Here we have another of our vendor interviews in the WhichPLM series on end-to-end solutions and we ask Kevin Piotrowski, Director of Product Management for Infor10 ERP Process iBusiness (System21) for his assessment on how ERP and PLM systems can function together. Infor is headquartered in Alpharetta, Georgia and is the third largest provider of enterprise applications and services, helping 70,000 customers in 164 countries. The solutions available include CRM, EAM, ERP, FM, HCM, PM, PLM, SCM and WFM.
WhichPLM: With the recent downturn in global economies, are you finding that your customers have recovered quicker than some other industries with less resilient products portfolios and what do you believe are your customer’s key business drivers now moving forward?
Kevin: Infor continues to see growth in China, India, Indonesia, and Eastern Europe where apparel manufacturing costs are low. In more mature markets like Western Europe and North America apparel companies have become zeroed in on cost control due to volatile raw material and currency fluctuations and are focused more on distribution and importing.
WhichPLM: As a rule of thumb, we would look to lifecycle of around 3-5 useful years from an enterprise system (whether it be ERP, PLM, EPOS etc..), do you think we are going to see this “value window” being forcibly extended by consumers from their implementations? Do you think enterprise systems can still deliver a beneficial value over 5 years from go-live in the current market?
Kevin: The typical lifecycle of our ERP and PLM products is much longer due to the inherent flexibility of the solutions and to the continuous improvements in both technology and functionality of the products. Customers are upgrading to the latest versions and adding complementary Infor solutions that extend their ERP and PLM functionality and give them more value.
WhichPLM: What regions/areas are Infor themselves forecasting or experiencing strong demand for PLM and other enterprise level IT solutions? Why do you suspect the market is buoyant here ahead of other regions?
Kevin: Demand is for our solutions is picking up in all areas, however, the driver for that demand is different in the various regions. In developing markets and countries the focus is on automating manufacturing, quality, and logistics and replacing manual systems. In mature markets the focus is on better managing complex global supply chains, improving business analytics, and upgrading from first or second generation products to integrated end to end solutions.
WhichPLM: …so how are you helping to deliver these customers better value from an enterprise system now against the market pre-2007?
Kevin: Our solutions are built specifically for the fashion and apparel industry to meet their current and future business challenges. These end to end solutions are engineered for speed to enable our customers and their IT staffs to master complexity and accelerate business change. Also, we are focused on improving our customer’s user experience, their usability of the solution, as well as their ability to personalization the solution.
WhichPLM: The media is rife with case studies of catastrophically failed ERP and PLM projects, (albeit 1st generation projects) do you think running a full end-to-end system implementation project is a better value proposition than running separate projects independent of each other?
Kevin: Either approach can work, however, uncovering the customer’s key business requirements first, then prioritizing /implementing what is most critical to them will enable early positive momentum in the project and the approval to move forward. It is also important to be able to execute on these steps while understanding the implications of the end to end solution. Infor’s industry specific consultants have both expertise of the individual products and the overall end to end solution.
WhichPLM: Do most consumers have the available capacity (both financially and at a resources level) to run dual projects? Do you think consumers are fully aware as to what their own capabilities are for running enterprise level projects?
Kevin: It does depend on the company; however, successful projects always have buy-in from the top of their organization and include strong project management from both Infor and themselves. Our customers rely on Infor to manage and support the implementation project with different resources required dependent on functional area (ERP, PLM, etc) and the stage (definition, training, etc) of the project.
WhichPLM: …but surely not every consumer has the correctly aligned company strategy and board leadership to implement such widely encompassing changes?
Kevin: It is critical as mentioned above to have the correct support and drive from the customer’s top management. Infor would identify this up-front as part of the planning/initiation phase of the project and assure that it does it exist before moving forward.
WhichPLM: So what specific benefits can a consumer expect from integrating Infor PLM and ERP end-to-end ahead of the competitors in this space?
Kevin: An integrated solution allows for one set of data, reduces the cost of a custom interface, and reduces the risk of failures – in essence, reducing complexity and risk. Infor’s competency in this space is that we have a large customer presence using our ERP (ERP System21) and a large customer base using our PLM solution (PLM RunTime). A key differentiator for Infor is the depth of our integration.
WhichPLM: …would it not be better for a consumer to look at the market and say “what’s the best ERP for my size, what’s the best PLM, what’s the best EPOS (or any other system segment) Etc…?” and plumb them together? Surely the database or data warehouse behind the scenes is equally accessible for all?
Kevin: It is really dependent on the customer’s preference, their current product portfolio, and their priorities. Infor’s solutions are designed to work well with other Infor solutions or our competitor’s solutions. The draw-back of point to point integrations between disparate systems from multiple vendors requires that companies will have to re-visit their integrations if they upgrade one of their systems or significantly change their business processes.
WhichPLM: …but do you not think it’s risky for a consumer to be fully dependent on one supplier? Doesn’t familiarity breed contempt after all?
Kevin: Our customers have been requiring us to expand our solution footprint and provide more value to them. Their preference is to have fewer technology providers – and they believe there is much less risk having a global and stable supplier like Infor, with local expertise, and implementation and support capabilities across the world.
WhichPLM: At the technical level, is the end-to-end Infor system: one complete single system; separate systems seamlessly integrated or modular systems operating on a common platform? What influenced the design decision for this over the over options?
Kevin: We have assembled a set of applications that have solved problems for specific industries and put them together in a solution footprint with an integration platform that loosely connects these products so that customers can upgrade individual solutions on their own timeline and have a user experience that is consistent, consumer grade while providing context sensitive business intelligence. Industry Specific Applications are a core part of Infor’s DNA. Infor sees the Industry Specific Applications that you build or distribute and the services that you sell as the core and financials are the “edge”. It is our industry expertise that makes us different and we’re leveraging that expertise to deliver enterprise-wide industry solutions that are uniquely positioned to address the challenges of the changing complexity facing today’s manufacturing and distribution companies.
WhichPLM: Finally (and perhaps crucially), if you had a very immature client who had neither PLM nor ERP, and only had the resources to run one system project, which would you advise to start with and why?
Kevin: First we start with their requirements and what their biggest issues are, and where they can get the best return on their investment. For an immature company (mentioned in the question above) that is struggling with managing/developing their style collections PLM may be a better starting point. If they are struggling with the efficiency of their manufacturing operations then ERP might be the better starting point.
Read Rob Smith’s articles on this subject matter: