Shifting strategy: Infor casts its lot with Microsoft

by Frank Scavo on June 23, 2010

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.

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