Infor, the third-largest provider of business application software with 70,000 customers and annual revenues estimated at nearly $2 billion (USD), is reinventing itself under the direction of new chief executive officer (CEO) Charles Phillips, who joined the company from Oracle in October 2010. Observers agree that Phillips has his work cut out to build a strong challenger to giants SAP and Oracle, given Infor’s checkered past. But observers also agree that if anyone can transform Infor, it’s Phillips, whose track record at Oracle was stellar.
A Look at the Beginning
Founded in 2002, Infor has developed a reputation over the years as the “place where ERP systems go to retire,” as a result of dozens of hit-and-miss acquisitions. Despite its reputation, Infor actually started out as a neatly run company. Infor was frugal, paying less than two times revenue for acquisitions. It also added significant maintenance revenue streams and aggressively controlled its costs. As a result, the company enjoyed a strong cash flow and ability to pay down whatever debt it had.
However, Infor’s disciplined approach began to go off track with the acquisitions of MAPICS (2005), GEAC (2006), SSA Global (2006), and Workbrain (2007), which generally came with higher price tags but also brought a host of product quality issues, questionable management practices, and cultural challenges.
For example, SSA Global may have doubled Infor’s size but it caused major heartburn and indigestion. The overall fit of the two companies was hampered by SSA’s legacy management issues and certain practices that alienated customers, including those on IBM System i. In addition, the performance-draining practices that ensued among Infor and SSA exacerbated the situation. For instance, product teams got into turf wars, and the overall company goal seemed to be to subordinate growth and innovation, stop enhancing many products, and squeeze maintenance revenues from the increasingly agitated customer base.
Continued Transition and Confusion
In the late 2000s, customers were not pleased to be “nickeled and dimed” for hardly any new differentiating functionality from Infor, and neither were partners, who may have received much better treatment from the previously independent companies.
Next, the pressures of the 2008 recession led to numerous restructurings at Infor, with both quiet and not-so-quiet management departures. When cost containment and headcount cuts followed, product development inevitably suffered, and many industry observers doubted that the company could ever recover, especially without a focus on product innovation.
Infor’s management attempted to achieve a breakthrough with a distinct value proposition, but it was without lasting effects. Even a marketing campaign touting how Infor was not like the “Big ERP” guys fell flat.
Meanwhile, product direction meandered. At first, Infor’s ambitious Open SOA platform strategy was to do everything itself based on open standards, but that strategy was soon abandoned because it consumed too much time and financial resources. Then in 2009–10, Infor modified its platform strategy and declared Microsoft technologies as the preferred (which has since changed again). Of course, each failed attempt or abandoned initiative led to another wave of departures and more muddling through.
The Arrival of Charles Phillips
In late 2010, Infor CEO Jim Schaper found a successor who seemed fit for Infor’s next phase. Indeed, former Oracle president Charles Phillips had orchestrated and overseen Oracle’s growth from about $10 billion in the mid-2000s to more than $35 billion today. Phillips was at the center of blockbuster acquisitions, such as PeopleSoft, Siebel Systems, Sun Microsystems, BEA Systems, and Retek. He was also at the center of the Oracle Fusion Applications (OFA) convergence strategy and has probably seen what works and what doesn’t in that major (and still ongoing) feat at the software giant.
With him, Phillips brought along other Oracle seasoned executives, most notably Duncan Angove, current president of Infor. At Oracle, Angove set up and ran full profit-and-loss operations for Oracle Retail, Oracle's first industry global business unit. Oracle Retail became the largest and number one provider of software to the retail industry (read more).
In addition, Pam Murphy, now corporate senior vice president (VP) of operations, has an extensive background in field sales and consulting operations. During her 11-year tenure at Oracle, she was responsible for a variety of operational and financial functions. Murphy has deep operational experience in global organizations and has worked in Europe and America in a variety of roles. Prior to Oracle, Murphy worked at Andersen Consulting and Arthur Andersen.
