Infor Exudes Total Confidence At Annual User Confab
May 6, 2013 Alex Woodie
Infor let its customers and competitors know that it means business at the Inforum 2013 conference in Orlando, Florida. At the show, the privately held company highlighted its impressive growth, demonstrated the new products it shipped since last year’s show, and set a high bar with a new line of offerings that ranges from the new consumer-grade SoHo user interface and Twitter-like Ming.le feed, to new cloud offerings with IBM and Amazon‘s RedShift, and another IBM i product acquisition, just for good measure.
On the stage at the Inforum 2013 opening session on April 23, the Infor brain trust put on an impressive show, demonstrating their company’s mastery of the ERP essentials and laying out a compelling product roadmap centered on SoHo. The message delivered by CEO Charles Phillips and his band of merry ex-Oracle pranksters–co-presidents Duncan Angove and Stephan Scholl and COO Pam Murphy–is an evolution from Inforum 2012, which was a coming out party of sorts for what Phillips continues to call “the world’s largest startup.”
The motto at last year’s show was “Go Faster.” So how could Infor top that? Easy: multiply it times ten. Hence the company’s new Infor10x brand.
Infor10x refers to the latest versions of Infor’s premiere offerings, which can connect to Infor’s all important ION service bus and boast the latest social, cloud, and mobile features like SoHo, Ming.le, the Motion mobile interfaces, and Inforce CRM, marketing, and sales tools based on Salesforce. The first 10x products to ship are EAM (Enterprise Asset Management), LN (Baan), CRM, and SunSystems applications, which will be closely followed by Syteline, M3, S3, HCM (Human Capital Management), PLM, and SCM and PowerFlex, which is the new name being used for the trio of core IBM i-based ERP systems, LX (BPCS), System21, and XA (MAPICS).
The number of new products, features, and integration points released by Infor increased at the rates of 10x, 48x, and 5x, respectively, in 2012 compared to 2009, Angove said. “All told, Infor 10x is about a half-a-billion dollar investment,” he said during the opening session. Much of that spending is on people, including 800 new developers hired since Inforum 2012. The company now has 3,500 developers, 3,600 consultants, and 1,663 support engineers. “Seventy percent of Infor employees are building, deploying, or supporting software,” he said.
Infor, which had revenues of $2.8 billion last year, has spent about half of the $1.1 billion outside investors put into the company about 18 months ago. Phillips is known as something of a gear head when it comes to products, and his company is spending big on products.
“Last year, we hadn’t been in place long enough. Last year’s show was about what we plan to do,” Phillips said during the opening session. “This year is completely different. It’s about product, product, product. We couldn’t wait for this day. It’s like Christmas Eve to us.”
Infor is banking heavily that the new SoHo user interface will be a game-changer in the enterprise software market. SoHo, which refers to the artistic and fashion center SoHo area of New York City (short for South of Houston and meant to invoke a similarly artsy neighborhood in London that predates it), was developed by Hook and Loop, a subsidiary that Infor created in the last year specifically to generate a standard user interface across Infor’s products.
Infor didn’t have the skills necessary to build a next-gen UI. Indeed, it doubted anybody in the computer business had the skills. Instead, Infor decided to “infect its own gene pool,” as Angove put it, and tapped local NYC professionals in the advertising and fashion industries to lead the new design effort.
The Hook and Loop crew worked with Infor customers to find out how they actually used Infor ERP systems. Based on that input, they came up with a new design that Infor says is both elegant and functional. “It’s creating experiences people love,” Phillips says. “We think it’s a pretty cool thing to do, and we think it’s going to change how business applications are going to be used in the future.”
The SoHo user interface is based on SmartOffice, a Microsoft SharePoint-based user interface that Lawson Software adopted for its S3 and M3 products several years ago. While it has SharePoint underpinnings, SoHo deploys as an HTML5 Web client. Phillips touted SoHo’s layout, color-scheme, use of white space, and easy-to-understand icons as improvements over the status quo.
Because the status quo doesn’t cut it, Phillips says. “The bottom line is, using enterprise software sucks,” he says. “It does. It’s not fun to use. It’s ugly. . . . Most of you probably avoid using it. All of us do, because it’s just not fun. We walk around the industry saying we want to build industrial-grade software. We’re very proud of that [and the] feeds and speeds. It’s robust and reliable. Now we’re coming to think that we want to build consumer-grade software. That’s where all the innovation is happening. Let’s adopt some of that for the enterprise and make it cool and fun.”
The SoHo interface with Ming.le should be available for the PowerFlex products (LX, System 21, and XA) this summer, says Robert Russell, the vice president of System i development at Infor.
