Lawson

Why Is Infor So Quiet?

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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?

 

 

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Infor’s Innovation Team Helps the Company Go Faster

After a 4-year hiatus, Inforum2012 made a big splash in Denver this week. I attended the last live Inforum back in 2008. There was also a “virtual event” in 2009. But, in my opinion, a virtual event just doesn’t have nearly the same impact as a live one. The Lawson customers in attendance haven’t had to wait so long. The last Lawson CUE was held just about a year ago in Boston. But this week, with no less than 21 different press releases talking about everything from the reinvention of the company under its new leadership to numerous technology and product announcements, Infor did a lot of catching up.

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

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

This “cool stuff” includes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Infor Takes ERP Support to the Xtreme

On January 31, 2012 Infor announced a new customer support program called Infor Xtreme. The program, which offers a choice of three different plans, consists of services that are specialized, personalized, social and proactive. It also includes new supporting technology and perhaps most importantly, it includes real people. Here we explore the why, what, when and how Infor intends to deliver extreme support.

Why?

This new program has in large part been prompted by Infor’s new leadership. Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Charles Phillips was hired in October 2010. In a recent interview with IDG News, Chris Kanaracus asked what he initially saw as needing to be fixed when he arrived at Infor. Mr. Phillips responded, “The priority for me was reorienting resources into products and away from other areas. We basically reduced our expense in the back office and shifted all of that into product development. I think that the company had a stable customer base, but hadn’t delivered enough innovation and change. Some customers tend to view that as a good thing, but I think you’re better off shipping a lot of innovation even if it means a little disruption.”

Well, if you are delivering innovation and change, and expecting some disruption as a result, you better be prepared to handle it. As a result, Infor is redefining its support, with the goal of serving its customers better and exceeding what has become known as traditional product support.

The new support plans themselves are not disruptive. Customers are not required to sign new agreements. Existing standard support will automatically be converted to the Infor Xtreme plan and those with standard plans plus 24X7 Critical Incident Support (CIS) will convert to Xtreme Premium.

These plans offer more support, not less.  Xtreme Elite plans will be offered as a third, additional option, adding even more features. Pricing doesn’t change unless the customer decides to upgrade from its current plan.

What do ERP customers want?

While Infor’s motivation appears to have the customers’ best interest in mind, how do ERP customers and prospects feel about support these days? The most recent Mint Jutras ERP Solution Study collected data from over 900 survey respondents to rank the priority of different selection criteria in evaluating and selecting Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions, which represents the lion’s share of Infor’s product portfolio. Participants were asked to rate on a scale of zero to four, each of several criteria, including the quality and availability of support services. Zero was “not a consideration and four was “must have/most important.”

Figure 1 shows the mean (average) priority of each of these criteria, as well as the percentage of respondents that checked “must have / most important” for each. It is clear, few criteria are more important than support services.

Figure 1: Importance of Selection Criteria

 

Selection Priority

% “Must Have”

Fit and Functionality

3.46

58%

Ease of use

3.46

55%

Flexibility to address changing business needs

3.38

51%

Quality and availability of vendor support services

3.26

49%

Total cost of ownership

3.21

42%

Integration technologies and capabilities

3.17

41%

Ease and speed of implementation

3.16

41%

Software cost

3.03

30%

Ability to tailor functionality without programming

3.03

37%

Must be an integrated suite rather than multiple point solutions

2.99

37%

Deployment model

2.27

15%

Ability to access ERP through a mobile device

2.27

18%

The Times They Are A-Changing

This is a signal that times are indeed changing. There was a time when customers were more likely to ask for a la carte support plans that allowed them to subscribe to less, rather than more support. Of course the prime motivation was to pay less. But when customers ask for less, this is also a signal that the customers and/or products are stagnant. If you are stuck on very old releases, or legacy solutions based on outdated technology, you don’t want a support plan; you want an insurance policy. And when you buy an insurance policy, the best possible scenario is that you never need it or use it.

Vibrant, active and growing companies need support plans. Evidence that more companies fit into this category lies in the data showing which release survey respondents are operating on. The percentage of companies operating on the latest release of their ERP solution (44%) has never been higher (23% are one release behind and 20% are two or more releases behind.)

