or our processes (though process improvement), but very rarely do we ever look to upgrade our employees, through skills enhancements.

The process of upgrading our employees requires a two-pronged approach: Upgrading through skill set improvement, and the much less comfortable upgrading through replacement (which will not be covered here). Both upgrade paths can yield significant improvements in our company’s efficiencies, allowing for higher output and having a direct impact on profitability.

Why Upgrade?
In the case of industrial distributors, for decades, they have been family owned and family run.  While many of these companies still exist and are profitable, there are even more distributors that have grown, or have been acquired, and are part of a much larger global organization. But the type of employee and the skill level of these employees have yet to be looked at and improved.  Let’s explore a real-world example of how a simple skill improvement can drastically improve efficiency.

Most distributors have large customers with special annual contract pricing.  Each year, those prices need to be tweaked, usually as a result of the distributor’s suppliers raising their prices.  Inside Sales or Customer Service is quite often tasked with the spreadsheet side of the project.  This involves:

  1. A spreadsheet of the previous year’s sales
  2. A spreadsheet of all the supplier brands the customer buys from the distributor and the expected price increase (expressed as a percentage)
  3. Merging the two spreadsheets and formatting the result before sending it to the individual responsible for setting the new price (oftentimes the outside sales rep)

The average, less skilled employee will take up to two weeks to complete the project in their spare time, in between phone calls, quoting customers, processing orders and working with their backlog.  TWO WEEKS! The process usually goes something like this:

  • CRS goes line by line on the sales history report, sorts by part#, removes duplicates, adds the supplier name if it’s not already on the report.
  • CRS goes back through each line, finds the supplier for each item and compares it to the other spreadsheet.
  • CRS populates the sales history report with the percentage from the price increase spreadsheet.
  • Repeat the process for the two hundred or so lines on the sales history report.

Now let’s take a similarly skilled employee performing the same job functions, but add one skill the other does not have, Microsoft® Excel.  We can take what would otherwise be a two-week project and have it completed in less than two hours (giving us plenty of time to spend on cleaning up the formatting).

By investing in the right training and enhancing our employees’ skill sets, we will save in both man hours and payroll.  Now imagine the savings that can be gained with a workforce that knows two, three, or 10 specialty tools. 

How to Upgrade?
First, we create a profile of our ideal employee. What skills would this employee have? What core competencies would they possess? A good place to start would be to look at our best performers and add to the list from there.

A starter list of skills that will help our employees perform could include Excel, Word, Outlook (e-mail) and Internet Explorer. We’ll be covering these skill sets in more detail in future posts. Stay tuned on the many different ways you can improve your team.

Posted by Brad Vance, Epicor Senior Business Process Consultant

Going Beyond Technology: ERP Process Review and Graphical Modeling
There are a number of ways to help ensure a timely, on-budget enterprise resource planning (ERP) system implementation. One key area revolves around properly planning and documenting business processes that will be used with the new solution.
 
Graphical modeling is often perceived as a narrowly focused tool for documenting the flow of isolated processes. However, by using a more flexible tool to expand that view to create a hierarchical, top-down map of the entire system, organizations get the full picture of how the processes can be made most effective.

Starting from the high-level perspective, it is necessary to drill down further to get to heart of detailing what really should occur for each business process. This “stage” level consists of the major steps taken to complete the process. This is also where responsibility should be assigned to particular roles within the organization that are affected by each particular stage.

The goal is to utilize these models throughout the implementation and beyond. The ERP implementation team can use the completed models to assist during the implementation with role-based activities and training, and to serve as a repository for important implementation documentation. After go-live, the models should be updated as the business grows and changes to help ensure the organization is getting the best return on its ERP investment.

To learn more about the benefits of conducting a process review, and the use of a graphical model as the repository of project documentation and “guiding light” of project continuity, download the white paper Effectively Documenting Business Processes for a Successful ERP Implementation here.
 
