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http://www.hreonline.com/HRE/images/BillKutik106x106.jpgNot Your Father's Infor or Lawson

Forget what you used to think about Infor. During his three years as its CEO, Charles Phillips has injected  ambition and an attention to detail into the former software aggregator that he promises will bring "beauty" to everything it does. In our world, Infor is turning Lawson into the modern SaaS product the original company never could.

Monday, April 28, 2014
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I have never heard an enterprise-software executive use the word "beautiful" as often as Charles Phillips, CEO of Infor, which includes famous HCM products -- Lawson, Enwisen, Workbrain and Infinium -- among the dozens of ERP systems it owns.

He most often uses this word to describe his redesigned software (in continuous beta and under renovation), built in collaboration with Infor's own in-house 80-person creative team called Hook & Loop. Not just user-interface designers making screens look pretty, but writers, developers and filmmakers all trying to drive innovation in product design and the user experience.

They also do the company's presentations and collateral, but I'm not sure if they designed the space where they all work -- Infor's beautiful (I've said it first because it's true) Silicon Alley offices in a 19th-century department store in New York,  near Madison Square Park.

If asked, Phillips will also use the word "beautiful" to describe the custom spread collar that he personally designed for all his dress shirts, in addition to  all the stitching and the fabric that covers the outside of the buttons. Done by a shirt-maker in Atlanta.

All this from the former co-president of Oracle?! At least Phillips is consistent: He and Infor are an unusual example of work/life blend.

And that included the outside activities for Infor's Analyst Day in early April, which I attended.

Luxurious small buses fitted with cushy leather seats and blond wood tables took the 40-plus attendees to the Museum of Modern Art. After the public had been cleared out, young Seven Sister and Ivy League art-history grads led private tours of the empty museum for groups of 15, stopping at five of MOMA's most famous paintings. You'd know them all.

Then a wine hour (including champagne and hors d'oeuvres) and a three-course dinner in a private room in the restaurant with portions so small and so artfully presented, you just know it had to cost a mint!

Phillips table-hopped, and that's when I asked him about the spread collar, but not about his custom-made Italian shoes, whose manufacturing process he detailed. He also talked about his wife and kids.

OK, enough color! I am such a strong believer in sweating all the details in work that I was amazed to see it brought to a level I'd never seen before.

So what's going on with Lawson?

When I last wrote about it a year ago, Lawson was inexplicably at the end of the line to get Infor's flashy new technology: every flavor of SaaS, Infor 10x platform, ION middleware and the new UI.

Now it has it all, according to Infor's general manager for HCM, Tarik Taman. That includes the on-premise Core HR (including Benefits) rewritten in Java and now SaaS applications, the Lawson and Workbrain (now also a SaaS app) integrations, even an "actor" or "person" object added to the HRMS to accommodate contingents. Taman promises a new payroll for next year.

Infor has settled on a "micro-vertical strategy" and Lawson is right in the center of one vertical -- what else? -- healthcare. It had already built a leading position there when still independent and even wrote some custom modules: for instance, nurse scheduling, which Infor will continue to sell despite Workbrain being more generally fully featured for that function.

The reason why is at the heart of Infor's micro-vertical strategy, which also includes fashion, equipment dealers, the public sector and eight others at the moment. The idea is to write the software to solve exactly what the customer's unique problems are.

As Phillips said during his presentation, "Without that, you push complexity onto the customer who has to hire a systems integrator with industry knowledge. We are organized by industry."

This is not an original strategy, but the scope of Infor's plans may make it unique – as well as the number of separate code bases it will need to maintain. It currently goes to market with four core engines (each of which may have micro-verticals), including Lawson and the company's current best-seller, M3, the manufacturing software Lawson acquired with Sweden's Intentia.

The healthcare numbers for Lawson depend on whom you listen to: "3,000 of 5,000 hospitals" or "72 percent of hospitals with more than 150 beds." Two people said the second, so we'll go with that: a lot.

What's important about the healthcare vertical is that it includes more organizations and entities than hospitals: stand-alone emergency rooms, sub-acute care providers (storefront docs and clinics), health-insurance payors and maybe ACA and public health.

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Plus Infor is packaging additional functionality into its "Cloud Suite for Healthcare," including Financials, Supply Chain and what's called a Clinical Bridge. The newly acquired PeopleAnswers, with its trait-based assessments, will be used in healthcare as well as in retail.

Chief Financial Officer Pam Murphy even talked pricing, saying CS Healthcare was on a sliding scale of $40, $30 or $24 per employee per month, the lowest price obviously for the largest organizations. And Infor will offer single- and multi-tenant arrangements, as well as continue to sell on-premise.

Murphy claimed Infor was now competitive with Workday, having "robust" financials, as well as healthcare. Well, everybody claims (or wants) to be competitive with Workday these days, and I haven't seen deep enough or long enough product demos to make that judgment, even on a feature/function basis, forget technology.

With Infor's HR products just getting their new technology last summer, it's hardly fair to talk about new customer numbers. The old ones are pretty substantial: Workbrain with 400 on-prem customers; Lawson with considerably more than 1,000.

On the new version, Infor has 40 Core HCM clients in the cloud. About 80 percent are new; the rest are customers that have migrated. As you may remember, Lawson already had a SaaS talent-management suite, which it offered to on-prem customers in a hybrid fashion, long before Oracle and SAP did, and without making much of a fuss about it.

Obviously, Phillips thinks the company as a whole is going gangbusters, starting with a base of 70,000 customers. He said license revenue was growing 22 percent year over year, and cloud growth was 57 percent. Since he started three years ago, Infor has gathered 7,000 new customers and tripled its multi-product deals.

So it's definitely not your father's Infor. And given Phillips' attention to detail, I'll bet his numbers are right.

HR Technology Columnist Bill Kutik is co-chair emeritus of the 17th Annual HR Technology® Conference & Exposition, returning to Las Vegas, Oct. 8-10, 2014.  You can comment on this column at the Conference LinkedIn Group, which doesn't require prior or future conference attendance to join. He is also host of The Bill Kutik Radio Show®. He can be reached at bkutik@earthlink.net.

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