Epicor ERP Software
The Nexus of Forces Works Its Way Into the Enterprise

According to technology research firm Gartner, "Four independent forces—social, mobile, cloud and information—have converged as a result of human behavior, creating a technology-immersed environment. The Nexus of Forces (NOF) is transforming the way people and businesses relate to technology. It also leads to upheaval and change, which bring opportunities for business strategists to transform business processes and industries based on a renewed consumer focus.”

Business transformation is about developing new capabilities and when necessary, moving away from business models that are no longer competitive is the goal. The capability to transform when needed—or when better business outcomes can be achieved—is essential for survival in today’s dynamic and rapidly evolving economy. To enable this, organizations must align strategy decisions and business systems to help drive execution and support sustained long-term, continuous transformation.

So, how can NOF impact your business? View this Gartner report that presents key findings, such as:

  • Demand for IT solutions that support NOF scenarios is increasing.
  • The NOF is being embraced both strategically and tactically by most industries, whether they have "customers" or not.
  • However, the most progressive NOF solutions are those that involve customer engagement.

Gartner, “The Nexus of Forces Works Its Way Into the Enterprise,” Chris Howard, Daryl C. Plummer September 8, 2013

Posted by Epicor Social Media Team

The Manifold Productivity of ERP

A post on TechAdvisory.org points to the advantages of enterprise resource planning (ERP) for small and mid-sized businesses considering the technology for the first time; however, its list of how ERP supports today’s business requirements in terms or productivity and profitability extends to enterprises of all sizes. They cite 10 top requirements for today’s businesses and how ERP helps meet them:

  1. The need to make decisions fast. ERP delivers reports and dashboards that combine data from every department to managers no matter where they are.
  2. The need for highly productive employees. ERP automates most of the manual processes that takes workers away from more valuable labor.
  3. The need for great customer service. It’s never been easier for customers to find a new supplier. ERP connects information across the organization so that you can answer your customer’s questions quickly and accurately, every time.
  4. The need to support multiple distribution channels. To expand market reach, Internet, channel, and direct distribution need to be supported. ERP connects all systems across supply networks to improve market performance in all market channels.
  5. The need to accurately match costs with income sources. When you execute work, you need to know whether you are really making a profit on it. ERP tracks all costs related to projects or jobs to ensure profitable engagements.
  6. The need to support remote employees. Employees need to be productive wherever their work is. ERP systems allow remote workers to access and enter information where they are, when they want to—increasingly on the mobile devices they choose to use.
  7. The need to manage industry-specific requirements. Every business is unique; business systems generally aren’t. With ERP, you can build workflows and reports that specifically address the specialized requirements of your industry.
  8. The need to simplify compliance. Meeting the reporting requirements of increasingly stringent regulations can take a huge manual effort. Instead of spending weeks and months on manual documentation, ERP’s automated functionality speeds and simplifies compliance while allowing your human capital to focus on more productive and value-added tasks.
  9. The need to support global commerce. Increasingly, business crosses international markets. ERP eases complicated currency translation and supports staffing overseas by providing accurate information without undue latency (essential for efficient operation of dispersed business networks).
  10. The need to attract young workers. The aging workforce places a premium on attracting young talent. A generation that has only known the digital age has little patience for tasks they know can be simplified with technology; to this group, the technological prowess of ERP not only makes intuitive sense, it reinforces their belief in the company’s commitment to stay current with technology—something they see as highly important.

When ERP matches your business, the best practices that are part of the system can be used to automate the flow of information in the business. The key is finding an ERP that is a good fit—the general flow of the system needs to match your business practices. When this happens, many good things follow, including greater productivity and higher profitability.

