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Programming for Business Analysts? The Promise of Simplified Web Services Implementation and Access

Written By: Predrag Jakovljevic
Published On: September 29 2005

Situation Analysis

LANSA, a global provider of enterprise application development and integration software, recently announced LANSA 2005. This major upgrade to the company's cross-platform application development and integration suite should empower developers to use Java services almost effortlessly in their applications, including vastly simplified access to and implementation of Web services through LANSA and third generation languages (3GL) programs.

As detailed in The Blessing and Curse of Rejuvenating Legacy Systems, independent service vendors (ISV) must strike a fine balance between catering to the needs of existing customers wanting gradual application upgrades without major technology disruptions, and prospective customers seeking new technology developments. To meet the needs of both parties, ISVs are often turning to next generation development and infrastructure platforms, and are leveraging service oriented architecture. (See SOA-based Applications and Infrastructure—The Next Frontier?). Hence, a number of vendors are adopting a strategy of product evolution rather than revolution, which offers continual product functionality enhancements through custom extensions and integration, rather than ripping and replacing current systems. Thus they offer feasible integration to other applications and complementary products.

Yet, while this has worked well for more than a decade, customers' requirements for enterprise applications capabilities have changed dramatically. In particular, customers expect their applications not only to offer graphical user interfaces (GUI), but to be accessible from different interfaces and devices, such as Web browsers, portals, and popular desktop applications (for more information, see Vendors Harness Excel (and Office) to Win the Lower-end of the Business Intelligence Market). Demand is also growing for easy application access via pervasive client devices such as mobile phones and personal digital assistants (PDA). This means presentation (client) logic needs to be separate from the back-end (server) business logic.

This is Part One of a two-part note.

Part Two will address LANSA's target market and make user recommendations.

Vendors Turn to Java

Java is a programming language developed by Sun Microsystems. Originally called Oak, Java was designed for handheld devices and set-top boxes. In 1995, Sun changed the language's name to Java and modified the it to take advantage of the burgeoning World Wide Web (WWW).

Java is an object-oriented (OO) language similar to C++, but simplified to eliminate language features that cause common programming errors. Java source code files (files with a ".java" extension) are compiled into a format called bytecode (i.e., files with a ".class" extension), which can then be executed by a Java interpreter. Compiled Java code can run on most computers because Java interpreters and runtime environments, known as Java Virtual Machines (JVM), exist for most operating systems (OS), including UNIX/Linux, Macintosh, and Microsoft Windows. Bytecode can also be converted directly into machine language instructions by a just-in-time compiler (JIT).

Java is a general purpose programming language with a number of features that make the language well-suited for use on the Internet. Small Java applications are called Java applets and can be downloaded from a Web server and run on virtually any computer by a Java-compatible Web browser, such as Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE).

Enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems are ubiquitous, and there is a growing demand for complementary or "bolt-on" extended-ERP functions, such as supply chain management (SCM), customer relationship management (CRM), and product lifecycle management (PLM). Providers are heeding the call, but such solutions are often developed for Windows and UNIX/Linux systems. (For more information on competing Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) and Microsoft .NET development environment camps, see Understand J2EE and .NET Environments Before You Choose)

Many view .NET as a cheaper, faster, and easier environment, and, as a result, this market is rapidly growing and is highly competitive, particularly with smaller enterprises and in emerging regions. J2EE, which involves IBM iSeries and UNIX/Linux (and even Microsoft Windows) environments has a stronghold on larger companies and demanding environments with open systems requirements.

Because enterprise application modernization means renewing existing software, so that it can satisfy the need of integration and graphical presentation without any loss of functionality, Java remains a choice. It allows information and communications technology solutions to develop because Java can answer the user's needs, and at the same time, fit the industry-accepted, model-view-controller design pattern. See A New Development Framework on iSeries or i5/OS: Architecture).

