Infor and the 80% Solution: Coleman, Birst, GT Nexus, and CloudSuites

Coleman is Infor's Artificial Intelligence Effort
Coleman is Infor’s Artificial Intelligence Effort

When I represented Amalgam Insights at Inforum, I was wondering if I would be a fish out of water. After all, I am not an ERP analyst. I am not a retail analyst. I am not an HR technology analyst. And those are the first three things I think of when Infor comes to mind. As an analyst who focuses on technology consumption and bridging gaps between the CIO and CFO, I was wondering what would grab my attention other than Infor’s acquisition of Birst.

I was pleasantly surprised by the clarity of Infor’s vision of supporting industry-specific technology consumption. Infor ended up bringing up three key ideas that are core to the future of technology consumption and will end up being strategic considerations for the future of IT.

1) Businesses need an “intelligent network” to contextualize suggestions and guidance for employees across the entire company.

In his keynote, Infor CEO Charles Phillips mentioned the importance of social intelligence and the intelligent network in transforming the enterprise. Infor’s stated approach is to provide industry-specific packaged applications built on a consistent platform. Behind the buzzwords, this effort combines the need to support specific roles with the abstraction of having to define business activity at the platform level.

This definition of business platform requires the vendor to provide context on data, transactions, process workflows, analytics and recommendations. The old world of enterprise applications has been focused on data and transactional context, but is typically lacking in understanding workflow optimization, analytics, and recommendations, which is why Amalgam avoids the coverage of traditional ERP.

But the key to the next generation of technology consumption is to effectively connect the dots between all relevant people, resources, ideas, logic, and outcomes. To bring ideas, logic, and outcomes into an enterprise network requires machine learning, iterative training, semantic and natural language understanding of ideas and images, and an unbiased analysis of aligning efforts to outcomes. This level of networked business analysis is simply beyond the capabilities of a traditional application platform focused just on centralizing basic transactions.

Regarding the intelligent network, Infor provided updates from its August 2015 acquisition of GT Nexus. At the time, GT Nexus was already the largest cloud-based commerce platform. However, in May of this year, Infor integrated its M3 ERP solution with GT Nexus. And at Inforum, Infor announced the concept of the “Networked” CloudSuite which integrates GT Nexus’ commerce network (including logistics, supplier, finance, supply chain collaboration, and benchmarking) directly with Infor’s core applications. Infor provided guidance that Networked CloudSuites would start to be delivered starting in the second half of 2017.

2) 80% of data needed to manage the supply chain is outside the enterprise. Although Infor used this metric specifically for supply chain, Amalgam thinks that this concept is broadly applicable to the enterprise at large. SiriusDecisions has estimated that 70% of the buyer’s decision process is made before reaching out to sales. Self-service is now the dominant paradigm for service requests with the contact center only being a last resort. Across all major business activities, enterprises are now realizing that the majority of data, activity, and decisions includes some level of external input.

Amalgam suggests that what we’re really seeing here is a corollary to the Pareto Principle: 80% of the value associated with business processes involving a customer, partner, or supplier occurs outside the company. We are only now starting to realize how this 80% is shaped and how to identify the secular trends, cultural changes, and operational data that are affecting our internal business operations. Rather than just chalk up external issues that affect business processes as “bad luck” or “outside of our control,” we are starting to gain access to the data, analytics, and results that allow us to align the outside world to our internal strategy and processes.

For instance, consider Apple’s operational excellence and reputation for timely and high quality production. This execution is due, in no small part, to the supply chain excellence driven by Tim Cook and now directly managed by COO Jeff Williams. But one of the key secrets to success is in planning the coordination and production of 100 million units at a time. The vast majority of these operations are outside of Apple’s core company structure. But even in a worst-case scenario, nobody expects Apple to have six month delays in meeting the massive demands created by each iPhone launch.