Posted by By Christine Hansen, Manager, Product Marketing

The Implementation of Technology and Culture Change

One of the by-products of implementing technologies that connect the top and shop floor is the influences on the enterprise culture. In a post on his blog, Irving Wladawsky-Berger discusses the organizational challenges of embracing disruptive technologies. (Wladawsky-Berger, who worked for IBM for 37 years before retiring, is visiting lecturer at MIT's Sloan School of Management and Engineering Systems Division, executive-in-residence at NYU’s Center for Urban Science and Progress, senior fellow at the Levin Institute of the State University of New York, and adjunct professor in the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Group at the Imperial College Business School.) The key points he makes regarding technology and organizational culture are worth revisiting:

  • The need for a clear, compelling strategy that the whole organization can rally around.
  • The management of innovation initiatives
  • The importance of top-down leadership and support

The first point speaks to the fact that technology not only impacts markets and operations, but also individuals and groups within an organization. In general, change is often painful as well as positive, and this is no different with technological change. It’s important that an organization be given a target to shoot for, “a kind of promised land everyone can aim for instead of wandering in the desert without a clear path forward.”

The next point underscores a subtle conundrum organizations face: the management skills leveraged for sustaining success systematically are often at odds with those that incorporate the growth resulting from the disruptive technologies. “In particular, managers have to make the transition from managing in the present to managing both the present and future—that is, they have to be good at both operations and strategy. Easier said than done.” The delicate balance here: managing for near-term results at the same time one manages for ongoing relevance and competitive standing in the future.

Finally, top-down leadership and support are essential in overcoming the resistance of individuals or groups to new technologies that are changing the way they work and jostling their comfort zones. “Visible top-management support is very helpful in tempering sibling rivalries and getting everyone to work together as part of one company-wide team.”

This discussion calls to mind a comment of another great thinker, Isaac Asimov: “It is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be.” This is true for truly disruptive technologies such as the Internet, as well as the residual technology changes that follow in their wake. Basically, technological change begets cultural change; organizations that understand this are more likely to implement change successfully.

Posted by Epicor Social Media Team

The Rise of Mobile Access to Your ERP Data
Mobile users are increasingly looking for ease of access to ERP information to perform their jobs on any device at any time.  In this age of “Bring Your Own Device” or BYOD, smartphone devices and tablets are becoming more secure, accessible and affordable. To meet these needs, mobile solutions must handle different mobile devices and applications for different roles/jobs and also have the ability to be used by staff with limited computer or language skills in adverse conditions (i.e. variable lighting, distractions/interruptions or potential for device to be damaged).
 
There are many different mobile device options available today and choosing one to fit your mobile strategy depends on a number of factors. Cost, environment, signal access, security, and function should all be taken into consideration for this decision. Some commonly used types of mobiles devices include:
  • Handheld. Handheld mobile devices have been around for many years; typically they have a gun or PDA form with a scanner. Usually these can be found in warehouses or shop floors because they stay within the organizations infrastructure and not meant to be used in the field.
  • Purpose built device. Purpose built mobile devices are usually built around either specific company requirements or functional requirements and tend to be very expensive and used for both internal and external processes.
  • Smartphones. Smartphones are easy to acquire and use, and consumers are looking to use these devices to access and process ERP data. This is one of the main drivers for companies to start developing mobile strategies outside of the typical mobile needs.
  • Tablets. Tablets, like smartphones, are easy to acquire and use, but are more powerful and have larger touchscreens. Tablets today, can and do take over a lot of ERP functionality that was traditionally done on workstations back at the office. They are seen as the next evolutionary step in this process.
Instead of having to go to a traditional workstation to access certain items, mobile users are quickly able to engage in their day-to-day activities and work more efficiently. Aside from user pressure to be able to access ERP data, we also see influence from companies to gain operational efficiencies and the ability to provide a competitive differentiation as drivers. Mobile use allows better communication and collaboration for the whole organization, and by having these real-time transactions in executive hands, there is a shorter time for decisions, which helps gain the efficiencies that are required by the organization.
 
Users are demanding to be able to interact with their ERP data anywhere from any device. Balance that with the need for organizations to secure the data to make sure it is accurate by applying workflow to business processes. Mobile access will become more common and the primary way end users will access ERP applications. As this becomes more mainstream, companies are already reaping the benefits in increased productivity, greater efficiencies and lower cost.
 
