Infor

Infor Gets Serious About Channels: Meet Infor Partner Network

 On June 8, 2011 Infor announced its new Infor Partner Network (IPN), “a global network of people, systems and services designed to deliver the highest quality support for channel partners.” The goal? To achieve double digit growth over the next two years and double license revenue from its channel partners by 2013.  Infor sees three basic elements of this program:  channel expansion, partner growth and investment in the channel. Breaking it down a little differently, what is Infor doing to achieve its goals? The answer lies in:

  • Clearer definition of roles and rules of engagement
  • Investment in certification and training
  • New and more products to sell
  • Cloud based tools

Partner Landscape Today

Today Infor’s channel is comprised of about 700 active partners, as well as a little over 200 “not so active” partners in 77 countries around the world. Currently these partners produce about 25% of license revenue. Infor expects to recruit another 300 new partners while weeding out some of the debris that naturally collects in any channel. The intent is to better support those that are committed to Infor and its products and remove those which provide more distraction than sales.

Many of these partners focus exclusively on one product or a small slice of the full Infor product portfolio. One of the goals is to get more of them to sell a more complete suite of products.

Infor has involved its best partners in designing the new program and has responded to requests for better sales enablement, including training intended not only for onboarding of new partners, but also to get existing partners up to speed faster on new products. Partners are also looking to grow their own businesses and therefore requested a framework and tools to help market, sell and deliver more effectively in order to maximize revenue from Infor products.

Definition of roles and rules of engagement

While Infor has a significant channel today, the direct sales team has always been “king.”  Potential channel conflict is always a concern in growing any partner network. Good segmentation and rules of engagement are necessary to minimize this conflict. For example, in North America Infor sees companies with annual revenues below $100 million as partner territory. Defining the segment is easy. Enforcing it is the hard part and therefore the application of those rules must have some teeth.  Once defined, the direct sales force needs to stay out and the only way to make that happen is to not pay them a commission if they stray into partner territory. This sounds simple enough, but experience tells us that it is not a simple problem to solve and Infor will also have to introduce new standards for collaboration between the direct sales force and indirect channels.

In the past Infor has had multiple autonomous channel programs across products, loose market segmentation and product-centric channel coverage. It is headed towards having a professionally managed global channel program, well-defined channel-only sales zones and solution-centric channel coverage. More focused attention will be on investing in the highest performing partners.

A New Tier Structure

In defining IPN and in support of its focus on high-performing partners, Infor has introduced a tier structure that determines commission levels and other incentives. The tiered structure with three levels – associate, silver and gold – includes incentives based on quota and targets for net new customers. The program comes complete with accelerators, market development funds (MDF) and incentives to be exclusive to Infor.

Incentives

New incentives for partners are crucial since without them, many current partners would simply go about business as usual. Some of these incentives are built into the tiered commission structure. But equally important are the new market development funds. The majority of channel partners for Infor, and indeed for many enterprise software companies, are small. Often they have grown out of small consultancies and many have little or no marketing savvy or budget. Activities that might be funded with MDF include telemarketing, the creation of sales tools and collateral, trade shows and events, direct marketing and more.

Market Development Funds (MDF)

Infor’s new MDF is more than funding though. It is a program. Think of it as an e-Trade account, or maybe something like a loyalty program like American Express Membership Miles. Partners accrue funds based on sales volume and tier. Once accrued, they formally request funds. Once approved, they execute their programs and then request reimbursement. The intent is then to measure the results through a debrief with Infor and lead tracking. This final step will be the most difficult to monitor and manage and bears close observation. Will it be worth the level of investment in channel management that will be required on Infor’s part? The answer will likely be yes, but unless the investment in MDF pays off with significant growth in channel sales, it will be difficult to justify.

 

Training and Certification

Infor has made a significant investment in its first ever partner training and certification program. Having hired an external firm expert in developing training curricula, this training program may indeed become the basis for all training for the company. The result: 70+ new training courses, partner certification across 10 products, 4 roles, and 3 competence levels (expert, preferred and certified).  The training starts out online, making it a no-brainer for the partner investment. Then it moves on to classroom and/or virtual training. It is completed with certification that includes a mastery exam and observation.

In addition, many of the new product announcements recently made by Infor are for features that span across many of their product lines. These include announcements like Infor Workspace, ION (underlying technology), mobility, Business Intelligence (BI) and Performance Management (PM), and Software as a Service (SaaS). These enhancement options are covered in every course. While this could get somewhat repetitive for partners, repetition is key to learning and without complete understanding of these new features, partners will leave much of the value delivered by Infor on the table.

New and More Products to Sell

These recent announcements including Infor Workspace and ION, as well as mobility, embedded BI and performance management are all keys to Infor’s channel growth. The world is changing and enterprise software must keep up with the pace of both business and consumer technology change. Without this, installed base Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Supply Chain Management (SCM) and other applications that make up the Infor product portfolio will stagnate and ultimately be replaced with newer, flashier, better connected products. It is essential for the channel to be fully enabled with these new features and functions.

Cloud Based Tools

And finally, part of Infor’s channel strategy is to take a cloud based approach to channel management by implementing cloud based tools. These tools not only help Infor better manage the channel, but also streamline operations for the partners themselves. What are some of these tools?

