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Volume 4, Number 10 -- March 22, 2007

Infor Advocates Open Approach to SOA

Published: March 22, 2007

by Alex Woodie

Infor last week revealed its "Open SOA" approach to enabling customers to implement a service oriented architecture (SOA). The i5/OS ERP software giant says Open SOA will give customers flexibility and choice while avoiding the complexity and lock-in that comes with its competitor's SOA strategies. While Infor didn't provide specifics on when it will service-enable its myriad ERP products, it says Open SOA will be built into future product upgrades, and be free to customers. The vendor also announced new supply chain and business intelligence applications.

SOA is nothing new to Infor, nor to the companies it has bought. Since it acquired the many and various legacy i5/OS-, Unix-, and Windows-based enterprise software product lines that it now owns--SSA's BPCS, MAPICS XE, Baan, Geac's System 21, Infinium, Daly.commerce, Marcam's PRISM and PROTEAN, Lilly's VISUAL ERP, PRMS, BRAIN, Trans4M, Essential, NXtrend, SyteLine, PivotPoint, FrontStep, just to name a few--and started selling add-on products--such as software that manages finances, product lifecycles, enterprise assets, employees, suppliers, customers, and partners--that integrate and provide value to those legacy products on top of a Java and WebSphere middleware base, it has been executing an SOA strategy.

As a privately held company, Infor doesn't have to say much, and it usually doesn't. Aside from espousing SSA's position that it will never kill a product (except for those on dead platforms like the HP3000), it has successfully kept the details of its product roadmaps and development strategies, more or less, out of the limelight. Indeed, even keeping the names of the dozens of Infor products straight can be difficult; the company's Web categorizes software by industry and type, not by name. That is not necessarily a bad way to look at things, especially with dozens of products that are sure to confuse, but it doesn't necessarily offer the sort of transparency that public companies like Oracle, Microsoft, Lawson, and SAP must provide to shareholders, Wall Street, and the press, and the level of criticism and questioning that results from that openness.

So when Infor says it's making a big announcement, that in itself is news. That was the case last week when Infor gave its application integration strategy, which it had previously referred to as its "application assembler" strategy, codenamed "Corestone," a new mission and a new name: Open SOA.

According to Infor, Open SOA will provide Infor's customers with a way to implement new applications in a modular fashion, using standard XML-based integration technologies based on the Open Applications Group Interoperability Standard (OAGIS). Infor says Open SOA will make it easy for customers to install and configure service-enabled applications, whether they come from Infor, from Infor's partners, or even from Infor's competitors.

A key element of the Open SOA will be Infor's Enterprise Service Bus (ESB), a previously unannounced product that will provide the critical Web services orchestration layer. Not much is known about Infor ESB, except that the company plans to provide it to customers free of charge. For the second important SOA element, the business process management (BPM) layer, Infor customers will have a choice of two BPMs: one developed by Infor, and another developed by an unnamed partner, according to the company.

Before Infor's 70,000-plus customers can start benefiting from Open SOA, Infor needs to make some alterations to the core ERP products to expose their business processes through standards-based technologies, also called "service enabling." These changes, as well as the enabling technology such as the Infor ESB and BPM layers, will be delivered as standard product updates that are free to customers on maintenance, according to Infor.

Open SOA will be "built into Infor solutions at no charge to customers and will be delivered as regular product upgrades on an ongoing basis," said Jim Schaper, Infor's chairman and CEO, in a press teleconference Wednesday. "It will be built into solutions and we're not going to charge customer for it."

However, exactly when MAPICS, BPCS, or Baan customers can start taking advantage of Open SOA is unknown, because Infor isn't saying just yet. "Customers need and should hear our plans directly from us first about when specific solutions will be SOA-enabled," Schaper said. "That will happen between now and the user conference in September. At that time, we will publish a roadmap."

Infor reserves the right to service-enable its ERP products on a timeline decided by itself and by its customers. Suffice it to say, that roadmap won't include any product convergence, according to Schaper. "We will not leave our customers behind and we will not put them on a forced march to a converged platform. As we stated over the last four years, it's not our business model, not in interest of customers, and it's not going to change," he said.

Event Driven SOA

Open SOA will allow customers to implement traditional SOA, as well as "event-driven" SOA, which simplifies an integration environment and provides greater agility to its users, Infor says.

While specific product details aren't available, the key elements enabling event-driven SOA for Infor appear to be the Infor ESB, the reliance on OAGIS integration standards as an open interface, and a series of "business service interfaces" that work with the applications themselves. This will help Infor keep the number of "business event interfaces" to a minimum.

Open SOA's event-driven architecture will offer a maximum of 500 business event interfaces. This is significantly less than the 5,000 business event interfaces that SAP and Oracle plans to expose as part of their SOA strategies, says Infor chief technology officer Bruce Gordon. That is too much power and responsibility in the hands of customers, he says.

"Our major competitors are saying 5,000 business services are what they're going to expose. If 1 percent of these services interact with other services, it would be 50 times 5,000, which would be a quarter of million ways you could wire up your application," he says. "We believe that this is too hard for customers then to come along and change the orchestration without having side effects. We don't know how we can support customers and stop customers from causing a lot of downtime in their environment."

Infor considered what its competitors were doing and decided to come up with a better way, Gordon says. "We looked at this and said the goals that technical or traditional SOA had, are correct. But we looked at it differently, and what we said is we need to provide these business services and encapsulate some processes so that they are independent services that can operate in a standalone environment, that orchestration is involved between these services via the publishing of business documents and the receiving documents.

Infor considered what its competitors were doing and decided to come up with a better way, Gordon says. "We looked at this and said the goals that technical or traditional SOA had, are correct. But we looked at it differently, and what we said is we need to provide these business services and encapsulate some processes so that they are independent services that can operate in a standalone environment, that orchestration is involved between these services via the publishing of business documents and the receiving documents.

Other Announcements

In other news, Infor last week unveiled a new warehouse management system, called Infor SCM WM 9.0. Infor says it has completely reworked the WMS to make it easier to implement and customize and to provide greater visibility of inventory across all warehouses involved in a supply chain. It's available now in Chinese, Dutch, English, French, German, Japanese, Portuguese, and Spanish.

Yesterday, Infor unveiled changes to its business intelligence offerings, which it now calls Infor Performance Management (PM). With Infor PM, the company is dividing its business intelligence offerings into two main categories, including Business Process Applications and Business Specific Analytics.

Business Process Applications will provide strategic and operational planning, budgeting, forecasting, reporting, and data consolidation capabilities for the finance department and other users, via an Excel-like interface. Business Specific Analytics, meanwhile, will provide pre-defined metrics and reports for specific roles and ERP modules, including accounts payable, receivables, sales, inventory, and general ledger.

RELATED STORIES

In Formation: Q&A with Infor Chairman Jim Schaper

Infor Taking an 'Assembler' Approach to ERP Acquisitions



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