Last month, Rich attended Epicor Software Corporation’s Insights user conference as Epicor’s guest at the Gaylord Opryland in Nashville. Epicor sells software solutions into the manufacturing, distribution, retail and services industries. In our industry, their primary software offerings include Prophet 21, Eclipse and Epicor ERP.
Insights consists of more than 600 sessions ranging from a Q&A with former General Electric CEO Jack Welch, to product announcements and product roadmaps, to education/ training sessions on how to use existing and new features in their packages. More than 3,700 users attended the four-day meeting this year.
The meeting also included a massive solutions pavilion where the Epicor team and Epicor partners gave attendees a hands-on introduction to products.
After a recent spinoff of its soft-goods retail business, Epicor has approximately 3,900 employees, 20,000 customers in 150+ countries, and sales of $0.9 billion. The company has development groups located in every major operating region including the Americas (U.S., Mexico), Europe (Russia) and Asia (India, China, Australia).
Epicor brings over 450 employees to Insights, including President & CEO Joe Cowan and the entire senior management team; so attendees have many opportunities to ask questions and, most importantly, provide feedback to all levels of the Epicor organization.
Rich had the opportunity to spend some one-on-one interview time with key members of the Prophet 21 and Eclipse development teams and with Craig McCollum, Executive Vice President, Americas.
Schmitt: Craig, at the corporate level, can you describe some of the recent changes in your structure?
McCollum: We recently announced that we will be splitting off the enterprise soft-goods retail side of the business from the hard-goods-focused business. We will retain the retail products that apply to hard-goods, since there is a good fit with the hard-goods distribution and manufacturing products we sell. Some hard-goods companies may need both the retail and distribution products for different parts of their business. The soft-goods retail products are different enough that it just made sense to operate as a separate business unit.
Note: Soft-goods are generally products with a lifespan of less than three years, like clothing, food, office supplies, etc.
Schmitt: How will the change impact The Wholesaler’s readers?
McCollum: It will allow our business unit to stay completely focused on the needs of hard-goods companies and allow the soft-goods retail team to stay completely focused on their market.
Schmitt: Other changes?
McCollum: We’ve recommitted to the Prophet 21 and Eclipse products, so users and prospective customers know they can plan to use those products into the future. We have also evolved our strategy for supporting multiple products. We want to share technology across the products, but we don’t see moving to a shared code base for those products.
Schmitt: Can you give me an example of a technology that might be shared?
McCollum: Mobile is a good example of where we might create an excellent user experience that is then available to Prophet 21 and Eclipse users. We are taking the Eclipse mobile order entry and adapting it to Prophet 21. Eclipse and Prophet 21 also share a proof-of-delivery mobile app.
Schmitt: From recent announcements, it looks like your duties have changed.
McCollum: Joe decided — and I support his decision — to organize the company along functional lines. So I will have field marketing and sales and professional services; Janie West, Senior Vice President and Chief Product Officer, will have product management; and Ian Ashby, Vice President Global Support, will have support. In each functional area, we will operate across all verticals, so we can optimize the operation and create common reporting within a function across all of the markets we serve.
We believe as companies move forward, they will be looking for fewer partners doing more for them. We want to become a better partner. So we are looking for additional ways to add value to their businesses beyond what a traditional software company might provide.
Schmitt: Can you give me some examples?
McCollum: In retail, we found we can offer the best value by providing a payment engine that is part of the core products. We now have one of the fastest-growing payment engines. We are also considering initiatives in network security and in cloud-based backup solutions. We want customers to be able to rely on Epicor to help run their business end-to-end.
Schmitt: What are your top three initiatives that will benefit wholesalers?
McCollum: First, we want to simplify business processes by reducing the number of steps where possible. In some cases, the interface will be more like an app.
Second, we will be leaning into our customers’ businesses with business consulting. We have many years of vertical industry experience that we can leverage to help our customers with their business processes.
Third, we will continue to invest in the verticals we support, so we can build the tools to take our customers forward.
Next I talked with Senior Product Managers Dan Kaminstein and Mark Artim.
Schmitt: Dan, tell me a little about your role.
Kaminstein: I am a senior product manager responsible for Prophet 21. I am responsible for the roadmap and vision for future releases of the core distribution functionality of the Prophet 21 product.
Schmitt: In talking to the readers, they want to know the roadmap for the Prophet 21 product.
