In April, Jen attended Epicor Software Corp.’s Insights user conference as the company’s guest at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. Due to Epicor’s great hospitality, Jen is already campaigning with Rich to attend in his place again next year. As a reminder, Epicor delivers business software solutions into the manufacturing, distribution, retail and services industries. It is one of the major software companies serving our industry through its distribution software offerings: Prophet 21 (P21) and Eclipse.
Insights is Epicor’s annual user conference providing more than 500 sessions for its attendees. Sessions included hands-on labs, a glimpse at the road ahead and a talk-show-style Q&A with Howard Schultz where no question was off limits. To add to the fun, attendees enjoyed a private concert from Flo Rida with his guest rapper Himanshu Palsule, Epicor’s chief product and technology officer. This year more than 3,500 users attended the three-day meeting.
There were four significant announcements at this year’s conference: Epicor Virtual Agent (EVA, a digital agent designed to help users work smarter), Connected Enterprise, Epicor Retail Cloud and Project Kinetic. The meeting included a large solutions pavilion where the Epicor team and partners gave attendees hands-on opportunities to review and test many of their new products.
Jen particularly enjoyed listening to Howard Schultz discuss how he grew a small business into the Starbucks we see today. Like many of us, one of his core focuses has always been his team. He talked about making long-term commitments to the company, even if it was not always an economic decision — his initiative to provide health care to his team and how in 2008 took 10,000 store managers to New Orleans to reinvigorate the team and bond over volunteering time (cumulatively more than 50,000 hours).
It was refreshing to listen to someone who has built his success from nothing while maintaining his value of people and honesty.
Epicor brings hundreds of employees to Insights, including CEO Steve Murphy. Most of the senior management team is there as well, so attendees have many opportunities to ask questions and, most importantly, provide feedback to all levels of the Epicor organization.
In the business update, Murphy credited the company’s healthy business standing on Epicor’s decision to be hybrid — to maintain the traditional on-prem license business while investing in SAAS (Software As A Service). That flexibility was a key topic this year as cloud technology continues to grow. While Azure will be the preferred cloud provider, Palsule assured users the technology would work with other providers.
One of the questions Rich and Jen are often asked is which of the two main Epicor platforms to purchase, Prophet21 or Eclipse. Palsule indicated that both platforms have a place and are continuing to be their lead products. They serve different parts of the supply chain and are specialized in what they do. Epicor continues to invest in each platform and their development budgets are going up.
Jen had the opportunity to sit down with a few of the Epicor executives and ask them questions. The first interview was with Lee An Schommer, senior vice president of product management.
Jen Schmitt: Last year Rich had the opportunity to speak with you and you indicated you were trying to spend time with customers. How has that experience driven your direction?
Lee An Schommer: I attended the Eclipse User Group (UFO) board meeting [at the conference] and wow, what a difference two years makes. A lot of it comes down to communication and relationships, building up trust by doing what you said you were going to do.
A proof point is our roadmap; we are very transparent with our plans. We have a very clear direction on what we want to do for Eclipse and we shared with them our roadmap. We had an enhancement related to addressing the fluidity of tariffs; they said thank-you but no, we’ve solved that. Double down on APIs, that’s what we need you to do. We need our environments to be extensible and without APIs, we cannot do the handshakes with the other solutions [providers] we need to partner with.
A lot of it is having open conversations and sometimes taking the feedback and saying, they’re right, we need to do something about this. Two-way trust and communication, I believe, is what helped to turn Eclipse around and it’s making it a partnership again.
JS: From speaking to wholesalers, it’s evident the dialog changed from the fear of Eclipse being sunsetted or acquired to a viable forward-progressing system. I haven’t had the opportunity to see the APIs yet. Have they been released fully or are they a work in progress?
LAS: We released 15 of the most fundamental APIs about six months ago and we are getting ready to do another wave. Justin Ward, a product manager, is working with the customers and the UFO to prioritize the APIs.
JS: Are the APIs going to be a platform to do some of the other things released for P21?
LAS: Yes, and it’s not just EVA. It’s other digital solutions, such as the Internet of Things — connections between things, everything from refrigerators, lights and even pallets. A device on a pallet can determine when the inventory is getting low based on the weight and trigger a reorder.
JS: What are some other things we can expect?
LAS: There will be more cloud enablement and more actionable data with EDA (Epicor Data Analytics). EDA is selling like hotcakes. The customer needs to be able to do more with less.
JS: Steve mentioned that the decision to be flexible has been an excellent decision for you.
LAS: When cloud started, people were saying eventually everything will be cloud-based; we don’t believe that’s the case. We see a massive uptick in SAAS RFPs. Our commitment to one-code base for cloud and on-prem has been very successful for our customers and us. It helps them on their journey when they are ready to move over, allows them to move when they are ready, and do pieces and parts instead of a full commitment. People can figure out when it is right for them.
JS: What else do you believe distributors would care about?
LAS: We are going to give them more value-added services so they can differentiate themselves. We started with rentals but we are assessing more. We are trying to do more common services that we can use across verticals.
P21 vs. Eclipse
Jen also had the opportunity visit with Mark Jenson, senior director of product management, and Tony Corley, senior manager of product marketing.
JS: One of the common questions Rich and I are asked is which platform meets which needs? What are the criteria for choosing P21 or Eclipse?
Tony Corley: Prophet is marketed into 16 markets of distribution and Eclipse is sold into three primary markets — electrical, plumbing and HVAC. It doesn’t mean that Prophet doesn’t work; it means that for the feature set needed in those markets, Eclipse does most of them a little better. You can think of Prophet like an adjustable wrench; you adjust it and it works. Eclipse is like a fixed socket; it fits perfectly in those markets. One of the differentiators is job management in Eclipse.
JS: Are there specific situations where Prophet is a better fit over Eclipse in those three markets?
TC: Prophet is more general, a little more flexible and more extensible. If you want to do more things on your own, you probably want to be on Prophet. Eclipse fits better, out of the box, in those markets.
Mark Jenson: We’ve put a lot of work into Prophet for meeting the needs of Fastener and Fluid Power distributors.
JS: One of our recent topics has been accessibility in the cloud environment. For example, in the P21 environment, will you still be able to make calls directly to the SQL database and create your own stored procedures?
TC: Yes, we realize it is one of the differentiators of the P21 product so we will have a way to continue that.
We want to thank Epicor and its team for being such great hosts and close with a quote Jen enjoyed from Howard Schultz about people (rumored to have originated from Einstein): “If you judge a fish by its inability to climb a tree, it will spend its life thinking it’s stupid.”