Infor: sucking less

SUMMARY:

Infor has a new and attractive UI, a comprehensive integration story and is starting to make moves in the mobile space. But are these enough for the company to ‘suck less’ and brings its customers into the 21st century? It is too early to say but early signs are promising.

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When Charles Phillips, CEO Infor stood on the Inforum 2o13 stage against the backdrop of a graphic saying: ‘Using enterprise software sucks,’ the thunderous applause from the audience was matched only by the sense of surprise that the CEO of a large (gasp) enterprise (gasp) technology vendor (gasp) would make such an open admission. In doing so, I got the sense that this was Infor’s most concrete expression of breaking with the past. It’s a brave move for a company whose transformation colleague Phil Wainewright aptly characterizes as:

…a remarkably comprehensive overhaul for a vendor that just a few years ago was a rebranded roll-up of several half-forgotten second-tier enterprise vendors.

In other words, Infor is being recast from loser to winner, a rare achievement but one that is not a slam dunk.

In his analysis, Phil notes the many risks:

…organizations are loath to upgrade core systems like HCM, manufacturing and financials. Getting as many as one in 20 to upgrade in a single year could prove to be an ambitious target. The story told at Inforum 2013 this week was designed to inveigle as many as possible into making the move, and if Infor succeeds better than its rivals it will stay in the game. But it is a gamble for sure: a precipice, on which Infor as much as any of its competitors, is teetering.

All of that is fair comment. Last fall, I saw the fruits of the UI makeover, a key component of Infor’s renaissance. At the time I thought: ‘Wow, this is really good stuff.’ The customer audience in which I sat gasped. In hall conversations after the main show and tell it was clear that while customers like what they saw, the big question marks surrounding getting people ‘from here to there’ loom large. The rigors of change management never (cough) change.

Infor may achieve momentum from its mobile push. In conversation with Nick Borth, product manager on the mobile ‘stuff,’ it was telling that he sees customers willing to build their own applications rather than wait for partners or Infor solutions. Infor will be in good shape if it can find a way of getting those same customers to implement the new UIs for desktop/laptop users based upon a good mobile experience.

But over and above that, I believe Infor needs to make heroes of its SME customers. Some of that was evident in the main stage fireside chats during the event. It is in the field though where it really matters, something Phillips knows only too well. In a brief chat after the analyst/media Q&A I suggested that 2013-14 is all about execution. He smiled wryly. Is there evidence of invention and momentum? Yes – here and there.


For example, immediately before attending Inforum, I met with Hi-Technology Group Ltd, a UK/Slovakia based business that makes high performance parts often used in safety environments. (See video above)

I was intrigued to hear how the company is using ION to move the whole business forward. Rather than simply be a manufacturer content to work on call offs for large orders, Hi-Tech takes service seriously arguing that ION provides the platform from which it can provide predictive information around stock outs at the customer level and insights into parts usage patterns.

Last year I met with City Nites, a fast growing self-catering apartment letting business that uses Infor’s mobile hospitality solution. The way it works provides a way for the company to differentiate on service. Check out the interview and demo. 

These are but a tiny sample I know. If they are indicative of how Infor is enabling its customers to grow into the digital age then there is much to anticipate. It is a story we will be following closely in the months ahead.

Disclosure: Inform covered most of the travel and expenses incurred by the diginomica team.

Image courtesy of Jon Reed.