Stephan Scholl, now executive VP of global field operations, runs Infor sales, consulting, alliances, and channels globally. Scholl was general manager of the Utilities Global Business Unit at Oracle where he was responsible for sales, development, and marketing for the vertical. He was instrumental in generating significant growth for Oracle and a leader of the company's successful Green Strategy. Prior to that, Stephan ran Oracle's North American consulting group, the company's largest organization. Before Oracle, Scholl was in consulting and sales management roles at PeopleSoft.
John Bermudez, current Infor VP of ERP product management, and Jeff Abbott, VP of global alliances and channels, had joined Infor from Oracle some time before Phillips and others arrived.
In any case, the influence of former Oracle staffers at Infor has been palpable, with a new management team and a new strategy. It seems to be a “new day” at Infor, with real growth now being the goal and a renewed commitment to investing in innovation, products, and infrastructure. Some of the “sacred cow solution” decisions and fiefdoms of the past appear to be going away, and Phillips looks to have Infor on the growth path again.
In the spirit of innovation, Infor announced in November 2011 a relocation of its headquarters to New York City, now planned to open in the autumn of 2012. The new office will feature an Innovation Center where software engineers and graphic designers will focus on building out Infor10’s intuitive graphical user interface (GUI), and lead the integration of social applications into the enterprise.
This move reflects a big shift in development strategy and even political power within Infor, which can only be a good thing. By tapping into the New York City creative mindset and potentially the financial community, Phillips can use the new Innovation Center to help drive Infor10 to become a leading-edge solution.
Infor's newly espoused strategy outlines a product-driven company with services for a complete application, containing localization, analytics, integration, industry-specific content, social media, and mobility. To back up that strategy, the company is making significant investments in product development, with more than 500 software engineers added in 2011 and announced plans to hire an additional 75 developers in its New York Innovation Center.
In 2011, Infor reportedly shipped 69 new products (e.g., Infor10 Sales and Operations Planning, read more), 1,904 new features, and 2,001 customer enhancement requests—an increase of more than 70 percent from the previous year. Infor10 Financials Business (SunSystems), the company’s global financial management system (FMS) saw a major new release in 2011, and was reviewed in TEC’s article.
Blueprint for the Future: Infor10
Over the course of its history, Infor has acquired more than 40 companies, with more or less strategic importance. The company's latest strategy includes a common UI, analytics, reporting, workflow, event management, master data management (MDM), localizations, mobility, and packaged integration for all of its applications. Rather than having each product line development team work on these functions, a dedicated central team attending to all Infor applications works on each of these functions. The objective is to enable software from multiple acquisitions to function like one big application as much as possible.
To that end, in the fall of 2011, Infor unveiled Infor10, its next-generation enterprise software, which offers an enhanced user experience and industry-specific functionality. As indicated earlier, on the front end, Infor10 Workspace, which incorporates Microsoft SharePoint, provides customers with a single sign-on, common navigation, and common look and feel across multiple applications. Infor10 Workspace is designed to deliver a consumer-like user experience and change the way the average enterprise user has traditionally done his or her work. The UI unifies and presents all relevant information for each user on one screen, including role-based workflows, task and alerts, in-context business intelligence (BI), event management, social media collaboration, consumer-like search capabilities, and business activity streams.
ION: The Infor10 Workhorse
The Infor10 ION Suite is at the heart of Infor10. As a lightweight middleware technology, ION connects and integrates Infor and non-Infor applications, storing information in a common format and repository called Business Vault. ION allows information that flows among applications, analytics, and social media streams to be accessed by users from their desktops, laptops, or mobile devices.
ION software provides middleware (and open-source enterprise service bus [ESB]) for cross-application integration, workflow automation, machine-to-machine business process management (BPM), and shared data reporting. The tool thus enables new and existing Infor and non-Infor applications to work as a holistic solution, helping to create streamlined workflows and end-to-end business processes, while considering system performance speed and upgrades. It uses standard XML business document for data transfer.
