alliances

Infor Partner Network Focuses on Win-Win-Win

Cloud, Micro-verticals, Value Engineering Benefit Customers, Partners and Infor

The Infor Partner Network (IPN) is coming of age. Over the past four years it has laid a solid foundation with fair contractual terms, rules of engagement and segmentation, marketing programs, training and certification. Unlike some other solution providers that attempt to grow by placing more demands on their partners, Infor has taken a collaborative approach, working with its partners and devoting time, energy and budget towards making both partners and the end consumer of the software more successful. Now as the program enters its 5th year, Infor is leveraging these past efforts but also shifting its focus to reflect the changing environment in which business applications are bought and sold. By helping its partners with cloud business enablement, micro-vertical specialization, value engineering skills and solution portfolio expansion, Infor helps you, the consumer of the software, make the right decision for your company faster and more safely.

If you are considering purchasing a new enterprise solution today, chances are you have done your homework long before you reach out to the first vendor on your short list. If it has been awhile since you went through an evaluation of this sort, you will want to educate yourself, perhaps seeking out some thought leadership. You will identify both the core requirements, as well as any industry-specific needs required to run your business. Through that process you may decide whether you want a traditional on-premise or newer cloud deployment. In the end, you will want to cut to the chase, quickly and efficiently differentiate between solutions and vendors, and make the right choice.

Cloud Business Enablement

A big focus for the Infor’s IPN team in 2015 will be cloud business enablement. Sometimes this is a hard transition for a partner to make, but you, the consumers of enterprise applications, are demanding this change. Based on early results from the Mint Jutras 2015 Enterprise Solution Study, only 26% of survey participants would even consider a traditional on-premises deployment of ERP if they were evaluating solutions today (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Which deployment options would you consider today?

Fig 1 IPNSource: Mint Jutras 2015 Enterprise Solution Study

In addition to this question, participants were also asked to characterize their “cloud strategy.” Only 7% indicated a strong preference for on-premise software, and 12% said they had no cloud strategy (Figure 2). However, not having a cloud strategy does not mean they won’t select a cloud solution… only that deployment option is only one factor to be considered, and not the overriding factor.

Figure 2: How would you describe your cloud strategy?

Fig 2 IPNSource: Mint Jutras 2015 Enterprise Solution Study

While it will take awhile for the majority of ERP installations to shift to the cloud (simply because there are so many currently implemented on premise), the tipping point for new implementations has been reached and vendors and partners that are not fully on the cloud bandwagon will be operating from a serious disadvantage. The shift to the cloud is clearly underway.

Infor wants to help partners understand this demand and enable that transition. This is a two-pronged approach: providing viable products and enabling a cloud business.

First there is the need for a viable cloud-enabled product, and this is more than just slapping a web-based user interface on a legacy solution. To address this, Infor has introduced a series of new generation CloudSuite products.

Infor CloudSuite

Infor CloudSuites are industry-specific solution suites, fully integrated and deployed in the cloud. These suites are hosted by Amazon Web Services (AWS), a secure and affordable cloud environment, which has set a new and higher standard of performance in the industry. By offering multiple suites, Infor can offer deeper industry functionality with less customization.

This is particularly important for multi-tenant SaaS (software as a service) solutions that are offered through the cloud. While most business users of ERP don’t necessarily understand or actively seek out a multi-tenant solution, multi-tenancy allows solution providers to keep costs down while also delivering more innovation. These factors are key in making cloud options so appealing. While multi-tenant solutions typically offer a lot of configuration options that support tailoring and personalization of the solution, invasive customization is precluded.

In fact, Infor has publicly stated its goal of providing complete solutions with zero customization. And yet many partners have made a living off of delivering customization, making this transition to the cloud even more difficult. So Infor has taken steps to allow partners to continue to contribute to that “last mile” of their customers’ implementations.

Infor has provided a next-generation development environment (Mongoose) that allows partners to add functionality, but in a more complementary way, replacing invasive code changes. The advantage to the consumer of the software is in being able to more easily add or change functionality without the usual disruption caused by upgrades and customization. The advantage to the partner is that this new functionality can be re-used and re-sold, and the advantage to Infor is that the solution continues to grow – clearly a win-win-win.

Infor has launched a number of these CloudSuites for different industries, some targeting what they refer to as “Tier 1” enterprises (over $100 million in annual revenues (see sidebar on next page). But most of its partners will be selling in the mid-market, which Infor defines as those with annual revenues between $30 and 500 million. For the majority of these CloudSuite Industrial and CloudSuite Business will be the best fit. These two offerings share a common code base, derived from Infor SyteLine ERP, but each has been specifically configured. CloudSuite Business has been configured for services businesses while CloudSuite Industrial addresses the needs of manufacturers. Those partners that have been selling and supporting SyteLine will find the transition to these configurations easy. Those that have been selling other Infor ERP products will need some extra help in making the transition.

