Five Conferences 2013: Infor one and Infor all

Summary:Infor has a shot at making the Big 4, the Big 5. But to do that, not only should they continue on the path that they are continuing on but they need to take advantage of market opportunities staring them in the face - and they aren't fully doing that as I found out at Inforum 2013. Even without taking advantage, though, what they have done the last several months is extraordinary - and standard setting.

Overture

Okay, this is apology #3 (or apology thrice repeated). This is one of several technology conference “seasons” where they pile onto one another. Thus, as I’m writing this I’ll have been to 7 conferences in about 4 weeks, though my good friend and thought leader Ray Wang actually went to five conferences in three days recently, so I clearly have nothing to complain about.  I’m going to write individual blog posts for each but they will be shorter than the norm.  I apologize that I won’t be giving them the full review of the conference I would have otherwise. It won’t necessarily be in this order, but here is the list anyway (with the date of the conference in parentheses):

  1. Infusionsoft (March 25-29)
  2. SugarCRM (April 6-9)
  3. Clarabridge (April 17-19)
  4. Infor (April 21-24)
  5. Lithium (April 23-25)
  6. NetSuite (May 14-16)
  7. SAP (May 13-16)

I’ll be repeating this overture in each of these posts – except that as I complete one, the link to it will be in the Overture list.  This is going to take some time too.  So don’t look for it as a weeks long project. It might take me a month or two.  Also, I’m sorry to be out of order here. It seemed to be the logical thing for me to do.

Inforum 2013: The Prelude

To be fair, I have no basis for comparison with prior Inforums since I’ve never been to one until this year.  But I don’t care about that.  Inforum 2013 was, at least to me, Infor’s first public peep toward becoming one of the Big 5 when it comes to the enterprise – and just justifies what I said about them when they won the CRM Watchlist this year – with one BIG caveat which I’ll get to pretty soon.  

Infor stepped out big time at Inforum 2013 – this was their emergence onto a big stage that they have already been on but without the recognition they deserved.

For years, this $2.8 billion company has been the kind of company that always did great work, that, in effect, got them the nomination of best supporting actor/actress year after year – and they didn’t ever win. They were like Susan Lucci was with the Daytime Emmies (19years straight years nominated before she finally won).  They have had outstanding ERP products but they never got the recognition that SAP or Oracle got in the world of the automated, process driven and necessary back end.  Though, in their defense, they did get customers and ultimately, that’s what this is about.

In 2006, they bought SSA Global and among the assets they acquired was Epiphany (thankfully, no longer with the stupid period between the “E” and the “p”), arguably the greatest customer-facing product in history, and, thus, the Infor world brightened. In the meantime, Charles Phillips left Oracle, where he had been co-President and took over Infor as CEO, followed a bit after that by Oracle veteran and all around nice guy, Duncan Angove who became the President of the company.  In the meantime, given my reference point, the CRM practice began to pick up substantially, with an influx of Epiphany veterans, notably the awesome George Wright, who was chosen to lead the CRM practice for Infor. 

All began to look really, really good.  Two other things occurred by 2012 that not only were smart moves, but one in particular was a revolutionary move for the company – one that could catapult them by 2014 into more than a nomination for best supporting actor, but, instead, to a victory as best actor in a feature film.

Hook and Loop

I won’t keep you in suspense. What makes Infor ready to vault into Big 5 status is their creation of an internal design agency that is part of the overhaul of the Infor culture.  They call this agency “Hook and Loop;” it is run by Mark Scibelli, it’s VP; and it has 84 employees. What makes this truly superb is that they thought completely out of the box when it came to putting it together. Rather than hire tech graphics weenies, they hired creatives – one of the major guys who did the Avengers special effects; a Kenneth Cole designer.  That kind of person. People who don’t come from the technology world a.k.a. the Matrix.  To make it even more intriguing, Infor decided to keep this agency strictly in house. They aren’t competing with external agencies like Publicis or with Accenture Interactive. They only work on Infor’s design needs and they are brilliant.

