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Cloud Computing

Infor makes strong vertical cloud moves, but can it really beat SAP?

The Palais des Congrès in Paris is a vast sprawling building joined to the Hyatt Regency Paris Étoile via a labyrinth of mirrored connecting corridors. This is where Infor ran its big European Inforum 2015 earlier this week.

“Most software companies are vendors,” says Stephen Scholl, President of Infor, in a small meeting room overlooking the Sacré Coeur. He believes the secret to transitioning from “vendor to partner” is running large organisations’ business applications for them in the cloud.

“If we can own that market we can become the biggest software company in the world,” he says. “It’s a pretty lofty goal.”

Infor is a private ERP company which has been running for just over a decade under its current name. It provides business applications for large companies and, in the light of its aggressive cloud strategy, carefully describes itself as the “world’s first industry cloud company”.

This careful “industry” wording comes down to the fact its USP is specialisation. So, instead of just one catch-all solution for everyone, it builds vertical solutions. These used to be on-premise, but are gradually getting re-packaged up into a series of cloud suites that run through AWS.   

The suites are aimed squarely at the idiosyncrasies of particular industries. So, whether you’re in retail, manufacturing or transportation – which all have very different logistical requirements – the applications are perfectly tailored to you. Clients includes the likes of Ferrari, Christian Louboutin, Travelodge and Whole Foods.

The big aim is to get 51% of its revenues from cloud by next year. “We want to just roll that ball over the hill past the half way mark,” says Scholl with passion. “Our top five biggest deals have taken place in the last eight months, all in the cloud,” he adds.

There are several ways that Infor plans to support this move. These form the backbone of the Paris conference. And include making it easy for customers to move legacy applications into the cloud, the acquisition of cloud supply chain company, GT Nexus along with an aggressive push into new verticals such as retail and healthcare.

“Lift and Shift”

This is a three phase process where Infor can take existing customers’ on-premise software and move it to the cloud. It can then add cloud applications to enhance their service. And finally, help them to adopt true cloud solutions.

The number one motivator for clients to take this up, explains Scholl is risk “I’m too afraid to do it on my own”. However, he adds the company also plans to include financial incentives to encourage clients to run the latest cloud offerings rather than on-premise. Scholl describes this as “the most important announcement we have”.

GT Nexus

A couple of months ago Infor acquired GT Nexus, a cloud company which aims to make the supply chain more transparent and efficient. In practice, this online system makes it simpler for manufacturers to get paid and for companies to track their orders. So, when you integrate this onto a total ERP system it could become a very important component indeed.

“Applications for ERP used to assume things happened in one company,” explains CEO Charles Phillips in the keynote on the first day. “Now the federated set of partners [who control the supply chain] needs a commerce cloud.”

“We are building a network of networks,” he adds.

The most interesting part of this however, is although at present it only goes two layers deep into the supply chain, Kurt Cavano, one of the founders of GT Nexus, says over time it will penetrate deeper still.

When it comes to the production of high-end products this type of initiative is very good for corporate CSR as it means theoretically, at least, the previously obscure depths of the manufacturing supply chain could become far more accountable. Apply that to shirts and it is something. Apply that to mobile phones and you’re really onto something.    

But what about the competition?

At present there is a small amount of crossover with pure-play cloud companies like Salesforce, NetSuite and Workday. However, this tends to be across niche areas. As Scholl puts it about Salesforce, “They certainly don’t build Ferraris” or Phillips puts it about Workday, “We’re beating the horizontal vendors with a broader story”.

Its main competitors though are the massive well known behemoths, Oracle – where Phillip and Scholl both hail from – and more crucially SAP. And despite the various announcements the same question keeps recurring throughout the event: how do you differentiate yourself?

Phillips summarises the differences in three main ways. Infor is trying to build a scalable platform, Oracle and SAP are still trying to build a stack. Infor is using AWS to build by industry. And unlike its competitors, Infor is helping customers at whatever point they are, “we’ll modernise them in the cloud,” he says.  

But this doesn’t necessarily help with branding?

“We’ve always chosen product over brand,” says Phillips adding that Infor tends to do better with more “forward looking CIOs” who are less married to the big names.

“’Who is Infor?’ is still a problem,” though, says Scholl.

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