Aligning Java-based Application Strategies

IBM and Lawson Alliance

Reviving legacy systems, and combating software bloat are two reasons why Intentia and Lawson have embarked on a Java-based application strategy and they announced their plans during Intentia's Conference and User Exchange (CUE). At the same time, IBM and Lawson announced that Lawson will optimize and standardize its comprehensive business applications portfolio on IBM's open standards-based software and hardware, and the companies will jointly market pre-integrated solutions to customers. As a Lawson services partner, IBM will provide support and vertical industry expertise through IBM Global Services (IGS) and Business Consulting Services (BCS). IBM and Lawson will also dedicate more consultants in Lawson's IBM Competency Center to support testing and development.

Part Three of the Can Java Perk Legacy Enterprise Resource Planning Systems? series.

As part of its expanded strategic alliance, the two companies will also develop and market new vertical offerings to help customers address their business challenges across industries including health care, retail, government, education, financial services, and other service sector markets. These industry solution packs will reportedly provide clients with pre-integrated offerings designed for easy installation and maintenance, and it will address industry-specific pain points.

Lawson selected IBM WebSphere as the foundation for its service oriented architecture (SOA), to provide Lawson with an open standards-based framework for automating business processes with customers, partners, and suppliers. During the first half of 2006, Lawson intends to ship releases of its business application suites—including Lawson Financials, Lawson Supply Chain Management, Lawson Human Resources, Lawson Enterprise Performance Management, and Lawson Procurement. These will be shipped with embedded core components of IBM WebSphere, DB2, Rational, and Tivoli. IBM and Lawson will also continue to optimize solution performance on IBM eServer and IBM TotalStorage technologies including xSeries, pSeries, iSeries, zSeries, TotalStorage, and Linux on OpenPower. The result for customers should be enterprise-class security, performance, and reliability at an affordable price. At the same time, it should standardize Lawson's applications on IBM's open middleware and help enable clients to quickly and easily implement business solutions at a lower total cost of ownership (TCO).

Such a move is in tune with Intentia's strategy. To further reduce its long-term development costs, back in 2004, Intentia announced a significant expansion of its strategic alliance with IBM, which was designed to help customers integrate their enterprise resource planning (ERP) and supply chain management (SCM) business processes through consolidated software offerings. As part of the alliance, Intentia will standardize and ship its J2EE-based Movex collaboration applications on IBM's middleware and hardware, which runs on Linux, OS/400, UNIX, and Windows NT.

The companies will also expand their joint sales, marketing, and development activities. Intentia will pre-integrate its Movex applications with IBM's WebSphere Application Server, WebSphere Portal - Express and DB2 Universal Database. As such, every order from a medium-sized business will be shipped with IBM's bundle embedded inside the Intentia application suite, which will free Intentia from middleware delivery. Basing both the Lawson and Intentia stack largely on IBM technology should be a good thing. Application software vendors are infamously slow and inefficient at building their own development toolsets, and the more Intentia and Lawson can incorporate publicly available components in their development platform, the better. IBM, which does not compete with independent software vendors (ISV), remains a great choice.

This is Part Three of a multipart note.

Part One presented a situational analysis.

Part Two discussed Lawson products, its strategies, and challenges.

Implications for the J.D. Edwards World

Additionally, Lawson recently revealed that, after years of lagging other UNIX and Windows releases, the OS/400 version of the company's ERP software is at last at parity with its brethren. Some users have questioned Lawson's devotion to its iSeries customers, which comprise about 20 percent of the company's total installed base of more than 2,200 companies.

Three years ago, Lawson affirmed its commitment to the iSeries product and pledged to narrow the gap. More recently, it has been vocally supporting the eServer i5 and IBM's iSeries Initiative for Innovation, particularly in the wake of Oracle's acquisition of the J.D. Edwards ERP products. Questions about the feature of those products are abound, with many fearing that they will be forced to migrate to upcoming Oracle Project Fusion, a product which Lawson competes directly against.

Consequently, Lawson has been offering J.D. Edwards customers a discount of up to 50 percent on Lawson software license fees, along with a pre-built tool to assist in file conversions from these applications to the Lawson ones. If additional IBM iSeries hardware is needed, IBM's standard discount to ISVs will apply. Also, through its relationship with Ciber, a third-party systems integrator (SI), Lawson will even provide maintenance and support of the customer's legacy system during the transition to Lawson. For more information, see What's Ahead for Users on the Enterprise Infrastructure Battlefront?.