As the name implies, these solutions are all available through the cloud. But Infor emphasizes the “beauty of ‘and’ over the tyranny of ‘or’.” The CloudeSuites can be deployed in a multi-tenant cloud, a private cloud or on premises.

Kicking Off CloudSuite Academy

Without a product, sales efforts are futile. Yet just having a viable cloud product doesn’t guarantee success. Selling and delivering a cloud-based solution is different from the sale and delivery of traditional on-premise software. This too is why the transition to the cloud is so hard for partners.

Mint Jutras has observed other vendors tending to address this problem by recruiting new partners, partners that have cloud DNA, so to speak. This may be appropriate when just starting to build a channel, but Infor’s partner network is quite well developed, with 1500 partners, including 700 channel partners. With a mature channel, this approach turns a blind eye to the tipping point just mentioned. If future sales will be largely cloud-based and existing partners are not able to make that transition, they will wither and die. Infor is not willing to let good partners – partners that customers are comfortable with – flounder. So instead of replacing them, Infor is helping them make that transition.

To that end, Infor has kicked off CloudSuite Academy, a 1.5-day practical training course designed to help alliance and channel partners jump start their Infor CloudSuite business. The first session was held in conjunction with the Infor Americas Partner Summit in February, with a comprehensive agenda for partner business owners, management and practice managers. It included sessions on the process of marketing, selling, supporting and renewing cloud business, as well as CloudSuite solution training and value engineering.

Value Engineering Skills

Infor is also providing tools and training to assist partners in helping customers engineer more value from their solutions. This training introduces a methodology that supports a more strategic way of doing discovery – discovery of the potential for improvement in alignment with the goals of the customer. It includes “discovery templates” for 16 solutions and industries, which assist in benchmarking current performance and quantifying opportunities for improvement.

Evaluating, selecting and implementing a new ERP solution is a massive undertaking. Anyone who has had to sit through days and days of demonstrations knows that after awhile everything starts to blur. Pre-sale consultants have a tendency to want to show you every last feature and function, leading to demo overload. This more purposeful discovery process leads to shorter, but more relevant demos. Benchmarking your current processes and performances helps you set more specific goals that lead to better and faster return on your investment.

Micro-vertical Specialization

Of course dealing with a partner that actually knows your industry is always a big advantage to those evaluating solutions. It is even more important given Infor’s industry-specific approach and its goal of reducing customization to zero. It needs to recruit and retain partners that can best facilitate meeting those objectives. So industry-specific knowledge is important, and as a result, Infor is asking its partners to “declare a major.”

It is not enough for partners to specialize in a general category like manufacturing or distribution. It is not even enough to specialize in an industry like food and beverage, aerospace and defense or industrial manufacturing. Infor is looking for partners to specialize in micro-verticals like dairy, bakery, grains and cereals or prepared foods…or perhaps commercial or defense contractors in A&D…or industrial equipment or oil and gas. It is through this more focused specialization that partners can showcase unique strengths and capabilities and Infor customers can better achieve that “last mile.”

Of course a single partner can specialize in multiple micro-verticals within a vertical. In fact this makes perfect sense as micro-verticals often share some common requirements. But just because a partner specializes in dairy, doesn’t automatically qualify it for prepared foods. This specialty certification is a rigorous process that starts with nominations by customer references. But once a partner qualifies, it receives a certificate of recognition, is allowed to use industry logos and becomes a member of the appropriate industry strategy sales ecosystem and has direct influence on product and strategy decisions. Companies in search of a solution find it easier to find partners that specialize in their field and partners find it easier to be found. By bringing specific supply and demand together, Infor better positions itself for a win. Again we see a win-win-win.

At the same time, those evaluating new solutions find that on the surface many offerings appear to be the same and partners themselves often struggle to differentiate themselves. Combining the value engineering phase with partner micro-vertical specialization should make it easier for those looking for a new system to better differentiate solutions and select one that takes them all the way through the last mile.

Summary and Key Take-aways

As its IPN has matured over the past four years, it would appear that Infor has hit upon a formula for success. By putting customer and partner needs first, it seems to have set the stage for a win-win-win scenario. Recognizing that the way enterprise software is bought and sold has dramatically changed over the past decade, it has brought resources to bear to help partners transition to this new world, rather than discarding them for a new round of partners. It has put in place programs to insure the success of the customers, which in turn insures the success of the partners.

