Wednesday, 12 July 2017 08:02

Infor goes 'AI first' with Coleman


Business application vendor Infor has announced Coleman, its new AI platform.

Infor Coleman is named in honour of Katherine Coleman Johnson, the physicist and mathematician whose contributions to the US space programme became known to the general public through the 2016 movie Hidden Figures.

According to Infor chief executive Charles Phillips, Coleman is AI for maximising human potential.

The software will sit beneath Infor's various applications, using machine learning to improve and automate processes such as inventory management, transportation routing, and predictive maintenance, and providing recommendations and advice to augment users' decision-making capabilities.

Its user interface can chat, hear, talk and recognise images in order to help people use technology more efficiently.

Coleman's ability to automate search and gather functions across CloudSuite data is potentially a major time-saver, as users spend as much as one-fifth of their time on such activities.

“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,” said Phillips.

"AI is the new steam engine, the new electricity," said Infor president Duncan Angove (pictured), noting that machine learning has come into its own because of the massive amount of data now stored online, along with the huge reduction in the cost of computing power thanks to the cloud.

Coleman is able to exploit the business data from CloudSuite, as well as the supplier, logistics, and finance data from the GT Nexus Commerce Network.

Sample user requests provided by Infor include:

  • 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, create a requisition for item 4321
  • Coleman, approve the promotion for Nurse Jones

Some of Infor's existing capabilities are being brought under the Coleman banner, including predictive inventory management for healthcare, price optimisation management for hospitality, and forecasting, assortment planning, and promotion management for retail.

These capabilities may be rewritten to use the Coleman platform to replace the existing functions within the applications, said senior vice-president and chief scientist Ziad Nejmeleen, but the decision will be driven by the cost of such rewrites compared with the value of any additional capabilities that would become available to the applications.

Infor is expected to introduce Coleman to Infor CloudSuite industry suites over the next year.

Many Coleman functions will become a standard feature of various CloudSuites. One example is price optimisation. "In general, we see it as a feature of a CloudSuite" and therefore a reason to upgrade to the latest versions, said Angove. But other functions such as demand forecasting will be optional extras.

However Phillips noted that since Coleman would eliminate some users and processes from Infor's systems, the company would have to consider price changes.

Coleman functionality will also be added to the Commerce Network and Infor IoT. For example, sensors on a machine might report changes in temperature and vibration that lead the AI system to predict a failure. That prediction could trigger an order for the required spare parts, generate a work order for the maintenance tasks needed, update the production calendar in the ERP system, and notify the relevant users via Ming.le (Infor's collaboration system).

That scenario illustrates the way forecasting and optimisation can work together, said Nejmeleen

Coleman was implemented using a number of AI frameworks, including the Google-originated TensorFlow, various AWS frameworks, and a framework Infor acquired around 18 months ago.

Disclosure: The writer attended Inforum 2017 as a guest of the company.

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Stephen Withers

Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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