This article is an excerpt from the report Agile Demand-Supply Alignment — Part Three: ADSA Solution Assessments.
A copy of the full report can be downloaded here.
In Part 3D, we looked at Elementum (incident management) and IBM Sterling (control tower). Here we examine Infor Nexus.
Infor Nexus: Mature End-to-end Global Trade, Logistics, and Finance Platform
GT Nexus was founded in 1998, merged with TradeCard in 2013, acquired by Infor in 2015, and renamed Infor Nexus in 2019. Designed as a multi-party networked platform from the start, InforNexus provides an end-to-end platform for global trade, with visibility throughout the purchase-to-pay process. The platform and applications were almost entirely developed organically (i.e., not via acquisitions) and as a result are well-integrated, purpose-built, with a good UX.
The platform has a solid architecture, designed as a multi-party platform from the start, with multi-enterprise master data management, multi-enterprise security, and rapid supplier onboarding capabilities. Infor Nexus offers strong data quality capabilities and services, including 24X7 monitoring and technical staff that helps detect and correct trading partner data quality issues.2
Infor Nexus has accumulated a lot of learning and specific IP and process knowledge from their 22 years of experience helping major brands, OEMs, and retailers with global trade. Their applications tend to become deeply embedded in their customers’ operations who have major portions of their supply chains running on the platform. Infor Nexus is quite strong in supply chain finance, particularly differentiated by their pre-invoice and pre-shipment financing capabilities. The platform was largely developed organically (with very few acquisitions), which makes for a system that is focused and well-integrated. Infor Nexus launched ‘Control Center’ in 2018, providing a strong foundation and path towards autonomous supply chain capabilities.
Target Customer Characteristics/Factors Driving Adoption
Infor Nexus excels at serving companies with complex global supply chains, with characteristics such as:
- Multi-region, multi-site operations, and/or outsourced manufacturing, global network of suppliers
- Typically, with long lead times and lack of visibility
- Global transportation, using multiple 3PLs and LSPs, long multi-leg, multi-mode shipments
- Large ocean or air shipping volumes
- Too many expedites and/or late shipments
- Multiple disparate, enterprise systems across business units and regions
- Low fill rates, high stockouts, high chargebacks
They are not as good of a fit for companies that do mostly domestic/in-country sourcing, or who ship primarily high-volume parcels and/or via a dedicated private fleet.
Enabling growth is the main reason some customers adopt Infor Nexus. By automating tasks such as monitoring supply chains to detect issues, collecting information for resolving those issues, and investigating the impact of different resolutions, the skilled professionals running the supply chain become more efficient and can do more higher value tasks with less, enabling the organization to grow without adding headcount. Another driver is profitability. By reducing inventory, stockouts, and markdowns, expediting, and overall freight costs, profit margins are improved. Some adopt the platform to improve continuity and flexibility of supply, via early issue detection and resolution, as well as strengthening marginal suppliers by providing them with more affordable and accessible supply chain finance options. Some customers use the platform to increase customer service reliability, using the platform to receive early warning of demand-supply imbalance and to fix those issues, as well as ensuring more precise and reliable delivery.
Almost half of Infor Nexus’ revenue comes from fashion apparel and footwear. They have a strong presence in several other industries including general retail, CPG, automotive and industrial manufacturing, and logistics service providers. Some large 3PLs use Infor Nexus as the underpinning technology for their business and service offering. Infor Nexus’s retail and manufacturing clients tend to be large, multi-billion-dollar firms. Some of their fashion brand clients are somewhat smaller, but still generally several hundred million dollars or more in revenue.
Typical functions using Infor Nexus applications include:
- Supply Chain
- Sourcing and Procurement
- Global Logistics and Distribution
- Finance, Treasury, and Accounts Payable
- Operations, Manufacturing
Infor Nexus has deep functionality in ocean logistics from their founding heritage. They have the strongest origin management and among the strongest overall logistics & transportation functionality of the reviewed vendors, though it doesn’t contain deep domestic planning and optimization functionality found in leading TMS providers. Their financial settlement and supply chain finance capabilities are differentiators, with major commercial banks and trade financial institutes integrated on the platform.
