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Article
Infor's ERP Transformation

Infor's ERP portfolio gets a makeover. To understand Infor's many ERP packages read on.


Full Article Below -
Untitled Document

Infor has been one of the more challenging, yet interesting, companies to follow over the last few years. Every year or two, Infor picks an ERP (who knew there were so many) to acquire. Most of those companies’ customers are happy that Infor became the new owner, since that meant that the product support was ensured. Being the world record holder in ERP packages gives Infor some benefits in understanding the enterprise, but also produces major support and development challenges.

Infor’s Strategy

Throughout Infor’s history they have sustained all their product investments and also selected one or two products in the portfolio to be a ‘leader’—a product in which they make a bigger investment for architecting their solutions and also to provide a world-class competitive footprint. Examples are warehouse management software packages they have bought, with major investments going into Provia and Infor10 Supply Chain Execution,1 and ERP packages such as Adage, LN2 and SyteLine (part of the Infor ‘line’).  

Their strategy is based on three principles:

  1. Change the way work is done—create an updated user interface. The goal is to create a role-based user experience based on the roles, functions, etc. For example, a manager may use different functions (analytics) than an operations person (functional transaction systems). They may use different devices such as shop floor displays, office desktops, or mobil devices for salespeople. Their day-to-day knowledge of the systems is generally quite different, too, based on responsibilities in the firm.

  2. Complete the application—make sure that each ERP has a strong and complete industry focus. Ensure that the focused applications such as WMS, enterprise asset tracking, and Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) are strong enough to compete in an open market—and are not just add-ons for Infor users. It also includes significant platform upgrades to many of these applications to get them off old technologies and onto more supportable tool sets.

  3. Reimagine enterprise software—create an environment of integration and usability, and create common methods that can be used by all Infor customers to provide a gateway between applications across the enterprise.

Infor is investing heavily in ION, which is a collection of technologies such as middleware and workflow enablers to allow integration between applications and platforms—from the server and office to the mobile platform. This approach is employed by most of the mega-ERP companies to ensure integration and, often, migration to more modern tools. ION is a suite of products that houses the common products such as reporting, and is available to all Infor customers regardless of the Infor product they purchase.

Infor is also working on their cloud-delivery platform option. This will be coming along quickly, since market interest is there, due to their strong relationship with IBM and IBM’s PureSystems cloud strategy (for which IBM is making a big push).

Last year Infor moved their development headquarters from Atlanta to New York City to take advantage of the technological know-how of cloud, mobile and web developers.3 Infor hired about 400 developers to support their investment in this portfolio.

Infor in the SMB

Infor has been a major player in the mid market for decades. Infor, like Epicor, SAP, SAGE and Microsoft has ERP portfolios that can be hard to figure out. Many of the issues arise from Infor having acquired solutions that overlap in their industry focus and/or in the size of company that they serve. This makes it challenging for a prospective buyer to figure out which of Infor’s many solutions is best suited for them. However, we have provided our chart (Figure 1, below) to position these solutions.

Many of the products have loyal customers, but have been overdue for investments—in both technology and functionality. Several years ago, Infor decided to focus on a few major solutions for the future and maintain the rest, and with SOA, fold their best code libraries into major solutions. Adage and SyteLine are two such products. But the 2012 message seems clearer and more definitive regarding what Infor is investing in and how they will upgrade these products. That is good news for the many, many Infor users in SMBs who may not have the appetite or pocketbook for ‘rip and replace,’ but truly need new functions and a better, more supportable software foundation.

In general, migration away from old tools and 4GL software to Microsoft .NET4 is a core tenet.5 This will allow users to support their applications, and ensure seamless integration with any Microsoft product portfolios users may have such as BizTalk, Exchange, Mail, Excel or other popular complementary products from Microsoft for the SMBs.

Infor iSeries ERPs will continue to benefit from IBM’s drive to keep up with Microsoft, Oracle, and the many modern platforms and development and integration tools in Linux and the open source world for the web and cloud that developers are flocking to.

Figure 1 - Infor ERP Comparisons: Source ChainLink Research

So let’s briefly look at some6 of these products and what you can expect.7 Infor, like SAP, has the annoying habit of using the word ‘business’ (or Infor10 or ‘enterprise’) repetitively in their solutions’ names, confusing buyers. However, their salespeople will be delighted to clarify and guide you to the right package. In addition, the industry focus becomes important, as mentioned, in selecting the right products from Infor. Our 2012 ERP report will focus on size, delivery platforms8 and industry, so this article provides some of these insights. Now let’s look at some product highlights:

Infor ERP Process Business (Adage)—the major target is mid-market, but Adage also has large enterprise customers in the food and chemical processing industries.

Infor ERP Business (SyteLine)—for discrete manufacturing for industries such as metal fabrication, industrial equipment and machinery, high-tech, and electronics. The focus is on midsize firms. Has extremely strong features for more complex organizations. This product is on the Microsoft .NET platform.

Infor ERP Express (VISUAL)—this product is targeted at smaller businesses with manufacturing intensity. These firms are often suppliers to larger firms so they need extremely solid detail in their manufacturing and accounting, but ease of implementation. Interestingly, ERP Express has many Aerospace and Defense customers who are suppliers to the major aircraft builders. This product was built on older 4GL platforms and is now being upgraded to Microsoft .NET.

Infor ERP iBusiness (System 21)—targeted at apparel manufacturers of all sizes, this ERP solution runs on the IBM iSeries.

Lawson Software—this is the newest ERP acquisition into the Infor family. Known for their position in healthcare/clinical services, process industries, and other major verticals, this gets Infor into some important growth industries. Early on, Lawson started as an extremely strong accounting package and over the years has built on that base to include financial services industry clients.

An interesting and successful service line that Lawson added a few years ago was their cloud service. They were an early innovator in this area and offered elastic cloud services and other features that attracted market attention. Lawson’s know-how here will certainly help the other Infor product line teams gain expertise in this capability.

Infor is an overarching approach that incorporates capabilities that Infor intends to implement across most solutions. These are common interfaces, common analytics, reporting mobility, master data management, and mobile integration, to name a few.

Of course, all these packages have a legacy of serving multiple industries. As standalone firms before they joined Infor, they sold into more markets; therefore, most of these packages have many customers in multiple industries. Infor’s strategy is to focus each package so that their investments in functionality provide deeper industry capabilities (their ‘complete the application’ strategy). With SOA, and using tools like Mongoose,9 they can enhance an individual customer’s portfolios with needed capabilities—regardless of which package they are using—and make libraries sharable across applications.   

References:

ERP series

ERP for the SMB

ERP historians can reference Wikipedia entries for the acquisition history of some of these packages.

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1 At one time called EXE. -- Return to article text above
2 LN was purchased from SSA which had previously acquired it from Baan. -- Return to article text above
3 Locals in the Northeast, California, and the Northwest have had an edge due to the presence of universities that churn out new tech geeks, lots of start-ups, and interesting advertising and entertainment markets which churn out web and mobile expertise.
-- Return to article text above
4 .NET is a predictable, if not an exciting choice. But at least it provides a stepping stone, potentially, to more versatile options in the future. -- Return to article text above
5 For the non IBM iSeries solutions -- Return to article text above
6 SMB focus, though the chart in figure 1 includes more Infor products -- Return to article text above
7 We will cover more of these in the upcoming report as well as a future article about IBM’s role in the ERP market and IBM PureSystems.
-- Return to article text above
8 On Premise, Cloud, Hosted or an IBM iSeries customer -- Return to article text above
9 You can read more about Mongoose at the Linux Journal and on Google.

To view other articles from this issue of the brief, click here.




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