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Infor Gains Financials Elite Club Status

Written By: Predrag Jakovljevic
Published On: June 7 2011

Believe it or not, some serious and quiet innovation has been taking place at Infor for years, in addition to the many talked-about blockbuster acquisitions. A great example of this innovation is the recently released spanking new Infor Sales & Operations Planning (Infor S&OP) offering (see related article). More recently, Technology Evaluation Centers (TEC) met with Infor to discuss the most recent release of the Infor FMS SunSystems Enterprise offering.

Infor FMS SunSystems Enterprise is a comprehensive global financial management system that includes general ledger (GL), accounts payable (AP), accounts receivable (AR), cash management, and financial reporting, operational reporting, and analysis capabilities. The product also handles fixed assets, allocations, budget management, and related business functions (purchasing, inventory, sales order management) required by finance organizations. Built on an open architecture, Infor FMS SunSystems integrates easily with other enterprise business systems, such as financial consolidation, strategic planning, expense management, Enterprise Asset Management (EAM), and human capital management (HCM). For more information, see the product’s official Web site and TEC’s Vendor Showcase on Infor FMS SunSystems

 

Infor FMS SunSystems Genesis
The SunSystems product was initially developed more than three decades ago by a privately held company in the United Kingdom (UK) called Systems Union and was first released in 1981. By its third generation in the late 1980s, the product, SunSystems V3, was already widely used worldwide, well before the runaway popularity of SAP, Baan, CODA, and Oracle Financials in the 1990s. SunSystems’ architecture was open in terms of supported platforms (i.e., Microsoft DOS, Unix, and OpenVMS [Virtual Memory Systems]) and indexed sequential access method (ISAM) data structures.

SunSystems V4 was first released in 1991, featuring support for Microsoft Windows as well as the relational databases Microsoft SQL Server and Oracle. The release also included financial consolidation capabilities through export/import processes. The Vision product for end user−friendly analytics and reporting purposes, and with live (real-time) Microsoft Excel integration, was developed by a Systems Union partner in 1995. Vision (now called Query and Analysis) is an integral part of the Infor FMS SunSystems solution—it is the end user analysis and reporting technology that enables the pivotal Unified Ledger and Smart Transactions tools (which will be explained shortly) to deliver a result.

In 2000, Systems Union was acquired by a publicly listed company, Freecom.net, that relisted as Systems Union to retain the value of the Systems Union and SunSystems name. SunSystems V5 was released in 2001 as a technology refresh for a customizable graphical client with graphical reporting and extended financials. The release introduced completely rewritten and more expansive order management capabilities, in the areas of purchasing, sales, and inventory management. In the early 2000s, Systems Union acquired the aforementioned Vision reporting product and MIS AG, a German business intelligence (BI) vendor with an online analytical processing (OLAP)-based product called DecisionWare.

 

Enters Infor
Systems Union was acquired by Infor in August 2006. SunSystems has since continued to have a good product management team and an excellent channels-based business. By quietly performing and staying “below the corporate HQ radar,” so to speak, no one has tinkered with the product’s major rewrite on the “latest-and-greatest new platform” (or similar grandiose initiatives). In fact, the offering has had a steady stream of releases, and SunSystems customers have reportedly been happy.

Infor’s development focus for the product has lately shifted to unifying user experience (UX) for customers with multiple Infor and non-Infor solution components. This UX has been achieved via the recently launched Workspace user interface (UI), formerly code-named CompanyOn (see Infor’s Chief Strategy Officer Bruce Richardson’s blog post). In addition, Infor has been simplifying interoperability and cross-application services via the Infor ION technology framework (see related blog post on the TEC Blog). In March 2011, Infor FMS SunSystems Enterprise V6.1 was launched, with support for Workspace UI and laying the foundations for ION support (to follow with Feature Pack 1 [FP1]).

 

Bolstered by Infor PM and Extended Business Solutions
Infor FMS SunSystems Enterprise has arisen from the legacy of Systems Union and SunSystems. But a number of the products from the Systems Union acquisition were also incorporated into the Infor Performance Management (Infor PM) suite. The OLAP capabilities and much of the UI to the analytic features now form part of the suite. The aforementioned Vision product (now known as Query & Analysis) remains an integral component for most SunSystems implementations, but under the PM banner, it is becoming widely used with other Infor and partner products.

