07 December 2012

Monolithic madness

Too many businesses buy enterprise applications not designed for their industry, warns Phil Lewis. And 'Facebook for manufacturing'? You'd better believe it

Luxury sports car marque Ferrari is part of the Fiat group of automotive companies – a business which has a firm policy of standardising on ERP systems from a particular provider, the world's largest ERP vendor.

But when faced with the challenges of delivering a faster time-to-market in order to capture market share in the fast-growing emerging economies of China and the Middle East, the business abruptly abandoned its approach of 'any flavour of ERP as long as it's that one'.

"Our supply chain changes mark a major development at Ferrari. We have introduced a new SCM [supply chain management] process with the target of 'zero shortages' along the production line, including a very tight connection between the SCM and manufacturing technology, and the ICT works hand-in-hand with it," said Vittorio Boero, CIO of Ferrari. "The new set-up went live in January 2012 and the completion of the post go-live phase was done around June. The changes to our supply chain and manufacturing were made alongside changes to our production strategies, including a higher flexibility. The introduction of the new process was done including the moving of the material handling/warehouse management under an external 3PL."

The result? A seamless transition to Infor LN, supplemented by third party solutions, in-house applications, and Infor's own 'middleware plus' connectivity capability, Infor ION. All delivered in a fraction of the time, when compared to the prospect of the multi-year implementation timescale of the alternative proposition. Ferrari is confident that this transition will contribute towards a rise in production of 5,000 to 7,000 vehicles per year, an impressive 40% increase.

At a stroke, in short, Ferrari found itself with the world-class advanced planning and scheduling, enterprise asset management, assembly line management and supply chain management necessary to respond nimbly to the opportunities open to it.

Impressively, too, not only were overall order-to-delivery times reduced, but customers could retain control of their car's customisation for a whole three weeks into the build process – changing the colour, trim level and specification to suit their changed requirements.

All of which was no surprise to Phil Lewis, business consulting director for Western Europe at global business software specialist Infor, and a long time observer of IT in manufacturing.

"At Infor, we see a desire within the industry to move away from the monolithic approach to ERP that has been prevalent for many years," he asserts. "We believe companies that build jet fighters shouldn't be forced to use the same applications as companies that process meat. They're different businesses, calling for different solutions – and not for a single monolithic solution, bent and folded to fit."

Cue Infor, which over the past decade has built up an impressive clutch of enterprise software applications, ranging from ERP to supply chain management (SCM), finance, enterprise asset management (EAM) and product lifecycle management (PLM).

"From the ground up, we're firmly-focused on delivering industry-specific solutions, which is a critical difference between us and our competitors," says Lewis. "They have one way to go to market – and we have a custom-tailored route chosen to suit the needs of each of the major core industry sectors that we support, ranging from aerospace to healthcare, and the individual 'micro verticals' underpinning those sectors."

Which is why, he adds, Infor offers multiple ERP systems, multiple PLM systems, and multiple 'best of breed' systems – each appropriate for a particular set of needs, and each sharing a common user experience, common user 'sign on', and common reporting framework, and each capable of being combined with others on a mix-and-match basis.

And it's not just the applications that are industry-specific, he emphasises: Infor's people, too, are firmly focused around the needs of particular industries.

"From the moment that a customer meets one of our people, he or she is dealing with someone who understands their industry, and its issues, its pain points and marketplace," says Lewis. "The customer gets the right solution – and gets the answers that they need, more quickly."

And the reason why Infor has recently reaffirmed its commitment to industry-specific solutions, stresses Lewis, is also crystal clear. Simply put, he says, it's what customers actually want.

"The trend is clear: more and more businesses are looking for 'out of the box' solutions, where all they need to do is configure a standard product," he says. "And what's becoming apparent to them is that it's very difficult to do that with a generic, monolithic, 'one size fits all' solution."

Indeed, he points out, research undertaken by Infor has highlighted that among users purchasing generic solutions, customisation is prevalent – and that around 50% of those customisations are to cater for industry-specific needs.

"And there's a two-fold cost to this," notes Lewis. "First, there's the cost of the customisation itself. But second, there's the hidden cost associated with delaying an upgrade to a subsequent version, and the further customisation cost that would entail. So companies stay stuck on older versions of the software, until the imperative for change makes the pain of repeated customisation worthwhile."

With Infor applications, in contrast, "we aim for zero modifications: all the customer should have to do is configure the product, not re-write portions of it".

But if Infor is enthusiastically reaffirming its long-standing industry-specific credentials, the enterprise application giant is also embracing a more recent recognition that software designers could do a lot more to improve users' productivity.

"We've been looking at how people use computers in their downtime, interacting with apps such as Facebook and Twitter, and there are huge lessons in terms of application design and functionality," says Lewis. "Infor has beauty as a core competence, but beauty is more than just aesthetics: it's also about design, ergonomics, usability, productivity, and maximising the flow of information."

In short, he sums up, Infor has set itself a mission: to change the way that work gets done, by rewiring the way that people create, consume and share information across the enterprise.

Lessons from consumer-centric applications are already appearing in current Infor products and technology roadmaps, and being coded into products slated for release in the months and years ahead.

Mobility, for instance, and the 'bring your own device paradigm'. And also a switch to coding software in languages that are better suited to information dissemination, rather than transaction processing. And putting business intelligence and analytics at the heart of applications, rather than as a bolt-on extra.

"Users shouldn't be constrained by their choice of device," explains Lewis. "Just as with Facebook or Twitter, the device should provide an appropriate interface to the application that users want to access. And by writing those interfaces in HTML5, we're making them faster and cleaner-looking, but also optimised for information-sharing. Then, with information that is more easily shared, we're also making it easier to analyse that information – so that the resulting insights can be shared, too."

Having listened to its customers, Infor is convinced that a new paradigm in usability is one that will quickly gel with users increasingly frustrated by the gulf between the applications that they use at home, and those that they use at work.

"As consumers, we can subscribe to, or 'follow', individual people, topics and places," he notes. "It's an easy and powerful way of staying in touch with what matters, and what's important. So a salesperson should be able to 'like' or subscribe to a customer, to see everything that affects that customer, and a manufacturing manager should be able to 'follow' a works order or piece of production equipment."

"Today's applications don't do that – but tomorrow's will. And users, and their businesses, will be the better for it. That's what we at Infor are intent on delivering."


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Infor (United Kingdom) Ltd

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