As soon as the sun sets on Trick or Treating, and the dawn of November appears, it seems like our culture shifts to an overall focus on “thankfulness”. A whole month centered around being thankful may be a bit cliché; but, we kind of like it!
In wholesale distribution, the majority of your days are probably spent hitting the pavement or phones, putting miles on the forklift, or staring at Eclipse’s hypnotizing screen. It’s so easy to get caught up in these tasks and find things to nit-pick about here, or complain about there. Yet, if we step back for a moment, we’ll notice there is much to appreciate … even within the frustrations of an enterprise software program like Eclipse.
The philosopher Marcus Aurelius once said, “Do not indulge in dreams of having what you have not, but reckon up the chief of the blessings you do possess, and then thankfully remember how you would crave for them if they were not yours.” Let’s do that, and take a minute to reflect on some of the helpful and wonderful things about Eclipse:
I used to be thrifty. A search for the best price, use the cheapest option, kind-of-a-guy. But over the years, I’ve matured as a consumer and business owner, and I’ve learned that the old saying “you get what you pay for” has some merit. Least expensive does not always equate to best value. Quality and competence come at a price. So why, then, do I still struggle with the high cost of software support? Do you really “get what you pay for” when it comes to monthly maintenance fees? Since Epicor announced in August that it is transitioning the support staff overseas, Zerion’s customers are bringing up support more frequently.
During the birth of ERP software programs like Eclipse, there were huge upfront development costs in writing the software. The time and money put into that process was not often covered by the initial customer-facing price tag of the software. The resulting strategy was to charge ongoing support fees, sort of like “rent”. Software companies nestled in to this structure, and rightly so … we exist in a capitalistic society and the model is still making them money. In a Forbes article last month, contributor Dan Woods remarked, “After all, annual support fees provide a profit margin of 90% or more for them. In the case of Oracle, support fees account for about half of the company’s revenues and almost all of its profit.”
90% profit margin. Almost all of its profit. That’s staggering! Yet, people keep paying it. Why? In our world of hard goods distribution and Eclipse software, the reasons are fairly straightforward. Users don’t have enough options to cause an uproar. We’re not at a tipping point yet, because Eclipse is still the best choice. There may be better ERP technology out there now, but Eclipse’s feature set is still the best you can find for this industry within one package.
But the issue is broader than that, and bigger than just Epicor. The current fee structure has run its course and people don’t like it. Many bundle support and maintenance, so you can’t “opt-out” of their support without also dropping maintenance. And without paying for maintenance, you can’t get any bug fixes or updates from the vendor. While the discontent keeps expanding with every new option that comes on the market and every organizational change software companies make, customers continue to feel like what they’re paying each month doesn’t match up with the service they’re receiving. That’s most likely because the vendor has very little incentive to truly support its customers. They aren’t held accountable for service … they’re getting paid for support regardless of whether or not they do a good job.
This has brought SAAS (software as a service) models to rise. That usually means a lower price point for entry, but larger monthly fees. And, it’s easier for customers to leave if they aren’t happy with the product or service. Only when someone can fire a software vendor in any given month, does service really start to matter. But for Eclipse users, there’s no comparable SAAS alternatives.
So if your best bet is to stick with Eclipse, what leverage do you have to change this hefty monthly check? The only way you will initiate industry-wide change, and see your support fees go down, is through a lot of pressure on the model over a period of time. This pressure is already starting to be applied with vendors like Oracle by way of a shift toward third-party support. In Woods’ article, he said, “Nonetheless, the trend toward third-party support for on-premises ERP systems continues, with Gartner predicting that 10% of organizations will cancel their vendors’ on-premises ERP support contracts by 2020, reducing their annual support fees by about 50% in the process.”
If you can’t easily switch to another software, and you shouldn’t expect your monthly fee to change any time soon, how about addressing the elephant in the room – can you stop using Eclipse’s support and maintenance? As we said before, you can’t dump one without dumping the other. And, there is value in the maintenance piece you’re paying for – those bug fixes and software updates that are released periodically to paying customers. They do require Epicor staff hours and other overhead costs to research and develop. That’s something that no one else can offer. Eclipse is proprietary software that no one else can sell.