In addition to Query & Analysis, the Infor PM suite offers an extended solution to the Office of the chief financial officer (CFO), and sales proposals based on Infor FMS SunSystems will typically include elements of the PM suite within the overall solution as needed to meet customer requirements, such as budgeting and planning, consolidation, and full financial reporting (see figure below). Bruce Richardson’s recent blog post adds some historical perspective and explains how the former SunSystems, CA Masterpiece, Geac, Comshare, Extensity, etc., products now fit together.

The product has leveraged Infor’s infrastructure, comprising 116 offices in 34 countries around the world and more than 8,000 employees. SunSystems has been translated into 30 different languages and implemented in more than 190 countries around the world. New versions of the solution are kept current in around 20 languages. With each new release, Infor distributes Infor FMS SunSystems Enterprise in nine core languages. The next tier of languages will follow.

 

Unsung Hero of Infor?
More than 8,000 SunSystems customer sites are active under maintenance contracts, and many other sites may still be active after maintenance contract expiry. The product’s revenues come from around the globe, with a bulge in Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA)—i.e., around the original UK base. Revenue distribution by region is in the following order: EMEA, Asia Pacific (APAC), and the Americas. (Infor does not any divulge numbers, as it cannot make public its regional revenue breakdown by product, per corporate policy.)

The industry profile of SunSystems’ customers is very diverse, but favors organizations in nonmanufacturing sectors with an emphasis on global operations—particularly in oil & gas, financial services, hospitality, and not-for-profit (NFP). The ideal prospect is a growing midsized organization with international operations (or expansion plans) that needs a sophisticated solution that can be implemented quickly and that will change and grow with the company—a company that wants all this without the budget and patience to take on the Tier 1 solutions.

There are indications that Infor FMS SunSystems has always hit its numbers and driven many of Infor’s net new customer wins. In fact, the product was reportedly one of the largest license revenue generators for Infor in fiscal year 2010, with a strong momentum in net new business. Infor has invested heavily in partner channels as well as in the solution, as seen with the series of releases of Infor FMS SunSystems V4.x and Infor FMS SunSystems Enterprise V6. Over the years, we cannot remember any earth-shattering news about the division—just rock-solid results! For once, a business unit’s actual results appear to have exceeded Infor’s PR and hype machine’s capabilities.

 

Unified Ledger and Smart Transactions: The “Secret Sauce” Ingredients?
Most of the product’s users’ delight comes from their ability to get the information they need when they need it, and to adapt to changes without really changing the system (time and again). The two enabling tools are the aforementioned Unified Ledger and Smart Transactions. As its name suggests, Unified Ledger enables real-time posting across payables, receivables, and ledger, with no reconciliation required. Thus, there is an immediate availability for combined (unified) reporting across AP, AR, and GL.

For its part, Smart Transactions refers to the ability of SunSystems to adapt the transactional data captured to meet business and reporting needs. This is a feature built into the fundamental architecture of the ledger, and it does not rely on any other external technology. The SunSystems ledger has a sophisticated coding approach that does not rely on traditional segmented account codes with a fixed structure. Instead, it uses simple chart of accounts (COA) plus a range of user definable analysis dimensions that have independent coding structures—much like an OLAP cube.

The result is a flexible coding structure that can be configured to meet the needs of every business unit, and even refined to capture different additional data, depending on the account or the type of transaction. Customers can easily configure the ledger to define the dimensions of data they want, and also easily adapt (modify) the account’s structure as business needs change. Coding changes are much simpler, as the system does not rely on generating all the permutations of account and segments (which can result in a massive combinatorial explosion).

Whole new dimensions can be added as required to cater to evolving data needs. The dimensional structure of the ledger is well suited to analysis, and this is exploited to the full extent by the aforementioned Query & Analysis tool, which provides a simple reporting environment where end users and accountants can design their own reports with no dependence on information technology (IT) folks. Data is aggregated on an as-required basis, without being bound by predetermined rollup and balances, enabling Smart Transactions to deliver the results from any desired perspective.

As a recap, the dimensional way SunSystems holds the Smart Transactions feature is ideal for a slice-and-dice reporting tool such as Query & Analysis. The reporting tool is capable of understanding the metadata describing the Smart Transaction structure—i.e., it understands the transactions—and simplifying them for the end user. The combination basically provides OLAP-style analytics from the source ledger system. The Unified Ledger is similar to Smart Transactions—it is baked into the application design and architecture, but it does not rely on any special technology.

