Tech industry is not immune to economic conditions

Written by Sudhir Chowdhary | Updated: Oct 7 2013, 17:02pm hrs
Product management is a critical, strategic role in a technology company. Soma Somasundaram might be the top R&D executive at the $2.7-billion, New York-based enterprise software maker Infor, but he truly knows the voice of the customer. People want vanilla software that fits their purpose. They dont want to customise. Also, user experience has to be great, he says. As the companys executive vice-president, product strategy and R&D, Somasundaram defines Infors technology strategy and manages the design and rollout of the companys full suite of business applications. He also makes sure that Infors technology platform creates the seamless connections between all applications that give customers flexibility. Somasundaram has 30 years of experience in enterprise resource planning, supply chain, and financial applications. He has been with Infor from the start and has continually applied his comprehensive understanding of the IT industry to play an integral role in the growth and development of Infor, which also owns Baan ERP software. In an interview with Sudhir Chowdhary, he gives an overall perspective on the companys business strategy and focus areas. Excerpts:

A grim economy means a slow rate of technology spending. Dont you feel technology can solve some business problems and make employees efficient

Absolutely. Just with any other industry, technology industry is not immune to the economic conditions as well. Having said that, I think sometimes when you have a crisis, technology is an enabler to actually solve some issues, automating processes or getting better information for faster decision making, making information available for workers on the go, on mobile devices. In some ways, I think for certain parts of technology business this could be an opportune time to actually double down and grow.

Do you expect Indias IT services sector to continue to show the strong growth it has shown in last decade

Over the last 15-20 years, there is a pool of the IT industry that has matured in India. That creates what I would call a moat, it is hard to break that and somebody else to take a leap frog and go ahead of the skill set and maturity of the market that has been built in years. So I think IT services will continue to grow here.

You have been with Infor since its inception. Tell us something about the company.

Brand name recognition is our single biggest problem. Infor started in 2002 and I came through the very first acquisition that started Infor. If we look at why Infor came into existence what with the Y2K time-frames, 2001 after 9/11, the ERP market was basically in a deep freeze. Golden Gate Capital, which still is the majority stakeholder in the company saw this as an opportunity to start consolidating the market. They figured that there was not going to be enough room for all these players in the market. There are already two big playersSAP and Oracle. Why cant we create the third alternative, that was the thought with which the company started.

So we started acquiring (52 till date) companies again. There was a method to the madness. They were niche providers who solved the specific problems better than anyone else. Thats the kind of asset we kept on buying. Over the first seven years or so, it was more about getting the right assets in place, getting our back office to scale and getting new companies into the Infor fold quicker. Thats the kind of focus we had.

By the third quarter of 2009, we began to come out of the financial crisis and the Golden Gate Capital saw that we need to pivot the companys focus on products. Thats when we got Charles Phillips on board as the CEO. He is a computer sciences graduate and he brought a team of people who started to pivot the company on product and engineering excellence and turn the company from a consolidated set of assets to a unified micro vertical suite provider for select micro verticals that we excel in. Thats how the company transformed over these last few years.

What are the opportunities that you see in the Indian market

The Indian market has a very significant mid-market manufacturing and distribution base. I think that the Indian market has really taken off in the cloud. In the mid-market space, there isnt a solution that is really function fit for a segment of the market; that can be deployed in the cloud; but not be shallow in its functionality and making that available for the organisations that dont have core skill sets in IT.

I personally see this as a huge market to tap. We have the right solutions and we are investing heavily in cloud. We have a great solution that large companies here have deployedGodrej & Boyce, L&T and companies of that stature. We have solutions for all of the segments of manufacturing except continuous process.

In your view, what are the key drivers of the adoption of cloud computing

Number one is majority of the organisations, if you start to segment the top end versus the mid-market and then the lower-end of the market. There is a disproportionate high number of organisations that fall under mid-market and lower-end of the market. Clearly those companies dont have IT as a core competence. They will have one or two people in their organisation doing IT. So essentially they dont have the wherewithal to bring a solution that a larger organisation is capable of deploying without losing the functional features they need to run their business. Hence the logical choice is to move to the cloud. People want vanilla software that fits their purpose. They dont want to customise. And that is what is kind of driving the movement towards cloud.

Talk to us about some other key technology trends and how Infor is aligned with them to address the requirements of the industry

One thing I would say is that we are investing heavily in the user experience. Traditionally 30 years ago when I started my first job in software industry, it was mainframe computers and mini computers that were coming to the market. People were not seen carrying laptops or tablets in their hands. So clearly computer systems were used to capture data and used for reporting.

Now the industry is shifting and people have portable devices with them. The difference is that the people who actually entered the information back in the days were not the people who made the decisions. Somebody else made the decisions. Whereas now, if I am a sales representative in front of a customer and I am making a deal with this customer, I have something in my hand which gives me information about this customer. I can actually transact business without having to fill out an order form and send to my backend office. So user experience has to be completely rethought.

Tech majors have a big R&D presence in India. What kind of work is being done out of Infors R&D centres in India

Infor completely recognises the potential and scope for enterprise applications in growing markets, especially with its micro-vertical focused approach to provide solutions to best fit the requirements of different sectors. Research and development (R&D) is at the heart of our continued successes as we believe constant innovation of products is truly the need of the hour. This is why Infor invests $350 million annually on the R&D of products, as we closely watch and understand the most pressing needs of our customers.

To cater to the R&D needs, we have developed a design team at our new head office in New York City, so that they can work directly with the team here. India being one of the most focused markets contributing to the growth of Infor, we have our largest R&D centre located in Hyderabad. The India centre currently has over 1,000 employees that includes R&D services and support, who understand the market and help introduce newer innovative solutions to the success of the company. One of the significant developments includes over 10 million hours of engineering went into creating Infor 10xthe new suite which marks a major step forward in achieving the companys vision, uniting a multi-purpose middleware platform featuring social, mobile, analytical and cloud capabilities.