Posted by Sanjay Ejantkar, Sr. Manager, Product Marketing
As BYOD Proliferates, Security Comes to the Fore

Like it or not, IT has become consumerized. “BYOD” is a phrase that refers to employees who bring their own computing devices (i.e., smartphones, laptops, tablets) to the workplace for use and connectivity on the corporate network. BYOD is happening—and fast. An article on Search Security cites rates of adoption reaching 40 percent to 75 percent, driven largely by consumer smartphones and tablets. The article’s lead describes the risk/benefit of BYOD:

Mobile devices come in all shapes and sizes, from smartphones, notebooks, and tablets, to the new-breed hybrid convertibles and detachables that made headlines at the Consumer Electronics Show 2013. While mobility boosts enterprise employee efficiency by delivering “anywhere access” to business data and systems, it obliterates what’s left of the increasingly ineffective corporate network perimeter. Many security managers have already discovered the disconcerting implications: less control than ever over enterprise data access from a myriad of consumer devices—including a groundswell of BYODs—and more difficulty determining which devices are accessing which systems and data.

The article quotes Anthony Peters, director of information technology at Burr Pilger Mayer Inc., a financial services firm headquartered in San Francisco, on the development. Peters notes his tidy, policy-driven corporate BlackBerry world was shattered several years ago by the Apple iPhone craze. “Today, we’re almost entirely BYOD,” Peters said. “We allow iPhone 3GS and above, Windows Mobile, and Android.”

The Security for Business Innovation Council recommends a BYOD Agreement Checklist for those organizations embracing the practice:

  • Ensure that end users are responsible for backing up personal data.
  • Clarify lines of responsibility for device maintenance, support, and costs.
  • Require employees to remove apps at the request of the organization.
  • Disable access to the network if a blacklisted app is installed or if the device has been jail-broken.
  • Specify the consequences for any violations to the policy.

On another front, a recent USA Today article focuses on the significant productivity gains enabled by BYOD, with studies showing that mobile users taking advantage of productivity apps save 88 minutes a day—22 days a year—by doing so. It cites a new line of BYOD products that has emerged to address the attendant security issue:

Those products are designed to protect personal devices without penetrating the user privacy, by "splitting" the device in two partitions: one for personal use and the other for business use. The organization gets a full control over the business part, while the employee gets to do whatever he wants with his private partition.

Until those tools become commonplace, the article offers tips for safe use of BYOD:

  • Use a passcode to screen-lock devices.
  • Install antivirus or mobile security applications.
  • Set a password for voicemail.
  • Turn off WiFi and apps that use location services and Bluetooth when not using them.
  • Avoid using hotspots whenever possible.

The author concludes: “Businesses should establish guidelines about who gets to use mobile devices to access corporate information, and what they can do with it—and couple this policy with accountability and enforcement. Use of a Mobile Device Management (MDM) solution enables remote device tracking and wipes off data on lost or stolen devices. Companies should use enterprise-grade mobile apps and keep security patches updated.”

Posted by the Epicor Social Media Team

Shedding Some Light on Dark Data
There has been an explosion of discussions about the importance of dark data to businesses looking to mine their data resources for competitive advantage. What is it? Why is it important? In a recent blog post, technology writer Isaac Sacolick offers a business definition of dark data:
Dark data is data and content that exists and is stored, but is not leveraged and analyzed for intelligence or used in forward looking decisions. It includes data that is in physical locations or formats that make analysis complex or too costly, or data that has significant data quality issues. It also includes data that is currently stored and can be connected to other data sources for analysis, but the business has not dedicated sufficient resources to analyze and leverage. Finally (and this may be debatable), dark data also includes data that currently isn't captured by the enterprise, or data that exists outside of the boundary of the enterprise.
Elsewhere, an article on IT World, notes that dark data is ubiquitous:
Every enterprise accumulates dark data. Companies don't try to hoard this unanalyzed information, it just happens because it's created almost everywhere. Servers in data centers generate an enormous trove of largely untapped log file data. Manufacturers' shop floor control systems and robots produce dark data as well as widgets. Little of the data from a retailer's point of sale system gets mined. Information from diagnostic equipment in intensive care units is generally ignored. The list goes on.
Consultant Matt Hunt posts on his blog that more leaders should focus on dark data, because it can lead to significant insights. He cites a Wired article that introduced him to the concept. It contains the long refutation of the now debunked claim that coffee consumption was linked to pancreatic cancer (it took 20 years), which could have been accomplished years earlier had scientists examined the dark data of other studies that were looking for other relationships.
 
