Comment: Infor is for real

Last week I attended Infor's Inforum customer conference held in New York City. Positioned at the end of a very long season of customer conferences, it was, on the surface, hard to get excited about. Boy was I wrong.

I couldn't get down to New York in time for the first keynotes, but as I winged my way to New York, in-flight Wi-Fi provided some critical information that set the tone for the next two days. A fellow analyst already in attendance posted the following on Facebook, “Wade Gerten just announced Infor's intention to acquire Starmount.”

Responses from me and other industry watchers were short, consisting of one word answers like “Wow,” and “Whoa”. The informing analyst said “I literally gasped”.

You might be wondering why this is such a big deal to industry watchers. The answer is that Infor fully intends to put together an entire retail end-to-end suite that scales to the largest Tier 1 players. [RSR managing] partner, Brian Kilcourse, and I were trying to figure out when the last end-to-end suite was introduced (thinking specifically about core merchandising), and it took us way back to the mid-90s. 20-plus years is a long time.

This is not to say that existing players haven't upgraded and enhanced as they've gone along, nor is it to say that Infor is building the entire suite from scratch, but no matter how you look at it, it's next-gen retail technology.

Infor is building some of its own pieces, like a new item master and core merchandising, and it's buying some really good technology to go with. Its current development partner is Whole Foods Market with future partners in other retail verticals to follow. What grocery will give Infor is demonstrable scalability in the Cloud. Many providers before them have tripped up early trying to accommodate the volumes of data that grocery creates. It will be interesting to see if Infor can get this right out of the gate.

Let's take a look at a few of Infor's acquisitions. In some ways, a statement on Predictix (a prior acquisition) says it best: “What happens when you take a team of people who built some of the most widely implemented traditional retail applications, and give them a clean slate and the latest technologies?”

Starmount was built by many of the folks who built 360 Commerce, which was revolutionary in its day. Starmount is a “converged commerce” platform, which means it extends from an eCommerce offfering to a store PoS. Predictix has great math. Infor's apparel PLM offering is a re-write (released February 2014) of Freeborders, which itself was built in the early 2000s. GT Nexus is a 21st-century software platform. There are more. I'm just scratching the surface.

And then there are the people. I wish I had a nickel for every time someone said “They're getting the band back together.” Where were those band members prior to getting back together? Well, many, many, many were at Oracle Retail. They may have just come from Oracle, or like Starmount personnel, they may have left post-acquisition to form a new company. I'm sure Oracle has lots of good people left on its retail roster (you know who you are!), but a lot of others have landed at Infor. That's just a fact.

Infor's strategy for its acquisitions is important to understand and was explained to me by Moham Aref, former CEO of Predictix. Ultimately, Infor will subsume the brand names of its acquisitions, but keep development teams intact. In fact, for Predictix, at least, Infor infused an additional 50 developers onto the team while retaining virtually all existing players. The groups still work independently.

I think it's fair to say this strategy (with or without name changes) is proving to be the most effective way to absorb an acquisition. It's a technique now used by SAP, Oracle, Aptos and others. It no longer makes sense to re-write applications onto a common platform. Instead it makes sense to do solid integration, and let each stand on its own.

There are still some important features and functions to be added into the suite. The company has no distributed order management system available, and it has plans to build out pricing functionality with Predictix as its base. Certainly as it moves into other verticals, other applications will become important, including delivery, style/size/colour, and other functions too numerous to mention here.

What's important really is to say that there truly is a new big player in town. Their retail team has gone from one dedicated person to more than 650 in a little more than a year. And they are working with some yet-to-be-named retailers on a converged commerce solution, something the Starmount acquisition will no doubt play a role in. With very deep pockets and a real commitment to build “beautiful” applications for the 21st century, Infor is one to watch.

This article originally appeared on The RSR Research  website. It is reproduced with the organisation's permission.