ION Suite is a new generation of business middleware that is lighter weight, less technically demanding to implement, and built on open standards. It is designed to meet the needs of the business, and the needs of the chief information officer (CIO) in containing information technology (IT) costs. But there's more to ION Suite than just easy-to-use connectivity. With ION Suite, businesses get common reporting and analysis, workflow, and business monitoring with one, consistent architecture. In addition, ION Suite uses event-driven architecture (EDA), so it proactively pushes data, work activities, and exception notifications to users. Users don't need to go to the system to get the information they need—ION Suite makes sure the information comes straight to them.
What it Does
ION Suite includes the following four services that are easy to install and configure:
ION Business Vault—A single, optimized, unbreakable business repository where ION Suite stores enterprise data. This unifying source for all the data that flows through ION Suite makes it a robust platform for reporting, BI, and analytics.
- ION Connect—Allows applications to operate together easily, enabling the seamless execution of business processes, and allowing for quickly bringing new partners and customers onboard, as well as reusing business functionality to realize a quick return on investment (ROI).
- Easy setup. Infor applications operate with a standard business language so ION Suite setup is easy. Businesses don't need to do any translation or mapping—two of the biggest integration challenges.
- Easy operations. For those companies running a portion of their business in the cloud, ION Suite can exchange data working in a hybrid model. Companies don't need a second, separate integration stack to maintain this hybrid environment.
- Easy connections. ION Suite includes a library of “connectors” to integrate to third-party applications, so businesses can quickly integrate non-Infor apps into their system.
ION Event Management—Allows users to monitor the status of tasks in relation to promised completion or established service level agreements (SLAs), and automatically receive alerts about exceptions and potential non-compliance.
- Up-to-date data. The Business Vault uses an event-driven model for synchronization, so that data is synchronized as soon as a transaction occurs in the originating system.
- Easier search. Enterprise search is easier, as data resides in one place—so there's no need for a business to index their transactional systems.
- Better reporting. The Business Vault features a master data reference for better reporting and integrations scenarios.
ION Workflow—Allows for directing work activities, events, and business documents to any user so that business processes can be executed quickly and accurately.
- Make the rules. ION Event Management detects exceptions based on business rules that users define. Notifications and alerts can be triggered by Event Management and directed to the appropriate users with ION Workflow. Also, ION can detect exceptions within a single source system.
- Detect non-events. Event Management can also detect non-events—things that should have happened, but didn't—for example, a shipment to an important customer that missed its due date or time. Sales or Operations Management can be immediately alerted, so they can address the business issue.
- Provide better service. Event Management can also be used to monitor SLAs, so businesses can meet their performance levels and maintain good customer service.
- Create quickly. Workflow modeling is graphical and based on Business Process Management Notation (BPMN 2.0) standard. This makes it easy to create even complex workflows, and know that they'll work across applications.
- Automate approvals. Allows for creation of simple to more sophisticated workflows to automate document routing and approvals across departments and office locations worldwide.
- Manage centrally. All tasks and alerts generated by Event Management and Workflow are managed through the Tasklist, which features an Activity Stream–based UI. And because ION Tasklist can run stand-alone or in a portal, users can work the way they want to work. Infor will be adding support for mobile and tablet devices at a later time to enhance flexibility.
The Infor10 release also provides flexible deployment options, including the Infor10 CloudSuite platform (formerly Infor24—read blog post), to increase business speed and agility. Customers can run their entire solution on Infor10 CloudSuite or can keep core enterprise systems on premises, while running other applications or services in the cloud. The Infor10 CloudSuite platform features a unified user experience and security, and enables two-tiered, hybrid cloud and on-premises deployments. Whether customers access functionality from a software-as-a-service (SaaS; cloud) model or on-premises deployment, they should get the same functionality and look and feel. The only difference is in how users connect to core applications. Customers can even move from one deployment model to another, as the same application code is used for all deployment models.