Before I get into that, I want to…I need to…make some general comments on this to put it into context, because this move (and others like it) has importance beyond what it does for Infor.

The Bigger Picture

About 18 months ago, I (and many others) began seeing moves by what were digital or creative agencies into the world of business and technology.  Initially, it was focused around business transformation. For example, Edelman, a major public relations agency, created a social business group led by David Armano.  At first, to be candid, I was pretty dismissive of the move by agencies. I didn’t see how they (not Edelman; all agencies) were going to make any impact in the changing technology and business world. They were PR firms and advertising organizations. I could see, say, an Ogilvie developing a digital practice. That much I got. But I was ignoring the bigger picture – one that I had hoped for over the years, weirdly enough. 

The communications revolution had also revolutionized how and what people wanted from not just their peers, but from institutions.  This had impacted every institution on the planet one way or another.  Additionally, it transformed how we create, distribute, and consume, knowledge and information. I had been aware of this and had been evangelizing it from the customer-facing side of business.

As far back as 2001, my very first public presentations were on the idea of “Whole-brained CRM” which meant to move CRM from the strictly operational and transactional left-brained science it was to a more balanced science and art, with the additional of the more emotional aspects of customer experience and feeling – the right brained aspects.

As things evolved, the way I put it was that customers were now looking for “a company like me” – an organization that they had the exact kind of relationship and experience with they wanted to have – and thus recognized the company as a company that had similar interests in them and with them.  That was 2006 and after.

Additionally, also in 2006, I had been writing on the importance of style when it came to technology and the consumerization of the enterprise in a post I entitled, “Pardon Me Is That Laptop a Real Louis Vuitton?”

I also heard from the social technology vendors (who are more right brained by DNA than what were (and are) the traditional CRM vendors), like Lithium, that one of their target markets – partially due to the proactive interest being shown by them – was the agencies. 

Yet, I couldn’t see the forest for the trees until about 6 months ago, when I realized that in fact, this was not only happening but was important. That all the things that I had been preaching for all these years were actually occurring and one of the trends associated with that move to the right-brained was that the agencies and the technology firms were strategically converging. Not merging, but each realized in their own way that they had to engage in the other’s space because the business opportunity was too big to pass up and the thirst for “useful style” was so great as to be almost unquenchable.

Some of the things that indicated it were multiple companies making moves, among them:

  1. Accenture created Accenture Interactive – an agency that is designed to compete on the digital side of the creatives.  It is an external services agency.
  2. IBM created their Design Lab – which functions similarly to Infor’s Hook and Loop and does creative design work for IBM.
  3. Publicis/LBi/Digitas created their Digital Technology Group – and hired Anthony Lye, industry thought leader and then head of Oracle’s $2 billion CRM, Cloud and Customer Experience practice to take on the President’s role for that group.
  4. Multiple companies are changing their interfaces and user experience – while these efforts may not mean creating an agency, companies like SAP (their announcement of Fiori and Lumira), NetSuite et. al. are investing heavily in transforming look, feel, navigation, ease of use etc. for all their interfaces. Creatives and design personnel are moving to the forefront in importance. 
  5. Infor built Hook and Loop – more on that below

While I hesitate to call this trend seismic, it is important because how people feel about things – in this case related to business - is becoming more than just an abstraction that hazards some guesses at times. It’s becoming part of the science and art of customer-company interaction, with the onus squarely on the shoulders of the company to work it out – while maintaining left-brained aspects like benchmarks, KPIs, and metrics, process automation and transaction data capture; but without the overwhelming dominance of the past. We are now talking about balance. What that means for example is that we have to start trying to gain business advantage by reproducing what we think individual customers are thinking and feeling and then identifying what we can do to promote their positive feelings toward the company without breaking the bank.  This is an oversimplification because I’m going to write a post – and maybe a book – on this in the near future but suffice to say, how we interact with customers and they, us, is now front and center and what we know about them to improve those interactions more important than ever before. What a business provides to the customer is the difference between one time and retention, more so than ever before.  The trick is that what the customer wants isn’t necessary remunerative.  It may be a feeling. 

