Infor Touts Stronger Roadmap For IBM i ERP
May 4, 2022 Alex Woodie
It may not be fashionable in some circles to have ERP software that runs on IBM i, since containerized microservices running in the cloud are all the rage. But since it was fully acquired by Koch Industries last year, Infor does not care. That change of heart is at the center of a renewed focus on continued development of its IBM i ERP systems.
For many years, Infor actively pushed many of its IBM i customers to move to other platforms, including cloud-based ERP systems. While it didn’t sunset any of the IBM i products (it has around a dozen of them), it clearly de-emphasized them in sales engagements. And in some cases, such as with M3, it ceased developing new features for the IBM i version — a practice that it recently changed due to a lack of adoption of its cloud-based ERP offerings.
The completion of the acquisition of Infor by Koch Industries represented a milestone in the company’s attitude towards IBM i-based ERP systems. As we told you last week, Infor created a new group within Infor called Compass that gave the IBM i products a greater presence within the company. That was the first time the IBM i products had been joined together since the New York company disbanded its old System i group many years ago, the company said.
Infor’s IBM i installed base, which numbers in the mid-thousands of customers, was pleased to see the change of heart. “The feedback we’re getting is that we kind of feel like you forgot about us for a while,” says Stewart Applbaum, the Infor executive vice president and general manager of Compass.
While the sentiment for the change was positive, the underlying event that triggered the IBM i renaissance at Infor was more financially motivated, according to Robert Russell, the longtime vice president of product development at Infor.
“We no longer had the need to try to go public, and trying to go public meant you try to appease analysts that say that this is what you have to do to get a higher valuation, because you can’t have a company that has 13 ERPs,” Russell tells IT Jungle in an interview. “And then Koch said, you know what? We’re making money on these 13 ERPs. Why should we sit there and throw that out the door?”
This has given new life to the various IBM i-based ERP systems that Infor has obtained over the years, starting with the three primary ones — ERP LX (formerly SSA’s BPCS), ERP XA (formerly MAPICS) and ERP System21 (from GEAC) — but also including several other ERP products with smaller installed bases, including the Infinium products, Intentia/Lawson M3, KBM, PRMS, PRISM, Anneal, and A+ (from Daly & Wolcott). Lawson S3 also has some IBM i customers.
“For the most part, I would say they’ve got some of the best bones in the industry,” Russell says of the ERP lineup. “They’re as deep of functionality as most anybody.”
Infor’s IBM i customers will be glad to know that Infor is no longer encouraging them to move off their ERP systems, and instead will be looking to support them on their current platforms as long as they want to run on them.
Infor is looking to rely on its longtime partner, Abacus Solutions, which was recently acquired by Fresche, to provide private cloud hosting services for IBM i customers who want to get out of the business of running their own boxes. The partnership has mostly been aimed at Infor’s three main IBM i-based ERP systems, Russell says, but now he’s looking at potentially expanding it to include the other less frequently used ERP systems.
If Infor customers are looking for a newer cloud-based ERP system, the vendor has M3 and LN (Baan) running in public clouds. These remain the company’s strategic choices for manufacturers. But Infor is no longer pressuring its IBM i customers to move to those strategic products, which is a good thing for customers.
“Koch is saying, things need to be mutually beneficial to both us and the customer,” Russell says. “The customers are emphatic about us now saying that, you know what, we’ve got people here supporting these products for many years to come, and we have no reasons that you have to move anything else unless your company feels that you’re at a place that you need to essentially transform your ERP.”
It’s a welcome sign when your ERP vendor recognizes that a simple little ERP “upgrade” has a nasty little habit of becoming brand new ERP “implementation,” with all the costs and risks those entail. Russell has watched that movie play out over and over — including in the M3 division of Infor — and he’s determined not to let it happen to his IBM i installed base.
“I’ve watched a number of companies that would create these chasms,” he says. “They would sit there and say that they modernized the product, but you have to jump over this Grand Canyon to get from the old version to the new version. It’s like implementing an ERP again.”
For clients who choose to remain on IBM i, the Infor Development Framework (IDF) will play a major role in providing the tools and technologies they need move forward with modernization without gutting the insides of the ERP system or changing it out completely. The product, which is based on Enterprise JavaBeans and XML, was developed under Russell at MAPICS and has since been extended to support other IBM i-based ERP systems at Infor.
The IDF and its server-side component, called Enterprise Integrator, have been big hits among IBM i customers because they can deliver new user interfaces and custom integrations without modifying the underlying ERP system, Russell says. That allows them to more quickly adopt new releases from Infor without going through the hassle of ensuring the modifications are compatible with the new release — a major headache that has kept a very large number of IBM i shops on older releases of ERP systems, IBM i operating systems, and Power hardware too.
More recently, Infor has taken steps with the latest 10.x release of XA to minimize the reliance on Windows for IDF, which will likely play well with that installed base. “We’re going to show you a lot of respect and listen to you and try to provide for your needs on the IBM i,” Russell says. “Infor almost . . . scared them off a little bit. As you’ve heard all the other vendors saying that you need to get off of the IBM i.”
Indeed, industry analysts have been predicting the demise of the IBM i platform and its big brother, the System z mainframe, for decades. While the installed base for IBM i has shrunk, there remains a core group of customers who remain committed to it. Why? Because it just runs.
“For those of us who know the box, it is a strong box,” Russell says. “I’ve had customers tell me they don’t even have to turn it off.”
At the end of the day, technology fads come and technology fads go. The IBM i server, on the other hand, has been remarkably resilient in the face of the onslaught of technological change — some of it good, some of it not. Currently, the fad du jour is to build everything as a containerized microservice running in the cloud, which unfortunately is fairly incompatible with the IBM i architecture as it currently stands. Maybe that development technique will win market dominance in the end. Maybe the IBM i and its Technology Independent Machine Interface (TIMI) will morph along with it. Maybe the fad will just go away.
Russell has seen his share of fads come and go. But he doesn’t see an end of IBM i anytime soon.
“When we started our company in ‘92, if we’d have listened to analysts, we would have been trying to start with C++,” he says. “Analysts have got their place. But look at what they said seven years ago, and look at when things are now. . . . Sometimes technology actually spirals back around, and things that they said wasn’t going to be worthwhile end up becoming the fad.”