Charles Phillips is an industry heavyweight. The Infor CEO was a member of Barack Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board and a hugely successful Wall Street enterprise software analyst for a decade. He discussed the potential of cloud-based ERP and an integrated supply chain with James Dartnell.
How do you perceive the Middle Eastern market; does the US really believe the region is catching up in terms of technology adoption?
I would say it’s progressing faster than the US market, which presents a fantastic opportunity for us. Sometimes it can be a good thing to start off later in terms of technology adoption, as you have clean infrastructure and don’t make the same mistakes of the previous three generations. The region can skip legacy systems which is a bonus. We’re investing in the region and are meeting with a number of customers and investors here.
What importance does the Saudi Arabian market have for you?
We’ve just opened our office in Riyadh which is obviously a big step forward. Now that we’ve learned the market better, we can start to build a team as well as work with partners so that we can accelerate our investment.
Off the back of your GT Nexus acquisition, do you believe that e-commerce in the cloud is the future?
The reality of global commerce is that more and more is being done through value chains of partners, particularly in the US and Asia, so what was once done by one company is now done by a collection of companies. The problem is that things still have to be run as one company in terms of visibility and efficiency. Even small companies are now doing it. This network allows you to be connected to your suppliers, your shippers, ocean carriers and transportation companies so you know where your products are at all times. Once they’re delivered, you have visibility, which produces less inventory, and that saves costs. I need to know when my product is coming. Is it in a distribution centre? When do I pay the supplier? We build collections of companies that are integrated through our network. Very few ERP firms understand the complexity of multi-enterprise ERP. Customers have wanted this for a while, they want to know what generates demand so they can plan ahead. Orders constantly change, so this needs to be communicated between buyers and suppliers, and this network provides that visibility.
Against the backdrop of digital disruption, how do you plan to collaborate with SMBs?
They can receive the sophistication and complexity of our solutions, but without the deployment difficulties. We get most of our enhancements through listening to customers so that’s always key for us. The complexity of small businesses surprises people. They’re going international much quicker than they used to, but don’t have the IT staff. We usually start off with a blank slate to ask them what’s working and what isn’t for them to generate new ideas and business models, and from that comes technology.
What kind of acquisitions will you be looking to make in the near future?
We’re looking for innovators who want to be early adopters and consider advanced concepts before competitors do. The industry is changing, and a lot of larger companies have moved into legacy territory. Scale platforms like Amazon and Google, and technologies like cloud and Hadoop are making things faster and better than what we had before. A lot of newer technologies are cheaper, or free, and architectures will change over the next five years. In terms of the Middle East, it’s about betting on what’s lasting and what’s fading. We don’t own data centres or a database, we run on Amazon and don’t want to make money on infrastructure. That’s the business model of the future, the server-less world.
Will the technology industry change now more than any time over the last 10 years?
It’s accelerating. Newer technologies are now mainstream, and companies are now spending again after the financial crash of 2008. There’s a supercomputer on demand for everybody who wants one, which opens the door to new types of applications and processes. Architectures will change and machine learning opens new opportunities.