When Salesforce.com Marc Benioff boasted recently of his firm being on track to become one of only a handful of software firms with a $3bn run rate, he was quietly corrected by his host, Infor CEO Charles Phillips, who had to point out that his own firm already had that mantle.
But that sort of oversight has been par for the course for Infor unfortunately. A growth strategy combining innovation and acquisition has created a vast - perhaps sprawling - portfolio of offerings covering CRM, ERP, HCM and beyond, but lacking the unified brand and market clout of an SAP or an Oracle.
Part of Phillips ambition when taking up the helm as CEO - after a multi-year stint at Oracle as co-President to Larry Ellison - was to change all that. He reckons it's working. “We’ve forced through a lot of change,” he tells me when we meet up in London. “We are making far better use of resources.
"We looked closely at the reality of which are the dozen products that make up 70% of our revenues and focused attention there instead of on a long tail of products that no-one cares about. We’ve reallocated resource from our own back office and poured money into the products. And we’ve hired 600 new engineers – nothing is a bigger change than that.”
Joining the mothership
But there’s also been the need for a cultural change, he admits. When companies engage in extended M&A activity, the danger is that those who are acquired carry the memory of their former company with too much pride rather than merging into the new mothership identity.
“We suffered from that,” admits Phillips. “We had people with business cards which had division names on them, not Infor. But that was the way the company was run. There was a customer meeting where the people we were talking to thought that Infor was just the holding company. We’re not as far along as we need to be yet, but it’s changing. All of our products are now called Infor-something.”
The sales teams also needed to learn how to work differently. Infor sales people were incentivised to sell one product set and focused on doing that without looking at the cross-portfolio or upsell opportunities presented in customer engagements. “Only about 2% of deals with companies involved selling them multiple products,” says Phillips. “Now it’s about 30%. It’s still not enough but it’s in the right direction.”
Infor is of course now heavily Cloud-centric in its strategic thinking, both developing its own offerings and partaking in a joint venture with Salesforce.com to produce a Marketing Cloud proposition which Phillips claims goes further than the likes of the pureplay marketing automation firms like Marketo and Eloqua.
“We’re pretty far along with the Marketing Cloud with Salesforce.com,” he says, arguing that what Infor can do differently to a Marketo-type offering is take the customer from the CRM front end through to the supply chain back end.
“You want end to end demand generation and fulfilment,” he explains. “You generate a lead, send it to Saleforce.com and then you want to be able to connect that to the supply chain. Supply chain and demand management should be tied to that instead of a lead resulting in a bunch of orders that come from nowhere and need to be fulfilled.”
Outside of the Salesforce.com relationship, Phillips stakes some bold claims for Infor’s Cloud credentials, claiming 2 million multi-tenant subscribers to various offerings, although not perhaps in the Cloud-laggardly finance sector.
“Things that are considered as an ‘edge’ applications by the CFO are ripe for the Cloud,” he argues. “You don’t touch general ledger, you don’t touch production systems because the CFO sees them as mission critical, but he or she really doesn’t care what HCM you use. Once you start getting into things that CFOs regard as more mission critical and security-focused it becomes more difficult.”
That old elephant again
But of course there is an elephant in the room here: it’s long been suggested that one of the reasons that Oracle and SAP have had their Cloud ‘enthusiasm’ questioned by so many is that Cloud fundamentally changes the nature of the business model upon which an on premise provider is built.
Infor itself still sees the vast majority of its revenues come from on premise licences, so how does Phillips plan to pull off what SAP and his former employer have seemed to struggle with for so long?
The answer: “We have a big advantage in that most of our applications that run on premise also run in the Cloud, so we can do to existing customers and say ‘At the next update, why not move to the Cloud’ and it doesn’t impact on the revenue costs they have paid. So I can grow our Cloud footprint in our installed base more easily than they are trying to do.
“SAP understands Cloud a bit better than Oracle. It’s just not in Oracle’s DNA as much. When you’re trying to sell hardware boxes, you really don’t want Cloud to come too quickly,” he adds. “But for both of them, for now, Cloud is a rounding error on the balance sheet. It’s about modernising their marketing and solving the growing analyst story of them being yesterday’s story.
And on premise is going to remain a key part of the Infor ecosystem for some time. “We’re not going to see more Cloud revenue than on premise any time soon,” he adds. “We don’t want to create Cloud revenue artificially or to force people down a Cloud path. We have a hybrid strategy and we don’t want to take anything away from that.”
The Line of Business is king
Phillips also sees a major opportunity in pitching Cloud at the line of business rather than the CIO. (He’s also amusingly dismissive of research firm Gartner’s recent claim that CMOs will become IT decision makers on a par with the CIO in a few years time: “Some CMOs should be glad they’re employed”. ).
“One of the reasons Infor has survived so long is because our products had line of business guys who liked them,” he argues. “Maybe sometimes the CIO didn’t like us, but the business guy did and said ‘I know these products, I like them, I know they’re going to work’. We have a technology story, but our core story is addressed to the business user.”
Phillips also sees those CIOs who resist the Cloud as fighting a losing battle. “CIOs are learning how to accommodate change better and realising that their number one issue is about how to manage increasingly complex environments,” he suggest. “There are still those who say that anything that involves change is going to be negative, but they cannot operate like that in a more dynamic business environment. If you’re fighting change, you’re going to lose.”
The monolithic approach to IT is dying, reckons Phillips, and loosely coupled applications – on premise and in Cloud – is the way ahead. “Cloud has been a slow evolution,” he concludes. “It’s not going away any time soon, but I think we will just keep coming up with more interesting ways to use it and the term. Today an application is Cloud or it is not, but I think we will start to disaggregate – have bits in the Cloud and bits that are not. “