Announcer 1: This is the ERP Advisor.
Announcer 2: The ERP Advisor’s overview of Infor.
Juliette: Hello everyone, thank you for joining us today. This summer, ERP Advisors Group is spotlighting the most prominent vendors in the ERP software market. Today we will be discussing Infor and its offerings and providing key insights into our experiences with this vendor. Welcome Shawn, thanks so much for joining me today. I appreciate it.
Shawn: Yeah, you bet. Thank you, Juliette.
Juliette: So, Infor has over 65,000 organizations worldwide and provides business cloud ware, cloud software products for many industry-specific markets, and with over 60,000 customers, that's a lot. There is plenty of information out there to justify working with them, but how does a company know that it would be the right fit for them?
Shawn: Yeah, yeah.
Juliette: So, with that, can I ask you to dive right in and talk a little bit about who Infor is?
Shawn: I’d love to, this is great. So, Infor has been around, like you said, they're a large organization, and they've been around for quite a while. They have basically evolved over time through a lot of acquisitions. And I think what we hope to do with this summer series on these calls is to make sure that I share some real practical stuff, nothing confidential or whatever that we know because we go under NDA with vendors. But we are going to do is share some real practical stuff.
So, I appreciate you asking that question Juliette, and the bottom line is Infor has been around for, you know, several decades. And they're a very established firm, with tons of revenue in the billions, 3 billion or more. And they have a lot of different software solutions in their portfolio, whereas some of the other vendors don't even come close to the number of solutions that they have. So that's probably one of the biggest differentiators is Infor has a lot of software. But something we've experienced over the last decade or so is they've gone through a bit of a revolutionary change where they did sort of say “ok, we got all these solutions,” and remember, a software company makes a ton of money off their install base through maintenance updates that happen every year. They have to maintain the software, but the customer has to pay for that every year. So that was the original recurring revenue of the software industry was the maintenance stream.
Now, of course, the license is sold as a subscription, so you pay for that every year, and included in that is the maintenance, but Infor had a ton of customers like you said and they had a ton of maintenance that they were doing for customers. So, over the last, probably a little less than a decade they've really said “ok, let's pour a ton of money into R&D to take these legacy systems and make them more cloud-based, and change our user interface, modernize it, and even not just the technology platform from running in the cloud, but also some of the integration tools reporting in the analytics tools.” And it's really, really paid off for Infor.
They've done a really nice job with that. They actually had a team that was led by some ex-Oracle executives come in and say “alright, we've got to put some technology innovation into these products.” And I think we're really experiencing the benefits of that investment over the last couple of years. So that gives you just a little bit of a feel when you think about Infor, think about a lot of products, but a lot of innovation and technology investment that they put into them too. So, a little bit of historical, legacy applications that have worked there *voop* trying to continue to evolve, does that make sense?
Juliette: It makes perfect sense, perfect sense. And I had mentioned that they offer many industry-specific software platforms, but what do they sell? Can you talk to us a little bit about that? Just overall.
Shawn: Yeah, certainly, it's a great question. So, Infor, I have to think about this a little bit, Infor primarily, I wonder if we could even say exclusively, sells enterprise applications that solve business process issues. So, is it just ERP? ERP, remember we call that a conceptual framework, that's all it is. It's not like “oh, it's a software that runs your business and your accounting and inventory.” Uh, that's not what ERP is at all. I could get really, really, really abstract, but I'm not going to because we don't need to do that. But the more important thing here about Infor is they sell enterprise solutions that meet specific industry needs. So, all the way from warehouse management to accounting and inventory, they even have some projects software. They've got configure price quote solutions, and they've got equipment rental solutions. So, if you're a business, we did have some nonprofits that we're running some Infor solutions too.
