Epicor Aims at Manufacturers With New SaaS App

Epicor is joining the on-demand ERP (enterprise resource planning) fray with a new application aimed at small manufacturing companies as well as competing vendors such as NetSuite and SAP's Business ByDesign.

Like NetSuite, Epicor Manufacturing Express Edition is fully multitenant SaaS (software as a service), wherein customers share a single instance of the software, with their data kept separate from others. This arrangement saves on underlying system resources and allows the vendor to push out updates and upgrades to many customers at once.

Epicor's new application includes CRM (customer relationship management), production management, product management, financials, materials management and BI (business intelligence) capabilities such as role-based dashboards and a search engine.

It is also flexible enough to handle a range of manufacturing process styles, such as make-to-order, engineer-to-order and assembly, according to Epicor.

The software's various modules are built on top of a single relational database, providing tight integration, the company said.

Epicor is guaranteeing 99.5 percent or higher system availability, with hosting in a tier-one datacenter certified under the SAS 70 Type II auditing guidelines. It has also built redundancies for backup and storage in a number of geographic locations.

Customers will be able to go live on the system within as soon as 20 business days, with the help of templates, pre-built sets of data and training, according to Epicor.

Epicor Express uses a subset of functionality from the vendor's next-generation Epicor 9 release, according to Chad Meyer, director of product marketing. "We took that footprint and took about 20-plus or so of the modules, bundled them together and created a template that overlays them, which simplifies the product for a job shop or small manufacturer," he said.

"With these small job shops, we understand there's a different workflow. Users could be doing quotes one minute, be on the floor next, and doing the books later in the day," Meyer added.

Since Express is based on Epicor 9, it will be easy for customers to bring the application on-premises in the future if they choose, Meyer said.

Epicor is also trying to protect customers' investment in the subscription-based model. For every year a customer remains on subscription pricing, Epicor will discount the price of moving to on-premises licenses by 20 percent, meaning that after five years it will cost nothing additional in license fees to make the switch.

In the future, Epicor plans to court larger customers with SaaS offerings, as well as different verticals, he said.

Pricing varies according to the number of users. A single user license would cost less than US$400 a month, while five users could come in under $1,000 per month, Meyer said. The software is initially available in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, with Europe the next likely target, he said.

Epicor has five customers already live on the application, 15 in the process of implementation, and another 150 in the pipeline, Meyer said.

One initial user is Chirch Global Manufacturing, a McHenry, Illinois, manufacturer of close-tolerance progressive dies, metal stampings and assemblies. The company purchased another manufacturing firm in September 2008, and inherited an older version of Epicor's Vista ERP application, said CEO Anthony Chirchirillo.

It made more sense to make "a quantum leap" to a SaaS-based application, than attempt to bring the Vista software up to date, he said.

Chirch looked at other SaaS applications but was unsatisfied. "The genesis of Epicor is as a manufacturing platform," while competing software offerings are merely adding on such capabilities, he said. "That was a critical point for us."

The company is planning to stick with the SaaS model for the foreseeable future, he said. "We're viewing it as the ability to stay focused on what we do well, and not trying to manage an IT environment."

In addition to smaller customers that are contemplating SaaS ERP applications, Epicor Express should also appeal to larger enterprises that are pursuing two-tier ERP strategies, tying smaller systems for new divisions or regions into a backbone application such as SAP, said analyst Ray Wang, partner with Altimeter Group.

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