Infor's Dennis Michalis stopped by my office yesterday for a chat. Dennis is Senior VP, Global Partners, in charge of all of Infor's partners worldwide. Not that my firm is interested in becoming a partner of course (we maintain strict independence from vendors). But he lives down the street here in Orange County, so it was an opportunity to speak with an Infor executive face-to-face.
During the discussion, I pointed out the opportunity that I see for Infor and other vendors to differentiate themselves in terms of value and flexibility in maintenance and support offerings.
Dennis responded that Infor, in fact, has been working to increase the value of its support offerings. He pointed to Infor's quarterly survey of customer satisfaction with its support services that has been showing consistent improvement. In December, Infor won a customer service award
from MarketTools, an online market research company. I normally don't put much stock in such "awards" as I'm never sure of the basis on which they are granted. But let's stipulate for a moment that Infor has in fact been making improvements in the quality of its service and support offerings.
In a time when major players such as SAP and Oracle are charging 22% of license cost
for maintenance programs of dubious value and attempting to stifle third-party maintenance
, now is the time for other vendors to step up and do things differently. Here is where I see the opportunity for Infor to become the "good guys."
- Become known for quality of service and customer satisfaction. It doesn't lend itself to big-splash press releases, but it leads to installed base retention and an annuity business. It also leads to good customer references, which should allow Infor to scoop some new sales around the margins.
- Offer tiered pricing for different levels of service. Some customers want platinum level support, with rapid response help desk access and full rights to future versions. Other customers have highly-modified or very old products. They never use the help desk and don't plan to upgrade. But they would like regulatory updates and access to new products on a selective basis. They only need brass-level support. There are probably two or three other levels of support that should be offered in between. Why force everyone into one level of service as SAP is now attempting to do?
- Have a reasonable accommodation for third-party maintenance. This goes with the tiered pricing. There's no need for a vendor to take every last penny off the table. Some customers may want to buy brass-level service from Infor but contract with a local partner for help desk and contract maintenance. Allow Infor's business partners to be certified to offer such services. The partners provide a local presence, and it gives them another way to make money and keeps them in the Infor fold. It is a win/win/win all the way around.
- Provide SOA capabilities under maintenance at no extra charge. Dennis Howlett wrote about this recently. Infor is in the midst of SOA-enabling many of its products, which should allow piecemeal upgrades of older products and easy integration with Infor's complementary products as well as those of other vendors. If this capability is included for all customers under some level of maintenance it represents a huge potential increase in value for Infor's customers.
All of this is especially valuable to a vendor such as Infor, with a huge installed base of customers on legacy products. Infor's customers are a big target for SAP, Oracle, and other vendors that want to migrate such customers to their own offerings. But installed customers are always looking for reasons not
to migrate. Doing everything possible to make it cost-effective and easy for them to stay put is the key for Infor to retain these customers and keep them on maintenance.
This strategy could be adopted by any enterprise vendor with a significant installed base. I hope many of them will do so.Related postsInfor using SOA to breath new life into old appsInfor chases customer for fees on 20-year old softwareInfor reassures customers of financial viabilityInfor layoffs, Dec. 2008