Keep that in mind as we move on to Hook and Loop

Beauty as a Core Competency

Hook and Loop at Infor goes with the slogan “Beauty is a core competency.” This is reflected in Infor’s culture and the design of the company itself.  Designer DNA. For example, their world HQ in NYC is in Chelsea and it is a sight to behold, with wide open spaces, contemporary styling and furniture, a HUGE digital sign that is always active in the center of the two floors of the building; white minimalist Phillip Starck-like look in some respects.  Just beautiful.  Hook and Loop designed much of this.

At the conference, there was on the stage a 100’ (or so. This is a guestimate) HD screen that was used to beautiful effect and other design touches too numerous to describe. Hook and Loop again.

Looking at the stunning digital product collateral, Hook and Loop again.

Most importantly, though, Hook and Loop redesigned all the interfaces and user experience of all the applications in all delivery systems – desktop, smartphone, tablet.  I’ll speak to it and show it as I discuss the conference itself.

Hook and Loop permeates the life of Infor and it has been the unique support for the transformation of what was a stodgy, “ERPish” culture to an exciting, innovative one that is actually delivering results.

The Conference and its Presentations – Infor Steps Out….

So, even with a creative culture and designer DNA, Infor has to produce, and, aside from some important shortsightedness, they truly did.

Two of their announcements were notable:

  1. Their announcement of Infor 10.x and the transformation of the user experience and the user interfaces.
  2. Micro-verticalization

Let’s dive but start with the conference itself.

The Conference

Inforum 2013 (in the bane of conference cities, Orlando) was a very well-managed conference with roughly 5500 attendees. The audience is mostly back office Infor customers and partners with some CRM partners and customers. Honestly, I would have expected more attendees, given that even NetSuite, a much smaller company, had 5000 attendees at their conference in just its third year.  One thing Infor is going to have to do is step up their game when it comes to making sure that their customers, prospects, partners, and acolyte attend their conferences. 

The reason that attendance matters is both for appearance’s sake and because the attendees numbers reflect a level of commitment on the part of the customers to participate in the life of the conference holder.  This isn’t unimportant. 

When it comes to appearances, if you are a company claiming to be the third largest enterprise software company in the world (I’m guessing they don’t count Microsoft as an “enterprise software” company) – then your conference attendance has to reflect that.  Appearances sake is based on relative comparisons to those others and others in the same market e.g. NetSuite, SAP, Oracle.  I’m not saying this to dis Infor. In general I was very happy with a lot of things as you will see.

The audience was an enthusiastic one and Infor clearly has happy customers – something devoutly to be wished by all companies. I spoke with perhaps a dozen and a half customers throughout the conference (CRM and ERP) and they were very happy with not just Infor products but Infor support also – which is often where the sticky part of the company customer relationship is.

The conference was well managed and well conducted and “medium key” in tone and Charles Phillips did an excellent job as CEO presenter and host.  The “feeling” was one of quiet enthusiasm and competence.  For Infor, a smart approach.

One of Charles Phillips key themes was that enterprise software looks like crap and he was right, though, as I will say once again, I’m not a fan of showing that by demeaning competitors.  He showed the interfaces of all the other companies, with the notable exception of partner and Diamond sponsor salesforce.com – and showed how ugly those interfaces were and are. And, truly, they are ugly.  But all of them are revamping them. So for example, at Sapphire, SAP announced its general interface transformation called Fiori and their business analytics interface refresh, Lumira (more on this in the post on Sapphire).  

But, Infor, when it comes down to it, sets a new high bar for all software companies, because their interface and user experience transformation is brilliant and beautiful.

Infor 10.x

There is only one way to really “write” about the interface and user experience changes at Infor and that’s to see it. Here it is for Epiphany, which was not shown on the stage (see below).