To recap, we see programs, tools and training to support:

  • Cloud business enablement – fully supporting the cloud, but providing choice
  • Micro-vertical specialization – insuring solutions take customers through the last mile without invasive customization
  • Value Engineering – benchmarking performance and encouraging improvements that bring return on investment
  • Solution portfolio expansion – helping partners to transition to newer, technology-enabled solutions, expanded to meet all their needs

As a result, new prospects should feel confident in finding the right partner to take them on their journey and existing customers can feel confident in the continued success of the partners they know and value. Infor wins when the needs of both partners and customers are met.

To download this as a report (with a few additions) click on the link below.

http://www.infor.com/content/analyst/infor-partner-network-win.pdf/

For more information about Infor and its Infor Partner Network, visit http://www.infor.com

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Impressions from SAP Americas Partner Summit: Partners Make it Real

Tis the season for partner summits. SAP Americas Partner Summit was the 3rd of these I attended in a week and a half. This was the first of this type of event for SAP since it recently merged North America and Latin America into a single unit under the direction of Rodolpho Cardenuto, President SAP Americas. This merging of the Americas bucks the trend in the industry. As Latin American economies, most particularly Brazil, continue to emerge, it is more likely for Latin America to be spun off from a previously combined unit.

And the combination of the two Americas has a further bit of a unique twist. Typically North America will be the dominant player, and therefore you might expect it to bring its southern neighbors into the fold. Yet at the Summit, it really felt more like Latin America was taking North America under its wing. Presumably this is largely based on the recent successful growth of Latin America under Mr. Cardenuto’s direction.

Over the course of two days we heard lots from SAP executives on the main stage, in smaller groups and one-on-one meetings. Some of what we heard simply reinforced the four pillars we have been hearing about quite consistently at various events over the past year or more, namely how SAP intends to:

  • Leverage the core business applications
  • Deliver in mobile
  • Lead in the cloud
  • Capitalize on big data (read: HANA, HANA, HANA)

But how do these key elements of SAP’s strategy pertain to the partners and the customers they serve?

Leveraging the core business applications

The key message here: industries are important and partners are critical to building out solutions. There will be common processes across all companies. These common processes are easily handled by basic functionality that has become quite commoditized today, making it hard for any software company to differentiate itself solely on the basics. It is equally hard for any customer running “just the basics” to gain a competitive edge.

SAP’s approach to delivering that source of differentiation is to co-innovate with partners and customers. First of all, SAP constructs specific “value maps” for each of 25 different industries, identifying market trends and specific business capabilities required to compete in these markets. It then creates very unique blocks of solutions for each industry.  The goal is to not just deliver technology, but to create more value for its customers, and therefore SAP is taking a design thinking approach. This has been music to my ears, which are tuned more to business issues than pure technology. I spend much of my time and efforts translating techno-speak to business-speak.

Design thinking is becoming more and more popular these days, but in case you are not familiar with the concept, it is a repeatable process for solving problems and discovering new opportunities. It consists of 4 key elements:

  1. 1.    Define the problem
  2. Create and consider many different options
  3. Refine selected directions
    Repeat steps 2 and 3 until you reach…
  4. Pick the winner; execute

As the pace of change accelerates, as technology allows us to solve problems previously deemed unsolvable, SAP understands it can’t possibly deliver all this value itself, and therefore turns to partners. As Chakib Bouhdary, EVP Industry Solutions and Customer Value stated on stage, “We all have to change our tolerance to IP sharing.” This is an important concept and one critical to encouraging partners to develop complementary solutions, along with a go to market plan that includes revenue sharing.

At first glance this “sharing” of IP and revenue might seem to pertain only to the traditional Value Added Reseller (VAR) or the larger service providers/system integrators. But during the Summit SAP also introduced the SAP PartnerEdge program for Application Development, “a simple and comprehensive program designed to empower partners to build, market and sell software applications on top of market-leading technology platforms from SAP.

How is this new and different? Essentially it lowers the cost of entry for small partners, while also simplifying the process of signing up. Partners can choose from a set of “innovation packs” based on the latest platform technologies from SAP, including the SAP HANA platform, SAP HANA Cloud Platform, SAP Mobile Platform, SAP databases and the SAP NetWeaver platform. The innovation packs contain technology-specific license rights, resources and services to help partners rapidly get enabled to develop applications on SAP platforms. The packs are also designed to support custom development for co-innovation with customers, which often is the first step to developing a more commercial, standard application. All for an entry fee of around 2500 euros.

