Epicor University: Adds Activant and new Rigor to Processes

Yesterday at Epicor Insights 2012 I got an update from Louise Keppel, VP and Amy Melton, Director, both with Worldwide Epicor University. It has been a little over a year since Epicor announced the launch of a its new university for customers, partners and employees to address the challenge of delivering consistent high-quality training worldwide, and to expand the range of Epicor’s education deliverables. The past year has seen a lot of change for the team with the addition of the Activant training group added to Louise’s worldwide responsibilities. Fortunately the Activant folks brought with them an extensive complement of training materials of their own. They were not created with the same set of robust tools that Epicor University has developed over the past few years, but the Activant team also brought with them added rigor to the development process, including a focus on Six Sigma process improvement.

As soon as it was announced, I was a fan of the University approach. Last year I wrote:

So why is a University needed? After all, user interfaces have become so much more intuitive and software has become easier to use. Navigation through an enterprise application is no longer cumbersome and confusing. And when was the last time you read the instructions for any kind of software anyway? If you can’t figure it out easily it just doesn’t get used.

Exactly! That’s one of the reasons that education and training often gets ignored. Sure the user interface is intuitive. Sure it is easy to navigate through the various functions. But these are potentially complex business processes that are being modeled through an ERP. Are those business processes efficient? Are they standardized and repeatable? Do they produce a clean audit trail? Can they be easily audited? Do they put you in a position of competitive strength or hold you back from realizing your full potential? Most importantly, are you getting the most value out of your investment? Why do you think one company fails miserably while another succeeds beyond all expectations while they both use the same software?

Since then the Mint Jutras 2011 ERP Solution Study gathered evidence to corroborate this sentiment. We captured the top goals of ERP, along with the challenges encountered in achieving those goals. Topping the list of goals (62% of respondents) was that of improving internal efficiencies. Stumbling around in search of the necessary features and functions, in the proper sequence and workflow is certainly not the way to achieve efficiency. Three out of the top five challenges included difficulty in managing change, user frustration with the system and user resistance to new processes. And what was the action most often taken to address these challenges? Provide additional training.

A recent change in the Epicor approach is to bundle access to on-line educational courses into every sale. This is a smart move. Because of the intuitive nature of navigation and all the reasons stated above, companies may be tempted to shave cost by skimping on or even eliminating training when it is purchased a la carte. Embedding it in the deal takes the decision-making out of the equation and insures every user has access to all the necessary courses and materials. Just seeing all the possible courses for all the different available functions could lead companies to take better advantage of the solutions they purchased.

In fact under-utilization of ERP is quite common. The Mint Jutras ERP Solution Study measured ERP usage on a scale of 1 to 100 where a score of 100 indicates all modules relevant to the company were fully implemented. We found the average score was about 65, indicating a lot of relevant functionality is being left on the table. Perhaps because the users don’t even know it is there? Of course the trick will be to condition the users to go looking for added functionality, rather than assume it is not there just because it doesn’t jump right off the screen and grab them. Putting all the materials at their fingertips is certainly a start, and on-line help goes a long way. But making a series of potentially quick (i.e. short) courses available on demand is equally important.

Prior to 2011, all Epicor training classes were classroom based. Today many of them can be delivered virtually. In a world where budgets are still tight and everyone seems to be doing the job of at least 1.3 people, this is a big plus. Companies need not pull key employees out of the office, insert them into an artificial environment and pay for travel and expenses only to have them forget half of what they learned when they get back to the office. Of course the downside is that managers and even the employees themselves may think because they never leave the office they can still accomplish their “day job” during the training, only to have the training suffer. And many of the online courses are 8 hours – often too long to hold someone’s attention well enough for the training to “stick.” But the Epicor University team is working on breaking the courses into smaller chunks that are more easily digested and more easily fit in with busy schedules.

I learned two other facts worth noting yesterday.

First: The Epicor University team is also responsible for putting together the demo databases that the field sales and presales teams use during the sale process. Why? Because these demo databases are also used in all the workshops in the courses. At least some members of the customer’s selection team will be the earliest participants in training. This way, what they see in a training class looks familiar, after having seen the same features, functions and data in the demos.

Second: While usually training reports up through the support organization, this team reports into the development organization. Louise reports to Paul Farrell, EVP of Worldwide R&D. Again you might ask why this matters. There are certainly several different schools of thought on this organizational structure, but Epicor feels the key advantage is in the coordination of product development with the development of documentation and training materials. By making the latter necessary steps in the delivery of a product, when the product goes GA (generally available), you can be sure that the all the course, help and training materials are also ready.

A comment from one early adopter of Epicor’s latest 700 release of Epicor ERP (Epicor 9) summed up the value quite succinctly, “We’ve been finding new functionality we didn’t know was there. People are like kids in a playground finding new things to play with – different ways of getting data and answers.”

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