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Why I love being a Technical Writer and Working in the Software Industry

When I was a little girl I loved ballet, and I enjoyed every second of those 14 years. As I grew up I started to love writing. My favorite class was Creative Writing, and I’ll never forget how Miss Robin encouraged us to embrace our ideas and thoughts, always starting with a brainstorm.

I remember loving writing essays in high school. I helped everyone and because I loved writing them so much, I was good at it. My passion towards writing was reflected in every paper I delivered.

My passion for words and content drove me through my University years and it’s no wonder that I am proud to be part of the Epicor University department for a few years now. I love my job and I enjoy every part of it.

As technical writers, we have the opportunity to reach thousands of eyes, and during the journey, we learn priceless things, we meet new people, we work in teams, we discover new things, we find a thousand ways to explain one idea, and we have the chance to understand our customer’s needs, and do everything to deliver high quality work.

Every project is different, every application has specific needs, and every team performs different tasks. All the pieces come together in the end and the passion that each participant puts in their work makes a difference in the final outcome.

The way we work as a team is crucial. We work as a team among the writers, and we also work with different departments: Development, Support, Quality Assurance, Engineering, Sales, and Training. We are all pieces of the big puzzle.

I’ve been asked a few times if what we do isn’t “too boring” or “too monotonous“ and my immediate answer is always the same: “Absolutely not, I love it”. We are part of a huge company with big projects and the best applications. As a technical writer I always have new projects, different tasks, numerous teams I work with, and many people that help me along the way. Our job is far from being seated and writing non-stop. We create content, we learn, understand, and explain. We help people to easily understand and use a product, our words and work reach eyes that we will never imagine, and there is no greater feeling!

Posted by Victoria Garza, University Content Specialist

Report on Manufacturing and ERP: Part One
Kevin Prouty, senior vice president, research, at Boston, Massachusetts-based industry analyst Aberdeen Group, recently gave a presentation on manufacturing and enterprise resource planning (ERP) based on an Aberdeen survey of manufacturers. Respondents were scored across selected performance criteria and companies were segmented into best-in-class (top 20 percent), industry average (middle 50 percent), and laggard (bottom 30 percent) categories.
Key findings of the research included:
  • A lack of visibility and predictability is driving manufacturers today.
  • ERP is the single most implemented enterprise application.
  • ERP lays the foundations for standard business processes among manufacturers.
  • ERP is a living system that is maintained, extended, and evolved after initial implementation.
  • Best-in-class manufacturers are much more likely to have a multi-ERP or federated strategy than average or laggard organizations.

Respondents ranked the top pressures in manufacturing as unpredictable demand (41 percent), increased volume and complexity of data (40 percent), availability of skilled resources (35 percent), inability to collaborate across the extended enterprise (22 percent), and maintaining the security and stability of data (22 percent).

A comparison of best-in-class manufacturers with industry average manufacturers across performance metrics shows significant differences:

 
ERP is pervasive among manufacturers, with leaders indicating 97 percent adoption and followers 88 percent. The top five ERP extensions were CRM, warehouse management (beyond inventory management), standalone financial planning and budgeting, BI or analytical tools, and EDI translators. Across the board, industry leaders get more out of their ERP than followers; for example, seeing a 12 percent improvement in operational costs (versus 4 percent for followers), 39 percent improvement in inventory turns (versus 18 percent), and 20 percent improvement in stock-to-sales ratios (versus 7 percent).
An important finding of the study documented the benefits of mobile ERP:
 

 
These compelling figures point to why manufacturers are increasingly demanding mobile ERP capabilities.
In Part Two of this post, we’ll look at what the Aberdeen study said about upgrading ERP and the use of cloud-based ERP. Stay tuned.

