Cloud, Micro-verticals, Value Engineering Benefit Customers, Partners and Infor
The Infor Partner Network (IPN) is coming of age. Over the past four years it has laid a solid foundation with fair contractual terms, rules of engagement and segmentation, marketing programs, training and certification. Unlike some other solution providers that attempt to grow by placing more demands on their partners, Infor has taken a collaborative approach, working with its partners and devoting time, energy and budget towards making both partners and the end consumer of the software more successful. Now as the program enters its 5th year, Infor is leveraging these past efforts but also shifting its focus to reflect the changing environment in which business applications are bought and sold. By helping its partners with cloud business enablement, micro-vertical specialization, value engineering skills and solution portfolio expansion, Infor helps you, the consumer of the software, make the right decision for your company faster and more safely.
If you are considering purchasing a new enterprise solution today, chances are you have done your homework long before you reach out to the first vendor on your short list. If it has been awhile since you went through an evaluation of this sort, you will want to educate yourself, perhaps seeking out some thought leadership. You will identify both the core requirements, as well as any industry-specific needs required to run your business. Through that process you may decide whether you want a traditional on-premise or newer cloud deployment. In the end, you will want to cut to the chase, quickly and efficiently differentiate between solutions and vendors, and make the right choice.
Cloud Business Enablement
A big focus for the Infor’s IPN team in 2015 will be cloud business enablement. Sometimes this is a hard transition for a partner to make, but you, the consumers of enterprise applications, are demanding this change. Based on early results from the Mint Jutras 2015 Enterprise Solution Study, only 26% of survey participants would even consider a traditional on-premises deployment of ERP if they were evaluating solutions today (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Which deployment options would you consider today?
In addition to this question, participants were also asked to characterize their “cloud strategy.” Only 7% indicated a strong preference for on-premise software, and 12% said they had no cloud strategy (Figure 2). However, not having a cloud strategy does not mean they won’t select a cloud solution… only that deployment option is only one factor to be considered, and not the overriding factor.
Figure 2: How would you describe your cloud strategy?
While it will take awhile for the majority of ERP installations to shift to the cloud (simply because there are so many currently implemented on premise), the tipping point for new implementations has been reached and vendors and partners that are not fully on the cloud bandwagon will be operating from a serious disadvantage. The shift to the cloud is clearly underway.
Infor wants to help partners understand this demand and enable that transition. This is a two-pronged approach: providing viable products and enabling a cloud business.
First there is the need for a viable cloud-enabled product, and this is more than just slapping a web-based user interface on a legacy solution. To address this, Infor has introduced a series of new generation CloudSuite products.
Infor CloudSuites are industry-specific solution suites, fully integrated and deployed in the cloud. These suites are hosted by Amazon Web Services (AWS), a secure and affordable cloud environment, which has set a new and higher standard of performance in the industry. By offering multiple suites, Infor can offer deeper industry functionality with less customization.
This is particularly important for multi-tenant SaaS (software as a service) solutions that are offered through the cloud. While most business users of ERP don’t necessarily understand or actively seek out a multi-tenant solution, multi-tenancy allows solution providers to keep costs down while also delivering more innovation. These factors are key in making cloud options so appealing. While multi-tenant solutions typically offer a lot of configuration options that support tailoring and personalization of the solution, invasive customization is precluded.
In fact, Infor has publicly stated its goal of providing complete solutions with zero customization. And yet many partners have made a living off of delivering customization, making this transition to the cloud even more difficult. So Infor has taken steps to allow partners to continue to contribute to that “last mile” of their customers’ implementations.
Infor has provided a next-generation development environment (Mongoose) that allows partners to add functionality, but in a more complementary way, replacing invasive code changes. The advantage to the consumer of the software is in being able to more easily add or change functionality without the usual disruption caused by upgrades and customization. The advantage to the partner is that this new functionality can be re-used and re-sold, and the advantage to Infor is that the solution continues to grow – clearly a win-win-win.
Infor has launched a number of these CloudSuites for different industries, some targeting what they refer to as “Tier 1” enterprises (over $100 million in annual revenues (see sidebar on next page). But most of its partners will be selling in the mid-market, which Infor defines as those with annual revenues between $30 and 500 million. For the majority of these CloudSuite Industrial and CloudSuite Business will be the best fit. These two offerings share a common code base, derived from Infor SyteLine ERP, but each has been specifically configured. CloudSuite Business has been configured for services businesses while CloudSuite Industrial addresses the needs of manufacturers. Those partners that have been selling and supporting SyteLine will find the transition to these configurations easy. Those that have been selling other Infor ERP products will need some extra help in making the transition.
As the name implies, these solutions are all available through the cloud. But Infor emphasizes the “beauty of ‘and’ over the tyranny of ‘or’.” The CloudeSuites can be deployed in a multi-tenant cloud, a private cloud or on premises.
