This year was first time I have ever attended Inforum, Infor’s annual user conference. In the past, I’ve spoken at Lawson CUE and KronosWorks, and I’m a regular at healthcare shows like AONE and HIMSS. So, I felt like I had a good idea of what to expect from Infor, but at the same time, it was all a little new for me.
We gathered in New Orleans at the convention center starting on Monday, September 15, and had sessions through Thursday, September 18. I heard that Infor was estimating around 7,000 attendees this year, but given how big the convention center was, it was hard to get a feel for the size of the show. I’d almost say that the convention center was too big and made the show seem like it had less energy than it should have, because everyone was so spread out.
Tuesday and Wednesday both kicked off with 2 hour opening sessions led by Infor execs making different announcements and talking about products and initiatives. Then there were dozens of sessions going on simultaneously throughout the day, plus “The Hub” – which was the requisite location for booths and partners and networking.
Over the course of the conference, there was a lot to take in, and it’s really impossible to be everywhere and hear about everything, just because of the natural breadth of scope of Infor’s product base. But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t get a chance to get a pulse of what was up and the social media feed on Twitter (#Inforum14) was invaluable to stay on top of the action.
So without further ado, here are my top takeaways from Inforum 2014.
1. HCM in the cloud.
Infor has always had HCM products, and the installed Lawson product base is significant. Infor is investing heavily in cloud-based products, and HCM is at the forefront of that. There is no apparent desire to become a cloud-hosting vendor, though. Infor will be solely using Amazon’s Web Services (AWS) to host everything, which lets Infor R&D stay focused on product instead of infrastructure.
The new flagship HCM product umbrella is now Global HR, which sits only in the cloud. I was a little surprised to hear that because of the huge Lawson customer base. Lawson S3 will continue to have some development performed on it – it’s not going to straight into maintenance mode – but Global HR was unquestionably the flagship and where the bulk of Infor’s future time and energy will be going.
2. Healthcare front and center.
Because of the previously mentioned Lawson install base, it seems that the healthcare industry is the primary focus for Infor. Okay, maybe “primary” is speculation on my part, but it was certainly a big point of focus. Let the “official” announcements from Infor regarding their cloud services serve as an example: They announced “Infor CloudSuite Healthcare” for the healthcare industry and “Infor CloudSuite Business” for everyone else. I think it is overkill to say Infor thinks about two groups of customers – healthcare and everybody else – and if you look at the photo taken during the announcement of CloudSuite, you see lots of industries. But only healthcare got its own press release. Two stats I heard multiple times from Infor staff were that (1) healthcare comprises about 40% of Infor’s customer base and (2) over 70% of the hospitals in the USA run at least one Infor product.
That trickled out into all the sessions and the executive messaging. In one of the opening sessions, we even heard from Tenet (who has 80+ hospitals) on how they are using Infor’s Talent products from the HCM suite. It was a pleasant surprise for me – if you know me, you know I live and breathe healthcare – but it did introduce an interesting situation: Within the HCM space, Infor’s workforce management product (Workbrain) has been traditionally solid in industries like retail. I know that they have been working hard on their scheduling product, and I’m very excited to see how Infor WFM can take on the special challenge that is hospital scheduling.
3. Dynamic Science Labs.
Last year, Infor announced the new division Hook & Loop, who would be responsible for developing a common user experience across all products (see this from Inforum last year). This year, there was a similar type announcement with a new division called Dynamic Science Labs.
In a nutshell, this group consists of a bunch of scientists and their mandate is to make Infor products smarter. Where Hook & Loop focuses on usability, the scientists are focused on algorithms. They are tackling challenges in everything from handling data for the Analytics tool to creating a smart tool to assist charge nurses with daily patient assignments.
Everywhere I turned, I saw the impact of Hook & Loop on the UI of products in HCM. I expect that at the next Inforum, we will see and hear how the Dynamic Science Labs group has made a similarly distinct impact behind the scenes.
There were two things that I came away with as a surprise from the show. And “surprise,” I mean the awkward kind, not the good kind.
Surprise A – What about Payroll?
Lawson customers weren’t just surprised to hear that Global HR and the cloud are the future for Infor HCM. They also wondered about the Payroll module. Turns out, Global HR does NOT include a payroll module in the cloud. It’s the only big module gap in that offering from what I heard. That means that Lawson S3 is the only current payroll offering in Infor’s portfolio. (No, Series E doesn’t count!) Twitter buzzed a little about this and I heard Lawson customers grumbling and wondering “what are we supposed to do?” Their thinking was that if you are a current Lawson customer using everything, you can’t really migrate it all to Global HR because you still have to hang on to your S3 Payroll. This was further exacerbated by the Lawson customer realization that, as one customer tweeted, “presentations seem irrelevant since most Lawson customers are stuck on a 1-2 year path just to get to Infor10.” As I said before: Awkward.
To be fair to Infor, it’s not like S3 Payroll is something that is easily converted to be cloud-based. The foundational code is still all COBOL! But given the overarching “cloud HCM solves all your problems” messaging that Infor had, not addressing Payroll at all seemed like a bit of an oversight. If I put my pundit hat on and speculate on what could be coming down the pipes, I’d guess that Infor will look to acquire an existing cloud-based payroll system and integrate it into Global HR. (That’s the strategy they employ for cloud CRM when they acquired Saleslogix instead of converting what they had.) But I heard nothing from Infor that leads me to that conclusion. It’s pure speculation on my part. I only heard the frustration from the customers.
Surprise B – What about Retail?
Going into the conference, I knew that many of Axsium’s retail clients were not planning on attending. That was curious to me, until I got there and saw the show. There was simply very little talk about Retail as a vertical from Infor. Certainly they have retail as a vertical (http://www.infor.com/industries/retail/) but it was hardly mentioned at Inforum.
The Hub itself was a little confusing with some sections for products (like HCM and Financials) and others for industries (like healthcare and distribution) and one big section in the middle for Hook & Loop. But there was no section for retail.
It finally dawned on me that retail was truly becoming an ugly stepchild when Infor spoke how “everyone needs their own cloud” in a general session and showed a big slide of all the different specialized clouds. There was no retail cloud. This is not me speculating or being a pundit – I’m going off of what I saw on stage.
Even within the space that I know best – Workforce Management – the scheduling sessions were all about healthcare. I searched the session listings for “workforce management” and “retail” and found one twenty minute session that was held in an open area in the Hub.
Maybe this is a surprise only to me, but I know Infor’s Workforce Management suite is really strong in retail. Obviously Lawson is strong in Healthcare and so I “get” the focus on healthcare as an industry, but they have products in a LOT of industries. And retail is kind of a big industry. So…it was a surprise.
If you were at Inforum, I’d like to hear what you thought about the conference and what stood out to you. I’m sure there were many more things that captured the attention of the attendees who came with different perspectives.