Here you go:

Epiphany New UI
Epiphany's new UI - Infor sets the new standard

 

What more can I say? There is no loss of the power of the applications. There is no diminution of the usability or flexibility even with the improved simplicity and minimalist look.  In fact, the usability is all that much greater. It is highly organized, eminently customizable and works in real time. No snapshots needed. It is transferable and equally as beautiful and navigable though different, on the tablet. 

What makes it even more remarkable, is that it is across all applications even ERP. Whoever thought there was anything left to do to ERP but wish it well? 

This is the new standard for the look, feel and experience for enterprise software.  I’ve seen all the competitive refreshes and changes and so far, as nice as some are, none are as good as Infor’s. I doubt anyone disagrees with me. 

Micro-verticalization

Equally as interesting, though far less dramatic, is the Infor decision to go after micro-verticals. For those of you who aren’t sure what that is, to use Infor’s own example, instead of the automotive vertical, the micro-verticals are, for example, automotive parts, automotive service, etc. 

The idea of laser-slices of a specific vertical has been around. Unisys, when their CRM practice was under the brilliant Steve Olyha back in the earliest part of the decade used it to great advantage in the consumer packaged goods (CPG) vertical. They targeted a small area – trade promotions – and went very deep on it, to great success.

What makes Infor’s strategy different however, and actually, very ambitious, is that they are doing the laser slicing of multiple verticals, but they are still going after the whole vertical by going after all slices.  So they are going deep and wide.  They are targeting specific verticals and then breaking them out and learning all they have to learn and piecing together highly specific product portfolios for each of them – I would hesitate to say ecosystems here. 

For example, Automotive isn’t just automotive but

  • Tier parts suppliers
  • Specialty vehicle
  • Aftermarket parts suppliers
  • Automotive and truck builders
  • Remanufacturers

Health services isn’t just health services but:

  • Hospitals and health systems
  • Extended care providers
  • Healthcare integration and HIEs
  • Payers

They’ve managed to both understand the processes and identify some highly specific products to handle the particular needs of the sub-sector, not just the sector itself.

It’s a bit of a risky strategy, but if the y can make it work, they will make manifold-level revenue leaps over the next several years.  Kudos to them for their willingness to take the risks.

But there is one opportunity that they aren’t taking advantage, despite having all the tools they need to explode the market they are already in – and that, my friends, is CRM.

Yeah, Paulie, you are probably thinking, but that’s your “thing.” Of course, you’ll defend the faith. 

While it is my business “thing,” there is no faith to defend. If you have the tools, a place in the market, a real presence and a practice with a strong leadership, it just makes rational sense to make some investment of time and money into something that will pay off.  It’s not a matter of faith. Rational sense.

Here’s what I’m talkin’ about.

But Not CRM….

When I wrote the CRM Watchlist for 2013, I lauded Infor’s CRM practice for many reasons .  To be a bit repetitious, here’s what they were:

  1. Superb leadership and staff
  2. Excellent product strategy characterized by roadmaps that reflected a practical approach to the use of social channels
  3. The ownership of the best CRM product in the history of CRM products.
  4. A smart go to market strategy

Let me detail this in a different way. They have a monster CRM practice. That means:

  1. Strong leadership – George Wright, who runs the CRM practice for them, has put them on the map where they hadn’t been before. He is well regarded, well liked and very smart when it comes to CRM strategy.
  2. Great product portfolio – They have Epiphany, which is arguably the best product that can be called CRM ever produced. The most recent versions, which have undergone seriously good evolution are geared toward specific use cases both horizontal and vertical e.g. Interaction Advisor for Email (horizontal); Interaction Advisor for Salesforce.com (horizontal) and Interaction Advisor for Churn Management (vertical).  In addition, they made a smart (and what was inevitable) acquisition of Orbis Global, a small Aussie company that produced a major league Marketing Resource Management (MRM) application, now fully integrated with Infor’s CRM offering. They have Infor CRM – which is their marketing and sales applications (on premise) as well as a strong go-to-market partnership with salesforce.com, which means that they have InForce Marketing – a marketing cloud application (more than salesforce itself offers functionally at this point) that was built on force.com.  They have great vertical focus. They target an explicit subset of Infor’s overall verticals (i.e. Financial services; hospitality/gaming; retail; telco; high tech; manufacturing). Their roadmaps indicate that they get social from the standpoint it should be gotten –as a set of channels and practices that produce outcomes of value to businesses – not as a cool differentiator.  There is an Interaction Advisor for Social Commerce that has some exceptional possibilities.  Equally as importantly, they have recently released their Customer Interaction Hub, designed to support customer experience improvement at companies – eminently practical the way that they position it and the way that it works. The only downside is that they are not real good on customer service and knowledge management.   All of that is resolvable through partnerships they don’t currently have.  But all in all, they are strong in the areas they need to be and have some potentially dominating products.