Posted by Manufacturing Insights Team
Leveling the Playing Field for Independent Retailers with the Cloud

According a U.S. Senator, “Small businesses should have the same ability to reach customers as powerful corporations.” In the retail sector, we’re seeing this sentiment taking flight with independent retailers leveraging cloud-based solutions to realize “big retailer” capabilities without the financial or staffing wherewithal of their larger competitors.*

Case in point: Truckee, California-based The Rock Garden, a single-store, multi-brand retailer. According to Chuck Avery, controller at The Rock Garden, the company believes strongly that rather than having servers onsite, with a cloud-based or hosted solution retailers “will have more time and energy to focus on their own businesses.”

The Rock Garden moved their Epicor Eagle solution to Epicor Eagle Hosting, a Web-based retail business management solution that provides independent retailers with the same advanced functionality as systems used by the world’s leading retailers -- in a model that significantly reduces capital investment, implementation challenges, and the ongoing requirements of managing IT assets.

[[blogvideo:http://www.youtube.com/v/4TtMzuBCXwQ]]

Additionally, Epicor Eagle Hosting includes substantial power redundancy, HVAC, network and server hardware, Internet feeds, firewalls and data resides in a PCI compliant datacenter that is designed and operated to maintain high levels of security to provide small and independent retailers an affordable and effective end-to-end solution. Among the features that make this offering so compelling:

  • Comprehensive services and infrastructure, from implementation and training to maintenance, data security, hardware, and support
  • Fast implementation: up and running quickly
  • Automatic, no-cost updates keep a retail business current with the latest technology and eliminate the need for future system migration

As the retail industry continues its fundamental shift into the digital world, hosted and cloud-based IT solutions, such as those provided by Epicor, are leveling the playing field for independent competitors. Ultimately that benefits retailers of all stripes, but also the consumers they serve.

Posted by Keith Lam, Senior Product Manager, Retail Distribution, Epicor

*“The Most Important Free Speech Issue of Our Time.” Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/al-franken/the-most-important-free-s_b_798984.html

Upgrading Your Inside Sales & Customer Service Teams Part 4: MS Excel Tips

Continuing our discussion on how to improve upon our employee skillset, let’s review Microsoft Excel.  This is quite possibly the most important tool in the Microsoft line of products, because it allows anyone with a basic understanding of some Excel tools to analyze, manipulate and comprehend data. Because knowledge is power, Excel can empower your workforce to be more analytical, and thus more capable of making decisions on actionable data.

The following example data will be used throughout this blog.


 

PROPER
You’ll notice that all the names are in lower case. To change this without hand keying everything over again is simple―by using the Excel function called PROPER.

Step 1: Add a new column called, ‘First Name Proper’ or anything that makes sense to you
 
Step 2: Place your cursor in the cell where you want your corrected name to go; in this case, C2. Then, using the function field in Excel, enter the function as follows: =PROPER(A2) 

This tells Excel to look at cell A2 and to capitalize the first letter of each word and use lower case for the rest of each word.  Had the cell contained multiple words, each word would have the first letter capitalized.
 
Repeat the steps above to add a column for the Last Name Field.

Crosshairs
Now that you’ve created the formula for one cell, you can apply the same formula to other cells using the crosshairs feature in Excel.  To do this, hover your cursor in the lower left corner of the cell that contains the formula you want to extend to other cells.  You will note that the white cross becomes a black crosshairs. When you see the crosshairs, double click and the formula will be applied to every cell below it until it comes to a blank field in the column on the left of it.
 
Pasting Values
Now that you’ve made the data look better, you may be bothered by the fact that you have two columns of first names and two columns of last names. This too can be easily fixed, though not as simply as an inexperienced Excel user may think.

Because the fields you’ve used the PROPER function on are tied directly to the cells they’re referenced to (i.e., Column C cells are referencing data in Column A cells), any change you make to column A will immediately affect the data in column C.  So if you delete the column in lower case, your PROPER column will “error out,” because it will no longer have anything to reference.

You can fix this by pasting values.  By highlighting Column C and copying (using Ctrl + C or using the contextual right click menu), you can then highlight Column A and right click.  From there, you’ll click on the clipboard with the numbers on it.  This is the PASTE VALUES function in Excel.  This literally instructs Excel, regardless of the formula of the copied cell, to paste the value itself and not the formula that created it. 
 
