Dave Vellante and Jeff Kelly interviewed me for The Cube at Inforum about Infor, my book on the SAP Economy and other enterprise vendor trends.
I have written in past about Infor’s micro-vertical strategy and its quest with its internal design agency Hook +Loop to make enterprise software “beautiful”. I saw more of that at Inforum in New Orleans this week, but I also signs of the messages maturing more into a focus on efficiency and value from software.
To start with, it is good to see an application vendor talk feature/function and business process, not just platforms and speeds and feeds. I spent time at the event with customers and Infor execs from healthcare, hospitality and fashion. Transactional systems and analytics to optimize revenues and operations. The analytics focus was particularly pronounced with pretty visualizations, but even more of a focus on predictive analytics with MIT data jock class talent in its “Dynamic Science Lab”
Not just verticals, there was more in what Infor calls “Corporate”. A new General Ledger for the global, multi-entity, multi-calendar world we live in. Expanded HCM footprint with more analytics around workforces.
And new CRM functionality with a recent acquisition, SalesLogix. New discrete PLM functionality via a partner, Aras to add to process PLM Infor offers via its tool Optiva.
To me, it was more exciting to see a focus on value from software – coming at the heels of my summer writing a book about the bloated SAP economy.
Infor has taken a leaf out of the SAP sales playbook and has a Value Engineering team which focuses on payback analysis. What’s different is it is also showing up in efficiency in UX. Infor talked about a paradigm it calls Clear Work and the goals are improving appeal to users, but as important to increase productivity, to decrease errors and to decrease training time. It talked about attacking the “tyranny of the super user” – simpler functionality so organizations don’t become dependent on a handful of individuals.
The Value Engineering impact is also being felt in payback analysis across vertical processes with several examples like one below:
CEO Charles Phillips has been quoted as saying “Friends don’t let friends buy data centers”. There was significant talk of Infor’s commitment to Amazon Web Services for its cloud infrastructure. Why not leverage the biggest “super computer” with auto-scaling, Redshift, cloud trail and many other services to the benefit of your customer community?
The partner expo was full, but not ostentatious – nothing like the 2,000 square foot booths and 22 foot tall signage at SapphireNow. Many of the partners are regional and industry specific like Ciber and Stoltenberg. Most are low-hype and operationally focused. The latter is particularly important as most Value Engineering payback is in the operational areas not as much the “corporate functions” which many services firms do better at.
Overall, Infor’s wide product, services and talent portfolio continues to grow. Many analysts find Infor difficult to categorize. Infor plays to many three letter acronyms but it is always breaking into new ones.
Charles described a call from an executive of a Commercial Real Estate company asking if he would be interested in developing functionality for their micro-vertical. At other vendors, they would be lucky to get a call back. Charles’ response “we will be glad to analyze the market and if we can find a group of charter customers, sure we will”.
Expect more breaking of boundaries from Infor.
In the Workday Predict and Prepare videocast last month, one of my predictions was HR is at the cusp of an analytical revolution as it learns to leverage sensory, social and yes, plenty of HR data. I used examples like UPS operations research and its ORION project which has led to minimization of left turns for driver routing and start ups like Knack which are using games to help companies better analyze potential recruits. I wanted to also showcase some use cases Charles Phillips, CEO of Infor had shared with me in a meeting a few days prior. But Charles had requested I not disclose them till Infor was ready to share its acquisition of PeopleAnswers, which it has today.
PeopleAnswers’ elevator pitch is attitudes more than skills are better predictors of employee performance. Its behavioral scientists have over the last decade working with customers like Audi, Hertz and Neiman Marcus derived 39 attributes like ambition, flexibility and empathy which help in better recruiting, work assignment and other HR decision making.
Charles gave me an example of empathy in nursing work assignments. Two nurses with similar credentials would do differently in healthcare settings. One who scores higher on the empathy scale would be a better candidate for the maternity ward versus an orthopedic ward.
PeopleAnswers’ “big data” comes from statistically designed online interviews it helps administer to 20 million applicants annually. They shared with me another use case which looked at employee theft, a major issue in retail. Working with a sample of over 50,000 participants across 7 retailers with specific “termination reasons.” they found strong link between low behavioral fit to the job and an increase in theft terminations. Of course, moving that nugget to the front of the recruiting process is now helping many of PeopleAnswers retail customers.
Infor, in its marketing, is emphasizing “cloud” in its announcements of the acquisition. To me, Infor’s real value proposition is its growing micro-vertical transaction processing functionality, and with PeopleAnswers now a piece of the verticalized analytical puzzle. I expect more Infor products and announcements of industry specific analytics beyond just the HR angle. But this is a significant start for a functional area swimming in all kinds of data but which historically has prided its “touchy feely” side.
