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Last month I had the opportunity to attend the Insights meeting in Las Vegas as the guest of Epicor Software Corporation. Insights gathers Epicor customers for all of their current and legacy software systems, Epicor partners and the Epicor team for four days of meetings, technical sessions and also some fun. Their software packages include Epicor ERP, Eclipse, Prophet 21, Prelude and others on the distribution side, as well as packages that serve manufacturing and retail sales verticals. Epicor has 4,600 employees, serving more than 20,000 customers in over 150 countries in more than 30 languages. Their 2013 revenues are in excess of $960M.
Insights 2014 was a massive meeting with more than 4,000 people in attendance, of which more than 3,000 were customers. Epicor hosted approximately 700 sessions and provided hands-on technical and operational training with more than 800 computers.
The organizers did an outstanding job putting together a solid program and then managing the meeting to keep all the moving parts working in a really amazing manner. I am a tough grader and I was really impressed. Epicor announced the release of Epicor ERP version 10, their next-generation enterprise resource planning software package, and their total adoption of the Microsoft server platform as the foundation for the Epicor ERP 10 software package.
Many of the Epicor users had their first opportunity to meet and talk with new members of the Epicor management team, since several of the team members had been installed since the last Insights meeting. The new members included Joe Cowan, Epicor’s new President and CEO, who replaced Pervez Qureshi. Joe brings a lot of software experience from outside our industry, as he has groomed and sold software companies like Online Resources and Interwoven. Joe introduced Donna Troy, EVP and GM, ERP Americas, who joined the company last July and brings broad software experience to the position. This role had been vacant at last year’s Insights. Joe also recently named Janie West as Senior Vice President and Chief Product Officer.
I had the opportunity to talk one-on-one with Janie West about the direction and the process for the new management team:
Schmitt: Thanks for taking the time today, can you give me a little on your background?
West: I have always worked in product management and product marketing. For the last 10 years, I have focused in the strategy development area. I have a broad background in the software industry, and before that, I started out in the hardware industry, but that was a long time ago.
Schmitt: So you were brought in to evolve the Epicor strategy?
West: Joe and I have worked together on and off for over 30 years in a variety of different companies. As you probably know, Joe specializes in turnarounds, and I often come in and run the strategy process for him. In my role as chief product officer, we are bringing together the product marketing and product management teams.
Schmitt: You have only been with Epicor a couple months.
West: That’s right, I joined Epicor roughly two months ago, and everybody in the organization was in the midst of the Epicor ERP 10 rollout and preparing for Insights. I needed to make sure that any changes I made regarding product strategy didn’t de-focus from those tasks. We are just getting started with the process and should be getting going in the next 30 days. Of course, I have been working to get some people identified and in place.
Schmitt: In preparation for Insights, I had asked a couple Epicor customers about what was on their minds, and the future direction of Epicor came up. They are concerned that the owners are just looking for return on their investment without a go-forward strategy. Talk about Epicor’s direction.
West: When we [Joe and I] came in, we looked at what Epicor had in play, and it was hard to decide what it was. The strategy seemed to be, “I can do everything.” You just can’t be all things to all people all the time.
Schmitt: In my consulting experience, that’s a strategy that never works.
West: Good strategy comes down to making some hard decisions, and we’re prepared to make those decisions.
Schmitt: Epicor has a very robust portfolio of “stuff” -- where is the team going to take it?
West: First I want you to understand that, thus far, we have 6 priorities, but at this time, they are not in a particular order. We need to do all six.
Schmitt: Where do we start?
West: As we looked at our products across the board, a big concern is simplification and ease of use. I don’t care what market we look at, we are continually adding features, but we are also adding complexity for people. Complexity makes it harder to use, harder to train, and harder to implement, so we decided our top area of focus needs to be, “How do we simplify and take some of the complexity out.”
Schmitt: What’s after that?
West: Financials. Every one of our users has to use a financials package in their business. But they want the financials to be tailored to the needs of their specific vertical. Distributors look at their financials differently than a manufacturer would look at their financials, which is different from the way a retailer would look at their financials. We need to do more in the “verticalization” of our financials.
Schmitt: I know you already operate in 150 countries, but it also seems that you are expanding your global focus.