  • Contracts will move to the cloud. Expect to see the dissolution of existing contracts. The goal will be full self-service on pricing and approval.
  • Partner Relationship Management to manage the MDF partner program
  • Document Management with electronic signatures for secure and legal online document signing

 

Summary and Key Takeaways

In summary, Infor is aggressively building and transforming its channel focus through active recruitment of partners as well as better enablement of those partners. Mint Jutras believes this is a necessary step for significant growth. Over the past few years, Infor’s growth has largely been driven by acquisition and new sales of a select few of its product lines. With such a diverse and extensive portfolio of products that it has accumulated over the years, it is now time to set the bar for real organic growth of full suite solution sales. Even though the economic recovery has hit some bumps along the road, there is immense opportunity as companies look to catch up in technology. By backing its existing and future partners with product and sales investment, Infor can position both itself and its channel for long-term growth.

If you are interested in learning more, please visit http://www.infor.com/partners/channel.

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Wanted: Lawson Users to Develop New Applications: No Programming Experience Required

In the fall of 2010 Lawson Software released Lawson Mashup Designer for its M3 Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution and announced its upcoming availability for its S3 product line in April 2011. This is  a new tool that helps Lawson’s customers build their own mini-applications without having to write software code. The resulting applications are composites constructed from existing Lawson code as well as other web-based applications, allowing information from multiple data sources to be combined on a single screen.The net result is increased productivity and accessibility to information for data-driven decisions. The reuse of existing business logic and application of existing security results in better and more customized solutions that support horizontal business processes and improved decision making.

 Going Horizontal

“Horizontal” is a new term in the Lawson vocabulary. For the past several years, the company has been vertically focused on several industries which have very specific needs. A few examples are:

  • Food and beverage manufacturers and distributors that must deal with shelf life constraints, grades of product, different units of measure, variable weights and characteristics, requirements of full traceability for safety compliance
  • Healthcare providers such as hospitals and both non-acute care and long term care providers, as well as health information exchanges
  • Equipment dealers and OEMs which must manage not only equipment but also its component structures,  stock availability for parts and components, configuration, delivery schedules, service and warranties… all in the context of manufacture, sale, service and/or rental
  • The fashion industry including the manufacture and distribution of apparel, footwear, home textiles and fashion accessories, or really anything that must deal with the added complexity of a matrix such as color, size and style.
  • Public Sector organizations such as school districts, local governments, public authorities and utilities

So is “horizontal” a new direction for Lawson? No. It is a new dimension to the same businesses it has always addressed. In this case the term horizontal refers to a cross-functional process or view. Enterprises comprised of different departments and functions run the risk of developing silos, and very often enterprise applications tend to support this silo effect.

A typical Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) application will have a purchasing module, an inventory module (including the receiving function) and an accounts payable module. And perhaps an electronic invoice presentment and payment (EIPP) application has been purchased as an extension to ERP, but is in fact a separate application. But a process such as “procure-to-pay” will span all these and will also be an important factor in overall cash management. Lawson Mashup Designer will allow the executive who has overall responsibility for the procure-to-pay process and the executive in charge of overall cash management to have specially constructed views that will combine all the different transactions, queries and reports necessary to monitor the overall “horizontal” process and still support features such an enterprise search. And if the company deals with foreign currency exchange, perhaps it is also necessary to add a currency conversion application to the view (not a Lawson application at all, but available through the Internet).

How easy is it?

Constructing these horizontal views doesn’t require any specific programming or technical skills, but in order to make effective use of the Lawson applications (either M3 or S3) it does require knowledge of the application. In making use of Lawson Mashup Designer, you are essentially customizing the application. Very often you will be combining different views of data on a single screen in order to put a wealth of data at the users’ fingertips. For example, you might combine data from item records with warehouse data, as well as order details and availability. Or perhaps customer records with credit limits, past and current orders and payment history.  If you don’t know what views are available, you may wind up with an incomplete view.

 In some cases you might be hiding fields that would ordinarily appear, or perhaps making an optional field mandatory or adding an image to the view. Understanding the content you are manipulating is essential to minimizing risk and maximizing the value of potentially very rich content. 

Much of this tailoring can be done by what Lawson calls a “super user,” someone with intimate knowledge of the application. These super users need not be programmers or even part of the IT staff, and need not necessarily understand the data structures that support the application. But they do need to know the structure and inter-relationships of the business application.

To make Lawson applications completely interoperable with non- Lawson solutions may require some programming skills. You must at least be able to think like a programmer and a Software Developers Kit (SDK) is available.

A hidden benefit – Making Data more accessible

Lawson lists increased end user productivity, customization without modification and more robust applications without coding as the three primary benefits of Lawson Mashup Designer. Yet a fourth benefit might also be connecting the executive decision-makers directly to the data and knowledge contained in the Lawson applications. How often do you see a C-level executive actually put their hands on the keyboard to access ERP directly? More often, they rely on subordinates to extract that data for them.

By putting a customized view in front of these top executives, you have a much better chance of getting them directly accessing the data. And once they are directly connected, their support for the ERP implementation is strengthened. With added executive support, metrics are better monitored and measured, yielding better management and more derived business benefits.

