Epicor ERP Software
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Insights 2014 Education Preview from Epicor University

Each year Epicor employees look forward to the Insights conference for many reasons – most importantly, the opportunity to educate our customers. For those with Epicor University, we look forward to the preparation of education sessions.  The team dedicates their time to content development in preparation to deliver the best education sessions possible for our customers. And, this year we are proud to share the following key points regarding this Insights conference:

  • Two full days devoted to pre-conference Extended Education Sessions developed by the Epicor worldwide education team, product management, development, support, and services - with over 1,100 enrollees – record attendance.
  • Over 120 unique conference education session labs with experienced presenters and lab assistants.
  • New this year – “Self-Paced Learning Center” providing another education option for our customers.  Please stop by and visit the Self-Paced Learning Center in the Solutions Pavilion to review Epicor ERP Embedded Education Courses or the Prophet 21 and Eclipse Learning Management System (LMS) with many online courses. 
  • All lab books printed and again this year eBook format.
  • Customer luncheon education roundtables for each product line – dedicated to listening to customer feedback on education and documentation.
  • Dedicated Epicor University booth and demo area for education deliverables in the Solutions Pavilion.

So, unplug from distractions and engage your mind. See you in Vegas!
Posted by Louise Keppel, Vice President Epicor University

Training New Employees on Your ERP System

Getting new employees productive as soon as possible is always the number one goal in any organization. Having a documented training plan for new employees for your ERP system is key to your (and your new employee’s) success. Here are some suggestions to consider:

Leverage Your Vendor's Education Deliverables – Whether it’s embedded education, classroom training, or virtual training, find out what your vendor has to offer and use it! They know the software and the roles you have within your organization. Save time and leverage the resources they can provide to you.

Refresh training annually - People lose knowledge over time, so if you rely on power users to train new employees, make sure they get refresher training at least annually. Again, use the embedded education, virtual and classroom training, as well as the annual Insights User Conference. You should also plan on training people with each upgrade to ensure you receive the benefit of new functionality. The Feature Summary and Delta courses are great tools to use for this.

Don’t neglect the shop floor personnel - Many times people hesitate to train shop floor personnel because the transactions are simple and they don’t want to adversely affect manufacturing efficiency and throughput. This is a huge mistake because errors in shop floor transactions affect inventory accuracy, delivery dates and costs. Time spent training up front will avert much greater time losses in the future while you track down and correct errors.

Train on company time - Some companies try to save money by requiring employees to complete training on their own time either after work or during lunches and breaks. This is a sure fire recipe for disaster because employees will resist training and resent the incursion on personal time.

Use training teams - Always try to train people in small groups or teams made up of people from various areas of the company. Aside from the team building aspect of this tactic, it also helps users understand how their actions affect other parts of the business.

Use these techniques when you plan your ERP training and you will have a faster and smoother implementation and your employees will be grateful you invested time in them and their future with your company.

Many of these ideas were taken from an Exact MAX article. For additional information, visit their website here.

Posted by Staci Cummings, Senior Content Manager, Epicor University

Audience, Purpose, and Perspective

In the technical writing world, before we start to write anything, we are trained to ask ourselves two questions about the expected content: Who is the audience? and What is the purpose? The answers to these questions determine the structure of our sentences, beginning with our first written word and ending with our last.

In an example of writing installation guides, the answers to the questions are often the same: the audience is the customer and the purpose is to provide instructions on how to install the product. Beginning technical writers might take those answers as fact and hustle to start documenting the process beginning with step 1.

However, at Epicor University, we take those stock answers not as the definitive replies but as a good starting point for diving in deeper to get to the real answers. And to do that, we need to ask one more question: What is the audience’s perspective?

It’s true that usually the audience is the customer. But we need to know more than that; we need to understand the customer’s point of view. Each customer reads an installation guide from a specific point of view and certain expectations are attached to each view. In order for a technical writer to meet – and exceed – those expectations, the writer must consider as many perspectives as possible.

For example, is this a new customer installing our product for the first time? If yes, then in addition to precisely written steps, we must also include conceptual information to assist in making pre-installation decisions. Some of these decisions are determined only the first time the product is installed and the answers set the stage for the whole implementation, so it is important that we provide all the information necessary for customers to make the right decisions.