Nexus has a suite of products that manage the supplier engagement process, from onboarding through forecast collaboration, production tracking, packing and labeling, shipment booking, invoicing, and payment, with embedded financial services available throughout the process. Infor provides a strong set of tools to ensure that suppliers comply with the retailer’s or OEM’s unique, comprehensive compliance rules (e.g., retailer-specific labeling, packaging, documentation, routing guides, etc.). The Nexus Factory Management solution will take the packing requirements outlined in the PO, calculate carton weights and measurements, and enforce the actual packing of the physical product. These can be detailed requirements, such as “pack one M, two L, and one XL in store-ready format.” These can be enforced via RFID or barcode scan to confirm the correct sizes and quantities while the system generates the right retailer-specific packing labels.
Suppliers can request transportation either via a forwarder in the form of a vendor booking, or request transportation bookings directly with carriers on the Nexus platform using the enterprise’s contracted rates. The request can go through a buyer workflow to allow configurable supplier fulfillment validations. Once approved, the transportation request can be booked directly with the LSP or the platform can automatically execute a booking directly with the carrier using the enterprise’s carrier contracts.3
Once a number of these requests are received, an automated scheduled job can be run using the Infor Nexus Planning and Optimization Engine. The optimization engine looks at the number of carrier options, lanes, legs, service level, equipment type, transit time, rates, mode constraints as well as other constraints, to recommend the least cost, best service level option respecting promised delivery dates on the order. Contracts can be fed into Nexus’s rating engine for least cost/allocations-driven automatic plan creation. Maximum equipment utilization is at the core of the optimization algorithms. It can enforce constraints like whether temperature-controlled equipment is required, separation of hazardous materials, and stackability of shipped units, if that information is provided to the system. A user can manually create loads or take an optimized load plan and manually change it to suit inventory or other needs. Infor Nexus’s Freight Pay and Audit application use pre-compliant contract-based invoices generated from the platform as a basis for a carrier invoice audit.
Supplier Quality Assurance
Infor Nexus’s Quality Assurance application includes a mobile app that lets suppliers capture details of quality defects, with photos, right there on the factory floor, and then upload those details along with any required documentation. Quality issues that arise can be collaborated upon within the QA applications or with Nexus’s Issue Management application.4
CFS Management and Optimization
Infor Nexus supports Container Freight Station (CFS) functionality. A cross-dock or transload facility can be brought up quickly, processing freight accurately, with inventory visibility. Basic put away and picking of inventory to/from named locations as well as allocation orders for “virtual” warehouses are supported. Third-party WMS systems can be integrated. Built-in logic can decide which orders to consolidate into a Shipping Order with provisions to control which equipment is used for container loading, taking into account the costs associated with the selected equipment and load capacity utilization. If the loading violates the defined capacity utilization, then the system can either warn the user or stop further processing. An approval/rejection process is available for the shipping plan. Arrival details, along with date/place can be made visible at a container level using ASNs. The warehouse receipt application can turn vendor booking and shipments into inventory receipts, using visibility into on-hand inventory to fulfill demand allocations.
Intuitive, Advanced Control Tower (aka Control Center)
Infor Nexus calls its control tower a “Control Center,” to differentiate it from a visibility-only control tower, with the ultimate goal of providing autonomous supply chain capabilities. While not yet quite as functionally rich as the control towers of two of the other providers5 we reviewed, we think it is the most intuitive control tower of those we looked at, bringing together all the right information in ways that make sense, and thereby enabling higher productivity in resolving issues. One reason for this is their use-case-based paradigm, classifying issues according to the type of ‘Situation’ that is happening. When it detects a specific situation, the platform then provides exactly the right information, diagnostics, workflows, and resolutions specifically designed for that situation, to help the user understand and resolve it. Examples of Situations they have developed responses for include ’late arrival to final destination’ and ‘projected inventory shortage,’ with plans to build out a broad library of other Situations.
