Infor M3 13.1--the Last Big Release for Some Time
Published: July 30, 2013
by Alex Woodie
Infor is calling the newly released M3 13.1 the biggest new version of the ERP system in more than a decade. And with more than 500 new features across functional areas, as well as the Infor 10x GUI treatment, that certainly appears to be the case. But going forward, Infor plans to move away from the "big bang" approach, and toward a more rapid fire, service-pack approach, much like IBM has done with IBM i 7.1.
Infor M3 13.1 is the first major new version of the Java-based ERP suite since version 10.1 shipped in 2010, which was preceded by version 7.1 in 2007. (The version number corresponds with the year it was released.) While M3 10.1 supported some aspects of the Infor's broader product strategy, M3 13.1 is really considered the first 10x release of the product.
As a 10x product, M3 gains the new HTML5 SoHo interface that Infor rolled out earlier this year. It also gains full support for the Ming.le social media capabilities, and full support for the ION data integration bus that is core to Infor's 10x strategies. Later this year, Infor plans to deliver more analytic "content" for M3 that makes it easier for M3 customers to utilize the Business Vault and Infor BI, which are fed by ION.
Sales and upgrades to version 13.1 will be driven by the new SoHo UI and Ming.le's capabilities to deliver alerts and direct workflow through a Twitter-like feed, says John Gledhill, Infor's global director for M3. "They will see great value with the new thin client within M3, and particularly they'll see the value when working with Ming.le and ION together," he tells IT Jungle. "They're all fused, as it were, with M3."
The 10x products are so well integrated that the lines between one product and the next begin to blur, Gledhill says. The extent of the integration was apparent during a recent internal demo where M3 was running next to Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) and Graphic Lot Tracker within a Ming.le context. "Quite honestly, it was very hard to see which product was which at any one point in time, because it all looks like one solution, when you're looking at it through the eyes of 10x and Ming.le. I thought it looked absolutely brilliant," he says.
Infor has made it a priority to deliver UIs that look good, and there's little doubt that the SoHo and Ming.le interfaces are an improvement. M3 users still have the option of using the fat-client Smart Office client on their Windows clients if they choose, although it's clear most development effort will be focused on the new HTML5 interface.
The Big 500+
But it's not all glitz and glam with the new release. When it comes to core business functions, there's something for just about everyone with M3 13.1's 500-plus new features.
General purpose improvements have been made in the areas of sales, finance, warehouse management, and procurement. Customers in multiple industries will benefit from better alignment of payment terms to customer order lines; better allocation of discounts; and clearer management of markups, markdowns, and exclusions.
The financial module has been improved to simplify the display of supplier invoices, and there is improved reconciliation between logistics and general ledger. Customers gain new advanced payments functionality within their AP and AR modules. VAT calculation has been improved, and there are new dynamic credit capabilities.
M3's new Ming.le feed lets business users follow other users and collaborate using a Twitter-like message feed.
Infor also delivered enhancements to customers in specific industries. Customers in the clothing industry will get various e-commerce enhancements, including showroom ordering, style visibility, and a "lookbook." Food and beverage companies will see better tank tracing and lot blending, features for ultra-fresh food planning, and enhanced shelf-life management.
Distributors will get ways to simplify the movement of inventory between locations, the capability to make pick corrections prior to pick list reports, and new load building functions. Companies in the equipment industry, meanwhile, will see enhancements in lifecycle visibility, more consistent parts pricing, and a new warranty parts storage solution.
Picking Up the Pace
M3 13.1 is a big release, involving enhancements in both the application layer of the suite as well as the underlying technology foundational layer. Thanks to changes Infor has made in its technology foundation with 13.1, it's unlikely we'll see another big new release of M3 for many years, according to Gledhill. This is part of the plan for the M3 group to adopt a more agile development process to get more functionality into the hands of its customers more quickly than before.
"One of the things we built into 13.1 is the ability to deliver new functionality to our customers, to the market, faster," he says. "We've generally brought out a major new release every three years, with hundreds of improvements. Going forward we intend to bring out these accelerator packs on 13.1, or embedded inside 13.1, so that customers can actually get these improvement much faster than they've ever been able to before."
This is the same approach that IBM's Rochester, Minnesota, lab has taken with IBM i 7.1. Once customers get onto IBM i 7.1, they can take advantage of service packs that deliver new functionality in a non-disruptive manner. In fact, the comparison is even more apt considering M3 13.1 requires IBM i 7.1; that is, it is not supported on IBM i 6.1 or i5/OS V5R4. It's also supported on 64-bit versions of Windows Server 2008 and 2012.
The first accelerator pack for M3 13.1 is tentatively scheduled to ship in February 2014. After that, the company plans to ship additional accelerator packs every year. M3's roadmap currently extends into 2016, with no major versions planned. "I can never say we will never bring out a major release. But we have no intention of bringing out a major release in the next three years," Gledhill says.
This is exactly what upgrade-wary ERP customers have been asking for. Companies have grown tired of the pressure to constantly upgrade their core business systems, which can be an extremely disruptive and expensive process. The M3 group has been working to tone down the pain level of ERP upgrades since version 10.1, but has apparently made a major breakthrough with version 13.1.
The agile approach resonates with CIOs at M3 shops, Gledhill says. "Yes they like the functionality that's in there for food or fashion or equipment or distribution," he says. "But from a CIO's perspective, to be able to get onto a version where they're going to get these accelerator packs on a regular basis, and they can chose whether to take them or not--they see that as a great advantage for them in running the IT function within their organization. They can see the benefits of that. It means much less disruption moving forward."
The Infor-Lawson-Intentia organization has been reluctant to even gently intrude on its customers' comfort zones, or even to look at it funny, for that matter. While version 7.1 will go into extended support later this year, the group has never ceased supporting any release that customers are still using, according to Gledhill. Considering that 20 percent to 30 percent of M3 customers are still running the RPG version of Movex--and that Infor still provides support to them--is a truly stunning thing.
For the record, about half of M3's 2,500-customer installed base is on version 7.1 or 10.1, with the remainder being on older releases, going all the way back to the RPG-based, Intentia-era Movex product. The majority of the installed base run the software on the IBM Power Systems-System i-iSeries-AS/400 server line--about 80 percent, by Gledhill's reckoning. Most of the remainder are running on Windows server. About 30 percent to 40 percent of new M3 installs are going onto Windows boxes, he says.
Infor M3 version 13.1 is available now. The software requires JVM version 1.7. For more information, see www.infor.com.
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