Most of what we see for Infor is not on the nonprofit side; it's more on the for-profit type of business. The core customers of Infor have been small to medium-sized distributors or manufacturers. Where they want to put a sales order in the system that creates a bill of materials for our make-to-order environment, now the work order tells the manufacturing guys and gals “ok, this is what we need to build, and here's what you put into it, start." Then they build that item, they complete it. QC, we want to track the quality control that happens on that product, and we want to ship it, we want to track it, we want to track the invoicing. We want to track the collection on that invoice.
It’s a pretty straightforward made-to-order process, Infor is all over that. They're also all over distributor models where a company buys something, they hold onto it, they sell it for a higher price, maybe they do some value add on that. But like I said they have GIAC, they've purchased Lawson, they've purchased GT Nexus. They purchased some really good ERP solutions that were really strong in the mid-market space in the 70s and 80s. And then they have these, they call them Cloud Suite Solutions, now Cloud Suite industrial, Cloud Suite distribution, Cloud Suite industrial enterprise, they've changed the names of these products to sort of match this cloud environment that we're in. The basic answer to your question is they sell business automation solutions to mostly for-profit companies in these different segments throughout the business, different functional areas.
Juliette: Do they provide customizable platforms?
Shawn: Yes, their solutions are definitely customizable. It's kind of funny because it's like saying “hey, I have Covid. Hey, I customize about your ERP.” “Oh my God, I can't believe it!” People freak out, but the reality is we've had some great implementations with customized ERP. We had one, a really good one with a $750 million steel distributor that we used one of the Infor platforms for and we actually did quite a bit of customization. You don't really want to customize, but the way that we were able to get the software to support their needs wasn't quite out-of-the-box. There were some key things that they needed. It wasn't a ton, but they were key customizations and that made all the difference in the world for that customer, so no problem with the customizations at all for sure with the Infor products.
Juliette: OK. Well, let me ask you this. As we know, the software market is very competitive, and there are so many different options to choose from. I mean, how does a company know what works for them so along those lines, from your experience in the trenches working with our clients, and your experience and knowledge, how and why does Infor win over their competitors?
Shawn: That's a great question. I mean that is the essence and frankly, whenever I meet with a new vendor, I kind of do research and I understand what they are in like 5 seconds. I could look at a website and be like “oh yeah, I get it, I think anyway.” Sometimes I'm completely wrong, but not usually; I better not be, that's my job. When I meet a vendor, I always ask “why do you win over your competition?” It's such a key question to differentiate. It not only differentiates their solutions from other solutions, but it also tests the person that you're talking to. If they give you a really long-winded answer like I am, they really can't answer the question is--I actually can--but I want to put this out there because I think that's part of what we want to do Juliet, with this series this summer. It’s to give people some really practical tips when you are differentiating these vendors, how do you do that?
One of the best ways you can do it for yourself is to ask the software salesperson. “When do you win over your competition?” Again, you're going to get an assessment on that salesperson; if they're like, “oh, we win because we're better than them,” well great this guy or gal doesn't know what they're talking about. Or they say “well, we win because we're the lowest-priced option,” oh, I don't know if I want the lowest-priced option. Or they say something like “we really take the time to understand our client’s needs, and what I have found is that in manufacturing and distribution here's how you know our software compares to the other apps. When the client sort of needs these things, we win.” You want to be working with that salesperson for sure.
Juliette: That's right.
Shawn: So now, would you ask your question again?
Juliette: From your experience of working with our clients and just through the years how does Infor tend to win over their competitors?
Shawn: Perfect, so there are probably three things I would say that are the most important when Infor wins over competitors. The first one is, especially for companies that are under say, 1/2 a billion in revenue, they win because of their partners. Infor has probably the most established partner channel of any vendor in the market, and we may talk about that a little bit more later. I can't remember if we're going to touch on that, so I'm just going to talk about it right now. We have partners that we work with that represent and implement the Infor product and have been doing Infor for like 30 years.
