At Inforum 2018, we learned more about the third phase of Infor's evolution, addressing the future of work, AI, and human potential. Their Control Center announcement was of particular importance in the emerging race to implement autonomous supply chain capabilities. We also take a look at the role that HCM and Talent Science plays.
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Earlier this year,1 Charles Philips, Infor’s CEO, told us analysts that Infor is entering its third phase of evolution as a company. The first phase focused on acquiring a portfolio of industry-specific ERP solutions, with what Infor likes to call ‘last mile functionality’ for each industry. The second phase was about modernizing and integrating the portfolio (see Infor Alchemizing Legacy Solutions for more on this), bringing those deep industry-specific capabilities into a multi-tenant SaaS architecture, with a broad set of underlying common, shared services. The cloud suite includes cross-industry components such as EAM (Enterprise Asset Management), CRM, E-commerce, Finance, HCM (Human Capital Management), EPM (Enterprise Performance Management), PLM (Product Lifecycle Management), Supply Chain, and analytics. These can all be connected to Infor’s multi-enterprise Commerce Network (aka GT Nexus Infor). More recently, Infor has invested in AI capabilities, known as Coleman.
Figure 1 - Infor's Evolution—Three Major Strategy/Development Phases
Phase three is all about customer centricity, encapsulated in the theme for Inforum 2018, ‘Realizing Human Potential.’ At first glance, that seemed a bit generic and broad, but several things I learned at Inforum represent quite specific strategies and plans supporting that vision:
Combining Human and Machine Intelligence—AI plays a key role here. A great example is Infor’s new Control Center, described below.
HCM and Talent Science—Maximizing human resources is about more than benefits and payroll. Talent management helps employees reach their potential.
Democratizing Software—Enabling broader use of software across enterprises.
Combining Human and Machine Intelligence
Role of AI in Enabling Human Potential—Combining Human and Machine Intelligence (1 + 1 = 3)
When asked who will be smarter, people or computers, a good answer is ‘both working together,’ people + computers,’ because each is good at different things. Well-designed systems can supercharge peoples’ ability to get their job done.
Observing How People Work, Identifying Business Relationships
Infor’s phase two (moving to the cloud) laid the foundation for phase three by providing a single multi-tenant code base. That enables Infor to observe how people use the system; how they do their work (while preserving privacy and appropriate anonymity). Those insights can be used not just to improve the capabilities of the system, but to improve how people work, how engaged they are, to help employees and partners reach their full potential.
Infor has tools to create ‘business graphs,’ which analyze the relationships between customers, employees, assets, and skills. They have all the required components and data in their suite such as EAM, HCM, PLM, finance, commerce, and so forth, to provide an integrated comprehensive cross functional approach. Charles showed an example in healthcare, depicting the relationship between patients, caregivers, equipment and other assets, and required skills. Infor pulls in data in near real-time about sales, engagement, production, assets, employees—all with a common semantic layer. Their Coleman AI tools can then be used to ask what happened, why it happened, what will happen next, and how outcomes can be improved.
Figure 2 - Cross-pillar Correlations
This enables cross-pillar/cross-functional correlations, discovering for example that an increase in safety violations was caused by inadequate training; or finding out whether a decline in production quality was caused by employee turnover, or new equipment coming online, or a bad batch of input materials, or problems in a specific shift; or finding out whether a decline in sales at a specific store was due to high turnover of store associates, a new store manager, or other factors. Infor is building advisory capabilities into many of their products, where they will gather together the relevant information, help diagnose the problem, and offer suggested solutions.
They can do this for an individual’s talent development as well, suggesting mentorship or taking some specific training at the right time, in context. Much of this training can delivered just-in-time, in bite-sized chunks. Infor is expanding the scope of what an HR system does, tying together knowledge of people and talent with knowledge of operational systems, equipment, trading partners, and capital. Charles said, “instead of putting the transaction at the center, we are putting the employee at the center.”
