Epicor Express, or rather Epicor Manufacturing Express Edition to give its full title has been released for general availability. Express is Epicor 9 refactored for SaaS deployment using the existing Epicor 9 SOA architecture in a multi-tenant single source framework.
There is much to like about this announcement. It is coming to market with a fully baked product, customers and a service offering that should prove attractive to SMEs.
Following on from my piece about Plex Online, we are now starting to see ERP move to what many of us hope will be a more cost effective way of consuming software while providing the kind of flexibility business demands. Epicor is playing this release carefully, positioning it as a small job shop play where its larger sibling would be too expensive or over featured.
The all important pricing comes in as follows:
This represents clever pricing when weighed against SAP Business ByDesign. BYD comes in at $149 per user per month with a minimum user count of 25. The same comparative deployment for an Epicor system would come in at an equivalent cost of $139 per user. I would be very surprised if SAP could compete on the deployment costs but we will know more about this once SAPPHIRE gets under way. In a straight shoot out where price is the determining factor, Epicor wins. If brand association matters, then SAP wins. I'm guessing that in the short term at least, Epicor will be in the box seat.
Epicor is trying to do as much remotely as possible and is targeting go live within the 20 to 30 working day range. Given we're talking about small job shops, this is not an unreasonable goal and will be important for demonstrating early time to value. However, those timelines could become stretched if there is a complex data migration process to undertake.
During our briefing conversation, Epicor was keen to stress that the price is inclusive of support and access to training resources. It also said the company will not hold customer data as hostage in renewal negotiations. That will be a welcome relief to those who have found their vendor less than accommodating.
The company is initially promising 99.5% uptime covered by SLAs and demonstrated through a publicly available system performance dashboard. It has recognized that even at the SME level, CXOs want comfort that their data is secure and Epicor is offering SAS 70 Type II certification. As always, users should check the certification to ensure it meets their demands.
I asked about customizations. The official word is that while Epicor is (wisely) not allowing access to source code, it is allowing access to meta data plus the ability to add fields change terminology along with customer alerts and reports, Some business process modeling capability is included so that customers can put in pretty much any business logic they need. Epicor claims that its SOA architecture allows for business logic to be triggered before during or after process execution. This will be especially valuable where the customer wants (for example) reports created under certain conditions. The obvious example would be potential stock outs. This edition does not include a formal MRP but Epicor says that it can be switched on if a customer needs that depth of functionality.
The company claims a small number of live customers with more than 150 in the pipeline. It has achieved this with almost no marketing but the reliance upon a community it is building specifically for this solution. In the blurbs, the company cites Chirch Global Manufacturing as saying:
“The Epicor Express SaaS model allows us to focus on our core competencies and more important initiatives, such as growth and expansion, rather than managing networks, hardware and software” said Anthony L. Chirchirillo, Chief Executive Officer of Chirch Global. “The financial, implementation and operational benefits of the Epicor Express solution are what drove us to move forward with a SaaS model. With Epicor Express we will be able to accurately budget our IT costs on a year-to-year basis, as moving ERP to Cloud computing reduces our long-term IT costs. Operationally, Epicor Express levels the playing field as now we have an ERP system that is comparable to what best-in-class and much larger entities utilize.”
Epicor is planning to develop an SDK for third party consultants but was clear the company does not wish to become a platform play like Salesforce.com.
Epicor takes the view the system is good enough to grow with customers but that once they've outgrown the solution, they have an easy migration path to the full Epicor 9 suite: "It is Epicor 9 so we don't have an issue," said James Norwood, SVP of Epicor worldwide product marketing. I questioned whether this offering will present challenges as a customer grows to the point of outgrowing the system. Would this not for instance means something of a shock given the customer will require investments in hardware, administration and the like. "We can envisage situations where a customer might migrate and for it to be at no cost." Hmmm....I'll believe that when I see it.
We now have two (and with BYD three) players in the SaaS manufacturing space. All are targeting slightly different segments of the SME space. All have offerings that provide a depth of functionality that will allow them to compete with on-premise specialists but at attractive price points. The key to success for Epicor will come in its ability to create a vibrant and happy community of customers. It is transparent in its service dealings, a welcome feature of this type of offering that allows observers, potential buyers and analysts with much easier access to information that will help in the decision making process. Epicor will control distribution for the time being, but again, like others, it needs to develop a package that will be attractive to potential channel partners.