While it is unlikely these executives will create their own views, they should play an active role in designing the view, with the help of IT or a super user. However, there is one caveat that might limit the active participation of top management – for now. All of us are more mobile today and climbing the executive ladder often requires access to data from anywhere at any time. Whether traveling overseas, or attending a child’s soccer game, key decision makers need access to data easily and immediately. So the next logical step to draw them in would be making all the results of the Lawson Mashup Designer available on a mobile device. While not available today, Lawson sees this in the future.

Availability

Lawson Mashup Designer is based on Lawson Smart Office (LSO), which was released back in March 2008. The original goal of LSO was along the same lines of thought as Mashup Designer is today. It was meant to be an intuitive, personalized user interface that allows users to directly access Lawson and Microsoft applications and update data pervasively and instantly across the applications. But the emphasis of LSO initially was on those Microsoft productivity tools such as Microsoft Excel, Outlook, Word and PowerPoint. Mashup Designer builds upon LSO and extends beyond the realm of Microsoft.

Today Lawson Mashup Designer is generally available for use with M3.  LSO, being the foundation for Mashup Designer, is a prerequisite and is available to any M3 customer on release 7.1 or later. The vast majority of those users that have upgraded to (or purchased) 7.1 already have LSO. As of the beginning of May 2011, over 340 Lawson clients had licensed LSO.

The Mashup Designer further requires M3 customers to be on M3 10.1 which was released in April 2010. Since then, 54 new Lawson clients have implemented this release and over 100 existing M3 customers have upgraded or are in the process of doing so. The Mashup Designer is proving to be a major factor in upgrade decisions and over 50 customers are now live.

Lawson also plans to make Mashup Designer available for S3 in May 2011.

Looking to the Future

So how does this news play in light of the recently announced planned acquisition of Lawson by rival ERP vendor Infor Global? Interestingly enough it appears that great minds (at great software companies) think alike. On March 31, 2011 Infor announced Infor Workspace, calling it a new “consumer grade user interface designed to revolutionize the experience of doing business using enterprise applications.” The concepts behind Infor Workspace are indeed very similar to Lawson Mashup Designer. According to Infor Workspace: Work Without Leaving the Comfort of ‘Home’,  “The role-based user experience is akin to setting up a home base of operations from which a business user can comfortably operate all day long, without ever leaving ‘home.’ More than a portal, and more than just a common look and feel for Infor’s products, its power lies in further blurring the boundaries of applications and carrying context between applications of all types.” Sound familiar?

Infor has made use of its ION integration technology as well as Microsoft SharePoint and Microsoft Reporting Services and all applications will have to be browser-enabled in order to take advantage of Infor Workspace.  Most of Infor’s key go-forward products are browser-enabled, as are M3 and S3. For existing Infor customers Workspace is available through their annual maintenance agreement and Infor has tried to minimize the cost and impact of upgrading through means such as pre-built migration kits. So the combined Lawson and Infor will have to compare and contrast the underlying architectures as well as licensing requirements and work out whether to consolidate or keep the two products separate – for now or forever.

Recommendations and Key Takeaways

The key benefits of Lawson Mashup Designer to either M3 customers (now) or S3 customers (soon) are:

  • Increased end user productivity by combining data from different sources all in one view, customized by role and by individual
  • The ability to customize views and even processes without affecting the underlying source code. By keeping the code standard and “vanilla” you remove roadblocks to upgrades and innovation.
  • The ability to bridge the horizontal gap between functions and remove the silo effect produced by the inherent structure of ERP and enterprise applications in general
  • New applications that are faster and easier to build

In spite of the announced acquisition, Lawson Mashup Designer appears to be a safe and logical step for M3 customers running M3 10.1 right now. For those M3 customers looking for more incentive to upgrade, this could be justification enough to move. For S3 customers, it would be prudent to take advantage of some significant incentives that are currently available from Lawson to prepare by acquiring LSO (contact your customer service representative for details) .

As to the future, both Infor and Lawson have committed to the same concept and the synergy of the combined companies should only accelerate the feature/function and technology innovation.

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In the End, Infor Gets Lawson