Coleman Digital Assistant, Vision, Voice, Amazon Alexa
Infor is partnering with Amazon, combining Alexa for Business with Coleman Digital Assistant, enabling Alexa with skills that use enterprise data and apps. Coleman Vision is trained with images to recognize items and connect them to a skill, to allow things like taking a picture of an item to reorder it. Infor is investigating other uses, such as the maintenance manager on the shop floor taking a picture of a machine or a part and automatically retrieving the information on it, reorder the required part, or finding the location and quantity of inventory for that item, and so forth. Voice recognition is integrated into the Infor OS. Infor is also building a ‘citizen developer environment,’ which allows rapid development of Alexa skills in the Infor environment, empowering business users to create Alexa skills on the fly and consume them right away, rather than having to wait in line for development resources from the IT department.
Infor provides Robotic Process Automation (RPA) via intelligent workflows and process orchestration that automates mundane tasks. Those can now include AI to help with decision making. The example Charles gave was the system noticing that inventory will be short, gathers together the required information, and alerts the purchasing manager, and lets them create a PO with a single click. An email could then be automatically sent by the workflow engine to the suppliers, notifying them of the order, explaining the reason why and the urgency, and requesting a response. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) relieves workers of repetitive ‘grunt work,’ so they can use their time on activities requiring creativity, judgement, and interpersonal skills.
Infor Control Center
One of the more important (and I think underappreciated) announcements of the show was Infor GT Nexus’s new Control Center. It is built on the GT Nexus Network.2 For the past two decades, GT Nexus has been building out its network of interconnected trading partners, logistics, financial service providers, and other trade-related service providers. GT Nexus’s Network SaaS architecture includes a canonical data model by which they provide a shared Single-Version-of-the-Truth (SVoT) between all parties on the network. All parties on the network are in synch, seeing the same data (within their security access rights) regarding orders, shipments, inventory levels, and other details on what is going on in their supply chain. This enables well-synchronized execution of complex international trade flows by the many parties involved.
Finding the Patterns in Global Flows of Orders, Shipments, Inventory
Their new Control Center leverages the massive detailed global trade data flowing through the GT Nexus network, using Coleman to observe the flow of orders, shipments, and inventory throughout global supply chain networks. Data about the entire supply chain is processed in memory, in a knowledge graph, which provides rapid correlations between places, processes, and shipments. The control center observes patterns, spots anomalies, predicts what will happen next, and prescribes the necessary actions. Most conventional control towers will provide notification that a shipment is running late. However, there are often many shipments running late, but only a few that the logistics manager actually cares about—i.e. those that are going to have an actual impact on the business. For example, if there is adequate inventory at the destination to continue production (or sales) until the late shipment arrives, then there is no need for further action.
Figure 5 - Control Center with Global Flows, Future Impact on Inventory Levels, Potential Opportunities
Assessing the Impact, Prioritizing the Issues
The Control Center takes into account not only the logistics piece of the puzzle, but existing inventory, orders, and the forward-looking view: forecasted demand and forecasted consumption. By understanding the complete picture, it knows the potential revenue impact of any delays and can prioritize issues to be solved. Intelligence is provided by the Control Center in context, showing the user the issues—showing which customers and locations and products will be impacted—where there is other inventory for this item—and what are alternatives to solve the problem. Coleman can advise people in different roles what to do; perhaps reroute a shipment; or source from a different location. It will show the cost and impact of each option it presents, to help people make the best decision and visualize the outcome and impact of their decision on the business. The Control Center can then automatically ‘push’ the required changes out to the execution systems (ERP, transportation, sourcing, warehouse management, etc.), as well as automatically notifying the relevant parties.
Figure 6 - Cause and Effect Flows for Late Inbound Shipments, DC Inventory Levels, and Impact Per Customer Site
The Control Center provides information about impactful delays across functions within the company (transportation, warehouse, production, sales) and with relevant trading partners (carriers, 3PLs, suppliers, customers). This allows more rapid resolution and execution, rather than relying on back and forth emails and phone calls. The control center can also detect congestion, observing a slowdown or stopping of movement through a location, such as specific port.