LANSA

However, migrating vast amount of code lines from report program generators (RPG) to Java typically takes several years and the percentage of unsatisfactory results are high. As a result LANSA, made a major upgrade to its award-winning, cross-platform application development and integration suite. The general availability of LANSA 2005 was announced at LANSA's International LANSA User Group meeting in April. First unveiled at the COMMON Conference and Expo in Chicago, Illinois (US), in mid-March, the platform features interesting application modernization, integration, and extension capabilities for IT development teams and software vendors of multiple platforms, including Windows and iSeries servers and multiple databases running on these platforms.

While it is not universally recognizable, for nearly two decades LANSA has enabled mid-market companies to deliver up-to-date applications. Examples of LANSA applications' deployment in the realm of integration include linking warehouses directly to radio frequency identification (RFID) inventory tracking systems, helping suppliers and business-to-business (B2B) customers share order and item information, and linking insurance agents and insurers via the Web.

Examples of extending existing IT investments, include creating new retail point of sale (POS) systems linked to central inventory management systems, extending ERP systems with Global Data Synchronization (GDS) capabilities, and enabling wireless access to the central service schedule for field supervisors. Its mission to extend the value of IT infrastructure has provided the company with over 7,000 customers, 300 solution partners, and over 200 employees in 7 countries, and has made IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle its partners.

LANSA 2005 serves as the foundation for other enterprise applications from LANSA, which is considered a leader in the Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN) initiative. About 300 customers use its DataSync Direct data synchronization product and its Internet-based (AS2) electronic data interchange (EDI-INT) capabilities. The vendor also has established solution practices in targeted vertical markets, such as manufacturing, health care, distribution, service sectors, etc. Last but not least, LANSA's expertise comes in the realm of modernizing legacy applications too. For example, it enables student loans to be processed more efficiently or in rebuilding legacy applications in support of an impending server consolidation within a complex corporation. LANSA is also a mid-market leader in the IBM iSeries application development and integration software, where LANSA, like some of its peers, strives to provide its users the easier pathway through complexity of J2EE and .NET.

LANSA 2005 is hailed as a suite of application development and integration products that enables organizations to overcome the complexity inherent in delivering today's applications. What might make LANSA different from other offerings is that developers have to master only one fairly easy-to-learn skill set (rather than learning pesky Java, XML, RPG, C++, etc. specifications). While LANSA's current customers have enjoyed this benefit for years, the enhanced programming syntax for LANSA's higher-level language, called RDML (Rapid Development & Maintenance Language), offers more natural and concise notation with improved maintainability that should allow developers to write less code than before.

Similar to the idea behind Lawson Software's pattern-based, higher level language, Lawson Pattern Language (LPL), RDML promises simplicity, a fast learning curve, and an easy transition for existing iSeries developers. Unlike LPL which uses 5th Generation Language (5GL), RDML uses visualization. LANSA 2005's graphical Integrated Development Environment (IDE) provides developers with a more productive capability to design, develop, debug, and deploy applications to multiple platforms at the LANSA 4th Generation Language (4GL) level, instead of lower level languages. Using LANSA's Visual LANSA Framework, developers (which can be business analysts rather than heavy programmers) are able to rapidly create a Windows, rich client and browser-based line of business applications by simply snapping components into LANSA's framework, which closely resembles Microsoft Outlook's rich client and browser-based interfaces.

A core component of LANSA 2005 is the Object Repository with centralized logic and components. It integrates with many different databases, contains a powerful data dictionary, and minimizes redundant coding via validation rules. Like its counterparts, the platform leverages modular, OO application design, and reusable code too. Consequently, according to LANSA, 300 or so lines of RDML code could replace up to 5,000 lines of .NET code or 14,000 lines of J2EE code in a typical e-commerce application as shown by the Pet Shop Benchmark (http://www.lansa.com/promos/petshop.htm).

This concludes Part One of a two-part note.

Part Two will address LANSA's target market and make user recommendations.

 
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