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Infor ERP Review Infor ERP, and a Welcome Change in ERP Strategy

 
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By Chuck Schaeffer

The Infor Journey Toward Innovation and a Synergistic Product Portfolio

Infor was founded in 2002, and began using the Infor name in 2004. But for all practical purposes, Infor was reborn in 2010 with the appointment of Charles Phillips as CEO.

In fact, prior to that appointment, most in the industry recognized Infor’s rise to become the third largest ERP software provider, but the company appeared to be more of an unorganized roll-up than a legitimate competitor to the more innovative ERP vendors. Many labeled Infor as the next CA, and a place where old products go to die.

But now just more than two years after Phillips arrival, we’re seeing the signs of serious progress by a large ERP vendor that seems to want to acquire net new customers, not just milk the once lucrative but now declining maintenance revenue streams from legacy products.

From 2002 to 2007, the company was in a roll-up consolidation phase. Just prior to Phillips arrival, Infor began a follow-on product portfolio integration phase. Upon Phillips arrival, he kicked off the typical product review assessments while simultaneously implementing a four stage evolution of Leadership, Products, Partnerships and Results. Phillips behaviors seem to suggest he believes speed is a competitive advantage, and has clearly made a bloated Infor more nimble. In many ways, the new Infor now resembles a very large, very well-funded start-up.

Phillips has substantively upped the company R&D efforts. Within its 1700 new employees added in the last year, it’s brought on board 600 new engineers. The newest group that grabbed my attention is the design team, internally called the Hook & Loop team. Somewhat typical of design tasks, they’re responsible for website upgrades and powerpoint decks. Yawn. However, atypically they are also responsible for application design standards, and certifying new Infor products pursuant to user interface (UI) and more importantly, user experience (UX) objectives. I’ve long argued that the UX should be one of the top three competitive differentiators sought for enterprise software, and the Hook and Loop team is echoing this with a goal to achieve “beauty as a competence.” And if you’re tempted to discard the notion that ERP software should be enhanced to achieve UX objectives, consider an IDC Manufacturing Insights report that shares 90% of workers expect modern technologies to change the way we work within three years.

Aligning presentation layer technologies and infusing consumer technologies into an ERP software product portfolio that otherwise has little to no synergistic value may actually begin to capitalize on the portfolio from a bundling perspective, or perhaps appealing to the increased demand for Tier 2 ERP systems (which itself gets Infor in the door of its largest competitors accounts).

Continuing the trend to cross pollinate portfolio products, Infor has released Local.ly, a cloud-based, loosely coupled software localization platform that manages a standardized localization process centrally. Local.ly standardizes functions such as translations, taxation engines, regulatory/compliance reporting and other software features that leverage a rules engine and need consistent treatments irrespective of region. This is a big step up from relying on local partners who may apply varying inconsistencies which render the same ERP software differently in different regions.

The company has also released Infor ming.le to deliver social convergence to Infor solutions. As an internal (private) social network, ming.le is a pull-based technology that promotes collaboration and socially-infused business process management by enabling access and updates to company experts, groups, information and analytics. Rather than making people search for data, documents and other people, staff subscribe to objects, groups or whatever is important to them so that information is then proactively fed to them via a real-time activity stream.

Infor ION is a middleware used largely for system integration purposes. It’s an enterprise service bus that is increasingly acting as the glue between Infor ERP applications and legacy systems, and even among multiple Infor systems. Infor ION takes a loosely coupled approach, uses XML standards and operates in the cloud, on-premise or in a hybrid combination. Beyond system integration, ION also supports search, reporting and has a process orchestration component with workflow-like features for a basic level of business process automation. It’s not a full BPM (Business Process Management) tool, but has enough intelligence to aid sophisticated integration projects.

Infor Product Convergence

Penetrating the vast Infor ERP product portfolio to achieve more consistencies and symbiotic relationships is both a slow process and a very big opportunity. Steadily and centrally applying design upgrades for a much needed UX lift and delivering common platform capabilities for social, mobile, globalization and integration are strong steps in the right direction.

However, time is not on Infor’s side.

Infor’s roll-up of legacy ERP systems was designed in large part to acquire customers who are reluctant to incur the sheer pain of changing ERP systems. It’s no secret that annual maintenance contracts are highly profitable. However, it’s also no secret that barriers to change are declining. Cloud ERP systems are achieving the sectors highest growth and relative new-combers such as Acumatica, NetSuite, Plex and Workday are displacing legacy systems at an accelerated pace. Even vendors with predominantly on-premise ERP customers, such as Oracle and QAD, are now aggressively upgrading those customers to the cloud.

Infor’s approach seems to be two-fold: Finally achieve some synergies among the product portfolio and deliver enough incremental advancements to keep its customers from defecting, at least until some of the Infor ERP products offer more modern technologies that can better compete in the competitive landscape.

A Good Start, But More Progress Needed

Infor is steadily changing its reputation from an aggregator to an innovator. But much more progress is needed. My hope is that the new UI/UX standards will propagate many Infor legacy ERP apps to make them much easier to consume, that Infor will deliver native (multi-tenant, SaaS) cloud solutions, that Infor will further tap into disruptive technologies such as Customer Experience, gamification, contextual analytics and Big Data, that Infor will further integrate a B2B CRM solution with more Infor ERP products, and that the company will finally bring clarity in navigating their overlapping ERP product mix to help buyers self-identify which Infor ERP product is most relevant to their objectives. It’s a tall order for sure. But when you recognize that failing to achieve these and other objectives timely will further erode the customer base, there’s not a lot of alternatives. End

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Comments (6) — Comments for this page are closed —

Guest Marty Little
  In our ERP software selection project last year, we briefly considered looking at Infor before we acquired Oracle. However, I think as you eluded to, trying to make sense of which Infor ERP product we should consider was not at all clear. I finally came to the conclusion that Infor really isn't geared to acquiring new customers, and that existing customers know which product they have, and therefore don't incur any confusion about which product to acquire for their upgrade. If Infor ever expects to grow net new customers, they're going to have to first clarify, and then amplify, their messaging.
  Chuck Chuck Schaeffer
    Thanks for your comment Marty. Your last point really hits the nail on the head. I talk to ERP buyers nearly every day, and all too often they quickly bypass Infor as they can't figure out the company or product positioning. I'm hopeful Infor will clarify its messaging in a way that resonates with ERP buyers.

Guest Jim Earlsmay
  You often discuss how ERP vendors should target vertical markets. What about Infor in vertical markets?
  Chuck Chuck Schaeffer
    Infor pursues the bowling pin approach to vertical market expansion, and has slated more micro-vertical solutions for release in 2014. I think they are well on their way to penetrating new vertical markets.

Guest Kevin
  Where did you get this information about local.ly and ming.le?
  Chuck Chuck Schaeffer
    In an Infor briefing with Darci Snyder, VP of Product Management. These products are also described on the company's website.
 

 

 

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I’ve long argued that the UX should be one of the top three competitive differentiators sought by enterprise software, and the Hook and Loop team is echoing this with a goal to achieve “beauty as a competence.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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