Kicking Off CloudSuite Academy
Without a product, sales efforts are futile. Yet just having a viable cloud product doesn’t guarantee success. Selling and delivering a cloud-based solution is different from the sale and delivery of traditional on-premise software. This too is why the transition to the cloud is so hard for partners.
Mint Jutras has observed other vendors tending to address this problem by recruiting new partners, partners that have cloud DNA, so to speak. This may be appropriate when just starting to build a channel, but Infor’s partner network is quite well developed, with 1500 partners, including 700 channel partners. With a mature channel, this approach turns a blind eye to the tipping point just mentioned. If future sales will be largely cloud-based and existing partners are not able to make that transition, they will wither and die. Infor is not willing to let good partners – partners that customers are comfortable with – flounder. So instead of replacing them, Infor is helping them make that transition.
To that end, Infor has kicked off CloudSuite Academy, a 1.5-day practical training course designed to help alliance and channel partners jump start their Infor CloudSuite business. The first session was held in conjunction with the Infor Americas Partner Summit in February, with a comprehensive agenda for partner business owners, management and practice managers. It included sessions on the process of marketing, selling, supporting and renewing cloud business, as well as CloudSuite solution training and value engineering.
Value Engineering Skills
Infor is also providing tools and training to assist partners in helping customers engineer more value from their solutions. This training introduces a methodology that supports a more strategic way of doing discovery – discovery of the potential for improvement in alignment with the goals of the customer. It includes “discovery templates” for 16 solutions and industries, which assist in benchmarking current performance and quantifying opportunities for improvement.
Evaluating, selecting and implementing a new ERP solution is a massive undertaking. Anyone who has had to sit through days and days of demonstrations knows that after awhile everything starts to blur. Pre-sale consultants have a tendency to want to show you every last feature and function, leading to demo overload. This more purposeful discovery process leads to shorter, but more relevant demos. Benchmarking your current processes and performances helps you set more specific goals that lead to better and faster return on your investment.
Of course dealing with a partner that actually knows your industry is always a big advantage to those evaluating solutions. It is even more important given Infor’s industry-specific approach and its goal of reducing customization to zero. It needs to recruit and retain partners that can best facilitate meeting those objectives. So industry-specific knowledge is important, and as a result, Infor is asking its partners to “declare a major.”
It is not enough for partners to specialize in a general category like manufacturing or distribution. It is not even enough to specialize in an industry like food and beverage, aerospace and defense or industrial manufacturing. Infor is looking for partners to specialize in micro-verticals like dairy, bakery, grains and cereals or prepared foods…or perhaps commercial or defense contractors in A&D…or industrial equipment or oil and gas. It is through this more focused specialization that partners can showcase unique strengths and capabilities and Infor customers can better achieve that “last mile.”
Of course a single partner can specialize in multiple micro-verticals within a vertical. In fact this makes perfect sense as micro-verticals often share some common requirements. But just because a partner specializes in dairy, doesn’t automatically qualify it for prepared foods. This specialty certification is a rigorous process that starts with nominations by customer references. But once a partner qualifies, it receives a certificate of recognition, is allowed to use industry logos and becomes a member of the appropriate industry strategy sales ecosystem and has direct influence on product and strategy decisions. Companies in search of a solution find it easier to find partners that specialize in their field and partners find it easier to be found. By bringing specific supply and demand together, Infor better positions itself for a win. Again we see a win-win-win.
At the same time, those evaluating new solutions find that on the surface many offerings appear to be the same and partners themselves often struggle to differentiate themselves. Combining the value engineering phase with partner micro-vertical specialization should make it easier for those looking for a new system to better differentiate solutions and select one that takes them all the way through the last mile.
Summary and Key Take-aways
As its IPN has matured over the past four years, it would appear that Infor has hit upon a formula for success. By putting customer and partner needs first, it seems to have set the stage for a win-win-win scenario. Recognizing that the way enterprise software is bought and sold has dramatically changed over the past decade, it has brought resources to bear to help partners transition to this new world, rather than discarding them for a new round of partners. It has put in place programs to insure the success of the customers, which in turn insures the success of the partners.
To recap, we see programs, tools and training to support:
- Cloud business enablement – fully supporting the cloud, but providing choice
- Micro-vertical specialization – insuring solutions take customers through the last mile without invasive customization
- Value Engineering – benchmarking performance and encouraging improvements that bring return on investment
- Solution portfolio expansion – helping partners to transition to newer, technology-enabled solutions, expanded to meet all their needs
As a result, new prospects should feel confident in finding the right partner to take them on their journey and existing customers can feel confident in the continued success of the partners they know and value. Infor wins when the needs of both partners and customers are met.
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For more information about Infor and its Infor Partner Network, visit http://www.infor.com