Exactly 6 weeks ago today (March 15th) I posted an entry highlighting Infor’s bid to acquire Lawson. At the time and for several weeks afterwards, there was much speculation about the price, whether or not there would be additional bidders, as well as the probability of Lawson staying independent. Shortly after this announcement, Harry Debes (CEO of Lawson) addressed a large flock of Lawson customers at CUE 2011 (CUE stands for customer user event) and acknowledged all the speculation as the “elephant in the room.” He said the company was considering all possible options, including staying independent.
I don’t think a lot of people put money on independence as the future outcome, but there did seem to be a lot that counted on other bids popping up… maybe not a real bidding war, but at least a second bid that might drive the proposed price higher. Why do I think this? Quite simply, the stock price went up. At the close on the Friday just before the weekend when the initial offer for $11.25 per share was made, the stock price had been $11.55. Instead of going down as a result of the bid, it continued to go up. Someone was betting they could turn a profit on prices between $11.55 and over $12 a share. I don’t profess to be a trading whiz, but I do know $11.25 is less than $12. And $11.25 will be what they get when the deal is sealed. There won’t be an opportunity to watch the stock go back up because it will no longer be on the market. Infor, at least for now, is a privately owned company. Indeed the offer is really being executed by GGC Software Holdings, Inc., an affiliate of Golden Gate Capital, which is one of Infor’s investors.
So, now that the deal is really going down, what does this mean to the customers and employees of both companies?
There is always a certain level of uncertainty concerning the workforce of any acquired company. Those in Lawson’s development organization should take heart in knowing that Infor already announced its intention to hire 400 additional software developers. So my guess would be that good developers are safe. Poor performers in any department should probably be looking over their shoulders as an acquisition is the perfect opportunity to clean house. Let’s just hope Infor is able to distinguish the good employees from the underperformers. No offense intended, but that distinction is often much harder to make than it would appear to be. And in any acquisition, there will be some level of redundancy, particularly in the back office.
What about the impact on customers? My initial take is that the customers from both camps will benefit directly from this move. There will be more innovation and I hope this provides some impetus for some rationalization and cross fertilization of product lines because Infor’s reputation and brand has suffered as a result of having too many.
 In an open letter to Infor and Lawson customers, partners and employees, Charles Phillips, newly appointed CEO of Infor, highlighted several benefits to the deal, which also imply some plans. In fact he even starts out by saying, “Lawson customers can rest assured:  Product investment, innovation and customer success will be our key areas of focus” and references Infor’s previously announced plans for accelerated innovation, including those 400 developers he intends to add.
In this letter he highlights the following points:
Complete ERP suite: As the boundaries of ERP continue to be stretched, the top ERP contenders continue to expand their footprints.  Mr Phillips references Lawson’s enterprise financials and human resources products as standalone products, across multiple industries and the intent to integrate them with Infor’s manufacturing, supply chain, workforce, and asset management products. I “get” the reference to human resources as Lawson has developed this area further than Infor has, but Infor has financial management products that are available as stand-alone products as well, so the implication I see might be a rationalization of products, with Lawson’s S3 forming the basis over the SunSystems or Masterpiece product lines?  But just cross-selling independent extensions to ERP without truly integrating them doesn’t get you a “complete suite.”  So there is some real work to be done here.
Complementary products: Mr Phillips states, “The product lines are complementary, not overlapping.”  Complementary yes, but I diagree…they are also overlapping. Consider the financial product I mention above and Lawson M3 competes directly with several of the Infor ERP solutions for manufacturing. But I will say that Lawson has stuck to its knitting in terms of declared verticals. This means there is less overlap, but there is still a lot. However, the example Mr Phillips uses: ”… Lawson’s expertise in the healthcare industry will be enhanced by Infor’s Enterprise Asset Management which will be targeted for large hospitals and Time & Attendance product, complementing Lawson’s Nurse Scheduling application.  This is truly a scenario where 1+1=3.” But don’t forget Lawson also has an EAM solution.
Standards-based integration:  Infor’s underlying architectural strategy has undergone some changes over the past year, and appears to still be transforming itself somewhat, but the path seems to be towards openness and a commitment to stay out of the middleware market. This will pave the way for integrating the two new product lines with other Infor product lines.
Re-inventing the applications experience:  Both Infor Workspace and Lawson Mashup Designer have similar goals here. It will be interesting to see if and how these two separate products are rationalized.
The remaining points refer to expertise in key industries (of which neither company lacks in both complementary and overlapping industries), innovation and investment (as evidenced by prior announcements and growth plans for R&D) and scale. In terms of scale, Mr Phillips makes reference to 75,000 customers and concludes with, “Having more customers allows us to invest more, identify more requirements and develop a large partner ecosystem.” I agree with the premise, but Infor already claimed to have 70,000 customers, so I am a little puzzled by such a small (7%) increment.
I do believe Lawson customers in particular will benefit from the increased focus on innovation. While Lawson has indeed brought innovation to the table, even as revenues were down during the recession, its profitability stayed strong, which was commendable for a public company with an obligation to its shareholders. But it also limited its investment.
My conclusion… while I hate to see the number of distinct and competing ERP vendors shrink once again, I believe that if the combined companies are not afraid to make some bold steps to consolidate strategies, perhaps rationalizing product sets, the customers will be the clear winners.
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The Case for ERP Consolidation

