Beauty as a Competitive Differentiator in Enterprise Applications
A decade back, in 2003, my employer had spent nearly $600 just to get me trained and certified in SAP. That was the going rate to get into the elite club of consultant who has understood nuances of the market leading enterprise application. Those days the trend in the enterprise application world was to create big monolithic, functionally rich, ERPs. Simplicity or Usability of the product was least of the considerations- as matter of fact the labels in initial versions of SAP were in German. The main focus was on addressing all foreseeable business requirements across all verticals and sub verticals in one go. One size fits all. The organizations were urged to change their business process to suit the architecture of those ERPs. They termed it 'IT- enabled business process reengineering- BPR'. Obviously this focus made the enterprise applications very complex to comprehend. This, in turn, created an assured revenue stream for the product vendors in the form of training and certification.
Over a period of time, the trend has completely reversed. The GenNext does not have time or inclination to undergo elaborate training in software applications. They want the applications to be intuitive. One does not need a user manual to understand how a face book or LinkedIn works. The users of iPod do not depend on a user manual to understand how to use the application. They just know it - intuitively. This new reality has finally dawned on the enterprise application vendors. The functional richness in enterprise applications is a given- hygiene factor. That is no more competitive differentiator. The new competitive differentiators are usability and performance.
This is precisely what Infor is attempting through 10x. Leveraging Beauty (for want of better term!) as a competitive differentiator. This is my key take away from the last week's session by Soma, EVP Global Product Development of Infor at New Delhi. Infor 10x unites a multi-purpose middleware platform (ION) featuring social, mobile, analytical, and cloud capabilities with Infor's suite of solutions. It also delivers a pervasive, in-context business intelligence embedded throughout role-based workflows and makes it easier to put the power of analytics to work for businesses.
It's very interesting to see how Infor attempts to adopt a game-changer strategy to thrive in the intensively competitive enterprise application market- currently dominated by SAP and Oracle. The look and feel (or the beauty!) of the new Infor 10x was not designed by ordinary, mostly left-brained, Engineers. Instead they set up Hook & Loop - an internal creative agency with a singular mandate - create experiences people love! This energetic think tank is composed of a bunch of talented creative-writers, designers, developers, and filmmakers--all working together to achieve this mandate. And looking at the 10x features, I can say that they have met with a reasonable success in that.
Following the strategy of Salesforce.com which announced that Chatter will be its primary interface, Infor is also planning to use Ming.le as the UI for its applications. Similar to Chatter, Ming.le is not only a snazzy consumer-like social UI; it's also useful in sending contextual info to employees. (BTW, there are more similarities between these two self-proclaimed start-ups- They're both run by former Oracle executives and are poised to break $3 billion in annual revenue the only product companies to do that apart from SAP and Oracle.)
Being a distant 3rd in this ERP market, Infor also recognizes the need to coexist with the bigger brothers in the market. Infor 10x is equipped with ION technology, a proprietary middleware solution that serves as the cornerstone of the Infor technology platform. Designed with flexibility in mind, ION simplifies integration between both Infor and third-party applications to provide a sturdy foundation for growth. It is very evident that Infor is betting big time on ION.
With just around 6% market share in the ERP world, and the growth mostly driven by inorganic acquisitions, Infor is consciously attempting for image makeover from that of a holding company for older applications like BaaN, to one offering a modern technology platform and reinvigorated applications for various verticals and "micro-verticals" . They are also cognizant of the fact that they can't achieve all of that alone. They intend to crowd-source it from various partners. The partner program is an essential part of the solutions strategy at Infor. They are encouraging the SI partners to create micro-vertical solutions on top of Infor frame work, even if that means partners would get to keep the IP for such solutions.
If everything they claim happens as planned, I am sure Infor 10x is going to fundamentally change the way information is published and consumed in the enterprise. It is going to take the enterprise application user experience to an altogether different level.