Welcome to the Epicor blog community, covering topics to inspire discussion where Epicor thought leaders, employees and partners alike can share insight across industries.
Earlier this year, I began transitioning from writing content for Epicor HCM to Prophet 21 application. The more I read up on Prophet 21, the more I realized it was a very different application than what I was used to. So, I treated it like I would any other writing project—I asked questions, built on my existing knowledge, clarified expectations, began my first project, asked more questions, and so on.
Anytime I start a new writing project, I’m reminded of the writing process taught in school: planning/pre-writing, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing. While we often think of this as a method of teaching students to write, the truth of the matter is, whether starting a new project or being brought into an existing project, writing for software isn’t much different.
Planning – When starting any new project the first step is building a strong foundation. Develop relationships with the people already involved with the product, establish lines of communication, and use the existing resources, including the training courses, documentation, and people, to learn all that you can about the project and subject matter.
Once you have that foundation, identify any standards and styles already in place before building the content. This may require additional research – review style guides and ask questions of the subject matter experts.
With software, planning also includes going through the steps and processes within the system, determining how they all work together, and then deciding which type of document best meets the needs of the audience. Consider creating an outline to ensure that all bases are covered.
Drafting – Drafting begins when you take all of your preparation and planning and begin writing the content. As you write, there is a good chance that you’ll need to go back and do additional research – ask more questions of the subject matter experts, and write as you rework your way through the steps and software processes.
Revising – Review your content, pay close attention to the style and structure. Test any instructional steps in the document. Then make any changes as needed, such as adding additional information, rearranging steps and information, and removing or replacing any content that doesn’t work.
Editing – Proofread your documentation for grammar, then ask subject matter experts to complete a review of both the content and the overall cohesiveness of your document. Once everything is said and done, you likely need to make a few changes, apply a handful of final quick edits, and do a bit of cleanup.
Publish – The final step for writing for software is getting you documentation into the hands of your end users. Depending on the document type, this might be publishing online help to the software system or uploading supporting documents to your company or product website.
Starting a new writing project can sometimes be intimidating. But by breaking your project out into the five basic steps of the writing process, it doesn’t have to be.
Posted By Christine Stretton, Content Specialist, Epicor University
2014 has been a strong growth year for farm, agriculture (ag), and ranch retailers. A recent article from Home Channel News noted, “Farm-and-ranch stores are getting larger. They’re adjusting to their customers’ needs. Technology is advancing efficiencies in the back room. And farm-and-ranch stores are going to places where they simply haven’t been before."
Considering all aspects of a farm, ag, and ranch retail operation—customer loyalty, inventory management, accounting, eCommerce—there are many fine details that must be groomed in order to run a successful independent retail business.
The key to effectively managing all of these programs is finding the right technology partner. A technology partner will play a crucial role in the development and expansion of any retail business. Big R Holdings and The General Store are just a few examples of retailers that have discovered how a business partnership and innovative technology complement business growth.
Epicor solutions have proven effective for the Big R Holdings expanding business. “Epicor has grown with our business. Epicor solutions have helped us better manage our business from inventory and order points, to receiving and promotions. Epicor solutions are phenomenal. They assist us with our business improvement and growth goals,” said Adam Carroll, vice president of Big R Holdings.
Read the full Big R Holdings story here.
The General Store improved customer service and saves time with smartphone solution. “With Epicor Eagle Mobile Manager, we make better buying decisions and are able to determine whether show specials or discounts are right for our business… Mobile Manager has made my life easier. It is so convenient and has already saved me a lot of time. I recommend it for retail operations similar to ours,” said David Jones, owner of The General Store.
Read The General Store’s full story here.
Posted by Doug Smith, Senior Product Manager, Epicor Retail Distribution Solutions
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.
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:
- A spreadsheet of the previous year’s sales
- A spreadsheet of all the supplier brands the customer buys from the distributor and the expected price increase (expressed as a percentage)
- 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
Five pillars of change are dominating discussions about today’s technology:
- Big data
- Video/unified communications
“Mobile” is about the interface—how quickly we can access computing power. Today we have more computing power in our smartphones that what was used to send the first man to the moon. “Social” is the network and who is engaged. Social transcends personal and work, and today genuine value resides in this network. The “cloud” is the information store and innovation platform. “Big data” is the brains and intelligence resident in the information, be it structured or unstructured. Finally, “video and unified communications” are how we share, interact, and collaborate with each other across all senses.
