Re-booting Infor in 2013

Re-booting Infor in 2013

Summary: Finally, we can have a new, different image of Infor. For two years, the company has been quietly re-tooling all of its product lines. It has re-thought cloud, user interface, and more to create a series of micro-vertical solutions. It's definitely a different Infor now.

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Infor essentially is the result of a lot of software acquisitions. Many names you remember in the application software space are part of Infor today. Companies like Baan, SSA, Lawson, and many, many more.

The accumulation of that many product lines, brands and applications has created a big maintenance revenue income stream for Infor, but customers want to see these product lines enhanced and periodically re-architected. If they don't get value for their maintenance monies, they'll stop paying these monies and/or move to another vendor.

Approximately two years ago, Chuck Phillips took the top job at Infor. His gig wasn't going to be an easy one, as there were so many products that needed a major refresh. It wouldn't be a cheap fix, either.

Chuck has a great pedigree for this kind of assignment. He's a long-time Wall Street executive. I knew him in his Morgan Stanley days where he really made a name for himself in the enterprise software market. His tenure at Oracle gave him not only M&A chops but also exposed him to a number of the operational nuances that make a software company tick.

Infor has been relatively quiet since Chuck joined. In that time, the company replaced a number of the management team, moved the headquarters to New York City, hired 4,000 programmers, created a captive design firm, and spent a massive half a billion dollars on re-tooling the product line.

While the re-tooling isn't finished, the company has made enough significant progress that it is now opening up to analysts, customers and prospects. It is sharing its latest works and some of it is pretty clever. We outline the details below.

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(Image: Copyright 2013 TechVentive, Inc. All rights reserved.)

Shifting focus to vertical suites

The company is shifting away from selling individual product lines (ie, Lawson) to selling "micro-vertical" solutions. Why is it doing this? Infor has a number of new products (like its ION cloud data warehouse), some alliance solutions (eg, Salesforce's CRM solution), and some solid best-of-breed on-premise solutions that it wants to connect together into end-to-end industry solutions. Infor channel partners selling one of the older product lines will now have additional solutions (and more) to offer to prospects. However, some partners will now find Infor offering some of the missing vertical functionality that those channel partners used to create and offer on their own. Users should appreciate this, as deeper vertical capabilities will now be part of the core products and not an added cost.

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(Image: Copyright 2013 TechVentive, Inc. All rights reserved.)

The captive design capability and new user interface

Infor has hired a number of folks to be part of its Hook & Loop subsidiary. Infor executives specifically sought out non-traditional types (ie, non-traditional to the software world) to help them design a user interface that significantly improved user productivity. It didn't want just a prettier, artsy interface that did the same things as the old interface. It wanted to eliminate screens, drive user effectiveness, etc. The result is that a single screen has analytic data on the far right. That information is sensitive to the user and the role they have in the company. To the far left of the screen are short synopses of transactions that the user probably should initiate or complete. In the center of the screen is some macro-data, possibly displayed pictorially, that is of value to this specific user. Data for all of this is coming from several Infor, Infor partners, and Infor data warehouse systems. Users stay in this system and not log in/log out of differing applications to get their work completed. The new user interface is a key component of the Infor re-boot, and is not a simple facelift overlaid on top of old code.

INFOR analyst summit 2013 007
(Image: Copyright 2013 TechVentive, Inc. All rights reserved.)

New data warehouse

Infor's ION is a cloud-powered data warehouse. It acts as a repository for all Infor application data as well as data from Infor partner Salesforce and, possibly, other data sources. Data for the new user interface is predominately sourced from this warehouse. This tool uses OAGIS XML formats for over 200 standard events. Data is physically stored in what Infor calls the Business Vault. With all manner of data accessible here, and, the new user interface populating its content from this source, users will not need to utilize the older screens or databases of predecessor application code. These two improvements represent, effectively, the biggest upgrades to most Infor products in the better part of a decade. Users of Infor products ought to be elated at these improvements. These improvements are what Infor has spent half a billion dollars and needed all of those programmers to complete.

INFOR analyst summit 2013 023
(Image: Copyright 2013 TechVentive, Inc. All rights reserved.)

Tech stack modernization

I give Chuck and his team credit for candidly assessing the Infor situation and devising appropriate strategies. Just look at what Infor isn't doing. It isn't getting into the hardware business, but it will partner with Oracle on Exadata machines. It isn't going to develop systems software like an in-memory database, but it will partner with SAP to use the HANA software. In effect, Infor's done a very correct job of allocating capital and people to the things it should be doing and partnering where it should not. The result is a very modern technology stack that will power its applications. This was smart.