You can repeat this for the Last Name column, leaving you with duplicate First Name and Last Name columns.
 
From there, you can now delete Columns C & D, leaving only two columns.
 
In our next blog, we’ll show how to easily turn these two columns into one, and how to use the VLOOKUP function to drill into data.

Posted by Brad Vance, Epicor Senior Business Process Consultant

Analyzing Your Risks for Business Success

We manage risk in our personal lives from issuing car insurance to dental cleaning, in hopes to reduce the consequences of potential unwelcome events. No one wants car accidents or dental problems, right?

Yet what we often fail to do is identify and manage risk in a business environment, similarly as we recognize risk in our private lives. More often than not, companies do not investigate everything that could impact their business, but rather, look only at the obvious areas of risk. They need to engage in proper risk management.

Risk management is the process of identifying, assessing, and controlling risks that arise from operational factors, and making decisions that balance the risk costs with the benefits.

You might be asking, why manage risk at all? What would happen if we choose to cliff dive in an area that no other swimmers have dove into before, and all it took was a minute of our time to prevent a catastrophe? All businesses encounter circumstances that can be identified and mitigated appropriately to gain positive risk benefits and reduce the impact of negative risks.

Typically, risk is considered to have a negative connotation, but in reality, risk is what provides a business the ability to succeed and we often fail to differentiate between good risks versus a bad risk. For example, if a company decides to increase its product lines to service a different customer demographic, this risk could potentially increase revenue while growing the overall business. If this risk is not taken, the company may remain at the same growth level, or have negative growth due to lack of innovation and customer retention.

That said, there are two types of risk:

  • Good risks are called opportunities
  • Bad risks are called threats

The goal of risk management is to really minimize potential negative risks, while maximizing potential positive risks.  While some companies go without a defined strategy, hoping everything will “work out for the best,” the reality is that businesses must be proactive in assessing risk versus the “hopeful” alternative.

Risk management helps establish the framework in which the project team will identify and develop strategies to mitigate or avoid the risks associated with activities such as a new project, ERP implementation, or upgrade/migration venture.

The risk management process should include the following tasks:

  • Risk management planning
    • Define the risk management plan
  • Risk identification
    • Risk register
    • Risk statement
    • Categorizing notations of risk
  • Risk assessment
    • Rating scale
  • Risk responses planning
  • Risk monitoring & control

We can take control by consistently evaluating and adjusting our processes to achieve the greatest impact on the success of the business. The process of implementing effective risk management will result in a more predictable and profitable business. To learn about analyzing risks for your businesses, visit our consulting services page to download the whitepaper:

http://www.epicor.com/Services/Pages/Consulting.aspx.

Posted by Epicor Social Media Team

“Revolutionary 100” Retailers Provide Valuable Industry Insight

National lawn and garden trade publication Today’s Garden Center has selected 100 North American lawn and garden retail businesses for its Revolutionary 100 Garden Center List. Started in 2006, the program surveys garden center owners and managers on how they run their businesses. Each retailer competes on financial performance, management styles, merchandising, marketing and many other areas that determine a thriving garden store, large or small.

Thirteen of the lawn and garden businesses listed this year operate their stores with the Epicor® Eagle® retail business management solution. Hundreds of lawn and garden centers across North America utilize Epicor Eagle to create more efficient, more profitable businesses that result in more satisfied customers and increased customer loyalty.

We are excited to congratulate some of the retailers named that operate their businesses with Epicor solutions:

Alsip Home & Nursery, Illinois
Hillermann Nursery & Florist, Missouri
K&W Greenery, Wisconsin
Petitti Garden Centers, Ohio
Ray Wiegand’s Nursery, Michigan
Steve’s Ace Home & Garden, Iowa
Wannemaker’s Home and Garden, Illinois
Bayport Flower Houses, New York
Stauffers of Kissel Hill, Pennsylvania
Atlantic Avenue Orchid & Garden, North Carolina
Ken Matthews Garden Center, Virginia

To view the full list of 2015 Revolutionary Garden Center winners, click here.

