Infor24: Demystifying Infor’s Cloud Strategy - Part 2

Part 1 of this blog series started with the assertion that cloud computing is reaching mainstream adoption in the enterprise applications space. Indeed, virtually all renowned independent software vendors (ISVs) already offer or plan to offer some or all of their products as a service (on-demand software).

My blog post then expanded onto some cloud computing definitions and nuances, to establish that enterprise resource planning (ERP) ISVs have a few different ways to take the cloud plunge. Possibly the most viable approach is to partner with an established platform as a service (PaaS) provider.

Finally, my post concluded with the recent symbiotic relationship (and mutual endorsements) between Microsoft and Infor. During its annual Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) 2010, Microsoft (as expected) continued to emphasize that it was embracing the cloud at the core of its current and future product strategy. For its part, Infor announced the launch of Infor24, its blueprint for delivering cloud versions of its enterprise applications.  Infor is also working closely with Microsoft to enable its key applications on the Windows Azure Platform

Infor ION Enabling a “No Compromise” Cloud

As pointed out in my earlier blog series, the previously announced Infor ION framework is the cornerstone of Infor’s hybrid cloud-to-on-premises software integration strategy: Infor24. The collaboration business network part of ION will be enabling enterprises to conduct business transactions internally or externally, across both on-premises and cloud applications. To be more precise, Infor ION is the (tool) basis for integration strategy, while Infor24 is the umbrella under which Infor's cloud/SaaS solutions are kept.

The idea is to provide out-of-the-box enablement for Infor's on-premises and cloud-based applications as well as a bridge to third-party on-premises and cloud computing solutions. Given the discussion of certain cloud computing tradeoffs in Part 1, Infor is trying to deliver a cloud without any major compromises. To that end, Infor ION will play a crucial role in a flexible deployment and integration that should be seamless and secure, while applications will be pre-configured, loosely coupled, and enabled for hybrid environments, and with streamlined administration.

Rapid configuration of new cloud-based services will be achieved via Microsoft’s Active Directory Federation Services (AD FS) for single sign-on (SSO) services available anywhere. Moreover, Infor ION caters to secure Business Process Management (BPM) via the following capabilities: workflow across applications, business activity monitoring (BAM), proactive alerting and management, and cohesive reporting.

Infor chose the Windows Azure Platform because it provided the “greatest development flexibility and a robust, familiar tool set.” One of the key benefits of Azure for Infor is its ability to support both .NET Framework- and Java-based applications, as Infor has a plethora of legacy applications in its portfolio and more than 70,000 current customers stemming from a slew of acquisitions.

Infor24 currently includes cloud-based, SaaS-enabled versions of the following applications and plans to also offer them on Azure in 2011: Infor Expense Management (Infor XM), Infor Enterprise Asset Management (Infor EAM), and Infor ERP SyteLine. The first two solutions are Java-based, whereas SyteLine is a native .NET solution (dating even way back to the Frontstep and MAPICS days). Infor24 will also grow to include human capital management (Infor HCM), hospitality management, and performance management (Infor PM) in the first half of 2011.

Upcoming Unified User Experience

The last piece of Infor’s “no compromise cloud” puzzle is a new unified user interface (UI) that will be rolled out over time to key Infor applications. The new and yet to be officially named UI is currently in development and will be built on Microsoft SharePoint 2010 and Silverlight. It is being designed to create a common look and feel, intuitive navigation, and role-based SSO access for key Infor applications and Infor24 cloud-based solutions, allowing users to rapidly switch between them from within the same window.

With its significant investments in Infor ION for interoperability, BPM, collaboration, and a business intelligence (BI) and reporting layer (based on Microsoft SQL Server Analysis Services [SSAS]), and a new and consistent user experience across many of its offerings, Infor will increasingly be able to create new value-add that will support both its efforts to retain existing clients and sell new solutions. Nonetheless, many of Infor’s legacy customers will be challenged to transition to the newer versions of its software having long ago abandoned staying current with release cycles. In other words, some Infor customers are still in a medieval age of a sort when it comes to their enterprise software.

