A 'New' Infor Proclaims Need for Speed
Published: April 24, 2012
by Alex Woodie
Infor is using this week's user conference in Denver, Colorado, as a coming out party to reintroduce its customers to the company. During his opening keynote yesterday, CEO Charles Phillips explained to several thousand Infor and Lawson attendees how dramatically Infor has changed over the last 18 months, and told them to expect a rapid period of product development in the near future, with a strong focus on standardization across ERP product lines.
"This is really kind of a unique event because you're really being introduced to a new company. . . called Infor," Phillips said during his keynote. "I say that because whether you're an employee or a partner or a customer, whether you first interacted with Lawson or with Infor, a lot has changed over the last 12 to 15 months, with strategy and products. Our key objective this week is to reintroduce you to Infor so you know what to expect, where our priorities are, where we're investing, and who you're doing business with."
The pace of product development has accelerated rapidly since Phillips took the top job from Jim Schaper in December 2010. According to Infor, by the end of 2012, the launch of new products will have increased by 240 percent, the launch of new features will have increased 175 percent, and the launch of product integrations will have increased by 800 percent, compared to 2010 levels. This work has been fueled in part by the hiring of about 600 new engineers and developers.
Infor is clearly gearing up to take a run at its main competitors, Oracle and SAP. Phillips says Infor's many, and varied, enterprise systems for various industries separates it from the "broad but thin" approach of Infor's larger competitors. "We do not believe one product can serve all industries," he said. "We do just the opposite." Each of Infor's products serves just one or two industries, which keeps them efficient and minimizes the need for customization.
At the same time it battles ERP heavyweights with industry-specific business logic, Phillips clearly wants to keep Infor nimble, so that it can adapt to up-and-coming cloud-based competitors, like Workday, Netsuite, and Taleo. Phillips says Infor has a very streamlined approach to management that allows executives to quickly test new products and, if they are good, to get them into production and out into customers' hands very quickly. "It's good to have more ideas than money," he said.
The Infor approach is--and has been since SSA started espousing its "assembler" approach to product acquisitions a decade ago--to apply those product ideas across a broad swath of company products. (While Infor does own dozens of products, 85 percent of company revenues come from just 15 products, Phillips said.)
As Phillips explained, Infor is starting to reap the benefits of standardization. Instead of writing a new UI or integration tool for each of the dozens of ERP products under its care, the company is able to write it once, and apply it to multiple products. That lowers the cost of developing and maintaining software for Infor, which in turn lowers the cost for customers, Phillips says.
The key piece of technology enabling that shared benefit, of course, is ION, which stands for Intelligent Open Network. As Phillips explained (he is a self-avowed hands-on product guy), ION uses XML and OAGI document standards to enable loose coupling of applications. And because it's loosely coupled, the integrations don't break when the underlying ERP software is upgraded. Not breaking applications when they're upgraded, and minimizing the need for modifications, are new Infor mantras.
Inforum Product News
Infor made a raft of product announcements at the show, including the launch of a new Web-based user interface, Workspace 10.2; new business intelligence offerings built on its ION middleware; the integration of Infor10 PLM (Optiva) with Lawson M3; a new release of its flagship CRM software; a new localization portal, called Local.ly, and a mobile support application. The company also provided details on its mobile product roadmap, and announced plans to make ION available to more ERP systems.
The new release of Workspace gives users the capability to access in-context business intelligence and social media resources with the same screen they use to work with an ERP system. Infor president Duncan Angove succinctly explained how these three domains--the core ERP system, collaboration, and business intelligence--come together in Workspace 10.2 to help customers.
"When people are trying to make decisions, or get work done, they're constantly flipping between these application domains," Angove said during the keynote yesterday. "And every time they do, they lose the context of what they're doing, and you start to see margin leak and you start to see imprecise decisions creeping in, and you start to see the pace of work slow down and the organization starts to become misaligned. So fundamentally we want to take those domains and fuse them together into a new user experience that's more contextual. … This whole notion of contextual applications is core to our next generation strategy."
Infor10 ION Intelligence is the name of the new BI product that's embedded into Workspace. The vendor also announced a new stand-alone BI product called Infor10 BI.
Infor also launched a new mobile support app, which is geared at helping Infor customers get assistance from the vendor. The app, which is based on the Infor10 Motion platform and is only available on the iPhone, allows customers to monitor critical events, check support status, and receive notifications about steps in their support engagements. The app is available for customers on three levels of Infor Xtreme Support packages, including Elite, Premium, and Xtreme.
Lawson M3 customers (a good number of which run on the IBM i platform) now have access to the Infor10 PLM Process software, which was formerly called Optiva. Infor says this integration will help M3 customers mange their products more efficiently, including minimizing the risk of a recall, managing compliance and labeling, and reducing the impact of any product issues. This will also give M3 customers in the food and beverage industries ways to mange ingredients, specifications, recipes, allergens, and nutritional information.
The integration of M3 and Infor10 PLM requires ION, as do nearly all of the new cool new features that Infor is rolling out, such as its Workspace UI, its Motion mobile products, and its BI products. Up to this point, only the most strategic products--those that carry the Infor10 name--have been able to access ION. But Infor announced plans to make ION available to non-Infor10 products as well.
Infor also shared the Motion Apps roadmap. Currently, the company is shipping what it calls its "Road Warrior" apps. By mid-2012, the company is slated to deliver a group of "Shop Floor" mobile apps, such as Motion Ship Floor and Motion Proof of Deliver. By the end of 2012, the company will deliver its "Order Pad" apps, including Motion Order Pad, Motion Facility Viewer, Motion Field Services, Motion Expenses, and Motion Dashboards, among others.
It's all about speed. "Today's business climate has become one of survival of the fastest, where companies that fall behind cannot expect to be significant, relevant, or even viable for much longer," Phillips said. "Infor recognizes that we must partner with our customers, to deliver the level of innovation that supports their long-term growth plans. With our new Infor10 Industry Suites, our goal is zero modifications. Integrations, configurations, and analytics should be less a part of an implementation and more a part of the application. Infor10 products are specialized by industry and designed to help customers go faster."
Next up on the Inforum 2012 schedule for today: a dive into the company's cloud plans. We'll cover that in next week's issue of Four Hundred Stuff.
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