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NRF 2016 Interviews: Infor

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In the fifth of our exclusive interviews from January’s NRF show in New York City, Kilara Le, caught up with Infor’s Corey Tollefson, SVP and GM Retail & Fashion, and Robert ‘Bob’ McKee, Senior Product Director, Global Fashion Industry SME. The trio discussed the reinvention of Infor in recent years, the acquisition of GT Nexus, and a recent investment in Predictix amongst other topics.

Kilara Le: So, Infor has made some significant changes in the company in the last couple of years. Can you tell our readers more about that?

Corey Tollefson (pictured above): Yes, prior to Charles Phillips, CEO, coming over there were was a period of vendor consolidation and Infor, Oracle, and SAP were leading in those efforts. Then, in 2010, Charles came here with an executive team that created the global business unit strategy at Oracle.   They have since reinvented Infor by putting $2.7 billion worth of R&D into the product set in the past 5 years.   The design principles from 2010 still apply: modern technologies, embedded science, vertical solutions with a beautiful user experience.

KL: So how does Infor differentiate itself now, post-reinvention?

CT: Currently, Infor is the 3rd largest business applications company in the world. So what does that mean? It means that we don’t focus on technology, we don’t focus on database, or middleware, or hardware.   Our passion is to solve the most complex business challenges that our customers have. We are predominantly industry based. We have 5 major industry verticals of which retail is one of the fastest growing, not only within Infor but we believe, in the industry.

We deliver $3 billion in revenue and have 73,000 customers globally, with $100 billion worth of transactions on our commerce cloud.  We made an acquisition of GT Nexus 6 months ago which is strategic for us as we are building all of our applications on top of its network.

Why is that important? Well, today there are a lot of integration issues in the market where, for example, a retailer might be trying to share information with their wholesalers and brand manufacturers and there’s often an integration issue. We’ve researched transactions surrounding a purchase order or sales order and there are, on average, 10-12 changes with any order. Typically, this requires me calling up ‘Bob’ (Robert ‘Bob’ McKee) and telling him I need to change this or he telling me he’ll kick off some kind of EDI transaction.  The analogy we use about the GT Nexus platform is that it’s almost like using LinkedIn as opposed to email. So if I change my home address and I want you all to know that, I’ll create and publish it, with you subscribing to that content as opposed to me updating everyone via individual email, praying I don’t leave anyone out of the loop! So, the way we see it: we are creating a more seamless experience between a retailer and brand manufacturers.

KL: So, you are literally moving your products on top of GT Nexus’ commerce platform?

CT: Well we are certainly building the net new applications on top of the network and there are ways that we will integrate other solutions into the network. The key is the network and that all of our product will utilize it.

KL: So this is a network, not a platform?

CT: Yes, it’s an open cloud-based network, not a proprietary platform based on proprietary hardware and engineered stacks. Most retail customers today don’t want to have to purchase this type of thing; they just want business applications that work and they want everything that doesn’t add value to seamlessly go away. They don’t want to pay for it.  So our platform is built on AWS, which is Amazon, our public cloud provider. That’s our platform, but as part of that we built our platform on top of the network of GT Nexus, our commerce cloud.  We have 25,000 suppliers in it, and 30 different banks. The suppliers really want to be on the network because it means they get paid faster and in the currency they want to be paid in.

KL: Another trend we’re seeing is the increased marketing of cloud PLM solutions. Can you share with us some information on your specific cloud offering(s)?

Bob McKee: Product and client requirements determine who will move design and development to the cloud – and at what pace.  PLM Accelerate, our offering for discrete products, is completely cloud enabled. Our PLM for Fashion is offered as an option in CloudSuite fashion and is in redevelopment for Cloud 3.0, as is PLM Optiva, which is used by personal care and fragrance companies.

KL: What are you seeing trending at NRF this year compared to previous years? And what’s different with Infor this year?

BM: The 2016 show in general has a much greater emphasis on visual and virtual together. In terms of Infor, this current team has reinvented Retail software a few times already (i.e. Retek and Oracle) but this time is different because we’re architecting on open-source and designing for constant expansion and evolution. In other words, it is built for change. In our own offerings we have invested in beautiful and meaningful user experience. For us, it’s about making ‘work’ better, easier and more productive. Existing leading solutions haven’t changed in 20 years and users demand a user experience in keeping with the best consumer-grade apps.

CT: So, we really do have the ‘dream team’ here. It may be a bit of a presumptuous name but the reality is we have a lot of really passionate people who have been coming over here from big retailers, brands, technology companies and applied research.  We don’t want to just create products in a vacuum where we believe we know everything about retail, so you’ll hear the term co-innovation a lot in our company. We work with brands and retailers to co-innovate together and we also take thought leadership out of the industry.

We work with 1700 retail customers such as, Neiman Marcus, Whole Foods, Starbucks, Williams Sonoma, and Walgreens. On the fashion side we have an amazing selection of fashion retailers, such as Hermès, Christian Dior Couture, Christian Louboutin, and Arran Williams.

We cover financial planning, budgeting, reconciliation, and human capital management (HCM) from HR payroll all the way to talent science. Companies like Macy’s have re-architected their entire hiring process around our talent science solution. Enterprise asset management covers facilities, customer management, PLM, supply chain execution and planning. I think that what you’ll see over time is that planning and PLM will become more converged, especially with our investment in Predictix (that was just announced).

KL: Tell me more about what you think this latest investment means for your PLM solutions.

