Infor Unveils Mobile Strategy, Ships 2 iOS Apps
February 14, 2012 Alex Woodie
Up until now, Infor has been a no-show at the mobile party that has been occupying the IT universe since the iPhone launched five years ago. But the enterprise software giant jumped in with gusto last month when it unveiled its new mobile strategy, called Infor10 Motion. Only two mobile apps are available today, and they only run on the iPad. But according to an Infor official, the company’s mobile strategy is set to ramp up quickly.
It’s hard to overstate the impact that mobile computing is having on the IT industry. Take Apple for example. After recording $26 billion in revenues during the fourth quarter of 2010, Apple sucked in $46 billion during the fourth quarter of 2011, thanks to massive holiday sales of iPhones and the new iPad 2. At that rate, Apple will record $186 billion in annual sales, to go along with its $437 billion market cap. IBM, by comparison, is trending at $100 billion to $110 billion in sales, and has a $228 billion market cap. (Thus the recent comparisons by Wall Street types of IBM being the “Apple for corporate.”)
As it so happens, Infor’s customers will be contributing to Apple’s fortunes when they buy the new Infor10 Motion products, including ActivityDeck and Road Warrior, which are available now on the Apple iTunes store. Apple, of course, gets a cut of all sales on its iTunes store, making it the absolute envy of all MBAs seeking a recurring-revenue business model. But Infor has much more at stake here as it takes its first steps toward crafting a credible mobile story.
Show Me the Apps!
Now, the apps. First up is Infor10 Road Warrior, a brand new sales force automation (SFA) tool that gives users access to sales-related information stored in an ERP system through a combination of charts, graphs, and alerts. The software is able to take advantage of other apps that may be present on the iOS device, such as FaceTime or Skype, to streamline actions, such as placing a phone call.
Next up is Infor ION ActivityDeck, which is an iOS rendition of an existing workflow and business process management (BPM) dashboard that’s already in the Infor arsenal (specifically, the ION Pulse Server). The software allows mobile users to stay connected to back-office activities through Twitter-like alerts, and the capability to approve or reject requests.
Road Warrior and ActivityDeck are available now for iPad, and should be available for the iPhone in the coming weeks. Both applications work with the new Infor10 Motion Server (which previously went by the name Infor10 Mobile Application Server in marketing materials) and a mobile application deployment and administration tool, called the Infor10 Motion App Manager (IMAM).
Today, customers are restricted to running the Infor10 Motion apps through Infor’s cloud. Infor is keeping a tight grip on the instances of the new Infor10 Motion Server software to ensure that any bugs are quickly quashed and to keep the users happy, explains Infor10 Motion product manager Nick Borth.
“We understand there are certain verticals in our customer base that have different needs as far as hosting and data privacy and security, so we’ve architected the infrastructure to be flexible enough to where it could be transported to an on-prem environment,” Borth tells IT Jungle. “However at this time we’re keeping it in the cloud.”
ION at the Hub
So far, Infor has certified four of its ERP systems to work with Road Warrior and ActivityDeck. The list includes Infor10 ERP Enterprise (formerly LN and Baan before that); Infor10 ERP Express (formerly VISUAL), Infor10 Distribution Business (formerly SX.enterprise) and Infor10 Distribution iBusiness (an IBM i application formerly called A+, the former Daly & Wolcott app).
Infor10 ERP Discrete iEnterprise (formerly XA and MAPICS before that) is in the process of being certified, Borth says.
Because the new mobile products use Infor’s ION integration platform to feed data from the ERP system to the mobile interface, any Infor application that has been certified to work with ION (that is, those that bear the Infor10 name) will automatically work with the new mobile clients. This means that IBM i-based ERP systems like Infor10 ERP iEnterprise (formerly LX and BPCS before that) and Infor10 ERP Process iBusiness (formerly System21) will eventually sport new mobile interfaces.
But even those legacy ERP systems that don’t and won’t bear the Infor10 brand–including several IBM i products like Infinium, KBM, PRMS, and PRISM–will work with ION, and thus the Infor10 Motion products. It takes a little more work, but users of these ERP systems can hook into ION through database connectors. Lawson M3 ERP Enterprise should also work with the new mobile interfaces via ION, which has been a development priority since the merger with Lawson was complete.
If two apps just aren’t enough to sate your voracious app[etite], worry not: more apps are on the way, both from Infor itself and third-party developers.
Apps on Infor’s drawing board include: order and quote entry, expense report approval, performance management BI dashboard, shop floor production assistant, and mobile e-commerce. As you can tell, most of these apps are “read only,” as Infor (like other enterprise software vendors) seems hesitant to allow database updates to occur willy-nilly over the mobile Internet.
Infor wrote its first two apps in the Apple iOS’ native language, Objective C, and will likely use this development approach for the foreseeable future. “Our plan is to support [iOS] for the first few releases, and look at an Android toward the second half of the year,” Borth says. Infor is taking a wait and see approach with Windows Phone as a result of the Windows 8 launch expected later this year.
Borth says the next phase of Infor’s mobile development process involves introducing a level of abstraction between the business logic and the UI forms, using shells and native renderers. “The only thing native would be the shell that sits on the Android or the shell that sits on the iOS device. We’ll be working off this common language,” he says.
Infor plans to release the tools it uses to develop mobile apps, called the Motion Builder SDK, to the business partner community later this year. This will allow business partners to “benefit from the work that we’re doing to build this community and augment the mobile content that’s being delivered,” he says.
An online marketplace will also be set up to allow Infor and its partners to hawk mobile wares to its customer base. The plan currently calls for the marketplace to go live sometime toward the end of the year. All of this work “speaks to Infor10, and Infor going forward, as not only innovative, but really a trend setter in the way we approach disruptive technologies,” Borth says.
Infor is also doing a lot of other work in the cloud space, including launching cloud versions of enterprise apps hosted by the likes of Amazon, although it’s not entirely visible to its North American audience because it’s doing the proof-of-concepts in emerging markets like Brazil. It will be interesting to see how Infor handles the intersection of cloud, mobile, and the other major current IT trend–social computing. If it can make it easy for users to obtain and work with this technology–and above all, if the technology is truly useful and drives efficiencies or new revenue–then Infor will have succeeded in becoming a trend setter.