Hunt notes that data often becomes dark because it fails to fit into expectations as it emerges, and that this is true for business as well as scientific organizations. While working as a data analyst for a major retailer, he realized the company could glean insights by paying more attention to its failed projects— by learning from its dark data. “A company may have spent thousands or even millions of dollars on their latest innovation initiative,” he says. “If that initiative fails, few people within the organization will know the details of why.”
 
He suggests that companies would do well by analyzing their failures, not just casting them to oblivion. Companies can bring light to dark data by more thoroughly analyzing their failures: What was accomplished? What was learned? What would have been done differently on retrospect? Pursuing this kind of formal post mortem on failed initiatives could help keep valuable data from going dark.
 
If, as a recent post suggests on medium.com, dark data is more important than big data—or simply if its potential is better understood—Hunt’s recommendation might be considered as a best practice for businesses seriously investing in data analysis.
 
Posted by the Epicor Social Media Team
Cloud Data Security: 10 Field Observations
In a recent post, we commented on the coverage cloud data security has been getting in the trade press, noting that security was a larger issue than availability (despite some recent, well-publicized outages at major public cloud providers). Furthermore, we noted that the emergence of big data initiatives at the corporate level had exacerbated concerns about cloud data security. Today, we follow up with some field observations, culled from the Ponemon Institute’s recent study of encryption in the cloud.
 
The study surveyed more than 4,000 business and IT managers in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Australia, Japan, and Brazil with the objective of determining how organizations protect information assets entrusted to cloud providers. Here are 10 key survey findings relating to data protection, encryption, and key management activities in the cloud:
  •  Transfer of data
    About half of respondents say their organizations transfer sensitive or confidential data to the cloud environment. Within another two years, another third say they are very likely to do this.
  • Security effects
    Thirty-nine percent of respondents believe cloud adoption has decreased their companies’ security postures. Forty-four percent indicate cloud adoption has neither increased nor decreased security posture. Only 10 percent believe cloud adoption has increased their organization’s security posture.
  • Responsibility
    Forty-four percent of respondents believe that the cloud provider has primary responsibility for protecting sensitive or confidential data in the cloud; 30 percent believe it is the cloud consumer who has primary responsibility.
  • Use and attribution of responsibility
    Companies that currently transfer sensitive or confidential data to the cloud are much more likely to hold the cloud provider responsible for data protection; those that do not currently do so are more likely to hold the cloud consumer responsible.
  • Consuming in the dark
    Sixty-three percent of respondents say that they do not know what cloud providers are doing to protect the sensitive or confidential data entrusted to them.
  • Confidence levels
    In general, those who select the cloud provider as most responsible for protecting data are more confident in the provider’s ability to do so than are those who select their own organization as most responsible (51 percent versus 32 percent).
  • Where data encryption is applied
    • As it is transferred over the network: 38 percent
    • Before it is transferred to the cloud provider: 35 percent
    • Within the cloud environment: 27 percent
  • Encryption site and responsibility
    Among companies that encrypt data inside the cloud, 74 percent believe the cloud provider is most responsible for protecting the data. Among those encrypting within their organization before sending to the cloud, only 34 percent hold the cloud provider most responsible for security.
  • Encryption key management responsibility
    Thirty-six percent say their own organization is most responsible for key management when sensitive or confidential information is transferred to the cloud. Twenty-two percent say the cloud provider is most responsible. Another 22 percent say a third party (i.e., another independent service provider) is responsible.
  • Strength from strength
    Companies with characteristics indicating a strong security posture are more likely to transfer sensitive or confidential information than those with weaker secure postures. In other words, companies that understand security are more willing and able to take advantage of the cloud. This finding is at odds with the conventional belief that security-aware organizations are more skeptical of cloud security, while those less aware of security are more likely to overlook a perceived lack of security.