Posted by Sam Kirkland, National Accounts Manager, Retail Distribution Solutions for Epicor

How Mobility Drives a Smarter Workforce in the Field

Excellent service means responding quickly to customer needs. For those providing field service, this means four basic things: being on time, having enough time to do the job properly, having the right skills, and bringing the right tools. As Information Age notes in a recent article, “For mobile technicians, an increased importance has been put on their role to the overall success of the organization, as they are quite often the only interaction a customer will have with the business.”

Consequently, mobility has taken on an increasingly strategic role for field-service organizations. Recent Aberdeen Group research has confirmed this trend, finding that 82 percent of field-service organizations identified mobility as a strategic initiative for the service operation in the next 12 months—as a tool to empower the field with real-time intelligence to make decisions and resolve issues to better serve the customer. Notes Information Age:

Companies that understand how to strategically leverage mobility solutions stand to drive efficiencies, improve customer service, and benefit from a more profitable bottom line. With field-based work becoming increasingly complex and time-sensitive, more and more businesses are beginning to focus on the proliferation of mobile solutions, integrated with back-end field service solutions, to help manage field operations and provide the mobile workforce with the real-time knowledge needed to make better, more intelligent decisions while in the field.

Among the emerging mobile technologies that are enabling better and smarter field service: the Internet of Things (IoT), by enabling devices to communicate with one another and send and receive data, and mobile applications that provide technicians with visibility across the organization and the ability to share, store, and view job data while in the field.

In a post on its data and networks blog, Ottawa, Ontario-based SkyWave lists five characteristics organizations should look for when considering mobile technology for its workforce:

  • Easy integration. The hardware platform should allow the integrator to customize the solution to ensure easy integration into existing enterprise processes while providing off-the-shelf software applications to enable common functions.
  • Modularity, flexibility, and network readiness. The smartest solutions are modular in nature, allowing you to plan for coverage issues from the outset, and to address requirements with options for cellular, Wi-Fi, satellite, and Ethernet networking.
  • Programmability and configurability. Programming, configuration, and protocol restrictions compromise access to smart data. Devices based on open protocols and customizable scripting languages provide the flexibility needed to develop and deploy a truly custom mobile workforce solution.
  • Minimization of airtime costs. Smarter devices allow for advanced analytics and exception-based reporting at the edge, and enable field workers to access critical data without prohibitive roaming charges.
  • Device agnosticism. Compatibility with a variety of Web-enabled devices simplifies and streamlines access to intelligent data. This device-agnostic compatibility can facilitate a variety of custom workforce automation applications, increase productivity, and ensure continuous communication with remote assets, vehicles, and personnel.

It is important to note that the data gathered and communicated through mobility is not sufficient in and of itself. Integrating that data is key. As Information Age comments:

It is how that data is analyzed and turned into usable information that is what will really make a difference. For this reason, data captured through mobile devices must be tied into other systems within the organization’s technology infrastructure—if not, it will get lost.

Not surprisingly, Aberdeen found the top strategic action for 62 percent of best-in-class field-service organizations was to improve data integration between the field and back-office systems. These companies understood that mobility not only made for a smarter workforce, but when leveraged properly, a smarter enterprise.

Posted by HCM Insights Team

Users Get Inspired, Informed, and Involved at the Epicor Insights Eagle Customer Conference

Earlier this month, hundreds of independent retailers and users of the Epicor Eagle and Epicor Eagle for the Automotive Aftermarket solutions flocked to New Orleans for the Epicor Insights Eagle Customer Conference 2015. During the two-day event, attendees had the opportunity to participate in educational sessions, learn about new Epicor technologies, network with other users and meet members of the Epicor team.

