Charles Phillips is at a critical point in his role at Infor. Over the past three years as CEO he has invested heavily in overhauling the company's enterprise software offering in a bid to play catch up with other companies that were wise to cloud and consumerisation trends and are experiencing rapid growth as a result.
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While sticking to its differentiator by targeting niche industries, and micro-verticals within those industries, Infor is now trying to migrate customers on to its recently launched “10x enabled” suite of applications. These are essentially standard platforms that have a consistent user interface, are purely hosted in the cloud and are centred around the company's Ion middleware, which allows for easy integration and storing of data.
Even though Infor has been number three in the enterprise software market for a long time – behind SAP and Oracle – Phillips describes the company as the “world’s largest startup” because of the complete transformation that has taken place since he joined - he was previously president of Oracle, where he led much of the extensive acquisition strategy that similarly transformed the software giant.
However, it is clear that he has now reached a point where Infor’s new products are ready to be sold and the next three years are going to be about proving their worth in an already very competitive market and seeing whether they can take on the established cloud providers, such as Workday and Salesforce.com.
Betting big on Amazon Web Services
Phillips will be making an announcement at the end of the month that will cement Infor's commitment to cloud, through a partnership with Amazon Web Services (AWS). He hopes that by striking a deal with the cloud giant, he can leapfrog other companies in the market by not having to build Infor-specific datacentres in countries across the world, making it easy for customers to migrate applications right away.
Infor is also hoping that customers will not only move their fringe applications to the cloud, but their entire industry suites.
“We are taking our industry expertise and we will be the first company to move entire industries to the cloud. We define cloud in our business today as HCM (human capital management) or CRM (customer relationship management), stuff around the edges – but none of the critical operations,” said Phillips.
“What we have done over the last year is take everything, whether it’s the core manufacturing process, product integrations, supply chain management, and of course HCM and CRM, and integrate it all together. The whole suite with the common release structure, so we can manage it as a suite.”
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He added: “So we can now say here's the cloud suite for aerospace and defence; here's the cloud suite for automotive. We are building clouds by industry instead of the generic platforms.”
Phillips said that Infor has spent a lot of time perfecting the applications for the AWS platform and that his plan to take the core of a company's enterprise applications, rather than just the typical stuff around the edges, and move it to the public cloud is a bold move. He was keen to emphasise that this is a “different approach” and not something anyone has done before.
Although Phillips believes Amazon will be able to help Infor “evangelise” its industry suites in the cloud, he added that AWS was also particularly aggressive in getting the partnership signed as it needs validation from enterprise IT chiefs that its hosting environment is not only stable enough to run core processes, but that its public cloud is both secure and capable.
Phillips also argues that if a major software-as-a-service vendor was to be born today, a new Salesforce.com for example, there is no way that it would use its venture capital money to build new datacentres when AWS already has such a large footprint and has invested in creating state-of-the-art, enterprise-class, hosting environments.
“We think we can leapfrog and use Amazon's investment – they are in 45 countries around the world and we will just follow them,” said Phillips.
SAP's Hana is a consideration
With Infor's three-year focus on cloud, middleware and user experience, it has taken a back seat in developing in-memory technologies for real-time big data analytics - unlike its two main competitors SAP (with Hana) and Oracle (with Exadata), which have made the technology their focus. However, Phillips doesn't see this as a bad thing.
“We always take care of the industry process first. We like to take care of the industry process first because that's our differentiation, they [SAP and Oracle] like to talk technology first because that's what they know and that's what you can sell to all industries,” he said.
“But if we know the industry process and can get to the data, we can always build the big data solution. The reverse is not true – just because you understand big data doesn't mean you can understand the industry.”
However, Infor has also been in discussion with SAP about its Hana platform and Phillips believes that although it is has been created by a direct competitor, this doesn't mean that it shouldn't be considered for use in Amazon's cloud, running Infor applications.
“We are working on a number of initiatives around big data, some of it in-memory. We may partner with SAP, we have been in discussions with them about Hana and to put Hana on Amazon. There's no reason we couldn't do it,” said Phillips.
“We have been testing it, around the internet-of-things data, collecting a lot of sensor data, machine data, and the performance has been better than we anticipated.”
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Phillips said that nothing has been decided yet, but if Infor did go down the Hana route he recognises that it would be a big win for SAP – given that the deal would result in two of the top three enterprise software vendors using the database as the product of choice. However, this doesn't worry Phillips because he believes that there is scope to go after SAP and Oracle's installed base with Infor's new application offering.
He said that customers are getting tired of paying ever increasing maintenance and upgrade fees – historically a great source of income for these vendors - where the costs involved can now actually outweigh the cost of ripping out legacy platforms and putting them wholly in the cloud.
“I think there's a big replacement market available. There are legacy applications out there that have been customised to death and customers can't get the benefit of the maintenance dollars, so they end up looking at other options,” said Phillips.
“One of the most frequent calls I get is from people who have been on maintenance with one of the other guys for 15 years, and they keep raising them, and now it can be cheaper to get a brand new everything instead of paying on the maintenance.”
He added: “That's very profitable for them, but there's always somebody new coming in saying I don't need to make that much, I'll take half of that.”