The new chapter for Infor

Profile picture for user brianssommer By Brian Sommer April 7, 2015
What does Infor's next chapter look like? Brian Sommer thinks it's about a fresh approach to messaging.

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Copyright 2015 – TechVentive, Inc.

Last week, Infor hosted a number of industry analysts for an Innovation Summit in New York City. Infor crams an awful lot into one of these briefings. No one event writeup could ever do full justice to the event and its contents. This report briefly covers the current state of play but also addresses what I believe Infor must do next.

Under Charles Phillips leadership, Infor has focused on modernizing its large collection of software assets.

ION was the mechanism that breathed new life into the product lines, adding cloud and reporting capability along the way. More modern tools, like Ming.le, were added to incrementally improve solutions for the modern age.

Infor says the portfolio refresh has been well received by customers. Infor drove more than 37% growth sales of license and Saas subscription bookings year to date. The company added 3,100 new customers in the last year. Infor has added 10,000 new customers under the current executive team.

Infor prides itself on having 3,780 people in development and 5,300 in consulting services and support out of a global workforce 0f 12,900.

The impact of this modernization has been to:

  1. Give existing users a reason to stay with Infor and not ‘seek true love elsewhere.’
  2. Reinvigorate channel partners who now have new opportunities to sell both refreshed and many new add-on applications.
  3. Give Infor’s R&D group time to build all-new cloud applications.

Infor is aggressively marketing a new cloud HCM suite. It has also built a cloud based financial software suite that will become generally available this summer.

There are plans to build new vertical applications suites in addition to the horizontal suites. These will also be built using cloud technology. How's it going? Check the stats they threw at us.

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Infor Cloud Uptake Statistics – Image copyright 2015 – TechVentive, Inc.

While Infor has evaluated a number of differing cloud technologies and services, the company placed its biggest bets with Amazon Web Services. AWS will be the cloud hardware and data center choice for Infor's future.

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The Importance of AWS to Infor Products – Image copyright 2015 – TechVentive, Inc.

In common with other vendors, Infor is implementing a number of open source technologies within its cloud stack. Infor recognizes that open-source products can dramatically improve the economics of their offerings.

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Open Source – A Key to Infor’s Cloud Infrastructure” – Image copyright 2015 – TechVentive, Inc.

Where does this put Infor today?

The company now has some 2,700 of its customers running on an ION-based solution. Converting the remaining 71,300 customers to this platform will likely take a decade. And it will likely require a lot from Infor's internal services group as well as the assistance of several large integrators. Infor is making a number of tools, methods and other resources available to expedite this transition.

All this effort, while laudable, only brings their customers up to a more current technology state. The real value comes in Infor's ability to attract more net-new customers to the company.

Deciding how much attention to dedicate towards existing customers versus building for the customers to come is one of the great dilemmas facing enterprise software vendors. Some vendors have become so defensive about protecting and coddling their installed base, they miss opportunities to move customers to breakthrough technologies. This behavior has been rampant among on-premises vendors the last decade. These vendors have tried to find ways to migrate their on-premises customers to the cloud in a death by 1000 cuts, glacially slow migration. Some innovations are absolutely breakthrough and small, numerous, baby steps to migrate an old product to the new world shouldn’t be attempted.

Infor has clearly built a migration path for a number of its on-premises customers to get cloud-enabled. That said, this migration initially gets customers to an ION-based solution. However, customers have the option to replace large chunks of their solutions with a modern and all-new cloud suite solutions such as the horizontal ones for finance and HR. These all-new products are more than simple functional equivalents to older Infor products. The financial applications, for example, utilize attributes and a number of other fields previously not found in a number of the financial applications that Infor acquired. The upgrading or replacing of these prior generation products with all- new solutions would be a material functional upgrade for many customers.

The next Infor transition

So to restate briefly what has transpired during the last four years, Infor has:

  1. Breathed new life into moribund applications.
  2. It has created a path for customers to modernize their products and
  3. has invested heavily in building new applications designed exclusively for the cloud.

Infor now has to create the marketing, events and messaging that will attract net-new customers to the Infor fold in large numbers.

I can't fault anything Infor has done with regard to modernizing the old acquired products. Likewise, what Hook & Loop has accomplished in changing the user interface and user experiences is breathtaking compared to where many those products were. The creation of the all-new finance and human resource cloud suites is commendable. And, let's not overlook their new “Reveal” smart analytics solutions either.

“The predictive analytics capability of Infor’s Reveal” – Image copyright 2015 – TechVentive, Inc.

But what Infor may need now is a combination of a chief marketing officer and a set of marketing messages that resonate with non-Infor buyers.

Creating a visceral reaction

More specifically, Infor needs to define and create the visceral reaction it wishes prospects to experience when they think of Infor going forward. Charles Phillips, CEO Infor told us that they have entertained some 3,500 organizations at their headquarters in New York City. He added that once prospects or customers visit their offices, they almost never lose a deal. I can understand why this is so as the facilities are not only great office spaces, but it is where the Hook & Loop design teams interact with customers.

But not every customer will be able to visit New York City. Somehow, Infor's new design and modernization experience needs to be encapsulated into innovative forms of immersive media that prospective customers can readily consume. What shape that takes is unknown but it needs to happen if Infor is to improve customer acquisition.

When I asked Duncan Angove, Infor President and Phillips about the characteristics of their ideal future, net-new customers, they rattled off a list of identifiers including:

  • A CIO that’s probably 45 or younger and isn’t wedded to their predecessor’s choices in ERP software.
  • A company seeking a business not just an IT project.
  • A company seeking a vendor whose culture is not similar to SAP’s or Oracle’s.
  • A company that wants to transform.

Putting a ribbon around this would have to be a set of messages that speak to not just the demographics of a new Infor customer but the psychographics of that buyer as well.

I know many readers will be hard core, technically trained individuals who are wondering why am I emphasizing the soft side of enterprise software sales.

The reality is that software products often have the same selling dynamics as teenage fashion clothing. Software that is hip, cool and hot one day is so last Tuesday the next day. What sells is the perception of current and future technical relevance not immediate functions and features. Increasingly, buyers are aware that ease of adoption among end users is a vital element. Soft drink makers don’t extol the ingredients in their products. They talk about ‘teaching the whole world to sing’ or how their drink is the drink for a whole new generation. Smart tech vendors do this, too.

Infor has done the heavy technical work and now must address the experiential and emotional issues that get prospective net-new buyers to see them in a new light with a whole new set of applications.

That, I believe is the next chapter that Infor's management team must write.

Image credits: as noted in captions but the author

Disclosure: Infor, SAP and Oracle are all premier partners at time of writing.