Privately-held Infor (a standalone subsidiary within the Koch Industries conglomerate) aspires to close the gap between itself and the largest software providers SAP, Oracle, Microsoft and Salesforce.
CEO Kevin Samuelson has been musing on this, noting that software implementations take a long time, customization and integration remain a big issue and whenever a new technology (in this instance AI) becomes fashionable, the focus tends to be on tooling rather than outcomes.
Add to this the fact that the majority of Infor’s customer base is industrial (traditionally slower to embrace IT changes than other sectors) and you can see the business conundrum - how to move the needle on customer adoption and Infor’s growth?
Enterprise automation integrated with AI is key, along with partners
Infor bet the farm on industry-specific clouds years ago. The Infor OS platform enables core technology to be shared across these clouds, while industry pieces are built out to support over 2,000 micro verticals. Given this spread of diverse requirements, Infor is very invested in being part of the API economy and envisages a much bigger role for partners here.
Hence the launch of its Developer Portal, which now has over 50 new tutorials, new gateways to expose APIs as well as design resources, communities and a marketplace. The API directory is currently a library, with a section on best practices, and there is a listing marketplace to showcase the ecosystem. Infor has begun this marketplace with known partners, such as Godlan for Prophecy IoT, FellowPro for DocBits, iCIMS Talent Cloud and StarPoint’s dynamic mapping capabilities. The future direction is to move to a transaction-based revenue-sharing marketplace model, with a wider ecosystem.
Samuelson refers to Infor OS as the “app backbone”, the integration platform that can enable granular services via a single API gateway so that industry-specific data can be acted upon via the event-driven architecture. The idea is not to digitize business processes, but to create a technology environment where civilian users can improve productivity, while being unaware of the technology.
Ultimately, the goal is for RPA to be woken up by an AI intervention in order to improve the process. Process mining will mean that an anomaly detected in an end-to-end process can trigger a fast response automatically. These capabilities are scheduled for launch next year and will be embedded in the workspace as a unified AI (Artificial Intelligence), BI (Business Intelligence) and PI (Process Intelligence) capability accessed by a single user interface.
Moving forward the goal is for Infor to make it easy to support business process composition by connecting industry objects so that, say, orders can be quickly connected to opportunities or to warehouse transactions.
And, naturally, if customers don’t want to be slowed down by integration issues, the RPA to use is the one now provided by Infor, which launched at Infor Now last week.
Customers feel empowered to innovate
Most of the customers speaking at Infor Now shared several characteristics. They were mid-sized industrial organizations with small (sometimes one-person) IT teams. They seemed to have been Infor customers for a long time, many beginning the Infor relationship with on-premise deployments. Now, however, in line with wider industry trends, a lot have recently transitioned to cloud delivery. The drive to do this seemed largely to do with ramping up productivity, without increasing headcount.
Customers were very impressed with Infor’s professional services capabilities, and this, to my mind, is a neat differentiator for Infor, given the typical size of their customers’ IT teams. This type of customer generally cannot justify high ticket consultancy, and yet, given the constraints of a small team does not have the bandwidth to engage in much experimentation. As one customer said:
We do not have our own data scientists and want to focus on the business challenges, not the tech, so Infor takes on little experimental projects for us as part of our CareFor support services package.
Getting the balance right between innovation and outcomes has largely been managed via Infor’s Innovation Showcase, which involved the company partnering with 53 of its accounts to demonstrate the types of use cases that are possible with the new technology capabilities on offer. The goal is to help customers with technology adoption, and several customers gave glowing reports of both the business acumen and technical knowledge of the Infor innovation teams they worked with.
When it comes to AI, quite a few customers found that their management boards are simply eager to have bragging rights for AI projects in progress, without having a very clear idea of what they want to use the technology to do. Step up Infor R&D Services, which can help customers identify business opportunities, validate that they have sufficient data quality and jointly estimate the benefits of a project. If the customer has the right licensing agreement for the features required, this is part of a complimentary six-week commitment to speed up technology adoption.
Setting up the organizational structure to support customer success and technology adoption in the world of cloud delivery and annuity-based revenue is not new. However, the difference with Infor’s approach is that the primary provider of these services is Infor itself. Indeed, several customers said that they use Infor first and then go to channel for solutions. This is partly because Infor has not put as much emphasis or effort on channel development as some of its larger competitors.
This is changing as partners are an essential booster for customer technology adoption and growth, and Infor customers are beginning to see a difference in partners who are felt to be more up to speed on Infor product than they used to be. At the Infor event, the company also announced the expansion of its alliance with its leading GSI, Deloitte. This partnership will now cover the Nordics as well as the US.