I have known Charles Phillips, CEO of Infor for going on 2 decades now. He was a polymath way before I wrote a book celebrating them. He has computer science and law degrees in addition to an MBA. He is on the board of a media company, a museum, a jazz organization and a charity. As a financial analyst at Morgan Stanley his prodigious reports and events (many with Mary Meeker, another prolific analyst) were sought after. In his 8 years at Oracle he helped craft a remarkable streak of over 70 acquisitions. He does not seek out easy assignments.
I must admit, though, when he announced he was moving in late 2010 to Infor, a roll-up of countless mature software companies, I thought he would continue the path of acquiring aging software companies for their maintenance cash flow.
Not true, his team would tell me – we are investing billions in new R&D, hiring thousands of new developers, delivering thousands of new features, growing new licenses.
But for two+ years, we had mostly seen marketing changes. A rebranding effort that CMO, Chip Coyle describes here. A gorgeous new corporate HQ in NYC’s Silicon Alley – see some of my photos here`. The open/no assigned office/desk layout at the HQ and the traits of “beautiful” and “social” in the branding gives it a startup feel. The imprint of the internal creative agency, Hook and Loop can be felt in many aspects of the operations but gave it even more of a feel of aesthetic play than a gritty, industrial-strength enterprise transaction processing play.
Finally, last week Infor unveiled to a group of selected analysts some of the product and customer progress they have made, with many details under NDA . The macro picture - $ 1 billion in new R&D, over 5,000 new features delivered in 2012, 5 straight quarters of double digit license growth.
6 broad areas are seeing investment
Micro-vertical functionality – While existing Infor assets had reasonable vertical allure like Lawson in Healthcare and Intentia in Apparel and footware, recent focus has been on “micro-verticals” and emphasis on features at that level. So, instead of going in with more generalized food and beverage positioning, Infor can now go present shelf life management features to bakeries, and sub-lot traceability to breweries. Rather than just go with a Fashion offering, it can offer more unique features for sportswear versus uniform makers.
ION Middleware – The fundamental building block here is the Business Object Document schema for common business transaction types in the OAGIS which has been evolving over the last 20 years (see nice overview of the XML based interface specification here). This has allowed Infor to simplify integration between its wide portfolio of applications. It also allows customers to extend messages with industry specific overlays without breaking the basic BOD format. These messages get collected in a “Business Vault” available for access by analytical tools, or via workflow and alerts be shared to a wide range of interfacing systems and for mobile and social access.
Beautification – This is where the Hook and Loop imprint really shows up. The blending of transactional and analytical fields relevant to specific contexts, the HTML5 homogeneity across various desktop and mobile platforms, the collaborative conversation capabilities across many screens all make for a pleasing and productive user experience.
Modernization – continued porting of many of the older acquisitions like the Intentia Movex M3 product and the Lawson financials to Java, moving Syteline to .Net etc.
Advanced Analytics – One of the most exciting sessions, albeit with few specifics till later this year, discussed a variety of vertical “Big Data” applications. Unlike countless general-purpose advanced analytics tools in the market today, Infor hopes to take its micro-vertical transaction focus above and also make an impact in analytics more relevant to those markets.
Migration and systems management tools – there was a brief discussion of its Upgrade/S (for speed) initiative to accelerate upgrades in the customer’s base using the cloud as a transition service or destination. Infor is also focusing attention on hybrid on-premise/cloud deployments, sandbox in cloud and other scenarios likely in its very diverse customer base.
Most of this discussion was under NDA, but the major themes are:
ION Middleware is selling well. Many customers like the connectors Infor has built and the workflow and the alerts in this message bus
Micro-verticals are starting to pay off. They described a major local government win linked to Infor’s Enterprise Asset Management functionality (see my blog post about how Infor helps CERN with its massive asset portfolio around the Hadron Collider). Infor is also seeing significant momentum in the hotel industry.
TCO driven wins. They described several SAP and Oracle shops where the customer has used an expansion scenario to bring in Infor because it could show a sizable TCO advantage compared to staying with the incumbent vendor. Another is a “two-tier”, surround strategy similar to one NetSuite has shown traction with for deployment in smaller subs of large companies.
Avoiding best of breed deals: Infor is not chasing CRM or HRM deals, especially in cloud mode. If they see a vertical opportunity for say Lawson’s healthcare HR features, they may compete, but one or two module deals do not appear to be a major focus. Update: Infor has since clarified it does compete for CRM Marketing deals with its Epiphany and Orbis functionality, and in the HRM with its Enwisen and Workbrain assets
The $ 64K question
Infor has over 70,000 customers across its legacy portfolio. The temptation is to offer them an “apps unlimited” scenario so they continue to just pay maintenance. Starting with the Inforum user conference in April, though, Infor is going to start showcasing its product investments above, and show customers the new aesthetics, the better economics of its middleware, the efficiency of its cloud based sandbox and upgrades and the hybrid scenarios they can plan for.