These small partners pay a low annual fee (500 to 1500 euros per year) for each of these innovation packs. In turn they can also offer their wares through the SAP online app store and potentially reach a much broader market and therefore better monetize their efforts. This encourages a larger volume of smaller partners in a very real “win-win” scenario.

Deliver in Mobile

Notice the SAP Mobile Platform is included above as one of the innovation packs. The consumerization of IT has changed expectations of connectivity and accessibility of data. But nobody (in their right mind) really wants to lift and shift the traditional ERP user interface to a mobile device. Mobile executives today want answers to specific questions, hence the increase in demand for more purpose-built mobile apps. Lots of questions potentially generate the need for lots of mobile apps. And the SAP online app store is the perfect place for partners to showcase those they build on SAP’s mobile platform.

Lead in the Cloud

It seems everyone today wants to claim “leadership” in the cloud and SAP is no exception. With all the “mine is bigger than yours” rhetoric in the market today, determining who is on top is difficult and probably a bit subjective. However, after developing its own “born in the cloud” (SaaS only) business management suite (Business ByDesign), two major “cloud only” acquisitions (SuccessFactors and Ariba), 30 million users in the public cloud and the world’s largest business network supporting $460 billion in transactions, SAP has to be right up there on the leader board.

While there is still a lot of confusion over cloud and SaaS, the interest in both has taken a quantum leap over the past couple of years. I’ve written a lot about the benefits of moving to the cloud, but while others predict that very soon the vast majority of applications will be running in the cloud, my research indicates only 33% will be SaaS in 5 to 10 years. I attribute this to the fact that there are so many solutions running on-premise today and many companies are reluctant to rip and replace only to convert to a SaaS deployment model. So does that limit the number of companies that can effectively leverage the benefit of the cloud to those willing to abandon their current software licenses? SAP says, “No.”

Many of the companies running on-premise solutions would love to relinquish the responsibility of managing and maintaining those solutions and reap the benefits of the cloud. SAP’s answer to this is to offer Managed Cloud as a Service (MCaaS). This isn’t a brand new concept. Back in May, SAP announced its SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud. As I wrote back in May…

On May 7, 2013 SAP announced SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud. As the name implies, it is a cloud-based service that allows an organization to move existing (or new) implementations of the SAP Business Suite and SAP NetWeaver Business Warehouse, powered by HANA, off their own servers and into SAP’s massive data centers. Why would an enterprise want to do this? The short answer: Speed, power and the benefits of cloud computing without the disruption of replacing existing on-premise solutions. Speed and power come from HANA, adding visibility and agility to the business by enabling decisions to be made in real-time with volumes of data that were inconceivable just a short time ago. Cloud computing lowers cost and adds elasticity, allowing capacity to stretch as your business and your need for data grows.

This is not SaaS and is not a public cloud. It is really a private cloud for the customer managed by SAP. This was a purposeful decision on SAP’s part since the objective is to make the solution truly “elastic.” While this term may be common in technology circles, it is less so in the business community. Essentially, it means the customer is never constrained by hardware limitations. Data center configurations expand (transparently to the customer) as more computing power is required. And if there are any lingering concerns about applications running in a public cloud, those go away with this model.

So what does this mean for partners and how is MCaaS different? It means they can bring the benefits of the cloud to those not quite ready for a SaaS solution. Partners can purchase product licenses and offer them, along with other services on a subscription basis. While this is the same concept introduced with the HANA Enterprise Cloud, HANA is not a requirement, nor is the Business Suite. SAP may be hosting the software, but partners may also sign up to do the same. SAP Business One and Business All-in-One are already offered in this kind of hosting model by several of the larger partners.

Capitalize on Big Data (HANA, HANA, HANA)

This was the first SAP event I have attended in a long while where HANA was not the primary focus. Yet its presence was certainly implied, if not directly referenced. Steve Lucas, President, SAP Platform Solutions talked a lot about “the real time connected enterprise:”

  • Real time business applications
  • With real time integrated analytics
  • Delivered on any device in real time (securely anywhere in the world)

Of course you need HANA for this. But I think the real message for the partners here is that SAP needs them to deliver applications that leverage HANA. This makes Dr. Bhoudary’s comment about SAP’s tolerance to IP sharing even more relevant beyond the concept of building out industry solutions. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again (and again and again if necessary)…Without this way of thinking, without the development of applications leveraging its technology, HANA is simply an elegant technical solution in search of a problem. And as Steve Lucas said, “No one wakes up in the morning and says, ‘I really want to install HANA.’ They wake up with problems to solve…. Partners make it real.”

 

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