Posted by Beth Karlin and John Steele, Senior/Principal Consultants, Epicor Professional Services
Epicor Optimization Services for Prophet 21 and Eclipse ERP

Epicor Prophet 21 and Eclipse customers can take advantage of post-implementation Optimization Services to improve the return on their ERP investment. By leveraging optimization around key business areas such as accounts payable, accounts receivable, production orders and secondary processing, distributors will typically enjoy more efficient processes and better system utilization.

Common challenges in these areas that can be addressed through optimization include:

Accounts Receivable

  • Profit margins are decreasing and cash flow is becoming an issue
  • Having more customers on credit hold than on approval

Accounts Payable

  • Managing multiple dates and check payments to vendors
  • Having inconsistent vendor terms

Production Orders

  • Using manual processes for allocating materials
  • Using too many steps to create a production order
  • Having difficulty tracking an order in the system

Secondary Processing

  • Set-ups are taking a long time
  • Having to do multiple set-ups for the same process

Epicor Optimization Services help distributors capitalize on Prophet 21 or Eclipse system efficiencies to benefit both employees and customers beyond the ERP go-live date. Sometimes these efficiencies may be achieved by leveraging new or updated system features that have not been used up to this point. A typical engagement involves working remotely with an Epicor Application Consultant for about 2-4 hours to review and refine processes.

For more information about Epicor Optimization Services, contact your Epicor Customer Account Manager or email cams@epicor.com for more information.

Posted by Epicor Social Media Team

Epicor University Provides Safety Products Distributor with Learning Support to Introduce New Technology and Business Workflows
Safety Supply Illinois (SSI) is a distributor of safety products ranging from earplugs to high-end safety equipment, including fall protection and confined space solutions. SSI converted to the Epicor Prophet 21 enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution in 2012.

According to SSI Owner/Chief Operating Officer Mary Porter, “The online learning classes from Epicor University were extremely helpful in introducing the new functional aspects of Prophet 21 to our employees. The online training schedule provided by Epicor’s Learning Management System (LMS) allowed me to create, schedule, and track user-specific training timelines.

“The LMS is wonderful for training new users on Prophet 21, and because it is organized by business function, I encourage our existing employees to listen to other classes and learn about all functional areas,” continues Porter. “We are slowly incorporating many of the Prophet 21 enhancements into our business practices with help from the Epicor Learning Center.”

The results speak for themselves. Porter observes, “In the last three years, we have tripled sales, in part because we converted to Prophet 21. In addition to increasing our overall customer base by about 20 percent, we are also attracting much larger customers such as utility companies. The Epicor technology and tools for learning and growing are all there; you just need to access them.” To read the full story of SSI’s success, go here.
 
Posted by Epicor Social Media Team
Getting the Most Out of Your Epicor Prophet 21 ERP Investment

Implementing an enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution is not a “once and done” activity.  It is vitally important to continue proper maintenance, reviews, and education for your company’s system and employees after go-live.

Whether you went live last week, last month, last year, or several years ago, there are a number of things you can do to get the most out of your system. Like many Epicor Prophet 21 users, you have probably spent a lot of time and effort getting ramped up. Now that you are fully up to speed on the system, it is important to keep the momentum going by developing a timeline for leveraging additional features and processes that will have the greatest impact on improving your business.

Immediate action items after go-live can include:

  • Gathering feedback from your management team on current system usage, challenges and desired improvements
  • Determining priorities for the next year
  • Developing a Business Continuity Plan to protect your data and put failover solutions in place
  • Reviewing the Epicor Learning Management System (LMS) for employees with incomplete courses

In the months following, you can:

  • Review Business Alerts to optimize productivity and profitability
  • Assign additional LMS courses that were not a priority during implementation
  • Take advantage of DynaChange to alter the appearance of screens to suit the needsof your employees and business processes, and create your own drilldowns from any field in the Prophet 21 system
  • Opt-in for e-mail alerts from the Epicor Customer Web Site
  • Develop a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) strategy
  • Assign shortcut and efficiency training courses to all end users
  • Conduct a process review to prevent the inadvertentintroduction of bad habits
  • Create a Business Intelligence framework for your organization
  • Review new feature training courses

Epicor Business Consultants can provide you with additional recommendations, roadmaps and checkpoints to advance your business with Prophet 21.