While these five forces are interesting on their own, digital business disruption is happening at their convergence: social and big data, mobile and cloud, video and mobile. It’s this convergence that is creating tremendous market disruption.
In the midst of this technological advance, market change is accelerating.
In light of these forces, where is your company today? Where will it be in five years? Consider this: in 2010, Blackberry had a 45 percent market share, Apple 25 percent, Microsoft 15 percent, Android 7 percent, and Palm 5.7 percent. Today, Blackberry has a 1.5 percent share. The pace of change has never been so intense. Since 2000, 52 percent of the Fortune 500 has been merged, acquired, or gone bankrupt.
Four massive trends are driving this change:
- Macro trends
- An increasingly dynamic work force
- Disruptive technology adoption
- New digital business models
The first of these trends cannot be controlled by organizations: natural disasters, political unrest, and economic recessions are effectively beyond their scope of influence. But the other three can be planned for, and need to be accommodated by today’s agile enterprise resource planning (ERP).
Dynamic Work Force
In addition to where we work, when we work, what we work on, and how we work, even the notion of why we work has changed. All this is impacting ERP development. While most analysts discuss the changing work force in generational terms (e.g., millennials, generation X, generation Y, baby boomers, post war), Constellation Research
segmented the workforce in terms of digital proficiency, a more useful structure in light of the fact that the environment everyone is competing in is digitally driven:
- Digital natives: those who grew up with the Internet and are comfortable in engaging in all digital channels.
- Digital immigrants: those who have crossed over into the digital world, forced into engagement in digital channels.
- Digital voyeurs: those who recognize the shift to digital, but observe it from a distance.
- Digital holdouts: those who resist the shift to digital, and ignore or deny its impact.
- Digital disengaged: those who give up on digital participation.
The disruptive technologies that impact the enterprise have come from the consumerization of IT, and ERP must be agile enough to accommodate—and take advantage of—their impact in the workplace. The cloud is the innovation platform for these technologies, and ERP must leverage it to user benefit. Social and mobile technologies are driving huge amounts of data to mine for context, something that must be leveraged to discover opportunities, minimize risk, and provide more precise information in real time. What is needed is information that can be used to empower better decision-making at all levels of the enterprise. Information has moved beyond the stuff of records to a vital force that senses, responds to, and communicates with people and machines.
Digital Business Models
Consider how business models have evolved in the digital age:
- Product companies give away product for service revenues.
- Service-based businesses sell experiences at varying price points and service levels.
- Experience-based businesses sell business models.
- Business model companies sell peace of mind.
With the emergence of digital business models, the pace of innovation has accelerated dramatically. Take Sony, for example. In 1983, they introduced the Walkman—a transformational product. It changed the game in music, and Sony hasn’t had a transformational product since. In 2001, Apple introduced the iPod. It wasn’t the best music player, but it was transformational because it changed the music industry at the height of piracy. They convinced people to spend 99¢ on a song instead of pirating it. It saved the music industry in the age of Napster.
The iPhone is also innovative, but not because it’s a smartphone. This one device has destroyed 27 business models. These are jobs, companies, and capital never to be replaced. Do you need a flashlight? Do you need a digital camera? Do you develop your pictures at a one-hour photo store? Do you need a GPS device? Do you carry a portable video unit? Do you buy music? Where do you buy books? This is transformational innovation.
Sony wanted to be Apple. Apple became Sony. Now Samsung wants to be Apple. Apple puts out one new phone a year. Samsung puts out a new phone every 40 days. The pace of change is accelerating and transformational.
Can your ERP adapt to this type of transformational change? It will have to be agile to do so.
Part Two of this post will detail what users want, and what agile ERP needs to be. Stay tuned.
