Infor’s cloud evolution continues - big enhancements in financials

Profile picture for user brianssommer By Brian Sommer April 6, 2016
Summary:
Brian Sommer pores over the detail of Infor's journey to heft its huge base of installed users across many product lines to modern compute architectures and cloud in particular.

Infor recently hosted several dozen industry analysts at its New York City headquarters. The company's Innovation Summit featured a number of top Infor executives and briefings on a few major product lines. We were also shown their design studio, where their Hook & Loop creative folks do their magic. Also on the agenda were updates re: the recent GT Nexus acquisition.

Shortly after this event, Infor officially announced the availability of two cloud suites: Infor CloudSuite Financials and Infor CloudSuite Supply Management. While the firm sells these together as the CloudSuite Financials & Supply Management Suite, the two solution sets can be acquired individually.

The firm has branded a number of vertical (e.g., Health Care and Hospitality) and horizontal (e.g., HCM) applications with the CloudSuite name.

The Infor CloudSuite Supply Management solution has functionality for: requisitions, purchase orders, warehouse, contract management, recall management, punchout, inventory, supplier order management, strategic sourcing and more.  The Supply Management suite is a major release for Infor and represents a material development effort.

I went to the event specifically to learn more about the new Infor CloudSuite Financials. 

The timeline to a new cloud financials application suite

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  • Infor, a major ERP software vendor with tens of thousands of customers, has numerous financial software solutions. Some are integrated with its manufacturing, supply chain and numerous vertical suites. Alternatively, some of these solutions can be/were sold as standalone financial solutions.
  • Few of Infor’s solutions had anything close to a cloud component. About 3 years ago, Infor added a cloud data warehouse and integration capability (i.e., ION) to many of these products lines (the Infor Industry Cloud). They also added a collaboration tool to these apps called Ming.le. These and other cloud capabilities gave a dose of ‘fresh’ cloud capability to product lines that had not seen much enhancement the last decade (or two). These cloud capabilities enabled customers and/or resellers/channel partners to host the solutions on Amazon’s AWS cloud. The solutions, essentially, were single tenant solutions. Some Infor industry suites may possess a mix of cloud and on-premises applications.
  • Key Infor industry solutions are in the retail, public sector, health care and manufacturing.
  • According to Infor, approximately 4,700 customers now have some cloud functionality in use (58,000,000 users).
  • Next and specific to the financial products, Infor developed a migration path for its existing financial software users i.e. users of E-Series (MSA), M-Series (McCormack & Dodge), Infinium (nee Software 2000), Lawson, SunAccount/SunSystems and possibly other product lines e.g. Elevon/Walker to enhanced solutions. This migration, called UpgradeX, added cloud capabilities a la Ming.le, ION, etc. to these product lines. UpgradeX was a functional and partial technology upgrade to the existing product lines.
  • Simultaneous with the UpgradeX activity, Infor began development of an all-new cloud financial software suite. This was a ground up development effort.
  • The development effort was mostly staffed by Lawson personnel with substantial global functionality/design contributed by SunSystems personnel. Both SunSystems and Lawson products were acquired by Infor or its predecessors years ago.
  • Infor is announcing the general availability of its Infor CloudSuite Financials products this week
  • The product has undergone a lot of volume and functional testing with several customers including one very large life insurer.
  • Customers of this new CloudSuite Finance product line will notice substantial new global functionality, revenue recognition functionality and more.
  • These beta customers, it should be noted, are running this solution either on-premises or in hosted, single-tenant fashion for now. As Infor said in one of their slides, the solution was “Fundamentally built for the cloud”. Some of the Infor cloud technologies that make up the new cloud stack have only recently been made multi-tenant. This may contribute to why so many of the early adopters are running these implementations on-premises.
  • CloudSuite Financials modules include: Global Ledger, Receivables & Billing, Payables & Matching, Case Management, Asset Accounting, Lease Accounting, Project Ledger, Cash Management

My take

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  • When you look at the totality of the Infor installed base, it’s huge. It’s staggering in size.  Tens of thousands of customers of older products are out there and they need new products. The renovation work Infor has been doing these last five years has been Herculean – of that, there’s no doubt.
  • Adding some cloud capabilities to existing product lines has met with a fair bit of success within the installed base. But the acceptance rate has still a long ways to go before a majority of the customers have made this first step to the cloud.
  • Infor’s UpgradeX may not be enough for some customers – especially those who are hungry for a full, public cloud, multi-tenant ERP suite. That solution may still be a bit off in this distance. To date, there are only 206 UpgradeX customers from the Lawson customer base.
  • The all-new suites may ultimately be the answer but they’ll take a while to roll out.
  • The Financial Suite functionality looks competitive with products from Intacct, NetSuite and Workday. I particularly liked the multiple set of books capability, global functionality, embedded workflow/exception handling and other aspects.
  • What I didn’t like was that the product doesn’t have an embedded budgeting/planning/forecasting capability built-in. That functionality is available in a separate EPM module of Infor’s for now. To Infor’s credit, if a user acquires both their EPM and financials suite products, then Infor provides its own pre-integrated APIs. Data moves painlessly between the systems and lots of extra functionality appears to come online. Some data redundancy and latency may still occur as each system uses its copy of the information for processing.
  • Other cloud financial software providers often require users to purchase a third party tool that may or may not come with pre-supplied connectors. I could write a small book on the challenges this type of loose integration creates. Ideally, what customers would value is an EPM solution that works with the same (not a copy of) data as the financials modules and is fully integrated in the application. That means there aren’t redundant charts of accounts, different reporting tools, different menu structures, etc. between the EPM solution and the Financials products. Infor’s solutions gets pretty close from an integration perspective but it’s still a separate product. Industry forces are going to demand even tighter integration, if not downright embedding of EPM functionality within Financials applications soon.

Final thoughts

Again, taken as a whole, one must respect four things about the Infor of the last 5 years or so. Infor has:

  1. Made tough choices about which product lines would be the basis for the firm’s future and enhance them fast.
  2.  Created a number of new cloud capabilities for customers to access and start the modernization of their application portfolio and business capabilities.
  3. Re-thought the tech stack of the modern software firm. Infor’s clearly chosen to let Amazon AWS be a key computing capability going forward. That’s smart. They’ve also embraced significant numbers of Amazon computing utilities and open source tools to keep costs down for them and their customers.
  4. Are simultaneously rolling out, rapidly, major functional and design enhancements across a number of verticals. This last point is quite telling as many large software vendors seem to move with the speed and frequency of the Earth’s tectonic plates. Infor’s moving way faster. Sometimes, it seems to an impatient person like me that they should go faster in some areas but then again, look at the mass they’re moving. Like I said - it's huge.