Posted by Epicor Social Media Team


Increased Focus on Cloud Data Security Continues

A number of recently published articles continue the media’s focus on cloud data security. On PC World’s Net Work blog, analyst Tony Bradley points out that despite recent outages in cloud services from major providers, security remains a larger issue than availability:

The debate over cloud availability is silly… local networks and servers are not impervious to outages, so the risk is essentially the same as it pertains to availability. There are, however, other concerns that offer a much more valid argument against cloud services for some businesses. Chief among them is security and privacy. The convenience of outsourcing the IT infrastructure to a cloud-based third party comes with increased risk that your network traffic or stored data could be compromised in some way, either directly by the IT support personnel charged with maintaining your services, or inadvertently by exposing it to increased risk on Internet-based servers. 

The post discusses private or hybrid cloud use as a response to security issues. According to a crn.com column, the proliferation of big data projects is another reason that IT security teams may be considering such action:

IT security teams should be on the lookout for business units that may be spinning up servers using a public cloud provider for big data analytics projects because it introduces a variety of security risks, according to a security auditor who frequently reviews the software and infrastructure supporting such projects.

The problem is ease of access (and, it seems to us, lack of corporate governance). IT teams are often skirted by business units that can rent cloud infrastructure in minutes, as executives in those units look to quickly leverage their data.

According to David Barton, principal and practice leader of the technology assurance group at Atlanta-based UHY Advisors, a business consulting firm, infrastructure as-a-service providers are typically the cheapest option to rent computing power, but this carries with it the most risk and responsibilities. “Unless an organization opts to lease a private cloud, the infrastructure in a public cloud environment is typically shared among different users; the location of the data is often uncertain and open to an increased risk of exposure,” says Barton. “Systems can also be open to shared technology vulnerabilities, making them ripe for attack by cybercriminals using automated tools. Denial of service attacks can result in cloud outages, making systems inaccessible for extended periods of time.”

Web application firewall developer Applicure outlines the basic data protection actions cloud users should expect to see implemented:

  • Access control lists to define the permissions attached to the data objects
  • Storage encryption to protect against unauthorized access at the data center (especially by malicious IT staff)
  • Transport-level encryption to protect data when it is transmitted
  • Firewalls to include Web application firewalls to protect against outside attacks launched against the data center
  • Hardening of the servers to protect against known, and unknown, vulnerabilities in the operating system and software
  • Physical security to protect against unauthorized physical access to data

Regardless of whether public, private, or hybrid cloud, user management needs to know what security controls are in place, to what extent these controls are implemented, and what plans are in place to deal with an attack. These questions should be answered sufficiently by cloud providers.

Posted by the Epicor Social Media Team
Active Learning is a Two Way Street
About how much of what you hear do you remember?  It probably depends on what you are doing when you are listening.  Most adults in these days are juggling many tasks at the same time – reading emails, texting messages on their smart phones and checking in on Facebook and Twitter to stay up to date on all the latest news.  It is quite difficult to get a person’s complete attention, and keeping it is another thing altogether! That begs the question, even when you do have their attention, did they hear you?  Do they understand what you are saying? 
 
Over twenty four hundred years ago, Confucius said, “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand”.  This quote from the famous Chinese philosopher is as accurate today as it was 2400 years ago.  What we know today based on research is that retention rates increase dramatically when learners actually do something rather than just listen to a lecture.  The average trainer speaks about 100-200 words per minute, but how much of that is really heard?    Of course that depends on what the learner is doing while listening, distractions surround us every day – and in every class, that is the job of the trainer – to keep a learners attention and to ensure that they gain knowledge during the session.
 
 
A trainer must be able to deliver material and information to satisfy the three key learning styles:  Auditory (hear it), Visual (see it) and Kinesthetic (do it).  The visual and auditory parts are easy, a traditional meeting or webcast typically satisfies these learning styles.  A great way to ensure there is a connection with the learners is to discuss the information and ask questions.  Learning is enhanced when people are asked to state information in their own words, give examples of it, provide connections between it and other facts, and apply it to relevant scenarios.
 