Also a significant portion (13%) is in the process of implementing. Combine this with the average age of current ERP implementations, which is an all-time low of 5.5 years, and we conclude that many companies today are far from stagnant.

But the very nature of support is also changing. If you are like most technology users today, you expect some level of self-service to be available. You want to search to see if a problem has already been reported and resolved. If it has, you want to be able to download the fix immediately. If you want instruction on how to do something, a video you can play (and re-play) on demand is extremely useful. But if you don’t know what’s wrong, if you don’t know where to look, or you need help in deciding how to proceed, there is nothing more frustrating than being caught in the seemingly endless loop of “press 1 for sales, press 2 for support, if you need to speak to a representative, please stay on the line [forever.]”

It is interesting that as business becomes more “social” we actually have less human contact, not more. “Social” is good for socializing a thought or even asking for some general advice. “Social” is not good if it prevents you from speaking to an experienced support engineer. Therefore, it is not surprising to find 30% of respondents do not feel their service needs are being met today. Almost half (48%) feel their needs are generally being met, but service could be improved. Only about one in five respondents (21%) indicated their service needs were being fully met.

As much as self-service options are a must, those can’t be the only options. This is why Infor’s message, “We’re there when you need us,” combined with skilled support resources co-located with the development organization is so very critical.

What And How?

So let’s dig a little deeper into what is actually behind the Infor Xtreme support plans. As noted earlier, these plans are a combination of services, technology and people.

Services

Infor uses five different adjectives to describe its support services: specialized, personalized, social, proactive and accountable.

Specialized: Infor has never had a “one size fits all mentality.” And indeed its launch of Infor10 last year accentuates this focus. Infor10 Workspace delivered a new user interface, which unifies information from multiple applications and sources on one screen.  Yet Infor didn’t stop there. It used Infor10 as the basis for designing, developing, testing, and delivering full industry suites. Infor assembled suites of software tailored to the specific requirements of a range of important industries, including:

Because its software is not designed, developed or delivered as general or generic solutions, even through multiple acquisitions, the company never moved to a single support center. Instead it stayed where the people were, the people involved in the development and support of individual products. Support is all about solving issues quickly, so intimate knowledge of the industry, the product and the customer helps the team get on point about an issue quickly.

Personalized: Not only does the choice of support plans allow customers a choice, but this choice is made per product installed. While it is not unusual for an Infor customer to have multiple Infor products, the industry norm would be to require all products to be covered under the same support plan. However, Infor customers might choose a higher level of support for one product as they are embarking on a new implementation, major company reorganization or expansion, or other kinds of special events.

A brand new customer portal, which includes newly delivered support apps, also brings personalization to a new level.  These support apps can be completely personalized.  Customers determine what they want to see and how they want to see it.  They can customize the support apps through the use of drag and drop features, change their user interface (UI) theme and use quick filters to easily get what they need.  Logging of issues is quick, easy and wizard-based. Preferences can be saved. Infor was striving to make it “beautiful” and consumer grade. So far customer feedback has been positive and at least one early adopter has called it “pretty.”  

Social: Infor has been tweeting important product news to customers. But perhaps the most important aspect of social is that of community building. Customers are able to join online communities with their peers with the same product, environment, configuration or industry challenges. While early in the development stage, Infor would like to get to the point where customers add an increasing volume of content that is shared. Customers can join any number of communities, or start their own.

“Social” should be about people helping people. The risk here is that unstructured conversations can turn negative and unproductive. But the value to be gained is certainly well worth the risk.

Proactive:  The goal here is to eliminate problems wherever possible even before customers experience them. As problems that could impact all companies or individual customers are identified, Infor will issue Xtreme Alerts.

Accountable: Support staff being “accountable” to the customer should be a given. However, it is often all too easy to shelter the members of the development organization from this accountability, purportedly so as to avoid distracting them from innovation. But Infor has chosen to co-locate the support and development organizations, making it much harder for the developers to hide from the reality of the real world.

