Talking to... Epicor's James Norwood About ERP Enterprise Software in the Cloud

Dennis Byron

On September 2, coincidentally the day after Google's gmail went down... again, James Norwood, product marketing VP at Epicor, and I caught up for a discussion about ERP in the cloud. We recalled that probably the last time we talked (circa 2001), the subject was almost the same but that the term ASP (for application service provision, not active server page) was used in the same context as cloud computing is today.

 

Based on Google's bad press over its cloud outages on September 1-2, I expected him to launch into an "I told you so" defense of the old, secure, predictable, on-premise way of deploying enterprise software. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to hear a very nuanced position Epicor describes as "hybrid cloud usage." Some of Epicor's proofpoints and philosophic underpinning for an "it depends" approach to where you put critical enterprise data and applications (in the public cloud, in your own cloud, in no cloud) includes:

  • Enterprises have been putting very sensitive and highly regulated payroll and human-resources data on public networks for years (via payroll services); why worry about ERP data and software?
  • For Epicor's mainly mid-sized customer base, its advice is "Invest your limited IT resources -- which themselves are probably contracted -- in on-premise projects that can make a competitive difference, not in just keeping the books."
  • For larger-size enterprises (whom Epicor wants to add to its customer base), Norwood thinks "Not wanting to go with one vendor is the cultural issue for them; moving to the cloud is not the downtime/security mental block that most analysts cite" (for a related view, see Mike Vizard's September 2 blog post here on IT Business Edge about thestrategy).
  • For all size users, the issue of switching costs is an impediment to putting enterprise software in the cloud just as it always has been an impediment to changing ERP vendors.
  • There are business model, operational and technology differences between the ASP era and on-demand, cloud-based computing; history is not repeating itself.

 

It is on the technology side of things that I think Epicor is doing some interesting stuff. It is primarily a Microsoft shop but does not require you to be (especially, of course, if you do business with them via the cloud). Epicor has its own business process management (BPM) framework, but it works with Microsoft Workflow Foundation if you want. The company was an early adopter of SharePoint and is similarly building future functions on Silverlight and Azure (see Microsoft Says Windows Azure Offers 24/7 Availability, 9-to-5 Admin Costs.)

 

But using the BPM framework and underlying SOA techniques, Epicor has done something Microsoft itself could not do with Project Green and that SAP is not completely finished with. It has pulled the best of nine different ERP products from disparate acqusitions together into 600 "individual business services." The technology also allows Epicor users to choose cloud or on-premise via the same user interfaces.

 

It's worth a look-see whether or not you ever think you'll be moving your ERP to the cloud.



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