Each year Infor has a 1½-day analysts-only event called the Innovation Summit. This helps us keep up with the very large number of new developments going on at the firm. These are always too many things to report, but here are a few notable highlights.
CloudSuites Scaling Up
Infor’s CloudSuite journey has been going on for several years now. As we outlined in Infor Alchemizing Legacy Solutions, they have distilled the IP from numerous legacy vertical-specific ERP systems they acquired into five modern SaaS/cloud-based ERP systems — LN, SyteLine, M3, SX.e, and Lawson. Within each of these five ERP systems, Infor has implemented vertical and micro-vertical functionality for granular industry segments. For example, within the Hospitality CloudSuite vertical, they have micro-vertical functionality for Brand Hotels, Independent Hotels, Management Companies, Gaming, Resorts, Extended Stay, and Restaurants. Within Restaurants, they have even more focused micro-vertical functionality for food service management, full and quick service restaurant, and hotel food and beverage.
Early customers have helped Infor to fine tune the solutions before scaling them to broader audiences. For example, we heard from Northern Light Health, a mid-sized hospital network in Maine (9 hospitals, ~1,000 doctors). They were one of the first 25 companies to implement CloudSuite Healthcare. Infor’s senior executives met often with them and Infor dedicated engineering resources to work directly with Northern Light to rapidly fix problems and make improvements.
The first phase of rearchitecting these systems to a cloud architecture, the early stage of fine tuning, has gone at different rates for the different solutions. For example, CloudSuite Industrial took a bit longer. But now all of the CloudSuite has been through that first phase of the process and are transitioning to or already scaling up to use by larger numbers of customers.
DevOps and Testing-as-a-Service for Scalable Agile Development
One key to scaling up is Infor’s deployment of DevOps practices and technology to enable their agile development release cycle. As part of this, Infor has built an automated testing infrastructure, using Krypton.1 They have written about 120,000 test scripts (~90,000 functional test scripts and ~30,000 integration test scripts) that run automatically before every new release. By the end of the year, they expect to have 160,000 test scripts. Automated testing is a must for frequent release cycles, as it is otherwise impossible to do a thorough job of testing before each release. Fixing problems after a release is far more expensive and disruptive than finding and fixing issues before the release.
In addition, Infor is offering this same testing technology to customers via their Testing-as-a-Service platform. Customers can write their own test scripts, to automatically test the customer’s own extensions and customizations. Thereby, before a new version of Infor software is released, not only are Infor’s test scripts being run, but their customers’ test scripts are automatically run as well, minimizing the chances of unexpected problems or disruptions when a new version is released. As the portfolio of Infor and customer test scripts grows, they expect over time it will become a virtually foolproof way of testing each release before rolling it out.
Infor Data Lake
Infor’s Data Lake is becoming increasingly important for their AI/ML (Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning), BI (Business Intelligence), and overall strategy. It is a centralized store of semantically normalized data from across the suite, as well as external data. See this brief description of Infor Data Lake we wrote last year for a summary description of what it is. The Data Lake is an ever-growing single source for bringing together data from everywhere — Infor continues to build out more ways to extract data from their own and other sources. Whenever they make an acquisition, they immediately build ways to bring the data into the Data Lake. And they are increasing the types of data they pull from existing applications.
The Data Lake enables BI and ML algorithms to provide cross-solution capabilities that were not possible before. For example, Infor talks about ‘cross-pillar correlations’ such as discovering that an increase in safety violations was caused by inadequate training; or finding out whether a decline in production quality was caused by employee turnover, or new equipment coming online, or a bad batch of input materials, or problems in a specific shift; or finding out whether a decline in sales at a specific store was due to high turnover of store associates, a new store manager, or other factors. Infor is building advisory capabilities (using Birst BI and Coleman AI) into many of their products, where they will gather together the relevant information, help diagnose the problem, and offer suggested solutions.
Infor has been investing heavily in Birst (the BI tool they acquired in 2017). Since the acquisition, Birst has increased their R&D staff by 67%, quadrupled the number of customers (logos), and increased use of the platform six-fold. They are one of the top three SaaS solutions within Infor. They have also made progress in replacing legacy analytics with Birst analytics within the CloudSuite. They said that was about 80% complete.
