Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Shifting strategy: Infor casts its lot with Microsoft

Infor came out with two significant announcements this morning. Based on a briefing that Infor gave me yesterday, they point to a major strategic shift in direction. Infor's 70,000 customers should take note.

Two announcements
First, Infor announced something called Infor ION, which is a set of software services for application integration, document-based communication, and business process management, across Infor's own applications and non-Infor systems. Infor ION subsumes (my word) Infor's previous work on Open SOA, which was aimed at integrating Infor's existing applications portfolio. Infor is promoting ION as an alternative to "high cost middleware implementations." ION is currently in development, scheduled for release in Q4.

Second, Infor is moving all new product development to Microsoft's technology stack. The elements of the stack include Windows Server, MS Single Sign-On, MS Reporting Services, SQL Server, Silverlight, and Sharepoint. Infor will continue to develop its applications that run on other platforms, such as its IBM Series i and mainframe applications. But all new development will be all Microsoft.

It also means that Infor will deliberately abandon development of its own technology and tools. For example, in the briefing Infor said it was walking away from its own workflow engine development, its own Clear UX user-interface (which it had acquired), and its own efforts to build portal technology using open-source.

A strategic shift for Infor
These two announcements, taken together, represent a major change in product direction for Infor. Here is my evaluation:
  1. Infor is right to give up trying to be a tools developer. There are very few application software vendors that successfully develop proprietary tools or technologies. (The only successful vendor, to my knowledge, is SAP, with its ABAP language--but that's only because ABAP dates from the early 1990s, when client/server development tools were not adequate for what SAP needed. Oracle is another, but Oracle is a technology/tools vendor first and an apps vendor second. Same with Microsoft.)

    There are major benefits for Infor in walking away from tools development. First, it frees up product development funds to focus on the thing that Infor customers really need: continued development, enhancement, and integration of Infor's applications portfolio. Second, by using Microsoft standard technology, it should also allow Infor to get there quicker with its ION integration and business process management framework. Third, it allows Infor to more easily recruit and retain product development and implementation personnel, as they will be working with technologies that are broadly supported in the marketplace. Finally, it is more attractive for customers, who won't need to have their IT personnel trained in another set of tools.
  2. Alignment with Microsoft is the probably the best choice. It's something of a surprise, as Infor has mostly been thought of as more IBM-centric than anything else. But Microsoft is a better choice than IBM for standardizing its technology. Our research at Computer Economics shows that nearly every data center has Microsoft Server in its OS mix. The same cannot be said for any other operating system. This is especially true in the small company and mid-market, where Microsoft Windows averages more than 70% of the data center processing workload. Coming to its installed based with new products based on the Microsoft stack is an easy sell--not so if the stack were IBM's.

    Does this bring Infor into competition with Microsoft's own Dynamics enterprise software business? No more so than for any of the many other Microsoft-based vendors, such as Epicor. Furthermore, there is a huge upside for Microsoft, as the partnership represents a potentially bigger footprint for Microsoft among Infor's 70,000 customers.
I do have one area of question, and that is concerning leadership. It's an open secret than Infor has lost several key executives recently, most notably Jeff Ralyea, formerly VP of product management and Bruce Gordon, formerly Infor's CTO. These individuals were key architects of Infor's Open SOA strategy, which is now incorporated in Infor ION.

Does Infor have the right team in place now to move forward? Infor assured me that it does. The product strategy is being headed up by Soma Somasundaram, Senior VP of Global Product Development, who has a long history with Infor, going back to when it was Agilisys. He will work closely with Jeff Abbot, who is now in charge of both product marketing and product management. In terms of developers, Infor assures me that the bench is deep, with resources worldwide.

As indicated earlier, ION is still in development with release planned for Q4. That will be a key milestone to evaluate the success of Infor's new strategy. In the meantime, I believe the strategic direction is right. But execution is key.

If you are an Infor customer or Infor partner, please let me know your view on these announcements. Is Infor on the right track? Leave a comment on this post, or email me confidentially.

