Lawson invited a handful of bloggers to their CUE conference. First time they have invited bloggers and they did a nice job and allowed us access to their execs, customers and partners. It was especially thoughtful they did not participate in the customer sessions. Sign of confidence when you let a blogger unfiltered access to your customers.
And the customer feedback was refreshingly positive. In a world where value of enterprise software is increasingly questionable and customers are looking at re-negotiations, SaaS, third party maintenance, open source - anything to reduce their software burden, the Lawson customers I talked to seemed reasonably content. Lawson is showing tangible reduction in time to response and other customer service metrics, and they are offering a premium plan at an additional 2% to allow for more personalized service.
But I walked away with the same question as I do every time I have met with Lawson since I started dealing with them at PwC in early 90s and then at Gartner - what holds them from breaking out? Why do they not aggressively showcase their differences from two application leaders growing in customer unpopularity?
And the answer is functionally in many areas Lawson is not that different. They are in some Intentia focused verticals like Fashion, but in most others they are not substantially so. And they are mired in the same mentality as the leaders: margin at any cost (the lame excuse from one of their executives was "the best thing we can do for our customers is stay healthy". Compared to their fashion and local government customers who survive on much thinner margins/tighter budgets, Lawson looks too healthy - pudgy, in fact). Which means roughly only 5% goes towards new product R&D (more in tweaks and re-platform). Spread that around a growing vertical pallet (Lawson announced a move to organize on vertical lines) and you end up features like Smart Office 3 years after SAP introduced Duet (which I had already called late since it should have come out a decade earlier along with a much earlier version of Excel)
So you have focus verticals like healthcare where the foot print is primarily in administrative areas, when the dollars accelerated by some recent stimulus programs are going into clinical areas where Lawson does not play. As one healthcare customer told us - "I wish maintenance was lower, but even better I would love to see them use my dollars to make acquisitions to expand their foot print". Yes, use that pile of $ 300 million in cash to do so. And by the way, there is no rule book which says you cannot invest 10, 15, 20% of every revenue dollar in new R&D. Get away from the margin at any cost disease which has taken over the leaders.
The other area they behave like the other legacy vendors is their seeming indifference to aggressively managing customer TCO. They talk about the foundation leveraging IBM Websphere when they should be aggressively moving to a much cheaper (to customers) open source platform. When I asked them whether they had looked at integration with Google Apps or Zoho as part of the Office integration the response was "but we are trying to leverage our customer's investment in MS Office". Investment or Microsoft's lock-in? Same thing with hosting and other services around their products.
In that sense, Lawson is exposed compared to the next generation of SaaS vendors or even legacy vendors who start leveraging cloud computing platforms - and whose TCO will make Lawson's look just as bloated as Oracle's or SAP's.
Likable vendor, content customers, good enough technology. Still the "aw-shucks" vendor after all these years...