Infor Nexus is taking a methodical approach to developing these Situations and the user experience for resolving them. They have been working closely with a few early adopter customers, talking to inventory planners, supply chain planners, transportation planners, and warehouse managers, observing how they work, and interviewing them about what information they need at their fingertips to solve various problems. They find that each of the roles needs different specific data, presented in a specific way for each type of situation. From what I have seen, this approach is yielding results. One of their customers said they used to spend 80% of their time detecting problems and finding and organizing the information they needed, so that only about 20% of their time was left to actually solve the problems. Infor Nexus reverses that ratio so that monitoring and information gathering activities take much less effort, and most of the time can be spent on problem-solving.
Accurate Network Model Maintained Based on Actual Transactions
The Infor Nexus platform automatically creates and maintains an accurate, up-to-date model of each of its customer’s physical multi-tier supply and distribution network. Rather than using data from enterprise systems (such as supplier addresses), which is often inaccurate or out-of-date, they use data from the transactions flowing through their networks, such as shipment bookings, bills of lading, and customs filings. These specify precise actual ship-from and ship-to locations as well as shipment item/product information. Thus, the network model continually evolves, reflecting the real world, as ship-to and destinations change, and as new types of items are shipped.
Improving Real-time Tracking Accuracy
That platform provides live tracking of ocean, air, and truck shipments, fine-tuned for each mode, fusing together multiple streams of tracking data to provide more accurate tracking. For example, for ocean they may use AIS data, carrier milestones, and machine learning observations (e.g., impact of port congestion, historical patterns). For road shipments, in addition to connecting directly to carriers, they partner with Project 44 to offer real-time road visibility. Over 60 pre-shipment, shipment, and post-shipment milestones are tracked out-of-the-box. Machine learning capabilities learn from historical milestone data to generate future predictions of ultimate arrival based on the most recent real-world trends.
Visibility, Issue Detection, Collaborative Resolution Capabilities
The platform provides visibility based on forecasts, production status, inventory in all supply chain nodes, shipments, and orders. Using this data, it detects supply/demand misalignment, providing a time-phased view of inventory levels and highlighting the problems. Infor Nexus has some of the best visualizations of supply chains, especially for highlighting issues and quickly understanding them. Users can see a map view, with trade lanes and waypoints (ports, CFSs, DCs, factories, etc.) color-coded (green, yellow, red), highlighting trouble spots. Situation-appropriate details pop up when hovering over a lane or waypoint. Alternatively, a Sankey diagram view can be shown. Time-phased graphs appear when highlighting specific items. Single-click filtering updates all data displayed so the user only sees the status for the items of interest to them, such as only items destined to a particular retailer or location, or only a specific SKU.
Users can see revenue and margin at risk from each incident. In-house users, trading partners (suppliers and customers), and service providers (carriers, 3PLs, brokers, etc.) can then collaborate on resolving issues with a shared view of the situation. They can suggest and initiate changes to POs and shipments directly from the application. Options are shown such as stock at other locations that might be transferred, feasible options to ask suppliers to increase or expedite production, transportation expediting options, and so forth. Information about the cost and impact of different resolutions helps users decide on the best one.
Idle Process Monitoring
The platform uses process mining techniques to gain an understanding of all the steps of long-running processes, such as procure-to-pay, and learn what is the typical time period for each step. The purpose is to detect stalled processes — i.e., something that was supposed to happen by now but did not. This involves learning all the different process variants; the different paths and steps that may be taken, and different typical time periods per step for each variant. This includes physical moves, such as how long is typically spent getting through a particular port. When a step is delayed, the system can generate an alert, such as sending an email to the supplier asking, “Did you begin the staging process?”
Open to Buy/WSSI support
Infor supports multiple methods for OTB and WSSI processes, via Infor Retail Assortment Planning for Fashion and Infor Retail Item Planning. These are separate Infor products, not part of the Infor Nexus suite. For seasonal/collection-based or frequently transitioned goods, Infor offers Merchandise Financial Planning and Item Planning solutions to manage sales/margin planning, Open to Buy, promotions, and transitions. For retailers selling consumer packaged goods, where transitions can be made at any time, Infor offers a suite of Category Management solutions that support sales, margin, promotional, and assortment planning capabilities.