Related posts
Update on Infor's Flex program: customers win
Infor juices up its maintenance program value with Infor Flex
Infor's opportunity: value in maintenance and support
Infor using SOA to breath new life into old apps


Ned Lilly said...

Frank, very interesting analysis. Do you know what open source tools Infor (previously) was using for the portal efforts?

sandeep said...

Great analysis. It looks like Infor SOA is going to be replaced by ion which cant be too bad a thing.Moving to the MS stack will definitley help on the cost of ownership simply becasuse of the ease of resourcing particularly for partners.

Most Infor products already deploy well on the MS OS And SQL layer.The question that this leaves is what happens to the UI/App server/ Business logic layer for the flagship products of ERP LN/Infor WMS/Epiphany where the technology is purley Java/open source based.

Lastly does this serve as a precursor to an MS acquisition.

Suryanarayan said...

The real problem I have about calling this a strategy is that Infor has changed strategy every year or two at most.

Real strategy is that that holds for 3 to 5 years and allows itself to be delivered.

Which is exactly why ABAP survived - SAP just built layers and layers around it - which sometimes is a headache, but has paid off big-time over a period of 20 years.

Other vendors could learn a lot from this strategy - with an enterprise suite its not always about trying to renew yourself, a lego-building block strategy works better over time.

Sandeep said...

Agreed, I guess for Infor , its been trying to find one technology stack that will work across all the products , complicated further by the fact that products like WMS and Syteline have had complete technology overhauls.
I am really hoping that they stick to the this one stack as a strategy for the long term and are able to educate the partner and customer base on it, which was a bit weak with the SOA strategy.

Mike Hader said...

I think this is great news. We have been customers since 1999 with the original Adage ERP (originally SCT)and the supply chain tools (originally FYGIR). As a customer, we have been concerned about the Open Road development stack and then they were spun off from CA and became Ingres with some new life. Infor wants to offer tight integration between its varied products and move to the Microsoft stack will give them the opportunity to do that at reduced cost. They will be able to take advantage of SharePoint and Biztalk and the security enhancements now present in the MS 2010 stack. I happy to see this happen.

Frank Scavo said...

Mike, thanks for the feedback. A couple points though. I don't think Infor has any intention to migrate any of its existing apps off of whatever technology stack they are currently on. The MS stack would be used just for new development.

Second, I was told specifically that Biztalk would not be one of the products they are using for integration. They think it is too complex, I believe. Of course, an individual customer could use Biztalk and I'm sure the Infor products would easily interoperate.

行行企企 said...

Infor's previous SOA offering was base on Progress's Sonic, which was a change from SSA's effort to standardize integration on IBM Websphere.

Now it moves to Microsoft's technology stack. I guessed the change was purely base on the consideration of development cost, or maybe Infor cannot extend the contract agreement with Progress due to few customers buying the Sonic product.

Anonymous said...

I am working for a big Infor customer and we use Oracle, Linux, AIX and some Microsoft. This announcement is causing us to look at their approach in detail.

To Sandeep: I think for us the TCO will go up as we will need some serious hard/software to run this.

But few comments as far as I know now.

Infor was NOT really trying to build technology. They used a lot of open source technology and Java. The comparison to SAP only holds in the case of BaaN tool. Their Open SOA had nothing to do with any of this.

Last time I went to Inforum they showed us some cool new initiatives. As far as I could see (only spent Friday on this) they have killed all those. Those were NOT technology.

So I dont get where you see the huge savings for them. We had looked at their MyDay offering and had scheduled to start this winter. Now if we need MS servers instead of our normal Linux server for those. That is going to be more than $100K extra, just for the server OS.

Did you ask them about any of this or just copy the press releases.

行行企企 said...

Agree with Anonymous that Infor had never tried to build technology. The only outstanding technology they are still maintaining is Baan tool. Developing on Microsoft technology stack is the easiest way for Infor to go forward. Baan's original integration tool OpenWorld was also base on Microsoft products.