INFOR analyst summit 2013 030
(Image: Copyright 2013 TechVentive, Inc. All rights reserved.)

And a lot more

Infor shared with us new mobility solutions, new business process management tools, and more. There's simply not enough space to cover it all here.

So, is it enough? Is this something that will bring net-new customers to Infor?

  • Existing customers will like this – mostly. As I mentioned above, users should be ecstatic with the magnitude of these improvements. However, some of the Infor customers are, and I want to charitable in saying this, laggards. They have stuck with a product for decades, even though the product may not have evolved much at all. These software users either don't want to change or can't change (as they lack the money or have customized the product too much). Either way, they might not rush into these re-done products. Nonetheless, I bet Infor users will be happier at this year's user conference than in many prior years.

  • Net-new customers will come, but the new converts may be heavily oriented around plant, divisional, and business unit solutions; with the micro-vertical focus Infor is pushing, the main buyers of new Infor solutions will likely be plants and business units where the business needs are satisfied via a micro vertical answer. While a conglomerate could buy these products, plants and divisions will be the hot spot.

  • Infor is clearly turning lemons into lemonade: The old Infor would get slammed for being a holding company overloaded with too many, redundant products. The new Infor now uses different combinations of its products with the new UI and ION environment to create purpose-built micro-vertical solutions. These products will be more competitive in these micro-verticals and definitely more competitive against firms selling more horizontal solutions.

  • The new Infor strategy works for a company like Infor (not startups): The micro-vertical strategy is great for a company with lots of different vertical applications in its portfolio. The UI re-work is correct for a firm that needs to re-tool its older products to deliver a new level of user productivity. The ION warehouse works for a firm needing to pull data together from a slew of different applications, many of which may have different underlying technology architectures and code bases.

  • Infor still has rebranding work to do: I'll admit I was skeptical as to whether they were making progress or just putting lipstick on a pig until I went to this event. I saw the changes, I talked to the execs, I walked in the new office and I heard the people behind the changes. The new Infor is real. But a lot of people who knew the old Infor (or its predecessor product companies) didn't get to do what I did. As a result, Infor will really need to educate the software buying world that is certainly a very changed entity.

  • Will all Infor products get a lift from this? I wondered that, too. When I asked Chuck this, he said every product line got the new UI treatment. But, in time, Infor will want to rationalize its product line. It possesses, for example, general ledger applications from Software 2000/Infinium, Baan, Walker/Elevon, and more. For now, do not expect to hear any discussion of this matter. It may be years before a rationalization game plan is announced.

Disclosure: Infor covered air and hotel costs for the one-day analyst summit.

Topic: Enterprise Software

About

Brian is currently CEO of TechVentive, a strategy consultancy serving technology providers and other firms. He is also a research analyst with Vital Analysis.

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3 comments
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  • Will the product lines integrate?

    The issue for Infor was that their individual product silos were just that - product silos and there was no natural integration, this they had to mainatin many code lines and reproduce, say, international financial accounts in many places
    Is the ritzy front end just that and not the evidence of a consolidated product strategy?
    I will look with interest but I would bet they have the same issues as they had last year. And one of those was debt!
    sonnet37
  • Effect on Storefront

    I'm curious how these changes will effect Storefront. I recently began working for a company that not only insists on sticking with storefront for their shopping cart but are afraid to update to the newest version. Currently they are 2 versions behind, and reluctant (an understatement) to change. I have the daunting task of redesigning the websites (main site and store are hosted in different locations) which means I have to manipulate this archaic version of storefront to stylistically match the new wordpress built main page as best as possible. I'm pushing for an update to storefront and SXe, but seriously believe it to be a bloody exchange if I push that much further.

    Also, it's virtually impossible to find forums for this product. And the third party distributor wants $150 and hour to discuss anything. Are there any solutions out there that you could recommend?
    Shawn Hickman
  • Regarding Forums on Infor Distribution Products

    The User Group; www.theusergroup.org; is the independent user community for Infor's distribution products. There are very active forums for all of the distribution products as well as the supporting products such as Storefront and the forums are monitored by Infor product managers who seem happy to chime in with suggestions; but usually the user community answers questions first.
    Full disclosure, my company uses Infor's SXE, Storefront, ION, CRM, etc. and I currently sit on the TUG board.
    davidaaaaaaaaa11