Infor refines its cloud strategy - focus on services, the network and IoT

Profile picture for user ddpreez By Derek du Preez July 11, 2016
Summary:
Enterprise applications company Infor has been undergoing a transformation over the past five and a half years towards becoming an industry specific cloud company.

Infor
Infor senior executive team

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Infor could well be the dark horse of the cloud enterprise applications market.

If you cast your mind back five or six years ago, Infor was seen as an enterprise apps company that had somewhat passed it. It’s customers were running on-premise applications that hadn’t been upgraded for years, its software looked old and dated, and there was hardly a mention of the word cloud anywhere.

This all changed when Charles Phillips took over as CEO in October 2010, bringing with him an executive team that was intent on overhauling the company’s strategy and investing billions of dollars in creating a modern, cloud-focused, beautifully designed, data driven enterprise software company.

It would be too bold to say that this strategy has been a slam-dunk - there are still plenty of Infor customers that haven’t shifted at all in that five years. However, compared to when I attended the company’s annual user event in Colorado in 2012, or even its last major event in New Orleans in 2014, things have drastically changed.

For example, Infor is now signing major cloud customers such as Whole Foods and Travis Perkins, thanks to its efforts.

Infor’s strategy consists of creating industry specific cloud ‘suites’ that run on Amazon AWS and are designed so that customers don’t have to build in their own customisations. This differs from other generic cloud providers that offer the likes of ERP or CRM, and are now beginning to think about how to verticalize their offering.

These cloud suites are what Infor calls its 10x applications, which are basically released according to a set of standards – in that they are mobile optimised, make use of the company’s social capabilities (ming.le), adhere to the Hook & Loop SoHo design standards, are built around ION and operate in the cloud.

As an attendee to Infor’s user events, you can tell that the company has changed a lot. The events are a lot bigger, there are more interesting customers talking, the exec team are confident in what they’re doing and there is far more of a ‘buzz’.

But as an aside to the ‘on the ground feel’, Infor also boasts that its cloud sales have grown from 5% per annum, to over 50% since three years ago. It now has over 7,000 customers in the cloud and has 65 million users. It’s customer base has grown by 20,000 over that time. That being said there are still some uncertainties around how many customers are live, where they are hosted and whether they are multi-tenant.

However, I remain convinced that progress is being made.

And on the first day of Infor’s 2016 event, it’s clear that the company’s cloud strategy is maturing and becoming more refined. Rather than just focusing on talking about Infor’s internal journey to the cloud, the company is now discussing enhanced capabilities (IoT, networked business) and is hoping to make things easier for customers to get to the cloud (via new service divisions and changes to the company’s Hook and Loop design agency).

This article should serve as a recap of day one at the event, but we will be posting deeper dives later on in the week.

Services

Infor-Charles
CEO Charles Phillips took to the stage during the keynote on the first day to address how Infor is making changes to ensure that its customers are easily able to keep pace with its internal changes and the shift to cloud applications. He noted that there has been much drastic change in direction, but that Infor is uniquely placed to ‘cross-innovate’ because of the diversity of industries that it operates in. Phillips said:

So much is change and we are a company that has been in transition for the past five years. The fact that we have a diversity of technologies and so many things that we do, that is actually a source of innovation for us.

That enables us to do something called adjacent innovation. We can look at one industry and learn something and see applicability to other things. What we do is transform industries, but the way that we do that is by learning and looking at different industries and becoming students of industries.

You can look across industries to start to find things if there is proximity, if there is a lot of smart people in the industry. We are a company that is uniquely situated to do exactly that.

For example, Infor’s recent acquisition of Predictix is obviously born out of the company’s focus on operating retail businesses in the cloud, where it has traditionally been used to manage assets in a retail environment (and was being used by Whole Foods, now an Infor customer). However, Phillips noted that this product will be applicable to the field of health, where hospitals and medical providers have large inventory, are managing suppliers and are needing to stock medical equipment.

We are situated and designed for progress to look and see things across technologies and across industries and be students of industries. Continue to innovate and help our customers see new opportunities and change their businesses if possible. That’s what we are trying to do.

However, Phillips also noted that with the company’s growth and its constant change, it is going to have to make it easier for customers to come with it on the journey. He said:

We are up to 90,000 customers, we were 70,000 then. Almost 200 new products, we’ve opened 49 new offices. But what I really want to do is focus on services. Because of all the innovation in the last five years since we have been here, tonnes of new products, we need to make sure that you can consume these products in a more elegant way.

We are investing in making sure that the seamless experience that we expect in the cloud for you is there in that services capability. One of the things that we did to change that is that we combined our services organisation - which used to be support, cloud ops and consulting - into one organisation so that you can have a consistent experience. We realise that’s been a challenge for us because we move so fast and investing in the back-end, we just wanted you to know that.