Gerard (previously Anonymous) said...

Chun Yue, yes I agree. MS is a better path forward than Baan 4GL (that I used to work on a bit). But not sure I get the benefit of MS vs. Java. The very worrying trend is the user of Silverlight. That is a not possible in our environment. It took 4 years to get Flash / Flex approved.

Again, I dont get the big shift and the more I try to dig on the Infor Website, the less I know.

What happened to all the OpenSOA initiatives (looking at my notes from Inforum). Advanced General Ledger, Pricing, Costing, are they all gone??

行行企企 said...

Gerard, no, Infor is not to replace Baan 4GL or her other ERP development tools(like Adage's Ingres 4GL) with MS tools. Baan 4GL is the most efficient business application development tool, I think even SAP's ABAP cannot match its efficiency, and its the core value of Baan ERP or Infor ERP Ln.

Infor just wants to standardize its enhanced products' development on MS tools, rather than on open source tools and Java. These products will include the integration product and previously announced evolved components like MyDay, Multi-book, order management, MDM, etc.

I think Infor was slow to deliver those evolved components, maybe this is one of the reasons for Infor to switch to MS tools and speed up the development.

Gerard said...

Chun Yue, I am confused. So they keep 4GL, they move from Java to C# and if Frank is right, that is going to save them a lot of effort.

I have done a lot of Java and C# code, must admit the C# was for a desktop environment while Java was server side. But the performance difference is nill. I.e. no difference in development performance.

So if they are not getting rid of all the tooling for Baan 4GL or any of their other 4GL languages (I think they have some more). What were they building that is getting replaced by MS stack.

To quite Frank "deliberately abandon development of its own technology and tools".

I looked at the new initiative products almost 2 years ago now. They were all Java + EXT java script. MyDay was a mini mashup portal. Neither of those was a big tools thing. As far as I knew only the Sytelines and Baan products had massive tool. Are they killing off the Sytelines tooling?

Frank. Please help us :-)

行行企企 said...

For all those AS400 ERP, it is not possible to replace with MS tools. Syteline 7 was alredy developed in MS tools, using a lot VBA scripts and SQL Server stored procedures.

Besides, MS tools is not efficient to develop business application, even Axapta and Navison have its own 4GL tools. For example, it is until recent version that Microsoft realize it is a better approach to separate a UI form with its programming logic. MS tools do provide some standard components, like its workflow framework, reporting services, to be incorporated in some non-business applications like ION.

Frank Scavo said...

Hi all, just catching up with this discussion. Thank you for keeping it alive.

Gerard, my reference to Infor saving a lot of time and effort by going with Microsoft does not refer to them abandoning any of the proprietary tools used in their current applications portfolio. Neither does it refer to their switching from Java to .NET. It refers specifically to the efforts they had in place to develop or continuing to develop their own tools and technology for new products going forward. The specific examples that were mentioned to me in the briefing were 1) Infor's own workflow engine development 2) Infor's own Clear UX user-interface, which it had acquired, and 3) Infor's own portal technology.

Again, Baan 4GL, Adage's use of Ingres, all the existing use of Series i technology--all those are not affected whatsoever. The products using technologies other than Microsoft will continue to be supported and developed. I do believe, however, that products such as Syteline that are already aligned to the Microsoft stack are going to be in a better position to receive investment from Infor. So I do believe their are winners and losers in the Infor portfolio. But Infor is not talking about migrating any existing apps to the MS platform. The MS technologies are simply going to be the go-forward standard for new products. Infor has its hands full already without having to recode its existing apps.

I would agree, though, that Infor's website is useless right now in understanding all this. I would hope that someone from Infor would jump in and engage in this discussion. Especially since I know they follow the Spectator.

Suryanarayan said...

If you look the history of Baan-Invensys-SSA-Infor's technology route, what you see is that it is too heavily influenced by individuals.

