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The COVID-19 pandemic is causing many companies to rethink their ERP implementation projects.
Some organizations have paused implementations or upgrades. Some have stopped ERP projects entirely. Other companies, however, are finding that an ERP upgrade now can provide advanced features to help mitigate the impacts of the disruption. It can also provide a competitive edge against those that have chosen to stay put on their systems.
One such company is Yesco Electrical Supply Inc., which upgraded its Epicor Eclipse ERP system, enabling the company to automate more of its business and ride out some of the COVID-19 disruption. Yesco runs Epicor Eclipse in a private hosted cloud environment.
Epicor Eclipse is an ERP system that's designed to meet the requirements of electrical, plumbing and HVAC wholesale distribution businesses. It includes functions for processes like job and bid management, supply chain visibility, inventory and warehouse management, analytics and planning, financials and customer experience. Epicor Eclipse can be deployed on premises or in public or private clouds; it is not available as a SaaS system.
Yesco Electrical Supply is a midsize independent electrical supply distributor in Youngstown, Ohio. For a smaller specialized distributor like Yesco to compete against industry heavyweights like Graybar or big box retailers like The Home Depot and Lowe's, it must be nimble and keep up with the times for enterprise computing resources, said James DeRosa, Yesco Electrical Supply general manager.
"What we found over the course of the last couple years, is that it's becoming ever more important to be as automated as possible," DeRosa said. "For example, this means offering your customers things like pricing services, job management staging and store delivery notifications."
Yesco has relied on its Epicor Eclipse purpose-built ERP system for several years to help keep up with changing business requirements, but the push toward automation became even clearer when the COVID-19 crisis hit and the company was forced to rethink how it managed orders and how customers and suppliers paid.
This was one reason why Yesco agreed to become a beta tester for some of the new Epicor Eclipse features, DeRosa said.
"The COVID crisis has been a bit of a blessing in disguise for a couple reasons: one was that it slowed everything down, which allowed me to take what would normally be a risky decision of taking beta software and applying it in a live environment," he said. "But we wanted to be ahead of the curve and didn't want to wait until these features became public, and I like being on the cutting-edge."
Remote job management
Yesco was able to take advantage of new Epicor Eclipse enhancements for job management and the Epicor Commerce Connect (ECC) web commerce interface. The new features made it easier for Yesco to set up and conduct jobs remotely, which was important as many no-touch business regulations have been initiated in the wake of COVID-19.
"We sell a lot of things over the counter to electrical contractors who are doing large-phased projects, and the job management functions allow us to be more hands-off," DeRosa said. "Project managers can log in to our system and see customer-facing shipping schedules or which items have been released and sent to the job site. It gives them a tally mark of where things are and keeps things working a little faster."
Some of the more detailed functions are particularly useful for electrical equipment distributors, he said. One allows Yesco to more easily inventory the remnants of wire spools.
"There's a code attached to each wire spool. As you cut that spool down, if there's a piece left over that's salvageable, the warehouse still has to rack that spool," he said. "Epicor Eclipse allows you to create temporary part numbers for remnant items so that you can inventory them and have them visible across your branch locations. It's little things like that that may seem insignificant but make a huge deal because the time savings behind it is exponential."
Epicor Eclipse has made it possible for Yesco to ride out and even thrive during the pandemic.
"The increasing digitization was already coming before COVID hit," DeRosa said. "Eclipse gives every customer an ability to have an inventory of over 100,000 parts and ... to have an e-commerce website that ties directly into your ERP, and this enables things like curbside pickup."
User input helps in COVID-19 crisis
Epicor works closely with its user community to develop enhancements that directly address frontline issues, said Justin Ward, senior product manager at Epicor Software Corp. in Austin, Texas.
The approach was put into practice when Epicor hosted a brainstorming session in March with its customer advisory committee to understand what it was seeing to prioritize what enhancements the ERP firm should develop, Ward said.
The result was a few new enhancements made available as patches and included in upcoming product releases, he said.
One enhancement came about because a customer had an employee test positive for COVID-19, which resulted in shutting down a branch that had many open orders.
"You can move the shipping branch fairly easily in Epicor Eclipse, but it's an order-by-order function because of everything related to the configuration of the branch it's coming from," Ward said. "We created a new utility that can help them do that in bulk for a period of time. So, if they knew they were going to be down for 10 days, they can take all the orders that are expected to ship out of that branch for the next 10 days and bulk migrate them over to another neighboring shipping branch."
Other customers experienced difficulties when some construction projects were shut down temporarily, while others were accelerated, so they needed a way to be flexible with shipments. The Epicor Eclipse enhancement enables customers to stop a shipment without changing anything else about the order, so it could be shipped later, Ward said.
"It's a customer pause button essentially," he said. "There were creative ways to do that before, but this is really just for those customers that are on hold because of the pandemic."
The customer input approach has led to an Epicor Eclipse product that's more aligned for distributors' requirements, DeRosa said.
"As we're doing day-to-day operations, [Epicor] really is willing to learn and listen to the people," he said. "They try to get a group effort so that it's something that's built into the system that everybody benefits from -- as long as there's a good business case behind it."