Technology

The adjectives above describing service, along with the goals they imply, would be far more difficult to achieve without some supporting technology. At the heart of this new technology is ION Support Assistant (ISA). This is an automated tool that gathers information about the customer’s unique environment and provides it back to the Xtreme Support engineers.

This is not “spy software” meant to police the installation; it collects data that the support engineer would otherwise have to gather verbally on each support call. Have you ever been on the phone with a support technician, and thought, “Shouldn’t they know all this already?”  Infor may already know what products the customer has licensed, and may know which versions, releases and patches have been shipped. But without confirmation, that engineer would not know what had actually been installed and implemented.  And this data is far from static. Automating the collection of this data saves time and provides more information than might ordinarily be collected, which could indeed help resolve the issue more quickly. And just think, if the first support engineer needs to pass you off to another, you won’t have to go through it again!

The portal mentioned in the Personalization section previously is another piece of technology that adds value to the process. Having a portal is not something entirely new to Infor customers. Having this portal is new. However, the old version is still available to existing customers to help as they transition to the new terminology and the new features of Xtreme Support.

A nice feature that has been added to the portal is a set of analytics that will summarize previous incidents and the results, including response times and resolutions.

People

It is refreshing to find that in spite of automation, online portals and social media, Infor views its team of experts as an equally important element of Xtreme Support. These are long-tenured employees, with deep product knowledge, often enhanced by deep industry knowledge. They are co-located with the development team, so that they, with the help of their customers, keep the developers focused on both innovation and quality.

While all Xtreme Support customers have access to recorded briefings and how-to assistance in the form of training videos, the Premium and Elite Support customers also have additional access to other key Infor  staff through interactive briefings and Elite customers have further access to senior level support and development resources. Elite Support also includes an invitation to participate in Infor’s customer executive advisory boards, which provide a direct channel to provide input and feedback to Infor product experts and executives.

In addition to the regular Xtreme Support team, Infor has also created a new team of Xtreme Elite Account Managers. This was a position that Lawson (acquired by Infor last year) had created and Infor saw the value it added to the support equation. These Elite Account Managers are not commission-based and in fact are not allowed to sell the customer anything. Each manages an average of 10 accounts. They not only help resolve issues, but are also instrumental in helping Xtreme Elite customers in their planning processes.

When?

The answer is, “Now.”  Plans have been available since October 2011.

Key Takeaways

Support is hardly the sexy side of any software business. While new development is all about the latest technology and the most exciting new innovation, support is all about getting the job at hand done and doing it well. It’s about making the most of what you have. It can produce that awful sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach when something goes wrong. It is hard work and sometimes it can be a thankless task.

Being prepared for disruption and having the right tools, technology and people may not be glamorous, but in the end, it is what delivers real value to the customer. It is refreshing to see Infor striving for more innovation and change and comforting to see they understand that innovation comes with a price they seem willing and able to pay.

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Marketing Inspired by Einstein?

Einstein inspired marketing and messaging? Who would have thought that Albert Einstein, recognized for his genius in physics, would inspire so many marketing messages? In December 2010 SYSPRO USA introduced its “Einstein” strategy, a clever association with the genius of the world’s most reknowned theoretical physicist. This Einstein strategy was the brain child of Judith Rothrock, president of JRocket Marketing. Judith has been helping companies boost awareness, bringing visibility and recognition to software solution providers for more than 20 years, including companies like Lawson Software, Hyperion, Ceridian, UNIT4, Deltek, SYSPRO and Meridian Systems, to name just a few.

So if imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, Judith should feel flattered right about now.  Last December Judith helped Syspro introduce the theory of ERP relativity, S=MC2  where M stands for material, and C2 is cost and cash management. S, of course, stands for SYSPRO. Since then I have seen Einstein referenced in marketing by two other companies.

