Infor may not be as well known in the enterprise application market as its competitors Oracle and SAP, but has experienced rapid growth in recent years and is becoming a solid third player by offering loosely-coupled applications at specific, niche micro-vertical industries.

The vendor began to up the ante last year under the guidance of a new CEO, Charles Phillips, who as a former Oracle president, bought a swathe of senior Oracle execs with him to launch Infor10, a new range of enterprise application products, all of which are underpinned by a new middleware platform, ION.

ION, which stands for an intelligent open network, operates as an open standards middleware platform that aims to make the integration of disparate Infor and third-party applications easy for enterprises.

Duncan Angove, an Infor president, explains to Computerworld UK that Infor is no longer concerned about the competition, and is looking to replicate Apple’s behaviour by focusing on developing unique products that defy market downturns.

“We try not to worry too much about the competition – I don’t think Apple looks over its shoulder too often,” says Angove.

“Everybody is worried about the macro-economic environment, but this hasn’t slowed down Apple’s numbers, which shows if you build great products and look after customers, the rest takes care of itself.”

Much of Infor’s confidence comes from the release of ION, which it sees as core to its strategy going forward, as it will underpin all future products. As of May, at the end of Infor’s financial year, ION was not only the fastest growing solution across its product portfolio, but the fastest growing product in the company's history.

Infor believes the middleware product’s success is due to its ‘lightweight’ attributes, where it doesn’t accept business transactions in their native formats, but instead is based on Extensible Markup Language (XML), which is a document standard that has defined business transactions. ION’s standards-based approach therefore allows companies to integrate applications by simply exchanging these XML documents.

One of the benefits of standards based around loosely-coupled applications, as Angove points out, is that upgrades are smoother than traditional application architectures, which, he says, usually cause “everything to break”.

“It’s funny, when we embarked on building ION it wasn’t because we wanted to go and build a multi-billion dollar middleware business – we are an industry applications company. The irony is that we have pitched ION to people with all the message that it’s standards based, it’s loosely coupled, it’s lightweight – and that seems to have resonated with people,” says Angove.

“ION is beginning to contribute revenue in its own right. However, it is essentially an enabler; it allows customers to buy more than one product easily. It is the core platform that underpins what we are doing.”

He adds: “The surprise to us though was that people are now looking to standardise on it as well because they like the architecture.”

However, Infor is beginning to realise that for its legacy customers that don’t yet want to upgrade to Infor10, but would like to take advantage of some of the benefits ION brings, it is important to make the middleware platform compatible with older releases.

Angove explains: “What we are doing is taking ION and backward enabling it to all of our major releases where we have customers. What that will allow people to do is surround their current version with all these edge applications that support social, mobile or analytics.

“So, as a customer, you have two choices. You can decide to upgrade the core because you see functional value in doing that, or you can add all of the edge applications to create value around your current core. You can also do the latter with the comfort of knowing that when you do upgrade your core, none of those integrations will break.”

Infor currently has over two million end users operating in the public cloud today, a figure that it is keen to increase further. It plans to do this by allowing customers to easily transition between public cloud and on-premise, and by allowing users to have on-premise applications connected to those in the cloud through ION.

“We want to give customers the choice over how they deploy their applications. We want to give them the flexibility to change deployment models over the lifecycle of an application – this means that they can start the implementation in the public cloud and then when they get to production, if they want to, they can provision that to an on-premise server and reap the benefits of virtualisation,” says Angove.

Customers can also start on-premise and move to the public cloud if they choose. Angove insists that they have complete flexibility, which he hopes will drive cloud adoption.

He adds: “We also have hybrid deployment models. For example, customers that are running a manufacturing ERP on-premise, but also have an enterprise asset management solution running in the cloud, ION will integrate the two.”

“ION is multi-tenant aware, so if you are integrating an on-premise application to a multi-tenant cloud, it knows the tenant to integrate to and it manages all the security.”

Angove tells Computerworld UK that Infor will continue to expand its business at a micro-vertical level, rather than search for new industries to enter. Infor currently operates in 13 broad industries, such as aerospace, manufacturing, healthcare, public sector, and fashion. However, within these, its applications are specific to a number of ‘micro-verticals’, such as dairy, which comes under the food and beverage industry.

He says: “Food isn’t really a whole industry. We like to take it down to the micro-vertical level because the needs of a bakery are dramatically different to the needs of a butcher or a fast moving consumer goods company.”

“We have a big enough opportunity to expand in the industries we are already focused on. We look at expansion in two ways. Firstly, we want to get deeper, broader and stronger in these micro-vertical industries,” he adds.

“However, we also have a portfolio of best of breed applications that play across industries, such as enterprise asset management, CRM, human capital management and financials. We prefer to internally develop these, but if we find something that’s interesting that’s common across our customers, we will go and acquire it.”