The success of this customer migration, and how Infor delivers that with its current crop of resellers or with a new set of SI partners, is the next test for Charles and his team. If they can pull it off, they will regain their 3rd spot in the Business Insider Digital Private 100 list – a spot Dell has usurped with its recent financial transaction.
Given his past track record, I would not bet too heavily against this ex-Marine.
I have long been a Quickbooks user. Once you are set up, it is a low maintenance path to keeping books, quarterly and annual reporting.
But 2-3 times a year I get irritated with Intuit, the publisher.
a) One of the times is now, with need to print W-2s for employees and 1099s for contractors. In this day of laser printers and sharp scissors, Intuit employees post comments in community forums like “The reason to purchase perforated paper is that is satisfies the requirement that the different copies be "easily separable by employees" (Of course, if they are already separated, then that is really easy for the employees.) And, the perforated paper looks nice and is very professional.” And their web store gladly sells them at 10 forms for $ 49.99 or 25 for $ 79.99. Man, that must be some expensive, bio-engineered chemical on those forms. In contrast, the IRS will ship, upon request, small quantities for free.
b) The QuickBooks annual payroll service, ordered in their cloud went up last year by 10% to $ 329. It makes even more sense to go to Amazon and order the same functionality on disk in a box for $ 129. Tell me that makes sense to Intuit when web delivery cost should be near zero.
c) Every few years. their payroll functionality will not work with a prior QB release. It is a forced upgrade for $ 300-400. Irritatingly, the last upgrade we did with Pro 2011 came with all kinds of product promotions. Things regularly pop up offering their credit cards, mobile services and yes, more paper in the form of checks and other forms.
None of this is a killer, but when you look at millions of small businesses with a handful of employees, it adds up. But hey, I guess we should just sing with Kelly Clarkson and stand a little taller on the leftover forms you bought from Intuit:)
I spent some time at ProcessWorld, Software AG’s annual event. I very much enjoyed TUCON, Tibco’s event, and I wanted to hear about AG’s own events processing, SOA, collaboration and other initiatives.
The conference started off with a very promising positioning statement “We bring agility back to enterprises who have lost it by implementing packaged applications”.
Since AG tools like Aris have long helped companies document their enterprise processes (and in the 90s Aris was almost synonymous with SAP projects) I wanted to hear how AG breaks the “concrete” companies have poured around themselves with their ERP, CRM and other packages. I also wanted to hear about agility in companies which have similarly been stuck in long-term SOA projects.
Instead of sticking to that theme and showcasing case studies around it, the conference felt the need to latch itself to the hot buzzwords of today – Big Data, social, in-memory, mobile and cloud. So, the announcements around WebMethods 9.0 talk about extending its integration layer to cloud based applications. WebMethods Pulse supports instant mobile notification. Aris 9.0 introduces a Connect feature for social networking. The Terracotta acquisition allows distributed caching and in-memory computing for Java. Adabas is one of the oldest NoSQL databases around.
Cannot blame AG for wanting to leverage these market trends. I just don’t think it has enough customers around these new features. Indeed, I attended a nice awards ceremony today where 8 AG customers were honored for innovation. The categories reflected Software AG’s traditional value points – Process excellence, IT/Business Alignment, Productivity etc not the more recent Social, Big Data etc categories.
Having said that, like at TUCON, I saw a wide range of industries represented at the event – healthcare, casinos, beverages etc. And most talked about their innovations using AG tools rather than the sob stories of project overruns and upgrade headaches that you hear over and over at so many ERP conferences.
I would love to go back next year and see more substance around the Agility messaging, and yes, seeing the innovation categories reflect the social, mobile, Big Data so we can see more customers rather than just product announcements with those buzzwords.
apologies to Fleetwood Mac, but as Dennis Howlett writes, Workday goes its own way.
Over and over again.
Parker Harris, co-founder of Salesforce.com told us a few years ago he missed not having bigger vendors like SAP and Oracle in the Cloud. More competition would mean more innovation, more brains focused on some of the common problems.
Hugh MacLeod, the much admired tech cartoonist, has a book which says “Ignore Everybody” as one of the keys to creativity. Workday has taken Hugh’s advice a bit more to heart.
With one exception to Hugh’s guidance - there are 100 updates in release 17 including 58 items that came directly from customer ideas.
The other thing I like is Workday is in no hurry to become a “full-fledged ERP”. No plans yet for manufacturing/distribution functionality. Vertically, it is sticking closer to the non-profit/educational sector.
Read what Dennis writes about Workday’s mobile, analytical and other improvements. That’s another area it does not ignore where it counts. It does take constructive criticism to heart.
