Infor customers ponder where legacy ERP fits in new social, Web push

Customers of Infor use its legacy ERP brands that go back decades, but now are being challenged to move to the company's new Web architecture.

Infor customers are watching the vendor's aggressive moves into Web-standard architectures and social media with anticipation, even as they decide -- like Infor itself -- what to do about legacy ERP systems that go back decades. That's the impression from interviews and presentations at April's Inforum 2013 user conference in Orlando, Fla.

New York-based ERP vendor Infor has acquired dozens of legacy brands over the years and is holding onto a large number of them, along with users who can sound passionate about their often highly customized systems. Manufacturers predominate in this group of users: Infor claims to have more than 10,000 in its customer base.

The legacy ERP brands, however, are in varying stages of Web enablement and refurbishment with graphical user interfaces (GUIs), and Infor has made huge investments in new social media and Web architectures since a team of ex-Oracle executives took over in late 2010. The centerpiece is Intelligent Open Network (ION) middleware, which uses the extensible markup language (XML) Web standard to pass common business messages between applications. At Inforum 2013, the company released more upgrades of its brands to the ION-based Infor 10x platform and debuted a social collaboration platform called Infor Ming.le. It also said it has built an in-house design agency to revamp both its corporate image and software with user-friendly dashboards.

Social security or generational warfare?

Conference attendees and Infor showcase customers expressed interest in Infor Ming.le, but wondered how to fit it into their upgrade plans.

"I think they're pushing social a little bit hard," said Dan Heiderscheit, vice president of IT at Kemin Industries Inc., a Des Moines, Iowa-based maker of ingredients for food, nutrition and beauty products. "I understand why they're doing it. The question is, is it useful to me as a customer? I'm not so sure."

Kemin Industries uses a customized version of Infor M3, but plans to bring in a consultant to install a new ION version of its enterprise performance management, or EPM, module in August. Infor has been slow to staff up with people who know the new systems, and is employing a mostly middle-aged support staff, all of whom could retire before enough replacements are hired, Heiderscheit said.

Lauren Hallee, business systems analyst at MaineGeneral Health, a nonprofit healthcare provider based in Augusta, Maine, said she is excited by Infor's recent moves, especially the ION platform. Her organization uses Lawson S3 version 9.01 for human resources and payroll, and Oracle PeopleSoft for financials, an approach that she said is the reverse of what most PeopleSoft users do. Although integration between the platforms was not especially painful, MaineGeneral Health might consider consolidating on the new Lawson 10x that was announced at Inforum 2013.

"PeopleSoft is going to go away," Hallee said, referring to Oracle's possible plans for the widely used human resources system. "We've had to support our PeopleSoft application pretty independently. They're not upgrading the system anymore." In a later interview, Hallee said that while she is aware Oracle has promised to support PeopleSoft, Infor is moving Lawson ahead faster and further. In any case, MaineGeneral Health hasn’t begun formal consideration of an upgrade.

Another Lawson S3 user expressing satisfaction with the ION initiative was Charles Morgan, vice president of IT at Rotary Corp., a supplier of aftermarket outdoor power-equipment parts. The Inforum 2013 announcements showed that Infor is extending ION to supply chain execution processes by releasing an ION version of Lawson LogisticsPro, a warehouse management system, Morgan said. Rotary, based in Glennville, Ga., uses Manhattan Associates' PkMS for supply chain management software, which receives orders from Lawson S3, according to Morgan.

The company maintains central distribution in Georgia but has eight remote centers, only two of which run LogisticsPro. "We want to add it to all of our warehouses and increase the productivity," Morgan said. He is intrigued by the user interface innovations of the new in-house agency, Hook & Loop, and said social media is changing the paradigm of how users interact. "More and more applications, I think, are going to use that paradigm," he said. Rotary will make the switch eventually, but Morgan couldn't say how soon. "I think we could probably roll it out to our dealer program," he said, adding that ION's XML-based Business Object Documents could probably be used to process dealer orders over the Internet.

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But to Jim Reinardy, director of information systems at Milwaukee-based BadgerMeter Inc., Infor's social media moves could lead to too many platforms. BadgerMeter was using another Infor legacy system called BPCS in the early '90s when it migrated to the LX ERP system from SSA, a company Infor bought. The software runs on IBM terminal emulation software.

Reinardy has been surprised by the amount of traffic on the company's Salesforce.com Chatter collaboration system, he said. "A challenge is [deciding] how many social media systems are you going to run," he said, noting the company also uses Microsoft Lync for instant messaging. He doesn't know if Infor Ming.le will be a good fit for the many BadgerMeter workers who don't use the ERP system, he added.

Reinardy acknowledged that the new user interface of ION and Infor Ming.le could improve worker productivity, though neither is available yet on the products BadgerMeter runs, including Infor Planner and Scheduler, a production planning tool. "I can't replace my [user] interface technology with ION yet," he said. "The magic is getting all of [Infor's] other applications to plug into it, and that's not done yet."

Two IT professionals from Davies Molding LLC, based in Carol Stream, Ill., likewise illustrated the quandary of mostly satisfied, longtime users of Infor's older platforms. According to Edgar Villanueva, IT coordinator, the company runs Infor XA version 7.8, a green-screen ERP system, on the IBM AS/400 operating system, using it for financials, inventory management, order management and product data. "It runs well," Villanueva said. "We like it."

Davies Molding plans to upgrade to 9.x, but would consider jumping right to the 10x version -- if Infor releases it as expected by the end of the year -- to get the Web services and XML integration. Villanueva's boss, IT manager Dan Majewski, extolled the benefits of the single workspace that ION allows.

Davies Molding's parent company uses another Infor legacy system, MAPICS, at many of its 40 divisions, and SAP for core ERP at headquarters. Majewski was involved in a project to integrate financials across divisions, he said, a process that involved transferring CSV files and doing some reporting in Microsoft Excel spreadsheets.

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