In a battle between David and Goliath, this lawless business software is the talk of the tech
Justin Lawless credits his grandfather’s talent for writing slogans with sparking such an interest in programming that ultimately led to Lawless becoming Managing Director of Dundalk-based Intact Software.
When the 45-year-old grew up in the border town in the early 1980s, his grandfather was a “serial competitor” in a long-running Lyons Tea marketing campaign in which customers collected 40 tokens and wrote a slogan. to win prizes.
His grandfather was thrilled to win two cars in the competition – but was a bit perplexed when another prize was a ZX Spectrum computer.
“He said, ‘What do I do with this?'” Lawless recalls. “But my older brother Aidan really fell in love with him, bought all the magazines for the computer and started learning to code.
“Then we all got interested in this little computer that was sitting there at the end of the table. We wrote simple programs and little games – and that’s where the love of technology came from in the family.”
Aidan studied computer science at what is now the Dundalk Institute of Technology. After graduating, the young programmer was introduced to a local accountant named Paul Marry. Together, the two created a computerized accounting program for companies.
This program became the foundation of Intact Software, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year.
“In 1992, accounting systems like this were so new and expensive for small businesses that were still using things like dockets,” says Justin Lawless.
“But we saw a gap in the market to create something that was easy to use. It was a really stripped down version of a large enterprise resource planning (ERP) system – you check inventory, activate buy, activate sell. That was our actual starting point.”
Lawless has been instrumental in driving Intact’s growth since 2013 when he was appointed CEO of the company he had worked for since he was a teenager. In true David vs. Goliath fashion, the thriving native ERP software company competes with giants like SAP, Oracle, Microsoft and Sage in a multi-billion euro global industry.
Unlike many competitors in the market who resell SAP and Microsoft ERP software products, the Dundalk company has developed its own signature product – Intact iQ.
ERP software simplifies a company’s day-to-day operations by capturing and managing information for functions such as purchasing, sales, customer relationship management (CRM), inventory, supply chain, e-commerce, and accounting.
Intact iQ enables companies to manage, automate and scale their operations by increasing the flow of real-time information within an organization. Around 3,000 companies use Intact’s software in Ireland, the UK, parts of Europe and through resellers in Australia and New Zealand. Foreign customers generate 60 percent of sales.
“Between 45,000 and 50,000 users rely on our technology every day,” says Lawless. “We’re now adding about 5,000 new users every year.”
Intact’s customers are primarily builders’ merchants, hardware stores and household goods retailers. They count Homestore & More, TileStyle and Right Price Tiles among their customers.
It also has customers in the pharmaceutical, janitorial, and food and beverage industries (Butlers Chocolates is a customer).
But Intact’s biggest customers are in the fast-growing UK market and include UK Plumbing Supplies and James Hargreaves.
The customer profile meant the pandemic was proving to be a boon for the company, with homebound consumers spending money updating their grounds and gardens rather than going on vacation or eating out — and some caretaker customers opting for the provision of PPE supplies switched.
“We quickly realized the important role we play in the entire supply chain,” says Lawless. “We needed to get customers to take action online quickly, and it was so quick. The supply chain was very, very busy compared to the last crisis in 2008.
“Now the more forward-thinking companies want change-ready technology — the pandemic has really shed a light on their lack of investment in technology over the years.
“Suddenly, people weren’t happy with 15-year-old systems, they were saying, ‘We need technology that’s ready to change – we don’t know what the next change will be, but we caught it.’
“Companies know that they must continue to adapt very quickly. You used to see the construction supply chain raise prices once a year – now it’s once a month – and we need to make sure it’s as easy and smooth for them as possible.”
Revenues of Aptech Business Systems Ltd, the registered company behind the trading name Intact Software, increased 14 percent to €13.2 million in 2020, according to accounts filed with the Companies Registration Office.
Sales grew to €17 million in 2021 and a UK acquisition, which Intact is expected to close within four weeks, is expected to boost sales to €28 million in 2022, with organic sales for the year at €22 million will be.
Profit after tax rose to 1.6 million euros last year, Lawless says, compared to 780,221 euros in 2020, when the company turned from a loss to a profit.
While Intact is on the verge of its second major acquisition in the UK – a purchase of an Intact reseller – and is in talks with potential partners for its software in North America, the company had humble beginnings.