The opening keynote by Craig McCollum, executive vice president and general manager, retail distribution solutions for Epicor, emphasized how generational shifts in North America, and specifically within independent retail businesses, are changing the dynamics of business. “Think of all of the jobs and industries either transformed or completely eliminated by technology,” said McCollum. “As the next generation of tech-savvy leaders come into fold, businesses need to build upon the existing strengths by including powerful components that have quite often not been leveraged by small, independently owned businesses -- implementation of technology to help make operations more efficient and to lead with decisions that are data driven. As the retail world continues to shift towards new technologies, I want to encourage businesses to embrace change, try to understand generational differences, and remain technologically relevant -- each of these objectives will improve communication across your businesses.”

With more than 60 interactive sessions, participants had excellent educational opportunities to learn how to improve their businesses operations. “I’ve been able to take away great ideas for improvement from every Insights Eagle session to bring back and implement in my business,” said Jay Saxton, sales and operations director at Construction Building Materials, Inc. “The conference is very valuable for any retailer looking to improve their business.”

The final day of Insights Eagle commenced with a keynote by Chris Swecker, former assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigations Division and the former global security director of Bank of America. As a former head of the FBI’s Criminal Division, he led all FBI criminal investigations including public corruption, money laundering, organized crime and financial crime matters—spending more than 30 years fighting and protecting businesses against financial crimes. His keynote illuminated recent business security breaches and offered insights into protecting and safeguarding business data.

Highlights from Swecker’s keynote include:

  • Fraud Risk Environment is Growing. The number of U.S. data breaches tracked in 2014 hit a record high of 783 in 2014, according to a recent report released by the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) and sponsored by IDT911™
  • Best Practices for Business Data: mitigate the risk of a business data breach with tools like tokenization, egress filtering and limit exfiltration of data, P2P, EMV, Crown Jewel Identification
  • Improve Personal Security by implementing the following tactics: patch updates, extra authentication, monitor credit and banking activity, shred unnecessary documents, and educate yourself about phishing

We hope to see you at the next Epicor Insights Eagle Customer Conference, where you can gain valuable insights to drive your business forward. Learn more at www.epicor.com.

Posted by the Epicor Social Media Team

Upgrading Your Inside Sales & Customer Service Teams Part 3: MS Word Tips

In our previous blogs, we started discussing the need to focus on upgrading employees through skills enhancements, and shared some cool tips and tricks that can be applied in Microsoft Outlook to provide added efficiency and organization.  Now let’s expand upon that and discuss another application from Microsoft Office, Word.

Quite often, I see front line employees using the mouse and keyboard to accomplish tasks within Word, which is sometimes a necessity. However, many individuals heavily rely on using the mouse when the keyboard is faster (and thus more efficient). Here are the basic keyboard shortcuts that individuals can use to save time and eliminate the need to drag a mouse all over the screen:

Ctrl + N: This creates a new Word document
Ctrl + O: Open an existing Word document
Ctrl + C: Copies highlighted text or objects in the document
Ctrl + X: Cuts text or objects from the document
Ctrl + V: Pastes text or objects from the document
Ctrl + Z: Undo the last action performed
Ctrl + Y: Redo the last action performed
Ctrl + P: Print the current document
Ctrl + A: Select all text and objects in a document

All of the above keyboard shortcut keys have contextual drop-down menu equivalents, which is where the inefficiency lies. It requires the physical movement of a mouse to drop down menus, oftentimes in multiple, in order to find the command the user wants. If you were to conduct a time study, you’ll likely find it takes 10-25 percent longer to use the mouse with contextual menus than to use the keyboard keystrokes.

Here are some other quick keystrokes and mouse combos your users may have never heard of, but could provide significant value:

The Triple Click:  By triple clicking anywhere in a paragraph, a user can highlight the entire paragraph. No more clicking and dragging down, hoping to not race past the paragraph; only having to start the process all over again.

Alt & Drag:  This allows the user to create rectangular boxes across text, and then apply the formatting window to change only the area they’ve selected.

Hide the Ribbon:  Users can hide the ribbon at the top of the screen by double clicking the Ribbon Name. This creates more visual real estate, and therefore less movement to read a document.

Ctrl + Click: Allows users to select an entire sentence.

Format Painter: Use the paint brush icon to apply a particular format to another area of the document.

