Why Infor’s CloudSuite heralds innovation wave in the financial software market

Infor's suite of high-end cloud financial software products include a new user interface, in-memory database technology and more. CloudSuite signals a major shift in the application space. Will CIOs bite?

Infor's  release last week  of its CloudSuite Financials product line -- a horizontal group of written-from-scratch applications -- will likely trigger a wave of new innovation and product release activity from competitors over the next year or so.

An arms race of sorts could emerge in the cloud financial software marketplace but, interestingly, the losers won’t be other cloud financial vendors but those vendors still selling older, on-premises, single-tenant hosted or client-server solutions.

First, let’s look at what Infor announced.

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1 of 3 - New Infor Cloud Financial Suite attributes Copyright 2014 - TechVentive, Inc. - All Rights Reserved
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2 of 3 - New Infor Cloud Financial Suite attributes Copyright 2014 - TechVentive, Inc. - All Rights Reserved
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3 of 3 - New Infor Cloud Financial Suite attributes Copyright 2014 - TechVentive, Inc. - All Rights Reserved

Infor has quietly developed a suite of cloud-based financial applications in the last couple of years. They received guidance from Big 4 accounting executives and others to identify what was/wasn’t working with existing products in the market. They also undertook a re-imagination exercise to envision what financials look like in the cloud, mobile, etc. world of today (see UX points below).

While conference slides indicated that the new suite has a 'single repository for Infor and non-Infor subledgers," I questioned Infor’s Darci Snyder about this. She explained that all data resides in a single, in-memory database. Transaction records that are stored in subledgers in the ancillary financial applications (e.g., fixed assets or accounts payable) of old-school products are now kept in one cumulative in-memory database. Data redundancy is eliminated as the record is only stored once. For example, when an item that was requisitioned via a purchase order is finally received, the original record’s status is updated and some additional data attributes may be attached to the original record. Likewise, other data can be added to this repository.

Eliminating subledgers is not only efficient from a storage perspective, it eliminates the effect of latency when data has not been moved from one subsystem to another. The fact that this single data repository is in-memory means that reporting timeframes are dramatically reduced. I suspect that a traditional RDBMS is used as a persistent storage medium, but this should be confirmed.

Is this novel? No. SAP’s Business ByDesign used this approach, as has Workday Financials. But, what is impressive is the scope/breadth of Infor’s suite.

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Product line components - Infor CloudSuite Financials Copyright 2014 - TechVentive, Inc. - All Rights Reserved

The suite, according to Darci, is currently being implemented by some early adopter (existing) customers. The suite does not go into GA (general availability until end of year). One of these early adopters, Manulife/John Hancock, spoke at the event. Interestingly, they are using the new financial suite on-premises – not on the cloud. That apparently was their choice and not a product issue with Infor’s new software.

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New Infor CloudSuite Financials beta customer John Hancock/Manulife Copyright 2014 - TechVentive, Inc. - All Rights Reserved

Impact on Competition

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The Infor CloudSuite Financials will likely trigger discussions at Workday, SAP, NetSuite, Oracle and other vendors. Some of these cloud vendors may:

  • lack as broad of a financial product offering as Infor
  • need to finish recent re-tooling efforts on their cloud financial solutions
  • need to hurry up, finish ‘re-architecturing’ their on-premises products to the new cloud world
  • need to accelerate the rate of customer and/or prospect adoption of their cloud financial solutions

Workday, for example, may see this as just the stimulus they need to close their budgeting/planning functionality gap.

But this activity within these firms will not be the only thing stirring. We should expect that:

  • Vendors selling or trying to extend the useful life of client-server, hosted or on-premises solutions will be reaching for the big, cloud-sized jar of antacids. Infor dropped a huge pile of credibility and application software on the cloud financial front Wednesday. Those vendors clinging to past market successes and glories will be in trouble as Infor basically upped the ante for being a modern purveyor of applications. It’s the scale and cloudiness of their announcement that will hurt the fogies.
  • Workday, NetSuite, et.al., will actually benefit from this. Here is Infor, the third largest software firm in the world, throwing down big on cloud financials. Infor brings big vendor respectability to a group of mostly net-new vendors.  This won’t be an Infor vs. Workday fight. It’s a signal moment. It tells the market that the shift is really here. Cloud financials are in while on-premises is out.  So, the real battle is now the rapid, total dismantling of those old, installed on-premises solutions by big cloud financial vendors like Workday and Infor.
  • Other financial accounting cloud vendors will continue to benefit, too. I’m still bullish on the Adaptive Insights, Host Analytics and Anaplan vendors of the world. They fill important holes and do so with interesting cloud, big data and analytical applications/tools. Likewise, some of the cloud treasury applications will see ever more upside. More intriguing is that many of these firms could become acquisition fodder for older firms needing to bring some cloud credibility to their old financial solutions.

What else did Infor telegraph?

Remember, Infor is the owner of scores of applications, many of which were acquired over a long period of time. For history buffs, you’ll love this paragraph. Infor is developing conversion programs to help customers of Infor’s  E-Series/M-Series (i.e., Management Science America/McCormack & Dodge/Geac/Dun&Bradstreet), Infinium (nee Software 2000), Elevon (nee Walker Interactive), and possibly other Infor financial suites convert their solutions to the cloud financials suite.

The new suite also has batch processing capabilities. This is important to large firms as huge files of journal entries are often transmitted to the corporate financials or the general ledger via subsidiaries,  manufacturing systems, etc. 

The new suite capitalizes on Infor's captive design team (i.e., Hook & Loop) as well as other Infor technologies (e.g., Infor Ming.le). The resulting user interface and, more importantly, user experience is a departure from many early Internet or cloud financial solutions (see below).

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Infor CloudSuite Financial user experience example Copyright 2014 - TechVentive, Inc. - All Rights Reserved

Conclusion

This product line from Infor may trigger a big jolt in the software vendor community but it should also trigger discussion among CIOs. The vendor community is clearly cloud-focused. Why aren't some CIOs?

After Infor's conference last week, I met with the IT leadership of a major global firm. The CIO was still on the fence about cloud solutions (although his subordinates were clearly leaning this way). We spent a fair bit of time on the subject of on-premises, public cloud, private cloud, etc. His biggest issue actually was discomfort with perceived cloud risks and with not the technology.

At one point, I reminded the CIO that firms only get one chance every 10 or so years to replace their ERP solutions. If he misses this opportunity, another decade will pass before his employer can move to a more modern solution set. Better for him to understand and mitigate potential cloud risks today than to continue with the status quo for another decade.

Disclosure: Infor covered Brian Sommer's air & hotel expense to its user conference.

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