The first time I noticed it was at the Sage Summit in July 2011. I was walking the show floor and saw a picture of Einstein on a pillar sign. I did sort of a double-take. Of course I knew Syspro wasn’t anywhere to be seen at a competitor’s user conference. But sure enough, there he was near the booth of one of Sage’s largest partners, Blytheco. If you Google Blytheco and Einstein together, it will lead you to their blog posts on “Leadership through the Eyes of Einstein.” You will see some very interesting quotes from the great man including a couple of my personal favorites:

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

“Creativity is seeing what others see and thinking what no one has ever thought”

The second time I heard it was just yesterday. While I didn’t manage to get up in time to watch the opening keynote of SAP’s SAPPHIRENOW Madrid (it started at 3AM my time) I did manage to watch the replay. There he (Einstein) was again, right in Jim Snabe’s opening remarks, this time with yet another rendition of his famous equation. Mr. Snabe’s definition managed to include all four pillars of SAP’s innovation strategy:

e = mc(imc)2 where e = Enterprise, m = Mobile, c = Cloud, and imc = In Memory Computing

Of course I can’t say for sure that either Blytheco or SAP saw (and perhaps were inspired by?)  Judith’s and Syspro’s original Einstein strategy, but I can say I saw it there first.

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Lawson/Infor Address GRC Gap With Approva Acquisition

On September 1, 2011 Lawson Software Americas, Inc., an Infor affiliate, completed the acquisition of Approva® Corporation. In doing so, the combined companies add a component previously missing from their product portfolio to address a growing need for Governance, Risk and Compliance (GRC). At the time of the Lawson acquisition in July 2011 Infor promised a fast pace of development and delivery of deeper industry-specific features for key industries. This move signals that Infor is serious about investment in establishing itself as a leader in the enterprise software industry. Integrating yet  another company before the dust has even settled from the prior one is an aggressive move that is not without risk. Yet managing risk is what this merger is all about.

Approva Key Facts

  • Founded in 2002
  • 200+ Customers – including Fortune 500 leaders in key verticals
  • 190 Employees
  • Headquarters in Herndon, VA
  • 120+ employees in Pune, India
  • Previously owned by four VCs – Sierra Ventures, Novak Biddle, NEA, and Columbia Capital

 

Identifying the Need

High profile scandals of the past decade, increased regulatory requirements and security and privacy issues that come with the age of connectivity have heightened the need for all three elements of the broad category of Governance, Risk and Compliance. And yet most companies today still rely on manual processes and have done little to automate controls. This condition itself adds a level of risk in being able to detect fraud, comply with reporting requirements efficiently and perform internal audits in order to prepare for the external ones.

The Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions offered by both Lawson and Infor are a focal point for gathering data and recording transactions that need to be monitored but do not provide the level of monitoring and control required for GRC purposes. However, to be fair, most ERP solution providers today, with the exception of SAP and Oracle, suffer from the same deficiency.

The Mint Jutras 2011 ERP Solution study looked beyond the realm of core ERP modules and investigated current and planned adoption of 20 different extensions to ERP. These are additional applications which might (or might not) be integrated with ERP. One of the categories included was GRC applications.

Figure 1 compares the current and planned adoption of World Class ERP implementations to all others, not achieving this status. To define “World Class” we use a broad spectrum of metrics. While the study also measures additional key performance indicators (KPIs) that are specific to different industries, we limit the World Class definition to those which can be universally applied to all companies. The definition of World Class performance is based on a composite of three different categories of metrics: results, progress in achieving goals and current performance.

While adoption rates are relatively low (39% for World Class and 16% for all others), World Class ERP implementations are almost 143% more likely to include one or more elements of GRC and 86% less likely to have no plans for adoption.

GRC is a broad category and can mean different things to different constituents in any organization. For the office of the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) “risk” generally refers to both financial risk and the financial impact of operational risks that can be caused by both internal and external factors. Those operational risks can include Information Technology (IT), which largely centers around IT security.

Approva positions its application as Continuous Controls Monitoring (CCM), which is all about monitoring what users “can do” and then analyzing what they “did do” in financial and business systems. Sitting outside of the ERP solution, between the corporate governance layers and the underlying IT infrastructure allows them to provide cross-platform monitoring across any number of different applications.

