The 127-year-old Rainier Industries spent a decade moving from paper-based and antiquated computer accounting systems to Epicor ERP. More recently, the maker of shelters, displays and awnings furthered its digital transformation with a cloud migration.
Predominantly a B2B, Rainier originated in Seattle in 1896 and essentially stayed a small, locally oriented company for almost the next 90 years. In 1984, a new owner began a series of acquisitions that grew the company to now include six divisions that manufacture and sell products around the world -- but added to the company's complexity.
In the late 1980s, Rainier bought its first computer, which ran an accounting and payroll software called AccountAbility, according to Chris Inverso, Rainier Industries' CEO.
The company augmented its accounting system with the addition of Microsoft Dynamics CRM in the early 2000s, and handled inventory and purchasing primarily through Excel spreadsheets and Word documents. This was not a system that could serve the growing company's needs, Inverso said.
"There were a lot of different standalone systems, and none of them were connected," he said. "[We] had to do repeat data entry in each of them, and there were no APIs or other technological connections."
After a selection process involving several ERP systems, Rainier implemented Epicor ERP version 10 in November 2014, providing the company with its first quote-to-cash process capability and functionality to digitize beyond finance, according to Inverso.
"At the time, we had been managing HR through paper, and Epicor had an HR capability that we implemented," he said. "So we went fully digital across all of our business at one time."
Increase in productivity
Digitizing its ERP improved the business dramatically, Inverso said. In particular, Epicor's e-commerce functionality allowed Rainier to increase the number of orders processed with the same number of employees.
The Rainier IT team integrated Epicor Commerce Connect functionality with the Magento e-commerce platform to create a front-end store, and then used the Epicor configure, price and quote (CPQ) functionality to allow customers to configure and place screen and awning orders online, Inverso said.
"That automation goes direct to the dealer and allows them to input once and then have no repeat entry -- and validate all the parameters," he said. "This was a key driver for growing that business three times with essentially the same number of sales and customer service staff."
According to Inverso, Rainier did $37 million in sales in 2014 and finished 2022 with around $50 million in sales while maintaining the same staff size, which he attributes largely to the implementation of Epicor and the integration of the Magento e-commerce front end.
"Our buyers don't have to go through all these different SKUs," he said. "They can just look at the purchase suggestions and make buying decisions based on that."
Time must be right for the cloud
The initial Epicor ERP system was on premises, as the cloud was not a realistic option at the time.
"Epicor did have a cloud offering, but it was not feasible from a cost or functionality standpoint," Inverso said. "Just to have access to high-speed internet wasn't as affordable as it is now."
Rainier eventually upgraded its servers and virtualized the system, adding speed and processing power, but changes in availability and costs in recent years made the cloud a reality. In 2021, Epicor revamped its core ERP platform as Epicor Kinetic, a multi-tenant SaaS built on Microsoft Azure.
At the same time, Rainier was looking for a more flexible ERP system so that it wouldn't have to deal with the everyday concerns of managing the system, according to Inverso.
"Several IT leaders have retired or moved on, and the cost of hiring someone in-house to manage that back-end part of our ERP isn't a strategic goal," he said.
With a cloud ERP system, Rainier's IT staff would be able to look at processes and technology, and better align them with company strategy and business needs, rather than managing the back end.
With this in mind, Rainier underwent a seven-month project to move from its on-premises Epicor ERP system to the Epicor Kinetic cloud ERP system, which went live in March 2023. The system is a true SaaS ERP being managed by Epicor on Microsoft Azure.
Inverso explained that the cloud migration project was handled internally by a cross-functional team that focused on improving business processes.
"The design and implementation [of the cloud system] was done internally, and that brought together a cross-functional team that worked to define a scope and to dig into our business," he said. "That's a huge win for the company, and we hope to continue using cross-functional teams to identify top-tier priorities for our business and [do rapid development and testing]."
One of the challenges the team solved was rebuilding a heavily customized scheduling system for Epicor's Business Activity Query functionality that relied on direct connections between the Microsoft SQL database and Power BI or Excel for reporting.
Chris InversoCEO, Rainier Industries
The new cloud system ushers in continuous software and feature updates, and provides a level of business continuity that Inverso expects to be major advantages. Rainier usually stayed on top of Epicor's release cycle, save for the COVID-19 pandemic when remote work made testing difficult, but the cloud will make it much easier to keep updated, he said.
"It's a lot easier to stay current on a platform," Inverso said. "When you don't stay current, it's like a debt that builds up and builds up, and then the amount of organizational change that you have to put your company through when you finally make that change is just really almost backbreaking at times."
Recent weather-related disruptions have also proven the value of a cloud ERP system, he said. A storm knocked out the power to the facilities that hosted Rainier's on-premises Epicor system, interrupting service to even the remote facilities that relied on that system.
"When you lose power, all that goes down when you're on premises," Inverso said. "Having ERP in the cloud will allow us to continue those sales without interruption."
Epicor should stick to core ERP
Going forward, Rainier is looking to add some new capabilities from Epicor, but Inverso is wary of the vendor straying too far from its core ERP functionality. Rather than Epicor adding a more modern marketing or CRM tool, for example, Epicor would do better to help Rainier choose the best tools for its needs and make those tools easy to integrate, he said.
"That's a key thing, and they've taken some steps in that direction," Inverso said. "But there's always the fear that a company is going to make an acquisition or move into a space that they don't usually manage."
Two acquisitions that Inverso thinks look promising are KBMax, now Epicor CPQ, which Epicor acquired in May 2021, and the low-code BI tool Grow, which it acquired in March 2022. But neither tool has been fully integrated with Epicor ERP, he said.
"Our interior engineers and designers have done a lot with [Epicor CPQ], but we're still having issues using it with today's functionality," Inverso said. "So they haven't figured all of that out yet."
Grow might help Rainier extract and use data from the ERP system, but the tool is still new, and the team still must use Power BI and Excel for data analytics, he said.
"That's a pain point for us, and we'd love to see our data used in a more meaningful and timely way," Inverso said. "We will potentially use Grow and Epicor CPQ more, but that's dangerous because both of those are deviating from that strategy of just providing the core functionality. We're evaluating those cautiously."
Jim O'Donnell is a senior news writer who covers ERP and other enterprise applications for TechTarget Editorial.