CT: I think we can all agree that assortment planning is the intersection where supply and the customer experience come together – the moment of truth – and if the assortment is there then they will buy it. We think that the investment we made in Predictix is the right one. They have cracked that nut. Target is running a lot of their softline goods on top of their assortment planning and they went live within 8 weeks. So from contract to going live, it’s a short space of time.

BM: We’re excited about this investment in Predictix and think that it will fill that void we had in planning.

CT: Now Predictix customers, aside from being happy with their current solution, are really excited about what we at Infor will bring to the table for their companies.

KL: With regards to extending PLM, are you doing anything else in terms of new process adoption around the retail consumer experience?

BM: Infor ION technology enables PLM to integrate to other applications. This could include CRM packages as well as take advantage of any 3D renderings and/or imagery applications.  We cannot share too many specifics at this time.

As we move forward in our retail focus – we have to look at the question of the IoT. All this will come into play with the retail consumer experience including the Omni channel commerce experience will have to include 3D, along with things like virtual made to measure and so on. We expect to make major strides in those areas in the future – you’ll have to wait and see. 

KL: You mentioned user experience earlier and the importance that plays internally now. What do you want our readers to know about that?

BM: Our PLM experience has the first input by Hook and Loop; it’s the Soho PLM experience baked into that from the beginning.

CT: Hook and Loop is our in house design agency. They started off with 5 people a couple of years ago and now it’s a couple of hundred. It’s transformed the DNA of this company. One of the first things that brands and retailers say when they first meet with us is “can you please make the software usable because nobody uses it today”, which is actually pretty sad. This is the only industry where for the past 25 years nothing worked right out of the gate, which is the whole reason why we are shifting from proprietary engineered stacks to cloud, social and mobile to provide experiences worth using for our customers.

When we partner, to use Whole Foods as an example, we are doing end-user centric design in Tribeca and the Union Square location to develop and then work everything back into the product lifecycle and develop the code that way.   We don’t write a single line of code until the user experience has been defined and agreed to by the people the matter the most: the users.

As compared to traditional legacy vendors, an existing user consortium puts their requirements together and everything gets whittled down to the top 1,000 requirements and maybe the top 100 or 50 make it in. Then the software requirements are sent offshore to be developed by someone who had nothing to do with the requirements process, and then they slap a user interface on top of it with little to any market validation of how a customer may actually need to use the software.   We offer a stark contrast to that scenario.

KL: Can we circle back to that idea of mobile as part of usability?

BM: We have developed a few Fashion mobile apps for Fashion PLM, and PLM Accelerate is ready for any mobile device from viewing to task management. We also work with partners in the development of apps as opportunities present themselves. Big picture: social and mobile are pillars of the Infor development philosophy and we will be creating more ‘purpose built’ apps for the retail and fashion retail communities.

KL: What else are you working on, that hasn’t been mentioned, that we should know about?

CT: Going back to our philosophy pillars, the second pillar is powered by data science, something everyone you meet today will tell you they have – scientists. But the reality is we are not just doing science projects, we are taking some of their algorithms and reinventing them back into a product. So when people think of science you can always say that you want this to be a smarter algorithm, but the reality is science makes design better. For example, 7 months ago, it took 88 screens to set up an item; we took data science and asked how do we cut this down to 3-5 screens and automatically populate the information that a retailer might need. That’s one way of using science, and people also think of analytics and making reports, but we use science to enhance the user experience.

BM: Dynamic Science Labs is Infor’s data-minded think tank helping make retail more powerful, more accessible, and more insightful than it’s ever been before. With its focus on predictive (not just reactive) analytics, machine learning, and big data usability, it’s the perfect foundation for a truly futuristic retail platform.

CT: The market has asked us to reinvent the relationship between retailer, brand and vendor. It got to a point in the industry where the heavyweights treated their customers just like a number.  For example, we have one client executive that acts as a conduit for sales, consulting delivery, product strategy, and R&D.  It’s a single point of contact and accountability. This may seem like a small win but in an industry in which 8-12 reps per legacy vendor are calling on a customer is huge to them.

We want to deliver quickly- we will look at how we want to architect a 5-year roadmap that delivers value in 3-6 month increments; a self-funding type of proposition.   We can provide this quick value because we have spent so much money on R&D into the cloud over the past 5 years.  Customers are taking advantage of that innovation and spend.

And lastly, co-innovation is our methodology of taking market centric business processes and working with retailers and brands to drive value quicker and in a more modern manner.  Everyone thinks our number one competitor is an Oracle or an SAP or IBM, but it’s not. Our number one competitor is Excel Worksheets and if we can co-innovate with some of our retailers and brands by providing a Facebook, Uber, or Netflix-like user-experience, we will end the tyranny of our customers’ dependence on Excel.

Design thinking is not easy.  Our Retail team shares more DNA with the likes of modern application companies like Netflix, Uber, Facebook, and Tesla than the likes of traditional on-premise providers in the marketplace.  What do I mean by that?  Our solutions are built in the 21st century for the cloud; using an open API layer and leveraging open source technologies that foster collaboration between systems like the aforementioned.

Although we embrace our experience from the past, we are more excited about the future and where Infor is headed.  We are super excited.

Check back soon for the final interviews in this series. 

Lydia Mageean Lydia Mageean has been part of the WhichPLM team for over six years now. She has a creative and media background, and is responsible for maintaining and updating our website content, liaising with advertisers, working on special projects like the Annual Review, and more.Joining mid-2013 as our Online Editor, she has since become WhichPLM’s Editor. In addition to taking on writing and interviewing responsibilities, Lydia has also become the primary point of contact for news, events, features and other aspects of our ever-growing online content library and tools.