Infor firmly focused on wholesale distribution market
BY MARY JO MARTIN
Over the past two years, global software provider Infor has experienced sustained growth with sales now at $2.8 billion annually. The distribution business unit within Infor has actually experienced 100% growth over the past two years and much of that success can be credited to the organization’s renewed focus on the wholesale market. One of the ways that Infor is building relationships in the wholesaling segment is by holding executive forums for various vertical markets. They use a facilitator — Brown Smith Wallace Consulting Group (BSW) — and concentrate discussion on market dynamics rather than products.
The forums spur talk of what is changing within wholesalers’ markets, where they are going collectively over the coming years and then looks at ways in which Infor can help them navigate those challenges and opportunities. Through these forums, Infor has learned that many wholesalers use a mix of different software releases – going back up to 10 years in various versions — and they encourage users to do more frequent upgrades to maximize their use of all functions.
Recently Andy Berry, VP and GM of the global distribution business unit spoke with me about Infor’s latest software developments and the ways the company is supporting its users.
MJM: Andy, could you start out by sharing a little about your background and what led you to join Infor?
Berry: I have a computer science degree from East Carolina and come from a technical background in the truest sense. I was a programmer for many years, focused on distribution and transportation supply chain processes and solutions. I moved on to product and program management in the US and Europe and ran a small operation in Europe. In 2003, I went into sales and then sales management. I wanted to apply what I learned from working directly with customers on value based solutions to a team that could scale that value across a broader group of customers and prospective customers.
I joined Infor in June 2010, having been attracted by their great products and people. I had competed against Infor before I joined when I was working at another wholesale solutions company IBS. I could see a great customer base but limited relationships. This was a perfect opportunity to refocus the Infor team around very basic principles of speaking with customers often, understanding what they want from a trusted partner, and turning those needs into solutions. Infor provided me all the resources I needed to do just that.
MJM: How would you describe Infor, its products and services in a nutshell?
Berry: We know that distribution isn’t like any other industry, and that you can’t meet the unique needs of distribution with generic software, so we’ve created solutions designed to meet distributors’ specific needs.
Our software has all the capabilities already built in, which means faster deployments and fewer modifications, along with handling upgrades faster as well. All of this means that distributors can more quickly adapt their processes to meet changes in the market.
We have several solutions for distribution:
• Infor Distribution FACTS solution is ideal for small- and mid-size wholesalers that want to focus on core business processes. FACTS helps distributors respond to constant change, deal with increasing volume and meet customers’ needs. It also guides distributors as they expand into new services, get into e-commerce and transition through acquisitions.
• Infor Distribution A+ is specifically designed to help distributors run an efficient, end-to-to-end operation. It gives them flexibility to cope with changing requirements and the ability to create new services that increase revenue. It also helps distributors improve customer service forecast demand better, eliminate manual processing and reduce training.
• Infor Distribution SX.e combines power, control and convenience to help distributors of all types run an efficient, end-to-end operation. It is designed to manage thousands of transactions, track tens of thousands of line items and keep tabs on thousands of suppliers and customers.
• Infor M3 for Distribution is uniquely suited for large distribution businesses with integrated and scalable global requirements. It is designed to optimize the core functions of the distribution business while enabling flexibility to adapt to changing market demands and levels of service.
MJM: Can you share a little more about the range of functions that they can manage?
Berry: First would be Order Entry. We make it robust and simple at same time. First, let’s look at from the typical order entry person’s view. We give them the ability from one screen to take orders on a number of products they might source from different warehouse locations, or drop ship from one of their usual suppliers, all with various pricing needs. From one screen, you can place an order no matter the complexity. We’ve put a great deal of our energy into making Order Entry more simple and easy to use.
We’ve also put a lot of focus on E-commerce, with a process that resembles a Web-based, Amazon-type environment. People today expect to see graphics, be able to rotate the product, and see lots of information like they are used to from retail shopping.
On the back end of that, we put a lot of focus on Purchasing. What are proper inventory levels to keep? Distributors don’t want to have too many dollars sitting on the shelf, but they also don’t want to lose an order because they are out of stock. Managing purchasing requires a lot of expertise.
And finally, Mobility. We enable the sales team to be more productive without having to hire more salespeople. Much of this market still takes orders on paper in the field. So how can you get those same salespeople to walk in the door and have all their info at their fingertips on a mobile device? We are making sure our customers have the aps they need to be more profitable. We look at all the opportunities possible for a distributor to raise revenue and margin of business without adding cost to the transaction. Overall, the dynamics are shifting. Integrated supply and e-commerce are very hot right now. Customers are using the Internet to learn more about products and want information — even if they aren’t actually purchasing online.
MJM: Are there certain characteristics/profiles of customers that you find match your systems’ capabilities?
Berry: Our customer base crosses the entire spectrum. We have very strong channel partners and those businesses are sometimes best suited to support companies in the small-to mid-size range. We primarily target the mid-to-upper end of wholesale market. Our consulting and product heritage is at distributors with 50 users and above. The ideal spot for us is 200 to 2,000 users. To bring live an environment that has that many branches requires a lot of expertise. We specialize in serving very complex distribution and hybrid environments with a lot of branches, which perhaps run different business models in each branch.
MJM: Why is now an ideal time to invest in software, even though many of our readers’ businesses are down because of the economy?
Berry: The market has stabilized. If you look the micro-vertical markets we serve, some are actually in high growth mode like Electrical and Industrial distribution. Investing in new software gives our customers’ confidence in making their operations more profitable. Companies are doing their best to streamline operations and make technology work for them. If they look at a technology spend of $100K, or adding a person that costs the same, they’re leaning toward new technology.
MJM: What type of personal support does Infor extend to its customers during set up, installation and follow up or troubleshooting?
Berry: We have a consulting organization and a support organization.
From an implementation standpoint, our consulting group works with the sales team from day 1. They have an extremely strong and repeatable implementation model with a proven track record for successful on-time, on-budget projects. We work closely with customers on risk factors from the very beginning to define what we do if things happen. We ensure any ‘scope creep’ is managed up front.
We are also very proud of our award-winning support team. I often receive thank you emails from customers who are impressed with that team’s commitment and expertise. They are very engaged and understand the business environment. Many of our support staff are promoted into consulting, and vice versa. They all work very well together. We are hiring in every one of those areas. We are growing our team at least 10% a year, if not more.
MJM: What is next on the agenda at Infor?
Berry: We are really doubling down on our distribution industry focus. I’ve been given more development, sales, consulting, and support resources to advance our position within the distribution market.
If you look at what is new from a product perspective, I would say that almost everything new revolves around mobility, eCommerce, and Business Intelligence. We are helping our customers answer questions like: How do customers shop with us in advance of a purchase? How can my sales team understand buying patterns and sell more at a higher margin? What do customers expect from an online shopping experience? We’re providing real time value across multiple systems for our customers.