Lawless was in college in the mid-1990s as the peace process was unfolding, having grown up in a town dubbed El Paso during the riots because it was considered a haven for IRA agents criss-crossing the border .
Because Lawless was only 16 when he graduated from high school and didn’t know what he wanted to study, he studied business administration at DKIT. He later switched to computer science – because computers and mathematics were the only modules in business studies that he enjoyed.
During his studies he worked part-time at Intact, which was more of a family affair at the time.
“I would answer the phone and try to help customers,” he says.
“Paul’s sister works in the shop and has been doing the bookkeeping for 30 years. His wife also works in the shop. My other brother used to work in the shop, as did my mother. And when you need someone for a specific thing, who do you ask? Mummy!”
As the riots subsided, Dundalk’s proximity to the border meant something of a peace dividend for Intact.
“Our first client was based in Dundalk and our second in Newry,” says Lawless. “As we were based near the border, we had to deal with sterling and the Irish pound. We have become accustomed to dealing with multiple currencies and have supported customers with the conversion to the euro.
“A lot of English companies used products like Sage – which didn’t take the euro into account the way Ireland should.
“So that was something that really accelerated our momentum.”
Intact’s ‘third or fourth’ customer was a builders’ merchant in Dundalk – and the company soon realized that their product was particularly suited to this industry.
“We said, ‘Let’s tackle the construction supply chain – anyone who has a trade desk that needs fast transactions and inventory management.’ And we got better and better at it. We have built a solid reputation and have continued to grow.”
During another crisis — the 2008 recession — Intact decided to focus its resources on product development rather than “close the hatches and cut costs.”
The result was next-generation ERP software – Intact iQ – and a new CEO in the form of Lawless.
“Me and Aidan sort of got out of the business and started working on designing what is now our flagship product,” he says.
“When it came time to officially launch the product in 2013, because I was very involved with the business and customers, an external CEO advised us to look at the structure of the company. We also looked at growth in the UK. Paul said I would be the best person to succeed him as CEO.”
By 2016, the software company had acquired a UK reseller called Ramtac and set up its new UK headquarters in Hemel Hempstead, just outside London, in February this year, after opening an office in Cork last December.
Lawless who spoke to him Sunday independent via Zoom from the new Intact training academy at the Hemel Hempstead office, says Intact’s biggest challenge now is recruiting enough staff to meet customer needs and allow for further expansion.
“Because we have to hire and train new people, we expect 10 or 11 months before we can start projects for a new client,” says Lawless.
Intact, which launched its own graduate recruitment program earlier this year, expects to hire 85 people this year. Along with the 60 employees coming on board from the UK reseller the company is acquiring, this brings the software company’s headcount to 350 people. From 2023, 70 to 80 people will be hired annually.
While Intact’s employee retention is above the market average and the company’s more convenient location has made it attractive to recruits looking for work outside of Dublin’s Silicon Docks, the company is far from immune to the global labor shortage.
“We do everything we can to hire good people,” says Lawless. “We try to offer as much as the big tech companies. And a lot of the people who work here have a cultural affinity – they’re proud to work for a small company that’s trying to take on global giants.”
Surname: Justin Outlaw
Position: Managing Director of Intact Software
Family: Married to Abbi, father of two sons Freddie (10) and George (7)
Training: St Mary’s College (The Marist), Dundalk, then Computer Science at Dundalk Institute of Technology followed by Enterprise Ireland’s Leadership 4 Growth program at IESE Business School in Barcelona
Favorite book: Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind by Yuval Noah Harari
Favorite Podcast: “I love the David McWilliams podcast, The Stand with Eamon Dunphy and Pivot from New York Magazine.”
Favourite movie: “Possibly The Shawshank Redemption? I’m not a big movie or TV person, although I do watch parts of it His field the whole time.”
Hobbies: Cold water swimming, surfing, cycling
What has running a business during a pandemic taught you about leadership?
“I think when it comes to the people in your organization, it’s really important to pay attention to the smaller details. It’s not a virtue signal, but I actually called one of our guys during Covid and said, ‘You’re really struggling with this.’ It really woke me up.
“I thought, ‘We need to do more for people, we need to spend more time talking to each other.’ The people in the organization are like friends – like family – because that’s my life.”
https://www.independent.ie/business/irish/in-a-david-vs-goliath-fight-this-lawless-business-software-is-the-talk-of-the-tech-41604050.html In a battle between David and Goliath, this lawless business software is the talk of the tech