Infor Launches New CRM App for System i
Published: August 4, 2009
by Alex Woodie
Think the System i business is important to Infor? Today, the ERP giant backed up its declarations of System i dedication with the surprise launch of a new customer relationship management (CRM) application written specifically for the i OS server. Called Infor CRM i Edition, the application is designed to help existing Infor ERP users by improving their customer service, running sales and marketing campaigns, and implementing new order management processes.
Infor has become increasingly visible and vocal about its sizable System i business this year. A string of acquisitions that culminated with the purchase of SSA Global for $1.6 billion in May 2006 resulted in Infor owning the System i industry's largest ERP customer base, which now stands at 14,000 unique customers, according to the vendor. Along the way, questions have been raised about Infor's dedication to the space, and whether it would continue to innovate on the i OS platform as opposed to just milking the maintenance revenue.
In February, Infor hoped to silence its doubters and critics with the creation of a dedicated System i division. Headed by Mark Wright, the division handles all sales and support for Infor's large collection of i5/OS- and i OS-based ERP applications, as well as many aspects of development and maintenance.
Now that dedicated System i division has yielded its first full application. Infor CRM i Edition is a "net new" application that was written from scratch using the Infor Development Framework (IDF), a development tool specifically for writing IBM i OS (i5/OS and OS/400) applications, says Kevin Piotrowski, director of System i solution marketing for Infor. The vendor could have tried to adapt the established Epiphany CRM application to run under the i OS platform, but a fresh approach was taken instead--to the benefit of Infor's i OS customer base, and a testament to Infor's approach to this unique customer segment.
The new CRM application runs as a Java program under i OS, delivers Web- and Windows-based UIs, and provides close integration with the DB2 for i (DB2/400) database, as well as other Infor ERP applications. Two applications will get direct integration hooks with the first release--Infor ERP System 21 and Infor ERP XA (MAPICS)--but others can be added as required by customers, Piotrowski says.
Fig. A. This screenshot from Infor CRM i Edition shows the Web-based client interface to the marketing screen.
"The customers wanted a CRM application that would run specifically on the System i platform," Piotrowski says. "This gives them a lot of the same stuff [that other Infor CRM applications provide], such as central data storage, campaign management, opportunity management, sales process management, and order quote management--all built to run specifically on the IBM System i platform."
The fact that CRM i Edition was built specifically for i OS will mean a lot to those who rely on the platform to run critical business processes. The System i's integrated security and rock-solid reliability are often cited by proponents of the platform, who tend to be the same people who push back against attempts to move critical applications to less expensive "standards-based" platforms that don't offer the same benefits or integrated features. The fact that Infor didn't present a Windows- or Unix-based CRM system to its System i installed base shows that the vendor is listening to its customers (or at least shows that Infor was willing to try something different after the Epiphany CRM suite, which SSA bought for about $330 million in 2005, failed to generate much traction among System i shops).
In terms of functionality, there is some, but not a lot, of overlap between CRM i Edition and the XA and System 21 ERP applications, Piotrowski says. "There are bits and bytes of the ERP applications that can handle some of this, but not in one comprehensive place like this," he says.
Infor CRM i Edition has four main functional areas, all backed by a central database that stores information about customers and prospects. Campaign management brings the user the capability to manage all aspects of running a sales or marketing campaign, including identifying prospects, generating lists for e-mail and call center activities, tracking responses, and measuring success.
Once responses to a marketing campaign start trickling in, the next step is utilizing the opportunity management features of the CRM app to close the deal. Opportunity management implements a set of structured processes aimed at streamlining complex sales cycles.
The next step in the sequence is sales process management. This set of features helps to track the sales process by ensuring it's identified correctly (i.e. sale to an existing customer, sale through a reseller, or a major account sale). The software keeps track of the potential sale, and keeps managers apprised of important metrics such as deal value, predicted close date, and probability of closing.
Once a deal has been agreed upon, CRM i Edition guides the sales or customer service representative through the process of finalizing the quotation and sending the order to management. This final step handles all aspects of pricing, discounting, promotions, and sourcing--and hopefully simplifying the ordering process along the way.
Fig. B. This screenshot from Infor CRM i Edition shows the Windows-based client interface to the same marketing screen showed in Fig. A.
Customers can benefit in several ways from CRM i Edition, according to Infor. It can increase sales revenue, increase the quote-to-order conversion rate, reduce the occurrence of discounts and unprofitable opportunities, increase repeat business and customer service, and improve forecast accuracies and data visibility. Customer sales representatives and managers are the primary users intended to work with the new application.
Infor has done a lot of work to help customers improve their manufacturing and supply chain operations. "But our System i customers needed something to help them manage the other side of the business, the customer side," Piotrowski says. "The whole idea of CRM i Edition is to give them the capability to improve the overall management of all their customer information, while still leveraging the System i, using that low total cost of ownership from the IT perspective."
Development on CRM i Edition has been ongoing for the last "one or two years," according to Piotrowski. Could there be more i OS applications in development in the secret Infor labs? Possibly, but Piotrowski would not divulge them.
Infor CRM i Edition is available now. Pricing is dependent on the number of users and other factors. A license for an implementation for 10 to 20 named users would cost between $15,000 and $30,000. For more information, visit www.infor.com.
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