Infor revamps support services, heightens competition against SAP, Oracle

The new Xtreme support offerings come in three tiers

Infor has rebranded and revamped its software support offerings in a bid to cement its profile as a potential alternative to rivals like SAP and Oracle.

Privately held Infor is the third-largest ERP (enterprise resource planning) software vendor in the industry after those two companies, now edging toward US$3 billion in reported revenue, helped by last year's acquisition of Lawson Software. It is led by former Oracle co-president Charles Phillips.

Infor Xtreme Support, which was announced Tuesday, comes in three tiers. The first level provides for unlimited incidents and 24 hour, five-day-per-week support for critical issues. Xtreme Premium adds 24-7 critical incident support along with access to live online events featuring Infor experts.

The high-end Elite tier bundles the Premium features with an assigned account manager. These will be seasoned Infor veterans with the type of intra-company connections that will help them fix customer problems fast, and each will be assigned between eight and 10 accounts, according to Infor.

All three levels feature a new, revamped support portal that the company says provides a "consumer-grade" user experience and allows for ample personalization.

Another new feature is ION Support Assistant, which takes a cue from Oracle's support service by collecting configuration data about a customer's system on an ongoing basis, allowing faster problem resolution once a support ticket gets logged.

"Normally, we start the [support] process and we start going back and forth" collecting needed technical data about application versions, memory size and other configuration details, said Marylon McGinnis, senior vice president of global support. "Now we get to work right away."

Oracle support's data-collection capabilities has prompted some speculation about whether customers, in opening up their systems like this to a vendor, were helping it acquire evidence for less pleasant means, such as a software license audit.

Infor has heard such concerns and reviewed them at CIO forums and other events, said Mary Trick, senior vice president in charge of global maintenance. But the information ION Support is collecting now doesn't concern audits, she said. "From an audit perspective, I don't care what version you're on. I care about how many users you've got in comparison to how many licenses. That is not this data."

Customers can also opt out of sending the information, Trick said.

As Infor rolls out Xtreme Support, SAP and Oracle are facing competition from third-party maintenance vendors like Rimini Street, which offer lower-priced support, albeit without the ability to provide upgrades and new patches.

Rimini Street has no current plans to offer support for Infor and Lawson products but is always considering new ventures, said Dave Rowe, senior vice president of global marketing and alliances.

The future of third-party maintenance is somewhat unclear, as Oracle's ongoing lawsuit against Rimini Street, which it claims has an illegal business model, may not be resolved for many months. Rimini has maintained no wrongdoing.

But the potential threat of third-party competition wasn't a factor in the development of Xtreme Support, Trick said. Rather, customers will be more easily able to upgrade to the variety of next-generation software Infor has been rolling out in recent months thanks to the improved support service, she said.

Nor has Infor been experiencing an exodus of customers who decide not to renew their maintenance contracts, she said. "I can't share the [renewal] rate, but we have nothing to complain about."

Trick declined to provide specific pricing for the support tiers. Existing customers who had 24-hour, five-day and 24-hour, seven-day support plans won't see a pricing change, while the Elite level would incur additional fees, according to an Infor document.

One observer took a measured view of Xtreme Support.

"Infor's customer base tends to own their software for a long period of time before they upgrade," even verging on 20 years, said analyst Ray Wang, CEO of Constellation Research. While they may or may not be looking for a higher-priced, higher-end support offering, "their big concern is to keep systems up and running," he said. "These are critical systems."

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris's e-mail address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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