Prescriptive Approach, Evolving to Autonomous Supply Chains
Control Center uses Coleman’s machine learning to observe what specific solutions supply chain managers used to solve various issues and what the outcome was. Thereby, over time, it will get better and better at making recommendations. The expectation is that, over time, the confidence in those decisions will become high enough that eventually some types of decisions can be put on autopilot. The vision is to evolve to an autonomous supply chain that fixes most problems as they arise. Of course, this will be a journey, progressing from simpler to more complex issues that can be automatically resolved, and for the foreseeable future, there will always be classes of problems that require humans to step in.
The Control Center is a good example of how Infor helps to realize human potential. For example, it saves logistics, planning, procurement, and other interested managers from having to manually monitor shipments, wade through overwhelming amounts of data, and continual ‘firefighting,’ finding out too late about shipments that are running late, and then having to deal with the resulting crises. Even with a conventional control tower, they may be told which orders are late, but not know which ones they should work on first. For that, they have to manually pull together data from various systems—or more likely make a bunch of phone calls and emails to colleagues in various other functions, such as manufacturing and inventory management, to try and piece together the impact of each late shipment. By automating all of that grunt work, it creates a dramatic increase in performance and allows supply chain managers and logisticians to spend more time on the most important and impactful problems; those that truly require their human judgement and skills.
HCM and Talent Science
Human Capital Management (HCM)—Realizing the Human Potential of Employees
An important piece of the puzzle for ‘Realizing Human Potential,’ is Human Capital Management (HCM). Infor has a broad suite of HCM capabilities including Global HR, Talent Management, Talent Science, Workforce Management, Payroll, HR Service Delivery, and Learning Management. They have industry-specific functionality for many of these modules, such as a US Federal Government version of HR and payroll, factory workforce tracking, retail associate workforce scheduling, and so forth.
Figure 7 - HCM Suite Components
Infor HCM is used by 5,000 customers. The platform schedules 10 million workers every day, manages over a million external workers (e.g. contractors and freelance workers), and assesses 17 million job applications per year. It has been localized, out-of-the-box, for almost 50 different countries.
The suite provides employee mobile self-service capabilities such as queries regarding payroll, benefits, paid-time-off balance, PTO requests, and insurance coverage. An employee at the doctor with a question about coverage could submit a picture of the relevant medical form on their phone, which gets automatically routed to the appropriate benefits or insurance person to provide an answer. The system can automatically approve certain requests (within specified parameters) rather than sending everything to the employee’s manager, thus eliminating unnecessary manual labor and letting managers spend their time on things where their skills and knowledge provide value.
Integration of HCM Across the Suite
Companies are continuously building (or damaging!) their relationships with their employees. It starts with the first contact, the recruiting process, and the offer and onboarding processes. Because Infor HCM is integrated with other modules, such as EAM (Enterprise Asset Management), they can create RPA (Robotic Process Automation) to automate onboarding processes. Based on the employee’s role, once an offer has been accepted, the system can automatically order the right equipment, reserve the office space, and create work orders to install the equipment at the right time, so that everything the employee needs is in place when they walk in the door—their computer, badges, physical access keys, work space, furniture, various system accounts and access, and any special equipment they need. As well, any necessary orientation and training can be prescheduled. That way the new employee, who is typically excited about their new job, can hit the ground running and be productive on day one. The first day tells the employee a lot about how competent the company is and how much it cares about its employees.
The system can also monitor ongoing needs for training and certifications. These needs may be driven by regulation, company policy, and/or individual employee’s development goals. Certain jobs require, by law, that employees’ certifications be kept current. The system can notify the employee, their manager, and HR of impending deadlines and monitor progress on training and certification. The system can also monitor employee performance and generate alerts and specific training recommendations.
