IT for whole industries

Posted on 8 Sep 2011 by The Manufacturer

Business IT fails, says Pervez Qureshi, when it can’t adapt to match the needs of a growing business. Addressing this need is where his company’s solutions stand out, he says.

“Our ERP product is characterised by its ability to change to suit a growing company, in terms of flexibility and visibility of data – we are particularly good at this,” he says.

Pervez Qureshi is CEO of the new look Epicor, the software solutions company whose Epicor 9 is a popular ERP platform for manufacturers in the UK and globally. In May this year Epicor merged with Activant Solutions Inc, with private equity investment from Apax Partners, creating a combined business with annual revenues of about $800m. Activant was a software developer serving the distribution and retail industries.

Mr Qureshi says the combined entity is benefiting Epicor’s customers. How?

“First of all we’re a much bigger company, which has advantages,” he says. “Epicor has a great entrepreneurial spirit, a fantastic product and has achieved remarkable growth. Activant has developed strong vertical and domain experience – it had perhaps a little stronger process rigour, it was very focused in the markets it went after. Epicor is growing and wants to get to another level. Bringing the two companies together means we can bring some of the best processes from Activant into Epicor, which is essential because process rigour is far more important than it used to be three or four years ago.”

“This need for process rigour will resonate with manufacturers, who get to a stage where this is essential for growth,” he adds.

Activant, from where Qureshi joined Epicor, developed software solutions for non-manufacturing sectors. “We provided software to distributors who buy from manufacturers – we understand supply chains, EDI and EDR well. We had a history of knowing how to successfully set up supply chain connectivity and e-commerce.”

Bringing the two together will enable Epicor 9 to be able to derive more information from beyond core ERP function, into the supply chain and logistics fields. ‘Activant is has strength worldwide in distribution processes,” says Qureshi. “The tight coupling between manufacture and distribution is an area that we can and need to focus on in the UK. We’ll look at those links and the supply chains that feed into that.”

It’s a commendable business plan. But how will manufacturers, especially those in the UK, benefit specifically?

Epicor 9 already covers “wall-to-wall” ERP needs for individual companies very well. The new Epicor’s plan is to look at manufacturing as industry sub-sectors, not just individual businesses. “How do we make sectors more efficient?,” he says. “You can do that if you have market share, so you understand that industry really well. But also connecting them to their customers and suppliers in a much more efficient way.” Historically that’s what Activant, from where Qureshi joined Epicor, has done well, especially in the US and in analysis of supply chain efficiencies.

“We look to take inventory out of the entire pipe. So the strategy is to start with individual companies, pick sectors where you have market share, then assess how to improve sector efficiencies as well as the single company’s ERP.”

This strategy in the UK has not taken off formally yet, but Qureshi is confident of success because they have a track record with this approach in the US. Epicor UK has not targeted sectors specifically yet, but Quresehi says they’re looking at sectors that are traditionally strong in the UK, including aerospace, electronics, and industrial engineering.

Can you give an example of a company who is benefiting from this flexibility?

“This week we got a prospective customer in the UK, an electronic/analogue components manufacturer, sub-£100m turnover, who are growing well in a tough economy. Their IT system has been in place for about 10 years, but they don’t think it can contain their growth – this system doesn’t give the information they need at their fingertips. They want to invest now, to be prepared for growth and be ahead in the upturn.”

Why are they looking at Epicor?

“It’s partly the flexibility the product has in providing data in the form they want to see it. Access to data from their production lines, which will give them better yield, in this case, which means better efficiency which means better cost management.”
An IT solution must always meet the specific needs of the customer. In today’s market, says Qureshi, that tends to be more cost efficiency and gross margin-focused. Better links to and visibility of their customers’ changing needs is more important today than in the growth economic cycle.

“Companies’ top priorities today are, firstly making sure they’re getting the best value from a cost perspective, and secondly for progressive customers like this example, who know that their market will change in next 4-5 years, that as their needs and profitability changes, they’ll need a product flexible enough to change as they change.”

Pervez Qureshi claims several times that Epicor has a superior ERP product. He’s biased, he admits, but offers this rationale.

“As well as feedback from resellers, in terms of getting all the information you need from any point in the system, to look at or to set productivity parameters, that flexibility is very advanced. Also the ability to reach out and integrate well, as a mobile platform, with Sharepoint, Outlook and other third party software, is inherent in the product.

While not yet launched in UK, in the US one advantage is that the exact same version of Epicor can be deployed on premise, off premise at different global sites, and configured in the Cloud. “Its inherent in the technology and the architecture, where all features are available. Very few products can switch like user platform like this.”