It has been the experience of Mint Jutras that most companies embarking on implementation of any GRC solution are most likely to start by implementing access control, whether driven by the need for segregation of duties (SOD), security or just good management practices, or for all three purposes.  While most modern enterprise applications today are able to secure access to individual functions in the application, and more and more of them are able to secure access to particular data (e.g. a sales representative can only access order status for his or her own customers, or warehouse personnel can only enter inventory transactions for that warehouse, etc.) the controls are confined to a particular application. What happens when an individual is allowed to add vendors in one particular application but payments are processed by a different application? Without cross-application visibility, there is risk of the same individual creating a vendor in one application and paying the same vendor from another.

The folks from Lawson tell me that while their customers have not articulated the need using references and terms like “access control”, indeed they have identified the need to better support internal audits. A CCM solution directly addresses this concern.

Why Lawson?

So, given that Lawson is the “newbie” in the Infor family, why did Approva land here? The answer has much more to do with the original Lawson S3 legacy than its acquired M3 (Intentia Movex) product line. Selling to and servicing the office of the CFO has always been Lawson’s strong suit. The addition of Infor’s Corporate Performance Management (CPM) suite only added to that strength and there is significant potential with the ION suite. Infor ION at the Center of Providing Immediate Value to Lawson and Infor speaks to this potential.

Lawson is also the home for products that specifically address two of the industry sectors most sensitive to GRC issues today – healthcare (and associated HIPAA requirements) and the highly visible public sector. Approva fills a notable gap in addressing these issues.

Two Distinct Markets

This begs the question of whom and what will be the target market for the acquired CCM product. It would seem there would be two separate and distinct targets.

First of all, there is the cross-sell and up-sell opportunity in the existing Lawson and Infor installed bases. Since there is no product in the current portfolio that competes in any way, there seems to be ample opportunity here. The Lawson S3 base would appear to have the most low-hanging fruit. Lawson already has a relationship with those most likely to perceive the need for this solution, and also those that control the budget which would fund the investment – namely the office of the CFO. And, according Lawson’s Darci Snyder, Director FS and Public Sector Product Management, its customer base has been asking them to fulfill that need.

Whether the remaining customers using Lawson M3 and other Infor products see that same need remains to be seen. To date, large enterprises have been most likely to invest in GRC solutions. Smaller companies don’t have deep pockets when it comes to investments in GRC or CCM and while Infor’s customer base does include very large corporations, it also includes small and midsize companies as well.

Lawson has always taken a very industry focused approach in its product development and its marketing. Expect to see this industry focus spread through all the Infor product lines over the coming months. This focus had already begun before the Lawson acquisition across 10 specific industries and the acquisition simply added three more industries. Lawson and Infor are already working to integrate Approva’s applications into existing financial suites (yes, there are still multiple) and to address industry-specific requirements. So adding CCM as a feature/function to those solutions will be a priority and will simply give representatives selling these solutions more to offer.

Yet the cross-platform, cross-application capabilities of Approva have always been its strength and therefore it would be not be in Lawson/Infor’s best interest to walk away from that business. And while there is some overlap in customers, there are a lot of Approva customers running applications that are in neither the Lawson nor Infor portfolio. It has an obligation to those companies as well. Yet expecting the existing sales teams that are focused on selling a complete ERP solution to be successful selling stand-alone CCM is unrealistic…which brings us to questions that are normally associated with any acquisition.

Integrating the Companies

How will Approva be integrated into the Lawson/Infor corporate structure and strategy? It is still too early in that process to answer all the burning questions about branding and about sales, and even development teams. It would certainly make sense to have a dedicated team that specializes in marketing and selling this type of solution, since Lawson/Infor does not have experience in this realm. Yet this may be entirely separate or managed more as an overlay team.

Infor has already broken rank, so to speak, in absorbing Lawson. Infor combined Lawson with SoftBrands, Inc., an affiliate company which was acquired back in 2009. This represented a bit of a divergence from past acquisition strategies. Until it acquired Softbrands, Infor had generally executed mergers where the staff was fully integrated and the acquired company’s brand was subsumed by the Infor brand. The combination of Softbrands and Lawson seemed to simply be an internal organizational decision and has nothing to do with branding, selling or supporting and Lawson staff does appear to be working closely with their counterparts on the Infor side. Now Approva is being included in the Softbrands/Lawson affiliate company. It remains to be seen whether the Approva brand will survive and what level of integration we’ll see in the coming months.