West: Yes, we are, and that requires localization. We currently support “country-specific functionality” (CSF), but we want to improve the way we build that into the products. The CSF team will report to me, and we are investing in that area. We want to be more proactive. So when Donna [Troy] wants to go into a country in Latin America, we know going in what she will need to support customers in that country, and we will have a template for going into a market. This proactive approach would also support Craig Charlton in Asia and Keith Deane in EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa.)
West: Manufacturing. We have lots of strengths in both discrete and process manufacturing, and we want to continue to focus on delivering best in class manufacturing software offerings to this industry sector.
Next is Distribution. We want to build out distribution functionality in Epicor ERP 10, being that it is one of our main go-forward technology platforms. It has a lot of distribution capability in it today, but it would not currently provide the breadth of functionality of Prophet 21 or Eclipse. While we are bringing more distribution functionality over to Epicor ERP 10, we will continue to leverage the strengths of Prophet 21 and Eclipse and continue to invest in them significantly.
Schmitt: And after that?
West: SaaS (Software as a service). We are seeing many ERP customers who want to move over to SaaS, where they don’t have a server in-house. There are a lot of good reasons to consider the SaaS model. With Epicor ERP, we were one of the first ERP companies with a true multi-tenant SaaS platform. We initially launched our Epicor ERP SaaS offering to smaller manufacturers and distributors that wanted a turnkey application running in the cloud, but expanded the offering the past year or so to include larger organizations. Currently, we are expanding the industry templates for SaaS and enhancing the end-user self-service tools we provide -- which leverage the experience I’ve gained in the past four years working for a SaaS-based banking and e-commerce services provider.
Schmitt: That’s five, what is the sixth?
West: Our legacy product customers. As you have probably noticed, Joe is and I am very passionate about customers. When you are a 40-year-old company like we are, the nice thing is, we have lots of customers. We also have lots of legacy. We know we need to protect those customers and find a way to bring them forward as we go forward.
Schmitt: I don’t want to be rude, but some of your customers that I talked with recently didn’t sound like they felt “protected.”
West: They are right, we haven’t done that in all cases. We haven’t identified a plan for them. I feel passionate that each one of those customers should have a roadmap for whatever platform they are on. I have a role in my group to work through all the legacy platforms and to get a roadmap in place.
Schmitt: Can you give me an example of how it might work?
West: I am looking at many aspects of the legacy systems we have picked up in various acquisitions, and seeing where the technology may be somewhat old, but the intellectual property and functionality built into the package are still good, and so we can look at getting that into our roadmap for Epicor ERP 10 so those users can move to our new go-forward system in the future. We won’t be able to carry forward everything, but our commitment is to have a plan for our legacy customers.
Schmitt: Any timeframe for the legacy product roadmaps?
West: I’m still getting some key people in place, but where I have people in their roles, I’m hoping for midsummer.
Schmitt: Many of our readers are using Eclipse or Prophet 21 and are not feeling that they are in a go-forward situation. Any thoughts for them?
West: Joe is, and I am, passionate about having happy customers. If we make commitments, we’re going to keep them. The updated roadmaps are not complete for those products yet, so I don’t want to talk specifics. They are very important go-forward platforms where we are going to continue to invest. We have said that before, but I don’t think we put investment behind it in all cases. That won’t be the case anymore.
I sincerely enjoyed my time with Janie. She is very plain-spoken about her plans and enthusiastic about Epicor’s direction. I found her candor refreshing.
On May 5, 2014, the Wall Street Journal reported that “people familiar with the matter” said that the Epicor Software Company was put on the block by its owner APAX Partners, a private equity firm. The WSJ further reported that APAX Partners is looking for between $2.5B and $3.5B, including debt. APAX Partners and Epicor Software Corp have not commented publicly on the WSJ report.
You might be asking if the reported APAX Partners’ desire to sell Epicor Software invalidates what we heard at Insights. Probably not in my view, since many times the actions that the new management team takes to make the company more valuable and saleable are probably things that will be good for the customer base over the long term. While this is not always the case, in my experience, it has been a lot of the time.
Rich Schmitt is president of Schmitt Consulting Group Inc., a management consulting firm focused on distribution and manufacturing clients for pricing, consulting seminars and profit improvement. He is also the co-owner of Schmitt ProfiTools Inc. (SPI), which provides web storefronts and handheld tools, print catalog software, content creation and services, and pricing management and analysis. Visit his company websites at www.go-scg.com and www.go-spi.com. Schmitt can be reached directly at email@example.com