What the Duck?! Episode 31 Transcript
This IS EPIC(OR): A Deep-Dive into the Epicor ERP with CTO, Frank Barrett
Welcome to What the Duck?! A podcast with real experts talking about direct spend challenges and experiences, and now here’s your host, SourceDay’s very own Manufacturing Maven, Sarah Scudder. Thanks for joining me for What the Duck?! Another Supply Chain Podcast brought to you by SourceDay. I’m your host, Sarah Scudder, and this is the podcast for people working in direct materials part of the supply chain. I’m @SarahScudder on LinkedIn and @Sscudder on Twitter. If you are new to the show, make sure to follow this podcast so you don’t miss any of our direct materials supply chain content.
Today, I’m going to be joined by Frank Barrett, and we are going to do a deep dive of the Epicor ERP from the perspective of a manufacturing Chief Technology Officer. If you work for a manufacturer and are using Epicor, or are thinking of implementing their ERP for the first time, then this episode is for you.
Frank’s been in IT for 23 years in various industries, including government, healthcare, private equity, and manufacturing. He’s a veteran antique tractor collector, which we’re going to have to dive into because I have not heard that before, and a retired podcaster. So he’s been in my role and has interviewed lots and lots of people. So, welcome to the show Frank.
Great to be here. Thanks for having me.
So, I need to know about antique tractor collecting. What is this, and how did you get started? Six years ago, we bought an acreage out here in the country to get our kids out of the city and move into #farmlife. Yeah. Yeah, really. I wanted to plant hops. So, we found a chunk of land that I could do that with, and every farm, even a hobby one, needs an antique tractor. I always wanted a Farmall H like my grandfathers had. So, I found one, I bought one, and it’s addictive. You can’t have just one, so at the start of Covid, I bought a ’58 Ford Tractor, and then a brand new John Deere. Then my godfather’s uncle passed, and his tractor just kind of sat. My aunt said, “I’d like to get rid of it, can you help me sell it?” I said, “Sure, how much do you need?” She told me. I said, “Here you go.” So, that was the fourth tractor, and I’m told if I bring any more home, I’ll have to find a different place to live.
So, where do you store these tractors? Is there like a barn or massive garage that you built? I have an attached garage for a couple of vehicles and then an external garage that I could park the other cars in, but I don’t. Those are for my tractors.
And how often do they get driven? I don’t do anything with them in the winter, just because two of them are parade tractors, are parade quality. It’s been nice here in Iowa a couple of weeks ago, so I fired them up just to blow the soot out of them and take them out of the garage, let the, we’ll say, neighbors see me out tooling around on it, see the shiny old reds, and that always sparks them stopping by to talk.
I feel like our graphic for this interview should be you on a tractor. I feel like that would be a lot more fun than a headshot. There is a video of me taking one of the tractors – has a narrow front, so it looks like a big tricycle, but they’re top-heavy, so they were prone to tip – having me take that tricycle off of a two-rap trailer in our front driveway and having me whip it quick around definitely had people’s palms sweating, and it makes mine just thinking about it again. But you can do anything once.
So, you were a retired podcaster. Tell me about your pod. I think you’re the only guest that we’ve had on the show so far that’s also been a podcaster. Years ago, I was approached by a buddy who’s a multi-award-winning journalist outside of Kansas City, and I say that because if I call him anything else, he’s going to see this and he’s going to hate me. But he said, “do you want to do a tech podcast?” I said, sure that sounds like fun. We did a couple of shows. I liked it. I said I got an idea for this beer show that’s the McLoughlin Group meets Strange Brew. We ran with it, and then two of us from that show and we had tankers. It was getting tanked with tankers all across the country that we joined the show. We interviewed brewers, brewmasters and… was the requirement to drink beer during the interview as well? Yeah, so it was, I’d list a bunch of news stories that had to do with beer, the beer world, and then we’d drink while we’re riffing on each of the stories. Early in the show, the better the story. The riffing got heavier as the show went on, depending on… the fun was towards the end, right? I’m going to fast forward to the last ten minutes. Lots of editing. Lots of editing. We had a lot of great shows, and two of us from that show spun off a movie show. So did that heavily for a couple of years, and my kids got more active in sports and scouting, and my nights started getting eaten up with that. So, we retired the mics.
