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Businesses looking for a modern ERP system should consider multi-tenant cloud as an option.
That was the message from Inforum 2020, a virtual conference hosted by ERP vendor Infor for its customers and partners.
Multi-tenant ERP is far superior in meeting the requirements for flexibility, faster implementations and quicker ROI, Infor CEO Kevin Samuelson said in his opening keynote address.
Recent interest in multi-tenant cloud has been driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced companies to think differently about how they get work done. It's also given Infor a dramatic increase in Infor CloudSuite multi-tenant ERP customers and pushed the ERP vendor to create industry-specific offerings, Samuelson said.
"The events of 2020 might be the most compelling answer we've ever had to the questions, 'Why cloud?' and, 'Why now?'" he said.
Infor, which is owned by the giant conglomerate Koch Industries, is plowing a substantial amount of investment from its corporate parent into the development of its multi-tenant cloud version of Infor CloudSuite, Samuelson said. They also announced investment in several initiatives aimed at providing customers with better services for implementing and managing its multi-cloud ERP.
Infor CloudSuite has moved away from being a single product that serves a variety of industries, and thus must be heavily customized, to a series of industry-specific suites, he said.
"When we talk about industry, we're not talking about broad areas of ERP. We go into the details for specific sub-verticals to meet the needs of those customers," Samuelson said. "For example, we don't just have a manufacturing suite, we have a suite that is purpose-built for the automotive industry with the key processes, functions and attributes required for the sector built into our products."
Shedding customizations for faster deployments
This industry focus and multi-tenant cloud infrastructure enables Infor's ERP suite to be deployed faster and provide better value than generic ERP products that typically require costly and time-consuming customizations, he said.
"[Infor CloudSuite] allows you the ability to shed most of your legacy customizations, but this wouldn't be possible without our commitment to industry last mile," Samuelson said. "In the past, ERP solutions were prone to having many customizations and implementations that could take years, making updates difficult, slow, costly and complex. By adopting cloud ERP solutions with deep industry functionality already built in, you can implement a large portion of your solution right out of the box."
This last mile functionality investment has resulted in Infor adding more than 6,000 features in the last year, based on specific industry requirements, said Soma Somasundaram, Infor CTO and president of products.
"In food and beverage, some customers need dynamic aging functionality to serve their customers. For example, if you're a cheese processor, you need to cure the cheese based on the quality of the block of cheese and on customer requirement," Somasundaram said. "In hospitality, we added contactless check-in. A generic ERP cannot address these types of requirements."
Looking for long-term relationships
Infor is also intent on redefining its customer relationships to focus on stability and customer engagement, according to Samuelson. This is made possible by the ownership of Koch Industries, which now provides Infor with the stability to focus on long-term relationships, he said.
"Other software companies are publicly held or owned by private equity, so the importance of short-term outcomes often outweighs the value of long-term relationships," Samuelson said. "We have the ability to step back and away from short-term gains and place our emphasis on valuing customers over the long term."
One of the centerpieces to this long-term customer engagement focus is an initiative called the Multi-Tenant Cloud Customer Bill of Rights, which aims to provide cloud customers with support as their plans, requirements and business initiatives change over time, Samuelson said.
The Customer Bill of Rights provides Infor customers with features such as contract flexibility so that customers can swap seats among Infor products; transparent pricing; data security; and enhanced customer support.
Formidable cloud ERP contender
Inforum 2020's multi-tenant cloud ERP message reinforces the ERP market's ongoing push to modern cloud-based digital platforms, said Shawn Windle, founder and managing principal of ERP Advisors Group, a firm in Lakewood, Colo., that provides independent advice on ERP selection and implementation.
"What's interesting here with Infor specifically is that they've always been very big proponents of cloud strategy," Windle said. "But the market adoption -- even within their partner channel -- has been a little bit slower on the uptake, as partners are having to retool, refocus and rethink how they do implementations."
Infor's approach is making it a formidable competitor in the ERP market, and the Infor CloudSuite products are well positioned to take advantage of the increased demand for cloud systems, he said.
Predrag JakovljevicPrincipal industry analyst, Technology Evaluation Centers
"It's really at the right time because we are talking to many Infor customers that are looking at upgrades," Windle said. "This is because they are being forced to go to the cloud either out of a work-from-home strategy or for other reasons like IT risks with on-premises software or needing new feature functionality to support their organizations."
Proof will be in the follow-up
While Infor paints a rosy picture of multi-tenant cloud ERP, the proof will be in the pudding, said Predrag Jakovljevic, principal industry analyst at Technology Evaluation Centers, an enterprise computing analysis firm in Montreal.
"Multi-tenancy is always a good move, but let's see whether they can really deal with no customizations and [providing] monthly updates," Jakovljevic said. "Continual retraining [of users] or re-validation seem to be very disruptive to customers, who might prefer to have a choice how often and when to update."
Infor's industry-specific approach is nothing new; it is a major part of SAP's strategy and Epicor has also been pushing a similar theme, he said. However, Infor may be ahead in a few areas.
"In healthcare and some manufacturing and distribution segments, Infor really has very strong vertical offerings, although it appears that in retail, they have put the brakes on exorbitant new investments," Jakovljevic said.
Infor will need to back up the Customer Bill of Rights with actions, he said, as software vendors have often offered similar promises that don't always match the execution.
"It's kind of hard to debate with the premise of offering some guarantees to the users to keep the vendor accountable, but the devil is always in the details," Jakovljevic said. "We have all heard of these bill-of-rights and value engineering moves by the vendors over the years, but with not much follow up after the announcement at a conference. Let's hope Infor really follows up on this promise."