Digital-as-a-service

One of Infor’s core capabilities, which underpins its cloud suites, is design. This has been made possible by the creation of its internal Hook & Loop design agency, which was created to make sure that Infor’s cloud applications were beautiful, intuitive and focused on the user need.

However, and in a similar vein to the services announcement above, Infor also announced its ‘digital-as-a-service’ offering, which will see Hook & Loop begin to offer external services to Infor customers.

We are going to focus in on this in more detail later on in the week, as it is a major announcement for the company, but Infor said H&L Digital will offer solutions that drive new capabilities, generate new revenue streams, create differentiated IP and help Infor customers better run their businesses digitally.

Essentially, H&L Digital will help Infor customers assess their technology estate, help them strategize around what they need to do to operate more effectively in a cloud and data driven world, help them design digital experiences, assemble products and services to make it happen, and also manage SaaS services for customers.

In some canned comment, Phillips said:

Many consulting firms and design agencies claim to help deliver digital transformation to help clients meet the challenges of digital disruption, but because they lack the underpinning technology to effect real change, their customers' projects often languish, stall, or fail to meet expectations.

With the creation of H&L Digital, Infor can deliver all the components of an end-to-end solution as a service: cloud-based industry applications, dynamic data-driven insights, cutting-edge user experience design, and a connected supply chain network.

The network

During Phillips’ keynote, he spoke about Infor’s ‘pillars of innovation’, which have traditionally been the

Businessman on cloud holding chart arrow © adam121 - Fotolia.com
following core components that are central to its strategy:
  • Industry specific applications
  • Design, via Hook & Loop
  • Science and data
  • Using the architecture of the internet

However, in what should be seen as a clear signal of future direction, Infor today added a fifth pillar - the network. This is a result of its acquisition of GT Nexus, which is a supply chain management platform and manages $100 billion worth of goods for over 25,000 companies each year.

Phillips explained that historically companies have relied on external organisations and manual processes, all of which are siloed, to manage their supply chain. However, thanks to the cloud, a lot of this can be automated via a network, reducing costs and making life easier for enterprises going to market. Phillips hinted that this would be now be central to all of Infor’s cloud applications going forward. He said:

We have been thinking about how we can add more value for customers. The network - and what we mean by that is the ability to connect companies, or social business, or commerce and in healthcare the clinical exchange of ideas. How do you connect organisations together? Because we truly believe that the future does belong to networked companies.

There is too much happening between companies. So the history of ERP and ERP-like applications is that we are automating things inside a single company. Inside the four walls of the enterprise. The reality is that 80% of what most companies do deals with data and partners outside of their organisation, so this is no longer enough.

Nobody wants to be on a network…until everybody is on a network. It takes a long time to build, but when you get it it’s magical. We need to evolve to pull all these processes that expand beyond a single organisation. What has happened over time is that people have outsourced manufacturing, they have suppliers, they have multiple layers of suppliers, they have contractors - its a constellation of companies that have to work together now.

We are trying to automate that and build an Uber-like system that will let you do that on the network. That’s where it should be done, it’s a lot more efficient.

IoT

Finally, Infor announced that it would be making more of a play in the Internet-of-Things market. However, unlike other enterprise software companies that either see this as an opportunity to add complexity to drive revenues, or as a consulting exercise, Infor is hoping to standardise on IoT in certain areas (as it has done with verticals).

It has started with a couple of use cases that includes ‘where are my things?’ and predictive maintenance. Chief Operating Officer Pam Murphy took to the stage during the keynote today to explain. She said:

We really do feel that it is going to change the way that ERP and business applications work today. We had two key objectives in building out Infor IoT. First of all we wanted to deliver on connected intelligence in order to unlock the real business value of IoT by being able to leverage the Infor applications that our customers use today.

Acquiring and transporting data from devices, that’s the easy part. The more difficult part is bringing the intelligence that is derived from these devices and the data to the enterprise applications that we use to deliver business outcomes. That is something that we were uniquely placed to do as an applications company.

Secondly, we wanted to deliver a scalable and consistent platform. Rather than delivering IoT as a set of custom projects, which is what has really dominated the IoT landscape today. Call it the goal of commoditising IoT for the enterprise.

My take

An interesting first day with Infor. As I noted above, it’s not a slam dunk for the company. It still needs to figure out how to convince its existing customer base that moving to its 10x suite of applications is a good idea. And its efforts in the network, IoT and services are still early days - it needs to integrate these properly and prove that they are adding value for the customer.

That being said, Infor’s strategy to date has been cogent and it has built some solid foundations that are a convincing sell. And when you’ve got the CEOs of companies like Travis Perkins and Whole Foods telling you on stage that they’re happy, you have to think Infor is doing something right.