Infor Readies IBM i Cloud
June 29, 2015 Dan Burger
ERP in the cloud . . . would you go for such an idea or not? If Infor didn’t think some IBM midrange shops were ready, it wouldn’t be offering this option to its discrete manufacturing customers. Infor’s Cloud Suite has been available to customers on other platforms for more than a year. We’re about to see how its IBM i shops take to the cloud.
The official announcement of Infor’s Cloud Suite for IBM i is still several weeks away, but the company already has a few shops operating in the cloud. At a gathering of Infor XA, LX, and System21users at the end of May, Cloud Suite gathered plenty of attention as a new destination on the roadmaps for these manufacturing stalwarts. It was sort of like the first day at school–a combination of fear and excitement.
Infor emphasized cloud, but also chose to equally emphasize the importance of remaining on premise. It actually seemed to be cautious of overstating the cloud, which may be the first time this has ever happened during the run up to a cloud launch. Slowing a marketing steamroller like the cloud to provide some pro and con is commendable.
“There is a demand for both cloud and on-premise ERP,” said Dave Nelson, director of IBM i development. Nelson provided his perspective on how some Infor customers might jump to the conclusion that the product roadmaps would show all roads leading to the cloud. “Too much momentum for the cloud could bring concerns,” Nelson told IT Jungle during a phone interview last week.
We used to hear the term “forced march” a lot in the ERP business, as vendors applied pressure to move customers to the latest and greatest software updates. Customers don’t behave well when they perceive excessive use of force being applied. To Infor’s credit, it is careful how it presents the ERP cloud. After all, customer loyalty is a precious commodity.
Discussions about subscription-based cloud ERP and traditionally licensed on-premise ERP were the most talked about items during the conference, Nelson said. “This was an event that allowed Infor to show how it would support and enhance its top three manufacturing ERP products. That was an agenda item for Infor.”
Ross Freeman, strategy leader for System i ERP solutions at Infor, said the company originally planned to announce its IBM i cloud at this event, but scheduling conflicts with several executives led to the introduction being set for mid-July.
Why Infor’s manufacturing customers would be interested in cloud-based ERP is no different than any other cloud-based reasoning.
Freeman said one of the reasons Infor believes IBM i customers will find their way to the cloud is because a variety of new technologies make the IT stack more complex than ever and those technologies require different skills than most IBM i professionals have.
“The cloud is more sophisticated than what most companies could build and manage. In many cases the IT staff is unfamiliar with managing and handling this,” Freeman said. In other words, the cloud becomes the administrative piece that companies need as well as being the platform that no longer needs to be purchased and managed by the customer. This is a managed service provider (MSP) cloud with production workloads as the element.
But can traditional ERP shops ever get comfortable with this?
A year ago, Jane Munn, an IBM vice president and business line executive for cloud, told me there was a lot of cloud interest from the IBM i community. “It’s not growing as rapidly as other areas, but it’s clear the IBM i installed base wants the opportunity to participate in cloud.”
Munn went on to say, “We see some clients going beyond backup and recovery (the cloud-based service that many IBM i shops are using) by moving some applications into the cloud. But usually they are not mission critical. Email or web hosting are more likely. A lot of business data will stay on-prem. Apps that are not data intensive will move.”
Freeman agrees the interest in the MSP cloud already exists, “but it’s not something customers feel like they have to do now. There will be a lot of conversations, but we are not going to sell 500 of these things in the next 12 months. And, by the way, a lot of companies feel the same whether their business runs on IBM i or not.”
For Infor customers that don’t run on IBM i, Infor’s Cloud Suite depends on Amazon Web Services for the infrastructure. Freeman says Abacus Solutions will be Infor’s hosting partner, providing the data center and infrastructure for the IBM i customers. Infor plans to handle the managed services and the application-oriented stuff.
People do want to see the product go forward, Freeman said. The IBM i cloud is part of advancing the product. So are features like ION and Mingle. ION is Infor’s XML-based integration platform that integrated Infor ERP systems with other Infor products–mobile and social media offerings, for instance. Mingle is Infor’s social collaboration platform.
“Since we included ION as a core part of the application in our upgrade models, we’ve sold tons and tons of ION to the IBM i customers,” Freeman said. “There’s more penetration in the IBM i base than anywhere else in the company. We’ve been telling our customers that’s where we are going. That’s the future.”
The two-day Infor manufacturing ERP user event took place at the IBM Rochester Briefing Center and was organized by the user groups for XA (MAPICS), LX (BPCS), and System21. Total attendance was 229, primarily Infor customers, but also included business partners, plus Infor and IBM staff.