July 21, 2020
If you follow industry news, attend prospect events, or read the Infor website, you know that vertical industry expertise is a favorite topic for Infor executives, leaders, and strategists. Industry-specific functionality is part of our critical foundation and a strong differentiating feature for our software solutions, we say frequently. But, have you thought about why? Do you know where our industry expertise comes from and how we leverage it into valuable selling points? Let’s look closer at what “industry expertise” means, why we are highly focused on it as a strategy, and how it will propel Infor forward.
To understand where we are going, it helps to know how we got here. History provides context. In the evolution of ERP solutions, there’s a long and winding road that providers and users travelled before today’s Software as a Service (SAAS) model became the accepted best practice. In early days of ERP solutions, massive monolithic solutions with complex architecture and rigid code structure were the norm. Large enterprises invested heavily and hired consultants to customize the operational features. The heavily modified systems were costly to update.
Then came cloud computing. But, for companies to take advantage of the benefits of multi-tenant cloud deployment, they needed to have their industry-specific functionality already built into the solution—so modifications wouldn’t be needed. Modifications slow down deployment and can get in the way of upgrades.
Infor had been heavily investing into industry-specific features of the core ERP solutions. The solutions contain the functionality needed for industry specific applications—making it easier to migrate to the cloud.
What is vertical functionality?
If you are not familiar with the type of operational processes, decision points, and data analytics that typically are managed by ERP solutions, it may be hard to imagine exactly what industry functionality means. But if you run a dairy, an offshore oil rig, or water utility, to name just a few examples, you know that issues specific to your industry need to be addressed through your software solution. The wrong solution, with miss-matched capabilities, can be disastrous, leaving users with manual process and multiple work-arounds.
Vertical features can relate to processes, measurements, terminology, compliance factors, industry standards, typical performance indicators for measuring success, best practices in workflows, how goods/services are delivered to customers—and more. The differences between service companies and product-centric companies are vast, as one will have inventory of components and as-assembled goods and one will focus on value, contracts, services quoted, in progress, and completed.
Some industries, like Aerospace and Defense and Healthcare, are highly regulated with strict mandates in place about compliance, monitoring, and reporting. Software for those industries should have functionality built-in for tracking the necessary criteria.
How did Infor become vertical experts?
From day-one Infor has been focusing on industries. A solution for the dairy industry was one of our first ERP solutions fully built out to manage end-to-end operations, says Soma Somasundaram, President & CTO. Today, that focus on vertical depth has been rolled out to all of our ERPs, including M3, LN, S3 and Syteline. In manufacturing, for example, there are solutions tailored for six discrete industries, from Aerospace and Defense to Automotive. Those verticals are broken down further to micro-verticals, like metal fabrication or pulp and paper. For process manufacturing, there are solutions for ten more industries, including breweries, bakeries, chemicals and life sciences.
Edge applications, like solutions for the Human Capital Management (HCM) industry and Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) also have modules which help customers address industry needs. Software to manage the global workforce of a financial company is very different than solutions to manage the maintenance of an offshore oil rig. For some industries, like Healthcare and Public Sector, point solutions have been built specifically to manage a micro-vertical application, addressing a need that is narrow but important to an industry. Cloverleaf, for example, specializes in sharing data among healthcare providers.
Soma and his teams are the driving force behind the strategy. “Vertical focus is in our DNA. It’s how we think—because that is how our customers think. Close relationships with customers have helped us to continue to expand the solutions, always bringing in new functionality, based on input from the front-line users. We listen to customer needs. Instead of turning answers into one-time modifications, we build the features into the core solution. Everyone wins,” he says.
Infor also had the investment strategy and available funding to back up the vision. Billions have been invested in adding vertical depth to ERP solutions. This meant tapping industry experts and bringing them on board to help guide priorities. Industry councils were also set up, so customers could share feedback and help form product roadmaps. Regional townhalls were held to help create dialogues with customers and collect ideas.
Over the course of a decade, Infor created numerous vertical applications, more than any competitor offers.
In some cases acquisitions of companies helped us obtain and deliver specialized functionality. In other cases we sought out the subject matter experts who could help us define needs. For healthcare, one of the most specialized industries, nurses and hospital administrators were brought onto the team to help guide product design, educate sales on product benefits, and communicate with users on workflows and best practices of applications.
“Finding the right people to help us turn their working knowledge from their field into automated systems is essential. It’s an important skillset—and the different between basic, generic solutions and real-world functionality that will be used and that will make a difference in the daily lives of users,” says Rama Vadakattu, Global SVP, Solutions & Innovation. “This is what it is all about,” he adds.
As we encourage existing customers to take advantage of the many benefits of cloud computing, our account managers can stress that the industry functionality required is likely built into the appropriate CloudSuite already. Recently the “No Customer Left Behind” program, mapping the path to the cloud, was developed to help convey to customers the ease of migration. Implementation Accelerators have been created to help as well. And Infor Agility: 60:30:10 also relies on vertical functionality being in place. This means that 60% of the solution can be “out of the box” standard features, with 30% being industry or differentiating functionality, and leaving only 10% to be unique for the customers achieved through extensibility. The vastly speeds implementation.
Without the investment in vertical functionality, these recent innovations would not be possible. They truly set Infor apart from competitors who offer broad “generic” solutions with a one-size-fits-all approach.
Our vertical focus will continue to be a critical part of our strategy, predicts Rama. “An emphasis on verticals has defined us. It has helped us build a strategy that is very hard for others to compete with. It’s going to be a central part of our future for a long time.” he adds.