The Infor10 Motion Platform
For the cloud and mobility, Infor recently launched Infor10 Motion applications to provide fast and reliable connections to back-office systems, regardless of location, through smartphones and tablets, such as the Apple iPhone and iPad. The idea is to accelerate productivity and help users work smarter and faster. Infor10 Motion is built with a loosely coupled architecture on the Infor10 ION framework, meaning that Infor10 Motion applications can plug into different back-office systems such as enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM), expense management, and supply chain management (SCM).
Unlike the tightly packaged solutions on the market today, which often require customers to buy more products in the hopes of extending solutions, Infor10 Motion provides native rich applications that leverage the data that already exists in enterprise deployments. Security is built into Infor10 Motion to help address the threat of theft and data loss, allowing customers to retain control over critical business data.
Infor10 Motion applications take into account differences between devices, such as tablets versus smartphones. Because it is core product independent, Infor10 Motion is able to adopt a consistent user experience across back-office applications. Infor10 Motion applications are further differentiated by being “app aware,” which means that they enhance the user experience by detecting when another app on the device could provide additional functionality, including consumer apps that would work in the context of the enterprise. An example of this is the Infor10 Road Warrior app, which incorporates Skype and FaceTime within a customer's contact record so salespeople can more seamlessly access consumer collaboration tools.
Infor10 Motion is cloud based, and the Infor10 Motion App Manager (IMAM) provides a single location for companies to deploy Infor10 Motion applications quickly within their existing IT infrastructure. In contrast, many other mobile platforms require an add-on solution to centralize the effort of multiple deployments. Once a company has gained access to IMAM, it is ready to begin using Infor10 Motion applications. IMAM also allows managers to determine which users have access to specific information and to be able to change those settings at any point.
Infor has immediately made available two applications—one is Infor10 Road Warrior, a mobile CRM application with embedded BI. Infor10 Road Warrior empowers sales productivity by sending mobile alerts, approvals, and tasks—allowing users to make decisions faster and turn what was previously considered downtime into a tool to outpace the competition. This connectivity is coupled with embedded BI to provide an overview of data-heavy screens, helping users make sense of data more rapidly, highlight problems at a glance, and compare current and historical order volume—reducing the amount of time spent searching for information (including voice recognition).
The other application is Infor10 ION ActivityDeck, which helps solve critical problems that arise when users are on the road and have no visibility into pressing issues going on in the office. ION ActivityDeck provides users with the ability to remain connected to the back office so they are able to respond to important tasks, receive real-time alerts, and approve pending requests—keeping the business in motion. Similar in function to Twitter, ION ActivityDeck provides the ability to define filters based on almost anything, helping users address questions before they become issues.
Infor10 Road Warrior and Infor10 ION ActivityDeck are available for secure installation through the Apple iTunes Store. Additional Infor10 Motion applications are expected this year and will serve a variety of critical office functions, such as creating orders or quotes, approving expense reports, and reviewing key business metrics from anywhere.
The Infor10 Motion mobility platform, which is based on Java and some open-source tools, could be used by even Infor’s ancient ERP solutions, as those apps are already available in the cloud. In contrast, the Infor10 Workspace UI cannot be deployed until the old ERP system is Web enabled. Workspace is a shell, aiming to unite Infor’s multiple products into a solution using their existing UI. Motion is about creating consistent UIs that draw from style and technology for a consistent (solution) approach. For more intricate mobility tasks in the field service and asset intensive industries, Infor has established relationships with Blue Dot and ClickSoftware.
It’s About Industry Focus, After All
ION software also makes it possible to connect the rich functionality of leading ERP and best-of-breed solutions from Infor and affiliate Lawson Software for specific industries. Infor10 suites are targeted for aerospace and defense; automotive; chemicals and life sciences; distribution; equipment; fashion; food and beverage; health care; high tech; hospitality; industrial manufacturing; and the public sector.