Continuous Performance Management
The system provides for continuous performance assessment and engagement, via a mobile interface for managers and employees. This breaks down what has traditionally been a major painful annual process and turns performance appraisal into many small steps taken throughout the year. It enables ‘just in time’ performance management, making continual course corrections and improvement, instead of letting issues fester and waiting until the problem becomes so bad that a major intervention is needed. The annual review then becomes just a confirmation of what everyone has been doing all year. In addition, peer review is taken to a new level with Infor Rave, which enables employees to directly provide public recognition to other employees.
Equipment Maintenance Example
As an example of integration with the manufacturing suite and EAM, the EAM system might recommend prescriptive maintenance. The Talent Science module would identify the kind of skills needed to perform the maintenance, enabling EAM to automatically schedule the work. When new equipment or a new maintenance employee is brought in, the system can recommend specific training. Team Dynamics can be used to ensure that the optimal mix of people are working together on these projects. This is where Infor is headed, with all the pieces talking to each other.
Talent Manager and Talent Science
One of the most impressive capabilities, and one of the most important for unlocking human potential, is talent management, which uses behavioral science, tightly coupled with a comprehensive talent profile, to optimally match people’s aptitudes with what is needed for specific jobs, whether recruiting externally or looking for an existing employee. In 2014, Infor acquired PeopleAnswers a company founded by behavioral science PhDs. Currently, most hiring is currently done by gut feel, rather than using behavioral analytics. The Talent Science platform enables data-driven measurement of relevant attributes of prospects and employees, to enable more effective hiring, team-building, and job assignment decisions.
Assessing Candidates and Employees
The Talent Science module administers an assessment of employees and candidates that measures 26 behavioral and cultural dimensions, such as how analytic, cautious, optimistic, creative, or systematic, each person is, how fast they like to work, and so forth. It does this by asking a series of questions, that take about 15-20 minutes to answer. It is designed to detect lying, gaming, ‘pencil whipping,’3 and other flawed data.
A lot of testing companies focus on testing for a specific job. Infor Talent Science has only one test for everyone, to measure in a standardized fashion across the board. Impressively, Infor told us that about 24% of working Americans have taken the test. Infor does nearly 20 million assessments each year, across 25 countries, in 15 different languages.
Finding Best Fit of Person and Position
They then use behavioral science (with a comprehensive talent profile) to determine who is the best fit for a given job or task, as well as the optimum mix of people for a team. Talent Science uses two data sets to determine who will be best for a given job. The system looks at 1) the sets of answers that existing employees gave for the behavioral questionnaire, and 2) data on the performance4 of each employee. It is thus able to determine which employee characteristics correlate with the highest employee performance.
Infor’s talent data scientists group a company’s jobs into ‘profiles’ that require similar characteristics—typically about 30 different job profiles for a given company, depending on the size and complexity of the business. Then jobseekers take the same test and are given a score between 0 and 100 for each candidate for a specific position, providing the recommendation and ranking of who to hire.
Figure 8 - Matching Assessment to Position
Infor’s data scientists will check to ensure there are no adverse effects on diversity so that women and minorities are passing just as well as white males. Diversity usually increases on average after using the system. Infor also measures the ROI of following or not following the recommendation. For example, they might measure impact on the rate of employee turnover, or sales per hour for a store, or the HCAHPS score5 of a hospital.
Besides finding the right recruits, there are other valuable uses of Talent Science:
Succession planning—These capabilities can be useful for managers to create a succession plan. Based on the profile of their position, they can find employees that are the best matches for taking over their job. The manager can also see which opportunities for advancement they themselves are best suited for.
Career advancement and opportunity realization—Employee can see what positions they are a good fit for and receive suggestions for learning, on demand, to take their career in a specific direction, preparing for their next role.
Optimal team building—The Team Dynamics tool will be able6 to build teams of people that work well together. It won the “Best Awesome New Technology” award at this year’s HR Tech conference.
Employee retention—The system includes a continually updated ‘flight risk indicator’ for each employee, providing warning for which ones are most likely to leave.
