President Stephan Scholl talks cloud, verticals and legacy branding.
In a crowded market like enterprise software it is sometimes hard to attract attention. Having been pioneered by firms like Microsoft, whose founder Bill Gates is no mouse, the industry has come to be dominated by Oracle’s Larry Ellison, Salesforce’s Marc Benioff and NetSuite’s Zach Nelson – the sort of people whose reputations match the size of their opinions.
But talking is not the same as performing, and amidst the industry giants there is plenty a firm making good money away from the media glare – and one such firm is Infor.
Founded more than a decade ago under the name Agilisys, the company has changed massively since its inception, redubbing itself after the acquisition a German enterprise resource planning (ERP) vendor in 2004.
Yet an even more drastic shift occurred four years ago with the appointment of new leadership; the chief executive Charlie Phillips moving from the presidency at Oracle (where it seems half the industry has been berthed at one point or another), and Stephan Scholl and Duncan Angove joining as co-presidents.
Their appointments prompted a wave of spending on software development, particular the industry-focused products the company is so proud of. Whilst other vendors peddle generic products which you later customise, Infor’s software is specified to each industry, a refreshing approach in an industry that likes to tell you "every company is a software company".
Winning the hearts and minds
For now at least, the change in strategy has not altered how the firm is perceived. "Our biggest challenge is that legacy branding," Scholl says, catching up with CBR from the company’s Cloud Roadshow in London.
"People don’t know the history," he said. "It’s so hard to undo all these years of underinvestment in the company."
As well as pushing their "micro-vertical" products, covering industries from fashion to food, the company has been orienting itself heavily around the cloud, and has even launched its UpgradeX programme to help convert wary customers to the ether.
"We’ve been in the cloud business for a long time," Scholl says. "But what we’re starting to see is customers taking core ERP and running these mission critical apps on the cloud."
"Mission critical apps" are exactly the sort that Infor is targeting with its micro-vertical software, which focus on automating and managing the tasks specific to each business, whether it be manufacturing or health.
"The reason [micro-verticals are] so important is that if you really want to run mission critical systems in the cloud you really need that last mile of functionality," Scholl explains. For its rivals such functions tend to be left to the customer, which must find developers to program those tasks.
Swimming against the stream
At least for one user the approach has been welcome."What I really like about the micro-verticals is that it does away with the ‘tyranny of the super-user’," says Frans Beerkens, director of home decoration retailer Fetim Group.
His complaint, like those of many Infor customers, is that IT resources tended to be dominated by the so-called "super-user", inadvertently (or otherwise) blocking the rest of the staff from learning how to make the most of computing.
Tackling this is what Infor believes will separate it from the competition. "NetSuite has been around for 15 years," Scholl says."They’re not that big for being in business so long because they provide such a small degree of functionality. With us you don’t need ten clouds."
In a market that is increasingly foggy with marketing jargon it is no surprise that such a notion appeals to some, but for now at least Infor has some way to go to catch up with the big boys. Time will tell if they have made the right play.