Infor10 is nothing like a converged (single-code) uber-suite of applications, as seen with OFA or Epicor 9. Namely, all major Infor ERP products remain on their tracks and codes, and are just rebranded, e.g., Infor ERP LN is now Infor10 ERP Enterprise, SyteLine is Infor10 ERP Business, VISUAL is Infor10 ERP Express, Adage is Infor10 ERP Process Business, and so on and so forth. As LN, VISUAL, SyteLine, and Adage still have large install base and development teams, and most of the heads of development or technology are from these platforms, these products have been selected as horizontal discrete or process ERP platforms, depending on the customer size. Lawson and other industry-specific ERP products in Infor’s arsenal will be deployed within Infor10 industry solutions.
Through its acquisition of SSA Global in 2006, Infor acquired the PLM8 solutions for discrete manufacturing (which came from the former Baan ERP system). On the process manufacturing side, Infor acquired Formation Systems in 2005, which became the company’s Optiva PLM process solution set. Today, within Infor10, both discrete and process product lifecycle management (PLM) solutions have become Infor10 PLM Discrete and Infor10 PLM Process, respectively. Via acquisitions of former Geac and Lawson, Infor also gained fashion and apparel PLM solutions (a future TEC article will zoom in on all of the Infor PLM products). The Infor10 enterprise suite also includes industry-specific enterprise asset management (EAM) solutions (from former Datastream) and SCM solutions (from multiple acquisitions).
With Infor10 as the strategy, all these products on diverse technologies will be able to leverage ION, CloudSuite apps (as they become available), and Workspace for new user experience. Workspace has also borrowed some enhancements from Lawson Smart Office (i.e., mashups), and it looks modern, with all the social (Infor10 ION Pulse is a Tweetdeck-like application for alerts and feeds), mobile, open (in terms of interconnectivity) themes, etc. Companies need to be on the latest two versions of Infor ERP and/or EAM products to be eligible for free downloads and for Infor10 compatibility. Companies with older product instances can get these pieces for a fee, as well as their maintenance contracts reinstated.
Stellar 2011 Results
After the first full year with new strategy and management team and major investments in industry-specific business applications, Infor was able to report accelerated growth in licenses, subscriptions, support, margins, innovation, and customers. In early January 2012, Infor reported 17 percent license growth for the 12 months ended November 2011. The company also reported 16 percent organic license growth for its second fiscal quarter, which ended November 2011. Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) margins improved to 27 percent, and new customer additions and support subscriptions accelerated. Growth in Infor’s core ERP business in the second fiscal quarter was up 25 percent over the previous year.
Infor (including Lawson, especially in its health care stronghold) added more than 2,500 new customers in 2011 and expanded its relationship with more than 12,000 existing customers. Infor also saw growth in support and consulting, with more than 500 customers re-engaged with Infor for support. New or existing customers that made significant investments in Infor products in 2011 include Ferrari, BAE Systems Military Air and Information, Hitachi Automotive Systems Americas, Inc., Grief, and Liberty Mutual.
The EAM business continues to grow at a healthy rate, as many of the aforementioned large customers are still rolling out additional plants. Many legacy ERP customers on System i are continuing to add (implement) modules or roll out implementations to other plants. PLM was another product line with stellar growth in 2011. A great portion of new sales came via the reinvigorated channel, Infor Partner Network (IPN, see the related blog post), which saw many new deals for SyteLine, SunSystems, and VISUAL. Infor ERP LN continues to lead in terms of existing install base and also does well with new license revenues, albeit outside the United States (where negative sentiments dating back to 15 years ago [and former Baan Company’s wrongdoings] still linger).
Getting Cozy with salesforce.com
While Microsoft and IBM remain solid technology partners for obvious reasons, in 2011 Infor partnered with salesforce.com, a leader in enterprise cloud computing, to offer three new Inforce applications. These Force.com-based solutions by Infor bring the power of the back office to the front office, and throughout the social enterprise—to help customers collaborate and drive growth. In addition, salesforce.com made a multi-million dollar investment in Infor as part of the agreement (and Infor’s endorsement of Force.com).
