The history of ERP software at EpiCenter, started with Epicor’s Vantage 3.1 product. Prior to this, the name of the company was DataWorks. DataWorks was started in 1972 when 2 brothers developed a piece of software for their father’s sheet metal shop. Others found out about the software, and they started selling copies, and the rest is history. The accounting was done with a package interfaced to the manufacturing side called Platinum Software. There were actually 2 Platinum Software Corporations, so that was confusing, and in the late 1990s, they merged the two products and adopted the name “Epicor” for the company name. Vantage was their flagship manufacturing product. Epicor purchased a few other systems during those years including Manage 2000 (M2K), ROI Systems, iScala, and DataFlo. The original plan was to provide a migration path for all of them to the new product, but over time that goal eluded the developers.
The History of Epicor ERP Software
Understanding the pedigree of software is quite important, to understand where and why the software was developed, and the evolution of the product. In some cases, a product is the result of one or more acquisitions and merging of various softwares. In other cases, an acquisition was made several years ago, and no new development has occurred. In today’s world of various development platforms, it’s not too difficult to ‘put lipstick on a pig’….meaning the base functionality may not change, but bright colors and updated fonts can make a product ‘look’ great, even though no substantive development to improve the product has happened in many years.
Existing ‘legacy’ customers may seek to understand the difference between what they are currently running and the new product. So let’s talk about the ERP history timeline.
Epicor ERP History Timeline
Vantage 3.1 was written in Progress and used a Progress database. It was green screen technology but was quite fast and much of what we see in Epicor ERP existed back then. Vantage 4.0 was billed with lots of new features but had serious quality issues, and Vantage 5.0 came out as a ‘cleanup’ to Vantage 4.0. Vantage 5.1 was the debut of the product configurator, which allowed users to build their own screens and dependency logic, so they could ‘walk’ a user through all the questions needed to specify an end product. It also allowed rules to be built to build bills of material and routings from the data that was entered. In some ways, the configurator from those days is not much different than the configurator we know today.
Vantage 6.0 and 6.1 were further improvements in the product, but the developers found themselves in a ‘jam’ at this point for these reasons:
- The table structure was restrictive, and the size of many tables was at the maximum number of fields that Progress would allow.
- Structurally businesses needed things like ‘3-way transactions’, meaning bill to, sold to, and ship to locations.
- In order to correctly achieve the goals of production scheduling, the organization of the methods of manufacturing had to change. In Vantage 6.1 there were ‘Operations’ that had subsidiary ‘Work Centers’. This made it difficult to share multiple production jobs
History of Epicor ERP Software
So, Epicor engaged a large programming team to spend a couple of years completely rewriting the product. This was done in England, and to signify the importance and differentiation of the product, the ‘7.0’ level of the product was skipped and Vantage 8.0 was released around the end of 2001. It was a significant change in the software and was only sold to new customers. Later in 2001, Vantage 8.03 was released as the go-to release for migrations from Vantage 6. But, as we described earlier, much of the structure of the product changed, so there was no upgrade path. This was before DMT, so the export and import of data were either manual or custom programmed.
The other major aspect of Vantage 8.0 was the adoption of ‘Service Oriented Architecture’ (SOA). In the ‘old days’, when a customer wanted a modification to the logic of the software, the new feature would be done in the source code, and either the customer would have a ‘one off’ patch, or, that patch would be released to all customers. The problem was, of course, sometimes other customers would not want the patch for whatever reason, and it was very difficult to maintain different versions of the product for each customer. So, we transitioned to SOA – which meant that each functional program in Epicor was written as its own independent ‘web service’, and data would enter and exit the program. SOA would then allow us to add logic either before or after data entered the program. This allowed us to modify the logic of the system without touching the source code. And, when there is an upgrade to the system, these logic modifications could be reapplied to the new version, so we could uplift a system and carry with it the logic adjustments. This SOA architecture has continued with the product and is still in place today.
At that time, Epicor allowed customers to select the Progress database or SQL. Some customers preferred SQL and would only purchase products with SQL capability The connection to the SQL db was ODBC which meant there was a limitation on the speed of the connection between the application and db. For larger customers, this became an important limitation.
Vantage 9 was the next major release, and this was significant because of a complete rewrite of the accounting application. The prior accounting system was limited to 3 segments, and the background functionality was hardcoded and could not be easily modified. In Vantage 9, the current structure was announced allowing 200 characters in GL codes, up to 20 segments, GL controls to allow custom handling of certain transactions, dynamic segments (the system would create new segments when transactions needed them, rather than setting up every possible segment in advance) and the posting rules were exposed. In addition, Epicor greatly enhanced the multi-company and international capability of the software with the introduction of ‘CSF’ (Country Specific Functionality). Epicor became a truly multi-national product with 24/7 support at 11 technical support centers around the globe.
The next improvement came In order to improve performance, and Epicor decided to simplify the product, and rewrite the application in C#, so they could release a completely SQL version and drop their long-standing relationship with Progress Software. This new version was Epicor 10, originally released in 2015.
Epicor 10’s performance was quite a bit better than version 9, and Epicor also greatly improved their quality control procedures and waited to release new versions until they were better tested. This resulted in improvements in customer adoption of new versions. The standard functionality of the product was largely unchanged, but the technical side was vastly different and greatly improved.
The next major upgrade of the product just occurred in 2021, which Epicor has dubbed ‘Kinetic’. Epicor embarked on a major upgrade to the user interface several years ago and essentially has built its own platform for delivering the user experience, and giving the user much greater control over their screens, the ability to modify screens and build their own dashboard-style views of the product. Some Kinetic screens were available in 10.200+, but with the release of Kinetic, most screens have been upgraded.
The result is a very powerful platform for users to maximize their use of the product, which is of course the holy grail of ERP, isn’t it?
Future of Epicor Kinetic
Those of us who have followed Epicor have seen continual improvement in features as well as keeping up with technology. Epicor has been a Gold Partner of Microsoft, and some say that “Epicor is more Microsoft than Microsoft”. Epicor has also greatly expanded its alliance partner program because the open API is conducive for apps to be written that allow many niche expansions of the product. Epicor appropriately manages its internal and external relationships to maintain the quality of the product and has made some strategic acquisitions that provide, for instance, an embedded document management solution (DocStar, now Epicor Content Management or ECM) and their own EDI product.
The other significant developments regarding Epicor are its owner. Epicor is its third venture capital (VC) owner, and these VC’s have all worked on recruiting industry professionals to be in the key management positions. The current management team isn’t all just ‘homegrown’ – they are really a mix of the ‘best of the best’ and provide excellent leadership for this company and product. It’s important to understand that the best interest of the VC’s is to continue to build value and stability to make Epicor more desirable for future owners. Epicor has continued to invest in the product and continually improve, rather than cutting development and maximizing profitability which would yield short-term profits instead of long-term value.
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written by Jeffrey W. Glaze, President