With PHCP-PVF distributors facing more and more challenges in an ever-evolving business landscape, having proper back-office systems in place to meet the changing needs of customers has become even more top of mind. Supply House Times caught up with distribution software provider Epicor to get its thoughts on the always changing digital landscape as well as the importance of meeting today’s customer needs.

How important has the back-office aspect become for today’s distributor?

Epicor: Distributors more than ever are under immense pressure to grow their business while contending with intense competition. Distributors are looking to software, in particular ERP, supply chain management and e-commerce software to help them reduce costs while improving efficiencies. Epicor helps distributors realize an improved ROI and TCO on their technology investments and extend those applications to new innovations such as voice, mobile and cloud-based applications through application programming interfaces (APIs). 

Distributors also need to consider how safe their on-premises systems are today. With the threats of ransomware and malware, a distributor should be considering a cloud-based solution to mitigate the risk of security infractions, and allow them to focus time and resources on growing the business.

How has Epicor adjusted its philosophies as it relates to software technology?

Epicor: Epicor is focused on delivering distribution-focused solutions that help distributors improve their technology ROI. Cloud-based ERP applications allow distributors to access the solution from anywhere and from any device. Although it varies by product, we provide solutions to meet the needs of the distributor, which could be on a subscription basis, cloud-hosted or as a SaaS-based pure cloud solution. With a SaaS-based pure cloud solution, distributors receive the latest innovations within the product for a smaller monthly per-user fee. The per-user fee includes software, updates, maintenance and support so distributors can better plan for the expenses of their ERP system.

What are the biggest pain points you are seeing with your customers today?

Epicor: One of the biggest threats to distributors today are the well-funded, aggressive online commerce businesses that are setting the rules by which business is done and customer expectations are set. Distributors do not need to meet those competitors policies and actions one-for-one, but they do need to think about how their value-add in combination with digital transformation will help them deliver more to customers while at the same time improving margins and growing the business. 

One of the first steps distributors are taking to combat these threats is the deployment of an e-commerce solution or updating an older, insufficient e-commerce solution. A modern e-commerce solution such as Epicor Commerce Connect will help a distributor reach customers where they are, from any device. ECC is a modular platform so distributors can start small with a customer portal and grow the solution with modules tailored to their business.
Another threat to distributors is the need for workers at a time when experienced, knowledgeable team members are leaving the workforce. Distributors are hiring, but the candidates are not available, or if they are, they may not stick around. Distributors are looking for ways to automate to meet customer demands. We are hearing requests for integrating to automation devices such as carousel machines, robotics and SaaS services. We have responded by providing a robust API layer that is well-documented and supported to help customers either write their own integrations or work with our services team to develop integrations. 

In your experiences, are distributors properly equipped to navigate the current e-commerce/more web-focused way of doing business today?

Epicor: We are seeing significant changes here as more distributors are going online or upgrading online systems to be able to better compete and better serve customers. In these times of self-isolation, an e-commerce/web way of doing business is becoming more important. Your customers may not be open to outside visitors, so your salespeople are no longer calling on them. There are only so many hours in the day, and only so many people you can have on the phone to take orders. An online presence makes sense to help your customers order, submit payments, find technical documentation, and many other activities that your sales and customer service teams may perform. This frees up your teams to do more high-value activities for customers and your business.

How much does Epicor interact with customers to gain their feedback and then use that feedback to improve product offerings/develop new product offerings?

Epicor: We take voice of the customer input into our product and services offerings very seriously. We interact with customers on a regular basis through onsite visits, focus groups, customer advisory boards, our customer conference insights, and through the user group local meetings and annual conferences. These meetings along with product surveys, ideation submissions and sales feedback help us better determine product and services strategies which meet customer current and future needs. 

What’s new on the technology front with Epicor? What can your customers expect?

Epicor: We are continually innovating to bring new solutions that help our customers do more and connect more easily with customers. One of those new solutions is Epicor Virtual Agent, a voice-based intelligent agent that opens access to the Epicor business system from any type of mobile device. With EVA, a distributor’s team members have access to perform many actions from a smartphone that they couldn’t do before. Salespeople can inquire about product on hand, customer pricing, create a quote and send it to their customer, all from their mobile device. 

Another area of innovation Epicor is working on is artificial intelligence/machine learning to help our customers gain better results across inventory management, sales order management, and customer relations, among many other things.

What specific new products are available from Epicor?

Epicor: Prophet 21 Cloud built on Microsoft Azure is a fantastic new offering that allows our customers to access their ERP system from anywhere with just a browser. We also recently released Epicor Rentals Management to help distributors grow their business through value-added service. Renting is becoming a more common transaction for distributors, and a great way to provide more products and services to customers. For some distributors, renting is a great way to offer a “try and buy” scenario. Overall, we’ve heard from distributors that when managed properly, renting is a highly profitable part of the business. With Epicor Rentals Management, a distributor is better positioned to achieve those higher margins.

As mentioned earlier one of our newest solutions is Epicor Virtual Agent, a voice-based intelligent agent that opens access to Prophet 21 from any type of mobile device. EVA uses artificial intelligence to simplify interaction, automate tasks and speed operations. Beyond the request/response conversational experience, EVA also uses artificial intelligent (AI) capabilities to proactively deliver alerts and carry out targeted actions based on combinations of events, market statistics and historical data. This virtual agent can contribute timely insights that improve accuracy, problem-spotting, and can even forecast and automatically adjust production or distribution levels in-line with customer demand.

What would you tell a distributor that might be scared to change/unsure of how to change its back-office/technology/software philosophies?

Epicor: Start small. Where are you feeling the most pain within your business right now? Is that an issue that could be addressed all at once, or could it be broken down and addressed in smaller projects? A digital transformation should be thought of as more of a journey then a single point in time. What if you don’t make the change? What happens then? We have helped thousands of distributors from small to large make the transition to a more digital-based business. And we’ve seen those businesses grow because of the changes they made. We can help distributors find the right place to start that digital transformation. And along the way, we’ll connect you with our customers that have seen the success of working with us.