Today I was reading Bruce Richardson’s View From the Inside. Bruce was one of the longest tenured analysts with AMR Research (and its Chief Research Officer) before AMR was acquired by Gartner at the end of 2009/beginning of 2010. Bruce and I really moved in opposite directions. While I spent 30 years working for software companies before joining the analyst ranks, at the time of the AMR acquisition by Gartner, Bruce moved to Infor and is now on the software side. So we’ve both seen the view from both sides now.
The subject of Bruce’s “View” today was “A Tour of the Distribution ERP Market with Infor’s Andy Berry.” It talked about roadmaps and growth of sales to this market. But what specifically caught my eye was the announcement that Infor would be consolidating its multiple distribution products down to two and eventually to one offering. This is definitely a new approach for Infor. Throughout its history of over 35 acquisitions, Infor has avoided the consolidation or rationalization of products, sometimes in sharp contrast to companies it acquired.
The one merger in particular that comes to mind is Infor’s acquisition of SSA Global (August 2006), which itself had been a product of serial acquisitions and had defined a path of rationalization. Having just left SSA myself about 6 months prior to the acquisition, I was intimately familiar with its consolidation strategy. With somewhere around 10 different product lines at the time, SSA’s plan had been to consolidate down to two ERP solutions (LX and LN) and one financial management product, which ultimately would provide the basis of the financial modules in the two ERP solutions. But the company wasn’t too far down the path of execution when the merger happened, and the consolidation message, quite frankly, had not been very well received by its customer base. So abandoning that strategy seemed like a no-brainer at the time.
Add to this a couple other similar situations in the ERP market. Oracle had acquired Peoplesoft and JD Edwards, and also had its own business suite. But its announcement of its Fusion product as a single consolidated product line also met with resistance from its installed base. This was also about the time of Microsoft’s Project Green, which was meant to rationalize the four acquired ERP products (AX, NAV, GP, SL) down to one. Same reaction. Boos from the crowd.
So the case seemed to be pretty solid against rationalization unless you wanted to seriously tick off your customers. And maintenance revenue streams are way too important to an ERP solution provider to risk. So why was one ERP that also grew by acquisition – Epicor – successful in doing exactly the opposite?
On October 21, 2008, Epicor Software Corporation announced Epicor 9, the culmination of an eight year effort to converge its nine different product lines. And along the way, it didn’t seem to alienate its customer base. In fact over the years I have spoken with numerous Epicor customers that perceived a reimplementation as an opportunity, rather than a hardship. What was the difference?
Of course there are a myriad of differences, but I think the one that really mattered was that Epicor made the new destination different enough to really matter. Many installed base customers faced with a reimplementation perceive it as a “rip and replace” only to spend lots of time and effort to get back to exactly where they started.  Epicor took a staged approach to delivering on its goal of convergence and did not lose sight of its promise to protect investments along the way. But it also knew that it had to bite the bullet and do a complete re-write of its underlying base architecture. So first it built its Internet Component Environment (ICE) 2.0, a second-generation Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) and Web 2.0 technologies. Then over the course of several years it converged from nine to four and then to one. Customers weren’t re-implementing on the promise of something new and different in the future. It was already there and they knew if they just tried to re-create their existing environment they would be cementing in place any restrictions they currently faced.
Oracle Fusion and Microsoft Green promised new architectures but they weren’t “there” yet. SSA had no new architecture to promise.
Infor always had the vision, but for several years got side-tracked through attempts to architect its own middleware. Infor has now decided to stick to what it does best – enterprise applications. By 2013 the two “destination” distribution products will share the same functional code base. Infor is already working on building identical user interfaces based on its new Infor Workspace and it is also working on integration with Infor ION, which it describes as “a new generation of business middleware that is lighter weight, less technically demanding to implement, and built on open standards.” I believe Infor ION will be a key factor if Infor is now successful in implementing a rationalization strategy here on the distribution side … and perhaps among its different ERP solutions for manufacturing? For its multiple financial management solutions? There are lots of opportunities for consolidation here and lots of work to be done. But then remember the 400 new developers Infor intends to hire?
And also don’t forget the two major acquisition announcements that emerged recently – that Infor intends to acquire Lawson and that APAX Partners intends to merge Epicor with Activant (ERP  for distribution). Fortunately Lawson Mashup Designer and Infor Workspace have a lot in common, at least conceptually. This could help. And time will tell if Epicor 9 becomes Epicor 10.
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Lawson Mashup Designer – Getting M3 Customers Excited

What got customers excited earlier this week at CUE 2011 (Lawson’s annual Customer User Event)? The announcement that seemed to cause the biggest stir amongst the M3 customers was Lawson Mashup Designer. It is a new tool that helps Lawson customers build their own composite applications from multiple data sources, on-screen views and business intelligence reports – all without having to write software code. Only having one (quite full and busy) day at CUE this year, I didn’t have a chance to see all I wanted to see. So for now this will be some initial observations, with more to follow.
Lawson Mashup Designer is based on Lawson Smart Office (LSO), which was released back in March 2008. The original goal of LSO was along the same lines of thought as Mashup Designer is today. It was meant to be an intuitive, personalized user interface that allows users to directly access Lawson and Microsoft applications and update data pervasively and instantly across the applications. But while the emphasis of LSO initially was on those Microsoft productivity tools such as Microsoft Excel, Outlook, Word and PowerPoint, Mashup Designer builds upon LSO and extends beyond the realm of Microsoft and has customers fired up about the possibilities. In fact in talking with the COO and CFO of JR Watkins, a Lawson M3 customer, the pair commented that Mashups were “what lit our fire. We can definitely visualize how they could be used in our environment.”
Matthew Allbee, product management director for Lawson describes Lawson Mashup Designer as, “a new way for our customers to build better applications that they can use every day. By combining forms, process flows, data views, reports and business intelligence content into a single user-created application, we’re now offering a new level of user customization. But most important, this does not require advanced programming skills. Instead, people who use Lawson every day can quickly start to create their own task- or process-specific applications.”
But the keyword here might be “advanced” programming skills. While the intent is to be a tool for line of business versus IT, it is primarily for Lawson power users, system administrators and programmers, not your casual user or users that spend their entire time performing one specific function using M3.
LSO, being the foundation for Mashup Designer, is a prerequisite. Although the Mashup Designer is only available with M3, Lawson also plans to make it available for S3. In the meantime, for a limited time (until the end of August) LSO is available at no charge to any S3 customer with Lawson System Foundation (LSF). Those that take the deal do have to pay maintenance on LSO. For those S3 customers that have already purchased LSO – contact your customer service rep. Sounds like you could get some added incentives.
Details aside, what struck me first and foremost about Lawson Mashup Designer was the similarity in concept to Infor’s recently announced Infor Workspace. This is particularly relevant if in fact the proposed acquisition of Lawson by Infor goes through. You’ve got two companies thinking very much along the same lines in terms of a role based user experience that blurs the boundaries between disparate enterprise applications and web-based tools and applications. It would be great to see this kind of synergy accelerate the feature/function and technology innovation that the combined company could deliver to its customers.
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Infor Workspace: Work Without Leaving the Comfort of “Home”

