Lawson Unveils New Software, as Infor’s Offer Looms
April 12, 2011 Alex Woodie
Despite the unsolicited offer from Infor that’s looming over the heads of the company and its customers, Lawson Software tried its best to have a normal user conference last week in Boston, Massachusetts. Lawson responded to the challenge in the same way that many software companies would: it introduced new software and services, including an application marketplace, a new business intelligence tool, and the new tool for creating composite applications without coding.
Lawson CEO Harry Debes did his best to break the ice during his keynote speech that kicked off CUE 2011 last Monday. The executive flashed a picture of an elephant on the overhead projector. “No, it’s not another picture of me,” he said. Nobody needed to be told that the elephant in the room was Infor and the unsolicited bid that it made to purchase Lawson for $11.25 per share. Debes jokingly blamed the spectacle on media speculation … and a leak by WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange.
Next, out trotted Lawson CFO Stefan Schulz, who was dressed as Sergeant Schultz from the 40-year-old “Hogan’s Heroes” television series. Sergeant Schultz, you will recall, was the German prison guard who was famous for his refrain, “I know nothing!” as Colonel Hogan and other Allied prisoners did as they please. And so CFO Schulz would reveal nothing during his Q&A with Debes on the topic of Infor. “If I did know something, I wouldn’t even tell myself,” the CFO Schulz joked.
But seriously folks, as a public company, Lawson takes the matter of an unsolicited bid very seriously, Debes told the audience. (In fact, the company takes the matter so seriously that it recently cut short its quarterly conference call so that it didn’t have to face tough questions about Lawson’s response to the Infor bid from the press and industry analysts. But the stage on CUE is a much friendlier place, with fewer opportunities to face needling questions).
Debes went on:
“So here’s what we can say at this time. First, the Lawson company has been around for 36 years. Over that time, we’ve been periodically the subject of takeover rumors. They come and they go all the time. And as outlined in our press release of March 11, we did receive an unsolicited proposal and we began discussion with Infor and Golden Gate about that proposal.
“Now our board of directors has a fiduciary obligation to consider the offer against Lawson’s other available options–one of them, by the way, is to remain independent. And that’s exactly what we’re doing right now with the help of our financial advisors. In the meantime, we remain totally focused on serving our customers and delivering on our commitment.
“So this process will take a couple more weeks. And once it’s completed we will update you will all the other details. In the meantime, that shouldn’t distract us from all the great things that are happening right here at CUE for the next couple of days. So we really do appreciate your patience as we work through this.”
While the Infor bid was an unwanted distraction at CUE 2011, Lawson did its best to divert attendees’ attention from unanswered questions about the future of the Lawson company, its employees, and products with lots of educational events, speeches, a product expo, social mixers, and several brand new products.
Shiny New Products!
At the top of the new product list is the Lawson Marketplace, a new Web service where Lawson customers, including M3 and S3 users, can download add-on items that can “help boost user productivity and efficiency.” The apps are developed by Lawson and business partners, and can be purchased by a credit card.
Think of Lawson Marketplace “in terms of the consumer-oriented online application stores that we’ve all become accustomed to using,” says Lawson product director Matthew Allbee. (So, if there were an enterprise version of “Angry Birds” available on the Lawson Marketplace, would it star an avian version of Lars Lawson who’s seeking to topple the House of Big ERP that pigs are building?)
The new app store, which can be accessed at the www.mylawson.com website, has more than 180 products that Lawson customers can download and use with little to no modification. This is in contrast to other app stores offered by enterprise software companies, which are “essentially online brochures that send the user to a sales person to begin a lengthy sales process,” Allbee says.
Lawson also launched a new business intelligence tool called Lawson ViewPoint. The software is designed to help users customize the look and feel of their dashboards. For example, if a user prefers to view data as bar charts over pie graphs, ViewPoint helps to ensure that data is consistently presented that way to the user.
ViewPoint is based on Microsoft SQL Server Analysis Services, and works in conjunction with Lawson’s existing Business Intelligence offering (which is in part based on SAP‘s Business Objects software) and is a component of the Smart Office user environment, which is largely based on Microsoft Office technology. The new ViewPoint app is only application available to S3 customers at this time. And while Lawson says ViewPoint can work with non-Infor ERP systems, there is no word on whether it can work with M3.
Lawson also announced the Mashup Designer, a new tool that Lawson customers can use to build their own composite applications, without programming. The offering, which is a new feature in Smart Office, allows users to create “mini applications” from existing data sources, on-screen views, and business intelligence reports. Currently, the software only supports M3, but support for S3 is due in May. Outside data is also supported in Mashup Designer, Lawson says.
“By combining forms, process flows, data views, reports, and business intelligence content into a single user-created application, we’re now offering a new level of user customization,” Allbee says.
Last but not least, Lawson launched Analytics for Healthcare, which will be available next month.
While the prospect of a possible bidding war has made Lawson customers uncertain over the future of their ERP vendor, it has had a positive effect on Lawson’s share price, and helped drive the software firm’s stock price to a new nine-year high. Lawson’s stock is currently trading in the $12.30 range, well off its November 2008 low of $2.99. In fact, the stock hasn’t traded this high since the months following Lawson’s December 2001 IPO. The company is valued at a hair over $2 billion by Wall Street.
Despite the prospect of a major payday for Lawson shareholders (and activist investor Carl Ichan, who owns 8.5 percent of Lawson) if the company is sold, not everybody is happy with the current state of things. Half a dozen law firms have announced investigations of Lawson’s board for a potential breach of fiduciary duty related to Infor’s unsolicited offer of $11.25 per share. They are using the threat of civil lawsuits to push Lawson to thoroughly shop the company around before settling on Infor’s offer.
It is evident that Lawson is under a lot of pressure to make the right decision. As CEO Harry Debes said, rumors are flying that everybody from IBM to SAP to Oracle and Microsoft will make a run at buying the business. Hopefully, the pigs don’t win (see earlier reference to “Angry Birds”), and the well-being of Lawson customers also plays a factor.