Posted by the Epicor ERP Insights Team
While Mom and apple pie is a sure-fire cure for homesickness, leveraging the power of MOM – that’s Manufacturing Operations Management – and next-generation technology capabilities can assist manufacturers in overcoming some of the greatest challenges they face today.
That’s the key take-away from industry analyst firm LNS Research, in its research on The Global State of Manufacturing Operations Management Software, which surveyed more than 250 manufacturers worldwide.
In the October 28 webcast, according to LNS Research, MOM can play an essential role in helping manufacturers keep pace with an explosion of data. Legacy and point solutions are becoming increasingly ineffective as manufacturers face increased global competition and market pressures. And as manufacturers embrace Big Data, Mobile and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, new data and process integration capabilities must be added to organizations’ operations. Next-generation MOM software platforms and applications are key to rationalize multiple legacy applications as well as integrate new data sources debuting on the plant floor.
LNS says next-generation MOM features: configurable processes, a common manufacturing data model, built-in analytics, along with the ability to deploy in new hybrid cloud models that are capable of delivering universal information access and flexible options for deployment and pricing.
Addressing the Customer Experience Imperative
In addition to keeping on top of manufacturing data, MOM is being used by savvy manufacturers to address the growing customer experience imperative. LNS Research survey showed top strategic objectives for manufacturing industries all were focused on serving customers. First and foremost is ensuring consistency of quality for products produced at 61%, followed by timely order fulfillment at 55%, and then 52% focused on increasing production capacity and capabilities.
Breaking Down Barriers
Forty-eight percent of respondents said their top operational challenge is breaking down silos of organizations and departments and fostering greater collaboration. This includes more social collaboration with customers to understand their “likes” and “dislikes,” along with getting faster feedback from groups of customers on their requirements and reactions to new products and services. This also includes faster digital collaboration with suppliers to ensure rapid responses to materials, while ensuring quality and traceability requirements are being met. Communicating product and service information digitally across value chains, while openly sharing goals, objectives, and KPIs is a best practice LNS Research has identified to address these challenges.
New Emerging Opportunities for MOM
When looking at the application of MOM software today, researchers noted an “immaturity” of analytics, visibility, and collaboration – often a result of legacy systems which lack these more modern capabilities. Areas that hold great potential for the application of MOM include areas in the integration of design, optimization, data analytics, and collaboration across all roles and users of applications, says LNS.
In Search of ROI
ROI justification was cited as one of the top challenges for MOM implementations. Researchers say there are a number of reasons companies struggle with ROI, including a lack of metric visibility and a lack of understanding of how MOM software can drive value. The good news, says LNS, is that new ease and deployment options promise to help drive the time to value proposition and overall ROI of MOM investments.
As a sponsor of the research study, Epicor invites you to download a complimentary copy of The Global State of Manufacturing Operations Management Software eBook and Infographic.
Posted by Tom Muth, Senior Manager, Product Marketing, Epicor
For food manufacturers, food safety is among the most important issues they face; additionally, the demands for documentation relating to food sourcing, material flow, traceability, and regulatory compliance present an increasing and ongoing challenge to their operations. Particularly as retailers and regulatory agencies make greater demands on manufacturers for detailed documentation, it can represent a significant cost to manufacturers, one that directly impacts their bottom lines. Among the requirements food manufacturers face:
- Forward and backward traceability of processed goods, batches, and lots—requiring detailed tracking from the source to the shelf
- Strict ingredient and environmental control throughout the manufacturing process
- The need for fast response to recall events or customer questions—in minutes, not days or weeks
Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems provide food manufacturers a means to meet these challenges while improving their internal business processes. Here’s what they do:
- Provide a framework to meet regulatory compliance demands, ensure product safety, and control costs.
- Automate traceability of ingredients from field to final customer.
- Speed and simplify the audit process.
- Enable a closed-loop approach to quality management by integrating quality workflows from an initial sales order all the way through shipment, which maintains quality specifications, sampling and testing procedures, and reporting of test results.
- Can dynamically link to material lot and product release controls to both support quality and ensure complete traceability.
