Infor Readies ERP Applications for i 7.1
July 12, 2010 Timothy Prickett Morgan
The announcement in late June by application software powerhouse Infor that it was building a lot of its new applications for Microsoft‘s Windows Server, SQL Server, and SharePoint Server, doesn’t mean the Power Systems i platform is not still important to the company, and Infor is most definitely hard at work getting its apps up to speed on IBM‘s latest Power7-based machines and the i 7.1 operating system.
With around 15,000 customers worldwide running a variety of applications that were originally coded for OS/400, often in RPG but sometimes in Java or with Java extensions, privately held Infor needs to do all it can to keep these customers–who represent a little more than a fifth of the company’s overall 70,000-strong installed base–happily paying their maintenance, adding additional modules or new suites, and moving ahead. While Infor doesn’t give out much in the way of statistics about itself, one of the i-based suites at Infor is apparently its second largest ERP product, in terms of revenues at Infor.
According to Kari Miller, who is senior director of product management for Infor’s BPCS/LX, PRMS, and System 21 product lines, the secret to Infor’s success in a down economy is to stick to its knitting and to listen to its customers–as old-fashioned as that might seem. “We’re going a lot with our customers, and with this kind of economy, we do a lot inside our customer base,” Miller explains. “We do see the economy recovering, but we do not think it will be at the rate we have seen in the past. Budgets are not going through the ceiling.”
But they are perhaps getting up off the floor and walking around and stretching a bit. And so Infor’s application programmers have been hard at work tuning up the ERP LX (formerly BPCS) and ERP XA (formerly MAPICS) suites so they can run on the i 7.1 operating system, which fully exploits the Power7 machines. (Unlike i 6.1.1, which merely has basic support for Power7 machines and does not take advantage of every new feature in the processors and systems.) A lot of the work that Infor’s coders had to do was related to IBM’s move from the 64-bit native Java Virtual Machine–the so-called Classic JVM for the OS/400 and i platform–to the new AIX JVM that has replaced it and that runs in the PASE AIX runtime environment inside of i 7.1. To help speed up the process, Infor joined IBM’s i 7.1 beta program, and it is hard to imagine that the software company would not be at the front of any line Big Blue created.
While the ERP XA suite’s back-end application logic is still coded in RPG, the front-end is coded in Java; similarly, the ERP LX suite has a lot of RPG, but uses Java here and there and in the rich-client front-end. Miller says the plan is to have these products ready for i 7.1 by the end of July.
Infor is working on some other i-specific applications as well, according to Miller, including a workflow tool that will run across its various i-based ERP suites and a new purchase order management module that will link into ERP LX, ERP XA, and System 21 suites. These should be done around December of this year.
Infor is also creating a drop-and-drag Visual Planner tool for doing plan-to-order management in an easier way than most AS/400 and i shops are used to. While the Power Systems are very modern computers, a lot of shops still think in batch mode when it comes to planning their manufacturing schedule; they crank out manufacturing reports, tweak their plan based on the reports, and then generate more reports as conditions change and they have to rejigger things. The Visual Planner, while not intending to be as sophisticated as some manufacturing planning tools out there (such as those in the i2 or Manugistics supply chain management tools from JDA Software), will be a big leap forward for a lot of i shops.
Finally, by the end of this year, the CRM i Edition customer relationship management application that Infor launched last summer for its ERP XA and System 21 suites will be coming to the ERP LX suite. This application is not a generic CRM suite, with call center stuff for linking retail customers into the ERP stack, but rather a CRM package designed to help manufacturers keep track of how marketing campaigns for their products converted to orders, manages sales prospects, and such. The CRM i Edition tool was the first product to come out of Infor’s dedicated Power Systems i business unit, which was established in February 2009.