But, do you really need those updates? We never recommend users abandon Eclipse support entirely. People do it, and it works out just fine in most cases, but it’s risky. There are instances where a system failure could be unrecoverable without their help. But, Mr. Woods has a less conservative take when referring to Oracle customers: “In the first couple of years following a new software release, bugs and other issues are identified and addressed by the vendor. After that time, issues with the base code dramatically decrease and the software becomes very stable. An organization running a seven- or eight-year-old version of Oracle E-Business Suite, for example, is unlikely to have a “software-stopping” problem that requires a fix that only Oracle can provide.”
As for support, we believe this is a necessary component to running a successful business on Eclipse. You need someone to call when your team has a question no one internally can answer. You need a resource to learn from, help manage settings, train new hires, or provide custom programming. But, should that phone call be to Epicor? Or, can it be to a third-party, like us at Zerion?
We generally try to avoid sales pitches in our newsletter. We created it to demonstrate our industry knowledge and provide a service to our customers. But, as a third-party support provider, we kind of have to toot our own horn a little if we want to provide a complete evaluation of this topic. So, here goes. At Zerion, every one of our consultants has a distribution background and has served “in the trenches”. When we help customers, we aren’t reading from a manual. We get our hands dirty to find answers and solve problems. We work hard to offer clear explanations and present the whole picture. And, we always hold ourselves accountable. When you hire us, you get “support” via your own dedicated Eclipse expert that you can email or call directly.
Woods’ article echoes the same type of thinking. About third-party support providers, he says, “They don’t just serve as tech support, but as problem solving ninjas. And because these products are so complex, usually the solution is not a bug that needs to be fixed, but a mistake in configuration, customizations or in the way the product is being used. This can be solved without any needed participation of the software vendor.”
A customer of ours, Darren Dalton from Hulbert Supply, commented about our approach to support. He said, “I like having an easily accessible person that I can just shoot an email to.” He added, “It’s hard to build a relationship if you don’t have a single contact. When you start a service request with the software company, you don’t know who is going to get it, or who is going to call you back. I like being able to build a relationship with that personal touch, and I attest to that 100%. It’s pleasant to deal with a company where I can call the owner directly.”
We also try to clearly correlate what you’re paying to what you’re getting. “When I initially signed on I was expecting the monthly or quarterly service charge type of contract and it was a nice surprise to just be able to buy blocks of hours,” noted Darren. “The flexibility in Zerion’s billing to us is nice. I like that a lot. I know that they’re there when I need them. And I only pay for things that I need to pay for when I need them. I know that I’m not getting nickeled and dimed every time I ask a question. It’s a very comfortable relationship.”
While we agree it’s simple, and affordable, using us isn’t always to accomplish “cost savings”. The majority of our customers hire us to support them IN ADDITION to Epicor. And, this is usually the way we steer anyone who asks: you should keep your support agreement in tact, but your organization would be well served to employ someone like us for true consulting, guidance and support.
So, what conclusion can you draw from this question-filled discussion? Whether you’re a thrifty guy like I used to be, or you’re okay with paying a premium for the best service, every Eclipse user will need to adapt and adjust. The voice you hear on the other end when you call support will soon be different; but, your monthly support fees won’t. We can hope Epicor’s internal organizational changes will be seamless and positive … That they will work better for you and your team and that you will truly “get what you’re paying for.” But, it’s hard to make that call right now. We also hope that the pendulum will begin to swing your way, with better software options becoming available and fee models beginning to shift. But, we can’t predict that either.
Ultimately, the future is up to you. Your choices will not only impact your own operation, but also help shape the software and distribution industries. We can’t make those decisions for you, but we’re here to help in any way we can if you choose to use us.
Zerion often does customization work that may be of use to other Eclipse users, such as creating reports or programs, and completing integrations. As a convenience to our customers, we make most of these reports, processes and code available to all for purchase and installation. A few new reports and integrations have just been added to our repertoire! They are:
Some of us are trailblazers. Pioneers. Trendsetters. In the Eclipse world, these are the users who think the status quo is irrelevant. They identify a problem and they set out to get it solved. These folks are resourceful. They’re go-getters. They are the ones that research and track Zerion down, or that already work with us and ask to brainstorm their Eclipse issue. These people initiate and fund the development of Eclipse customizations that make each day, week or month a little easier for their company.