Posted by Epicor Social Media Team

Epicor Prophet 21 Helps Medical Distributor Achieve World-Class Results
Since Mercedes Medical of Sarasota, Florida, first started using Epicor’s Prophet 21 software in 2004, their sales have almost doubled. Margins have increased by 15 percent, and A/R days outstanding have decreased by about 20 percent. In addition, sales per employee have increased by almost $100,000.

Every year, the company benchmarks against competitors in the healthcare industry, looking at everything from inventory, to gross profit margin, to financial performance. “We consistently perform at the top of the benchmarks, and I think our Prophet 21 system has a lot do to with it,” says Chief Operating Officer Andrew Wright.

Analyst firm Nucleus Research found that the Epicor Prophet 21 implementation enabled Mercedes Medical to improve visibility and efficiency, accelerate collections, reduce bad debt, and increase profits, for an estimated ROI of 605 percent and an average annual benefit of over $2 million.  To read the full story, including a detailed financial analysis by Nucleus Research, go here.

Posted by Epicor Social Media Team
Implementing Consignment Inventory (Part 3 of 3)

In previous blog posts, we covered the definition, initial setup and advantages of managing consignment inventory using Epicor ERP v9 or v10.

Several other questions remain to be answered, i.e.: “How do we verify the consignment inventory quantities?” and “How do we finish the contract without ending up with extra inventory?”

Cycle Counting/Physical Inventory
Consignment inventory is still an asset of the company that currently owns it. It is therefore the distributor’s fiscal responsibility to periodically count that inventory to make sure it is still in its proper place. If you have used the procedures defined in the previous blog posts, then you can use the standard cycle counting or physical inventory module that is built into Epicor ERP v9 or v10.

Since Epicor supports counting by warehouse ID, you can simply initiate a physical inventory for your consignment warehouse. If you have multiple customers, you would have multiple warehouses, with each warehouse to be counted separately.

Of course, in order to do this inventory check, you still need access to the inventory itself, or you need a trustworthy customer that will return the physical inventory results.  It is up to you to determine what you are going to do with any adjustments that are found.

  • If during the count, you find more parts that were supposed to be there, that may mean:
    • You have overbilled your customer for product they did not actually use, or
    • You shipped more parts than you acknowledged in the electronic transfer order.
  • If during the count, you find fewer parts than you were supposed to:
    • Your customer has used more parts than they have told you about.

In either of the above two cases, you need to confirm that there is a clear declaration of who is responsible for any variances found during the physical inventory. If you followed all of the procedures, there should be no unverified variances in the shipment. This would then leave only one option for the variance: issue a credit or an invoice for the difference in inventory quantity.

Closing the Contract
As the contract is coming to an end, you want to ensure that you do not end up with large quantities of inventory sitting in your customer’s consignment warehouse. At some point, they will not want that inventory anymore, and you will need to take it back (unless you have a clause in your contract to protect you).

Our recommendation is to closely monitor those parts as the contract is winding down, to make sure you have reduced or eliminated the minimum on hand/safety stock levels that you have defined throughout the system. Also, verify that any forecasts that the customer has delivered represent real, sellable product.

Posted by Tim Shoemaker, Senior Principal Consultant, Epicor Professional Services

Implementing Consignment Inventory (Part 2 of 3)

In the previous blog post, we covered the definition, initial setup and advantages of managing consignment inventory using Epicor ERP v9 or v10.