 

Getting Under the Hood with Infor’s Product Experts
What follows is a question-and-answer discussion session with Infor’s SunSystems product marketing managers Beth Wilson and Tim Truesdale. Our prodding questions and their straight-shooting answers were as follows:

TEC: What are Infor FMS SunSystems Enterprise’s main product capabilities/modules, and what has been selling best of late?
Infor: The flagships are the core ledger accounting capability and the related reporting and analytics (Query & Analysis) module. These continue to sell well (with a few hundred completely new customer logos last year). Integrated Asset Accounting, Cost Allocation, and Order Management modules, plus the aforementioned extended solutions by Infor, enable us to meet broader requirement sets based around this core competence.

TEC: Do you sell SunSystems as stand-alone, together with Infor’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) products, or all of the above? Which integrations are already in place vs. future ones?
Infor: SunSystems is a stand-alone financial management product, but we do deliver it as the Financials module for some of the ERP products (such as Infor ERP Syteline, for which alliance goes all the way back to former MAPICS) in some markets, and to business-specific applications such as hospitality and automotive. There are also integrations to Infor’s extended solutions such as Infor Expense Management and EAM editions.

TEC: Are there any particular capabilities (that solve what pain points) that FMS does (and perhaps no one else does)?
Infor: As mentioned earlier, FMS SunSystems delivers the ability to do the following:

  • Get access to the information you need, when you need it
  • Change/modify the system with confidence
  • Grow in any market

These capabilities come from enabling customers to do the following:

  • Easily configure the system to meet the wide variety of information requirements
  • Capture the data in a form designed to support real-time reporting and analytics—via the aforementioned Unified Ledger with Smart Transactions (which deliver not only information, but also detailed user-defined context)
  • Provide the tools that make this accessible to the end user—without necessarily waiting for IT staff

TEC: How would you describe your competitive landscape, and why do you win/lose to these competitors/products?
Infor: In the global space, we offer a mid-market alternative to SAP and Oracle. We win where we meet the desired project scope, but we provide a much better value proposition—quicker results and substantially lower costs. We lose when customers are feeling that they want either a fuller ERP functional coverage or just the name.  

In domestic (local) sales it varies by regions, as we offer an alternative to the domestic products within each region. For example, in the United Kingdom, this may be UNIT4 (Agresso Business World [ABW] and/or CODA) and Microsoft Dynamics NAV or Microsoft Dynamics GP; in North America, it is most often Microsoft Dynamics GP; whereas in APAC, it could be Finance One in Australia or Kingdee in China. We win because of our greater flexibility and lose when domestic alternatives may address local requirements in a more “out-of-the-box” way.

TEC: Are there any other capabilities missing in Infor FMS SunSystems Enterprise in terms of true Tier 1 financial management, as compared to SAP, Oracle, and UNIT4 CODA?
Infor: SunSystems Enterprise is not targeted at the top of the Tier 1 market, but is instead an alternative for midsized organizations with the same challenges of complexity or global diversity—albeit without the Tier 1 budget. SunSystems plays to the strength of one system that accommodates a diversity of needs within each entity.

On the downside, it does not currently address some of the top-down controls across all entities that can be imposed in some Tier 1 solutions. SunSystems Enterprise can scale both down and up to a very considerable degree, but we would not claim to target the highest-scale organizations in terms of users and volumes, i.e., we are comfortable with hundreds of concurrent users and 100−200 million ledger transactions per reporting entity. Many of our largest enterprise customers use a 2-tier financials strategy, with SunSystems used at global business units and subsidiaries and another solution used at corporate. 

TEC: How are your major system integrator (SI), independent software vendor (ISV), and other partnerships going (with as much detail as you are willing to provide)?
Infor: We value our SunSystems channel partners and third-party software providers very highly. Not only do our channel partners sell, implement, and support customers in many regions worldwide, but some of them also develop the translations and localizations critical to those regions. While Infor FMS SunSystems provides the critical core financial management functionality, we partner with very specialized software providers to offer our customers a robust suite of applications to fill a wide variety of ancillary needs from check writing and collections to document management.