As in my earlier series on Infor ION, I decided to give Infor ample chance to further explain and clarify its cloud strategy in writing and at its staff’s leisure. What follows are my prodding questions and Infor’s official answers (courtesy of Brian Rose, VP of Cloud Solutions):
PJ: Is there any meaning behind Infor24 (i.e., why not "24x7")?

Infor/BR: Infor24 simply means that it is available all the time. The name is also in line with our online support branding, Infor365.

PJ: What is Infor's approach to single-tenant, multi-tenant, private cloud, public cloud, hybrid cloud, “software + services,” and other concepts and nuances described in Part 1? In other words, which applications will be true multi-tenant software as a service (SaaS) and which will be single-tenant, and why?

Infor/BR: The solutions offered under the Infor24 brand are multi-tenant enabled solutions. Infor will continue to offer other solution as single-tenant hosted solutions as it has in the past. Further, in Q1 of 2011, solutions will be released for hybrid, on premise-to-cloud operations.

All of our SaaS solutions support multi-tenancy. If the architecture of a solution does not allow for this (and some don't) it can only be offered as a dedicated hosted solution. The following Infor solutions support multi-tenancy: SyteLine ERP, EAM, iProcure MRO Procurement, XM, and AMSI Property Management.

PJ: With Azure, does that mean that only SyteLine and other Microsoft-centric Infor ERP products will go to cloud? What about Progress Software-based products, given that Progress OpenEdge has long been SaaS-enabled?

Infor/BR: Azure is our preferred go-forward platform. All solutions on the cloud roadmap will be considered for Azure as well as Infor’s own cloud infrastructure.

PJ: Since Infor doesn’t have many cloud solutions at this stage, how many brand-new SaaS products will be created and when?

Infor/BR: Infor has over 800 customers and a half million users in its cloud environment today with EAM, XM, SyteLine, and AMSI Property Management solutions. New solutions will be announced in the first quarter of 2011.

PJ: While this strategy sounds great in principle, how much revenue can be generated this way? In addition, how will this protect your maintenance base?

Infor/BR: The cloud is an option for deployment for Infor customers. Infor will still provide the option for customers to deploy on premise, host in a multi-tenant Infor24 environment, or subscribe to Infor24 solutions. The main point here is to offer our customers a choice in how they deploy their solutions.

We do not have plans to stop offering on-premise versions of our solutions. Our mission is to the let the customer decide what is best for their business. More and more we are asked about a SaaS version of a solution during the request for information (RFI) and request for proposal (RFP) processes. Infor’s main objective is to be the company that listens and adapts to our customers’ needs, and Infor24 is one way we are doing that.

PJ: What has been done in terms of pricing, i.e., the Infor Flex program?

Infor/BR: No significant changes have been made to our existing subscription pricing model, but it is constantly evaluated against the market and customer feedback. One significant example of such efforts to help customers upgrade is Infor Flex, which is a trade-in option for existing customers to trade-in licenses for older Infor products to licenses for corresponding current Infor product on a one-to-one basis.

Since its launch in June 2009, 570 customers have traded in license in order to migrate from older to current products. The successful Flex programs have been expanded to include cloud offerings.

Dear readers, what are your views, comments, opinions, etc. about Infor24 and the company’s revised strategy? Does Infor24 represent thought leadership and a positive step forward or a “me too” catch-up strategy?

Also, what do you think about how Infor will fare against its formidable competitors in light of its strategy and recent moves? Do you think that Infor24 and Infor ION’s “great taste but less filling” approach of a sort will create less or more overhead for you then “Big ERP” does?

In general, do you think that Infor’s endorsement of the Windows Azure Platform indicates broader PaaS adoption by established vendors, and the growing demand for cloud-based manufacturing ERP solutions? If you are existing Infor customers, do you now have more or fewer reasons to stay with the vendor?
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