Infor’s New System i GM Brings Enthusiasm to Job
November 16, 2010 Alex Woodie
Of the roughly 8,000 people Infor employs, Jack Bullock may be the happiest. “I think it’s the best job in the company. I truly believe that,” the new general manager and vice president of Infor’s System i division told IT Jungle last week. Since taking the job about eight months ago, Bullock has received a crash course in IBM i technology, and today he is confident that Infor can expand on its unique position in the midrange marketplace.
In March, Bullock was promoted from his job as vice president of North American sales and services to take the System i GM job from Mark Wright, who had held the job for a little over a year. Wright had been promoted to the position of vice president and GM of the enterprise solutions group, a senior position in the world’s third-largest software company that oversees all 17 Infor divisions, including the System i division (Infor, like many ISVs, does not use IBM’s current product naming scheme.)
As a veteran of the IT business, Bullock knew of the AS/400 before taking the job. His career started at Oracle, where he sold databases to Unix and VAX customers, and competed against the AS/400. More recently, his career has led him into successful startups, like Forte Software, Vitria Technology, and Aurema, where the AS/400 would rarely come up in conversation.
But the platform now known simply as IBM i became front and center in his professional life when Bullock took over the top System i job at the top System i software developer in March. To hear him tell it, he liked what he learned.
“I’ve never ever seen a solution set so strong with such a dedicated customer set,” he says. “It’s unbelievable. I’ve spent my whole life trying to deliver solutions into customers and [trying to get] an audience. Clearly that’s not the market and the climate we’re in here. It’s refreshing actually.”
What’s also refreshing is that Infor no longer seems to be struggling to tread water with regard to the direction of its large IBM i software portfolio. For years after the SSA acquisition, the Atlanta, Georgia-based company seemed to be in a no-man’s-land, caught between a commitment to never sunset any of the dozens of acquired products, but also unable to dedicate enough resources to make them competitive. “Maintenance mode” was the term that was used. But that doesn’t seem to be the case any more. Infor is now growing the IBM i customer base and improving its retention rate of IBM i customers, Bullock says.
Bullock–who has been on a whirlwind journey that has resulted in him meeting more than 1,000 IBM i customers around the world over the last two months–is confident better times are ahead. “It was unbelievable,” he says. “The amount of momentum that IBM and Infor are starting to … I don’t know if ‘regenerate’ is the right word, but it was kind of dormant there for a while. Over the last couple of years, it has really picked back up … there’s been a radical shift in the last 24 months.”
As Bullock tells it, the poor economy of the last two years has actually been good for the IBM i platform. “People took a step back and asked, ‘what is the right solution for us in terms of the most cost-effective, proven technology?'” he says. “Each time we go through one of these evaluations, the System i offering from IBM comes out on top. And the Infor ERP solution, particularly combined with Flex and Reconnect offerings, is right there leading the way.”
Infor has also benefited from making some hard decisions. The magic number now, as far as Bullock is concerned, is three. As in, Infor is primarily concentrating on developing and selling three IBM i products: Infor ERP LX (BPCS), Infor ERP XA (MAPICS), and Infor ERP System 21 (acquired separately from Geac). Some other IBM i products, such as A+, are owned by different Infor departments. The (many) other IBM i products that Infor has are in fact on maintenance mode. They’re supported, and customers don’t have to move, but they aren’t seeing much in the way of on-going development.
Customers on these orphaned systems can take advantage of the Flex and Reconnect systems. Bullock’s predecessor is undoubtedly reaping huge kudos for Flex and Reconnect, which were sales and marketing programs that aimed to lure dormant IBM i ERP accounts back into active maintenance mode, and to provide customers with lenient terms for moving to different Infor ERP systems. For example, many of Infor’s IBM i customers who are not on one of the “Big 3” ERP systems, including those running PRMS and KBM products, are being given very attractive terms for moving to LX or XA, or, if they’re moving off platform, to the Unix or Windows-based implementations of ERP LN (Baan) or the popular Syteline product.
Bullock seems to have a very firm grasp of the products and technology his team is charged with selling. He is quick to give credit to the developers and engineering teams–not just the sales and marketing people that he has been more closely associated with throughout his career–and can clearly explain how a service oriented architecture (SOA) can benefit customers. (That last one, in itself, deserves Bullock some sort of prize.)
Asked what he’s done in the last eight months on the job, Bullock says he’s proudest of the “tremendous amount of technology” his team has delivered. He cites three products (there’s that magic number again), including the Infor Development Framework, the native IBM i-based CRM system, and a new workflow system that runs across IBM i ERP systems.
On IDF: “IDF is a phenomenal piece of technology that allows people to enhance ERP system and make them release-independent. So when they make a customization, it’s not part of the core system, and when they upgrade the system, it doesn’t impact those changes. It’s 100 percent GUI based, very intuitive, and runs across all of our ERP systems in System i world.”
On CRMi: “CRM runs native, so it takes advantage of all the capabilities of the platform. It has interfaces to all of our ERP systems. So for customers who want everything to run on Power Systems box, it’s a wonderful CRM option they have.”
On the new workflow system: “We took the System 21 workflow system, which we thought was best of breed, out of System 21 and moved it to XA and BPCS customers. The relevant point is we’re using our SOA strategy to tie those pieces together. The idea is, instead of building the same thing three times across three platforms, we’ll use the SOA capabilities we have to leverage those across the three. So we’ve been able to dramatically reduce our development time to deliver much broader functionality to our customers.”
It was Infor’s dream years ago–and SSA’s and Geac’s and CA’s before that–to assemble a raft of ERP systems, and leverage the law of large numbers to deliver lots of solid functionality on the cheap to thousands of customers. It didn’t work out so good for the other vendors. Infor, through the power of SOA, may come the closest yet to actually delivering on that plan. And with people like Bullock–a former University of Missouri football player and Wright’s colleague at Aurema–Infor seems to be putting the sort of people in charge who can make it work.