Gavin Davidson of NetSuite summarizes a major contrast I will see between SapphireNow in Orlando on Monday and SuiteWorld in San Francisco on Tuesday.
"Normally when you attend a user conference hosted by a major ERP vendor, it’s quite a daunting task. Users, employees and partners are encouraged to wear numerous colored ribbons as an adornment to their conference badge to identify not only the industry vertical within which they operate but which solution(s) they might use or support….With NetSuite, every single user (and we are talking thousands) who attends SuiteWorld will be on the same base version..."
The other big difference is in the show floor and partner flavor. Sapphire is about high-falutin’ concepts and massive SI booths. SuiteWorld is much more grounded with a focus on customer projects and practitioners.
Another big difference is in the customer base. Sapphire is usually dominated by big multinationals. SuiteWorld is about their subs. NetSuite has also become the choice of some of the fastest growing and recently public companies like CornerstoneOnDemand, Eloqua, FinancialEngines, Groupon, Jive, Solarwinds, Splunk and others.
Finally my friends at NetSuite, Mei Li and Mini Peiris, are lethal about feeding us all kinds of rich food. I see a French bistro and a Brazilian Churrascaria on the agenda. Thankfully I am hungrier in the mornings when I go West, so the big difference should be in the Florida and California greens I devour.
BTW – The Dictator comes out Thursday. By then, I should have enough conference ribbons to be at 2% of what his costume boasts in photo above!
Bill Starke’s sculpture in the lobby of the Hyatt in Denver I stayed at this week is a good metaphor for the changing enterprise software industry.
In general, everyone treats SAP and Oracle as the pursued, and SaaS vendors as the pursuers. Infor is generally talked about as a list of 70,000 customers on every one’s bullseye. This week at their event, Inforum, new CEO Charles Phillips took pains to show Infor is also a viable pursuer, both to retain his own customers and for new competitive opportunities.
Besides showing off its own investments (including 600 new developers hired in the last year) there were plenty of associations with the future of the industry. In a fireside chat in the Executive track, Phillips hosted Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.com, and they discussed the past - Benioff took a shot at Siebel and Phillips just smiled when he would have pushed back – both are Oracle alums) and the future - Benioff pointed out Facebook is “younger than our two companies, and already bigger in revenues” and the management cultures the two leaders are shaping at their respective companies.
Backstage (I was on a panel on Consumerization of IT which followed that fireside talk), I spent some time with Phillips, got a quick demo, and got his always incisive view of the industry (I have known him since his analyst days at Kidder Peabody). During the course of the day, I had a chance to mingle with several Infor customers and its executives.
Phillips and much of the fresh blood he has brought into Infor (many from Oracle), and the Lawson acquisition have given Infor a noticeable burst of energy. While much of the conference focused on the mandatory homage to social, mobile, cloud jargon and the “speed” theme via ION (Intelligent Open Network) middleware and a collection of common services I was struck by the vertical niches Infor has presence in.
They include Lawson’s healthcare and government, Intentia Fashion, Baan Manufacturing (including Ferrari whose CIO spoke at the conference) and plenty more from the countless acquisitions it has made in the past. While most of the pursuers are going after horizontal financial, HR, CRM areas, Infor has the opportunity to focus on vertical and geographic niches across its wide empire. The management team Phillips gave plenty of time to in the day include a Canadian and an Englishman and my panel was moderated by Peter Quinn, a well traveled Scotsman.
And most customers don’t expect Infor to stray too far from its core strengths. I asked several healthcare customers if they would like Infor to get into clinical areas, and the answer was they should keep focusing and enhancing validated inventory management, profitability analysis, unique labor/contracting related HRM issues for their industry.
Sculptor Starke has been quoted as saying “My observations on the human condition are meant to be both humorous and thought-provoking.” Inforum also turned out to be both.
My new book looks at the convergence of two mega-trends – the consumerization of enterprise technology, and the enterprising of consumer technology. I am pleased to have been invited to present those concepts at a panel at the Executive Forum at Inforum in Denver next month.
Inforum is the largest gathering of Infor and Lawson customers, combining Lawson CUE and Inforum into a single conference with more than 700 educational sessions and product labs. Held in conjunction with Inforum 2012, the Executive Forum offers a two-day agenda that allows enterprise software users to network and share ideas with peers, connect with Infor and Lawson senior executives, listen to a diverse group of well-versed industry speakers, and learn how technology innovation can help their business go faster. Other consumerization panel members include Ray Wang of Constellation Research, and Doug Henschen of Information Week.
The great band, Train, will be performing at the event, and will surely play some tunes from their album , California 37 being released the week prior.
To register for Inforum 2012, please visit www.inforum2012.com