On March 31, 2011 Infor announced Infor Workspace, calling it a new “consumer grade user interface designed to revolutionize the experience of doing business using enterprise applications.” Built on Microsoft SharePoint with significant investment, Infor Workspace delivers the next generation user experience by blending a common user interface across a mix of enterprise applications, web services  and business intelligence.  The role-based user experience is akin to setting up a home base of operations from which a business user can comfortably operate all day long, without ever leaving “home.” More than a portal, and more than just a common look and feel for Infor’s products, its power lies in further blurring the boundaries of applications and carrying context between applications of all types.

Boundaries are blurring

For the past several years the lines have been blurring between Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and other enterprise applications to the extent that it has become very difficult to determine where ERP ends and these other applications begin. This is particularly significant in any discussion of Infor, due to the company’s voracious appetite for acquisition. Over the years Infor has collected quite a variety of ERP solutions as well as complementary products that expand its footprint beyond the usual confines of traditional ERP. These acquisitions have put applications such as Supply Chain Management (SCM), Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) and others into the Infor portfolio.
While this provided Infor with a more complete solution along with up-sell and cross-sell opportunities, there is never a silver bullet that turns different applications into a single cohesive solution that allows data and processes to flow smoothly between applications. That takes time and effort.  
Now these boundaries are blurring even further. Think about it. As a business professional you spend time in enterprise applications that run and support your business; you spend time using desktop tools, time on your own Intranet and you spend time out on the Internet. Lines between your business and personal life are also beginning to blur as the data and applications you use as a consumer also start to permeate your consciousness and re-set expectations, particularly those of younger folks fresh from college or business school.

More than a beauty contest

While Infor Workspace gives a common look and feel and a single sign on to potentially a vast array of disparate applications, it is more than just a portal. While how an application looks and feels is more important than ever, the real value of tools such as Infor Workspace are in providing visibility and ease of use and in fueling productivity. While top of the list of goals for ERP (and many other enterprise applications) is providing added visibility to the business, most companies today still lack a clear line of sight from quote to cash, and many individuals in those companies waste precious time searching for data on a regular basis. In this quest for information and knowledge, it is less important to know exactly where the information is coming from and more important to be able to easily carry information from one of these applications to another. This is what is meant by “context.”
Let’s take one example. One of your sales representatives might be using sales force automation tools available from your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solution. This is where he has all his contacts, including an address. Now he is preparing to visit the prospect or customer and needs to plan his day around this visit, so he needs to know how long it will take to get there; he needs directions and he might also want to determine if he might be able to combine this call with a visit to another prospect or customer. No problem, he just opens a browser where he probably has Yahoo!Maps or Mapquest or Google Maps bookmarked. Then he grabs the address from CRM and copies and pastes it into the navigational application to get driving directions. This probably takes two or three steps because the address is contained in several different fields in the application that must all be strung together in the navigation application. And he better not forget to put that appointment in his calendar.
Fast forward now to Infor Workspace. Instead of multiple copy and paste steps, right from the customer record, he can click on a button to open up Google Maps and the destination location is automatically filled in from the CRM application.
In this case the sales rep doesn’t know or care if his directions are coming from an internal business application or an application he is accessing via the Internet. What’s important is that the customer and address was carried over automatically without having to find, copy and paste.
Or what about when that prospect is not within driving distance? He will need to determine the closest airport, then visit the company’s approved travel site and then search for other prospects and customers in close range. And he also needs to get approval (online?) from his manager for his travel.

It’s about context

This may seem like a trivial example to those who operate on the bleeding edge of technology, but there are plenty of business professionals out there, including some Infor customers, who have yet to apply these efficiency and productivity steps to their everyday work experience. If one individual can save a few key strokes every day, how much time and effort can a sales force of 100 individuals, or 1000, save in a day, a month or a year? Then think of other ways to save time and key strokes. What about currency or time zone conversion? How many other small tasks are you doing every day that quickly and quietly suck up minutes that, when added together, turn into hours. How many different applications do you typically have open at any one time of the day?

Exception management

In addition to the mapping, currency and time conversion tools that are available, Infor Workspace also provides automatic alert management tools that monitor the status of tasks in relation to promised completion or established service level agreements and alert users to exceptions. Event management tools that alert decision makers when conditions or activities occur or fail to occur have been around for more than a decade. Yet adoption rates and implementation of these types of tools are still very low. Building these tools into the application is certainly one way of encouraging more exception management.
But the real value of alerts is dependent on the level of intelligence available in the data. Infor has added certain charts and alerts as standard fare, but if the customer wants to build their own Business Intelligence they do need to buy those tools from Infor.
Another factor that impacts adoption of alerts and event management is the question of where and how these alerts are delivered. As the workforce becomes increasingly mobile, just delivering these on your standard desktop or laptop is not sufficient. An application running in a standard browser, which is a prerequisite for Infor Workspace, generally allows it to also run on an iPad. Today Infor Workspace is available on an iPad, but Infor admits it still needs to do some work on the touch and feel aspect of the interaction since some of the standard icons are quite small.

