Epicor Software Corporation (recently combined with Activant Solutions Inc.) offered visitors to the AAPEX event in Las Vegas, a look at what’s coming down the road in the near future from the software and business systems supplier to help jobbers and distributors improve customer service and efficiency. A key functionality in development is the addition of comprehensive centralized store services capabilities to its Epicor Vision distribution management platform. Centralized services will enable Vision-powered replacement parts distributors to perform an array of important value-added tasks — including inventory management — for company stores and independent jobbers. “Vision centralized services will enable distributors to significantly increase the efficiency of many key company store operations and provide invaluable new support to their affiliated independent jobber customers,” said Paul Salsgiver, executive vice president and general manager, retail software for Epicor. The added functionality is expected to be showcased at next year’s AAPEX event. The company was also anxious to talk about the development to of its soon to be launched cloud-based version of the Epicor AConneX Internet-based auto parts trading solution: Epicor AConneX CL. The new solution will enable businesses to join the AConneX network without making major changes to their existing system architecture. In addition, the direct connectivity and decentralized services associated with cloud-based solutions will help minimize network downtime and other performance and reliability issues for customers. AConneX CL is expected to go live for select Epicor business platforms and users by the end of 2011 and will continue the company’s strong commitment to aftermarket industry data standards Of course many in the aftermarket will be particularly interested in some of the thinking behind developments in the next generation of electronic cataloguing. While the advantages of new functionality and value-added features, including near real-time availability of updated product data, new-product announcements, technical service bulletins, recall notices, bidirectional messaging for suppliers and retailers should be obvious, the change in how parts are looked up may have the greatest impact in the long run. The technology also will help greatly accelerate the lookup process through “free-form” search capability similar to that now offered by Internet search engines. “Today’s accepted aftermarket e-catalogue search methodology is very regimented and time-intensive,” said Paul Magin, senior director, content and connectivity for Epicor. “We will be offering functionality that is truly new to this industry. Businesses using Epicor e-catalogues will be able to utilize this technology to help speed operations at the counter, reduce returns and provide more valuable product and market intelligence. “Free-form search will enable the user to quickly reach beyond his or her product lines to see what’s available through a much wider selection of sources. This will help eliminate lost sales and add significant value for the customer.” Magin said the new e-catalogue technology, already in development, will also help drive improvements in inventory efficiency and margin performance through the availability of detailed analytics and the ability to more easily and effectively configure master catalog files to promote sales of preferred brands and product lines.