Below are the steps that must be done to implement a new consignment customer with a new consignment part, assuming that you already have a consignment plant (in v9) or site (in v10) set up in the system.

  1. New consignment agreement is placed by the customer
    • Create a “Consignment Warehouse” for this new customer (one time for each customer).
    • Define minimum stocking levels in the consignment plant/site; i.e., if your contract says you are to always have 100 on hand, then set 100 as the minimum on hand for the consignment plant/site.
    • Define minimum stocking level at the manufacturer’s local plant. This would be any inventory that you want to keep on hand to fulfill any rush requirements. Typically, this is less than or equal to the minimum consignment level above.
    • In the consignment plant/site, specify that this item is a “Transfer” item, and that the “Supply Plant/Site” is your main manufacturing plant. Also specify the transfer lead time (the number of days that the item will be in transit).
    • Create the MRP forecast for this customer part in the consignment plant (i.e., you are forecasting that the inventory will be consumed from consignment, not from your local stores).
    • Note: at this point, you do not have to have any firm Sales order entered… MRP Forecasting + minimum on-hand will drive the first fulfillment of consignment inventory.
  2. Run MRP
    • MRP will see that you are currently below the minimum in the consignment plant, and will generate suggested transfer order requirements from the manufacturer’s plant to consignment.
    • MRP will then add these requirements to the minimum on hand specified in the manufacturer’s plant, and will generate “unfirm jobs” to fill these demands (even without a firm sales order).
  3. Firm Job, and Make Product
    • This is a normal job in your local plant.
    • When complete, the product is received to stock.
    • Once in stock, it will show on the suggested transfer order shipments.
  4. Ship Transfer Order from the manufacturer’s plant
    • Transfer orders generate Transfer Order Packslips. These packslips show the address of the demand (the consignment plant). It is your paperwork that goes to the customer.
    • Note that this is not a customer shipment…it is a transfer, because you are not transferring ownership, only moving inventory locations.
  5. Receive Transfer Order into Consignment
    • This is done once you receive confirmation from the customer that they have received the shipment.
    • This function actually takes the inventory out of “In transit” and puts it into the consignment plant.
  6. Consumption of Consignment Inventory
    • In most cases, your customers give a report showing what items were consumed. When this happens, an order needs to be entered, shipped and invoiced.
    • There are several ways that this can be done, but easiest is to create a new “counter sale” sales order. Counter sales allow for an order to be entered, “shipped” and immediately invoiced without all the extra processing.
    • When you create the counter sales order, you tell the system that you are selling it from the “consignment warehouse” location. This then automatically reduces the quantity on hand in consignment.
    • If there are a large number of parts consumed each day, then this could be automated with a Service Connect process to create and ship the orders. Alternately, an Excel spreadsheet could be copied and pasted into the counter sale section on the sales order.
  7. Replenishing consignment locations (basically, Go to Step 2 above)
    • If the customer’s consumption above did not reduce inventory below the “minimum” on hand in the consignment plant, then nothing will happen.
    • But, if it does reduce the on hand below minimum, then when MRP has its nightly run (see step 2 above), it will create another transfer order suggestion to move more inventory from your main stock to consignment.

Consignment Summary
While there are “urban legends” that Epicor ERP v9 and v10 cannot do consignment inventory because there is not a consignment module, this is not true, and as shown above, the actual steps are not difficult. In fact, once set up, the system will self-fulfill as the customer consumes the inventory. The manufacturer may need some help from an Epicor consultant in setting this up the first time, but once the model is complete, it can be easily replicated.

In the last part of this series, we will discuss how to verify the quantities and finish the contract for consignment inventory.

Posted by Tim Shoemaker, Senior Principal Consultant, Epicor Professional Services

Introduction to Consignment Inventory (Part 1 of 3)
Definition
Consignment inventory is inventory that is:
  1. Owned by the manufacturer
  2. Shipped to the customer, but not invoiced until—
  3. Consumption of the inventory is advised by the customer—at which time, it is invoiced.

