At Deft Flux, we value Relationships, Humor, and Beauty.
When we say we value relationships, it means we sacrifice technology on the altar of relationships (not the other way round); it means we value people over mammon; it means we believe efficiency often comes at a price that we are unwilling to pay.
Note that this is categorically different from saying “we value good system architecture” or “we strive for well-written code.” Those goals are nebulous and change over time. We might compromise on them to meet some higher goal. Staying true to the things we love, however, affects how we do business, and we pursue them without compromise, even when costs us.
Just now, I started to set up my own Microsoft Bookings page, and noticed that the informational bubble says, “Schedule with ease and create your personal booking page to share your availability without any back and forth with others.” This phrasing stopped me short. I know they are getting at the frustration that can happen when you go back and forth forever, trying to get a meeting time, but that sentence also says, “…without any unnecessary [interaction] with [people].” The heading should say “Impersonal booking page.”
Most of us have been receiving a few “schedule time with me” links, and while helpful, even necessary, they are impersonal. Furthermore, when you simply start by sending two or three options for meeting times, you eliminate 98% of the back and forth, without giving up the personal touch.
Epicor has been a substantial part of our work for the last 18 months. One client has made a wise decision to not customize the application, so most of the time, we have been working with business processes to get the most from the software and make people’s jobs easier. There have been, however, the inevitable situations where an opportunity exists for someone to make a mistake and a simple tweak to the software will totally eliminate that mistake. For the business, it is an easy decision. Customize.
This is where Epicor holds an advantage. Building a business rule into the software does not introduce the complications that a normal software customization would. Epicor provides us with a number of ways to insert rules into the workflow of the software, and they can easily be exported, either on their own or in combination with other tweaks, using the Package Manager. For what it gives you, this rules engine is quite powerful. For example, we can add a rule to the Sales Order Entry form that will warn a user if a customer’s purchase order number has been used before, or force the user to enter a disposition for non-conforming material. Moreover, adding these types of rules takes a minimum of effort, say less than an hour.
We are pleased with the way Epicor has provided a way for small businesses to add minor business rules to their ERP software.
We recently had the chance to see Watson, IBM’s Jeopardy-playing super-computer, mercilessly pummel Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, Jeopardy champions. While we believe that Ken and Brad knew just as many or more questions than Watson and Jeopardy is as much about the buzzer as the questions, Watson providing so many correct questions is nevertheless a feat. We also got to see the Nova episode that went into more detail about the development of Watson. IBM tried to use a rules based answer engine first, and then went to a pattern matching engine. We immediately recalled the fellow who trained his pattern matching spam filter to play chess. Anyway, based on what we have seen of rules based spam filters and pattern matching (Bayesian) spam filters, we are not surprised that Watson’s pattern matching question engine performed much better than the rules based engine. You may say we are surprised that IBM did not try that first.
Let us remember that although the question algorithms give the computer the appearance of intelligence, this computer is no more intelligent than any past computer. That is, it is just pretty good and really fast at matching patterns of a certain type.
Maybe we need more information, but based on what we know, we would not say Watson is a major breakthrough. IBM just was able to put together a sufficiently powerful computing system to store and retrieve all of the necessary information. We give credit to the smart guys at IBM.
In the end, it was a buzzer pressing contest and no one can beat a computer at that.
During a recent ERP selection, we have had the pleasure of looking at several different systems for a local client. But today, I want to share a few of our high-level observations of Epicor. Epicor is consistently coming in at almost double the price point of the other ERP systems that are normally considered for a business of this size. The “problem” is that Epicor is consistenly twice as good. First, each of the other ERP systems lacks one or two key modules — e.g. payroll, maintenance, or purchasing. When you subtract the price of those modules from Epicor or add the price of a third-party add-on to the other ERP, the price is closer to competitive. Then, you consider how much work the folks at Epicor have put into making the software usable (the other vendors have not kept pace) and you have to add a “time saved” factor to the price of the software. We have seen that the Epicor designers have not rested. They are constantly releasing improvements and we can say that — mostly in usability, but sometimes even in function — their software compares well even with players like JDEdwards and SAP. For lack of time, we shan’t go into more details, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Epicor stay in this game despite their high price. If they can bring it down just a touch, they may win the game. The point — for your future selection efforts, it may pay to consider Epicor.