An article in Food Manufacturing notes a number of key elements food manufacturers should keep in mind when considering implementation of ERP, including:
- Design fit for their unique business requirements and a history of success in the segment
- Process manufacturing functionality, including a built-in process model and recipe and materials management support to drive efficiencies and improve margins
- The ability to monitor and manage the variability of yields, product quality, and shelf life
- The ability to accurately forecast, to optimize schedules, and to manage all elements necessary to fulfill order to promise quickly
- Industry-specific functionality that minimizes the need for customization and supports date code management, rebates and commissions, consignment costing, day one for day one order and delivery, multiple product attributes and grades, and retailer-specific packaging
Posted By Stewart Baillie, Vice President, Products, Manufacturing
Competing online is a new game for many independent retailers. As competition from big-box stores continuously increases, it is essential for owners of independent brick-and-mortar stores to consider growing their businesses with expansion into the world of eCommerce. Many know they need to define a consistent strategy to sell online, but retailers need effective tools for that strategy to be successful. With technology, retailers are able to connect with consumers in powerful new ways.
Whether your business has already established an Internet presence, or you’re preparing to take a business online, eCommerce can mean much more than an additional “purchasing location” for consumers. It’s also about maintaining relevancy in today’s fast-paced market. The new version of Epicor iNet™ eBusiness Suite*, an integrated eCommerce and eBusiness technology solution, offers an additional storefront to consumers and is a valuable tool for everything from product research and purchase, to directions to your store. By providing convenient self-service information, consumers and commercial customers can find that the new Epicor iNet software makes it easier for them to do business with retailers.
New doors for both the retailer and their customers are opened with eCommerce. By selecting the correct solution for a business, retailers can magnify their footprint and capitalize on increasing valuable customer relationships not just locally, but nationally and globally. In addition to better connecting to your consumers, eCommerce is another way to grow a revenue stream outside the traditional retail space, as well as help keep costs down by letting customers serve themselves.
Kinnucan’s Specialty Outfitter, founded in 1987, operates the company’s online store with Epicor iNet software. “If you're in the retail business you will eventually have to be an eCommerce business if you want to compete effectively and have any future,” said Bobby Lake, president of Kinnucan’s Specialty Outfitter. “We spent a lot of time and energy making sure that our brick-and-mortar business was successfully and efficiently operated. Since we had all those pieces in place, it was our time to move into eCommerce to expand our business further. Epicor iNet is the technology behind our eCommerce strategy. The benefit for us is that we’re now able to take our business across county, city, and state lines – geography is no longer an issue.”
The newest version of Epicor iNet software is packed with powerful and timesaving new features, including:
- Emailed reminders to shoppers who abandoned online carts – notifications for them to return and complete their purchase with ease
- Comprehensive support for multiple payment processors on a single eCommerce site – you can now accept more forms of payment
- Allow ACH “eChecks” from Authorized .Net – reduce transaction fees when paying on an account
- Support for Promotion Codes – attract new customers and run free shipping or free gift promotions online
- Item-level Shipping Rules – assign the right rates for bulky and overweight items
- More shopping convenience for your customers – enhanced search capabilities, multiple shipping addresses and more.
How do you get started with eCommerce? Every good strategy begins with an evaluation period. Take a complete look at your organization before you even consider the technology. Are you ready to run eCommerce as an incorporated division? Evaluate you're people and understand whether or not you have the right operational model and framework to support online selling, and if you can meet and support the needs of your customers.
As an independent retailer you're competing with a sea of options. When a consumer wants something, regardless of locality, retailers must respond with an easy and seamless purchase process. What’s great about modern retail technology is that it provides that process and more. The tactics and tools are available for retailers to succeed, so long as retailers are motivated to educate themselves and embrace the technology.
To learn more about Epicor Eagle and the Epicor iNet eBusiness Suite, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by Mike Duncan, Senior Product Manager, Epicor Retail Distribution
*Epicor iNet eBusiness Suite is an available purchase option for users of the Epicor® Eagle® business management system.
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
There was no shortage of networking opportunities during the 2014 LBM and Wood Products User Conference
, held November 4-5, 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Attendees were able to connect with Epicor staff, as well as new and seasoned users across Epicor lumber and building materials (LBM) and wood product solutions.