However, the act of “doing it” is where the real knowledge is applied, and therefore learned. When a learner has the opportunity to try something out, or to do something, the learning becomes active and not just memorized.  The act of practicing a skill or using an application requires thinking and problem solving.  This in turn provides the learner with practical experience that can be applied immediately in their life.   Hands-on exercises, workshops, and even completing exams/assessments are ways to actively engage a learner.  Other activities such as polling the audience, asking questions, breaking the audience into groups to discuss case studies or to solve a problem also provide valuable methods to increase knowledge and retention.
 
The key to an effective training program is to provide well designed learning activities in which participants acquire knowledge and skill rather than just receive them.  Active learning is a two way street, it takes more than just a trainer to show and tell information.  Today the learner must take ownership of their destiny by actively participating in the learning process.
 
Posted by Amy Melton, WW Director of Education and Delivery, Epicor University
 
Collaborating with SMEs – Creating a Job Aid

In my first blog I talked about leveraging  your Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). These are the consultants, trainers, and technical support staff that deal with how the software works in the real world. Today I want to explore the process of collaborating with an SME to create a job aid.

Overall, job aids aim to provide quick instructions for the end user. They are repositories of information or explanations of processes used to support work activities and increase performance. A job aid may come in several formats, such as a checklist of guidelines to follow to achieve positive results, a list of step by step processes, or a flowchart. Phone books, tax forms, posters, and even sticky notes are examples of job aids we all use every day. 

Select the Right Type of Job  Aid
As I mentioned, there are many different types of job aids that all serve their own purposes. Let’s assume you are creating something to help the end consumer complete a process. Use a checklist if there are many factors to consider. Note, though that a checklist may require some sort of knowledge about or experience with the process before it can be used effectively. Create a decision table, such as a flow chart, if there are multiple variables involved in the process. Flowcharts show a clear path to the solution in different sets of circumstances. A worksheet is another common type of job aid for processes. They have an implied sequence and engage the end user by requiring responses.

Let’s assume that a flow chart is the chosen job aid.

Find the Right SME
Probably the most important step in the process of creating a job aid happens before any writing or collaboration does. You need to start by finding the person that has the information you need. As I mentioned, SMEs are the people with the real-world knowledge. Find someone with whom you’d like to work. We all know there are SMEs out there, that while they have a wealth of information, they may not be the easiest to work with or share the desire to use a collaborative approach. Do some legwork and ask your colleagues for recommendations.

Determine the Best Means of Communication
You are a professional communicator, so use those skills to figure out which form of communication works best with your SME and adapt to their needs. Do you need to schedule meetings to nail down one-on-one time? Does email exchange work better? Ask probing questions in order to get the buy-in that your requests will be noticed and acted upon within the necessary timeframe.

Choose the Right Process
You know the type of job aid you’re creating; you know how to communicate with your SME, now hammer out what the best process is. Depending on the situation, you may need to educate your SME a bit. Chat with them about what it is you’re attempting to create. Explain who the target audience is. Most importantly, show an example of what the end product might look like. This will help ensure you are both on the same wave length throughout the project.

Complete Your Project
At this point you’re ready to do the actual work. Meet or correspond with your SME to gather the details and knowledge they have related to the work process you are describing, explaining, or demonstrating. Before you end that first communication, advise them what the next step will be (their review of your first draft). Send the draft to your SME with easy instructions on how to provide feedback on the flowchart and the timeframe in which you need them to respond. Thank them for their help.

Depending on how long you provide your collaborator to provide you feedback, you may want/need to send a friendly reminder a day or two before your deadline so they don’t forget about their commitment. Once you hear back from them, thank them for helping you, let them know what happens next, and when to expect to hear from you again. Keep up with your promises to meet timelines and send them the next revision, with the same feedback details.

This process can go through several iterations depending on the complexity, length, correctness of your interpretation of their knowledge. Once you get the final, approved job aid complete, send them the end product. Thank them for their help. Let their manager know how well the process went, and how you appreciate the SME transferring their knowledge to you. If you follow this process, you are bound to have a strong relationship with the SME, and help on future projects. As you make these connections you may even get useful information to add in other deliverables without having to ask!

Posted by Staci Cummings, Senior Content Manager, Epicor University
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