Ctrl + Shift + <&>:  Users can increase or decrease their text font size by selecting the text to change; to increase, use “Ctrl + Shift + >” and to decrease, use “Ctrl + Shift + <”.

Create an Excel Table: Users can quickly create an Excel table within a Word document by typing a plus sign (+), then pressing the Tab key. Repeat this for however many cells you want in the table and then press “Enter.”  The table will magically appear.

Ctrl + H: This opens the traditional Find and Replace window.

Ctrl + Tab: Allows users to jump between the document and the Find menu.

F7: Initiates a Spell Check.

Shift + Arrow Keys: Allows the user to quickly select entire rows of text. This works very well with the Copy, Cut and Paste keys.

This is by no means an all-inclusive list of shortcuts, but you should find a majority of them will provide lots of value and efficiency to you and your fellow users.  Stay tuned for the next blog, where we’ll be covering great tips and tricks using Microsoft Excel.

Posted by Brad Vance, Epicor Senior Business Process Consultant

Monitoring the ERP Clock

Knowing when to replace one’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) system can be a tricky proposition. For many organizations, growth, revisions to the business model, or physical changes may be the drivers of “monitoring the clock” on a current system. On the other hand, symptoms may have emerged that indicate the system’s useful life is running down. These could range from people working outside of ERP to do things that should be part of ERP processes, reliance on a diminishing number of key staff to keep the system operating properly, or finding that the system is struggling to keep abreast of technological developments.

Ultimately, if ERP no longer supports the organization’s strategic objectives efficiently and cost-effectively, chances are the clock is winding rapidly towards its end. Not anticipating this event can threaten an organization’s competitive status.

In a timely article on Information Week, Anish Kanaran, channel director for Epicor in the Middle East, Africa, and India, addresses the issue of ERP change:

An ERP replacement project can be a huge undertaking financially and operationally; so make sure that when your current ERP clock runs out; your next system has a longer lifespan. The ability of a system to be scalable and flexible enough to grow and map itself against the long-term objectives of the business is important, but so too is partnering with the right vendor. Choose a provider who makes the right investment in technology. ERP systems that are designed to embrace new technologies as they emerge provide the right foundation on which to build your ERP strategy. Modern ERP providers do the thinking for you. They anticipate change and offer innovative solutions to not just meet functionality requirements but [also] the changing ways that users will need to work to continually improve productivity and ultimately the speed at which you can do business.

Kanaran provides a useful checklist of best practices for resetting the ERP and making sure one’s ERP system stands up to future organizational needs:

  • Keep an eye on the technology evolution. Anticipating the rapid evolution of technology and user expectations, and incorporating it into business software solutions, are important differentiators. A good example of this practice is being able to facilitate the sharing of information within your business to improve productivity. Promoting collaboration beyond the four walls of your business opens up conversations with customers and suppliers, making information readily available to facilitate speed and agility.
  • Usability means productivity. The easier a system is to use, the quicker your business will start to see value. Unprecedented ease-of-adoption, from management of implementation and upgrades to the ease with which casual users can access information, means unsurpassed usability and productivity.
  • Technology on your terms. The system should provide choice and flexibility when it comes to access and deployment, whether you choose to deploy on premise, hosted, or cloud, with access from PCs, tablets, or mobiles.
  • Choose the right technology partner. A proven ERP provider will have a long history of successful implementations across a variety of sectors. They will start the process by gaining a deep understanding of your business and objectives and then tailor the system accordingly. They should be experts in your industry and help you to delve into the nuts and bolts of your business. As an objective third party, they can shed new light on business challenges that you may not have realized even exist.
  • Make sure scalability and performance are high on your list. Enhanced performance, scalability, and ease of deployment will boost business agility and growth. Being able to grow with your business and adapt to change is essential.

Time, as the old rock song says, keeps on slippin’ into the future. For businesses that want to keep soaring higher, keeping close track of the ERP clock will help them avoid being grounded by obsolescent software.

Posted by ERP Insights Team
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