Charles Phillips reintroduces Infor after a 16-month transformation that has yielded a newly aggressive apps vendor some now call 'Inforacle.'

Doug Henschen, Executive Editor, Enterprise Apps

April 25, 2012

6 Min Read

12 Enterprise IT Resolutions For 2012

12 Enterprise IT Resolutions For 2012

12 Enterprise IT Resolutions For 2012 (click image for larger view and for slideshow)

Charles Phillips, Oracle's former co-president and now CEO of Infor, reintroduced his company at this week's Inforum customer event in Denver as "the world's largest software startup."

At about $2.8 billion in revenue, Infor is the third largest enterprise applications vendor. In reality it's an old company that started accumulating enterprise applications through dozens of acquisitions starting in 2002, and some of its ERP systems date back to the green-screen era. But Infor is like a startup in that Phillips and his lieutenants, many of whom are former Oracle executives, have started from scratch and dramatically transformed the company during the last 16 months.

In many ways, Infor is being remade in the image of Oracle. It's newly aggressive, product-oriented, and talking up possible acquisitions. Indeed, Duncan Angove, one of two former Oracle executives now serving as co-presidents at the company (sound familiar?), quipped that there was no truth to the rumor that they would rename the company "Inforacle."

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Infor's transformation kicked into high gear when it acquired Lawson Software last July. That $2 billion deal made Infor the biggest name in ERP after SAP and Oracle. Infor's primary venture capital backer is Golden Gate Capital, but more money was infused last month by Summit Partners, and together they have injected more than a $1 billion into the company within the last six months.

Golden Gate and Summit executives were on hand at this week's event, and they reassured analysts and the more than 4,000 customers on hand that they are investing for the long-haul--a message many were anxious to hear--though they did note that an IPO would be the most likely exit strategy.

The new money has fueled hiring and aggressive growth plans. Phillips told the more than 4,000 customers here this week that about 1,700 of the company's 13,000 employees have been hired within the past year. That count includes 600 new developers tasked to significantly ramp up product development. The move has already borne fruit, with 102 upgrades and new products introduced within the last six months--more than in the four previous years combined, Phillips said.

The diversity of Infor's core ERP applications was touted by company executives as a "specialized by industry" strength. Infor rivals like Epicor, Microsoft, Oracle, and SAP also talk up industry-specific functionality, but Phillips claimed Infor's multiple ERP engines (it has at least a dozen, but is focusing on a handful) better cover what he called "micro verticals." As an example, Infor doesn't just serve the food and beverage industry; it has industry-specific functionality for big brewery, dairy, bakery, and meat processing operations. Infor is not alone in offering this sort of deep industry expertise, but Phillips vows it will go even deeper.

Infor also has depth in aerospace and automotive, and with the addition of Lawson it has gained a big footprint in healthcare and services. Lawson software such as S3 ERP, human capital management (HCM), and financial management apps are used by 70% of U.S. hospitals with more than 100 beds, Phillips said. He also noted that there was virtually no competitive overlap between the two companies, making it a highly complementary acquisition. 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.

[ Tell us about your enterprise applications priorities. Take the 2012 Enterprise Applications Survey. ]

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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About the Author(s)

Doug Henschen

Executive Editor, Enterprise Apps

Doug Henschen is Executive Editor of InformationWeek, where he covers the intersection of enterprise applications with information management, business intelligence, big data and analytics. He previously served as editor in chief of Intelligent Enterprise, editor in chief of Transform Magazine, and Executive Editor at DM News. He has covered IT and data-driven marketing for more than 15 years.

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