Infor is going through an interesting transformation. It's the third largest enterprise applications company in the market – behind Oracle and SAP – but has largely been sitting in the shadows, quietly targeting specific industries and niche micro-verticals, which have specific user needs that can't be met by generic ERP and CRM platforms. Not making a fuss and just getting on with it.
However, just over three years ago the company brought in new management and a new CEO, in the form of ex-Oracle exec Charles Phillips, which sparked a strategy overhaul and a new approach. Speaking at a partner event in Barcelona this week, Phillip's acknowledged that he's trying to get the company to do things differently, and it seems to be paying off..
In 2013 Infor pulled in over 3,000 new customers, some $2.8 billion in revenue, and has 3 million cloud subscribers. And now it is gearing up to make a fuss...
“We still like to call ourselves the world's largest start-up. The reason that name stuck with us is that we came here about three and a half years ago, with a new management team, and we have pretty much changed everything and started over.
“We have all been doing this a long time and we all know what the problems are with enterprise software. We know what we didn't like about it, but we didn't have the resources and time to fix it, this time we are doing it right.
“The brand value is going dramatically up, we are getting a lot of incoming calls that we didn't get three years ago. The reason that is happening is that we are doing something different and the market wants an alternative.”
Infor's strategy largely focuses on getting companies to implement it's middleware ION, which is designed around a loosely coupled architecture that works on XML communication. All data flows through ION and is then stored in Infor's Business Vault product, which allows customers to run analytics and reports on all their applications and processes. Its argument is that by using common standards and linking everything to ION, companies will be able to easily integrate applications (not just Infor's) and easily upgrade – something that has been notoriously difficult to do in the past for all enterprise application users.Alongside this it is making a big push to get its install base in the cloud – it offers a fixed fee for migration if this is something customers are interested in. This ties into Infor 10x, something Phillips describes as a “certification”, which basically means that if companies migrate to the cloud, implement ION, upgrade and use its new social tool min.gle, as well as its new user interface, SoHo, then you are 10x 'enabled'.
The user interface is particularly important to Infor – it has created a new design agency based in New York City, called Hook & Loop, which focuses purely on creating 'beautiful' enterprise application experiences. It's quite an impressive commitment to the UI and having seen some of the demos, the investment seems to be paying off.
This is what Infor is now selling, 'suites' of applications targeted at specific industries and micro-verticals that have the latest functionality, which look great, and are easy to upgrade and integrate. Infor currently focuses on 21 industries, which have thousands of micro-verticals within them. Phillips believes that by selling these 'industry suites', bigger deals will be done.
“We are building our applications around open standards and what we call the architecture of the internet, which is a loosely coupled architecture based on ION. This allows us to flexibly change applications without breaking them and also upgrade more easily..
“The UI – we want to make sure our applications feel like modern applications, we spent a lot of time building a design company inside of Infor to make sure our applications look like something you would buy in the Apple store, or even better. Our design skills are the best in the industry, the next generation of users want a different experience and we are going to give them that.
“You can't have a single product serving micro-verticals in it. We are the only company to deliver industry suites in the cloud. With the back end integrated with ION, the front ends for all the applications look the same with our SoHo design – that's how the deal sizes are getting larger, you can walk in with multiple products, a full suite, and you don't have to worry about the UI looking different or about the data flow across these applications.”
Shouting about Infor
Infor is now communicating that it has the complete set of tools that it set out to create over three years ago – the back end applications are targeted, the middleware is useful and helps customers with integration, the Business Vault solves the problem of analytics and the front end user experience is looking great. Phillips is now ready to start selling Infor, start pushing the name and the products. He explained in Barcelona this week that the company is taking out some massive marketing and advertising campaigns, which include adverts on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, as well as buying a presence in popular airports and business lounges.
“We are changing our brand experience – pumping that up. We have all these new products so now is the time to do it and we are investing in marketing and branding.
He is also distancing himself from his main competitors, SAP and Oracle, and aligning Infor with the new players.
“Anytime you get an industry where there is an oligopoly in place, where two large companies get comfortable, there's an opening. That's the reason Infor has seen an opening, it's also the reason Salesforce and Workday are there. Those are the companies that we identify with most, the next generation of companies.
“The market is changing, the fact that we had an economic downturn from 2008 actually helped us because it gave us time to invest and people are coming out of that and wanting to do something different – they are replacing systems and making decisions they probably wouldn't have made three or four years ago. We have the products for them and a focus.”
Phillips is also less interested in mining the installed base and more focused on selling Infor's cloud-based suites and gaining new market share. His final words to partners at the conference were:
“Let's focus on getting new business. Given where we were a few years ago, people focused more on the install base, but with all this rich product, new strategy, new branding, now is the opportunity to go and get new market share.”