Infor’s Use of HCM and Talent Science Software
Infor tries to use its own software whenever possible. In this case, they use HCM and Talent Science internally with their own workforce. Infor went live with Global HR in ten months, with Learning Management in four months, and with Talent Science in one week. Using Learning Management, all employees were trained on GDPR. Every job applicant, or employee transferring to a new role, takes the Talent Science assessment, so they can be appropriately assigned. Infor is currently processing about 2,000 applications per day and processed well over 40,000 HR transactions with their own employees so far this year. Infor employees generated over 5,000 raves. Infor found that their use of Talent Science reduced turnover by 47%. They are testing the beta version of an employee engagement model, which gauges how employees feel about the work.
Keeping up with the Robots
Job requirements are changing faster than ever. There is an increasing shortage of employees with the right skills and attributes. This is not just in technical fields, but across professions. As the use of AI and robotics accelerates, it is causing sea changes in what is required of the workforce. Tools like Talent Science are vital for companies to keep up with the changing employment landscape and ensure their employees are reaching their full potential.
Usability Beats Functionality
Increasingly the competitive battleground in enterprise software (and software in general) is not about who has the most functionality, but rather about who has the most accessible functionality. If a piece of software is not embraced and adopted by end users, it doesn’t matter how much power is locked up inside of it. Towards this end, Infor has invested in its Hook & Loop group, a sort of internal digital agency that helps Infor’s product groups build optimized user experiences. Hook & Loop recently became part of the product development organization.
Earlier this year, we wrote about Hook & Loop’s initiatives including their tenets which state that the optimal user experience is 1) ‘approachable,’ 2) human-centered, 3) focused, 4) minimizes complexity, 5) eliminates distractions, 6) is relevant to the specific industry, and 7) continually learns what the user intends and wants to do. At the Inforum analyst session, we heard from Nunzio Esposito, VP and Head of Experience, who showed us the progress they’ve been making on this front.
Applications Where Usability is King
There are some types of applications where ease-of-use is most critical and trumps just about everything else. This includes applications that are broadly used across an enterprise, but infrequently used by any one individual, such as employee self-service for HR and benefits, requisition request and approvals, and T&E. It also includes administrative tasks by people who are least inclined to do them, such as sales people entering information about their sales calls.
Nunzio showed us some examples in action. First was the employee self-service function in HCM, with easy access to the company directory and ability to find other employees by function, as well as gamification with points and simple icons for performance feedback. With CRM, they worked on ways to display a lot of information at a glance, with a lower cognitive load. Sales people hate entering data, so they are working on ways to make it as easy as possible, with as much automated input as possible, single gesture capture of data, and starting to leverage natural language processing. Entering and managing expenses is another area employees generally dislike. Hook & Loop is striving to minimize the effort, like taking a picture of receipts and auto-connecting them to credit card payments.
Infor has added the ability for end users to submit trouble tickets directly in the apps, right on the screen where the problem is occurring. They are explicitly capturing feedback within the apps too, asking what they could improve about the app, right there where the action is.
Realizing Human Potential in Practice
By the end of Inforum, it was becoming clearer to me what they were actually doing to fulfill their conference theme, Realizing Human Potential. The meteoric rise in use of AI and machine learning is driving rapid and profound evolution in the nature of work, the types of jobs and skills required, and the structure of organizations. It seems Infor has the right idea to tackle those challenges as the next phase in their evolution.
1 This was at Infor’s ‘Innovation Summit’ event for industry analysts, held in March, in NYC. -- Return to article text above 2 Infor acquired GT Nexus in 2015. -- Return to article text above 3 Pencil whipping is when the user flies through the questions as fast as they can without actually considering their answers. -- Return to article text above 4 For example, performance data for a call center operator might include objective measures, such as the average time it took them to answer a question, percentage of times a customer called back for the same question, average customer satisfaction rating, and so forth. The performance data is adjusted based on the difference between sites, shifts, and other factors. -- Return to article text above 5HCAHPS (Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems—pronounced "H-caps") is a standardized survey of patients' perspectives of hospital care. It is a hospital-level performance metric that is hard to improve. -- Return to article text above 6 Team Dynamics is still in development. -- Return to article text above
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