A core part of Infor's reinvention of itself as a next-generation enterprise applications provider is CloudSuite, an all-new family of multi-tenant cloud applications that is currently being rolled out to market in various industry-specific editions. Last year, the company hired Lisa Pope, an 18-year veteran of enterprise software at QAD and Oracle, to head up its CloudSuite sales.
I met with Pope last month in London and here are some of the talking points we discussed.
On Infor's commitment to cloud:
Obviously Infor does believe we've moved to the point where mission-critical apps can be run in the cloud. We really do quite a bit of education and help our customers feel comfortable with it.
I wasn't quite sure when I arrived — there was a lot of discussion about cloud, as there is from Oracle and SAP as well — but [CEO] Charles [Phillips] would sit in meetings with customers who are running everything on-premise and basically say, we're going all-cloud.
Why enterprises go cloud
Based on her conversations with customers, why do companies decide to go cloud?
The ones that move the fastest are where they have a compelling event from a business perspective, whether that's an acquisition, a merger or the formation of a new company.
We see a lot of these, where they've acquired a few companies, they decide to bring three different divisions together to start a newly formed entity and they all are running three different things. They don't want to pick one of the three because then somebody wins. So they go cloud instead.
Long-postponed upgrades are another form of compelling event, she said.
A lot of customers have put off upgrades and now they're realizing they're on an old version, there's risk in that. They may not have all the compliance they need.
When they're looking at upgrading to that next release, we know that is an opportune time to say, don't just upgrade, let's go ahead and move you to the cloud.
Who takes the decision?
I wondered who is making the buying decision on cloud — specifically is it line-of-business or IT? The answer was that it's a blend of both:
These large decisions have ultimately been going to the board. We see more executive involvement. They want to look at you in the face and know that you are going to be responsible.
Some of the CFOs that we've seen that are — I'm not going to use the word young — let's just say maybe a little bit more MBA than CPA, they seem to be much more focussed on the business side. It's not that IT is less strategic to them, there's just more of an interest to think outside of traditional IT. They're very receptive to cloud.
For most companies, said Pope, cloud adoption is an incremental process.
Usually what we've seen is, customers start with a fringe application like expense management. They might decide to do enterprise asset management by itself and run that in the cloud. Or in some cases it is some of the HR applications. Once they get comfortable with that and they see the business value, then very quickly they say, let's consider moving more applications to the cloud.
We've seen a lot of customers take that progression of starting with those fringe apps and then really thinking about the mission critical [applications].
Laggards as early adopters
There have been some unexpected industries coming forward among the early adopters, she told me.
Some of the industries that you would think would be laggards that would take a really slow, methodical, wait-and-see [stance] — we've been surprised by some of the wins we've had.
One was a new division being formed by a large aerospace company in North America, which decided to go ahead with an off-the-shelf industry implementation of CloudSuite.
This is full Aerospace and Defense with full ITAR requirements, everything, going to a hundred percent cloud, vanilla, no mods. If somebody had told me six months ago that that would be one of our first big wins, I would have said, that's impossible.
Public sector buyers have been another surprising cohort of early adopters.
We've had very good success with US cities and counties. Which again, you would think they're going to be laggards, they may not rush to new technology. But they're competing to get technical people and systems admin people with other [employers] in that city. So they've really struggled with resources.
Their system administrator that has been managing the system for seven years is going to retire and they need to upgrade but they don't have anybody. It's another more laggard industry embracing the cloud, for in this case more cost and resource issues.
Changing for the better
Pope ended with some reflections on how the cloud model is changing the enterprise applications industry for the better.
Most ERP customers didn't upgrade, not because of cost and budget, it was just hard.
The industry really did ourselves a disservice. We charged a lot of maintenance, and very few customers could take advantage of the new releases because the industry — between the consultants and everything — went in [and said], 'How would you like the software? Let me customize it.'
I think that's one of the big changes that I think is the benefit of cloud, no matter what, customers are much more careful about even thinking about customizing. They may configure and use other applications to help get the functionality but that horrible thing of actually making customizations and changing code has really stopped.
Now we're seeing more boards, steering committees, say there'll be no customizations unless they come here and they have to be discussed, approved. So I think we're making the right progress.
Vendors are also writing better software, she said, because they know they'll have to run it themselves rather than leaving it to customers to figure out how to get it to work well.
Even if they never adopt cloud software, customers are going to get better software, just by the nature of the fact that there's just more thought process into how do we do upgrades faster, how do we backup without having any [downtime], all the things that are traditionally difficult, we now think differently about them.
Some interesting perspectives from an industry veteran acknowledging the impact of cloud computing on the enterprise applications business.
Disclosure: Infor, Oracle and SAP are diginomica premier partners.
Image credit: Man on cloud © TSUNG-LIN WU - Fotolia.com; headshot courtesy of Infor.