On the other hand, is this an existing customer who has installed our product so many times that he could do it with his eyes closed? If yes, then don’t add any new important, yet subtle, steps in the Getting Started section. Most likely this experienced customer is going to start reading the install guide where it says “Install the Product” even if that section starts on page 33 of an 80 page document. Knowing the perspective helps a technical writer remember that it is not up to the customer to find subtle additions; it is the technical writer’s responsibility to make sure the information goes where the customer will find it.

Sure, in a perfect world, a reader of an installation guide would start at the title page, and then flip to the disclaimer page to review the latest legal statement, and then spend a few minutes perusing the Table of Contents. After becoming acquainted with the structure of the guide, the reader would begin on section 1, step 1, which is usually the Getting Started or Pre-Installation section.

Recently I’ve had the opportunity to discuss the Epicor documentation with some of our customers; real customers working in the real world. I’ve also been reminded that our customers do not live in the perfect world that is described above. Some of their honest comments made me cringe while others made me blush. With either reaction, I’ve never doubted that Epicor customers are busy, highly intelligent, and professional people. Installing or upgrading their software is just one of many tasks they will undertake in a normal day. Many will tackle the install guide like they do any of their other tasks, which is to get their job done as efficiently and effectively as possible.

In Epicor University, we strive to keep the audience, purpose, and most importantly, the audience’s perspective in our heads with every word we write. It helps us to write the most succinct steps, the type of steps that leave no gray area, include no vague phrases, and leave no questions unanswered.

For me personally, I’m going to remember that the Getting Started section is not a prologue to a great novel; it’s not everyone’s starting point and even in a novel, some people skip over the prologue. So for the next Epicor installation guide that I write, if I need to tell you the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything, I’ll make sure to put it in a place where all customers – new, experienced, or any level in between – will find it. Also, don’t panic, I’ll make sure that the extraordinary consequences and how they are inextricably intertwined start on page 42.

Posted by Linda Robinson, Sr. Manager, Release Content, Epicor University

Communicating with Your Customers – Getting the Feedback You Need
Every documentation team gets stuck in a rut, working heads down, trying to meet deadlines and at the same time produce the best quality content. This workflow doesn’t just apply to groups creating application help, but can relate to marketing writing groups or even your own internal departments creating company-specific documentation.

So what are you missing when your head is down and your nose is to the grindstone? Stop to check with your end consumers that what you are producing is what they are expecting and need. Here at Epicor, we have several different ways to make sure we are soliciting feedback from our consumers.
  1. Epicor provides an easy means of communication. Within our application help and embedded education courses, we provide a link to send content feedback directly to us (documentation@epicor.com). This comes straight to the management team to address, and if valid, to schedule updates. We also have email links on our Epicor extranet, EPICweb. Customers, partners, and employees use this site to contact us regarding not only the documentation available, but also education courses and classes.
  2. Epicor University booth at annual Insights user conference. This might not pertain to all of you out there, but we always make sure we have a booth at our user conference and spend countless hours chatting with our customers and gathering their suggestions and feedback. We’ve created many lasting relationships during these events.
  3. Customer lunches during Insights user conference. Months before the conference begins we solicit the Epicor User Group presidents to poll their membership for those who may be interested in a more private atmosphere to discuss our current offerings, discuss strategic initiatives, and again, build relationships. Anytime you can get some one on one time with your consumers – take advantage of it!
  4. Documentation Feedback Committees. This is something we just started here at Epicor this past year, and it came from an idea offered at one of the customer lunches at Insights. We’ve been meeting for the past five months with members of the Epicor ERP User Group. There are two of us from the Epicor University team that meet with the five members. Each month, we as a committee choose a type of documentation to review. We send a sample out about two weeks before the meeting so the users can have plenty of time to review any unfamiliar content. The meetings are scheduled around the same time of the month for one hour. During the actual meeting, we all join an online conference and review the material, and the Epicor team takes notes on the feedback, answers questions, and provides answers about why the content looks the way it does. This has been an invaluable resource for Epicor ERP, and we are in the process of launching the same program with our Prophet 21 customers.
My message this month is simple -- keep your consumers in sight– find a way to work with them and make it easy for them to help you help them.