Pricing, ROI, Time-to-Value
Infor Nexus uses subscription-based pricing, typically with three- to five-year terms. They use different metrics as the basis for pricing the different products. Their pricing metrics are reasonably aligned with value:
- Transportation solutions’ pricing is based on the number of shipments or freight spend
- Financial solutions are based on value of spend
- Product solutions are based on inventory/goods value
Suppliers may pay a transaction fee as well, depending on the functionality being utilized. For small volumes, the fees are nominal.
ROI drivers include reduced landed cost, reduced COGS, higher OTIF (resulting in reduced chargebacks, higher customer satisfaction, and retention), freeing up working capital for other investments, reduced duties, and tariffs, reduced freight costs, less expediting, and reduction in stockouts.
Quick Start vs. Custom Deployments
Infor Nexus has Quick Start (QS) implementation methodologies, which implement preconfigured best practices for specific processes, bypassing most of the initial design and customization work. QS implementations typically take three to four months. Examples include QS Procure-to-Pay and QS Factory Visibility. Custom deployments are still the most suitable for larger more complex customers with multiple regions and multiple ERPs. These are typically 6-7 months for each phase of the custom deployment. Value starts being realized once the first orders are flowing.
Implementation Resource Requirements, Post-Deployment ‘Hypercare’
During the implementation, customers typically commit about four FTEs including a project manager, business lead, IT lead, IT developer, and various associated SMEs. Infor Nexus will provide another four FTEs including project manager, solution architect, systems engineer, and consultant who does a lot of the configuration. Infor Nexus provides what they call ‘Hypercare’ for ~30-120 days after deployment. This is a period of very intense support by the same team that did the deployment to ensure the supply chain is flowing and everything is working properly. This ensures a smoother startup and handoff to the customer, using the same team that has been deeply involved with the project for several months.
Implementing Higher Value Cases First
Infor tries to take a value release approach, implementing the highest value features first. For example, if the customer is looking to retire a system, there may be big value in replacing that first. Or if 60% of imports come from one origin port, they may implement that port first. A lot of that prioritization is figured out during the sales process.
After the initial phase, the value continues to ramp up over time. For example, if someone plans on changing their deconsolidation network, they might do one node first. Then they might start analyzing the flows and figure out the downstream impact of which node to do next. In another case, they might start with inbound visibility, to ensure on-time delivery and the ability to quickly respond to notice issues, then next add demand signals to better predict stockouts.
Who Infor Nexus is a Good Fit For
Infor Nexus is a good fit for companies with large, complex international supply chains, which use multiple 3PLs and LSPs to manage long multi-leg, multi-mode shipments. They are good for firms who do a lot of ocean or air shipping between multiple regions and sites, such as from outsourced manufacturers and a global network of suppliers — especially if the company has challenges with long lead times, lack of visibility, excessive expediting and/or late shipments, low fill rates, high stockouts, and high chargebacks. Infor Nexus is especially targeted for fashion apparel and footwear, as well as general retail, CPG, automotive and industrial manufacturing, and logistics service providers.
In Part 3F, we assess One Network, a multi-enterprise platform with broad supply chain application functionality.
1 SAP and Oracle are the first and second largest providers of ERP software. Infor’s revenues are about $3.2B. Since February 2020, Infor has been wholly owned by Koch Industries’ private investment unit. — Return to article text above
2 Trading partner data quality can be a major headache for organizations that are connected electronically to lots of partners. Often a problem with data from a partner seemingly appears out of nowhere and is not noticed until it has negatively impacted execution in a material way such as delayed orders, delays at customs due to wrong information, wrong items or quantity have been delivered, or to wrong location. By monitoring data quality, the Infor Nexus platform can correct and prevent these issues before they impact execution. — Return to article text above
3 Ocean, Air, and Truck contracts are supported today. — Return to article text above
4 Their Issues Management application includes more comprehensive workflows and escalation logic than the QA app. — Return to article text above
5 i.e., E2open’s and One Network’s control towers — Return to article text above
To view other articles from this issue of the brief, click here.