Rescued Baan determined to get closer to customers

After what he describes as ‘a tough couple of months’ Mark Greenwood claims Baan is finally on the way back.

After what he describes with considerable understatement as ‘a tough couple of months’ Mark Greenwood claims Baan is finally on the way back.

Greenwood was recently installed as UK managing director of the enterprise software house, which was rescued from the brink of bankruptcy by Invensys in the summer.

Since then, neither Baan nor its new owner have had an easy time. Invensys’ decision to buy the Dutch company has been repeatedly questioned by commentators and analysts.

These doubts, along with a surprise profits warning, contributed to a collapse in the UK parent company’s share price and speculation that it may become a takeover target itself.

But Greenwood, speaking to The Engineer at Computers in Manufacturing 2000 in Birmingham, says Baan is coming out fighting, and remains philosophical about what he describes as a ‘London stock market over-reaction’ to Invensys’ situation.

Understanding customers

‘We think it’s unfair, but that’s the sort of thing the Stock Exchange does to you sometimes,’ says Greenwood. ‘Of course we’re aware of it, but will we let it distract us from what we’ve got to do? Not for a second.’

What Baan and Greenwood want to do is move from the narrower focus of enterprise software to a position where customers rely on it for a range of business solutions, including those in the rapidly growing e-commerce field. ‘If in a year’s time people are just talking about Baan as a company that makes good software, I will be failing in what I’m trying to do,’ Greenwood says.

He accepts that previously Baan sometimes maintained only patchy contact with its customers and has spent the past few months putting a new commercial structure in place, which he claims will allow Baan to understand its customers needs better before they buy its products, and maintain a closer relationship with them afterwards.

Greenwood says: ‘Before, sales could almost be independent of the rest of the organisation. Now we will be thinking in terms of business development, working with customers at a higher level and offering very positive customer service.’

Greenwood is adamant these changes are far more than cosmetic, and are vital if Baan is to emerge from the traumas of the latter days of its independence. But he accepts it is the solutions it offers which will be foremost in customers’ minds. Greenwood says the company will be releasing bundled packages which are related to a specific business process, can connect to other systems and include licences.

He wants Baan to be able to advise customers on how to make the products work for them in their particular circumstances. ‘It will be different for every company in every sector, and we need to have an intimate understanding of the industries we serve,’ says Greenwood.

He wants Baan’s products to be right for the customer before they are installed, rather than have to be adapted afterwards. To this end, Baan’s new structure includes a closer relationship between technical, commercial and consultancy teams when solutions are designed.

Ferocious competition

Baan is in a ferociously competitive marketplace, but Greenwood takes heart from the loyalty to its products shown during the dark days of the summer when it looked like receivership beckoned. ‘Existing customers were understandably worried, and the situation was hardly helpful for winning new business,’ he says. ‘But I genuinely got the feeling that our customers were bigger fans of Baan than some of the people inside the company. They kept telling us we had a good product and wanted us to turn things around.’

Baan’s UK boss is also upbeat about its new home in Invensys’ software systems division. It is already looking at ways it can work with its fellow Invensys businesses, and Greenwood claims the level of commitment from the parent company reflects Baan’s importance to its wider ambitions. ‘We are a vital part of Invensys’ strategy to turn itself into a technology-based group,’ he says.

Baan was able to celebrate some sorely needed good news in September, when the UK’s Defence Aviation Repair Agency placed a 3,000-user order worth several million pounds.

Greenwood is convinced the ‘feelgood factor’ can return to Baan permanently, and says the level of sales and enquiries are both encouraging. In the UK, he says the company is back on course to break even, following a ‘pretty dreadful’ time earlier in the year. ‘From a standing start in August I think the turnaround is well on track,’ Greenwood says.