Inforum and Vegas -- Big Money

In many ways, Las Vegas is the perfect place for the giant software vendor Infor to celebrate its success. Cobbled together from many dreams (and businesses) into a cohesive, almost ludicrously profitable whole, both Las Vegas and Infor have parlayed some

Both their growth curves are staggering. My uncle, who moved to Las Vegas from Wisconsin a few decades ago, told me "When I moved to this valley, there were only 250,000 people here." (It's pushing 2 million now.)

Infor -- which didn't even exist a mere 6 years ago -- has been experiencing a rapid growth of its own, and exploding in population (users) as well. Consider that its first conference had 250 customers, and this one hosted more than 6,000, from 45 countries.

Infor's rapid rise is fueled by a hyper-aggressive M&A strategy patterned after the "Oracle principle" that has led it to acquire 31 companies since 2002, among them heavyweights such as SSA Global and Datastream (not to mention Agilisys, Baan, Brain, Datastream, Epiphany, EXE Technologies, Geac, InterBiz, Lilly Software, Mapics, Marcam, Mercia, NxTrend, Provia, and Vigilance, among others).

In fact, CEO Jim Schaper emphasized that inevitable comparison himself in a meeting with press and analysts when he pointed out that, financially speaking, Oracle isn't a half bad business model to emulate.

Slideshow

Click to see "DHL and Infor Offer Green SCO"

"Oracle is a big help to us," Schaper noted. "Because they're a public company, and because they have to publicly file their financials, their success has helped add validity to what we're doing."

He expressed his relief that people have finally gotten beyond asking if the strategy will pay off, and are now looking for long-term planning and product development from his group of high rollers. During his presentation, Schaper also took pains to stress to the user community and analysts alike that Infor is looking to maintain support and development of Baan IV and V, as well expanding the newly acquired Workbrain application group. I guess what he was trying to say could be summed up best by another gambler, Kenny Rogers, who sang "You got to know when to hold 'em..."

Expand, Rebrand

CTO Bruce Gordon talked at length about the company's trend-forward developments, such as their OpenSOA strategy and about a new breed of enterprise mashup called "role-based homepages" (providing users with a single screen of information, cobbled together from different applications depending upon their data needs). Infor is also pushing its development envelope into every technological niche where manufacturers might save on energy and value chain costs -- and is being smart enough, when they find such a niche, to label it as "green" (for those smart executives looking for help with marketing AND manufacturing).

For an example of this big green push, one only need look at the company's close partnership with the logistics experts at DHL. Infor and DHL have been working closely on supply chain optimization, and in fact, DHL was recognized at the Infor conference with an award for their Innovation Center (a showpiece facility that highlights how DHL is helping customers meet their shipping and logistics challenges).

Awards aside, the most interesting aspect of the Infor/DHL extended enterprise partnership I saw at Inforum was a session called Managing Carbon Footprints in Supply Chain Optimization. This session was co-hosted by Peter Gordon, Director of Advanced Planning Systems (who has been working on fine-tuning Infor's supply chain design tool for over a decade) and Sander Van den Berg from DHL's Exel supply chain (formerly of Ryder as well as the Dutch banking giant Rabobank).

Both of these gentlemen have been instrumental in developing a bolt-on addition to Infor's Supply Chain Design software that allows users to make informed logistical decisions while controlling for various constraints like cost, location or -- with their newly developed tool -- carbon emissions.

One thing that struck me during Gordon and Van den Berg's presentation is the correlation between what's being called "green" and simple common sense logistics. As Gordon pointed out quite succinctly, the two concepts go hand in hand: "Where we can increase efficiency, it's often going to be true that we can reduce CO2," he observed. In fact, in the mocked-up example they presented, a simple supply chain optimization (controlling for cost alone) produced an cost reduction of 6.9% with a corresponding reduction of 26% in CO2 emissions. Conversely, optimizing the sample data for CO2 emissions reduction (at a level of 50% of baseline) still resulted in 6.7% cost savings.

This strong correlation should help SCO sales, as the Infor rep can offer customers an optimized supply chain, with the added bonus of a nicely quantified bullet point for the next Corporate Social Responsibility report.

Bear in mind, Infor isn't the only company marketing a product in this space -- RedPrairie and Supply Chain Consulting, Optiant, Chainalytics and IBM's new GreenSigma) all offer similar products/services -- but with all the consolidation happening in software in general, and with the recent SSA Global acquisition placing Infor at the No. 3 spot in enterprise software, I think executives are going to especially appreciate the one-stop shopping aspect of getting a market-tested SCO product co-developed with an acknowledged supply chain specialist.

EAM Does A Body Good

In a way, you could look at a healthy diet and exercise as preventative maintenance for your body. Similarly, you could look at enterprise asset managment (EAM) as healthy living for your facility. While at the Inforum conference in Las Vegas, I was inundated with news about Infor's EAM product. (Editor's note: I hosted a recent webcast about this topic that is archived here: Save Green by Going Green: How Managing Emissions and Energy Can Reduce Costs).

The focus of this software package is monitoring and managing the deployment, performance and maintenance of company assets. Infor touts its EAM app as offering the following upsides:

  • Increased labor efficiency and reduce overtime
  • Effective equipment-based maintenance schedules to reduce downtime
  • Management of work order processes to ensure on-time delivery
  • Reduced maintenance-related inventory levels
  • The ability to model various scenarios to determine optimum asset levels and drive decision making
  • Tracking information to improve the ability to collect on warranty claims

However, beyond the "blah blah" of product marketing, I had an experience at an EAM session at Inforum that, as a veteran of many a sponsor-dominated talkathon/excruciatingly stage-managed event, found extremely interesting.

Perhaps sensing there was a deep enough connection between the user base and the product, Infor's senior director of industry marketing and session moderator Marty Osborn asked for volunteers from the packed room to get up, tell who they were/where they were from, and (in his words), "Describe something cool that you're doing with the software."

At first, I thought for sure the idea would flop, and steeled myself for a long, uncomfortable silence -- the kind that only a bad trade show presentation can bring. However, person after person -- from manufacturers as varied as Lockheed-Martin to Pfizer to automotive heavyweights like Cooper-Standard to Meridian Automotive Systems to Subaru of Indiana (who use EAM to schedule work orders and PM tasks and schedule and track maintenance man-hours) all the way to large retailers managing online work order and purchase order requisitions (like Wegmans) and public sector departments and utilities managing wastewater and electrical infrastructure assets -- got up and enthusiastically shared their experiences with the EAM software package. I'm not saying I've never seen customer testimonials at trade shows before -- just that I've never seen this many, from this many excited people, many of whom were audibly disappointed when Marty's session came to an end.

Finally, the last bit of big news I heard at the show was the strengthening of the Infor/IBM axis. Already a big application solutions provider for IBM's System i platform, Infor will now benefit from having its ERP LN package distributed worldwide by IBM Global Services.

After Infor's run up the charts the last 5 years (capped off by the aforementioned SSA acquisition, which vaulted them into the top 3), it wasn't surprising to hear IBM's Jay Ennesser, VP of cross-industry alliances, talking about Big Blue's reasons behind the new partnership -- "IBM's got a big push to look at our ecosystem of partners, and to look at our partners' partners, to find a better way to leverage ourselves for the common good," Ennesser said. He spent time addressing each of the trend-forward parts of Infor's strategy, finally commenting humorously on the potential for coordination and overall business efficiency that the last few years of software industry consolidation has brought.

"We're all putting money into these various different channels and pockets and incentives, and God help us if we ever get ourselves all lined up together!"


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