The compulsive blogger that I am is going to be quite busy with the dizzying speed of M&A activity in the HR technology space. In a lively LinkedIn discussion (registration is required) it was reported that serial acquirer Infor, which last week bought Lawson, had great plans to consolidate its multiple offerings, maybe à la Oracle Fusion. My first reaction was, “Yeah, right!” since Infor’s business model has never been premised on innovation or consolidation. Just consider the history of its multiple acquisitions:
1. Anael HR: this one is my favorite as it exemplifies the amazing M&A movement in our industry. It was developed (along with a payroll product called Sysper) in the 1980’s by a French company called Presys (itself the resulting merger of two small IT companies) which in turn was bought by UK-based ERP company JBA in the late 1990’s (which also bought a small French HR-cum-payroll vendor called Logi-Soft). Anybody remembers JBA? They were quite big in the 1990’s (I attended their users' conference at their Birmingham, UK, HQ and it was quite impressive) but then they just vanished into thin software air. Then, when the 2000 dotcom bubble burst, JBA was sold to Canadian company GEAC. Anael was an AS/400 offering that targeted construction and staffing companies, although I recall they also had a Windows version that came from the Logi-Soft product. The functional scope was basic HR and payroll, no workflow (at least when I saw it a decade ago), English was limited to payroll and there was no multi-currency (even though it was already part of a global offering!)
2. In 2005, private equity firm Golden Gate Capital bought GEAC and breaking it up moved its ERP products to Infor (one of its companies) which thus found itself with two HR systems : French Anael and Canadian SmartStream. SmartStream had tried to expand in Europe – I remember meeting several of GEAC executives in the late 1990’s/ early 2000’s and they swore to me they were going to take Europe by storm. Well, I guess they found a way around perjury since SmartStream never went “continental.”
3. Infor also has Infinium, a run-of-the-mill self-service offering they sell in the US though I’m not sure what payroll/HR system it runs off of. Maybe the previous, though for the life of me I can’t see US companies running Anael HR which is still part of Infor’s active portfolio.
4. Now, with last week’s acquisition of Lawson, Infor finds itself with three "new" HCM products: Lawson HCM, recently acquired Enwisen and whatever is left of Movex, the Swedish AS/400-based product Lawson had bought several years ago and which was a limited payroll and HR system targeting the retail and manufacturing industries. When I was an analyst/consultant with CXP in the second half of the 1990's both Movex and Anael were demoed to me and, truth be told, I was underwhemed. It does not seem that things have improved markedly since then.
5. In addition to these seven HR products, there may well be other HR products tucked away in the sprawling Infor offering (I think they have a time-tracking system as part of their ERP or manufacturing software.)
It is therefore quite uplifting to hear that, like St. Paul on the road to Damascus, Infor has suddenly seen the light and is planning on bringing about big changes in their offering. This is all the more surprising since, as I described it above, nothing in Infor's record suggests it has ever been interested in innovation or consolidation. Infor, in its business model, is similar to Sage which, in some geographies, has more revenue than giants Oracle and SAP, because it has a multitude of products it sells, often through resellers, to different segments of the mid-market with little product innovation. Investing little in R&D and selling to many makes you profitable. Why would Infor want to change this model and go down an unknown road? Have they stumbled upon a unique vision? I have yet to hear it articulated. Do tigers shed their stripes and sprout feathers? With all the innovation coming only from SaaS and talent management vendors, our industry is in sore need of a next-generation HCM system. Could Infor deliver that? To quote another saint, Thomas this time, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”