This continues a series of columns from practitioners I respect. The category "Real Deal" describes them well.
This time it is Charles Phillips, the CEO of Infor. I have had the honor of knowing Charles for 2 decades in his role as an influential financial analyst and even more influential executive in the enterprise software world.
“First, a level set: Infor is the third largest business applications company in the world at $2.8 bil in revenue with 13,000 employees and 70,000 customers. That’s enough scale to invest but small enough to be fast and disruptive. We have one of the largest development organizations in the world dedicated to business applications.
The applications industry is on the precipice of real change after a decade of stagnation and relative boredom. The products became as bloated as the margins and everyone seemed happy with ten year, half a billion dollar ERP projects. The only choice was a forced march toward to a monolithic suite that magically served the needs of all business units, all industries, all countries, all size companies, and all functional areas in perpetuity.
Well it turns out the world is a bit more complicated than that. Making tires is just different that processing milk. Some industries change faster than others and applications change as do the database schemas that support them. Companies make acquisitions.
The industry spent two decades trying to eliminate application diversity and fighting change. Now the same vendors are introducing it with their own acquisitions. Each acquisition replaces an existing product of their own as they slowly dismember their own suites.
So the transition from monolithic suites to loosely coupled applications is underway. Suites should automate in areas where they add value and integrate to other specialized applications where they lack depth.
Traditional integration with proprietary middleware is so complex because it pretends to understand all protocols, all versions of all applications, and all schemas and then transforms all messages, point to point, between them.
Modern integration will be simple, loosely coupled, and based on the most successful integrated application of all time: the Internet. The internet integrates data and applications at scale with simple standards like XML. That integration is durable and dynamic. The internet doesn’t break when web sites change and easily accommodate new applications.
Infor ION is modeled on that concept. Each application publishes each transaction in simple XML and then ION routes the transaction to subscribing applications. The architecture pushes the work out to the source application. Each application and schema can change as often as needed without affecting integration. The only requirement is to publish transactions in XML and ION will pick them up off the queue. ION uses standard business documents defined by the Open Applications Group. There are only 200 documents that matter for things like invoices, orders, etc. Virtually any application can export XML.
ION also keeps a copy of each transaction in a central repository called the Business Vault. In other words, you get a real time data mart with no ETL as part of the base application. The other benefit is that we can access that Business Vault to display in context business intelligence during any transaction.
We’ve expanded this modular concept across all critical areas of business applications. Change in one area should not break another area. Upgrading applications should not break reports, localizations, or mobile applications. We’ve extracted those functions from the core and deliver them on the Business Vault or in the cloud.
The era of closed, monolithic suites is ending especially as more applications reach outside of the enterprise. Monolithic and Social do not fit in the same architecture. Infor SocialSpace was easy to embed into our applications because they are wired for information exchange. More on our disruptive social strategy in a future column.”
Charles can be emailed at charles dot phillips at infor dot com