Infor’s Innovation Team Helps the Company Go Faster

After a 4-year hiatus, Inforum2012 made a big splash in Denver this week. I attended the last live Inforum back in 2008. There was also a “virtual event” in 2009. But, in my opinion, a virtual event just doesn’t have nearly the same impact as a live one. The Lawson customers in attendance haven’t had to wait so long. The last Lawson CUE was held just about a year ago in Boston. But this week, with 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, Infor did a lot of catching up.

So given all these different announcements, what was the most important message I heard? I think it all boils down to the theme of the conference – Go Faster. And at the center of that theme is a fairly new group within Infor, the innovation team led by James Willey. What is this team all about? I think one of James’ team members summed it up pretty well.  “We have cool ideas and we’re going to build cool stuff. Then we throw it out to the different teams for them to pick it up.”

The reference to “different teams” has resulted from a long history of growth by acquisition. So there are different product teams, but with a renewed industry focus last year, it also means different industry teams. And there is not a simple one-to-one relationship between the two. It’s more like many-to-many relationships. A single industry is likely to be broken down into micro-verticals. The example Charles Phillips used on stage was in food and beverage. Dairies, meat processors, brewers and bakers (all target markets for Infor) share the common category of food and beverage, but are also each unique. On the other side of the equation, Infor has at least a couple of products that target food and beverage, including both Lawson M3 and Adage. So mapping solutions and teams is a bit more complicated than it appears on the surface.

This “cool stuff” includes

  • Intelligent Open Network (ION): lightweight middleware, providing common reporting and analysis, workflow, and business monitoring in one, consistent event-driven architecture (EDA)
  • Infor10 ION Workspace: a “consumer grade” user interface
  • Infor10 Motion: both mobile apps as well as a platform to develop them on
  • Local.ly (newly announced): a platform to deliver localized statutory reporting, accounting and tax content by country in a loosely coupled architecture

Through this “cool stuff” the innovation team powers a lot of the possible innovation in the industry-specific suites introduced with Infor10 about mid-year 2011.  And ION is at the core of a lot of the innovation. ION is based on much the same premise as Infor’s prior Open SOA (Service Oriented Architecture) was in the 2006 to 2009 timeframe in that it is meant to provide an environment that enables new functionality to be developed once and shared by multiple products in the Infor portfolio. However, unlike Infor’s Open SOA, which became very heavy and took years to develop, the new team has kept it lightweight and simple. It comes on 3 CD’s and can install in less than ten minutes.

But in keeping it lightweight, this forces some of the work back on the individual application development teams. And because Infor is in the applications business, not the middleware business, this means James’ innovation team doesn’t necessarily bring the innovation to directly to the market. The innovation team makes it available to the product and industry teams, who take it the final mile.

In order to take advantage of all that ION has to offer, the application has be what Infor calls ION enabled. I prefer to think of it as being IONized.

The individual application needs to provide a translation, sort of a mapping, to the Business Vault. Think of the Business Vault in ION as sort of a Rosetta Stone for applications. Infor still uses OAGIS (Open Application Group’s Integration Specification) as the standard template, along with its definitions of Business Object Documents (BODs). These BODs are really a combination of standard business objects (sales orders, purchase order, invoices, etc.) and processes (acknowledge a sales order, receive a purchase order, pay an invoice, etc.)

Infor’s strategic, go-forward products, which of course are based on newer technology, were the first to be IONized. But there are also a lot of customers on older legacy products. So the innovation team also built tools in ION to help IONize the older apps (e.g. MANMAN, older versions of BAAN, etc.). These tools essentially pre-process these business objects and then import them to ION, much the same way objects from non-Infor (3rd party) applications would be handled.

So there is work that must be done in order to take advantage of the innovation team’s efforts, but once that is done, the application teams get a lot of stuff for free. And that’s the real beauty of it – once the data in the application is exposed to ION, there’s lots that can be done with it, including complex event processing (CEP), making even older solutions exception driven. As data moves across, you can apply rules to it. If the cost changes by more than x%, notify certain roles or individuals. If the price change is too high, put an order on hold until it is approved. If the master data changes 5 times, you have 5 XML documents recording the changes and this can be tracked and reported.

If you recall, earlier I referred to the team as “fairly new.” In fact James (with his team) has been around and doing his “innovation” thing for a few years, ever since the decision was made to abandon the heavyweight Open SOA approach and stick to the Infor knitting, which was and is enterprise applications. But when Charles Phillips arrived at Infor James had a team of 8. Today it numbers around 110, a recognition of the power of a rapid application development mentality, coupled with a “develop once, re-use multiple times” approach and a willingness to invest in it.

The innovation team has a finger in all the hot topics today: cloud, mobility, social, the consumerization of IT, big data and embedded analytics. I say kudos to James and his team and encourage all the product and industry teams to bring the innovation that last mile, so Infor customers can finally keep pace with the fast-moving world of technology enablement.

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