Lawson Standing Vertically in a Flat Economy

Lawson Software has hardly ever been associated with flamboyance and ostentatious behavior, let alone in these murky economic times. Still, its chief executive officer’s (CEO's) recent dismissal of the software as a service (SaaS) market’s prospects will have drawn some consternation in the vendors’ and analysts’ community. However, a somewhat amended and clarified stance on SaaS recently came from Lawson’s senior vice president (SVP) of product development and strategy, Dean Hager.

Like the vast majority of enterprise applications vendors, Lawson concedes the tough economic milieu, which was recognized in its sloppy fiscal Q109 performance. Prospective customers are simply slowing down the “looking and decision-making” process, and also the negotiations are admittedly much more involved. The enterprise resource planning (ERP) vendors’ competition is getting dirtier, with everyone fighting very hard over what looks like fewer deals.

Still (at least not yet), Lawson has not given the impression of despair or panic, despite recent cost-cutting (read: layoffs) measures. Such measures appear to be in line with the economic climate and the measures of other peer companies.

In fact, every now and then I will still see some PR announcement about Lawson’s latest win of a new customer. The vendor dedicates about 80 percent of its efforts and resources to the following strategic verticals: apparel/fashion, food & beverage (F&B), multi-channel distribution (those with retail elements like building materials), ESM or equipment service management (e.g., Caterpillar dealers), healthcare, and the public sector. The relatively recession-proof sectors that are doing well even in this climate are ESM, fashion, and healthcare.

What About Food and Beverage?

As someone smart once said, “People have to eat and drink in both good and bad times”, so the F&B sector should not be that badly affected by the downturn. Sure, the premium brand manufacturers will likely suffer, but the low-price and private label items might even flourish.

In late October, Lawson made two announcements at the InterBev 2008 Conference and Exhibition in Las Vegas, Nevada (NV), United States (US). This was the validation of Lawson's vertical strategy that was professed at its CUE 2008 user conference,  and was soon delivered with the Lawson Tracer product. These industry-specific modules all have features that are unique to the F&B industry or are solving that industry’s specific business requirements.

Industry-specific Analytics

The Lawson M3 Analytics for Food & Beverage module helps F&B companies access meaningful business intelligence (BI) to improve decision-making without having to painstakingly develop analytics tools in-house. In fact, industry-specific BI solutions that can be up and running to provide value within days and weeks are Lawson’s attempt to mitigate the current economic crisis for its customers.

Thus the Lawson M3 Analytics for Food & Beverage application includes 70 pre-configured key performance indicators (KPIs) and 50 pre-built scorecard reports commonly used by F&B companies. Sample KPIs include day sales outstanding (DSO), inventory turnover, delivery performance, and gross margin percentage. Sample scorecards highlight critical data such as sales vs. budget, supplier performance, production variances, and customer debt.

This selection of metrics is engineered to meet the specific needs of an F&B company management. It includes what the executives and middle managers need, and does not include KPIs that are meaningless (which is of course the case with a more generic, “one size fits all” approach). The analytics set also includes KPIs not seen in other industries, like yield. Such a comprehensive approach to business evaluation has been essentially beyond the reach of all but the largest F&B companies until now.

Lawson Analytics for Food & Beverage helps F&B companies benchmark, measure, and improve performance in the following five key areas: sales, finance, procurement, production and the warehouse. With virtually all manufacturers currently concerned with burning cash, they need their existing systems to deliver more value faster, specifically in terms of improving cash flow and slashing costs. Lawson's industry-specific analytics should help provide answers to those critical questions such as "what and where are our inefficiencies?", "where are we losing cash?”, or “which processes are slow?”

The application enables tracking of multiple performance metrics by individual products, customers, and account managers to help decision-makers identify underperforming operational areas in time to take appropriate action. It also helps F&B companies eliminate unnecessary reports so decision-makers receive only the right information at the right time.

Industry-specific Planning Tools

In a related announcement, Lawson also announced the availability of Lawson Stock Build Optimizer and Lawson Planning Workbench for Food and Beverage. These new applications aim to help F&B manufacturers improve long- and mid-range production planning to ensure that the right amount of the right products are available at the right time to meet seasonal and promotional peaks in demand. F&B companies traditionally have to choose the lesser of two evils:

  1. Losing sales if they don't produce enough products to meet demand spikes, or

  2. Writing off perishable products if they produce too much.

Lawson Stock Build Optimizer helps companies visualize their overall plan for building and maintaining an inventory of finished products. The F&B industry has two relatively unique requirements: it is deal- or promotion-driven with both customers and F&B manufacturers having a history of impacting the timing of transactions based upon promotions. This module allows the supply chain to be leveled to eliminate problems in timing. Stocks need to be built up in advance of the promotion period, stock-outs need to be eliminated, and inventory investments minimized.

Lawson Stock Build Optimizer then offers tools that allow manufacturers to perform multiple "what if" scenarios to simulate the consequences of different long-range planning decisions. These models, which can account for a wide range of variables from production capacity to ingredient costs, help planners refine master production schedules (MPS) across multiple manufacturing sites. For example, planners can use these models to evaluate the benefits of building stock in advance to support demand spikes, versus using overtime or subcontractors to meet seasonal demand for products such as holiday chocolate assortments.

For its part, Lawson Planning Workbench for Food and Beverage should help F&B manufacturers improve mid-range planning decisions as they balance changes in demand and supply availability during production. Companies can visualize their total coverage days for each product to guide production planning decisions for the next few weeks or months.

The application then captures and provides a full view of production variables, such as changes in customer orders, delivery schedules, employee shifts, and aging inventory. This allows planners to conduct "what if" modeling before deciding how to prioritize production for specific products and orders to help avoid stock-outs, inventory write-offs, or the need to temporarily open additional production lines.

Both Lawson Stock Build Optimizer and Lawson Planning Workbench for Food and Beverage are configurable to users' specific needs. Both applications also offer simplified installation and support through integration with the Lawson M3 Enterprise Management System [evaluate this product].

Dear readers, what do you think? Is this a well thought-out value proposition from a vendor to help its F&B customers during bleak times or merely a vendor’s repackaging exercise to cash in on the current economic crisis? Should virtually all vendors try to come up with similar industry-specific initiatives and thus justify their existence and customers’ investment and trust?

What are your opinions about whether these new products will help F&B manufacturers analyze an increasingly complex set of supply chain variables to help them optimize production plans, lower inventory costs, and enhance customer service? What steps are you taking in these regards?

For an exhaustive analysis if the needs of F&B companies see TEC’s earlier series of articles entitled “Food and Beverage "Delights."
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