TEC: What percentage of your customers are software as a service (SaaS)/on demand/cloud-based? Is that a factor yet in this market segment?
Infor: While Infor already has a cloud offering for certain products such as Infor Expense Management (as described in TEC’s recent blog post), we are yet to see major demand for “core financials in a cloud” deployment, and do not offer FMS SunSystems as SaaS at this time, although we do have customers operating using hosted deployments. Nonetheless, we anticipate demand will come in time, perhaps initially at the lower end, and have placed cloud enablement as the key theme for the next major release on our roadmap (target in first half of 2012).

TEC: What is your strategy toward social E2.0 tools and roles-based UX, and their deployment for your target customers?
Infor: FMS SunSystems Enterprise and other Infor applications are now presented within Workspace, a single role-based UI for unified UX. We’ll be adding E2.0 tools in Workspace. This will include links to social networks, Skype, collaborative messaging services (Salesforce Chatter) as well as alerts. We will also be adding social networking features to a new Infor Human Capital Management (Infor HCM) application scheduled for release this summer.

TEC: What were the major highlights in 2010, and what do you expect in 2011, regarding demand for your solution across different territories and product modules/editions?
Infor: Our most recent major highlight was the release of Infor FMS SunSystems Enterprise—the most significant release in over a decade. SunSystems Enterprise combines the proven functionality of SunSystems with new innovative technology such as Web-based access, unified UI, and user-friendly page-based reporting tools. We will also shortly release an ION-enabled version, which will feature innovative integration capabilities, workflow, and more.

This release has had a significant impact on the perception of the product in our channel, customer base, and the market in general—providing compelling evidence of Infor’s commitment to investment and innovation. We expect the rest of 2011 and beyond to increase demand for the solution—for not only existing customers adopting the new version, but also brand new customers in many emerging markets around the world. 

TEC: What is your mobility strategy (technology and platforms supported)? Is mobility important in this software category?
Infor: In our minds, mobility is critical for the following two types of users—1) those always on the go (i.e., sales and field service) and 2) those that need to be alerted of or notified about events. We have developed our first native mobile applications (not just browser-based apps)—one for the IT staff to manage hardware and software remotely; the other for shop-floor managers to be able to monitor production.

We are developing additional apps for top executives and Finance. Mobility is not typically considered as critical to the core financial software, but CFOs, Controllers, VP Finance, CEOs, and others want to be notified immediately if certain events occur—large deals either won or lost, transactions that impact forecasts, results beyond acceptable parameters, etc. The strategic mobility developments will be leveraged around relevant functionality, such as workflow approvals and delivery of alerts. 

TEC: Is there anything else that you are at liberty to volunteer on the division's future moves, i.e., new functional scope, verticals, etc.? How do you plan to grow the product in the future?
Infor: There are several verticals in which SunSystems’ functionality and differentiators are especially valued. These include financial services, oil & gas, and hospitality. We expect to see additional growth in these areas as well as for other mid-market companies that need global capabilities as they grow their business.

To complement the product investment, we are ramping up direct marketing and sales, as well as establishing additional support for the channel with a new Infor Partner Network (IPN) program. We are working on additional partner recruitment to cover additional functional “white spaces” and strengthen the coverage in other regions.

TEC: What is your technology environment, and are all the products on the same platform? Has the product been “ION-ized” and “Infor24-ized”?
Infor: As said earlier, Infor FMS SunSystems Enterprise is an evolution of the SunSystems product line. An amalgam of technologies is employed for different aspects of the solution. These are typically Microsoft technologies (i.e., .NET, C++, C#) for the client, Java for integration services and certain self-service Web functionality (e.g., requisitions), and various procedural code for much of the core business logic on the application server. Operational reporting and/or documents use Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS), while supported databases are Microsoft SQL Server and Oracle (Oracle support for the new Infor FMS SunSystems Enterprise release is targeted for later in the 2011).

Moreover, Infor FMS SunSystems Enterprise is delivered with the Workspace unified UX, based on the Microsoft SharePoint technology. The product has been prepared for ION enablement, with the first generally available (GA) usage planned for delivery in a feature pack within one quarter. The preparation for potential deployment on Infor24 is now the major strategic development theme for the next release, with the aim of making that possible within the next year.


 

 
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