At the end of July, Infor’s owner Golden Gate Capital completed a $1.83 billion takeover of Lawson Software to merge the two former competitors. It was the end of the line for a proud American ERP company founded in a garage in Minneapolis in the mid-1970s that grew to around 4,000 employees in more than 40 countries with 4,500 customers.
At least 2,000 of these customers are running on the IBM i operating system. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given its Minnesota roots, Lawson had a strong IBM midrange track record, building apps for the System/38 and then the AS/400 before prioritizing Windows, AIX, and Java development for its S3 ERP system. IBM won either way. A good deal of S3 accounts run on AIX-driven Power Systems, though I am told that there are still diehards running S3 on AS/400.
More importantly, Lawson’s other flagship ERP application, M3, was originally Movex from Swedish firm Intentia. Despite the application’s dalliances with Sun Solaris and Windows over the years, and even though Intentia was also a supposedly platform-agnostic Java pioneer, more than 80 percent of M3 users are running on IBM i. Intentia claimed 3,000 customers before it merged with Lawson back in 2006.
Before it absorbed Lawson, Infor already had a large collection of i-based business apps. Stablemates include LX (formerly BPCS), XA (formerly Mapics), System 21, French HMC solution Anael, and German automotive staple XPPS. Added to that, there are solutions like A+, KBM, PRMS, PRISM, and more.
Infor now claims 15,000 IBM i-based ERP users. With non-ERP apps like its Infinium HR offering, it may have as many as 17,000 users running on the i. That’s nearly a quarter of its 70,000 customers and, depending on who you believe about the size of this market, close to a fifth of all IBM i users in the world. Indeed, with this much clout, it could be said that Infor’s future plans for IBM i on Power are becoming almost as important as IBM’s.
One problem for Infor, and by extension the IBM i community, is that not all these users are active customers. They may have old versions of their applications and are not exactly on a healthy upgrade path. It is not overly harsh to speculate that if a firm makes it to a crossroads with an ancient version of, say, Mapics that’s running out of steam, its System i is already halfway out the door.
Another challenge is that, even with the best will in the world, it’s very hard to keep such a large collection of software solutions up to date. As we all know, good application development sucks up an awful lot of money, time and, perhaps more importantly, creativity and determination. Not even the world’s largest independent ERP entity can keep that many plates spinning.
To its credit, and despite a strong alliance with Microsoft, Infor woke up to the potential of its Power i users a couple of years ago. Customers that felt neglected after their business apps were originally hoovered up by SSA (then taken over by Infor in 2006) started to feel the love again when Infor launched its System i Centre of Excellence division in 2009 (infor.com/systemi).
Initiatives like its Flex and Reconnect programs have encouraged customers to upgrade to more recent versions of LX, XA, and System21 in particular and return to maintenance contracts with the company. Plus, there have been new applications for the IBM i platform like Infor CRM iEdition and Electronic Banking for System i.
In July, users of Lawson’s M3 were told that Infor would continue to invest in their application. They would also benefit from Infor’s relationship with Microsoft via a SharePoint-based Workspace user interface, as will users of its other key IBM i-based solution suites. Conversely, Infor’s wider users will get Lawson’s .NET-based Smart Office offering that lets users interface with apps via Excel and Outlook. In August, Big Blue introduced IBM i Solution Edition hardware/software bundles for LX, XA, and System21. Of course, in the scenario where an IBM i-based app is deemed to have run its course, Infor will be doing its level-best to ensure that CFOs (let’s face it, it’s rarely CIOs) who are determined to abandon the platform instead opt for another of its Unix and Windows-based solutions. It should be stressed that in this situation, I expect Infor to be no different from IBM, whether we like it or not.
Although we would probably prefer if Infor presented its i-based apps as its primary go-to-market offerings, the company certainly seems serious about the platform. If that appeared to change then alarm bells really would be ringing. There are now just a handful of major ERP solution providers for the i (and one them is Oracle), so Infor’s influence over the future of the platform is now even more considerable than before. To paraphrase Stan Lee’s famous dictum only slightly, let’s just hope it remembers that with great Power comes great responsibility.
Seamus Quinn is editor of iNEWSWire UK.