And now here you are on What the Duck?! Here I am! That’s probably the best name. I’m going to smile like an idiot every time you say that. We love our ducks and our duck program. We’re having a lot of fun with it. That’s a great show.
So you returned to consulting to working with manufacturing companies about six months ago. Why did you decide to do this? It was time. I really missed the world of manufacturing and enjoyed it. It’s the heartbeat of this country. We were built on it. There’s a lot more focus on the glitz and glamour type industries, and manufacturing is just kind of here to the side, and that’s what built America. That’s what continues to build America, and it’s really what I’m passionate about.
So, you are unique for our guest in that a lot of our guests come from supply chain or procurement. You actually are in IT. So, how did you get into IT?
It was a dare. I had some… sorry I didn’t prep you for that one. I had some GI bill burning a hole in my pocket, and a friend said, “Hey, I’m going to take some night classes. Do you want to hang out?” I said, “What are you taking?” He goes, “I’m just going to do some computer classes.” “Sure, sounds like fun.” He’s a history teacher now and 23 years later, I’m still in IT. So it just kind of stuck.
Interesting. It’s always fun to hear. A lot, a lot of people just happen by chance, fall into their careers, I think more than the planned out path.
Yeah. But it’s a great industry. It’s always changing. People that like stability and monotony, this is not the industry for you. I feel like you change every hour in IT. You don’t like something, wait a couple of minutes. It’s going to change.
So I was at the Social Media Marketing World Conference last week, and one of my favorite presentations was by a guy named Paul who spoke about AI and the impact that AI is going to have in my profession of marketing. But he talked about ChatGBT3, which I use, and the version four already came out, and the major difference between the two, and that just shows how quickly things change in your industry. It’s scary that that is now writing code, which is something I did early in my career and don’t want to do again. But the fact that it takes 30 seconds to whip out pretty solid code is insane. And a game-changer and I hope that people get excited about it and they embrace it so they need to stay relevant by embracing and using AI in your job to make you more efficient. It’s either that or, you know, SkyNet, is going to take us all out as a result of this, so we’ll see.
So you ran IT for a company named Smeal. Is that correct?
Smeal. Smeal, and they were a manufacturer of customized fire apparatus. What was the biggest IT supply chain challenge that you solved for them?
Really, just ensuring system stability. Without that, it makes it hard to stay in touch with your supplier and your supplier network. If you got no ability to see current inventory versus projected, it makes it difficult to buy logically, and then you’re just purchasing willy-nilly. The head of purchasing there, great guy, on point for what he did, but we still had to provide a stable environment for his team to be able to operate.
So, what you’re saying is that you provided them stability with the tools that they used to buy supply and ensure that they got it on time so the production line didn’t shut down. Yep. Yep. We kept communicating lines open for a lack of a better.
Your next manufacturing gig was with a motor vehicle manufacturing company called Spartan Motors. Yep. How did you help their supply chain team? Or I guess, your supply chain team, I should say when you were there? Spartan bought Smeal in January 1, 2017 was the purchase date, so we immediately went from our small pond to a much bigger pond with multiple ERP systems. When I moved to the executive team, the trade wars with China were ramping up, so steel prices were doing the crazy roller coaster hour to hour, every day. It was really tough for purchasing to get in front of, so at a certain point, you could only watch your peers take a public beating so many times before you’ve got to jump in and help, and I had an amazing team at Spartan. The head of my ERP team, Brian, said, “I met these guys at an Epicor conference, and I think those guys might be able to help.” And those guys are SourceDay. What year was that? Am I making you think too far back? No, it was April of ’18. April of ’18. So started talking with the team at SourceDay, pretty aggressive on getting something going as far as what ERP systems, because it wasn’t just Epicor. We had an Infor system and Great Plains and Aptiom system. You know, what can we make the most impact with? And that was with Epicor and the Infor system. So, integrating those two into your product to help that purchasing team was a priority.
So, let me make sure I’m understanding. So the company you were at was acquired through Spartan Motors, and through the acquisition, you inherited multiple ERPs? Yeah, we went from just our single system to several, and then that hidden ERP system that every manufacturer had in Excel. So that’s the one that nobody talks about, but it exists. At the time, I came in as IT Ops Director, but quickly took over the department and inherited this Epicor project that had been in progress for a few years.
So, you had, I think you mentioned 5 or 6, I don’t know the number of all these different ERPs, how come you selected down selected for Epicor? Why was that your choice to use against all the other ERPs that you inherited? The directive came from the C-Suite, that the move for the company was going to Epicor. That was the future. So, to get all these different locations moved into Epicor. And that is easy to say, but not the easiest to do because, in addition to changing processes and procedures, you’ve got to change, in certain circumstances, cultures. And without that support from up top, you’re pushing a boulder uphill.
So you had all these people who were used to making their own decisions using whatever ERP they were using. Leadership comes in and says, “nope, we’re rolling out Epicor, everyone needs to use this.” Yep, and then went their separate ways. Their way… there was a time when the team didn’t, prior to our acquisition, would get close then 11th hour, plug would get pulled so that the site that was prepped and ready wouldn’t go live. And that just happened, that was just the nature of the beast. Leadership changes, what have you, something was always found, something was always found to not go. So when I took over, it was “get it done, kid.” That’s what we did.
You could be the newbie. You could be the bad guy.
Oh yeah. I have zero problem being told no, but I don’t accept it and we find ways to compromise and move forward. The lack of visibility for purchasing, accounting, or ease of visibility, those are small roadblocks that you could easily mitigate with additional systems, like SourceDay for purchasing.
So the purpose of our chat today is to kind of do a deep dive and to talk about Epicor. Our audience is primarily in manufacturing, so I’m sure some of these are on Epicor, have heard of Epicor, maybe are looking at it or needing help kind of with their ERP selection process. So, what does Epicor do well? After you were using it, rolling it out, what would you talk about as it really does you know these couple things exceptionally well?
I think that’s… it depends on the end-user. For me, personally, the ability to have it in the cloud or one single environment makes reporting so much easier. You would have people in finance maybe disagree or on the floor, but the system’s really good at BOM management. I think is a… and for those who don’t know, what is BOM? Bill of materials. So if you’re building a firetruck and there are 200,00 parts and pieces in a firetruck, it’s good at managing that and carrying those drawings from station to station. It’s a really good traveler, if you will. It’s inventory management, really good. Rally good inventory management. Those are… those are pretty big for me. In fact, if you can’t handle those two things, it makes the day-to-day a struggle.
Where does Epicor fall short? What are some of the things you think their system didn’t do exceptionally well? The financials reporting was always mentioned as a shortfall from that team. Again, I went into IT. I took an accounting class because it was required, but beyond that looks fine to me, you tell me if it’s good or bad. That was a bit of a pain point. The purchasing dashboard is often ignored and that’s more of an end-user, but not a lot of detail. There’s still a lot of chasing that needs to be done manually, which is a huge, huge pain point. So instead of streamlining your outing staff to manage 10,000… 10,000 lines you’re buying them. Those are two weak points that I heard on a regular basis.
The other challenge with an ERP is the implementation. I don’t think I’ve ever heard somebody say, “my ERP implementation was so simple and easy.” How would you rate the difficulty of implementing Epicor? If you leave an IT team to implement an ERP system, you hit it out of the box and it’s the easiest install we’ve ever done because we just hit go and it’s complete. Business doesn’t work that way. As far as ease of… if you… it’s easier to change business processes long run and manage that than it is to customize a system. You can customize it, but you’re always going to be behind on updates, upgrades and then you got all that custom code to update. So it’s an unnecessary, not always bad but majority of the time, you’re changing and writing custom code unnecessarily where it might be easier to just get people together and redo a process long-term anyways.
