Lawson Gains Strength in Fashion by Acquiring Freeborders PLM

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When I first learned that Lawson had acquired the product lifecycle management (PLM) software division of Freeborders, the Oracle-Agile acquisition came to mind. Ten months prior to the Lawson-Freeborders deal, Oracle President Charles Phillips said “the addition of Agile, which will serve as the foundation of our PLM offering, will further Oracle's strategy of delivering industry-specific enterprise applications and allows us to offer yet another strategic application to SAP customers.” By completing the acquisition, Oracle was able to jump to 5th  place in 2007 in terms of PLM revenue, according to a report released by CIMdata.

Lawson's Freeborders PLM acquisition sounded similar to me. Firstly, the Lawson Fashion Solution on the enterprise resource planning (ERP) side had some PLM functionality already (e.g., product development functionalities), although the company’s strength lies more in transaction-based systems. Secondly, Freeborders PLM would have a better platform to reach and serve more customers, given the significance of Lawson in the fashion industry. Lastly, Freeborders was willing to sell its PLM division. "The sale of the PLM software division allows Freeborders to focus on its outsourcing business as a pure play operation", said a Freeborders press release. The Lawson-Freeborders PLM acquisition is just further evidence that ERP vendors are moving to vertical dimensions. Furthermore, it’s obvious, PLM provides broader coverage than customer relationship management (CRM) and supply chain management (SCM) in terms of connecting together different functions within an organizations.

Recently, I had a chance to have a close look at Lawson Fashion PLM. By walking through some of the major functionalities of Lawson Fashion PLM, I was assured that there is good match between the solution and its mid-market customers, as well as a good fit between the PLM solution and its new owner Lawson.

My first impression was that the product has its roots in serving the fashion industry. Comparing it with the engineering industry—where the PLM concept originated—the fashion industry has now started to realize the benefits of adopting PLM. If we divide all the fashion PLM solutions available on the market into two breeds, the first group would consist of well-established engineering PLM solutions moving to the fashion sector using tailored functionalities with added features specific to this industry; the other group would be solutions originally developed for the fashion industry. Both approaches have some pros and cons, and in my personal opinion, the traditional PLM developers are leaders in the game today. Long-time practice provides engineering PLM providers with significant strengths on the general PLM side. However, the PLM players who focus solely on fashion will also carve out their share of the market if they can focus their strengths on the fashion side. Lawson Fashion PLM is located in the second group. All existing Lawson Fashion PLM customers are in the fashion sector, and  according to Chantal Chabot, Lawson’s product manager, Lawson Fashion PLM will keep focusing on this industry.

Through the functionalities and features of Lawson Fashion PLM, it’s easy to find its fashion orientation. Apparently, it aims to please fashion designers—the ones that start the product life cycle every season (with every collection). One thing that we have to realize however, is that by having a different mind set and work style from engineering designers, fashion designers will probably hesitate to use a system if it appears too technical and complicated. Fashion designers strive for inspirations and creativity. Dimensional precision is important in order for a garment to fit the human body; but that’s not what makes today’s fashion. Within Lawson Fashion PLM, modules such as Storyboard and Designer are easy to understand and very user-friendly. I have to admit that designers are going to like the visualization and simplicity of Lawson Fashion PLM, as will other key people on different stages of the fashion goods life cycle—including planning, costing, and sourcing.

Pre-configurability is another point worth mentioning. In the PLM world, pre-configuration out-of-the-box is not always a given, especially with the specificity and uniqueness of business processes and the integration perspective of PLM solutions. But, with a specific concentration in fashion, Lawson Fashion PLM makes pre-configurability more feasible. By serving 79 apparel manufacturers in the US, Europe, and Asia, Lawson Fashion PLM is able to extract best practices and turn them into pre-configured functionalities to address the key development and production issues facing apparel producers. For example, the solution now offers over 200 pre-defined forms to facilitate the implementation process, which is said to be as short as 3 to 6 months for a regular project.

In many acquisitions, integration during the post-acquisition period is the most important success factor. The Lawson-Freeborders PLM deal will also need to seek better ways to generate synergies based on both technology integration and marketing integration. The technology integration is relatively easy, and benefits are obvious, providing Lawson Fashion PLM can talk to other Lawson M3 modules. Since they are in the same family now, why shouldn’t they ?

On the marketing side, tasks lie in two major aspects:

1) how the PLM offering can take advantage of becoming a part of a company with hundreds existing customers in the fashion sector
2) how Lawson can maximize the benefit of being a more comprehensive solution provider vertically in the fashion industry

Driven by a shortened time-to-market and shrinking margin, some fashion companies may consider taking PLM as a lead to perfect their information systems instead of using the enterprise resource planning (ERP) they’re used to. Lawson now has better PLM capacity to meet this need.
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