Shawn: Even some of the Microsoft partners we work with, I mean NetSuite hasn’t even been around that long. QAD has a partner that's been around for a super long time, but if you look at the Infor channel, especially for mid-sized businesses, there are partners that have just done everything; they've been through every war story you can imagine--I think they sometimes go back to the Civil War, just kidding I have got to be nice.
Juliette: Well, but for 30 years that's a lot of history, for sure.
Shawn: It’s a lot of history, and those folks have dealt with problems that some of the newer implementation partners just haven't even come across yet. So, I love that about Infor. When my client, we were just talking this morning, Erica and I, we have a client that's implementing Cloud Suite Industrial, and they're really struggling with their internal resources, and we have a great partner that's helping them. It's Cloud Suite industrial and I know the software solution is going to be great for them, but the reality is that I know the partner is going to do what they need to do to get these guys over the finish line, so partners are a big one.
The second thing is that they do have good industry functionality fit for multiple industries like I said, manufacturing, engineering to order, make to order, discrete, even some process stuff like chemicals and food. They've got some process pack for that. Distribution they nailed it; they've got great purchasing solutions. You buy something, it goes on the stock, you have warehouse management, then you've got a sales order in, you've got that item, you've got your crazy pricing matrix distributed out, they ship it out--they do a really good job with that. Then they've got some really good best-of-breed solutions that they've purchased over the years. One of them is a configure price quote tool, which is really good--it's expensive, but it's worth it if you really get your configure price quoting rules set up. It's a great tool; it could completely transform the sales organization.
You put a lot more rigor and standards, whereas instead of having crazy people out there like “yeah, I’ll sell it to you for 20% of the list, I'll give you an 80% discount.” Well, CPQ put some controls in on that. That's a good solution. They've got some HTM, and even CRM. They've got some PLM, product lifecycle management, some of our food companies use that right now. It's a nice product, it was called Optiva that they purchased. There's good feature functionality on the Infor platform; that's the second reason. Now I'm going to tell you the third one is the real most important one, and this is important, this is really, really important. Infor is a solid company. Five years ago, like I told you, all that technology innovation they were doing, cost a lot of money, like billions of dollars.
Shawn: And they didn't necessarily have that cash, so they took out a bunch of loans. And it was a risky move; it was a very, very very risky move that Chuck Phillips, who is the ex-Oracle president, made when he came in. I really have a lot of respect for him and his team because they knew they needed to upgrade these solutions and get them to the next level on the technology platform, especially around the cloud. They took out a ton of loans to go do it, and they did it. After that, Infor sort of went through a couple of different iterations of ownership and they were public, private, and then they got acquired by a company called Koch Industries, which is a really good, solid American business. They are manufacturing lots of different organizations and the Koch brothers have really taken care of Infor. I believe it's the long-term play for Koch Industries because it's a nice recurring revenue business, and I think a lot of Koch Industries' businesses ran on Infor products.
Juliette: No makes sense.
Shawn: Yeah, it's what makes sense. So that's the third big differentiator; I think they're in a really good spot for long-term ownership as well as their long-term viability.
Juliette: Yeah, so were they not on the cloud before? They've just slowly transitioned over the last few years. Is that what it is?
Shawn: That's exactly right. Yeah, when you have a 30-year-old app like Daily Commerce, I think it was called, or SX. There are different products that they had that now they've renamed, Lawson of course, and Bahn. Those were all on Prem solutions; they've taken the money and time to get them so that they can run on the cloud.
Juliette: Right, well, let me ask you this. I don't know if you can answer this, but do you know anything about the retention of Infor? Like if people started out 30 years ago, did they tend to stay with Infor, or do they often look for others and go somewhere else? And especially with the transition to the cloud and having other options, can you answer that?
Shawn: I can answer any question as best as I can say, and hopefully, it's correct. I will tell you what I have observed, that's what I will do.