Do you remember how long, if you had to put months to it, your Epicor implementation took? It was still in progress when I left. So there were 13 sites company-wide. I think we were at five. Five locations when I left, and for the longest time, it sat at just one, and that’s just the nature of the beast. If you don’t have the right support from the top, it makes it a difficult challenge, an almost unwinnable task. So there, and not just the C-Suite, it’s got to be, you know, three levels down and then supported across the enterprise. If you’re not in front of it and doing a hell of a marketing campaign to the folks using it, you’re in for a long fight. So be ready.
And you’ve got to have budget allocated and internal resources staffed appropriately. Yes. I mean, those are two really important things. The system doesn’t magically implement. There’s got to be people, and oftentimes, people are overworked as is, and so adding it on somebody’s full plate sometimes, I’m a huge believer in bringing in experts to help in implementation projects so you can have dedicated resources. And anymore, a failed implementation is a resume-generating event for IT head, department head, whomever. So get the right team from the get-go, or you’re in for a bit, and your spend is probably going to 2 or 3X. Yeah, I don’t know if I’ve ever heard of an implementation project staying on budget. There’s a lot of things that aren’t considered, and then costs creep up as you’re in process.
When we were prepping for the call, one of the things that you mentioned is the need to integrate Epicor with some of your third-party systems, and the example that you actually shared was Salesforce, which is a pretty common industry-standard solution. So, how did you go about tackling managing that integration, and maybe any tips or best practices you have for people that are considering using Epicor and need to add integrated additional solutions to it?
I’m a firm believer that your ERP system should be your one source of truth. Make that your baseline and just bolt-on solutions. An ERP system should get you 80% of the way there. Bolt-on systems for that other 20% to get you to that 100. So, often IT teams, especially in manufacturing, are understaffed or overworked. It’s just things break. You got to fix them. That’s your day-to-day, and it’s tough for a team internal to say we can’t handle that. It takes a bit. Know your limits. If Salesforce or whoever says, “Hey, we’ve got this implementation team that can help for an additional 4k, 10k, whatever that costs,” look at that versus the time it’s going to take your people to get to it and shorten that road to live. Just use the experts. That’s what they specialize in. Let them do it. It’s kind of a no-brainer. Then you’re saving your people time. You’re getting it spun up faster, and then you look like Scotty from Star Trek.
How many, when you were there, how many integrations, third-party integrations did you do? Salesforce was probably, I’m assuming, one of the larger ones. Salesforce, there were engineering systems that tied in, Configurator, four. Three or four that I could think of at the top of my head, including you guys.
How would you rate the ease of use of integrating a third-party system with Epicor? They make it really easy. I’ll say that. Especially back then. Having the ability to contact somebody there and saying, “Hey, we need to tie this in for this reason. Okay.” You’re not leaving their product, so it’s in their best interest to allow, within reason, different systems to tie in. You’ve got security that you have to take into account, but the more stuff you can logically bolt on, the better it makes the end product look. That’s my opinion.
Yeah, I think I always recommend when people are looking for new solutions, in particular in ERP, one of the things I think is so important is ease of use of integrating a third-party solution. Your ERP will not be able to do everything, and if it doesn’t have an easy way to integrate, you’re going to have all these disparate systems, and you’re going to have big data and reporting problems. Yeah, it’s bad enough when you’re working with two or three ERP systems, but when you’re working with half a dozen and then trying to get unified financials or purchasing, it’s near impossible. There’s going to be, as long as there’s human interaction, there are going to be issues. Not saying machines are infallible, but back to the ChatGPT, you ask it a question, it gives you an honest answer. Machines don’t have egos. They don’t take for granted anything. It’s just okay, here it is, ones and zeros.
So, Epicor has something that’s called ECC. What is it? It is nothing that we used. It was new or in development at the time when I was initially using Epicor, so it’s nothing that we were willing to take a chance on and just get the system out as is.
Does Epicor ECC onboard, train, or manage suppliers? Is that part of their offerings? No, at the time, no. I’m not sure. I’ve heard that they’re working towards that, but I can’t say for sure.
