Infor blends social-networking and a cloud-based tax and regulatory approach with its down-to-business ERP systems.
Think of the Infor 10 ION Workspace as two parts collaborative workflow and alerting and one part social networking.
The Workspace was one of two major upgrades announced by the business software and services firm Monday, with the second being a new approach to localizing the vendor's enterprise applications for specific national tax, accounting, and regulatory demands. The announcements were made ahead of this week's Inforum user conference in Denver, which thousands of the company's 70,000-plus customers are expected to attend.
The ION Workspace is the services-enabled interface that unites work-relevant information from Infor's multiple enterprise resource planning (ERP), asset management, and product lifecycle management applications and business intelligence infrastructure. The upgrade, Workspace 10.2, adds the familiar look and feel of a social-networking interface. But that doesn't mean it's a me-too Facebook knock off of dubious business value, Infor CEO Charles Phillips told InformationWeek.
"Anybody can add microblogging to an app, but the underlying value here is reaching into the underlying data and enterprise applications," said Phillips. "It's a role-based environment where we know what information you need based on your job, and we can extract information from multiple, complex systems."
The list of systems includes Infor ERP Enterprise (LN) for manufacturing, Infor ERP Business (SyteLine), Infor EAM enterprise asset management, and Infor Financials Business (SunSystems) for financial management. Infor also offers connectors to applications from Lawson Software, the ERP vendor Infor acquired last year, and it can link to third-party apps through .Net-based integration approaches.
Users can enter profiles and subscribe to groups, processes, and business content with the idea being to manage day-to-day tasks and alerts without having to search for relevant information. An alert might deliver a requisition-approval request; for example, the alert can include all the supporting information required to make the decision, such as: who the requisition is for, whether it's within budget, and when the last requisition was approved.
With its social connection and profiling features, Workspace also connects to the right people needed to resolve problems, according to Infor. If there's a supply chain delay, for example, you'd likely want to check the length of the delay, whether goods are available in another warehouse, whether substitutes could be used, or whether orders could be resequenced to adjust demand.
"We're applying social networking so you don't have to search for information and then make a bunch of phone calls," said Phillips.
The Workspace interface has a series of icons for collaborative tools such as webconferencing and screen sharing. User-defined roles determine who can access information and with whom it can be shared. Updates and alerts can also be sent outside the enterprise, if a customer chooses, by using Infor's Pulse messaging system, which supports mobile and email delivery.
Infor's new approach to localization is called Local.ly. The idea is to deliver up-to-date statutory reporting, accounting, and tax-control information as a cloud-based service. This information is needed by global organizations operating in multiple countries. It's common for enterprise apps vendors to let third-party resellers and consultants add this content, but that approach is hard to monitor and can break when it's time for an application update.
"It's hard to enforce quality control because you can't always tell exactly what the resellers are doing, and they also tend to combine in customizations so they can charge more," said Phillips.
By building and managing localization as a service and integrating with its various applications using loosely coupled architecture, Phillips says Infor can avoid the delays, unknown costs, and update problems associated with the old approach. The building blocks of the service include a communications engine sourced from Lawson M3 ERP that supports electronic interchange with local banks and regulatory agencies. Infor added a tax engine from its Enterprise LN ERP system.
Local.ly will go live this summer with content for five "top" countries including Brazil, Phillips said, adding that Infor will build out support for additional countries over time.
In one other announcement Monday, Infor revealed that it will start licensing its Infor 10 Mongoose integrated development environment (IDE) for Infor10 ERP Business (SyteLine). The IDE has been around for more than a decade as a way to quickly build SyteLine-based applications, but Infor simply gave it away and didn't have any formal policies around its use. With the new approach, Infor will start charging for the IDE when usage goes beyond internal customization work.
"The platform is still free, but we'll charge on the runtime when you're building applications that you want to sell into the market," Phillips said.