We live in a world of extreme hype, a world where technology vendors routinely boast of being the best, the brightest, the fastest, the most innovative. You can’t open your Inbox or your web browser without being inundated by what these technology companies think is the latest and greatest. If this new “thing” is not yet a “hot topic,” rest assured that with all the hype, it soon will be.
So after spending a couple of days with Infor and its partners recently at the Infor Americas Partner Summit, I started (alright, I confess, I continued) to wonder why Infor doesn’t seem to be jumping on the hype bandwagon. Sure there was lots of press when former co-president of Oracle, Charles Phillips took the helm. But that and his management changes are fairly old news now. And otherwise, apart from the occasional press release, Infor just isn’t all that vocal. Those not familiar with Infor (and there are still plenty that aren’t) might suspect it is because after years of acquisitions, Infor really doesn’t have anything new or newsworthy to boast about. But in reality, that assumption is far from the truth. So in this world of extreme hype, is it possible that innovation can be under-hyped?
The Partner Summit wasn’t the first time this thought occurred to me. During one of the main stage keynotes at Inforum 2012 in Denver last April, Infor Workspace was demonstrated. Sitting down front to one side in the auditorium setting afforded me a great view of the audience. Workspace, which uses Infor’s ION (lightweight) middleware (developed by Infor’s technology Innovation Team), was definitely well received. But I got the distinct impression that this was the first time most had seen it or even heard of it. I can understand why the customers newly acquired from Lawson might have missed the announcement of Workspace in April 2011, but if the majority of Infor customers did, that tells me Infor just isn’t making enough noise.
And one of Infor’s partners from Columbia echoed this thought during the Executive Q&A, asking if Infor was spending money to raise visibility in order to help the partners compete against the likes of Oracle and SAP. It is clear that Infor is investing. It added 600 new developers last year, which means it is clearly investing in the products. But what about marketing and PR? Stephan Scholl also responded by saying “size and scale matters “ and “we need more feet on the street.” Infor added 130 new sales reps in growth markets alone (including Brazil) in the past year. Management felt they needed to beef up sales (and presales) first because they “can’t market what we can’t sell.” That might indeed be true for countries like Columbia and Brazil, but in the United States?
So what has Infor done that merits a louder voice? I’ll get to that in a minute, but first I should preface it by saying, while other vendors have been jumping on the “hot topic” bandwagon, Infor has taken a different approach. As Stephan Scholl told the Infor partners, “Big data and other buzzwords are important but we’re focused on reducing cost and time to implement, with solutions that minimize services and requires no modification.” It is combining industry specialization with enabling technology in order to be able to deliver a best-fit solution with no (or minimal) customization. Some might say it is not a “hot” approach but I think their customers will appreciate it. No need to be shy.
Here are a few things I’ve picked up in my conversations with Infor and at the Partner Summit that just might be worth shouting about.
Built for consistency, durability and speed
If you talk to the Infor folks, this is a phrase you will hear a lot. What does it mean? In a nutshell, it means
- Infor developers and its partners can develop functionality once and allow it to be used across different Infor products and product lines. This is a big deal. Its Intelligent Open Network (ION), “lightweight middleware, providing common reporting and analysis, workflow, and business monitoring in one, consistent event-driven architecture (EDA)” is the secret sauce that enables this. This is important for any enterprise application solution provider today, but even more so for Infor which has accumulated a very broad portfolio of potentially overlapping products. While Infor has been talking about this concept since 2006, we’re now really seeing it being delivered.
- Adding functionality in a way that doesn’t “break” when you go from release to release. Localizations are a perfect example. In the past they have been developed not only for a specific product, but also even for a specific release or version of the product. They often hold customers back from consuming the latest innovations. Local.ly, Infor’s new platform to deliver localized statutory reporting, accounting and tax content by country via a loosely coupled architecture is the perfect example of a way to add durability. Local.ly extracts information from any one of a number of Infor’s core ERP engines, isolating the “special” code from the individual ERP products. As a result, upgrades are unlikely to break the localizations. This alone has a huge potential for changing the game when it comes to being able to support different legal, accounting and compliance requirements around the world. But there is no reason why the same concepts can’t be applied to any custom or standard development effort.
- Add new features, functions, modules or entire applications quickly. Infor set out to deliver two years worth of new features, functions, products in one year. Of course the 600 new developers helped, but some of the underlying technologies also contributed and they delivered 5000 new features in 2012 and 200 new integrations. They also released Infor10 Mongoose, a high productivity development framework that accelerates development, minimizes coding and programming and also facilitates the re-use of code.
- Consistent look and feel. Let’s face it, with so many acquired products, it was impossible in the past to have a consistent look and feel across all Infor products. This presents a bit of a problem in trying to boost deals involving multiple products (a stated goal). Layering Workspace on top certainly adds a layer of consistency, but even better: Build software on Mongoose and it automatically looks like an Infor product.
What about those “Hot Topics?”
While you don’t hear Infor talk much about “big data” per se, but they do talk about their ION Business Intelligence (BI) applications and they also talk about ION enterprise search: which is an important element in navigating the growing volume of both internal and external data used for decision making today. ION enterprise search can dramatically shorten the time to actionable data. Users don’t have to know where to find data and even poorly constructed queries are extremely fast. More importantly, search results include context of the data. And in accessing enterprise data, search results are secured. So while “big data’ may not appear in the Infor vocabulary too often, the means of handling big data does.
What about mobility? In case you missed it, here’s what I wrote about Infor10 Motion back in January.
And cloud? Infor isn’t any stranger to the cloud or Software as a Service (SaaS). While not every Infor product is available via the cloud, some very strategic offerings are, including Syteline, EAM and of course its Inforce Everywhere, which adds valuable ERP data to Salesforce.com to complete the 360o view of the customer.
Infor has also teamed up with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to provide Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). Infor uses AWS’s capabilities to help customers leverage the cloud for any number of purposes including deploying production environments as well as deploying and testing new versions of Infor solutions, or testing customizations before applying the customizations to a production environment. AWS is also available to new customers who may want to start an implementation immediately instead of having to wait until servers are ordered, shipped, and installed for on-premises deployments.
Also, Mongoose also operates in cloud. So Infor can also sing the cloud tune, even though sometimes they may only appear to be humming softly.
So, Infor, with all this cool stuff going on, with all this new enabling technology, with all the new development… why are you so quiet? When are you going to start making more noise?