“There are many reasons we come to the Epicor LBM and Wood Products User Conference, but one of the primary reasons is for the one-on-one time with a large group of Epicor representatives,” said Jon Le Roi, director of IT at Mendocino Forest Products
. “I get the opportunity to talk with the head of the Epicor LumberTrack development team -- that’s not something I get to do every day. We have a great relationship with Epicor and this is another way to foster that relationship. It’s putting faces to the names of those we work closely with via email and phone conversations. The conference also offers a great combination of where Epicor is as a company, where it’s going with products, as well as new tools and trends in the industry that we can take back to our business.”
Another key driver for user attendance is the unique ability to network with similar businesses operating on the same solutions. “This is our second year attending the Epicor LBM and Wood Products User Conference,” said Chris Routhe, business process manager at Millard Lumber Inc
. “We’ve been very happy with Epicor and really feel as if we are a part of the Epicor team. For us, the conference is all about talking to likeminded people from our industry and sharing stories of best practices for better business operation. We run ideas by everyone from other users, to the Epicor representatives present. We’re able to provide our insights to what tools and software enhancements will continue to help our business grow. And Epicor listens and acts on our ideas. We will definitely attend the conference again.”
The Responsibility of Leadership with Rick Davis
The closing keynote by industry expert Rick Davis, president of Building Leaders Inc., encompassed how LBM dealers can take advantage of IT techniques and sales tools that lead to success. Davis provided attendees with three ‘power ideas’ to produce an efficient and beneficial business model:
- Annual goals create excuses – while an annual goal is a great starting point, it’s not a complete strategy. A great alternative is to create monthly performance objectives that lead to predictable future results.
- It’s about who knows you – in business, consumers buy from those they know. Establish a plan that markets your reputation and strengthens relationships.
- Create perceptions of abundance – an enlightened leader creates optimism by factually demonstrating that abundance exists. Developing sales and marketing strategies with abundance in mind will lead to success and competitive advantage.
See You in the “Alamo City!”
Mark your calendar for the 2015 Epicor LBM and Wood Products User Conference—November 10-11, 2015 in San Antonio, Texas.
Users will be able to attend dedicated education tracks focused on specific products and solutions, and opportunities to network with other users and Epicor representatives. Gain valuable insight on how to utilize your Epicor solution to inspire your business, your employees, and your bottom line. We hope you’ll join us—and your peers—in San Antonio!
Posted by the Epicor Social Media Team
In this final post on the metrics report issued by the Manufacturing Enterprise Solutions Association (MESA International) and LNS Research, we look at the fourth and final question the report answers: “How can technology help support and impact metrics programs and performance?”
Some of the key relationships uncovered in the survey were correlations between average annual metric improvements and the use of software technologies to support them. Some interesting trends were revealed with respect to adoption rates when compared to the previous survey. Overall, the most deployed applications by all respondents were enterprise resource planning (ERP); Planning, Scheduling & Dispatching; Quality Management; Data Historians; Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES); and Asset Management. Specifically, there was marked adoption growth from the last survey in three areas:
- ERP: from 67 percent previously to 74 percent
- Data Historians: from 39 percent to 42 percent
- MES: from 35 percent to 40 percent
The study’s authors note that software, in and of itself, is not a panacea for achieving operational and financial improvements. Some 85 percent of survey respondents also had process improvement programs in place such as ISO 9000/9001, Lean, Six Sigma, etc.; however, manufacturers are supporting, accelerating, and sustaining process and metrics improvements through leveraging select software applications.
Consider the following improvements in total cost per unit:
- Overall average: 13.1 percent
- For those using Operations Intelligence/Enterprise Manufacturing Intelligence software: 24.1 percent
- For those using MES: 22.5 percent
And the following improvements in on-time completed shipments:
- Overall average: 12.5 percent
- For those using MES: 22 percent
- For those using quality management software: 20.4 percent
- For those using product lifecycle management software: 19.1 percent
Similar positive correlations were found between operational metrics and software relationships.
For more information, check out http://info.epicor.com/Manufacturing-Metrics/ and the infographic here.
Posted By Stewart Baillie, Vice President, Products, Manufacturing