The ‘New’ Infor Keeps Commitment To IBM i Customers
April 30, 2012 Alex Woodie
As the largest provider of IBM i-based ERP applications, Infor is a critical component of the midrange community. Now that Lawson has been integrated into the company, Infor has 19,000 paying customers running software on IBM i, i5/OS, and OS/400. And while some in the industry have criticized Infor’s support of the platform, its actions as a whole–and, in particular, comments by Infor executives and product roadmaps shared at last week’s Inforum 2012 conference–demonstrate a firm commitment to the IBM i platform and IBM i customers.
There are some ISVs in the midrange marketplace that seem allergic to anything IBM i related, and who get tongue-tied when asked to say “IBM i.” (OK, Infor still stubbornly calls it “System i”–a name that IBM dropped several years ago–but many still call it by even older names. System/38 anybody?) But the Atlanta, Georgia-based company (which has a temporary headquarters opened in New York City) hasn’t backed away from the unique challenges posed by being the platform’s largest and, arguably, most important ISV.
By all accounts, Infor has done an admirable job of maintaining individual IBM i-based ERP systems, and providing new capabilities–primarily through add-on products connected through ION, and to a lesser extent through enhancements to the ERP systems themselves. Granted, the company has focused its attention on three manufacturing-focused ERP systems in particular–Infor10 ERP iEnterprise (LX), formerly BPCS; Infor10 ERP Discrete iEnterprise (XA), formerly MAPICS; and Infor10 ERP iBusiness, formerly System21. That means that customers running older manufacturing-focused ERP systems, like PRISM, PRMS, and KBM, have not seen any meaningful updates in years, and likely never will.
Infor is clear that these systems–while they will never be killed off completely–are on maintenance-only mode. There is the occasional exception, such as making KBM compatible with IBM i 6.1, which was handled by Infor’s support group and not the IBM i development group itself. Infor has pledged to work with customers of these products to migrate them to one of the three IBM i-based Infor10 products, or even another manufacturing-focused ERP system, such as Infor10 ERP Enterprise (LN), formerly Baan; Infor10 ERP Business (SL), formerly Syteline; Infor10 ERP Express (VISUAL); or Infor10 ERP Process Business (Adage). This is the “Flex Upgrade” program that Infor launched about two years ago.
Infor’s approach won’t please every IBM i shop. Some PRISM, PRMS, and KBM users are becoming more vocal about the lack of a future under Infor. The future is less bleak for other IBM i-supported applications owned by Infor (but not managed by the IBM i division), including Infinium, Lawson M3, Infor10 Distribution iBusiness (A+), CRM AutoRelease, Anael, and the SoftBrands property management system. However, some packages, like the BRAIN ERP product, appear to have completely disappeared.
But it’s hard to argue that Infor’s approach hasn’t been consistent and fair to the bulk of the 19,000 IBM i customers that Infor has under contract. The company was losing IBM i customers at the pace of 25 percent per year just a couple of years ago, Infor president Stephan Scholl told a group of press and analysts at Inforum 2012. Now, it is adding IBM i customers, he said. IBM i customers represent just a fraction of the company’s 70,000-strong customer base, but Infor seems to understand the unique value the platform provides.
And judging from the product roadmap that the “new” Infor had on display at last week’s Inforum 2012 conference, the company’s new product and technology approach is about to start paying dividends, both to Infor and its customers.
Infor10 Product Roadmap
When asked at Inforum 2012 what he’s been up to lately, Robert Russell, Infor’s vice president of System i development, had three words: “ION, ION, ION.”
Infor customers that adopt Infor10 ION (which stands for Intelligent Open Network) are about to have a slew of new products thrown their way, ranging from cloud hosting (the yet-to-be-released System i Cloud), social media, mobile interfaces, and business intelligence software, to connections to other enterprise products in the Infor quiver, such as enterprise asset management (EAM, via the acquisition of Datastream and its MP2 product); product lifecycle management (PLM, via the acquisition of Formation Systems and its Optiva product), human capital management (HCM, via its acquisition of Lawson), and customer relationship management (CRM, via its acquisition of Epiphany, its partnership with Salesforce.com, and its home-grown CRM for i software).
