Mark Davison at Inforum 2017 in New York – In arguably one of the most significant announcements in its history, business software group Infor yesterday launched Coleman, an artificial intelligence (AI) platform for its cornerstone CloudSuite applications.
With digital transformation sweeping across all industry segments, including IT, Coleman heralds a first step in the future strategy of the company to meet rapidly changing customer requirements.
Charles Phillips, CEO of Infor, explains that the company’s strategy now revolves around five key areas: It’s traditional foundation of industry expertise; utilising the vast power of the cloud; the lateral, multi-tenant growth of the network; analytics, following the acquisition of Birst; and now AI with Coleman.
But it is the launch of Coleman that has piqued the interest of analysts and journalists at Inforum, as well as both old and potentially new customers.
“AI is an important category for us,” Phillips says. “But people ask: Why now? AI has been around for many years. But in enterprise computing, sometimes that happens … it takes time to mature … and people give up. But just look at what’s happened in AI in the last 12 months. We have autonomous cars, Google’s AlphaGo beat the world Go champion, Watson beat the chess champion, also for the first time AI was involved in a subpoena.
“This technology is creeping into our lives … but it does take time,” he says. “But once you’ve got the foundation down, it speeds up.”
Phillips says that another drawback in the adoption of AI has been compute power.
“The PC industry has slowed down in the last few years … Moore’s Law is changing … and the problem is that we can’t get faster computers,” he says. “You can throw more cores at it, but there are limitations.”
He adds that the problem of compute power is now being addressed by the likes of Google and Amazon.
“They’ve taken the next step and have millions of machines working together using the cloud,” he says. “By December, Google expects to surpass existing supercomputers by two to the power of 300.
That’s more than all the particles in the universe.”
Infor has been leveraging both Google and Amazon’s cloud for its flagship CloudSuite and, Phillips says, the company will continue to do so in the realm of AI.
“We’re sort of like a research lab,” he says. “We will be trying it and see what happens in the next 12 months,” he says. “I’m surprised at how confident Google is. We’ll watch and report back.”
Infor president, Duncan Angove, echoed Phillips’ sentiment.
“AI has already entered the mainstream and is changing our lives,” Angove says. “Why now? Compute power, the Internet, and better algorithms. The supercomputer that is the cloud. We see Coleman eventually powering our cloud suites.
“It’s the age of network intelligence,” he adds. “And we’re prepared for it.”
In its official press statement, Infor says that Coleman is “a pervasive platform that operates below an application’s surface, mines data and uses powerful machine learning to improve processes such as inventory management, transportation routing, and predictive maintenance; Coleman also provides AI-driven recommendations and advice to enable users to make smarter business decisions more quickly.
“In addition, Coleman acts as a smart AI partner, augmenting the user’s work. Coleman uses natural language processing and image recognition to chat, hear, talk, and recognise images to help people use technology more efficiently.
“Coleman develops a conversational relationship with the user which can be rendered in Infor Ming.le, a social collaboration platform, or a synthetic conversational user interface. User efficiency is increased as studies show humans are able to speak and hear 3-4 times as many words per minute as they can type. Processing the vast data in Infor CloudSuite,
Coleman automates search and gather functions, which can take up 20% of a user’s work week, significantly increasing productivity.
“Infor spent many years automating processes that followed clear rules, such as accounting and manufacturing processes. We are now leveraging machine learning and our access to large amounts of data to assist users with less structured processes such as complex decisions, conversations, and predictions,” says Phillips.
“Coleman helps optimise human work potential in four ways:
It’s conversational – interactions are more efficient and natural, and offer a better user experience
Augmentation – serves as a partner to amplify one’s work
Automation – manages low value tasks like repetitive tasks to enable the user to focus on more valuable work
Advise – provides intelligent insights to help the user make decisions.
“Coleman is so powerful because it takes the mission-critical business data from Infor CloudSuite, coupled with the supplier, logistics, and finance data from the GT Nexus Commerce Network, and analyses it with the computing power of a hyper scale public cloud,” says Angove.
The press statement goes on to list some examples of what a user could ask Coleman:
“Coleman, what is the accounts receivable balance for ACME Corp?”
“Coleman, what’s the next best offer for this customer?”
“Coleman, who is the sales rep on the ABC Labs account?”
“Coleman, what price should I charge for a hotel room?”
“Coleman, what are sales by month for the NW region this year?”
“Coleman, how much PTO do I have left?”
“Coleman, create a requisition for item 4321”
“Coleman, approve the promotion for Nurse Jones”.
“Elements of Coleman are available today, such as predictive inventory management for healthcare, price optimisation management for hospitality, and forecasting, assortment planning, and promotion management for retail,” says Angove. “Over the next year Infor is expected to introduce Coleman to Infor CloudSuite industry suites.”