A nice move by Infor yesterday with the announcement that it is to acquire privately-held cloud BI, analytics and data visualization firm Birst.
Here at diginomica we’ve been keeping a close eye on Birst over the past few years. This development answers a question I’ve asked of founder, chairman and Chief Product Officer Brad Peters in the past - did the firm see its future as a standalone venture or as part of a wider application stack?
The answer appears to be something loosely coupled, according to Infor CEO Charles Phillips on Twitter where he said that Birst would be a standalone business.
But clearly there’s a cross and up-sell opportunity here, with Birst’s BI capabilties complementing Infor’s ERP portfolio.
The rationale for the acquisition, as outlined by Infor in its announcement, is:
Enterprise data is complicated, federated, and inconsistent. Birst has strong data aggregation capabilities including a networked semantic layer to standardize definitions across federated data sources. The company's Automated Data Refinement leverages intelligent unification technologies that can both map and model data from multiple different sources to define metrics once across all data repositories.
Customers running multiple ERP systems have asked Infor to build the enterprise analytic layer across the reality of a federated environment. ERP application companies rarely have the expertise or interest to build this aggregation layer. The business value is the ability to provide greater insights and correlations across functional domains.
BI companies provide the analytics platform but don't understand industry processes and potential insights. Application companies understand the processes and industries but have lacked the platform to render data and analytics. Infor and Birst represent the convergence of these worlds. Large application companies end up acquiring BI products based on customer demand. Timing and fate allowed Infor to acquire a modern cloud BI platform as opposed to the legacy client sever BI products in use at legacy ERP companies. Last mile industry features have met last mile analytics.
Birst is a company built around the strength of its technology proposition and it’s that that appears to have impressed Phillips, as well as the pedigree of its managment team:
The founders of Birst have a deep BI pedigree. This is much of the same team that built Siebel Systems BI, which is now Oracle’s BI stack. They put the band back together, pivoted to the cloud, and built a modern BI platform with an understanding of future needs, experience with a wide variety of use cases, and commitment to the cloud. Now is the time to converge this cloud native BI platform with the world’s first industry cloud company. We’re going to define the next generation of analytical applications.
A good strategic move by Infor - and nicely-timed for Day One of the SuiteWorld conference where Oracle’s been talking up its ERP stack’s capabilities.
Once again, I’m struck by the pragmatic fleshing out of Infor’s offerings that have characterised the past few years under Phillips as CEO. Infor acquisitions are about adding functional capabilities rather than buying market share.
For Birst, this is a good deal as well. Back in 2014, incoming CEO Jay Larson had talked in terms of seeking an IPO for the firm “in the not so distant future”, but this seems a far better outcome.
A second thought which strikes me - and this might be complete fancy on my part - is that earlier in the week Infor struck a co-operation deal with Marketo to become a new power bloc in the marketing cloud wars.
What unites Marketo and Birst is that they’ve both been part of the Salesforce ISV ecosystem and both watched as Salesforce pushed into their markets and become a competitor, with Peters critical of Salesforce’s Wave Analytics push.
That sort of ‘co-opetition’ - argh! - is just part and parcel of market realities, of course, and part of the risk you take when you build around/sell into a platform/community. But it's interesting that Infor, once a close partner of Salesforce itself, appears to be the beneficiary in both cases.
As the Salesforce footprint expands ever wider, there may yet be other fruitful liasons and rich pickings to be had out there. And if anyone knows how to execute a successful acquisitions strategy, it’s Charles Phillips.