Summary and Key Takeaways

In summary, CCM is a logical extension to the Lawson and Infor applications. The product itself is complementary to financial applications, and indeed fills a gap that at least some of the company’s customers have noted. This provides opportunity to Lawson/Infor in allowing sales teams to add functionality and intelligence into existing accounts.

Infor is committed to developing and deploying industry-specific functionality, allowing for tighter fit with existing customer base and sales teams while creating a complete solution that is both broad and deep, while still being industry-focused and yet can compete in the office of the CFO.

Yet preserving a level of independence will be necessary if Infor wants to continue to be able to sell stand-alone CCM and also maintain the loyalty of the Approva customer base.

This move was quick and aggressive, given the very recent acquisition of Lawson by Infor. All eyes will be on managing the risks associated with this type of bold move.

 

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Infor ION at the Center of Providing Immediate Value to Lawson and Infor Customers

On July 5, 2011 the acquisition of Lawson Software by GGC Software Holdings, Inc. (an affiliate of Golden Gate Capital) and Infor was completed. The next day Infor wasted no time in announcing integration plans for the company and some of the combined company’s products. Neither Infor nor its new CEO, Charles Phillips, is a stranger to acquisitions. Infor itself has executed over 31 acquisitions in its relatively short history. Mr Phillips’ prior stint at Oracle, known in the industry for fast and efficient integration of acquired businesses, has prepared him well for his first acquisition since taking the helm at Infor. These veterans of the world of mergers and acquisitions (M&A) know that it is important to immediately send a strong message to all customers that the future of the products they use is secure and that the merger actually brings them value.

MERGING THE COMPANIES

In a nutshell, Infor has combined Lawson with SoftBrands, Inc., an affiliate company which was acquired back in 2009. This affiliation enables Lawson/SoftBrands and Infor to share and integrate technology and partner on product offerings. Look for joint cross-selling, marketing and distribution arrangements in the near future. This represents a bit of a divergence from past acquisition strategies. Until it acquired Softbrands, Infor had generally executed mergers where the staff was fully integrated and the acquired company’s brand was subsumed by the Infor brand. The last acquisition approaching this size was the acquisition of SSA Global in 2006 and you would be hard pressed to find any reference today to the SSA brand and only insiders might know that certain Infor employees used to be SSA employees. The value in combining Lawson with Softbrands is not entirely clear to me; Infor tells me it was simply a structural move to consolidate affiliates. But preserving the Lawson brand does make sense, at least for now. It sounds much like the approach SAP took (quite successfully) with both Business Objects and Sybase. While Lawson does not have quite the brand equity of either Business Objects or Sybase, it has particular significance to the Lawson installed base. And the Lawson installed base should be a prime sales target for Infor. When (and if) Lawson and Infor deliver on the promise of a fast pace of development and delivery of deeper industry-specific features for key industries (manufacturing, healthcare, distribution, public sector and hospitality), the importance of the distinction between the two brands will fade. While Infor and Lawson’s product portfolio both compete with and complement each other, come to find out, the two companies share a significant base of common customers. Infor maintains that 9% of Lawson’s active customers also use Infor products, and 48% of Lawson’s top revenue customers use at least one Infor application. Although Infor does not specify the threshold for “top revenue,” one would think this is a large enough segment of customers to present cross-sell opportunities.

 PRODUCT INTEGRATION PLANS ANNOUNCED

But for many of the Lawson (and possibly some Infor) customers, this is just background noise. What they really want to hear is what the new affiliation will mean to them in terms of the products they run. That means both continued support and development plans. Anticipating this question, the Infor and Lawson product development teams have already begun integrating applications using Infor ION. ION is a suite of interoperability and management services designed to facilitate and manage data regardless of whether the data is stored on premise or in the cloud and regardless of which application (or software vendor) “owns” it. This has always included both Infor and non-Infor applications, which certainly makes bringing Lawson software into the mix. Current plans targeted for release later this year follow.