A key component of SoHo is Ming.le, the new Twitter-like news feed that lives front and center in user’s SoHo interfaces. Infor adopted Twitter concepts, such as giving users the capability to subscribe to other users identified with the @ symbol and to things (such as products, assets, reports, etc.) using the # hash tag, and to receive alerts about them in a news feed. Thanks to ION, the Ming.le feed works with other Infor products, such as EAM, XA, HCM, and Syteline, and actually gives users the capability to pull data from these enterprise applications from their SoHo user interface, and even to drill down into the ERP systems without using the traditional forms.
Infor gave three good examples of how Ming.le could be used in a business setting. Perhaps the best example was the case of a nurse who notices that an MRI machine is going down more than usual, which is impacting the hospital’s capability to provide care to patients. The nurse is able to pull up the MRI machine’s maintenance history from EAM using Ming.le, and deduces that the cause of the downtime is that a particular part is being repaired repeatedly instead of being replaced. The nurse gets on the Ming.le feed and, after failing to obtain the part from other members of the hospital’s own network, puts out a request for bids from suppliers. The winning bid required an approval from the nurse’s supervisor (accomplished via Ming.le) because it was not the lowest, but had the quickest availability.
Phillips is convinced this social-enabled workflow describes how business will be conducted in the future. In particular, social media’s capability to expand discovery is crucial. “That concept of discovery is core component to any social network,” he says. “If you want to get on Twitter and follow people who are interested in golf balls or horses or whatever your interest, you can find them on Twitter and start following them.”
“But companies have the same problem,” he continues. “They’re large, complex, unclear business processes. There’s all this tribal knowledge that is there, and to find it, it’s hard to locate, especially if you’re a new employee. This allows people to get connected quickly, it’s transparent, and you can see what’s happening.”
PowerClouds and the AWS Jungle
Infor also announced a partnership with IBM at the show that will see Infor applications being made available on IBM’s SmartCloud public cloud. Beginning May 1, four products, including Infor LN, Infor M3, Infor Lawson, and Infor HCM, were expected to be available on SmartCloud. Other applications, including XA and other IBM i-based ERP systems, are also slated to be available through IBM’s SmartCloud.
Infor already has several partnerships with managed service providers (MSPs) who offer Infor applications in private clouds, including Abacus Solutions, Velocity Technology Solutions, and NTT Data. What makes the IBM partnership special is the name recognition that IBM brings, and in the future, the capability to automatically provision IBM i software to IBM’s cloud, says Infor’s senior vice president of cloud Ali Shadman.
“We have plenty of hosting partners. But this is a different tack. We want to be able to do auto-provisioning of the entire stack,” Shadman tells IT Jungle. “We’re going to be extending our provisioning engine to the System i, as well as the Intel VM, so you get one-stop shopping when you press a button.”
Getting another cloud for Infor’s IBM i software was a big reason why Infor partnered with IBM, Shadman says. “That’s actually a big part of why we decided to go with IBM. Infor is IBM’s largest ISV on Power, not just System i but AIX as well,” he says. “It just made a lot of sense to have a provider who could accommodate all the different aspects of our go to market [strategy] and that’s IBM.”
Infor also introduced SkyVault, a new offering that’s based on RedShift, a big data offering from Amazon Web Services (AWS). Infor already had a partnership with AWS to run production workloads, such as S3 and M3, on its EC2 compute cloud. But SkyVault is a different offering that will combine the RedShift hosted data store with Infor-developed “content,” including pre-defined dashboards in the areas of sales, finance, and production.
The idea behind SkyVault is to leverage the RedShift database to crunch big data, which is gathered by Infor enterprise products and “trickle fed” up to the cloud. The offering combines elements of Infor’s Business Vault, which came out last year, and RedShift, an online data warehouse built on a multi-node, column-oriented database that costs 85 cents for 2TB of storage.
“I think it’s a game changing product to have a massively parallel database in the cloud,” Phillips says. “No one in this room is likely able to afford a data center that can handle this sort of volume. You get parallel query, parallel load, parallel backup and recovery. . . . It’s next generation technology. It’s very cool stuff in terms of performance. People are reporting 10x and 50x performance [compared to traditional] OLAP databases, so having this massively parallel cheap computing at your disposal is an elegant way to solve big data problems.”
SkyVault is slated to be available later this year. Any Infor applications that are already ION-enabled–including Infor10 and the new Infor10x apps–will be able to use SkyVault. Infor will also help customers connect other products to SkyVault via its ION Factory.