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To get an idea of how much a home improvement project might cost, some say the best approach is to double your best estimate. Applications vendor Infor says it's taking this sort of guesswork out of enterprise software upgrades with a program that reduces the risk of time and cost overruns.
Infor introduced its Flex Program last June, and it enables customers with active maintenance contracts to upgrade their applications to the latest version or even to exchange applications and move to alternatives available from Infor. To make implementation costs transparent, the company has developed fixed-fee blocks of service hours for data conversion, system configuration, report migration, and other expected tasks specific to each product implementation.
Last week Infor declared Flex a success, announcing that more than 200 customers have taken advantage of the program. One such customer is E. Sam Jones, a lighting distributor that was running a dated version of Infor's ERP SX application.
"We hadn't upgraded our ERP system since 2004, so when Infor came out with this program, I convinced our CFO and president it was time to make the move," said Julian Richard, CIO at E. Sam Jones. "Typically when you do an upgrade, you're not only paying for the software, you're paying for the installation, and you end up with a bigger bill than expected. With Flex, we got the software and a block of hours to get everything done, so the upgrade became much more desirable."
E. Sam Jones wanted to take advantage of e-commerce storefront capabilities that weren't available in the previous-generation software. The company completed the ERP upgrade earlier this month, and Richard said the company still has service hours available to roll out a new storefront.
An application exchange option available through the Flex Program is designed for customers who want to move off hardware platforms, change deployment styles or add capabilities not available in current product lines. "Exchanges are structured with the same approach used for upgrades," said Dennis Michalis, corporate senior vice president at Infor. "Customers can move to another product with no license fees, and we hold maintenance at the same rates, so long as the deployment has a similar scope in terms of number of users."
Infor has acquired more than 20 applications vendors over the past decade, including Baan, GEAC Systems, Epiphany and Extensity. The company now supports more than 70,000 customers. About 80% are midsize companies with between $50 million and $1 billion in revenue. Michalis says Flex was designed with the current economy and these often budget-constrained customers in mind.
Despite the huge variety of applications in the Infor portfolio, Michalis said the company isn't herding customers toward a few go-forward product lines. That said, certain customers, such as Infor's 14,000 customers on IBM's System I (formerly AS400) and the BPCS/LX ERP application, have shown clear tendencies.
"There are customers who are sticking with System I, but many are moving to open systems, so they need a different [applications] package," Michalis said.
Infor has developed flat-fee service blocks for more than 20 common application upgrades and implementation projects. To facilitate integration, Infor has also introduced Infor Open SOA, an architecture designed to enable companies to distribute data among Infor applications and third-party systems. The infrastructure includes a service bus used to integrate applications and add-on modules such as asset management, service management and time-and-expense applications.