Shawn: The answer is yes; the customers have been very loyal to their solutions. I'm thinking of 1 company, a machine company, they make machines for process manufacturers like bottling machines or different processing machines that a manufacturer would use in their operations. And they were running Lawson, I think it was for you know, 15 to 20 years, different iterations of it, looking at the upgrade, etc. And so those types of businesses are traditionally more risk-averse to technology. I could go change my ERP, or I could go buy a new machine, or I could go get more R&D, or whatever. Chances are we’re going to go to the R&D or whatever choice, or maybe hire some new people to spin up a new product line or whatever. Why would I upgrade my ERP when it does my debits and credits for accounting, and I know where my inventory is, so why would I do that? When the cloud came along, a lot of these Infor customers were like “ugh,” some of them got hit with cyber security attacks. Rebekah from our team, the ERP Minute woman, she's known throughout the whole planet on that--the ERP minute lady.
Shawn: I'm not sure what the correct way to say that is, but anyway we’ll ask Rebekah about it.
Juliette: Person! Or rock star.
Shawn: The ERP Minute person, that’s perfect.
Juliette: For sure.
Shawn: We did a report on a customer that went to Infor after a cyber security attack because their legacy system was on Prem, they wanted to go to the cloud, so there were a lot of reasons why Infor customers were trying to get into the cloud, and Infor responded to that. They do have good solutions to go into the cloud. It's risky because every time a customer says “hey, I need to make this major upgrade. I've been on this software forever,” they're also going to look outside of the existing product they're on. They're going to look at Epicor, or NetSuite, or whatever. But a lot of Infor customers will stay on that product because they don't really need the switch.
The ERP does enough to run their business, and they're going to have other innovations and parts of their business. Maybe they automate the warehouse some more. Or they take their manufacturing line and do batch records with some of the FDA stuff that's required for food companies; so they go out and get best-of-breed solutions, but the core ERP stays. So, it's a pretty loyal base is what I'm trying to say. I think they do a much better job serving that base now than they did when they made all those acquisitions. I will rat him out a little bit because what I've observed is when an organization, a company, buys a bunch of software solutions, that's a lot to maintain; it'd be like “I got 2 kids, now I have 30, sorry. Some of the kids aren’t going to eat as well as they would if there were just 2.”
Juliette: Or get the attention they need, right?
Shawn: Exactly. So now we have all these products that all need attention. They all have install bases that are saying “feed me feed me. Give me more enhancements; do this, do that,” but Infor looked at it correctly and they said “no, we're going to get down to a few products going forward. Those are going to be the ones we're going to invest in,” and Infor customers, I think, have responded pretty well to that.
Juliette: Yeah, so does Infor have different tiers? Without speaking necessarily to or generalizing their platforms, do they have various size platforms?
Shawn: They do, absolutely, yeah.
Juliette: Can you speak to us a little bit about that?
Shawn: Yeah, so you look at some of the Cloud Suite solutions, and it's really hard to figure this out from their website, honestly good luck. You really need somebody like us who has actually worked with these or a really good salesperson at Infor who can help you figure this out. Sometimes the folks at Infor, or really any other software vendors, sometimes the salespeople aren't that experienced, and they don't even know. But you can see two different tiers of ERPs generally at Infor. There's what used to be called M3 and LN are larger, bigger implementations, higher volume transactions; almost compete with like SAP and Oracle, so we could call those lower Tier 1 solutions. Then they have more Tier 2 solutions like Cloud Suite Industrial, they used to be called Sightline, or SX which is now called Cloud Suite Distribution. And then there are other platforms in there too, so they do have good solutions for small medium-sized organizations and good solutions for big organizations as well.
Juliette: Mm-hmm, well are those more industry-specific or just based on needs?
Shawn: No, it really is industry specific. If you're in process manufacturing and you’re global so you have requirements for multi-currency and accounting regulations, you would probably go towards the M3 product, which used to be called Lawson, if you’re bigger. But if you're smaller, CSI does a pretty good job with some of that localization and currency stuff too. If you're looking at the Infor products, you're talking to Infor, you need to say “hey, here are some of my unique business requirements.” And again, find the right person at Infor who can help navigate you to which product is the right one.