Underlying architecture

Infor has made use of its ION integration technology as well as Microsoft SharePoint and Microsoft Reporting Services. As noted above, applications will have to be browser-enabled in order to take advantage of Infor Workspace.
While most of Infor’s key go-forward products are browser-enabled, this will leave some of the legacy applications out of the picture. That is not necessarily a bad thing. While giving customers choice is good, encouraging them to stay on old, outdated technology is empowering them to remain underserved by technology and innovation. One of Infor’s goals is to get customers on the latest and greatest versions of their applications without having the customer incur a huge cost. For existing Infor customers Workspace is available through their annual maintenance agreement and Infor has tried to minimize the cost and impact of upgrading through means such as pre-built migration kits.

Recommendations and Key Takeaways

Infor Workspace provides a new paradigm and a new experience for Infor customers. It is more than a portal, it is a work space (hence the name), customizable by role and by individual, bringing together the power of internal and web-based applications. Existing Infor customers should explore the possibilities that unfold in implementing Infor Workspace along with applications they already own.
What about expanding beyond current products implemented? Because many of the solutions besides ERP have been acquired by Infor , current customers may not have perceived significant value in purchasing those complementary solutions from Infor. Now with a consistent look and feel, the benefits of a single sign on and “in context” business intelligence, they may want to think again.
For prospects of Infor currently considering a purchase, fully explore the application under consideration but also look carefully at how Infor Workspace can continue to expand the scope of the implementation, without adding extra cost.
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Infor announces hiring plans along with Q3 software license growth of 17%

This morning  Infor announced it will expand its engineering organization by hiring approximately 400 additional software developers and plans to add significantly more new features and releases this year than ever before.  Reinforcing, the strategy shift away from building middleware, all these new hires will be focused on building business applications.
This signals an increase in investment in product development under the leadership of the new management team put in place by Charles Phillips who took over as CEO, bumping Jim Schaper to chairman of the board.  Infor also announced license growth of 17% and increased cash operating margins of 24% (which includes Infor and Softbrands Q3FY11 results over Q3 of Fiscal Year 2010). Infor added 400 net new customers last quarter. This is an important statistic since we have witnessed slowed growth of ERP solution providers, coupled with the downturn in the economy over the last two plus years. Indeed, Infor’s customer count has hovered around 70,000 for the past five years, ever since the acquisition of SSA Global, Systems Union and Extensity in August 2006. Since then, new customer growth has compensated for attrition, but has not moved the needle significantly.
New releases, standards based integration through Infor’s new ION platform, and planned changes to a new and universal user interface are all necessary components in order for Infor to break out this year and grow that number, especially if it wants to grow organically, as well as through acquisition. This announcement comes just days after the new of the proposed bid to acquire Lawson by Infor and its major investor Golden Gate Capital. Clearly Infor management wants to send the message that while acquisitions are likely in the near future, organic growth is also important.  
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Infor and Golden Gate make a bid for Lawson