Every person who takes over as CTO has to have brand-new *technology strategy* that will keep getting new soundbites and redirect R&D investments for 2-3 years before the next change happens.

The new Infor ION strategy might be good - but OpenSOA seemed so too - customers and partners were bought into that strategy and it seemed to be taking root just this year.

Now again we have another change in direction, so everyone has to again wait and watch to see what happens for an year or so, and customers who have already gone ahead with some form of investment will be really upset.

This is really not the way Infor is going to be able to establish itself as a reliable vendor in the eyes of its prospects in a competitive world.

Daniel Druker said...

In all the technical platform discussion, what's interesting to me is this all still feels very on-premises centric - just swapping one old school on-premises stack for another. Feels like we could have seen this same announcement in 2001 (ok we did, many times). But today the world is moving toward multi-tenancy, cloud platforms, cloud and connected cloud deployments, cloud services etc. It's not clear to me the MSFT stack puts you in a place to be in a leadership role in any of these areas.

So what's really new here beyond the latest design win in the Oracle / IBM / Microsoft on-premises stack war that has been going on for 15 years? Sure Infor will have some savings by killing of their own homegrown tools - but how will this help them break out from the pack in 2010?

Ray picked up on some of this - how does Infor differentiate from Dynamics when they are both taking the same approach on the same stack? I'm missing whether the innovation / disruption / differentiation is going to come from. The answer is surely not Silverlight.

So where's the cloud angle - or even the "software + services" angle, in all of this?

Gerard said...

Frank. Thank you for jumping into this forum again. The 3 initiatives you mentioned sound a bit questionable. The UI and Portal were based on EXTJS, a 3rd party technology. Where they using the Progress workflow before (think someone mentioned Progress/Sonic in the thread). Moving from these to MS does not sound like savings to anyone. At least not customers.

行行企企 said...

Yes, it seems Infor will abandon EXTJS, and probably BIRT report engine. From customers' point of view, it cannot bring them any savings by switching from one technology to another.
Suryanarayan's concern should be typical among Infor's customers. Infor has no long term commitment on the technology platform of such middleware (or glueware). It may choose an easy path to go forward, but it damages the already weak confidence of its install base, again.

Frank Scavo said...

Daniel, re: on-premise vs. cloud. I failed to mention in my original post that Microsoft's Azure platform is supposed to be the cloud platform for Infor's new stack. Infor mentioned this in my briefing. That would allow Infor to deploy its new apps on Microsoft's cloud, but of course it would not make any of them multi-tenant. It would just be another deployment option besides on-premise. It is similar, in my opinion, to what Lawson announced recently. It gives the vendor something to say when analysts ask, what are you guys doing about cloud computing, without developing a true multi-tenant SaaS application.

行行企企 said...

A discussion on this topic on baanboard

Anonymous said...

The changing of the guard from Raylea and Gordon to the current group is a very good change. The group that exists now have far more vision and practical understanding of what is needed.

Inforian said...

Want to post a clarification to the comment about Infor abandoning efforts to build its own tools such as Workflow, user interface framework and portal framework. It is true in that Infor is walking away from building proprietary portal framework and user interface technology. Infor is very much committed to delivering a worklflow component as part of ION – More importantly, Infor will build and deliver pre-built workflows to support specific business processes with customer extensibility.

Frank Scavo said...

Inforian, thanks for the clarification. I hope that point was clear in my post. I didn't mean to imply Infor would not provide workflows, but rather that Infor would not be building its own TOOLS for providing workflows. Rather Infor would be using Microsoft technologies.

Unknown said...

If Microsoft and Infor are "Partnering" why is Infor not able to sell any MSFT ERP products? Infor gets nothing out of this except a proven development platform and press releases to cover it's 3 year, 130 million dollar failure that was OpenSOA.

ION is cool, but it is NOT a consolidation of tech, it's a mix of MSFT and JAVA tech.

Microsoft is currently hiring heavily in ERP, their eyes are probably fixed on Infor.