Consignment and Epicor ERP v9 & v10
Epicor ERP (v9 & v10) does not have a “consignment module” per se, but it does support consignment very well, with well-defined procedures. For example, the method described below has been used by multiple companies in the aerospace industry.

There are several deviations from this model that can cause it to malfunction.  We conclude this post by highlighting those pitfalls so they are not pursued.

Consignment with MRP-Multi-Site Advantages
By setting up consignment in the manner described here, there are many advantages and processes that can be managed within Epicor ERP v9 or v10. These include:

  1. Forecasting of consignment usage by location
  2. Management of minimum stocking levels by consignment location
  3. Management of minimum stocking levels at manufacturer’s location to fill consignment emergencies
  4. Automatic replenishment of minimum levels at the consignment location
  5. Ability to cycle count/physically inventory a specific customer’s inventory
  6. Easy shipment of “Transfer Orders” to move inventory to consignment location
  7. Material requirements for future consignment deliveries are still calculated based on the forecast that is entered into consignment

The Required Initial Setup
To process consignment inventory, there are several modules required, as well as some specific setups.

  1. Must have Material Requirements Planning (MRP)
  2. Must have Multi-site
  3. Must create a new “Plant” (in v9) or “Site” (in v10) to hold “Consignment Inventory”

Optional Setup Items
There are some decisions that are optional, depending on the customers, and the products that are shipping to those customers:

  1. You can set up either one consignment plant/site for the entire company, or one consignment plant/site for each Customer Ship-To. The reason is:
    • If you ship common assemblies to multiple consignment sites, then it is easier to track requirements if there is a separate plant for each location.
    • But if there are no common parts between customers, then creating one plant (or site), with one warehouse for each customer, is sufficient.
  2. You can alternatively create separate cost tables for each plant. This allows the plant to have its own average cost. However, many companies do not want this to happen, and tie the costs of the consignment plant to the main plant.

Pitfalls of Skipping Steps or Incorrect Setup
As stated above, there are several pitfalls that are potential causes for failure and should be avoided:

  1. Some think that these consignment locations are supposed to be “non-net inventory”… this is not true. They must be considered “nettable” inventory in order for this to work.
  2. Ignoring forecasts, or putting forecasts in the wrong location.
    • Forecasts should always be entered, and they should be entered into the consignment plant.
    • Forecasts are what drives the future purchases (and even manufactured job orders, if the lead time on purchasing/manufacturing is longer).
  3. Forgetting transfer lead time.
  4. Entering sales orders against the wrong plant. All consignment usage must be “shipped” (consumed) from the consignment plant.

In the next post, we will discuss the consignment process in action.

Posted by Tim Shoemaker, Senior Principal Consultant, Epicor Professional Services
Coming Soon: Improved Epicor Prophet 21 UI
Attendees at the Insights 2014 Customer Conference were excited to see a preview of the updated Epicor Prophet 21 user interface that will be introduced in version 12.14.
 
*View larger image here.
 
Highlights of this version, expected to be GA in the coming month, include:
  • .NET Ribbon bar for faster navigation to frequently accessed areas
  • Improved readability
  • A new history panel that remembers information recently accessed for faster recall later
  • Completely re-designed tabs that are more spatially efficient, easily re-organized and navigable via keystrokes
  • Tighter conformance to Microsoft design standards to promote consistency between the applications our customers utilize
*FORWARD LOOKING STATEMENT: This document includes descriptions of product functionality that is not presently available and thus constitute forward-looking statements. These forward-looking statements include statements regarding expected functionality, product release dates, competitive advantage and other statements that are not historical fact. These forward-looking statements are based on currently available competitive, financial and economic data together with management’s views and assumptions regarding future events and business performance as of the time the statements are made and are subject to risks and uncertainties. Actual results may differ materially from those expressed or implied in the forward-looking statements.
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