[sws_grey_box box_size="690"]SUMMARY - Infor's 'turnaround strategy' under CEO Charles Phillips is resonating with some of its customers, but questions still remain[/sws_grey_box]
As Infor's annual user conference draws to a close, we are left to reflect on the company's latest go to market strategy, which hasbeen carefully crafted over the past four years and is now being aggressively pushed by the executive team.
For a full analysis and recap on what Infor is trying to achieve, take a look at my roundup of the announcements made at Inforum14. CEO Charles Phillips's team has been reengineering its application portfolio for the cloud, restructuring around its ION middleware and making use of its NYC-based design agency Hook & Loop to create 'beautiful user experiences.'
The idea being that the more vanilla the product, when hosted in the cloud and upgraded to the 'beautiful' SoHo design, the better the usability and productivity will be for Infor customers. Apps adhering to these standards are considered part of the 10x and Xi suite of applications.
However, as Infor begins to sell hard and up its marketing efforts, the best people to ask are Infor's existing customers. The ones that have been tied into its traditional apps for years and are now faced with this bold new vision and roadmap for where they are meant to be headed.
I spoke to numerous customers throughout the event, but one of the most forthcoming was Reynolds Catering Supplies – a fresh produce supplier in the UK that distributes products to mid-market restaurants and buyers, including Pret a Manger, Carluccio's and Hyatt Hotels.
IT director Richard Calder took time to explain how the company has grown from £10 million in revenues to £200 million in revenues over the past ten years – a rapid growth that spurred the decision to switch out its ERP system in 2010. Calder said:
Calder said there was nervousness amongst the board about the project, due to a number of high profile, multi-million pound ERP project failures that had been reported in the UK. However, after an extensive selection process, they settled on Infor M3 because of its micro-vertical focus.
We moved from a fresh produce, market based company into a far broader product range that includes short life, perishable goods, which are high risk. We are taking orders from customers up to 11pm at night for next day delivery, so we can't be certain on a day to day basis how much we sell. We have to be pretty acute in how we manage our inventory.
About five years ago we started looking for a new ERP system, because our legacy system was so bespoke that it was busting at the seams. It couldn't manage the volatile industry and couldn't manage consolidation. We physically couldn't grow and we were having to turn away business opportunities. As a board we decided that this couldn't go on.
He said that Infor understood the food industry and that this was something that the competition didn't get. Reynolds is using version 10.1 – the last of the 'old school' generation M3 apps, prior to the emergence of 10x – and the project cost totalled approximately £4 million.
Calder is trying to live by Infor's new philosophy of minimal modifications to reduce risk and the cost of future upgrades. Calder said:
We had the absolute minimum number of modifications, so when we upgrade we won't have a massive rewrite, which is expensive and risky. Most of the risk associated with the original ERP project was because of those modifications.
We have had to develop new logistic models since, but we have never gone to Infor to ask them to write something, we have figured out ways to make it work.
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So what about the rest of Infor's latest strategy? It has been about four years since Reynolds went live with M3 and Calder explained that as the company approaches 2015, it is starting to consider how and when it should upgrade to the latest version. Calder said that he is “looking at the current version and trying to understand what's in there that [Reynolds] absolutely needs”.
This should absolutely be a target for Infor – an existing customer that doesn't want to swap out Infor, but is at a point in its implementation cycle that it is seriously considering how and when it needs to upgrade.
On the topic of cloud, which Infor runs on AWS and is one of the primary focuses for Phillips, Calder is still uncertain. He seemed fairly optimistic about the idea, but it most certainly isn't a sure thing.
It's a tricky one. I would say that we are on the cusp of whether its economic. We've also got to look at whether or not we can live without thethree or four mods that we did have, or is there a way that we can find to do those things within the new version. Ideally, yes it would be good, but that's a decision that we would be spending a lot of time on.
We probably have the traditional concerns/nerves about a cloud offering – but I have got colleagues that used to work for me that work on M3 at a global company and they have got M3 in the cloud. And I speak to them regularly and my confidence level is going up as I speak to them, as they roll out each country. It's going to be a serious discussion that we have.
I've got a meeting next week with my Infor representative and that's one of the things I'll be brining up. What will it take and what will they do for us?
One point that Calder did make about the cloud was that he has no concerns about the apps being hosted in Amazon data centres – a subject that has sparked some debate. Calder said:
I've got no issues at all with them using one of the biggest and the best. Why would I?
On reflection, Calder said that there is a lot to take away and a lot to consider from the messages that have been delivered at Inforum this year. He also noted that although there is a lot of change happening and there are plenty of new options available, he doesn't feel sidelined by the Infor team for being a customer on one of the older, on-premise apps. He said:
Dynamic is one phrase that came to mind, when considering Infor's strategy. I wouldn't say overwhelming, but there's a lot there to take in. I spent some time with the Hook & Loop guys this afternoon and there's a real enthusiasm within the company. ION – that's another area that we have got to look at, it could be a sensible middleware solution for us.
Certainly in terms of no mods and rich functionality, we pretty much share that vision in order to be able to move forward. In terms of all the emphasis on the cloud, that's something that we are going to have to take away and evaluate as a business and see where we go.
I didn't feel alienated by what I saw. There were some questions that we are going to be asking. Obviously it's at a high level, you can't take it at face value - we are going to have to dig deeper. But certainly we don't feel alienated. I'm not sure how far down that path that we are, but hopefully we will get some of the way.
Bonus points: A video Den shot with Reynolds back in 2012 talking about the company's Infor CRM implementation.
Disclosure: Infor is a premier partner at time of writing and covered most of the author's travel and expenses