The $1 billion, global ERP major Epicor, is currently revamping its channel structure and regional partners as it prepares its goto market strategy around its latest Epicor Version 10. Released in April this year, Version 10 provides an opportunity for channel partners to offer a hybrid cloud based solution for end customers, as well as a fully responsive interface for any type of client device including smartphones, tablets and PCs, as a standard offering. In comparison, other ERP majors are yet to rewrite their source code to make their application user interfaces responsive to any type of client device, point out Epicor executives. “Competition is not ready and none of the ERP vendors have rewritten their software. Here we are talking about the whole ERP platform accessible on any device, and the screens are optimised. This gives us an edge over competition by five to eight years,” says Anish Kanaran, Channel Director Middle East, Africa and India, Epicor Software. Moreover Version 10 allows end customers to set up their application interfaces as touch based or as classic interfaces.
Another advantage that Epicor Version 10 offers is the ability for channel partners to set up the application for end customers as running on a public cloud hosted model or on-premises using the same source code. Global research organisation Gartner draws attention to this positive aspect of Epicor ERP. In its annual positioning of global ERP vendors titled Magic Quadrant for Single Instance ERP for Product Centric Midmarket, September 2013, it points out that Epicor ERP architecture supports on-premise, single-tenant Saas or multitenant Saas, using the same code base, allowing the customer to switch between the application delivery options as required. Gartner’s research document also positions Epicor ERP as amongst the visionary ERP systems, with closest resemblance to Gartner's vision of a model-driven packaged application.
However for regional channel partners it is the device responsive feature capability of Version 10 that is off immediate interest. According to Husain Sutarwala, responsible for business development and products at Index Infotech, an Epicor Silver partner, “Mobility and the modern technology architecture are the key values Epicor Version 10 brings into our business model.” Index Infotech is a value added reseller and offers implementations, customisations and support services. It has expertise in business intelligence and reporting dashboard development and implementation. Index Infotech will leverage Version 10’s hybrid cloud features in the near future.
Adds Murtaza M Mubeen, Managing Director, Knowledge Web Consultancy, another Epicor value added reseller, “Epicor Version 10 is amazing and this version benefits both the end customer and the implementer.” According to Mubeen, Version 10 offers end customers BYOD features at a low hardware cost and high performance and leverages social media within the organisation. “As implementers we get loads of features for development like ICE 3.0, and graphical BPM development that reduces development time.” Mubeen is recommending Version 10’s hybrid cloud capability for those end customers that have multi location offices and mobile users and his vision is to become an Epicor solution house.
Knowledge Web Consultancy is also an Oracle partner, and offers expertise in implementing financials, production, distribution, enterprise performance management, Epicor Product Configurator, Epicor Business Intelligence and integration with software vendor platforms like POS, Van Sales Solutions and other BI applications. Continues Epicor’s Kanaran, elaborating on the edge the vendor has over the others, “None of the competitors have an integrated story. This is where we have differentiated ourselves. We need an enterprise partner who can take us to the next level.”
Currently Epicor offers end customers public cloud or Saas licenses in the US and Australia and is expected to be available across Europe, Middle East and Africa within the next six months. Epicor’s regional team is looking for the right channel partner to kick off Saas availability in the region. “As a company we want to bring in someone to own the Saas business, so that they can have the correct resources in the right place,” explains James Frampton, Vice President Channels EMEA, Epicor Software. “We do not have a rental model in EMEA today.”
Epicor Version 10 addresses the challenges of multi-tenant Saas, onsite and hybrid cloud usage by providing a three-layer architecture that includes the source code layer, customisation layer and presentation layer. Upgrades are made in the source code layer, while end user customisation is made in the other two layers. Frampton points out this process, is a true Saas model and makes it attractive for both the channel partner and end customer. “Version 10 allows a value added reseller partner to take the software development tool kit and develop a micro vertical solution based on their domain expertise and shrink wrap the custom application into a module,” he adds.
Other than Kanaran and Frampton, Epicor’s regional channel and business development team include; Emma Rainey, Director, EMEA Channel and Programs Marketing; Purushothaman Natarajan, Channel Manager UAE, Oman; Faisal Farooqui, Channel Manager Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain; Ahmed Abu Sabbah, Channel Manager Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Libya; Johani Marais, Channel Manager Africa; and Ryan Robinson, Channel Manager Africa; are therefore looking for the right channel partners who can leverage on Version 10’s cloud and mobility features.
“We want to make Version 10 as the catalyst for the next generation of partners, and will be the drive behind bringing in new partners for the region,” says Frampton. His ideal regional channel partner to be working within the Version 10 ecosystem, is typically a large value added reseller, with 100+ employees, well versed with ERP and probably already an ERP partner for another global vendor, having the ability to put forward a minimum of five resources dedicated to the Epicor portfolio as part of their investment. Large business conglomerates who have spun off their IT departments as independent businesses are potential partner candidates. They can assess Epicor for their group requirements and also take their internal learning to external customers in a more predictable fashion.
