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4/28/2014
02:30 PM
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Epicor Overhauls ERP For Cloud, Mobility

Epicor says ERP upgrade based on Microsoft's stack is twice as fast and four times as scalable for cloud deployment.

Epicor has settled on the Microsoft stack with its Epicor 10 ERP release, announced Monday, and that commitment has helped it improve performance and deliver a battery of new collaboration, e-commerce, and customizable mobile capabilities on a cloud-ready platform.

The move to Microsoft's stack was expected and won't come as a shock to the few Epicor customers that were still running Unix-based systems. The commitment to a single code line has helped Epicor focus its efforts and streamline a product that can be delivered on the premises, on multi-tenant public-cloud infrastructure, or in private clouds hosted by Epicor or others.

"The new product looks like the old product, but it's a lot faster, it's simpler to deploy, and its performance profile is more amenable to the cloud," Erik Johnson, Epicor's vice president of technical strategy, said in an interview with InformationWeek.

[Want more on Epicor's biggest competitor? Read Microsoft Dresses Up Enterprise Apps.]

The streamlined code rewrite and support for the latest Microsoft technology, including SQL Server 2014, delivers "two times faster performance and four times the scalability" as the previous version, according to Johnson. Where cloud deployment is concerned, Epicor 10 now supports multiple legal entities within a single tenant. This is an important upgrade for cloud-deployed customers with subsidiaries and franchisees, for example. Epicor's cloud infrastructure-provider partners include Latisys in North America, Rackspace in EMEA, and Brennan in Australia.

Manufacturing is Epicor's strongest customer base, and these customers are sticking with on-premises deployments for the most part, according to Johnson. Outside of manufacturing, 70% of new North American customers are looking at cloud options. That figure stands at about 50% in the Asia-Pacific market and somewhat lower in Europe. Microsoft Dynamics is Epicor's biggest competitor for on-premises deployments. NetSuite is the biggest cloud competitor, unless the customer is a manufacturer, in which case Plex Systems might be in the mix, Johnson said.

New features in the Epicor 10 release include a social collaboration framework that starts with internal employees but extends to the supplier and customer extranets. The familiar micro-blogging style interface lets users with appropriate access controls collaborate with one another and "follow" ERP system projects, customer incidents, procurement plans, or any other system event.

Epicor previously partnered for e-commerce capabilities, but with version 10, it has built on eBay's Magento platform to deliver what it calls a "complete set" of brand-customizable customer- and supplier-facing e-commerce functionality. The functionality includes catalogues, product configuration, vendor metrics, customer account portals, and iOS, Android, and Windows mobile support for customers and administrators.

The Epicor 10 release delivers new collaboration and mobile functionality.
The Epicor 10 release delivers new collaboration and mobile functionality.

Taking a page from Windows, Epicor has introduced a live-tile-style browser interface that's touch enabled for any tablet. Epicor offers iOS, Android, and Windows native apps for time-and-expense management, field service, and sales. Dashboards, search, and social features run on the HTML5-based browser-based client. Epicor relies on a battery of Windows-based "Smart Clients" for heads-down data entry, but the vendor says these screens can easily be customized and automatically recreated as HTML forms for browser-based data entry on Macs and Chromebooks.

Where ERP rivals have focused on building purpose-built mobile apps, Epicor said it's banking on diversity, letting customers use self-service web dashboards and customized data entry forms to power the new norm or mobile employees "walking around with tablets" wanting access to very specific things from within ERP.

"We can't predetermine everything a customer is going to want, so our approach has always been to make sure that customers can make things for themselves," Johnson said. "We're going after the Flipboard model, where the user can choose the dashboards and the related data around that, create a view, give it a name, and share it with other people."

Where all other aspects of Epicor 10 are concerned, the message is continuity, with all version 9.0 functionality retained and 23 country-specific tax and transactional extensions now made part of the core product. Epicor 10 is available immediately, with support for 35 languages.

In this "brave new world," organizations will be able to manage applications through a single console, no matter if those applications reside on the premises or in a cloud datacenter.

Private clouds are moving rapidly from concept to production. But some fears about expertise and integration still linger. Also in the Private Clouds Step Up issue of InformationWeek: The public cloud and the steam engine have more in common than you might think (free registration required).

Doug Henschen is Executive Editor of InformationWeek, where he covers the intersection of enterprise applications with information management, business intelligence, big data and analytics. He previously served as editor in chief of Intelligent Enterprise, editor in chief of ... View Full Bio

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rwang0
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rwang0,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/29/2014 | 8:03:06 AM
Re: What's Epicor's policy on Azure
Doug,

I am currently at the Epicor Insights 14 event.  What we know from our meetings with the CEO Joe Cowan and from the Chief Product Officer is that over the past year, Epicor has been rationalizing its development efforts to ensure a stable platform and release of Epicor 10.  They have stripped the product of the Progress code and have embraced a Microsoft stack. They can actually achieve their multitenancy cloud deployments without having to be reliant on Azure but can do so if needed.  We talked to two customers and the results have been faster upgrades times, as fast as 300% and a reduction of database sizes by almost 50%.  There are some improvements here and being on the ground at the event, we've had some good first hand accoutns with 3 of the 14 early adopters as well as an opportuinty to talk to the development team.
D. Henschen
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D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
4/28/2014 | 10:39:55 PM
Epicor Comments on Azure Support and Plans
Epicor's Erik Johnson, VP, Technical Strategy, offered these follow-up comments on the company's policies on Microsoft Azure:
  • Epicor ERP 10 is fully supported on Azure Infrastructure as a Service (as is Epicor 9). Epicor operates many ERP instances on Azure for customers today, mainly for auxiliary ERP instances used for piloting, training, or migrations.
  • Epicor uses Azure for its primary development and QA cloud capacity requirements.
  • ERP 10 was built to be compatible with Microsoft Azure Platform as a Service (PaaS), including SQL Azure.  Epicor is waiting for higher performing SQL Azure services, which are also forthcoming, before releasing ERP 10 for Azure PaaS.
  • Like other enterprise software partners, Epicor is waiting for higher IOPS (I/O operations per second) to become available to put our larger workloads (such as multi-tenant SaaS) on Azure.  Amazon has recently released their high-IOPS instances, so we suspect Microsoft won't be far behind.
  • Epicor has a number of co-location hosting facilities under contract for 12-24 months into the future. It would not make sense to unplug that capacity given this current contractual scenario.
D. Henschen
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D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
4/28/2014 | 8:21:31 PM
What's Epicor's policy on Azure

Epicor execs DID NOT tout Microsoft Azure as a deployment option during its interview with InformationWeek, but analyst Frank Scavo says this represents a change. "This bugs me, because in 2012 at [its] Insight event, Epicor announced they were going to Azure. See my blog post," commented Scavo on Twitter. It's uncertain whether there has been a change in policies because the company didn't say anything on the matter. I'm seeking and will add any comment here from Epicor clarifying its stance on deployment on Azure.

D. Henschen
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D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
4/28/2014 | 3:06:48 PM
Collaboration features are old hat, but self-service mobile options are a good idea.
Epicor is following SAP, Oracle, Infor and Microsoft in adding social collaboration features to its ERP system. Mobile apps, too, are plentiful, but the new norm is mobile tablet users expecting to be able to tap into everything and anything they want inside an ERP system. Where some vendors have responded with a handful of native apps, Epicor says its answer is configurable dashboards and data-entry screens that can automatically be converted into Web-based (tablet-friendly) screens. This "choice is yours" approach is refreshing. 
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