Infor Reinvented: Enterprise Software's 'Biggest Startup'

Charles Phillips reintroduces Infor after a 16-month transformation that has yielded a newly aggressive apps vendor some now call 'Inforacle.'
By most accounts, Golden Gate was frustrated by the pace of change at Infor, and it brought in Phillips to replace former CEO Jim Schaper, who company veterans say was focused on sales. Phillips repeatedly said this week that he spends 80% of his time on products, adding that his team had to "figure out, clean up, and fix" company approaches that weren't working. For example, instead of developing user interfaces, mobile applications, reporting, workflow, master data management, and localizations for each and every app, for example, Phillip's team insisted on an approach whereby these common services could be built once and shared across all the applications.

Infor is relying heavily on its Intelligent Open Network (ION) middleware, introduced to unify its ERP engines, HCM, financial management, asset management, distribution, supply chain, and product lifecycle management applications. ION is the basis of the cross-application Workspace user interface and cloud-based localization service announced this week.

Phillips contrasted ION with the "complex and brittle" integration approaches used by the likes of SAP and Oracle. Based on XML and the simple publish-and-subscribe model, ION is light weight and asynchronous, so it can't be used for high-speed financial trading floors, banking operations, or telcos. But these aren't industries Infor serves or intends to get into. For Infor's mostly midsize customers, ION is plenty fast and scalable.

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Infor's customers using ION seem to appreciate its ease of use. Dale Brittan, CIO at Brewster Dairy, a cheese manufacturer with plants in Ohio, Illinois, and Idaho, said the middleware "is simple and just works," adding that it took less than a week to install and configure. One of about 100 customers that has deployed ION, Brewster is using the middleware to integrate Infor ERP and enterprise asset management apps. Brittan said the integration has eliminated a lot of duplicative data entry.

With ION it's easier for Infor to go after the low-hanging fruit of cross-selling products to existing customers. As an example, the more than 60,000 Infor customers could take advantage of Lawson HCM and financial management applications. And Lawson customers can use ION to integrate with Infor's enterprise asset management application.

Phillips said that 15 months ago, only 2% of Infor's transactions involved more than one product whereas today that figure stands at 30%. That's an example of the simple-but-obvious stuff that's transforming Infor. The results are evident in the company's financial results, with five straight quarters of double-digit growth.

Infor still has much more to do, including replacing weak financial and performance-management applications and upgrading long-in-the-tooth ERP systems, such as COBOL-based Lawson S3. But for now, the company is stacking up quick wins and it's laying the groundwork for long-term growth.

With Phillips and company stirring things up, the next three to five years in the apps business should be interesting.

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