Over the weekend (or on Monday if you really “turn off” over the weekend), we all saw the news that Infor and Golden Gate Capital had made a $1.84b bid for Lawson. I watched all the Tweeting and chatter yesterday with interest. Prior to venturing into the analyst/research community about five years ago, I spent over 30 years in the enterprise applications world, the last 22 of which I never officially changed jobs. But during those 22 years, the company name on my business card changed five times. Also during those 22 years, I “experienced” first-hand 14 different acquisitions, sometimes being the acquirer, sometimes being the acquiree. Sometimes I was intimately involved and sometimes I was a casual observer on the periphery.  So I consider myself quite experienced, if not an expert, on mergers and acquisitions of software companies.  While all this chatter is interesting, one thing I can say with certainty is this: at this point it all boils down to speculation and gossip.
I know both of these ERP companies very well, both from the context of their products, as well as their history of software acquisitions. Within my first few months of joining Aberdeen back in March 2006, I wrote about acquisitions by Infor and Lawson that were quite momentous. About that time, three companies were approximately the same size in terms of revenue: Infor, SSA Global and Lawson. Shortly thereafter, in part in a bid to outdistance Infor and SSA, Lawson acquired Intentia in May 2006, only to be one-upped by Infor , which not only acquired SSA Global but also Systems Union and Extensity in August.
Lawson and Infor are both similar and different. They are similar in that both are primarily ERP solution providers that have grown by acquisition, and have stretched the boundaries of traditional ERP with complementary solutions such as Human Capital Management, Asset Management, Performance Management and Business Intelligence, etc. Also, neither has grown very significantly since those major acquisitions back in 2006.
However, there are some glaring differences. Lawson essentially has two major (largely non-overlapping) product lines:
·         S3 (which stands for Staff, Source and Serve) targets healthcare, retail, government, education, financial services, general service
·         M3 (which stands for Make, Move and Maintain) targets fashion, food and beverage, wholesale distribution, asset intensive industries and general manufacturing
Infor has many different ERP solutions as well as stand-alone complementary solutions. Here’s the latest list I have of just its ERP solutions alone:
  • Infor ERP Adage
  • Infor ERP SX.enterprise
  • Infor ERP SyteLine
  • Infor ERP VISUAL
  • Infor ERP COM
  • Infor ERP FACTS
  • Infor ERP LN 6.1
  • Infor ERP LX
  • Infor ERP Baan5.x
  • Infor ERP BaanIV
  • Infor ERP BPCS
  • Infor ERP Xpert
  • Infor ERP Blending
  • Infor ERP XA
  • Infor ERP TRANS4M
  • Infor ERP AS
  • Infor ERP System 21
  • Infor ERP VISUAL Jobshop
  • Infor ERP A+
  • Infor ERP TakeStock
  • Infor ERP Enspire
  • Infor ERP commerce@work
  • Infor ERP CAS
  • Infor ERP Infinium MM/PM
  • Infor ERP MK
  • Infor ERP MANMAN
  • Infor ERP MAX + TM
  • Infor ERP MAXCIM
  • Infor ERP PRISM
  • Infor ERP Protean
  • Infor ERP KBM
  • Infor ERP Leanware
  • Infor ERP PRMS
Some of these are strategic to Infor’s growth, while others must be viewed as legacy or “heritage” products (a “heritage” product is a legacy application you are proud of.) Although Infor has decried a rationalization strategy and maintained all acquired products, not all get equal share of the marketing or development budgets. Unlike Lawson’s two product lines, which have little overlap, many of Infor’s product lines do indeed overlap with each other and this has presented a challenge to Infor in the past, both in product maintenance and development, as well as market presence. If this acquisition does go through, M3 will compete with several of Infor’s existing ERP solutions. There is less similarity with S3, but it will compete with the Masterpiece and Infinium product lines, but will position Infor better in competing in the Human Capital space and also in Healthcare.
But, as I mentioned earlier, this is all just speculation. Will Infor raise its bid? Will others start to bid? If so, who? There are only questions right now, no answers. But some of the questions that must indeed be answered before this is all played out are similar to the questions that must be asked in most any acquisition. Questions like:
·         If there is a merger between Lawson and Infor (or any other competing vendor) will Lawson remain relatively autonomous or will it be entirely integrated? This will impact both its brand as well as the possible reduction in force that generally follows any acquisition.
·         What will be the impact on product roadmaps of all the products owned by the combined companies, regardless of whether additional bids emerge and who wins?
·         Will technology infrastructures be merged, or kept a separate? Consider for example very different cloud strategies, Lawson on the Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) platform (Amazon and other partners provide the infrastructure; Lawson provides the application.)  The two key components of Infor’s cloud strategy and its infrastructure: Microsoft’s Windows Azure and Infor ION.
One thing that should be a “given” is the continued support to Lawson’s existing customer base. In any acquisition of this magnitude, growth (and not attrition of) the installed base is always a goal. Existing customers should rest assured this will be a primary goal of Infor, or any other player that joins the fray. Exactly what that means remains to be seen.
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Green and environmental reporting gets attention from ERP vendors

I read today (http://tinyurl.com/4schf9f)  that Oracle has acquired the IP for environmental reporting software created by Ndevr, a software firm based in Melbourne Australia. The software adds greenhouse gas and environmental reporting capabilities to Oracle’s E-Business Suite and JD Edwards Enterprise One. Ndevr has been a JD Edwards/Oracle certified partner for over 10 years.
This announcement comes just days after IFS announced the results of its Green Supply Chain survey (http://tinyurl.com/4oh92rh). IFS revealed in the announcement that almost 77% of manufacturers participating in the survey said they are currently required by their customers to report on their environmental impact and that of their products or require their vendors to do so. IFS went on to say, “…respondents indicated that their IT infrastructure, including enterprise resources planning (ERP) software, was not keeping up with their changing green supply chain needs, with 87 percent reporting that this data was handled at least in part through hard copy. Only five percent rated their ERP software as ‘excellent’ in its handling of green supply chain data while 54 percent rated their ERP solution as ‘poor’ or ‘not at all helpful’ in this regard. “
IFS addresses this apparent disconnect through IFS Eco-footprint Management which enables environmental impact to be traced along the entire value chain, from raw-material procurement and production to distribution and even through to the use of products post-shipment.
In addition, SAP has been particularly vocal about these issues and has been promoting its efforts in striving to be both an exemplar and an enabler. In fact Peter Graf, appointed as SAP’s Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO),  leads both the corporate sustainability strategy as well as product development in the area of sustainability, thereby lending cohesiveness to both efforts. SAP BusinessObjects Sustainability Performance Management, SAP EH&S Management and SAP Carbon Impact are all part of the SAP offering to address these issues.
Infor has a series of “green software solutions” including Infor Green EAM, Infor Green ERP, Infor Green, PLM, Infor Green PM and Infor Green SCM. You can also read how see how Bentley University and Mohawk Fine Papers are using Infor EAM to reduce their energy consumption and about Infor’s Green solutions at http://www.infor.com/enterprise-software/sus-hub/ .
These are just 4 examples of how the major ERP vendors are jumping on the sustainability band wagon for environmental protection.
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