LAWSON S3 AND INFOR FMS SUNSYSTEMS ENTERPRISE

This first integration project targets organizations that have now or plan to implement a two-tier financial management strategy. Lawson S3 would sit at corporate headquarters and larger divisions, while Infor FMS SunSystems Enterprise could be used at smaller operations, potentially distributed globally. This configuration would support multiple countries, languages and currencies. A hidden benefit is that it would also allow each distributed operation to upgrade separately, often a forgotten consideration.

LAWSON S3 AND INFOR EAM

This is an interesting approach since Lawson also offers an Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) solution. Yet the Lawson EAM solution is much more firmly anchored in the manufacturing and distribution sectors, which is where M3 and not S3 plays. The City of Greensboro, N.C. is an example of a public sector customer that Infor and Lawson have in common. Indeed, prior anticipatory announcements called out Lawson’s expertise in the healthcare industry, a sector in which Infor has not really penetrated. The thought appears to be to enhance Lawson S3 with Infor’s EAM and bring the integrated solution to large hospitals, in addition to government and other public sectors.

LAWSON HUMAN CAPITAL MANAGEMENT AND INFOR WORKFORCE MANAGEMENT

While Lawson has made a bigger name for itself (than Infor) in terms of Human Capital Management (HCM), Infor’s strength is more along the lines of direct work force management. This integration could add Time & Attendance as a complement, for example to Lawson’s Nurse Scheduling application.

UNDERLYING TECHNOLOGY

So all this makes sense from a feature/functionality standpoint. But what about the underlying architecture? It is quite clear that the integration projects and future technology development will be based on Infor ION. But while Infor has been developing Infor ION and some follow-on products like Infor Workspace (which Infor calls a new “consumer grade user interface designed to revolutionize the experience of doing business using enterprise applications”) Lawson has not been standing still. In fact Lawson just released Lawson Mashup Designer, which shares a lot of similar features and functions with Infor Workspace. First available for M3, Mashup Designer was recently released for S3 (MAy 2011). So the question will be, will the (integrated) S3 product line be enhanced with Mashup Designer or Infor Workspace? Lawson Mashup Designer is based on Lawson Smart Office (LSO), which was released back in March 2008. LSO 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. Mashup Designer builds upon LSO and extends beyond the realm of Microsoft. LSO is the foundation for Mashup Designer. And finally, underlying both M3 and S3 is Lawson System Foundation, a middleware layer insulating the Lawson applications from the underlying operating systems and databases. Because ION can be used to connect both Infor and non-Infor solutions, it would appear than LSF does not need to be replaced immediately, but it also doesn’t make a lot of sense for the combined company to maintain two different teams and parallel development efforts to continue to develop both ION and LSF or Lawson Mashup Designer and Infor Workspace. So there are some open questions for Lawson customers that have invested in LSF, LSO and Mashup Designer.

 KEY TAKEAWAYS

From all appearances it would appear that Infor and Lawson combined are on track to deliver value rapidly to customers, albeit some will see direct benefits sooner than others. What’s in it for Infor and Lawson? • Scale. The larger the company the more resources for innovation and development • Happy customers. And happy customers mean cross-sell and upsell opportunities What’s in it for their customers? • Scale. The customers benefit as well from more development resources and more innovation. • Security. While Infor has been a private company and not subject to the scrutiny of Wall Street per se, Lawson has always kept a close eye on profits. Even during the worst of the recession, when revenues dipped, Lawson CEO Harry Debes kept operating margins on the rise. So Infor is not inheriting a financial mess – far from it. • More solution. The immediate integration efforts will extend options from expanded solutions, although it appears that the S3 installed base will benefit more quickly and will be more differentiated from other Infor products. M3 will become one of several ERP solutions for manufacturers, but heavily targets some industries where Infor touches only lightly. M3 could benefit from the cross-fertilization of manufacturing talent throughout Infor.

Time will tell just what this means for the brands, but by the time that is decided, it probably won’t matter that much.

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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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