How do you recommend that Epicor users better collaborate with their suppliers? I know something we hear a lot from Epicor users, and really on any manufacturing ERP, is they don’t have real-time visibility, real-time collaboration ability with their suppliers. It’s another “throw bodies at it” kind of solution. If, like I said earlier, if you’re chasing 10,000 lines, you need 30 bodies full time just checking the status of POs. Was a PO even accepted? What’s the ETA for delivery? Okay, is it now back-ordered? Where does it sit? And today you just don’t have time to wait. So, there needs to be a better solution to manage that. If you can automate it, automate it.
And the flip side of that is getting vendors to buy into that new change. You still need somebody to manage the relationship all day, but you shouldn’t have two people on each side chasing where something is in the system. That’s just not efficient, and it costs more money than it’s worth. I call it death by email. Hold on, I’ll get back to you. Let me go check with Earl in the warehouse and see where that’s at. Like three emails later or the following week. ‘Hey, where’s that? You never called back?’ Yeah, meanwhile, this truck’s waiting. It’s got a delivery date that’s two weeks ago, and you can’t articulate much like I’ve not been able to here in the last couple of minutes. You can’t articulate to the customer when delivery is actually going to be.
So, you were on Epicor rolling it out to multiple sites. You found our solution, SourceDay? And why did you decide to implement our platform? I’d say Mike was a great salesman. Great guy, just the team was really easy to talk to at SourceDay. A big selling point is I don’t have to convince vendors or the VP approaching doesn’t have to convince vendors to get on board with the system. SourceDay does it for you and then shows the benefit of getting on board. And the fact that you guys were at the Epicor show… Oh, that’s an absolute no-brainer. So, now let’s just work out cost and the duration of the contract. Thankfully, Brian found you guys on my team. Brian Harris, hey bud. He’s gonna love that shout out and then turn Brian red. I said I think I have a solution, I saw these guys, what do you think? I’m like let’s bring them in and see how fast we can get this spun up, how aggressive and if we can get 75 percent of our vendors on board early, that’s a huge win. Huge win, especially with the fluctuating markets.
The way they were in 18 and 19, before you left, do you know what percentage of your suppliers were using the platform? I want to say when we were 80 percent, we were 70 out of the gate. We did a dump to Excel, showed it over to you guys, and you did your magic on your end and said these out of your top are already in, we’ll work on the rest. Okay, I don’t have to make phone calls. I don’t have to make phone calls, that’s part of the package, do it to it. Let’s look better so that those Monday morning meetings go a lot smoother. Where’s my stuff? Where’s my stuff? That’s right here and the reporting is great. The fact that it tied in with accounting was a huge, huge win also.
What about the implementation? It was pretty cut and dry. I mean, we went into the test and train environment and then sign off, go live. It was probably one of the easier implementations. The team might disagree a tad bit, but from my perspective, it was smooth. We were on time and that’s all that really mattered. And they didn’t complain a whole heck of a lot.
I’m a huge believer if an integration takes a lot of work and time, it’s going to be real tough to get people to use it. So, I’m glad to hear. I mean, our target is 30, 60, 90 days math for implementations. The fact that the team was happy throughout speaks volumes, my team in particular because it’s just potentially more work you’re adding onto an already strapped crew.
Long term, though, totally worth it. Highly recommended to others. And since coming back to manufacturing, we’ve run across a few users of SourceDay, which is great to see.
Well, thank you for doing a deep dive of the Epicor ERP from the perspective of a manufacturing Chief Technology Officer today. Frank, where would you like to send people to find you if they want to check you out or learn more info? You can find me on LinkedIn, Frank Barrett, the only one that looks like this, probably fortunately. Here, this summer you’ll find me on a bicycle in St. Paul, Wisconsin, or wherever.
If you missed anything, you can check out the show notes. You can find us by typing in “What the Duck?! Another Supply Chain Podcast” in Google. To have optimal search results, make sure to add in “Another Supply Chain Podcast” at the end. To ensure you don’t miss a single episode, make sure to follow this podcast and subscribe to us on YouTube. I’m @SarahScudder on LinkedIn and @SScudder on Twitter. This brings us to the end of another episode of What the Duck and Other Supply Chain Podcast. I am your host, Sarah Scudder, and we’ll be back next week.