They were and are establishing a significant imprint on what is an $18-$22 billion market with a change to move up several notches of market leadership if there was corporate support at the necessary levels.

But this is where the BIG caveat comes in.

I think that while Infor, as a company, is definitely supportive of CRM and it’s current and future product portfolio, Infor is also clearly an ERP company with an ERP company’s view of CRM.  If you are looking at the revenue of the CRM practice, relative to the ERP practice as it is today, understandable. If you are planning for the future, headscratching.

This shortcoming I’m referring to was reflected by the lack of discussion of CRM on the big stage, even though CRM is a significant part of the product offering.  The metaphorically best example of this lack was that when showing multiple Infor applications with the new interfaces, no CRM application was among them.  Not a one.  I found out that the reason given for that was “we have so many apps and can’t do them all….” Okay, true dat, but CRM not on the screen – a screenshot that would show that they are players in the $22 billion (IDC) industry? Sigh.

At this point, when it comes down to it, they are talking the walk, not walking the walk. Infor CRM gets lots of lip service and a limited amount of corporate support but not nearly at the scale it should get from the company, given the opportunity for them it represents and the position they are already in in the CRM market itself. Even acknowledging that the bread and butter is Infor’s ERP portfolio, the company (not the CRM practice which is doing all it can to succeed within its own constraints – and has done so amazingly well) needs to recognize that CRM is a market somewhere between $15-$22 billion.  This is a huge revenue opportunity for Infor due to its intelligent roadmaps, iconic products, smart strategy, excellent leadership and their awareness of what is hot in the market – marketing – and their ability to fulfill the need.

What could they do to fix this? A few things.

  1. Give the CRM practice the resources it needs to do what it has the potential to do, which is apparent to the industry if not the company.
  2. Provide some true thought leadership in the CRM market, something that they have barely done yet.
  3. Show the damned CRM-related screenshots – even one – when showing the new interface and thus treat the CRM products as if they are as important as the ERP products – with future revenues in mind.
  4. Build out the partnerships and/or products to strengthen the one set of weaknesses – customer service/knowledge management related capabilities.

Conferences point out strengths and weaknesses. They are aggressively attacking the marketplace. With their creation of Hook and Loop, they show brilliant vision and execution on that vision and they have what have always been solid products on the front and back ends.  But they need to, have to, begin to address the markets they are already in that they could do much more if the resources to do it were made available to.  That would be CRM.

Please feel free, given my career biases to take this with a grain or even a shaker full of salt.   But, I said it once and I’ll say it again.  Infor has a shot at making the Big 4 the Big 5 over the next year. They just have to be smart, focus, and do it. What they need, my biases aside, is what I said. Take advantage of a market opportunity that is staring them in the face thanks to the good work they’ve already done. 

Peace out.

Topics: Enterprise Software, Tech Industry

About

In addition to being the author of the best-selling CRM at the Speed of Light: Social CRM Strategies, Tools, and Techniques for Engaging Your Customers Paul Greenberg is President of The 56 Group, LLC, a customer strategy consulting firm, focused on cutting edge CRM strategic services and a founding partner of the CRM training company, BP... Full Bio

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