CIO and CFO Tech Concerns
CIO and CFO Tech Concerns
In today’s world, we are held to an Apple standard of supply chain, distribution, and delivery. Without this level of visibility to the external data associated with all external partners and key clients, businesses will be stuck at a disadvantage. Amalgam is focused on the challenge of translating this 80% of external data into consumable insights for enterprise users, which requires a combination of defining networks, providing analytics, and creating a machine learning environment for iterative and contextualized improvement. Effective Technology Consumption requires an effort to make technology easier, faster, and more relevant to consume.

Although GT Nexus is also directly related to the second problem of solving the 80% external data challenge, Amalgam believes that the Infor acquisition of Birst will also be a significant catalyst to accelerating the integration of external data sources with Infor. As Amalgam Insights has previously noted, Birst has already supported data integrations with all major enterprise applications. Over time, Amalgam expects that Birst will serve as a “networked analytics” solution to both connect and analyze external data along with Infor data at the same time. In addition, Amalgam expects that, over time, Birst will help support Infor migrations as Infor wins business against other enterprise applications vendors. By supporting the data mapping, migration, and reporting migrations from third-party vendor to Infor, Birst can ease the manual analysis of field matching, process mapping, and retraining that inevitably hinder any application migration.

Amalgam believes that, in the short term, Birst has a massive opportunity to upsell the Infor customer base on the Birst BI Enterprise Edition, as Birst represents an upgrade over existing Infor BI capabilities. In addition, Birst should benefit from the ability to work with Hook and Loop, Infor’s creative agency, in continuing to improve the user experience and in working with Infor’s artifical intelligence efforts. In doing so, Birst may start moving in the direction of Thoughtspot by integrating speech-based or text-based analytic queries as a fundamental user interface for accessing analytic insights.

3) AI is the UI. Charles Phillips brought up music playlists as an example of how Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the new User Interface (UI). First generation playlists were defined by users and presented in order. But with the emergence of new technologies such as general machine learning, iTunes Genius, and the Music Genome Project, a single song can be the starting point for identifying hundreds or thousands of related songs that end up creating a personalized playlist for an individual in the moment. Similarly, Infor seeks to support a solution where artificial intelligence makes the right suggestions and decisions based on our own personalized preferences.

Infor dropped its artificial intelligence bombshell at the show by announcing Infor Coleman. Coleman is named after famed physicist and mathematician Kathrine Coleman Johnson, who calculated the path to land on the moon, was portrayed in the book and movie Hidden Figures, and presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Role-Based Expert Enhancement Platform

Infor Coleman is intended to provide AI-based recommendations for users as well as to support users as a digital assistant based on natural language processing and image recognition capabilities. Coleman is designed to be a conversational interface that provides added insights to users and automates lower-level processes. It is partially based on this vision that Amalgam believes that Infor is the first major enterprise application suite to take a true REEP (Role-Based Expert Enhancement Platform) approach for AI and machine learning.

Infor is providing Coleman functionality today in its healthcare inventory, hospitality price optimization, and retail forecasting and promotion solutions with plans to provide Coleman within the CloudSuite industry suites over the next year.It is rare for me to editorialize in a vendor update, but in this case, I’ll provide a quick warning to Infor. Any time you name a new function after an American Hero, it better be really good!

Overall, Amalgam believes Infor provided a strong vision of how to bring networks, data, analytics, and machine learning into an integrated approach for industry-specific work. The vision is not fully built yet, which is no surprise because no enterprise vendor has built a mature machine learning or artificial intelligence capability as of the Summer of 2017. However, the roadmap, focus, and integration of strategic acquisitions demonstrated how Infor has quickly grown to be not only a market leader through integration, but a thought leader in its aggregation of data, analytics, design, and machine learning capabilities.

Based on Inforum, Amalgam recommends that enterprise architects and applications managers track Infor’s progress in developing Infor Coleman and in further developing networked analytics through GT Nexus and Birst as a key indicator of the progression of technology consumption and UX in the enterprise applications market.

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