Can Infor solve the autonomous supply chain problem for the enterprise?

Profile picture for user ddpreez By Derek du Preez July 1, 2019
Summary:
Supply chain is a complex operational problem, largely due to its fragmented nature. However, supply chain as a network, combined with machine learning, becomes an interesting opportunity.

Image of a truck delivering goods as part of supply chain

I recall that during one of my most recent discussions with Infor CEO Charles Phillips, he and I both mused that one of the pieces of the Infor puzzle that most people fail to grasp the significance of, is the opportunity of Infor Nexus - the company’s supply chain network. So, following a recent visit to Infor’s Innovation Summit at the company’s HQ in New York City, I thought it might be an opportune time to pull together why the vendor’s focus on the supply chain is so interesting.

Infor Nexus was formed following the acquisition of GT Nexus back in 2015, which is a global cloud-based platform that serves more than 25,000 companies managing more than $100 billion worth of goods each year. It also facilitates more than $20 billion in payments between buyers and their suppliers across 90 different countries.

Supply chain has always been a horribly complex problem to solve for the enterprise. Why? Because most of it (80%, according to Infor) means relying upon information from organisations outside of an enterprise’s own four walls. The movement of goods happens across a network of shipping and freight companies, factories and logistic operators, in order to get products to customers.

Prior to the cloud, getting insight into where those goods are, how stock levels are impacting deliveries, or even how factory malfunctions will cause you delays, was virtually impossible. Companies relied on spreadsheets and a ‘wait and see’ approach to get goods from A to B.

In the digital age, where speed and customer expectations are changing at a rapid rate, enterprises need to ensure their supply chains operate as smoothly as possible. Data is key. Furthermore, prescriptive tools that learn from data across the network becomes very compelling, as it targets increased efficiency.

And that’s what Infor Nexus - previously GT Nexus - aims to solve. By collecting companies and supply chain partners onto a single network, over the past 20 years, it is able to offer a level of visibility that enterprises are not able to achieve on their own. However, Infor’s involvement with the network is elevating this even further into two key areas:

  1. Creating an autonomous supply chain network

  2. Enterprise applications that are contextually aware of the supply chain

The importance of a single instance

Heidi Benko, VP Strategy at Infor Nexus, speaking at Infor’s Innovation Summit, firstly outlined the USP of having a network that combines all trading partners and companies onto a single platform. She said:

“We are the world’s largest single instance business network. What we’ve been doing over the last 20 years is connecting companies to their supply chain partners and making supply chain seamless. We connect companies or trading partners and we automate the process of logistics, procurement and finance. We’ve helped our customers increase content delivery, reduce lead times, free up working capital.

There are other supply chain networks out there. There are some that focus on logistics. Some connect with banks. We connect with everybody in a single platform.

Why is a single instance important? There are a lot of other network platforms, but they are typically private clouds, which means all those supply chain partners have to log in multiple times. We have 20 years of supply chain data, across all these different supply chains, all these different companies, and their flows. So we are able to apply intelligence to data that’s not any single enterprise.

And Benko is right. Having all of this in a single, integrated view is invaluable to a digital business that is focused on the movement of goods. She added that since being acquired by Infor, they’ve been focused on creating a “next generation supply chain that’s more real time and intelligent”. By what does that mean? Firstly, creating supply chain aware enterprise applications is a significant advantage for companies that are all in with Infor - or are considering going all in. Why? Because having contextual supply chain information within your ERP, for example, creates an even more frictionless experience for something that is inherently complicated.

Benko‘s colleague, Jennifer Sever, SVP Product and Services at Infor Nexus, said:

We are making our enterprise applications network aware. We want our enterprise applications to be the smartest applications because we want them to understand what’s going on in the network.

So one of our core focuses is how we enable the Infor solutions, the Cloud Suite solutions, to work really well with the network. To connect with the ERP, to make sure that whole process is seamless, to connect your end-to-end supply chain. What’s the differentiator between connecting any ERP and connecting with Infor ERP? One will be the single user experience. You can actually be in your ERP and see what’s going on in your supply chain and be able to work across both of those applications.

Going all in with Infor not only allows you to take advantage of the unified UX, but also it’s machine learning and AI capabilities, with its recently announced Coleman tool. Sever added:

The other area is the virtual enterprise - being able to say, I’ve got this new demand in, so you can actually connect directly to the network, understand where all your inventory is, understand what’s on order and whether the factory is in the process, and understand whether you can meet that demand in real time. The idea is that we can connect Coleman between the ERP and the network to really allow you to make decisions a lot more quickly.

The Control Centre

So, you’ve got a single view of your supply chain network. You’ve got contextually aware enterprise applications. Now what? Infor wants to take things further and implement even greater autonomy over supply chain decisions. This is visualised in the form of its recently released Control Centre, which essentially pulls all the data together across all the supply chain flows, giving users insights into what is happening on the network. The idea is that Coleman can be used to monitor the data over time - and the enterprise’s decision making when presented with that data - to offer prescriptive solutions.

It’s worth noting that the Control Centre not only introduces autonomy, but it also aims to break down those organisational silos further. If everyone involved has a single view of what’s happening across the network, collaboration can happen more easily around that decision making process.

Benko explained:

This is how it all comes together. We are bringing in real time visibility, more insights, at a granular level. The control centre is how we bring this end-to-end visualisation to different parties in the organisation, to address situations faster. It’s really about seeing tomorrow, but acting today. So we use that predictive intelligence to predict what’s happening in the supply chain. Are things running on time or are they running late? We’re focused on late shipments and stock counts at the moment. Predicting those, so you can prevent problems.

So it’s not ‘whoops, I’m out of stock’’, it’s ‘what can I do about it?’. It’s about real time visibility, predicting issues, and prescriptive resolutions. You can’t respond quickly when you’re dealing with spreadsheets and digging for information. You need insights in real time. One of the things we see on the network, is that on average for a larger enterprise customer, the rate of change on their supply chain network is 50 times per second. That’s an order change, a late shipment notice, a shipping update, etc. You need the latest and greatest information at your fingertips. 80% of your supply chain information is outside the enterprise, you can’t just base it on what’s on your enterprise system. The more a company does on our platform, the more visibility you get into our control centre.

And, as noted above, Coleman will get more and more intelligent the more companies use the platform. Benko added:

We’re constantly observing. We’re observing your decisions, we’re observing those choices. So over time, Coleman’s going to start not to just predict but also prescribe. The goal is over time that you can start to put things on autopilot. Coleman is constantly observing all the flows on the network. It’s not just an individual company - it’s all the flows going on in the network. We are listening for signals. So, if you expect something to happen and it didn’t, we can alert you. Taking all that information, those 50 changes per second, and focusing users on what is important. Over time solutions will begin to prescribe what we think you should do.

My take

Why is all of this compelling for Infor? Because it allows Infor to become a compelling data business - collecting data from the factory floor all the way through to customer engagement. The longer it stays in that game, the better. Combine this with what CEO Charles Phillips told me recently about the company looking at acquiring industry data too, and the whole story becomes a lot more compelling.