Oracle veteran Charles Phillips says business users expect enterprise app agility, mobility, and consumer-grade interfaces. But is IT on board?
IW: Are enterprise application buyers different than they were years ago?
Phillips: For sure. We're routinely talking to CEOs and CFOs now. We could always usually get to a CIO, but we needed to get to end users and decision makers as well. We do very well when users can see a demo because our latest products look consumer-like and they get excited about it. That becomes a change agent. It's a lot easier to get adoption and change management if they're excited about the product. So that's where we like to start.
IW: So how is IT's role changing? What role do they play in innovation?
Phillips: Well, IT obviously wants to innovate, but they have a lot going on. By going directly to end users and business decision makers, we can create a level of excitement, and a lot of our deals start that way… The second part of the job is to get IT comfortable so they can move fast. So we show them the architecture and offer to help them.
IW: That kind of paints IT as an obstacle, doesn't it?
Phillips: I wouldn't paint all of IT with that brush. But I can speak from the perspective that we're stronger with end users and business decision makers because we talk about applications, the end-user experience, the interfaces and the business processes. We go in with the industry problem first and work back to the architecture.
[Other vendors] do the opposite and start off talking about engineered systems and integration. IT loves to talk about all that and it's fun, but it's not as important as it used to be. The younger CEOs know enough about those issues and they're not as impressed by them. They turn to the CIO and say, "That's your job. I assume you can get everything integrated, but why should I care about X technology? What's the benefit to my business?" We can solve the architecture and integration challenges, but we'd rather focus on solving a real business problem.
IW: Cloud vendors like Salesforce.com and Workday have had a lot to say about removing technology barriers and fostering agile deployment. Can Infor really bedazzle CEOs and CFOs with a better cloud and agility story than the one they're telling?
Phillips: It may sound heretical, but walking in and telling the CIO or CEO "I'm cloud" is not going to be a differentiator pretty soon because everybody is going to do that. Amazon is going to commoditize that, which is why we're using its cloud, and it's going to get cheaper every year. Some cloud vendors still have a first-mover advantage, but that's not going to last beyond the transition period we're in today. You better have story beyond that. In our case it's deep industry features and our understanding of those industries.
IW: Sorry, but I've heard pretty much the same talk from Bill McDermott, CEO of SAP. He talks about running the business from an iPad. And they're introducing new UIs as well.
Phillips: But I think we're light years ahead of everybody in terms of design because we've hired people whose entire career has been in design. The best engineers building ERP apps might be brilliant people, but they don't have the same skill set of doing design. It's a different mindset and a different brain. The two reasons big ERP products usually fail are customization and integration required. When you hear about projects dragging on for five years, it's usually those two things.
Where customization is concerned, we put the features into the product. It's not something that Accenture has to customize. On the second front, we've figured out something on Integration that's different. In all these years and years of middleware initiatives, we've tried to solve these problems in very complex ways, and I'm convinced they're all the wrong approach. I tried it myself without great results. I learned that it's impossible to have a single piece of middleware that understands every single application, every version of those applications and every protocol that's ever used in that application. It's impossible to stay current on everything, and what's more, the app interfaces are changing all the time. It just never works. That's why people can't upgrade and why things break. People just give up and do point-to-point integrations. We said, there has to be a better way, and the way we have done it is both elegant and simple. I'm talking about ION, and we have a lot of customers now who are using it who don't even have Infor applications.
It's a way of getting two applications to work together very quickly by just inverting the transformation. You put that right in the app so the middleware doesn't have to handle all the transformations. It's based on the standard language of XML. It works very well. It's a much smaller middleware platform, so we don't get to charge as much for it, but it solved the problem.
IW: Who are Infor's competitors today and how do you stand out?
Phillips: If you look at the list of deals in any quarter it's mostly SAP and Oracle. Sometimes we'll see Microsoft or Epicor, but most times it's those two in deals for new customers. We've added 3,000 new customers in the last 12 months, so we're gaining share. We're getting invited to compete on deals where we didn't show up for. The brand recognition is not as high as it needs to be, but it's a lot higher than it was two years ago. Sometimes they're curious and sometimes they just want to have competition with the other guys and get the price down. The number-one reason companies choose us is we have the industry features they need already built in and it's going to go in faster because they don't have to build the features that the other vendor lacks. The second reason they're choosing us is they love the way it looks and they're excited about it.
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