8 Questions with Infor's Bruce Richardson

From rock star analyst to chief strategy officer for ERP vendor Infor, Bruce Richardson's had quite a ride this year. He recently gave CIO.com's Thomas Wailgum a peek at what Infor has up its sleeve next.

In the world of enterprise software, there are but a handful of "rock star" analysts who cover the industry well, say provocative things about tech vendors, and somehow manage to speak their minds without offending all of the warring factions in the software marketplace.

Bruce Richardson Infor
Infor's Bruce Richardson. Credit: Infor

For the better part of several decades, Bruce Richardson was one of those star analysts. At AMR Research he had the prominence, impact and consistency of, say, the Rolling Stones. He was an AMR lifer. "I had no interest in leaving," he says. But when Gartner acquired AMR in December 2009 for $64 million, Richardson's days were numbered. In short, he says, he didn't fit the Gartner mold.

Richardson soon announced a new job at ERP vendor Infor, as its chief strategy officer—a curious choice to some who knew him. His arrival has been a significant piece of Infor's re-branding efforts to become a much more visible player in the business software marketspace. Infor is perhaps known more for its acquisitive nature rather than its core software. At approximately $2 billion in annual revenues and with 70,000 customers, Infor sits atop the pack of ERP vendors looking up at SAP and Oracle.

CIO.com Senior Editor Thomas Wailgum recently caught up with Richardson and talked about his new gig, ERP M&A, and what Infor customers think about cloud computing. It should be noted that Richardson is still a rock star, but he's singing a less independent tune than he has in the past: In conversation, his "I" has turned to a "we" (and he's not referring to his old AMR pal Jim Shepherd).

1. CIO.com: So what does a chief strategy officer of a business software vendor actually do?

Bruce Richardson: On my second day, [Chairman and CEO] Jim [Schaper] came into my office with a list of five things to work on: 1. A new product that we're going to introduce at the end of year—a whole new set of financials. 2. Defining the cloud strategy, what we'll be announcing in June. 3. Our user experience and how we are updating it. 4. Work on some acquisitions. 5. If we should rule out a potential acquisition that he was questioning at the time.

One thing most surprising about working inside the software industry rather than covering it from the outside is the amount of companies that are potentially in play.... Another is the amount of SaaS companies that are also for sale. You think of that as the golden part of the market: Everyone's moving to SaaS or the cloud. What you forget is that a lot of those companies were started in 2000 to 2001, and the [venture] funding is at the end of its expected life. The investors are looking for liquidity. I've gotten a little smarter about things like that.

2. CIO.com: What specific things would Infor look for in a potential acquiree today?

Richardson: In the past, most of what we looked for has not been to fill product gaps. We're kind of like Staples: "Yeah, we got that." We tend to look at things on whether it can be accretive and whether we can grow it to become part of our product mix.

That said, we are very interested in the cloud space and what can become complimentary. We don't really have a full CRM suite, so we are interested in that space. There are opportunities in the supply chain market. We see the PLM market as red hot. And social networking: We haven't announced much about what we are doing, but that's something that we watch very closely,

3. CIO.com: Have you discovered any kind of customer trends that you didn't really see before you joined Infor?

Richardson: We are going to see some churn in the ERP space, when [companies] move from systems they bought in the 1990s. I'm pretty optimistic that 2010 and 2011 are going to be great years for ERP when people finally say: "We've been running this old system, and I need something that's going to make me a lot more competitive." That's why we've been investing in cloud as a deployment, mobility as an option as well. And improving the whole user experience.

We're spending a lot of time on how do we cut down the cost of upgrade and the time to do that: How do we make stuff easier to use? How do we increase [user] penetration inside companies? For instance, in the old days when you sold an ERP system, probably between 10 percent to 20 percent of the organization actually had a reason to touch it. With some of the new tools we're working on, I think that number can get much higher, like 30 percent to 40 percent.

1 2 Page 1
Page 1 of 2
NEW! Download the Fall 2018 digital issue of CIO