Infor Inforum 2019: keynote notes, quotes & anecdotes

Industry-specific cloud application company Infor staged its Inforum user conference this week in New Orleans, Louisiana (NOLA) and the Computer Weekly Developer Network team was there to gorge on crawfish gumbo and cloud-native ERP-centric industry software application development.

The event itself was kicked off by LaToya Cantrell in her capacity as mayor of New Orleans. She detailed the fact that the government of this city is in fact the first public organisation to move to the Infor cloud suite.

“It has not been easy, but we are committed to using technology to become a world class city,” said Cantrell.

Cantrell was followed by Infor CEO Kevin Samuelson who welcomed the crowd to an event that presents 700 sessions presented by almost 500 speakers. Starting as an engineer in the company 17-years ago, Samuelson has only recently moved into the position of CEO in the last month.

Infor is a private equity company that has two major fund investors (Koch and Golden Gate Capital), but when Samuelson started, Infor had just one product. With a full platform offering now spanning Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) with an emphasis on cloud-first digital supply chain technologies, Infor has expanded considerably in recent years.

End game: Infor front, SAP back?

While SAP focuses its ERP efforts on the ‘back end of financials’, Infor’s CEO and CTO insist that it is far more productive and accurate to start ERP with an emphasis on the ‘front end operations’ side of the business and the supply chain.

In related breakout press briefings, the Infor C-suite wouldn’t be drawn on exact metrics between the two companies… but, it says, its fastest growing European market is Germany (no coincidence that this is SAP’s home) and that it is winning some deal directly from previously incumbent SAP customers.

“We should be able to get to ‘go-lives’ within six months and this should be the standard for enterprise technology today,” said Samuelson. “We’ve now also now taken our Birst BI technology to embed that into our platform (with additional benefits related to Robotic Process Automation advancements) to give customers more information about the way their businesses are running.”

Samuelson insists that science and algorithms are the least important thing because many of the algorithms around today have been around for at least 40-years. The real crunch point comes from being able to harmonise and categorise data in systems of record that flows around the business every day.

Product innovations

Infor CTO Soma Somasundaram took the stage to present what he called product innovation session.

He stressed how directly Infor focuses on last mile functionality – because it’s difficult to create ERP for 20-different industries (as you would find in other ERP engines) so Infor builds ‘just’ for healthcare, just for automotive, just for manufacturing, just for retail, just for public sector and just for the financial or energy industry.

“The core base of software is lighter this way and doesn’t have any bloat where you have to turn off 90% of the configuration options,” said Somasundaram.

Somasundaram also wanted to look at Infor’s approach to in-context analytics and his firm’s approach to Artificial Intelligence (AI). The company is working to put AI into process decision making as it now looks from last mile to so-called ‘next mile’ functionality.

“We want to be able to deliver continuous innovation so that you never have to use the word upgrade in any part of your vocabulary,” said Somasundaram.

Infor execs also presented a series of keynotes sessions focused on explaining the company’s approach to APIs, data management and data governance.

The Infor Data Lake approach was only developed in its current form over the last year and this ‘body of water’ will be deep and wide enough for customers to be able to access more than just Infor system data i.e. the company says it realises that fast-moving digital firms will also need to access data sources such as market price data, IoT sensor data and so on.

Somasundaram finalised his session by talking about Infor’s AI engine, which is known as Coleman… named after Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson, an American mathematician whose calculations on orbital mechanics as a NASA employee were critical to the success of the first U.S. crewed spaceflights.

The Infor Coleman AI Platform is a pervasive machine learning platform that operates below an application’s surface. It mines data and uses powerful machine learning to help improve processes such as inventory management, transportation routing, and predictive maintenance.

According to Infor, “The platform is specifically designed for non-technical, business users and is built upon a foundation of industry-specific data, and it also provides the extensive tooling needed for a well-established machine learning practice. The Infor Coleman AI Platform modeling environment is “digestible,” in that it doesn’t require as complex a skillset as other AI tooling, nor is it designed to require an exhaustive service engagement.”

Closing sections of this keynote presentation focused in Infor’s approach to process mining in contemporary digital organisations, a story that Computer Weekly has already reported on separately here.

Bottom line takeaways

Okay so this is not a behemoth [Moscone-scale] tech event, but it’s getting bigger every year and we’re seeing some good stability in terms of a) the company’s financial backers b) the relatively diverse board of C-suite execs (in terms of gender and ethnicity)… c) the growth of the Infor suite and the now solid engineering integration of Birst throughout the platform d) the specificity and granularity of the data layers that Infor is focused on (from front line operational data to structured data resources to unstructured data lake options)… and onward to e) the push to bring AI and machine learning forward as key advantages in the same way that the wider tech industry is also pushing for.

Infor is also lucky i.e. all it has to do is add “um” to its name to get a conference title and you can’t do that with any other brand. Software serendipity or strategy… who cares right?

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