Posted by Staci Cummings, Senior Content Manager, Epicor University
Tips and Tricks for Managing Remote Employees

In this month’s article I’d like to provide some tips and tricks I’ve learned and use to manage remote employees. This topic is near and dear to me, as I am a manager of 14 employees – all of whom are geographically far from me. I have team members located across the globe – across the US and into Mexico, Russia, and Slovakia. Needless to say, there are definitely special considerations for managing such a large, international group. Here are a few things I recommend:

Build solid relationships.
While it’s easy to connect with people when you are located in the same office by strolling by their cubicle, seeing them in the lunchroom or even a quick chat by the water cooler, you are required to make an effort in remote situations. It’s important to connect with employees individually so they know you are committed to their professional development and are interested in their successful contribution to the company. Ultimately, it would be great to touch base with each employee on a daily basis, but let’s face it, meetings, and your own projects sometimes don’t make that possible, but make it a goal . . .every day. When you do check in with them, ask pointed questions, like, “What type of roadblocks do you see coming up?”, and “How can I help you overcome these obstacles?” Just asking “How are things going?” will not unearth the problems your employees are trying to solve, and you can’t fix what you don’t know about.

Communicate! Communicate! Communicate! In today’s electronic world there’s a wide range of options here. If you implement video conferencing you can capture tone and body language, which makes it a lot easier to really see how your employees are doing. Instant messaging allows for the real-time exchange of dialog. This is my go- to means of communication with my team. Not only can I check in with people, I can multi-task and work on emails as they are writing their responses. Phone and voicemail, which by today’s standards are “old school” are more personal and at least allow you to hear your employee’s tone of voice, which can help you evaluate their happiness and confidence with their current task load.

Reinforce positive results. Find ways to positively reinforce your remote workers so they repeat performance. As suggested by Mark Murphy from Leadership IQ – dedicate a portion of your team meetings to employee recognition. You can also ask other managers to give your employees recognition, and peers to recognize each other. We have a program in place that allows for this, and it is a great, easy way to motivate people.

Keep your employees accountable. I use a project management system that details all upcoming projects, due date, and estimated hours to complete. This sets the expectations for the employees, and allows me to monitor their work as the project progresses, making status update meetings run smoothly and quickly. When projects are taking longer than we thought we can discuss why: Was it bigger than we thought? Is the employee struggling with getting the job done? Is there a performance issue?

These are just a few things to get you going when you are in the position of managing remote employees. As I mentioned, Mark Murphy from Leadership IQ has some great suggestions. Read more on what he has to say here: https://www.leadershipiq.com/tips-for-managing-remote-employees/.

Posted by Staci Cummings, Senior Content Manager, Epicor University

Why Continue Learning?
As summer comes to a close, I am busily preparing my daughters for the new school year.  And like most kids that are entering middle-school, they resist the end of summer and say how lucky I am that I no longer attend school. Like most of you reading this blog, I am not part of a formal education program. However, this shouldn’t mean we stop developing skills or widening our knowledge. A recent article from GetSmarter, an online education company, summed up in five main reasons why we need to continue learning. 
Opens new career doors - Lifelong learning will broaden your horizons and give you new opportunities. This is most easily witnessed in your career. Consider your career path – where do you want to be in five years’ time? What skills will you need to get there? Make an effort now to start learning those skills so that when opportunities for promotion arise, you will have an edge on other candidates. Not only will you already have some of the new skills you would need to perform the job, but your boss will be impressed by your demonstrated willingness to step out of your comfort zone and take on new challenges.
Keeps your brain healthy - Studies have shown that keeping your mind active is an excellent way to keep it healthy. Mental challenges may help to prevent Alzheimer’s disease and generally slow age-related memory loss. Learning a new skill and putting it into practice will develop your intellectual capacity and thereby help protect your future self from loss of mental aptitude.
Become more self-sufficient - Learning new skills means not having to ask or hire someone else to do something for you. From basic car maintenance to being able to compose an eloquent business letter, there are many skills that you could easily outsource, but that you could just as easily learn to do yourself. Save yourself a bit of money over the long term and learn to do one of those things that you’re currently paying someone else to do!
Widens your social circle - Joining a class or a group to learn new skills or discuss new ideas will put you in a position to meet new people with similar interests. Learning is a fantastic way to broaden your social horizons. And not only will you make new friends in the actual classes, but you’ll also improve your confidence and become a more interesting person, meaning that you’ll be more interesting to people you come across in all areas of your life.
Personal fulfillment - The best reason for continuing your education is simply that it is fun. An attitude of never being able to learn enough is the adult version of that sense of wonder at the world that young children have. Learning keeps you young. It gives you the opportunity to express your creativity and to avoid the complacency about life that some of us develop as we leave childhood behind and become “grown-ups”. And if you think you don’t have any creativity, then all the more reason to challenge yourself to find it within yourself by signing up for art classes, dance lessons or a photography course. 
Posted by Becky Bunkers, Sr. Manager, Epicor University
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
Virtual Training is the New Norm
For years companies have been providing training in classrooms.  The traditional classroom environment is the way in which we all grew up learning - with a teacher in a classroom filled with students. Companies spend hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to maintain and update training facilities with the latest hardware and software requirements.  Not to mention the furniture and facility that needs to be maintained, and what about the costs for traveling to these locations?  Spending time and money to travel and be away from our families is looked at very closely these days.  Thankfully technology has enabled us to provide a solution that some people say is even better than our traditional ways of learning.