Kaminstein: This morning, we did our “Prophet 21 Road Ahead” presentation. As a part of that, we talk about our roadmap. We showed our plans through 2017. We think we have an exciting plan that has a lot of feature/function focus and also technology that we are working on. We are creating value-add features that go beyond the “pick-it, pack-it, ship-it” basics of wholesaling. Wholesalers just can’t live that way anymore.
Schmitt: For users who couldn’t attend your session, how do they see the roadmap?
Kaminstein: We have been conducting 1-day user summits throughout the country. We’ve been doing an update of the roadmap for the Prophet 21 product in the summits. We also attend the Prophet 21 Worldwide Users Group meeting. We want to share the roadmap as often as we can, partly because it is constantly changing and we want to keep users aware of what is going on. Business conditions drive roadmap changes, plus we do two releases each year. When we complete and release a feature from the front end of the roadmap, we are adding to the back end with another feature.
Schmitt: Do you publish the roadmap?
Kaminstein: We don’t publish the roadmap on the website, but we’re happy to do a webinar for users who are interested in knowing more. They should reach out and we will set it up.
Schmitt: Can you give a couple highlights from the plan?
Kaminstein: In the next release scheduled for this summer, we have some value-add features like support for production, light manufacturing, secondary processing or rework. For example, fastener companies that may need to send material out for plating would use these features.
We are continuing to build out our extensibility platforms like DynaChange Rules that allow users to actually modify or extend the business logic within their system without having to use the Prophet 21 development group do that for them. This goes beyond being able to change the look and feel of the software, into changing the way the software works. They can do it themselves or the Prophet 21 professional services group can do it for them. For big projects, the development team may need to get involved, but users will be able to do a lot themselves. This also gives our development team more time to build core features.
Finally, we are working on back office accounting functions that users have requested, like disputed voucher tracking and cash collections calls.
Schmitt: I need to give the Eclipse ERP equal time, so Mark can you tell me about your role at Epicor?
Artim: Like Dan, I am a senior product manager, responsible for Eclipse. I am responsible for the roadmap and vision for future releases of the core distribution functionality of the Eclipse product.
Schmitt: A couple years ago, some were questioning the future of Eclipse. Sunsetting and divesting were some of the terms people were using. With Joe Cowan heading up Epicor, that seems to have changed.
Artim: It is actually a very exciting time for Eclipse. There has been a significant level of investment by Epicor in both Prophet 21 and Eclipse over the last two years. We are very busy supporting Eclipse as a go-forward platform for the plumbing, electrical and HVAC verticals.
Schmitt: So what does the Eclipse roadmap look like?
Artim: The roadmap is chock-full of exciting things. We are making significant investments in the product. We are, like Prophet 21, coming off of a user interface modernization that has been very well received by the marketplace.
Schmitt: So is this an update to your Solar user interface? Is it still called Solar?
Artim: It’s still called Solar. The driving force behind the changes was to use new technologies and to build an interface that is competitive in the marketplace. Current users and Epicor need an ERP that is selling and popular with a growing user base, which in turn allows us to continue investing in the product.
Schmitt: How will that help a plumbing wholesaler?
Artim: Releases 9.0 and 9.01 were two phases in the new look and feel of the product. The new user interface will offer efficiency gains and a modern messaging system to support better communication within the organization. Each release also included good basic enhancements to the core functionality of the product, like volume rebate tracking and customer-facing order entry.
Schmitt: Talk a little about customer-facing order entry.
Artim: It’s a way to collaborate with the customer on the other side of the counter, using a customer-facing iPad at the counter―or even across the country, via a link that was sent to the customer. The customer can see the order and can discuss it and change it in real time. The customer can even add items to the order while the salesperson is entering it.
Schmitt: Other top-of-mind features?
Artim: The Software as a Service (SaaS) model for some modules will allow users to try a new feature like customer-facing order entry while having the base application on premise.
Schmitt: How many customers do each of the packages have?
Artim: Eclipse has about 700 user companies ranging in size from 10 seats to 4,000 seats.
Kaminstein: Prophet 21 has about 1,800 user companies ranging in size from 2 seats to 1,000 seats.
Schmitt: In closing, anything you, as developers, would like to say to customers?
Kaminstein: We are really listening to our customers. Don’t be afraid to tell us what is not working.
Artim: We love to hear good feedback, but when we also know what customers need, we can factor it into our development plans.
In wrapping up, it was a good meeting. I think the Epicor users came away with a clear understanding that Epicor is not in a holding pattern, and that they are organizing and investing to grow the business.