These users also recognize that while Eclipse is the software package of choice for the hard goods distribution industry, it still has some shortcomings or weak areas. Or, they simply know that some things aren’t standard, but their business needs more to thrive. They seek out modification and programming services to make Eclipse work better for them. They know that Zerion can’t change Eclipse’s core code, but we CAN do things like:
Then, there’s other users who wait in the wings and observe. Or, that just go about their days unchanging and unconcerned. The ones who assume that Eclipse is what it is and we have to deal with it. Maybe they aren’t fully aware of Zerion or our capabilities, or they don’t think to ask us for help.
Well, we’re here to tell you that if you’re a part of this second group, it’s going to be just fine … and we like you a whole lot too. We like you so much that we also want you to have Eclipse customizations to make each day, week or month a little easier for your company (even if you didn’t think of them, ask for them or fund them). And, we want you to have them for a fraction of the cost if you had paid to develop them yourself.
All you have to do is check our list of pre-established or ready-to-use work that’s been done for other customers. Zerion often does customization work that may be of use to other Eclipse users, such as creating reports or programs, and completing integrations. As a convenience to our customers, we make most of these reports, processes and code available to all for purchase and installation. We’re willing to share with you (for a small fee of course)! If you want a better report, a useful program, or a more efficient toolset, you can take advantage of your peers’ forethought and investment.
Below is a sample of our readily available reports, standard integrations and customizations. For an up-to-date and complete list with descriptions, check out this ever-expanding list (.pdf). If you want to know what our affordable price point is for something listed, or you’re ready to buy, contact us.
We’ve brought back a new and improved version of our Epicor Eclipse hints and tips on YouTube! Today’s tip is on work and yard tickets. Many users don’t know that Eclipse can print an additional ticket, along with your pick ticket, which is helpful for Wire Rooms and Pipe Yards. Watch the video (and make sure you watch through the end, as there are some important details there).
We’ve brought back a new and improved version of our Epicor Eclipse hints and tips on YouTube! Today’s tip is on sending blind copies of customer quotes, which helps you keep track of quotes outside of the system, or confirm when a quote is sent. Watch the video.
Our research shows that distributors don’t spend a lot of time shopping around for their IT hardware. They typically purchase RF scanners and accessories, or E-pads, access points and printers, through their ERP software vendor (re: Epicor). Some also buy online, usually from whichever retailer currently has the lowest price or the quickest availability.
However, pursuing these options isn’t always in the best interest of your business. Software vendors have little investment in your continued operational effectiveness. And, their prices aren’t likely to be competitive. Online retailers may have attractive price points, but they aren’t familiar with your line of work, and can’t offer any insight into your needs.
Zerion offers a way for you to get it all: products perfectly suited for distributors running on Eclipse that are offered at competitive prices. You can also get professional insight when you need it, or online convenience when you don’t. We continually make sure that each piece in our equipment line-up is what’s best suited for Eclipse distributors, and that we’re presenting it at the best possible price.
When we were asked to help our Eclipse customers source equipment years ago, we invested in finding the right solutions for their business. We found that for many products, particularly RF equipment, professionally re-furbished units are a safe, cost-effective choice. They perform just like new; and, they’re going to be heavily used in a warehouse environment anyway. Plus, all of our refurbished products are offered with an optional, three-year warranty. This way, you have a guarantee that if it doesn’t work like new, it’ll be fixed or replaced free of charge … similar to buying a pre-owned vehicle that is “certified”. To further extend our services, we recently created Zerion Store, so that these same products could be purchased online.
Zerion’s focus is on helping our clients be more efficient, both with their time and money. Now, you can get both your Eclipse services (consulting, training, customizing), AND your Eclipse hardware needs, fulfilled through one, independent source at a more affordable price.
So … need something? We’re ready to serve you. If you need advice on what to buy, or you want to talk it through, you can reach out to your Zerion consultant. If you don’t have a consultant, just give us a call at 877.872.1726 or email us. If you already know what you need, and want to make a quick and easy purchase online, go to the Zerion Store.
A while back we made a few videos outlining some of our favorite Eclipse hints and tips. (You can find them on our YouTube channel.) Now we’ve brought back a new and improved version of our Eclipse hints and tips on YouTube! Today’s tip is on !NOBO and how this command keeps backordered items from printing on the bottom of a ship ticket. Watch the video.