Infor is a vendor I haven’t covered much in the past, but after attending the recent Infor on the Road day in the U.K. that is about to change. I viewed Infor as basically a CRM vendor, and I don’t believe such systems have much impact on customer engagement and the customer experience. Indeed if you view Infor website’s product page, it features several product categories focused on internal processes: CRM, Asset Management, Financial Management, Resource Planning, Human Capital Management and Product Management. (By the way, my colleague Robert Kugel wrote about some of these after his visit to Inforum.) If like me you are not technically minded, you might skip the technology section, which is where Infor showcases innovation in business applications.
In the opening keynote at the event I attended, Stephan Scholl and Duncan Angove, co-presidents of Infor, highlighted this in a dramatic way. They made it clear that Infor wants to open up a new order for business applications in which applications are much easier to use, the architecture takes full advantage of the Internet and other new ways of working, and mobile, social and analytics technologies come together to improve collaboration across the enterprise, generate better customer engagement, and enable better-informed decisions based on all available data. From what I saw and heard, the latest version of its products, Infor 10x, delivers on many of these promises.
It all starts with the user interface, which makes the products easier to use and thus more likely to be adopted and accepted. Our business technology innovation benchmark research shows that this is a critical factor: Usability is the primary factor impacting organizational decisions on software purchases. Infor sees that devices such as smartphones and tablets have changed the way almost everyone expects to access applications and information, and indeed what we expect applications to do; on the consumer side this includes a well-defined set of tasks such as paying bills, finding locations, and comparing prices of products. And people are carrying those expectations into what they expect of business applications; in this context hierarchical lists, screens full of irrelevant data fields, navigation across multiple screens to complete a simple task, and having to search for information and metrics are unacceptable. Users want to point and click to find and access different functions, data and information, they want to see only relevant information, and many of them don’t think in terms of end-to-end processes any more but want to focus on a well-defined task such as create new customer, close an opportunity or schedule a meeting. In this context Infor has created Hook & Loop, its “internal creative agency,” which I believe is a radical but sensible way to redesign the user experience. The team doesn’t include typical software engineers but rather people who look at computing from a user perspective and create a user experience that matches those expectations. Then the software engineers get involved to turn these concepts into a user interface. This is the sort of approach I suggest to companies in designing mobile apps or virtual agent scripts. In both cases it is a big mistake to have internal business users and IT design them; they should enlist customers in the design and respond to their demands. (Maybe if companies took the same approach with their IVR and Web self-service systems, those would be more successful.) In Infor’s case, I was impressed by the new user experience and look forward to seeing it develop further.
Infor is developing individual applications on ION, which it describes as a “purpose-built middleware platform.” ION is in essence a software suite that enables integration, both for Infor applications and third-party systems. The concept is straightforward: If you define a common format for inbound and outbound transactions and events and build applications and interfaces that conform to those definitions, transactions and data can flow from one to component to another without much development effort. Such a platform enables different operational applications to be integrated, eases administration and creates a scalable, distributed architecture. Transactions can be routed based on built-in rules, allowing, for example, data to be routed to Infor’s analytics tools so users can create analyses, reports and dashboards. The rules can also be programmed to spot exceptions and thus raise alerts in another system; for example, if a machine generates readings indicating a possible impending breakdown, an engineer will be told to take a closer look at it.
The reinvention of business applications continues with another product called Ming.le. Like certain other vendors, Infor positions this as its product to support social business, which is a classification I don’t believe in. Nevertheless Ming.leprovides Facebook-like capabilities that help employees collaborate using wall-based discussions, share information and raise actions. Our research consistently shows that organizational silos are one of the biggest barriers to providing customers with superior service and experiences, and greater collaboration is a way to break them down. Viewed from that perspective,Ming.le met my expectations and so I recommend that companies evaluate it, to improve not just customer service but all customer-focused activities.
The final piece of technology I saw was Infor Motion. It supports mobility in two ways, by providing employees with access to systems and information on the move and by providing a platform on which to build mobile customer service apps. In the latter case, Infor has created a service similar to Hook & Loop that works with organizations to design mobile apps that will appeal to customers and again drive greater adoption and use.
Addressing the audience at the road show, Peter and Duncan were adamant that they will continue to enhance all product lines and support all their micro-vertical products (customized versions of the applications to support granular vertical business sections, for example not just transportation but businesses in different type of transportation). All products, including the micro-verticals, will be available for deployment on premises, in the cloud or in a hybrid environment. Commitment to the last is re-enforced by packaged pricing and services intended to make it attractive for old and new customers to move to the cloud.
It was clear to me that Infor has added customer engagement to traditional CRM in its portfolio. It continues to develop an application called Customer Interaction Hub. This brings together the marketing products, CRM, Interaction Advisor, ION, Ming.le and an interaction data store to support multichannel engagement. Interaction Advisor is the key to this packaged solution as it uses customer and interaction data and rules-based logic to determine the best response, which might be the best up-sell offer, personalized responses or putting the response into the context of the overall customer relationship. It was built for the financial services and telecommunications industries, but as customer experience management becomes the focal point for more companies, I expect to see it extended into other industries.
All together this is an ambitious program; Infor seems to be succeeding with it because its financial results have improved, numbers of customers have grown and the company is adding internal resources. The Infor 10x product release addresses all the six innovative technologies our business technology innovation benchmark shows are important to companies. For my research practice the new user experience and the customer information hub are most significant. For as long as I can remember companies, consultants and analysts have derided CRM for not delivering to companies’ expectations. This has had a lot to do with complexity of use and functionality not focused on the customer and the customer experience. Infor is addressing both issues, so I will watch it more closely in the future, and I recommend you do, too.
Richard J. Snow
VP & Research Director – Customer Engagement