Infor looks to raise profile, develops open SOA

The ERP market's silent giant is about to make more noise

Although Infor is one of the largest ERP (enterprise resource planning) vendors in the world after SAP and Oracle, you might never know it from scanning the tech headlines.

The privately held company is looking to change that, and has set the stage with a string of product initiatives and executive changes. One key move occurred earlier this month, when Infor announced that veteran industry analyst Bruce Richardson would become its chief strategy officer.

Infor is "about to move to the next level," said Ray Wang, partner with the analyst firm Altimeter Group. "They're poised to do a lot more. They're making selective hires that are going to make a big difference."

Since it was formed in 2002, Infor has already grown quite rapidly through dozens of acquisitions, with a major one being SSA Global in 2006. It now reports having 8,000 employees, 70,000 customers, and more than US$2 billion in revenue.

Richardson's long tenure in the software industry means he has seen multiple boom-and-bust cycles -- experience that should help inform his advice to the company on future deals, Wang said.

His hiring represents "the last step in basically a transformation of the management team," said Infor's director of public relations, Robert Keosheyan, who is a new arrival as well. During the past 18 months, CEO Jim Schaper has made a string of high-level executive changes, Keosheyan said.

A key challenge for Infor moving forward is keeping its large and diverse customer base happy, while reducing overall development costs.

Infor's general policy has been that it will "not de-support a customer that's paying maintenance," said Forrester Research analyst Paul Hamerman. "That's a good strategy. On the other hand, they need to advance their portfolio and migrate their customers forward as much as possible."

Work is afoot on those fronts. Last year, Infor introduced Flex, a program meant to make it easier for customers to upgrade or switch to other Infor products.

It has also been developing a SOA (service-oriented architecture) platform called Open SOA. Infor's SOA platform is solid, but "they haven't necessarily used it to develop new products -- more to integrate them," Hamerman said.

"The company does need to have a long-term portfolio strategy in terms of the products," he added. "I see some areas of weakness there they need to shore up."

Infor has been strong in areas such as manufacturing and supply chain, but needs better technology for financials and human resources in order to have a cohesive ERP suite with appeal for multinational enterprises, Hamerman said.

Some of those capabilities could come through further acquisitions.

ERP vendors such as Lawson Software and Epicor, with revenues of roughly $750 million and $500 million, respectively, could be on Infor's target list, as well as smaller vertical players, Hamerman said.

Richardson is also expecting to help prepare Infor to go public. Infor investor Golden Gate Capital, has $9 billion under management, he noted.

"With big private equity companies, it's always about exit," he said.

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