Nothing is tougher in enterprise software than reinvention. Ask SAP, still acquiring pieces. Ask Oracle, still in uphill mode with Fusion. A less-discussed makeover has been taking place at Infor. The diginomica team had a chance to evaluate Infor’s strategy up close, both at Inforum 2013 and during customer video shoots (and interviews) in the UK. What are the lessons learned to date?
A review of our video shoots from Inforum 2013 brings out these keys to enterprise software reinvention:
- Integration (on the customer’s terms, not the vendor’s)
- Mobility and ease of mobile app development
- Cloud options and speed of deployment
- Industry specialization
- Real-time over delayed/batch processing
- Customer co-innovation
- User experience (dramatic improvements often needed)
- Minimizing cost/disruption of upgrades needed for new functionality
Last but not least: rethinking apps and business models from the customer viewpoint – customers who have struggles of their own getting outward-facing and internal systems working in some kind of coherence. Let’s dig in.
Integration needs for ERP customers have changed; vendors are scrambling to keep pace. Integrating internal systems doesn’t cut it anymore. It’s about tying in external facing systems (often cloud-based) with internal processes. Weekend batch processing isn’t acceptable for customer-facing data either. In his recent piece Going real time to beat the building slump, diginomica blogger Phil Wainewright looked at the experience of Infor customer CH Briggs, now live on a successful deployment of Inforce Everywhere, which connects Infor ERP with Salesforce.com.
Regarding the agenda of today’s ERP customers, this quote from president and COO Don Schalk about implementing Inforce Everywhere stood out:
We talked to (Infor) about this product in November 2011 and that product was actually operational in six months. This whole issue of traditionally what would occur and the speed at which new products can be brought on today has been totally exploded.
Schalk went on to say:
The thing that surprised us in this process was, five years ago if I’d gone to Infor and said, would you develop this for me, they would have said it would take 18 months.
Measurable results don’t hurt either. For this project, Schalk reported a 15 percent increase in business – in an economy that is still not smiling on the construction industry. More often than not, these emerging use cases combine multiple reinvention themes. In this case, add in the need for real-time sales data and mobile app deployment. Innovations aren’t a luxury either; Schalk credits this project with helping the company survive, ‘and even now thrive, in what I would call challenging times.’
When it comes to Infor’s integration strategy, the customer reception towards ION, Infor’s heavily-promoted middleware solution, will be a big factor. Prior to Inforum 2013, Dennis filmed this video with Chris Moore, Director at Hi-Technology Group Ltd., an SMB based in the UK and Slovakia that has implemented ION:
1:19 Hi-Tech uses technology to interface with customers on the same level as larger companies
2:14 Infor’s ION extension takes guesswork out of the manufacturing process
3:09 How ION helps Hi-Tech provide a better customer experience
4:14 Hi-Tech hopes to push the data onto customer-supplied mobile devices
5:19 Pushing data directly to customers would add a significant service component – and value
In the case of Hi-Technology Group, ION has helped them to have immediate access to customer-facing data. Getting back to our initial themes, mobile solutions that further customer intimacy factor heavily into Hi-Technology Group’s integration strategy. I particularly liked this quote from Chris Moore when Dennis asked Chris if it might get awkward to show a customer they are actually, well, behind forecast:
It helps you, because we have a level understanding of each other’s products. We’d like to think that we understand the customer’s business as well as our own business. It’s a partnership between the two companies.
At Inforum 2013, our videos with Infor executives led us back to the same topics. We filmed a video with Dennis and President Duncan Angove. During the shoot, Angove made clear that Infor is all-in on making integration easy via lightweight ION middleware. He also doubled-down on micro-verticals, using the heavy machinery industry as an example.
Prior to the video, Angove conceded that while Infor is optimistic about their micro-vertical approach, when it comes to delivering last-mile solutions, you have to pick your industries. In the new enterprise, vendors are going to find it tough to be all things to all industries. Back to speed of development: Angove noted that Infor can now get to market about 12 months after deciding which micro-vertical to target, unlike the old 3 to 5 year cycle.
Angove also touched on Infor’s cloud moves, a story which continued during our video on Infor’s cloud strategy with Ali Shadman, SVP for Business Cloud. Shadman gave his view on Infor customers’ cloud needs:
:37 What can be done on the cloud that’s real, safe and production-grade
1:19 Clients see edge applications as easier to move than transactional systems
1:51 Partnership with IBM SmartCloud will span a range of Infor systems
3:22 Infor’s take on cloud outages
Shadman said that customers are aggressively pursuing ‘edge’ use cases in ares like CRM and PLM. But interest in moving transactional systems to the cloud is growing – fast. As for security, Shadman acknowledged that it’s an issue enterprise vendors are going to have to account for. Having a manufacturing system go down is much more serious than a Netflix outage (neither of us meant any offense to Arrested Development buffs).
Fitting mobile into the picture, Nick Borth, Product Manager at Infor, had some unexpected things to say about where his customers are with mobility, particularly in terms of mobile app development. As I noted in the video writeup:
Borth says that, surprisingly enough, customers want to roll out their own mobile apps — despite the learning curve involved. He also reports receiving a lot of enhancement requests for Infor’s mobile apps. Which suggests an evolving ecosystem that combines Infor’s apps with those that customers develop.
Enterprise vendors have a long way to go with mobile apps stores at any rate – a topic I dove into in Enterprise mobile storefronts struggle.
Infor’s story brings valuable lessons because of the customer imperative to unite core transactional processes with external-facing systems. Growing pains are expected and success is far from certain. As Phil Wainewright put it:
…organizations are loath to upgrade core systems like HCM, manufacturing and financials. Getting as many as one in 20 to upgrade in a single year could prove to be an ambitious target. The story told at Inforum 2013 was designed to inveigle as many as possible into making the move, and if Infor succeeds better than its rivals it will stay in the game. But it is a gamble for sure: a precipice, on which Infor as much as any of its competitors, is teetering.
During our Inforum 2013 wrap video with Ray Wang, he offered similar conclusions, while noting the strides Infor has made on improving the user experience – a serious issue for all the incumbent vendors.
The good news or bad news, depending on the vendor, is that customers are still in the early stages of these transformations themselves. As Don Schalk of CH Briggs said to Phil Wainewright: ‘The exciting part for us is, with the tools that we have, I think we’ve just scratched the surface really. We’re learning every day.’
Translation for enterprise software vendors: there’s time to complete these reinventions, but there’s also time to fail trying.
Photo credit: schild lr modern retro I © WoGi – Fotolia.com
Disclosure: Infor paid Jon’s travel expenses to Inforum 2013