Infor’s Inforum 2013: Building Momentum; Going Faster

Like any conscientious industry analyst that attends a big event, I always feel compelled to write and share something about what I heard. But when the event is an enterprise software vendor’s customer conference, it’s not always easy to come up with something really compelling. More often than not, a quick blog post or news article is really sufficient to sum things up. But that’s not the kind of “stuff” I like to write. I prefer something that requires some analysis that leads to conclusions I can support with data I have collected through my research.

About a year ago, returning home from Inforum 2012, I struggled with this. It certainly wasn’t for a lack of announcements. Honestly, there were no less than 21 different press releases talking about everything from the reinvention of the company under its new leadership to numerous technology and product announcements. But mostly these announcements were about strategy and what this new leadership was planning for a company that was obviously changing dramatically. The theme of the conference was “Go Faster” but it was clear that while Infor was out of the starting blocks, it was still very early in the race.

Now, a year later, in leaving Inforum 2013, let me just say, finding something compelling to write about is definitely not a problem. Having hired 650 new developers, not only is Infor “going faster,” it has already completed a few races.

This year there were at least 25 different announcements and that didn’t even include the surprise proposed acquisition of TDCI (product configuration). Announcements emphasized a continued focus by Infor on not just verticals, but micro-verticals, and the new release of Infor 10x. Announcements were sprinkled with a little cloud and a big dose of technology in the form of industry-specific use cases for its “purpose-built” middleware ION technology.

Because I prefer to have any one paper, report or post to be “about” a single topic, the problem this year will be prioritizing what I write. To give you a preview of what’s to come and some highlights from Inforum 2013, here’s what’s on the table:

  • Loosely Coupled Versus Tightly Integrated: The Infor Perspective I recently  did a post that referenced Infor briefly, but was more about SAP’s introduction of Financials OnDemand. It posed the question, “Why should CFOs care?” It’s time to give Infor its turn in the spotlight to dive deeper into Infor’s overall strategy.
  • Is “Convergence” a Dirty Word? Any solution provider that has grown largely by acquisition (as Infor has) must make a decision as to whether or not to rationalize its product portfolio. Thus far Infor has very consciously and conscientiously avoided a convergence strategy, promising not to discontinue support of products and to never force customers to migrate to new solutions. But when you have customers continuing to run on systems based on seriously outdated technology, does this do them a disservice?  In these cases, even a slight shift in strategy can make a huge difference in encouraging these customers to move forward. I’m sensing this shift in pockets of Infor even as it still insists on “no convergence.”
  • Collaboration is Key: Helping Employees Ming.le Ming.le (pronounced mingle) is Infor’s new platform for enterprise collaboration, which it describes with minimal use of the word “social.” I find that refreshing. Designed primarily with the Gen-Y folks in mind, it uses a lot of the concepts and approaches popularized by social media. But by describing it more in the context of triggering alerts and helping those receiving the alerts come to a resolution quickly, it makes it much more “real” even for baby boomers who might not intuitively see how those types of tools can save them time and effort.
  • Introducing Infor Sky Vault: Infor’s answer to big data? You can’t pick up a trade journal today without being confronted with the concept of big data. We “get” it. The volume of data we deal with for decision-making has been growing for decades. Now it is growing exponentially. Not only are there limitations inherent in traditional databases, but more and more data is floating out on the Internet that is not even captured in a structured database. Solutions are emerging to break down those barriers and Infor’s Sky Vault is one of them: a cloud-optimized data repository powered by Amazon Redshift, available through Amazon Web Services (AWS) at a very reasonable price. Because of the traditional difficulty in dealing with massive volumes of data, business decision-makers have essentially learned to “do without.” Now they have to learn about what is possible. Infor’s job now is to help them, as Infor’s James Willey puts it, “see the vision.”
  • Microverticals: Will they save the day or become an enormous burden? The message at Inforum was clear. Forget a vertical focus. Infor is all about micro-verticals. Think dairies, breweries, meat packagers or bakers versus “food and beverage.” The ultimate goal of attacking a micro-vertical is to offer a more customized solution, without customization.  That’s the upside. The downside is the sheer volume of micro-verticals and the burden this places on Infor. Obviously the answer lies not in having entirely different solutions for each micro-vertical. The only way Infor will survive and thrive in this environment is through the effective use of its “purpose-built” middleware (ION) that will allow them to develop components of functionality once and re-use. So how does this work?

I could go on and list more possible topics of discussion resulting from all the different technology, product, acquisition and customer announcements. But I think this is a good start. What do you think? What would you like to hear most about?

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