The three new Infor-salesforce apps, dubbed Inforce apps, have a strong focus on collaboration. The first one, Inforce Everywhere, brings ERP data into Salesforce solutions and offers a 360-view of invoice, contacts, quotes, shipments receivables, orders, and return merchandise authorizations (RMAs). The application offers
- a way for salesforce.com users to view orders from Infor ERP applications,
- access to customer information and transactions from the Salesforce Sales Cloud and Service Cloud,
- connection to ION, Infor's standard integration platform, and
- integration to Salesforce Chatter to make data more social.
Inforce Everywhere also gives Infor's current 600 channel partners the ability to resell bundled Salesforce CRM products. Meanwhile, Inforce Order Management will offer a comprehensive quote, order, and proposal management application built on Force.com, and will integrate with Salesforce CRM to give Sales Cloud and Service Cloud users a view of pricing and availability. Finally, Inforce Marketing will leverage the Infor10 CRM Enterprise (Epiphany) recommendation engine for global marketing automation technology that includes inbound and outbound campaign management and lead maturation.
Given that Epiphany is a CRM solution for large customers, Infor now has a plausible CRM solution strategy for small to medium businesses (SMBs)—i.e., start with an outstanding, proven, well-respected CRM solution for SMBs and develop functionality and integration for Infor customers. This should make Infor more competitive in new deals, while filling a big functional gap would eliminate the need to replace an existing Infor ERP system. This partnership is badly needed by both Infor and salesforce.com in their fight against SAP, Oracle, and Microsoft.
As in the case for Infor10 Motion apps, many more applications on Force.com are on the horizon. For example, Inforce Marketing will be a new application designed to offer optional integration to Epiphany for inbound marketing execution for those customers for whom it makes sense and for those who desire that level of advanced marketing. As the Inforce solutions will be inherently cloud based, they will ultimately be part of Infor10 CloudSuite.
Looking Behind the Numbers
In conclusion, it is difficult to dispute Phillips’ statement:
As we look to the future, 2012 will be just as exciting for Infor. We have a strong, motivated team, a market looking for new alternatives, and a customer-centric strategy that is working well and generating growth.
In the past, Infor's strategy appeared to focus on managing the acquisitions as “cash cows” for profitable service and maintenance revenues, with only the necessary investments in product development. Now, with new management and a product strategy that includes several common utilities that allow the multiple acquisitions to function as a more coherent solution, Infor has become vibrant. In addition, its applications focus on specific vertical industry solutions with services and support.
Without trying to rain on Infor’s parade, we might want to note here that, during their best days, combined “Old” Infor, SSA Global, and Lawson Software revenues were much larger than current “New” Infor’s revenues, which still indicates a loss of market share to SAP, Oracle, and Microsoft Dynamics. Also, maintenance and services still remain the biggest revenue sources, but growth for new licenses is nonetheless encouraging and refreshing.
If SAP is moving to in-memory databases (SAP HANA), analytics (BusinessObjects), and mobility (Sybase), Microsoft Dynamics leverages its parent’s ubiquitous technology, and Oracle is a one-stop-shop from hardware to applications, what then is Infor known for? Even though Infor’s new strategy is indisputably better than the old one, is it a game changer?
Well, Infor is talking industry-specific software that is deeper and yet cheaper to roll out. By focusing on standards-based integration, ION is easier and cheaper than Oracle Fusion Middleware (OFM) or SAP NetWeaver. At a large enterprise, SAP or Oracle might still win out the new deals owing to their brand recognition, but at a SMB prospect or existing Infor customer, Infor has a good shot owing to deep industry-specific solutions that are easy to demo and implement and/or not that easy to replace with another solution. The Syteline, LN, LX, SX.e, Adage, as well as Lawson S3 and M3 ERP solutions have vertical depth or the ability to have division-specific configurations that roll up into a corporate umbrella. SAP still struggles with this requirement, while Oracle is not universally focused on manufacturing industries.
