Microsoft SharePoint

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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