Business process management dashboards in Epicor ERP are helping a Texas sign manufacturer reduce data entry, bring discipline to its workflow and avoid costly billing mishaps. The dashboards are popular with employees, but frequent requests for new ones are placing a development burden on the company’s three-person IT department.
San Antonio-based Walton Signage performs large-scale sign installations for famous-brand clients like Old Navy, Starbucks, Wells Fargo and Firestone. It can handle all stages of a sign project -- design, manufacture, shipment and installation -- which results in a complex, ERP-driven workflow. Teams of “program managers” marshal each job from the sales order to the customer’s final sign-off on an installation, according to IT manager Jennifer Mesiano. Most of Walton’s 110 employees touch the ERP system, she said.
The company got into the dashboard business last fall, shortly after upgrading to Epicor ERP 9.05, which came with an improved dashboard feature that allows single-screen data entry, Mesiano said. Program managers were spending too much time manually entering Epicor ERP data in Microsoft Word files and emailing them to the people who oversee sign installation. “They have to enter information into multiple screens, which can be a big time waster,” she said.
A 12-year Epicor user, Mesiano realized dashboards could streamline such inefficient data entry and tap into Epicor’s BPM features, bringing more standardization and efficiency to processes like credit approvals and work orders.
“We put all those fields into one dashboard,” she said, referring to a customer account management dashboard that program managers use to handle sales orders and detailed information about each job. It employs a grid format that is more comfortable than a graphical user interface (GUI) would be for the program managers, who are used to Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, according to Mesiano. The grids can be copied and pasted into Excel.
“By using the BPM functionality, we were able to get rid of that paper requirement,” she said. “There’s no more paper flow. The BPM is the notification process that alerts [program managers] based on events.” She estimates the dashboards have saved 30% in data entry time.
Challenges of BPM dashboard development
Walton’s BPM effort is essentially being implemented through a series of dashboards like the customer account management one, which was tweaked during a three-month pilot with Old Navy. Developing it took longer than expected because Epicor had no manual for the dashboard, Mesiano said. An inability to save multiple tables simultaneously was another hurdle. “We had a hard time because there wasn’t anybody out there using them,” she said, but Epicor’s free tech support provided the necessary handholding. “We spent quite a bit of time with their BPM and query techs.”
Speedy development is crucial to Walton, which has no full-time developers on its IT staff. “It has to be no-code or low-code,” Mesiano said.
While Epicor’s development tools have improved and become more wizard-based over the years, she said, the platform is still based on Progress, a fourth-generation (4GL) programming language. Functions that can’t be handled in the development wizard must be programmed in the 4GL. Mesiano attended a Progress programming class but now wishes she had sent more people, including her ERP manager, to avoid outsourcing development to 4GL and BPM consultants.
“Our intention is for that to be a last resort,” said Erik Johnson, Epicor’s vice president of technology and strategy, acknowledging that the wizards sometimes don’t produce the exact features that are needed, and extra programming is the only way to finish the job. “If our customers are coding things, then we need to take a look at improving that.”
Mesiano said development and training are hard to do on a live system, as the interactions among software elements can lead to error messages and unintended consequences. She recommends getting all the training done before going live. “Too many hands in the cookie jar can cause a problem,” she said.
Dashboards the hot new thing in BPM implementation
Once the first one was developed, the BPM dashboard concept took off like wildfire. “Somebody in a meeting said, ‘Yeah, that’s all I use now,’” Mesiano recalled. Now it’s common for employees to ask if they can get “a BPM” for a process they hope to streamline. “We get a lot of requests and we really have to prioritize and be smart about it.”
The benefits have come in several key areas -- data management, for one. Without the dashboards, Mesiano said, “I have no way to make sure these users are actually putting the data in. For example, you can’t save a sales order without having a customer due date in there. That’s really helped us control our data flow. You get a lot of holes if you don’t do that.”
Business processes are becoming more logical and efficient. One example: the BPM dashboard that runs a notification process for collecting deposits. “We’re able to hold a job until certain criteria are met,” she said. “It’s really hard to keep track of that if you have to do that on paper.” Walton’s accounts receivables department uses the dashboard to coordinate with project managers when a job can be released because it has met certain collection criteria, such as payment in full.
Further data management and workflow improvements are imminent. Right now, an accounts receivable person handles shipments so they can make sure the information gets entered properly on invoices. “We would like to eliminate that process,” Mesiano said, with a BPM dashboard by the end of this year.
“I think it’s touched every department. It’s everywhere.”