As the cost of migration is high, few companies that buy into ERP system standardization companywide will achieve an ROI with SAP or Oracle. In fact, some of the biggest SAP shops may use SAP financials centrally, but plants or divisions still run on Infor ERP. SAP HANA is a cool concept, but at this stage it is unclear as to how many enterprises, especially midsized ones, really need HANA. Infor can counter with deeper functions such as in Infor10 Advanced Planning and Infor10 Advanced Scheduling for process industries.
Trust but Verify
While, in general, the Infor10 “upgrade, integrate, and sell more modules” strategy is sound and compelling, the “trust but verify” attitude is needed when treating ION as some universal integration and messaging panacea. In one press release, Soma Somasundaram, Infor’s head of global product development said:
We say ION is unbreakable architecture because extensions don't break during upgrades.
Well, the question is: Does ION work out of the box for most Infor products and most customers? (An estimated 60–70 percent of current Infor ERP users are on obsolete or unsupported releases.) If it does work for a particular advanced Infor ERP product (say, LN or SyteLine), will it allow it to integrate with all of Infor’s products (let alone to non-Infor legacy products)? If ION still requires users to configure each solution set and support multiple underlying infrastructures (Oracle, Microsoft Windows, IBM System i, Progress OpenEdge, even the arcane Ingress OpenRoad), one should be a bit more cautious about using strong sounding words such as “unbreakable.”
We have repeatedly heard of how hard it is to integrate ERP systems with other enterprise solutions. With service-oriented architecture (SOA), we really started to see the issues come up with MDM, SOA governance (transaction integrity), and overlapping or conflicting application rules. For example, inventory allocations in ERP, warehouse management system (WMS), and SCM typically have different logic, and one has to use the least common denominator approach (i.e., with the lowest overlap). Namely, to deal with likely application conflicts in the industry packs in the following case of allocations:
- Infor10 Advanced Planning does inventory cost-based and some key attribute-based optimization as soft allocations across all orders and lots.
- Infor10 Advanced Scheduling does soft allocations to optimized throughput (by schedule conflict) as soft allocations.
- Infor10 ERP Process Business (Adage) does hard allocations by First In, First Out (FIFO) to the sub-lot level (this does not change—no matter what the other apps do).
- Infor10 Supply Chain Execution offers the following:
- Transportation management and warehouse management combined into a single solution on a single database
- Powerful tools to help you achieve advanced supply chain collaboration
- Built-in best-practice management to improve supply chain performance
Not only does each system have some overlapping features, but also their logic is not consistent. How can one turn on/off features as required? For some companies, Advanced Planning is the best place for allocations, while for others it’s Adage, etc. As a response, Infor says that Infor10 Workspace is aware of all of the applications that are installed and operational. The system can be used to prevent users from running overlapping planning applications (or any other kind of overlapping application). This is really no different than what Infor does today when a customer decides to run an advanced planning and scheduling (APS) application instead of the built-in planning function of the ERP system—except that this has now become built-in capability rather than an implementation decision.
The additional capability we get with Infor10 is that users can tailor the application menus by role. For example, a company might have two planners that are sitting side by side. Planner 1 is responsible for Plants A and B that are planned using Infor Advanced Planning. Planner 2 is responsible for Plant C, which is planned by LN’s Enterprise Planner. Infor10 can be configured so that Planner 1 can run AP only for Plants A and B but does not have access to LN Enterprise Planner. Planner 2 has access only to Enterprise Planner. Simply said—allocation problems won’t arise if overlapping planning engines are not run.
More complex overlapping scenarios can be managed by ION. For example, a company wants to issue purchase orders in LN but to receive them in WMS. ION will publish the order to WM (to be received against). Upon receipt, it will publish the receipt to LN to update the purchase order and inventory. ION workflows can also be configured so that some type of approval is given before a system event is allowed to proceed.
Infor’s product developers deserve commendation for thorough thinking about some of the aforementioned problems. LN and Syteline seem to have the fewest number of issues within Infor10. Unfortunately, they represent only a fraction of Infor’s install base. For the new capabilities, companies need ION, which is currently only integrated to the flagship ERP systems and to a few of key add-on Infor suites.
