Commentary's Benioff And Infor's Phillips: A Fireside Chat

Two maverick executives discuss their recent partnership, the direction of enterprise software, and war stories from two decades in the software industry.
Benioff wove in Facebook, its pending mega IPO, and its role in catalyzing the Arab Spring revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, and elsewhere before summing up with a key point for CIOs and IT: "We have to get ready to be more responsive to our users than ever before," he warned.

"Chuck and I are trying to re-create our companies as quickly as possible looking at these new organizations as the models of where our whole industry will be in the next three to five years."

Crediting Benioff as "the most articulate and visionary" enterprise software CEO on the topic of the "social enterprise," Phillips said he agrees that it's an important movement. But he admitted that Infor is "struggling to get that message out" to some CEOs of industrial company customers that it's possible to go social with business processes, invoices, orders, and customers.

"Half the people get excited about it. The other half say, 'why do we care about this?'" Phillips said.

[ Want more on Infor's latest plans? Read Infor Reinvented: Enterprise Software's 'Biggest Startup'. ]

"It's an evolution, and you can't expect anyone to just say, 'OK, I completely get this,'" Benioff conceded. "You have to use these tools and experience it firsthand because it's a cultural shift."

This dialog led to a long discussion of all things social with, of course, examples along the way of how that's encouraged within the services of and how those services are being used by customers such as Bank Of America, which has a customer service center at, and KLM Airlines, which offers services at

Phillips mentioned an Infor concept hospitality app for its hotel chain customers that could tap into the Facebook open graph API to develop fan/customer travel preference profiles. "But when we talk to some customers about it, there's immediate push back about privacy concerns," Phillips added. "What's your response to that?"

On the consumer side, Benioff acknowledged the need for careful controls and even regulation around use of social information, but on the business and employee side he said it's more of a cultural decision. Benioff cited the example of an internal "Airing Your Grievances" social group at that uses the company's Chatter collaboration service. The group lets employees share complaints if they have a problem with the company or are unhappy with a process or technology.

"It's a place where you can rant and get it out, and it's by far our most popular group," Benioff said to a big laugh. "We have a Praises group, too, but it's not as popular."

Their discussion ranged into other areas, including predictions about the future (with video highlights available on Infor's website). Phillips closed with a story about Benioff visiting him about 13 years ago when he was at Morgan Stanley. Benioff wanted to show Phillips a new application, but he wasn't carrying a laptop, as was the custom in those days.

"He said, 'Just type in,' and I immediately saw that this was going to be an exciting application because it was right there, ready to use," Phillips said.

A year later, Phillips said he called Benioff to tell him about a cancer-research non-profit that could use his then-fledgling service to track donors. "Even though he was just starting out, he said, 'We don't charge nonprofits,' and they still don't," Phillips said, noting Benioff's recent pledge of $100 million to build the UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital.

"I wanted to acknowledge what he's doing because he's been consistent throughout his career and we believe in the same things," Phillips said. "We're not quite there yet, but we're working on it."