After a truly disastrous start to its career as a public company, which culminated in its shares being suspended at the end of November, PPL Holdings Plc will this month take a few more tentative steps along the road to restoring its credibility and profitability. The company will launch significantly enhanced versions of its financial and human resources software packages on January 28, and, in the interim period, hopes to conclude negotiations with an, as yet, unnamed micro systems house, to offload its small corporate micro division. Discussions are apparently well advanced and, although the disposal is unlikely to bring PPL much, if any, money, it will halt a drain on resources and leave senior management free to concentrate on the three remaining divisions – Financial Management (Software International), Human Resources (Cyborg) and Micro Manufacturing (Sheffield Micros). Since the share suspension, five directors, including chairman Roy Taylor, have left the company but managing director Terry Forrester says none of the departees was actively involved with the continuing operations. Bravely, Forrester admits that the management had become top-heavy and that its attention had been diverted from the day-to-day business by the effort required to prepare the company for its public flotation on the London Stock Exchange only last February.
Tackle overheads front-on
He promises that the restructured board, including replacement chairman Ron Cohen from venture capitalists Alan Patricoff Associates, will not allow its attention to be distracted again. It has already begun to tackle the company’s overheads front-on. In addition to the hiving off of the corporate micro arm and the sale, started by the old board, of the Canadian subsidiary to Kalon Co which was completed in November, it has trimmed its research and development spending and abandoned its attempts to enter new markets such as banking software. Already, the concentration of effort on the remaining divisions appears to be paying off; the company has picked up nine major orders – from amongst others, the Automobile Association, Avon Rubber, Matsushita Electronics and the Borough of Crewe and Nantwich – since the share suspension to add to the 30 orders taken between September 30, the end of the financial year PPL will want to forget, and the end of November. The new software releases come in in-line with the schedule PPL outlined to user groups back in the middle of last year before its financial problems began to bite. The main developments are a special ICL version of the financial management software built around ICL’s own Quickbuild and Data Dictionary tools, vastly improved response times for the PPL-Cyborg integrated payroll, personnel and pension administration on-line Human Resource package and an upgrade to the Unix-based Uniplan manufacturing control and accounting system. In addition, PPL is close to launching a version of the Cyborg system designed specially to integrate with Crowntek Computer Corp of America’s Model 204 database management system. Although the full extent of the storm damage in fiscal 1986 will not be revealed until later this month, there is no reason why the company’s smile should not have returned in full by the time the current financial period, to March 31, ends. Indeed, with ICL – since December – and IBM – still to sign but looking fairly certain to do so, according to financial management head Paul Holley – selling PPL’s products directly to their own user bases, PPL at 81 pence, compared to a one-time high of 173 pence, looks one of the better mid-term prospects in the computer-related sector.