Juliette: OK, well can you talk to us a little bit about their pricing structure? Is it pretty standard or is it flexible? How does that work?
Shawn: You know, I would say it's pretty standard, and what I mean by standard is usually we're talking about their software and their services. Now the software is sold as a service, it’s a little confusing, we can use that software as a service, SAS. But we're just going to say software and then say professional services. So, you pay for the software, then you have got to pay for somebody to configure and set it up for you.
Shawn: So now on the software side, Infor’s model is very competitive. And their model is such that they have cost per user, they also have cost by modules. So, you figure out what modules you need, and then you figure out the number of users that you need. And there might even be, like CPQ for instance, there might be user charges for that, and then there's a base charge for CPQ as a module.
Shawn: Pretty straightforward, right? Their contracts, they're pretty flexible with the terms. They'll do a one-year, three-year, longer. You lock in the price during that time frame, so you want to try to get a contract that's not too long because you might want to switch in the future, but you don't want to go too short so you can lock in rate caps and stuff like that. They do a pretty good job on their pricing, it makes sense. Some of the other vendors we talk about won’t, but these guys do make sense.
Juliette: Right, so Shawn let me ask you this. From your experience, are there any offerings that you would like to see that they aren't right now?
Shawn: Yeah, we're seeing some of the other vendors start to do a little more innovation in their technology platform, maybe around some process automation integration models. Some of the vendors have bought integration tools. I mean I would like to see Infor continue to invest in their technology platform. I think they've done a really good job to get it to where it's at, for sure. But we don't want to get our customers behind. We have a lot of customers that we put on Infor.
We were one of the bigger advisory firms with Infor I think two years ago because we love the product and it fit our client's needs. So, I want to see them continue to put investment in that technology platform to future-proof our customers for what's to come. I probably need to talk to them more about that, I'm glad you brought that up, because that is one of the benefits, we have which is that we can get with the product marketing or management people, or the VPs, and even the people that run these organizations and say “ok, what's really going on?” Part of the due diligence we recommend for every client is to have a technology road map discussion with Infor or any other partner. But I would say do that for sure with Infor so that you understand it before you select it.
Juliette: Right. Well, if you're helping our clients and you're seeing that there's a need, you can always bring it to your contacts at Infor, and if you're seeing it, other people are seeing it, right?
Shawn: Yeah. Even in the last Infor deal we did, when we did the technology deep dive, we focused more on their data center strategy, business continuity planning, and a little bit of integrations they support. It's a little more like “well, what do you do today so that we can check all the boxes so that we know that they're in a good position for our clients.” But it is that future look that I think we need to spend a little bit more time with. They've got the money, they're secure and I don't see them not investing in the future; again, some of the other vendors I do worry about. But you know 5 to 6 years ago with Infor I was freaked out about their technology strategy, their platform strategy. I'm not anymore. Now it's just what do you do going forward into the future, especially as you have huge recurring revenue streams that are coming in. How do you invest that money back in the technology platform? That's what we want to know.
Juliette: That's right. And it makes perfect sense for sure. Well Shawn, thank you so much for joining me today and sharing all your valuable information. I appreciate it.
Shawn: You bet. Thank you, Juliette.
Juliette: You're welcome. All right, well be sure to join us as we continue with this limited, multi-part, vendor series that will advance your ERP knowledge and allow you to take advantage of over a century of combined ERP experience from our expert consultants here at EAG. Thank you again for joining us.
Announcer 2: This summer, ERP Advisors Group will be reviewing the most prominent ERP software vendors in the market. For more information about these vendors, please visit our website at erpadvisorsgroup.com. You can also find more EAG content by following us on social media or by subscribing to our podcast, The ERP Advisor.