Each of those add-on products connect to ERP systems through ION Connect, the core of ION that includes the enterprise service bus (ESB), which is based on the open source, JMS-based Apache ActiveMQ message broker. It is up to the managers of the individual ERP products, such as Russell, to build support for ION Connect into their products. Support for ION Connect is delivered through something called a business object document, or BOD. BODs are XML documents that comply with the Open Application Group standard for particular business processes, such as invoicing or shipping. There are around 100 BODs available under ION Connect, about 75 of which are applicable to ERP. The core three IBM i ERP suites–LX, XA, and System21–each recognize about 30 of these, Russell says.
An IBM i Infor customer must be running one of the so-called “ION releases” of their ERP system. The ION releases include: LX versions 8.33 and 8.34; System21 versions 2.3 and 2.4; and XA versions 9.0 and 9.1.
Russell’s group periodically issues PTFs that add support for additional BODs, and thus open the ERP applications up to work with additional products. Over the first three months of the year, PTFs were issued that enabled those three ERP systems to work with WorkSpace, the strategic Web-based GUI that is being adopted across all Infor10 ERP products, in addition to EAM and other Infor10 apps. Infor just shipped WorkSpace version 10.2, which added views of “in-context” business intelligence and social media-related information (via its Twitter-like ION Pulse product) on the same screen they use to access the ERP app itself (for more on Workspace 10.2 see last week’s story, A ‘New’ Infor Proclaims Need for Speed).
Currently, Russell’s group is working on adding support for additional mobile, cloud, and business intelligence products. This includes exposing BODs for an as-yet unannounced ION reporting and analytics product called Business Vault. This product, which will support SQL Server first and then the Oracle database (but probably not DB2 let alone DB2/400), is slated to function as a real-time data warehouse that eliminates the need for extract, transform, and load (ETL) functionality and provides the all-important single version of the truth. A Business Vault announcement is expected in the middle of May.
Mobile is in Motion
Then there’s Motion, the mobile computing platform that Infor launched earlier this year. As Infor10 Motion product manager Nick Borth explained at Inforum 2012, Infor has a lot going on in the mobile space.
For starters, Infor is working on building new ION-based hooks for XA, System21, and SL into Road Warrior, one of only two Motion products that are currently available. Road Warrior is a sales force automation (SFA) tool that is currently only supported by LN, Visual, A+, and SXE, and only for Apple‘s iOS devices. The other original Motion app is ActivityDeck, a business process monitoring (BPM) interface that delivers real-time, Twitter-like updates through connections to ION Pulse, and which is supported by those four ERP suites plus the new Sales and Operations Planning (S&OP) product that launched a year ago.
In the coming months, there will be many more Motion products, according to Borth’s presentation. By the middle of the year, Infor says it expects to ship Shop Floor and Proof of Delivery apps, which will be useful for manufacturers and distributors. Infor also expects to ship an Android version of Road Warrior; the Infor Xtreme Support app; Motion Query & Analysis; and a new version of ActivityDeck.
Seven more Motion apps are slated for delivery by in the December timeframe, which will coincide with the Infor11 launch. These new apps include Expenses, Field Services, Order Pad, Inventory, Warehouse Viewer, EAM Work Service, and Dashboards. There is some work involved by each of the ERP product managers to prepare their ERP systems to work with these apps and expose the proper BODs into ION. But it’s expected that most, if not all, of these new mobile apps will be available for the core IBM i suites, as well as the other core strategic manufacturing suites, LX, SL, and M3.
As you can tell, Infor has a lot on its plate. The Infor under CEO Charles Phillips and his group of ex-Oracle executives is certainly a different Infor than the one we saw two years ago. Phillips and his team have crafted a clear strategy for Infor around cloud, mobile, social media, and business intelligence, and are actively investing resources to drive the execution of that strategy. The company has shifted from acquisition mode into make-all-the-stuff-work-for-customers mode, which is no small feat considering Infor’s cobbled-together legacy. But with IT purse strings starting to loosen, and the mini-Internet boom currently underway in the mobile, social, and cloud spaces, Infor has 70,000 reasons to make it work.
This article was corrected. Infor president Stephan Scholl’s name was misspelled. Datastream, one of the companies that Infor acquired, was also misidentified as Databeam. IT Jungle regrets the errors.