Global CIO: Can Charles Phillips Grow Infor While Avoiding Oracle & SAP?

The Oracle ex-president's new company has $2 billion in revenue and 70,000 customers—and suddenly a much higher profile within SAP and Oracle.
"Infor's best strategy is a path of least resistance—in other words, avoid head-to-head competition with them," Hamerman wrote. "This is easier to do with Oracle, where Infor can go further down-market and into manufacturing verticals where Oracle is not as strong, and also where the Microsoft platform is preferred. Infor competes more directly with SAP in manufacturing in the midmarket."

In talking with Schaper and Phillips, it was completely clear that they see the new competitive challenges that their accelerated growth strategy will create, and are aware of the power Oracle and SAP can wield. At the same time, though, both Schaper and Phillips were pretty feisty in citing Infor's native expertise in the midmarket and its track record of achievement there as assets that they alone will bring to the fight.

"I think you have to look at the midmarket in a holistic view—if you're entering the midmarket, it's either in your DNA or it's not," Schaper said. "You've got to focus on multiple deployment models, ease of doing business, and having a distribution model that can cover the midmarket from a profitable perspective.

"And as we continue to see some of the big vendors moving down-market, the bottom line is that in this industry, with the cycles we've gone through of good times and not-so-good, I've never seen a company whose base is at the low end effectively move up to the high end, nor have I seen a company at the top end successfully move down," he said.

"Neither of us underestimate our competitors, but if we're not the leader in the midmarket, we're certain one of them. And that's a very hard position to claim if your company is not specifically built to do that, and a lot of our new-product innovation coming in January will address that further as well."

Phillips echoed Schaper's perspective, saying that for a company like Infor, a deal in the range of $2 million to $4 million "is very large for us, but for enterprise sales reps at the big companies, that's too small to even get their attention."

"It's very hard for a company built to operate at the high end of the market to chase the kind of deals that are typical for us, which is often in the range of $300,000 to $500,000," Phillips said.

"Believe me," he said with a laugh, "I've tried in my past career to make those high-end enterprise reps change their outlook, but it's really tough.

"In the end, it's not surprising to find that if you're good at building Peterbilt trucks, you're not also going to be good at making Cooper Minis—they're two very different markets."

Indeed they are. But those differences aside, if there's growth to be had in the midmarket, then Oracle and SAP, not to mention Microsoft, are going to be there as well.

For customers, this all should shape up to be a nice advantage: more competition, more choices, and better options.

For Infor, it's going to be a battle—but that'll hardly be the first one Schaper and Phillips have faced. Their key challenges will be whether they can exert enough influence in the market to force the big companies to have to play by Infor's rules, and whether Infor can identify and acquire innovative new players in critical markets before Oracle and SAP snap them up.

Because here's what Phillips says is at stake: "The size of Infor's installed customer base is much larger than I thought it would be, and I've always believed that customers are like beachfront property: there's only a finite supply."


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GlobalCIO Bob Evans is senior VP and director of InformationWeek's Global CIO unit.

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