Baan tries to

Business-applications vendor Baan Co. NV hoped to calm the continuing anxiety of customers about its future and sell them on the vision of a connected enterprise that can share data in real time.

At the fall conference of the Baan World Users (BWU) group, the company, which was bought by Invensys PLC two years ago, focused on the use of its software to set up real-time application frameworks. That matches a strategy being touted by rivals such as Pleasanton, Calif.-based PeopleSoft Inc.

But Rick Haythornthwaite, CEO of London-based Invensys, also said his job at the conference in Los Angeles was to “assuage fears” held by users. “Baan has the most extraordinary capacity for generating groundless rumours and confusion,” he said.

Alister Sutherland, an analyst at IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto admitted that there’s some reason for that.

“They’ve had a bit of a rough go of it. And they have gradually slipped in market share over the last couple of years compared to their peers,” Sutherland said, noting that other enterprise ERP vendors including SAP, PeopleSoft, J.D. Edwards, Oracle, and Microsoft with Navision and Great Plains have all grown.

“It’s a crowded and very mature market that is soft for new license sales, and Baan has gradually given up ground to their competition,” he said.

Seeking stability

Kathleen Van Dyken, a director of the Toronto-based BWU, said she has lots of questions about Baan’s future. “I think the users want to know the stability of Baan here in the Americas,” said Van Dyken, president of KVD Technologies Inc., an IT consultancy in Alisa Viejo, Calif.

“There are still rumours of Baan being sold again. The users don’t see their community growing.”

Joshua Greenbaum, an analyst at Enterprise Applications Consulting in Daly City, Calif., was even tougher on Baan. “In the two years that Invensys has owned Baan, the company has gone from troubled to irrelevant,” he said. “The only asset left is the customer base, and for the right buyer, that could have some value.”

Haythornthwaite said Invensys officials are standing behind the enterprise resource planning (ERP) software developed by Barneveld, Netherlands-based Baan. “We are committed to the core development of the ERP product and to extending the solutions set and services offerings to our customers where it makes sense for them,” he said.

Without offering specifics, Haythornthwaite said he plans to start discussing the idea of creating a joint equity-partnering program to help expand Baan’s product lineup. But, he added, Invensys would continue to “own the customer relationship and own the technology road map.”

John DiCenso, a BWU director who’s director of information systems at Applied Extrusion Technologies Inc. in New Castle, Del., said he was particularly interested in seeing a detailed product road map at the conference. Applied Extrusion, a maker of specialized plastic films used in product labels and packaging, runs most of the modules in the Baan IV ERP suite.

When Invensys bought Baan, the promise was that it would be able to sell systems that tied together data all the way from the sensors on production floors to corporate back offices, DiCenso said. Now Baan needs to show users that the idea isn’t “just pie in the sky,” he added.

Mike Webb, senior vice-president of IT at San Jose-based contract manufacturer Flextronics Inc., was more upbeat. Webb attended a strategy session with Baan executives in Las Vegas last month and said he was encouraged by its product development plans.

– With files from Kristy Pryma and Thomas Hoffman