Infor Provides Details on SOA Roadmap
September 18, 2007 Alex Woodie
Infor shared details about its service oriented architecture (SOA) roadmap at its annual user conference, Inforum 2007, in Las Vegas last week. While much of the attention regarding Infor’s “Open SOA” strategy went to its open (or non-System i) products, users of Infor’s two major i5/OS products–ERP LX, the former BPCS product, and ERP XA, the former MAPICS product–should start benefiting from Infor’s Open SOA strategy over the next 14 months.
With 70,000 customers using dozens of different products, Infor has its work cut out for it in the customer service department. Making matters tougher is a pledge the company made in the early days of its acquisition spree to never end support for a product, unless its underlying platform is killed off by another vendor. As the largest provider of i5/OS ERP products, Infor’s product plans can have a big impact on the market. With so many disparate product lines to support, the company had little choice but to adopt an open standards approach for moving its applications forward into the age of SOAs and transactional Web services.
For System i customers, Infor is taking a multi-pronged approach to supporting SOA. One the one hand it’s developing what it calls the Infor Development Framework (IDF), as the new Java-based architecture for developing Web browser-based interfaces. As part of the IDF, the company announced plans to deliver “role-based homepages,” as well as a “business information services” layer, which will provide a level of abstraction across back-end business processes.
Thirdly, the company is committed to exposing many back-end business processes as “business object documents” based on the Open Applications Group‘s published Interoperability Standard (OAGIS). It’s also building an enterprise service bus (ESB), a software layer that runs on an open system, and that routes service requests among the pertinent applications. Alternately, customers preferring a native i5/OS system will be able to utilize IBM WebSphereMQ (formerly MQ Series) message bus architecture for their SOA execution system.
Several of these components are available today. For example, the IDF is already being utilized in some of the i5/OS products, and the ESB can be implemented now. Other components, including the new role-based homepage, the business information services layer, and the “service-enabling” of the actual applications through OAGIS documents, have yet to be delivered.
All of this work is being done at what Infor calls its System i Center of Excellence, or iCOE. This development lab, which is led by former MAPICS developer Robert Russell, covers all i5/OS-based applications, including Infor CRM AutoRelease, Infor ERP A+, Infor ERP Infinium MM/PM, Infor ERP KBM, Infor ERP LX, Infor ERP PRISM, Infor ERP PRMS, Infor ERP System 21, Infor ERP XA, Infor ERP Xpert, Infor FMS Anael, Infor HCM Anael, and Infor HCM Infinium. For each of its products, Infor provides customers with three-year roadmaps, detailing how the product will be enhanced.
Not all Infor products are being service-enabled at the same pace. For example, Infor’s plans call for having the ERP XA almost completely service-enabled within the next 14 months, according to Bruce Gordon, Infor’s chief technology officer.
Gordon says Infor recently polled its ERP LX customers–its other major i5/OS ERP product–about what components they want service-enabled first. “We’re looking and listening to customers to what they want, and we’re giving them the statement of direction and the roadmap to start moving components across to the IDF,” Gordon says. “It may not be 100 percent completed in the next three years. There may be some components that we look and say, ‘We don’t have to service-enable this area of the business.’ But the majority of the product should have moved forward in the next three years.”
In many cases, users of Infor’s various i5/OS products will be able to start benefiting by adopting components of other i5/OS products, giving them expanded capabilities. For example, Infor is working to extract some of the customer relationship management (CRM) functionality from its ERP System21 product (acquired from Geac) and to package it as a separate product that works with ERP LX, ERP XA, and others.
“We’re developing a component in one area and taking the best in class ideas out of other areas to offer to customers who want to stay on the iSeries,” Gordon says. “That’s exciting to iSeries customers. I had quite a few MAPICS customers come up and say …’thanks for developing what you promised.'”
There are other examples of this, too. The upcoming version 9.0 release of the Java-based EXE warehouse management system (WMS) should work with ERP LX. The timeframe for that integration is a month to six weeks, Gordon says. Infor’s SupplyWeb supplier relationship management (SRM) product currently works with ERP XA, and should be service-enabled to work with ERP LX by next year. Infor’s enterprise asset management (EAM) product should be service-enabled to work with ERP LX early next year. And Infor’s product lifecycle management (PLM) product should gain interoperability with ERP LX in 2008.
Much of this functionality will arrive via ERP LX version 8.3 feature pack 3, slated for delivery in November 2008. That will also be the timeframe for delivery of the business information services and role-based homepages functionality.
Role-based home pages will allow users to set up alerts and key performance indicators based on data from their ERP applications, and also let them drill down into the actual data residing on the back-end systems. Infor will start rolling these out in May 2008, and by the end of 2008, System i customers will be able to start using them too, Gordon says. Meanwhile, the business information services component–another feature made possible by IDF–will provide a mechanism for integrating data from other systems.
The depth and breadth of Infor’s product set demands that the company take an open approach to service-enabling, Gordon says. And some products are easier to service-enable than others, he says. For example, the BPCS and MAPICS products are easier to service-enable than other products because they were designed with defined external interfaces.
In the end, all Infor products will be service-enabled, Gordon says. It just may take longer for Infor to get to some of the products. “We’re focusing here on the LX, MAPICS, the big applications, first,” he says. “Then there are some of the other applications we will do later. It’s a matter of saying, ‘Let’s look at the customer base and what makes business sense and sense to our customer base.'”