Coleman and AI Explainability and Trust
As we put more and more of our decisions in the hands of AI algorithms, there is a movement to build ‘explainable AI.’ This is where the decisions AI makes can be understood by humans. When asked how Infor is addressing this, they said Coleman is built on AWS SageMaker and people can build in monitoring mechanisms and rules to catch non-compliant decisions. In addition, they provide a ‘track and trace’ mechanism to look at individual decisions and how they were made. If decisions are incorrect or suboptimal, the modeler can be used to figure out if the training data was wrong or something else. They agreed that having those kinds of capabilities was critical for the adoption and future success of AI.
Infor Nexus (formerly GT Nexus)
GT Nexus has been renamed ‘Infor Nexus.’ Their global network has grown to over a trillion dollars of trade being managed through the network. There are more than 15,000 carriers (various modes) and over 90% of the top global 3PLs on the platform.
Last year, Infor announced their Control Center, which we described here. The Control Center is now live with a number of customers. It is a foundation for Infor Nexus’ autonomous supply chain vision.
Drill Down Capabilities, from Suppliers to Customers
Infor Nexus has a broad range of functionality. Below I highlight four innovative capabilities that are just a small part of the overall suite. These are all multi-party challenges, which is one of Infor Nexus’ strengths.
- Critical Order Change Management — When there is a change to an existing order — such as a change to quantity, delivery date, or destination — it often impacts and involves multiple parties. The OEM needs to respond to the customer’s request in a timely manner, so they need all involved parties to respond. This might include an outsourced manufacturer, 3PL, carriers, and so forth. The system prioritizes and highlights the most critical changes that need to be managed. It helps determine the specific actions needed and the potential impact of the change.
- RFID at Source — OEMs/brand owners often struggle to get visibility into the status of work-in-progress (WIP) and inventory at their suppliers’ sites. In addition, suppliers may struggle with accurate order picking, packing, and shipping. Infor Nexus enables the use of RFID tags on WIP and finished product to solve both of these issues. With RFID tags on WIP inventory and strategically placed readers, the buyer/OEM gains a much more granular and real-time view of production status. Suppliers can also use RFID on finished goods to scan items and improve pick-pack accuracy. One OEM/brand owner, whose suppliers had been using barcodes to ensure accurate picking and packing, found that with RFID, their suppliers’ scanning speed was about 20 times faster and overall picking throughput improved to about 2½ times the previous rate, with higher accuracy. If RFID readers and processes are put in place at key points throughout the supply chain, the same RFID tags can be used for track and trace, as well as receiving and shipping verification throughout the order’s journey.
- Forecasting and Managing Transportation Capacity – chronic problem for transportation carriers is their lack of visibility into future demand for their services. Shippers have forecasts, but rarely translate those into forecasted transportation needs that they share with their carriers. Infor Nexus provides this capability. Transportation carriers get visibility into forecasted demand, so they can plan and manage their capacity to better meet shippers’ needs. The shipper is better able to secure on-contract capacity and anticipate when they may need to do spot buys.
- Multi-party Collaborative Issue Management — Many issues in global trade involve multiple parties that need to coordinate their response to resolve a problem. The traditional approach to dealing with these is sending email, text, and making phone calls to resolve them. This leads to delays and makes it difficult to track the current status. This new capability from Infor Nexus allows users to identify issues where the resolution (and impact) involves multiple parties. The system provides tools to rapidly notify and get all of the relevant parties involved and working on the problem. When an issue is posted, it can reference the relevant transaction(s), exceptions, and documents. The system tracks progress through to resolution. Issues not resolved in a timely manner can be automatically escalated.
Infor’s CEO, Charles Phillips, said they may go public in the next one or two years. The purpose of the IPO would not be primarily to raise money — they have plenty of cash from the recent $4B investments by Koch (including the recent $1.5B round). Rather, the main purposes for going public are: 1) Raise their profile and get better known across the industries they serve, and 2) use equity to attract top talent. Keep an eye on this potential IPO, which would be the largest ever for a New York technology firm.
1 Krypton is an open source framework for QA automation, based on Selenium. — Return to article text above
To view other articles from this issue of the brief, click here.