In addition, process manufacturing solutions tend to be much more complicated than their discrete manufacturing counterparts. With Adage, Advanced Planning, Advanced Scheduling, and Supply Chain Execution allocations running in a sequence, the final results might resemble a nightly lottery drawing. Issues do not arise when two different apps are used in parallel but rather when several apps are used in a sequential mode. In the latter scenario, conflicts could even be elevated, as each of these solutions can overwrite the other allocations or give the appearance that the user is overwriting.
A Free Lunch Caveat
But even if we assume that ION is a messaging panacea and that almost anything can be done with some tweaking (while Infor10 Motion apps can be downloaded and used even by users of the ancient Manman ERP product), will the “free of charge” value proposition really be free? As it is not realistic for Infor to pre-integrate ION with all its products (or with all the older versions of all its products), it appears that some customers will have to fund the integration. Even the ill-fated MyDay role-based portal/dashboard (part of the erstwhile Infor Open SOA initiative), which was free on paper, would cost a customer some money for integration and services (as almost everyone in the company wanted to tweak their default pages).
Many companies that have meanwhile dropped their maintenance contracts, to use ION, will have to come back on such contracts and pay for back maintenance. To many conservative companies, this might seem far from a good deal. This situation has reportedly in part derailed the Infor Open SOA/MyDay initiative a few years back. Infor will need to provide value to these customers, particularly those that have been annoyed over the past several years by multiple product roadmap changes, aggressive auditing practices, and blatant disregard by the former Infor and SSA for many of their outdated products.
What’s More to Come?
On April 5, 2012, Infor announced new equity investment, refinancing, and restructuring of its debt (see Infor post). Reducing the debt and moving the debt maturity day out into the future can only be positive. More importantly, moving all these companies—Infor, Lawson Software, and SoftBrands—into the fold makes deals easier. Discounts don’t have to be approved by separate groups, revenue reporting is now restricted to a single group, and one human resources team allows for more easily moving people from one business unit to another. We don’t really know the magnitude and serviceability of Infor’s new debt. Unless the reduced debt leads Infor to buy more companies to close some functional gaps, this refinancing will make business easier, but will it be a game changer?
Knowing Charles Phillips’ modus operandi at Oracle, I believe that Infor is not done acquiring with the 2011 acquisitions of Lawson and Single Source Systems Inc. (a SyteLine partner that had its own field service solution). But my guess is that new major acquisitions (e.g., in the spend management/procurement and retail merchandizing and supply chain realms, as the most obvious gaps) will only take place once Infor10 has proven itself. Infor always seems to get funds for additional acquisitions. If the company continues to pay prudently, it will continue to service its debt. Going public via an initial public offering (IPO) is always interesting to investors (seeking an exit strategy), but that move may be even more interesting and motivating to Infor’s re-energized employees.
After a few years’ hiatus, Infor’s annual conference, Inforum 2012, will take place on April 22–24, 2012, in Denver, combined with Lawson’s Conference and User Exchange (CUE). I suspect there will be a chockfull of announcements at that event. If you would like us to ask Infor any particular questions on the company’s strategy, please send us your comments and suggestions.
References and Further Reading
TEC. Infor ION-izes its Open SOA Strategy – Part 2. August 24, 2010.
TEC. May a New Day Begin for Mature Enterprise Applications – Part 2. May 4, 2009.
TEC. SAP HANA—One Technology to Watch in 2012 (and Beyond). January 26, 2012.
Mint Jutras. Infor10 In Motion Making a Run at the Market. January 24, 2012.
TEC. Lawson Means Business with HCM (But Wait, There’s More…). March 11, 2008.
Computerworld UK. Infor CEO Charles Phillips Discusses the Software Vendor's Remaking. January 11, 2012.
TEC. Infor Strikes Again (at Long Last): Getting “Soft” While Flexing Its Muscles? – Part 2. July 24, 2009.