Memo to Infor customers: SOA will support both current and future products

At its annual user conference, Infor CEO Jim Schaper said the new Infor Open SOA framework will allow customers to continue using their existing applications as long as they see fit. 

By Sidney Hill, Jr., executive editor September 18, 2007

Enterprise software supplier Infor is finally offering its customers some specifics on its future plans for managing and enhancing all of the products it accumulated by acquiring 31 other companies over the past five years.

That acquisition spree has propelled Infor, a virtual startup in 2002, into the number three spot in the enterprise software market, trailing only industry titans SAP and Oracle .

This past March, Infor announced plans to develop a service-oriented architecture (SOA) to act as a foundation for all future application development. At its annual Inforum user conference, held in Las Vegas the second week of September, Infor presented customers with a three-year “roadmap” describing its plans for building out the Infor OPEN SOA framework.

In his conference keynote address, Infor CEO Jim Schaper said this architecture will allow customers to continue using their existing applications as long as they see fit, while also being able to easily blend components of newly developed Infor applications into their technology infrastructures in response to specific business problems.

Schaper also noted that many newly developed applications would be upgrades to products customers already are using. Among the 17 announcements made at the conference,

Infor’s plan for the individual applications within its existing product portfolio has been a sensitive topic for the thousands of companies that have become Infor customers through acquisition. Schaper acknowledged that point during his Inforum speech, noting that “we have more than 6,000 people from 45 different countries in attendance, and 90 percent of you are here because we acquired the company that sold you the product you’re using. The number one question for most of you when we made those acquisitions was,‘Will you continue to support and enhance my product?’”

No involuntary movement

With its new SOA framework, Schaper said Infor will be able to keep its longstanding pledge to not merge any existing product lines or “force customers onto unfamiliar technology platforms.”

The strategy unveiled in Las Vegas calls for Infor to immediately begin embedding an enterprise service bus (ESB) into new releases of all Infor products. Infor customers on current maintenance agreements can also obtain an ESB without buying new applications.

Infor CTO Bruce Gordon says the ESB will serve as a hub for linking any applications that users need to integrate—either from the broader Infor portfolio or from other vendors—to create new business processes.

In addition to offering the ESB, Infor’s SOA strategy calls for:

Initial steps in each of these areas were announced at Inforum. For example, the company unveiled a new SOA-enabled version of its Infor ERP SL product (formerly known as Syteline).n.

Customers also got a first glimpse of Infor’s role-based homepages, which were recently added to the Infor ERP LN package. All Infor packages are scheduled to have these homepages by the end of 2008. Gordon says these interfaces will allow users to organize data from multiple solutions—both inside and outside the Infor portfolio—to suit their individual needs. In addition to displaying data from multiple applications, Gordon says, the homepages will contain “enterprise mashup capabilities’’ allowing for combing data from different applications to do things like create unique reports.

Less customer anxiety

The firsties to enter certain financial data in a single language and currency and have the data automatically converted to comply with accounting requirements in multiple countries.

Customers who spoke with Manufacturing Business Technology at the conference had not seen enough of the new SOA framework to venture opinions on its potential value. But several customers said they were pleased with Infor’s overall product direction.

Peter Boers, IT manager with Light Corporation , a Grand Haven, Mich.-based manufacturer of office lighting products, was in his first training session for the Visual ERP package when Infor purchased the product’s previous owner.

“We had some issues with support in the beginning because a lot of the people we had worked with were no longer with the company,” Boers said. “But things have gotten a lot better in the last six months. And they have announced plans to release new versions of our product. So, I’m feeling much better about our forward migration path than I did a year ago.”