Hook & Loop has been part of Infor now for several years. It is the “creative lab” inside of Infor. Notice I didn’t say “creative agency.” That is a term that is typically associated with advertising agencies, full of those creative types like writers and graphic artists, even filmmakers. There are a lot of those creative types at Hook & Loop, but its charter goes way beyond that of the typical agency. In their own words, Hook & Loop’s is “a collaborative team of designers, information architects, developers, project managers, writers, and filmmakers who are redesigning the user experience for Infor’s software products and envisioning the future of the Infor brand itself. Our mission: change the way people work and think about work.”
Back in early 2015, Diginomica’s Jon Reed did a great job of describing what Hook & Loop was setting out to accomplish. If you aren’t up to speed, you might want to take a moment and review Jon’s Inside the Enterprise UX revolution – a day at Infor’s Hook & Loop. But for here and now, it suffices to say that the Hook & Loop charter went beyond a fresh new user interface (UI). It set out to create a whole new “holistic” user experience (UX) using a unified design methodology.
Infor is now taking this a step further and spinning out a new group from Hook & Loop. It’s called H&L Digital and its proclaimed mission is to create “Differentiation through personalized digital experiences at scale that help enterprises outpace digital disruption and unlock digital growth opportunities.” That’s a mouthful that exposes Hook & Loop’s “agency” lineage.
So let’s move beyond the “agency-speak.” The real purpose of the new group is to help customers navigate digital disruption and achieve a competitive advantage. How do they do that? At its recent Innovation Summit (really an industry analyst day held at corporate headquarters in New York City), Infor attempted to answer that question through examples. We heard about some of its biggest, best and most impressive projects.
Among them was Sports City, a large franchise of stores featuring sports apparel and accessories. H&L Digital helped them transform their brand from a big box retailer surviving on promotion-driven transactions to a branded, sporting goods community leader, attracting those with a passion for sports. This was as much of a branding exercise as it was an ecommerce project, but indeed there were many moving parts from store design to custom application development.
Part of the project was developing an app for coaches of clubs, community and school teams. Through this app, coaches can share online all the equipment kids on the team will need, including specific product options and recommendations within different price ranges and even a pre-owned marketplace. Equipment fitting and a fitting room app also help take the guesswork out of shopping for equipment. That results in Sports City brand loyalty and increased sales. Coaches also can set up their own dashboards for player performance and team optimization, making Sports City the “go to” online destination for all their needs – a far cry from a big box retailer.
H&L Digital also helped transform Nutritious Feed Co. from an animal feed supplier to an animal health provider. Several different customer-facing applications emerged from that project, including Connected Cow Tracker, Total Farm Management, Farmer App, and Animal Health – hardly apps that are in the typical enterprise app portfolio. But the project also attacked more universal challenges like employee engagement and operational efficiency.
Through these presentations and others I was struck by how truly innovative this approach is. H&L Digital helped these companies not only with tools to help them run their businesses; they helped them uniquely re-brand themselves in a completely new light within a digital economy. But I also walked away thinking, these are very big, very custom projects. Translation: very expensive.
In a way it felt like déjà vu all over again. These “custom” projects were reminiscent of the homegrown apps of the 70’s and 80’s. Nobody believed you could have pre-packaged apps back then. Companies believed themselves to be unique and therefore built their own applications. And of course only large companies with deep pockets could (can) afford something with this kind of “Wow!” factor. So the big companies got bigger and stronger and smaller companies “made do.”
Of course, we all know what happened after the 70’s and 80’s. Over time vendors were able to package more functionality and more flexibility, at a more affordable price, so the playing field was leveled and virtually everyone began using pre-packaged solutions. But sitting through these presentations I was beginning to feel like the playing field was no longer level. There would definitely be the “haves” and the “have nots.” Somehow I don’t see Connected Cow Trackers and coaching dashboards becoming part of a standard enterprise application portfolio. So is H&L Digital destined to simply be a high-end provider of custom “luxury” apps?
That’s what I thought at first, but a visit to the H&L Garage (where all this stuff is built) made me think differently. The “creative” teams at H&L Digital do indeed start with a pretty blank sheet when they start to strategize and design. But when it comes to delivering new applications, it is very much an assembly process. The teams talk a lot about creating “wizards.” Wizards essentially assemble a series of components – some custom, some standard (re-usable) under a unique, custom-designed skin, so to speak. This is what makes each project look and feel entirely unique and custom. But if you look under the covers, the components of many of these “unique” processes share a lot of common components.
Outfitting a little leaguer is really just a standard configure-price-quote function and Infor has standard products that deliver that functionality. Is managing player performance really all that different from a sales manager monitoring sales rep performance? The metrics used might be different, but the dashboards probably look and behave quite similarly. Couldn’t you use a lot of the capabilities of monitoring movement of a fleet of trucks to help track cows? I bet “maintenance” schedules of equipment and cows share some common components as well, even though the user interface might appear very different.
So far all these projects have a healthy dose of custom development. But the more of these components Infor develops, the more it will have on the shelf. Over time, more and more components will be standard. This is crucial because companies of all sizes face risk of digital disruption.
Our 2016 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study asked survey respondents to identify the level of risk of their industry (and their business) being disrupted, citing examples like Uber, Airbnb, NetFlix, etc. Almost two thirds (63%) face medium to high and imminent risk and the risk level of small companies (those with revenues under $25 million) is only slightly lower.
Figure 1: How much risk do you face in your industry being disrupted?
Source: 2016 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study
And yet small to mid-size companies are not nearly as well prepared to face these challenges.
Figure 2: How prepared are you for today’s digital economy?
Source: 2016 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study
So if Infor is able to successfully come down market and satisfy the needs of both large and small companies – even those with small budgets – there is certainly a big market waiting for it. I, for one, am routing for the little guys and hope to see H&L Digital continue to leverage Infor’s vast tool set and product portfolio to become the “go to” vendor for all companies facing the challenges of digital disruption.