Smaller size value added resellers, with a handful of employees, usually do not have the resources to pull through an ERP project successfully on a consistent basis, especially for longer projects with significant levels of change management and inbuilt go-wrong probabilities. “There is a place for them, but they are not really in a position to become a true value added reseller partner,” remarks Frampton based on Epicor’s poignant regional channel experiences over the last two years.
Epicor ERP Version 10 has been created with five key themes in mind – collaboration, choice, responsiveness, simplicity and mobility. Epicor Version 10 enables people to be connected wherever they may be. This is achieved through a new intuitive user interface, designed from the ground up to work with touch screen devices. Epicor Web Access has been overhauled to run faster delivering user experience. All of this means that Epicor ERP version 10 will run on mobiles, tablet, laptop, or PC device.
Another important advancement is Epicor Social Enterprise Collaboration, which heralds a new generation of business collaboration. By providing a platform that encourages sharing and sourcing of information, ESE is set to change corporate cultures and drive efficiency and innovation. ESE enables employees and managers to fully engage around their businesses and leverage their ERP data to make more informed decisions. ESE is fully embedded within Epicor Version 10 to deliver easier access to business information and foster cross-company collaboration by bringing social media concepts and contextual ERP information together in a single tool. Other improvements in Version 10 are Commerce Connect, Financial Planner, Financial Management, Sales Management and Product Configurator, Production Management, Business Process Management, Business Activity Queries and Analytics, amongst others.
While the Epicor regional channel team is building its goto market strategy for Version 10, the ERP major also faces challenges emerging from its Version 9 legacy product acquisitions, weak channel skills expertise and ongoing acquisitions. Gartner’s Magic Quadrant report of September 2013 points out the challenges of acquiring Activant Solutions, Spectrum Human Resource Systems and Solarsoft Business Systems across 2011 and 2012 and integrating them with Epicor’s Internet Component Environment ICE and software oriented architecture. However the Gartner report also points out the vendor has been making continuous improvements to its product and architecture and the availability of Epicor Professional Services on a global scale has given confidence to medium size end customers.
Regionally, therefore, Epicor follows a strategy of protecting its customers who have come on board through recent acquisitions, and are still being integrated within the mantle of the Epicor technology architecture and product eco system. With Epicor currently a mix of business platforms, the vendor needs to protect customer investments in the solutions they have purchased. “We do not want to force our customers,” explains Kanaran. On the other hand for those customers who want to move forward Version 10 offers them mobility and cloud delivery features. In parallel to protecting its customers, Epicor is also offering customers who want to move ahead, the opportunity to extend and converge. “So we are trying to get a balance. The overriding message is Version 10 is our go forward platform, and we will take our customers with us when they are ready. We are ready when you are,” states Frampton.
Across the EMEA region, the Middle East is the fastest growing for Epicor, and 65% to 70% of revenue is through channel partners. A few years ago the number of regional channel partners was around 25 and currently the number has been reduced to 15. “We have been doing some cleaning. We had a lot more opportunistic partners that will not give us long term growth or stability of the customer base. There was no investment from these partners and you cannot make a quick buck in ERP,” comments Frampton. Amongst the learning points of last few years, for Epicor in the region, is to now onboard channel partners of a minimum employee size; execute an in-depth assessment of partner credentials by Epicor’s regional channel management team; ask the partner to prepare a five year business plan and link it with Epicor marketing support to generate leads and opportunities for the partner; and focus on regular quarterly reviews of progress made in line with the partner’s business plan. Entry and continuation in the regional Epicor channel programme has therefore become relatively more stringent than before and the focus is now on on-boarding select large channel partners, rather than numerous smaller partners.
“We want to move a bit upmarket with the channel and we are smarter on whom we do recruit. There are challenges within every single ERP project, because it is so invasive within the customer and affects all parts of the business. One bad ERP project will kill a four man partner company and will also severely disrupt the implementation within the customer,” elaborates Frampton. However smaller employee size partners can find niche positions for themselves as consulting, expert and trusted advisors, working directly with end customers. As a short term solution to the previous exit of opportunistic channel partners, Epicor has brought in its global Professional Services team to salvage any project dead ends or passed on such implementation projects to more mature channel partners, and has happened more effectively in UAE. “The number of customers we had in those markets outside UAE was very few,” clarifies Frampton.
Moving forward Epicor has divided the region for its operations into three including Saudi Arabia; northern Gulf including Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar; and southern Gulf including UAE and Oman. Dedicated Epicor resources will now be available within these three operating zones. New on-boarded channel partners will find the Epicor Professional Services team working with them for 70% of the project implementation time in their first customer order, and reduced subsequently to 35% and 10% of project time in the second and third customer implementations. Epicor has also been following a high touch approach, meeting potential end customers along with the channel partner early in the sales cycle. Combined with the launch of Version 10 and aggressive channel programme revamp, Epicor may soon find its position moving from visionary to leader in the global ERP vendor space.