According to the Sloan Consortium, a leading professional online learning society,“A majority of academic leaders believe that online instruction is equal to or superior to face-to-face instruction."  While certainly the instructor does make a difference in how the class is evaluated, we have seen a huge increase in the acceptance of the online training delivery method.  Customers now expect to have online training options available to them.  Whether you want to watch a recorded training session or attend a live instructor-led virtual training course, these options don’t require travel for the end user, and cost organizations much less to produce and deliver.
At Epicor, we have been able to bring the best of both worlds to our customers through our virtual training program. Students enroll in a scheduled online class via our Learning Management System (LMS), and participate in hands-on exercises with a live instructor all from the comfort of their home or office.  The only requirements include a phone line and an internet connection – things that most people have readily available.  The virtual classroom has all the bells and whistles you would expect in a physical classroom:  a virtual whiteboard, communication with other students and the instructor through a chat window, and polling systems that allow you to assess the learning that is taking place. What if you can’t find a course that fits your schedule?  Enroll in an online recorded session and watch it at your leisure.   No matter where you live or what business you are in, you can find an education option that works for your budget and learning style.
If you are one of the few who have yet to try online learning, give it a chance.  All it takes is one great virtual training experience to make you a believer too!
Posted by Amy Melton, Director, Epicor University
Leveraging Your Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) – a series on gleaning knowledge from the field

 Life in the world of content development can easily turn into one in which your writers are under pressure to meet deadlines, where they are forced to stay focused on the job at hand and to overlook the outside world. By doing that, they sometimes miss using one of the most useful resources to them – the consultants, trainers, and technical support staff that deal with how the software works in the real world. It’s easy to fall back on only writing the academics of the software...the step-by-step processes to complete tasks, but what customers need to know are the why and how of the application, along with practical examples based on real-world scenarios.

Getting the ‘buy-in’
The challenge in working with this group of individuals is getting buy-in that their input is worth the time away from the next consulting engagement, training class, or a break between support calls. Start by building a solid relationship with your subject matter expert (SME) group. Meet with the leaders, for example the Professional Services Director, or Technical Support Manager; explain the value of their expertise and your willingness to make contributions from their teams as painless as possible. Next, find a way to motivate them to contribute. It may be as easy as recognizing these contributing individuals. An easy way to start is to add their names and titles to content produced. Another idea is to build participation into a compensation plan, if possible. Or, content contribution can be written into their job descriptions.

Smooth content process
Once you get the buy-in, it’s important to have a painless and understandable process for SMEs to send you their content. Have this mapped out before you begin the first call – it will help with your credibility and with building trust with the group.  For example, utilize Microsoft SharePoint® - long known as a tool for team collaboration. Create a site specifically to support your project.  Include areas to share documents, post your processes, and list out the project team. Test out the process with a set of supporters before releasing to the masses. Welcome all feedback and implement change requests quickly.

On the other side of the SME equation is the content producer. The content producers also need training on the process of interacting with the SMEs - both the formal process (as described above) and the informal etiquette. The informal etiquette includes things like learning what the average daily and weekly demands are of the SME, what their crunch times are, and when they are most likely to have a moment to work with the content producer. Typically the end of the month or the end of the quarter are not good times to launch these kinds of projects. Consultants in the field will most likely be working on finalizing customer projects and tying up internal loose ends. Emphasize patience and perseverance to your writers. Remember, SMEs are a very busy group of individuals who have different goals from content writers. During that first meeting, ask the necessary questions to learn about their current demands so you can properly set expectations for all involved.

Next time I’ll focus on creating a specific deliverable with an expert - working with a SME to create a job aid.

Posted by Staci Cummings, Senior Content Manager, Epicor University

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