The impending merger with Intentia might add to the Lawson's value proposition to the J.D. Edwards World installed base. Although Lawson has been actively soliciting Oracle customers, Lawson's value proposition has been limited due to its lack of manufacturing, SCM, and enterprise asset management (EAM) functionality. However, the Intentia acquisition will address these needs (see EAM versus CMMS: What's Right for Your Company? Part Three: Analysis of IFS and Intentia). Further, the fact that the majority of Intentia's customers still run on the IBM's iSeries platform, might also sit well with J.D. Edwards World customers.

Regardless of the willingness of J.D. Edwards' users to "jump ship" and switch to Lawson, Lawson also sees an opportunity to bring J.D. Edwards' OS/400-based World users over to its fold. However, Lawson's credibility will ultimately depend on its dedication to its iSeries customers. To that end, the pending availability of Lawson 8.1 for the iSeries, which reportedly will include a new portal self-service application, business process flows and modeling, and other enhancements, should help, especially because the equivalent Lawson 8.1 for UNIX and Windows products have been available for some time. Lawson is also expected to announce a new "skip upgrade" program that will allow about 400 of its OS/400 customers on older releases (mostly Lawson 7.2) to upgrade directly to the version 8.1, and therefore bypass upgrading to Lawson 8.03, as an intermediate step. In a few years, however, the issue of parity between Lawson's OS/400 and open-system products should be moot, because Landmark should produce only one Java-based version of the software that runs across all platforms.

More Challenges

It is, however, unclear at this stage how the Landmark project and the Lawson Pattern Language (LPL), language will be affected by the Intentia merger, since the merging parties must reconcile their respective launches that are similar, yet which have different Java initiatives to create a next-generation, SOA-based platform. It will be interesting to watch which idea will prevail or whether and how they will blend, given both vendors' have, in the past, had a protracted "not invented here" R&D approach. The main opportunity will be to quickly develop the necessary integration to push Lawson financials and human resource (HR) applications, into Intentia's installed base, and how to integrate Intentia's manufacturing, EAM and SCM modules into Lawson's.

Therefore, while Intentia (and Lawson, in part) might be an extreme case of a complete Java rewrite, most of the traditional iSeries-based vendors, such as SSA Global, IBS, HarrisData, etc. have taken a more moderate approach. Instead, these peer vendors are leveraging some of the available tools and technologies (often provided by IBM), with a balanced approach of exposing old RPG code as Web services wrappers, and by developing new applications in J2EE.

Every modern framework for software development is intrinsically a multi-tier architecture consisting of business logic, presentation logic, and controller logic. Business logic is responsible for database management and its accompanying transactions; presentation logic is used to present data to the user by means of an intuitive interface; and the interactive controller orchestrates the flow between the front- and back-end systems. To provide a concrete example, the front-end can be a J2EE-compliant graphical client, which can run on any standard workstation or thin-client terminal, while the back-end is an Integrated Language Environment (ILE) on the iSeries platform.

Indeed, the rapid pace of global business places a unique set of challenges on all enterprises looking to improve and automate their operations, while remaining poised to adapt quickly to change. With increased competition, deregulation, globalization, and merger and acquisition (M&A) activity, enterprise software buyers increasingly realize that product architecture plays a key role in how quickly they can implement, maintain, expand/customize, and integrate their products. The product architecture is going to do much more than simply provide the technical functionality, the user interface (UI), and the platform support. It is going to determine whether a product is going to endure, whether it will scale to a large number of users, and whether it will be able to incorporate emerging technologies to accommodate increasingly evolving user requirements. Thus, one should be aware of how technology might develop in the future, while exploring the alignment of business and information technology (IT). Despite Intentia's and Lawson's resources, there is a long road between the vision and execution of a new technology blueprint. Yet there is a need for faster and more flexible implementation strategies that better utilize pre-existing legacy systems, which, when working well, companies are often reluctant to rip and replace. Enterprises that consider themselves technological leaders should at least familiarize themselves with new approaches, and especially be familiar with Web services to see how they can be leveraged.

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