Infor's cloud and mobile strategies

A week has passed since the opening keynotes at Inforum 2012. That's given me time to reflect on what happened, what we saw and digest what the company's cloud and mobile strategies mean for the market going forward.
Written by Dennis Howlett, Contributor

A week has passed since the opening keynotes at Inforum 2012. That's given me time to reflect on what happened, what we saw and digest what the company's cloud and mobile strategies mean for the market going forward.

In my first Inforum post I said:

So what we have is a company that has rolled up many well known names like GEAC, SmartStream, Lawson and others but is now leveraging that entire portfolio via ION to both extend the applications and provide good reasons for its customers to remain wedded to ERP - regardless of vintage - while offering access to new technologies that deliver the kinds of value we normally associate with pure play cloud, mobile and social apps vendors.

Looking back, it is clear that Infor is leading its customers to where they want to be rather than forcing them into technology shifts. Even so, I was surprised to learn that taking all cloud enabled solutions into account, the company has 1,200 customers with cloud solutions accounting for 2.4 million users. That's significant.

In the above video recorded analysis, colleague Frank Scavo points out that this is a pragmatic approach for existing customers. Given Infor has barely scratched the surface of introducing customers to cloud solutions, they have a lot of runway in front of them. Their relative success and past technology investments (as opposed to applications) bodes well for the future.

We were both interested to hear more about the Inforce partnership with Salesforce.com. This was first announced at Dreamforce 2011. At the time It seemed odd that Infor would look to Salesforce.com as a development partner but as Frank points out: SAP and Oracle weren't available for that kind of relationship, leaving Infor as the natural opportunity.


image courtesy of Frank Scavo

While the demonstrations of Inforce Everywhere running on iPad were impressive I was concerned that Infor may be underestimating the work that lies in front of them to get bi-directional feeds between Salesforce.com and Infor systems. Right now, Inforce Everywhere is little more than a straight integration between Salesforce and Infor ERP. Even that is limited to a few applications in the overall portfolio.

For example, there was no clear answer about what happens when Infor finds customers at the upper end of its demographic that might have multiple instances of Salesforce.com (and therefore Chatter.) Similarly, while the accounting data displayed on iPad was interesting, I saw little sign of analytics or the more traditional row and column reports that sales people will need in the field. I am aware that there are significant technical hurdles to overcome in this area in Salesforce's Force.com platform. It will be interesting to see how Infor tackles those issues.

Despite those caveats, I am net positive about the partnership. In the past, Salesforce.com has proven that it can play 'nicely' with its partners even though there are times when Salesforce.com cannot keep up with the application test review demands of its Force.com partners. That matters in a hyper competitive, high speed environment. In an earlier review of the partnership, Frank said:

Although there are several obstacles to success, I see great value in this partnership. Infor's customers now have an interesting and compelling way forward for CRM and for cloud computing generally, while Salesforce.com has a great opportunity to do an end-run around SAP and Oracle to gain mind-share with a large body of installed ERP customers.

It is hard to disagree given what we've seen to date.

On the mobile front, Infor has done significant work in bringing Motion to market with a few contextual but lightweight applications. In conversation with Dematic, (see video below)

it is clear that customers see mobile as the next wave they have to manage. So far, the very few customers who are working with Infor mobile technology are happy.  They see a viable platform that not only manages the mobile environment but provides the bones for what they will need in new development.

I was pleased to hear executives talking openly about the creation of an application store and encouraging developers to get involved. Infor says it wants to make developer onboarding as frictionless as possible. Given what we have seen elsewhere, that in itself will be a significant achievement. Much of what Infor does is based upon Microsoft technologies. That means they should have little difficulty in attracting talent familiar with Microsoft but wishing to learn about mobile development.

Where the company was a tad vague was in its commitment to specific platforms. iPad/iPhone are obvious candidates but I didn't hear enough around HTML5 for example. Neither did I hear specifics on Android or Windows Mobile.

Six takeaways and questions:

  1. Pragmatism with innovation that customers can consume seem to be the two watchwords that Infor is using to maintain its development focus.
  2. There is no fundamental difference in the challenges that Infor customers have to overcome and larger customers more likely to approach an SAP or Oracle. Today's Infor portfolio matches many of those needs but there is a lot of work to be done in cloud/mobile before Infor can safely claim it is meeting a significant proportion of customer need. An ongoing diet of case studies will help that cause.
  3. Infor will eventually transition all applications to cloud but is prepared to wait while customers become accustomed to that environment.
  4. The focus on vertical market applications will present challenges to Infor development. How will it productise profitably both horizontally and vertically while maintaining a solid revenue stream beyond maintenance of existing solutions?
  5. How quickly can Infor establish a significant portfolio of applications that will make an appstore credible in the market?
  6. Infor has the luxury of working through its challenges outside the glare of public scrutiny of its financial performance. Even so, investors have confidence in the management team. This is an important market differentiating position.

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