I recently attended Infor’s Virtual User Conference, which includes presentations on its future technology direction, both generally and in the financial software category (See: “Infor and Enterprise Applications: Did You Hear Their Tune?”). Bruce Gordon, the Chief Technology Officer, talked about Infor’s direction, which I think is following a business orientation. This reflects a major shift in business computing. The first half century of the computer age was about the development of technology. Technology innovation will still be important, but gains in the value business computing will be limited unless organizations find it much easier to utilize the technology capabilities that exist and are able to harness the data these systems with far less effort than is required today. I believe for this reason, Infor thinks its best approach is to have products that make it relatively easy for companies to automate their business processes, rather than having to adapt their business processes to technology constraints.
Bruce also described its technology direction conceptually in terms of what it will enable businesses to accomplish by using its software. Another aspect of “process centric” software is one which manages end-to-end processes (requisition-to-pay, recruit-to-retire or quote-to-cash, for example) rather than handling only the individual bits (creating a purchase order or processing an invoice). Because end-to-end processes requires interaction between people in executing the process, business applications must be collaborative. Since, in today’s business environment processes can extend upstream into suppliers or downstream into customers or channel partners, it’s critical to enable collaboration in executing processes or handling exceptions. Indeed, over the past two decades a major economic benefit of business software has been to reduce the need for middle managers to communicate and coordinate, with the result that in the United States businesses have flatter structures than they once did. As businesses put more end-to-end processes in place, it reduces the need for human coordination but it also requires automated supervision, which means software must enable more monitoring, alerting and risk management to enable organizations to manage by exception rather than by routine. Along the same lines, software must be “directive.” In other words, it should be anyone’s assistant, organizing and prioritizing what each individual should be doing.
Some of these concepts will be built out in the future, while some already exist today (albeit with plenty of room to expand), particularly in the company’s Performance Management applications (covered in Scott Lindsay’s presentation). Infor’s “My Day” is an attempt to organize information and processes according to business function and role as my colleague discussed from last year’s conference (See: “Infor Introduces a New Business Day with Infor MyDay”). There are 40 of these now but the company long-term plan is to have 150. More granular definitions are important, especially in small- to midsize companies because people typically divide their time between multiple roles. Infor “Decisions” extends this idea into function/role-specific analytical application packs for trends and analysis. All of this requires the ability to pull information from multiple systems and maintain these connections with least amount of effort to get more productivity from smaller IT departments. Scott also detailed the series of planned enhancements to the performance management products which involves increasing the amount of automation tools for planning, closing and reporting. There will be a continuing stream of ease of use enhancements (such offering more Excel and Web interfaces for planning, consolidation analysis and other functions). Infor has added XBRL support for businesses that will need to support the requirements to provide external reports that incorporate XBRL tags (such as the SEC’s mandate for US public companies) as I had already analyzed (See: “IBM, Infor, Oracle and SAP Step Up XBRL”).
In all, the company’s technical direction aims at making business computing more useful for individuals in ways that address the needs of its core market: midsize companies and divisions of larger ones, especially in manufacturing-related verticals. The focus of the investments Infor is making in its underlying architecture is in reducing the time and cost of implementing, maintaining and using IT. This follows the bigger trend we see in shifting the focus of technology innovation to what it can deliver end users. Gains in the value business computing will be limited unless organizations find it much easier to utilize the technology capabilities that exist and are able to harness the data these systems with far less effort than is required today.
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Robert D. Kugel - SVP Research