At the end of February, during the National Manufacturing Week (NMW) in Chicago, IL, Ramco Systems Limited, a provider of enterprise business applications and accompanied services, with a global HQ in India, announced the delivery of a series of enterprise application suites that it claims will "change the economics of application software". Instead of releasing one application suite that is intended to meet the needs of multiple industries, Ramco is providing distinct suites that are tailored to meet the specific vertical industry requirements for process manufacturing (Ramco Enterprise: Process), discrete manufacturing (Ramco Enterprise: Discrete) and asset-intensive industries (Ramco Enterprise Asset Management). In addition, the company delivered horizontal solutions in human resources (HR) management (Ramco Human Resource Management System) and business intelligence (BI) (Ramco Business Decisions); as well as back-office solutions for finance and distribution (Ramco Corporate Solutions), tailored to retail and service industries.
Ramco Enterprise Series Release 4.0 applications have been built on what the vendor claims to be groundbreaking, model-based application development and delivery platform called Ramco VirtualWorks. The platform includes a model-based architecture based on a comprehensive model of granular business processes, representing 70 different industries, a web-enabled set of workbenches for the application development lifecycle, as well as methodologies for all stages of development and implementation.
According to the vendor, Ramco VirtualWorks is an "extreme productivity platform," allowing companies to visualize, implement and change software faster, easier, and at lower cost than with the current generation of leading standard enterprise software. The architecture focuses on business processes and business rules, with the majority of the software code being automatically generated. As side benefit of the code generation, Ramco claims, is that the code can be generated equally well in either the Microsoft .NET or J2EE web service compliant platforms.
The introduction of the Ramco System's architecture and applications reportedly represents an investment of 1,500 person-years. "Our experience in working with hundreds of companies led us to take a completely different approach to developing and evolving next-generation enterprise applications that meet today's business realities," said P.R.Venketrama Raja, vice-chairman and managing director of Ramco Systems. "The reality is that each customer's business is unique and that it will inevitably change. Ramco Enterprise Series, combined with Ramco VirtualWorks?, give customers comprehensive and flexible solutions that match their current individual requirements and adapt easily and continuously to future change — on-demand."
Ramco Enterprise Series was reportedly designed to address the gaps of the current generation of enterprise applications by:
- Providing accepted best practice functionality and industry-specific requirements while addressing customer-specific unique processes
- Enabling and supporting real-time business change whether proactive (through continuous business innovation, changing business processes and practices in real-time in order to out-maneuver their competition) or reactive (in response to customer demands, government regulations or competitor innovation).
- Assimilating multiple types of applications within a company's enterprise portfolio into integrated business processes (sometimes known as composite' applications)
To that end, close to 20 companies have reportedly signed contracts and/or are using Ramco Enterprise Series 4.0 suites to date. Bemis Company and the Oregon Research Institute are among the first North American customers to adopt Release 4.0. Bemis is one of the largest flexible packaging companies in the Americas and a major manufacturer of pressure sensitive materials used for labels, decoration and signage. The company has Ramco's current Series 3.0 ERP applications installed in 30 locations and has selected Enterprise Series 4.0 maintenance applications in one of its European plants. In addition, a number of companies have begun custom application development projects based on the technology.
Ramco Systems, established in 1989, is a global provider of enterprise solutions. Ramco Systems' solutions include Ramco Enterprise Series, packaged application suites; Ramco Enterprise Custom Solutions, for unique customer requirements; and Ramco VirtualWorks, a groundbreaking, model-based development and delivery platform. More than 1,400 employees serve 1,000 customer sites in 70 industry segments worldwide, including Bemis, Cisco, Columbia Helicopters, Ericsson, Hyundai, MJB Woods, Philips and Swatch. Based in Chennai, India, Ramco Systems is part of the Ramco Group, one of India's most respected organizations and in business for 63 years. The company is listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange, National Stock Exchange and the Madras Stock Exchange. Ramco Systems serves more than 140 customers in the U.S. and has offices in Lawrenceville, NJ, Lisle, IL, and Milpitas, CA.
This is Part One of a two-part Note.
Part Two will cover both Vendor and User Recommendations.
Our discussions with Ramco reveal a strategy that, in the words of one observer, "Is too good to be true," However, discussions with early customers and Ramco executives were very promising.
Ramco has taken possibly the unique approach of providing a series of suites, each tailored for a specific vertical or horizontal market. At first glance, this would create difficult support and maintenance challenges, however, the foundation technology, Ramco VirtualWorks, appears to enable this approach by making support and maintenance practical. An early look at 4.0's functionality reveals a depth and breadth that rivals the best-in-class suppliers. Release 4.0's functionality is based on the company's previous enterprise applications suite (Release 3.0) that is installed at over 350 companies and 1,000 sites worldwide.
The Ramco VirtualWorks development platform is not entirely new, as Ramco applications have long been developed with an attempt to grasp the forces of change in the business world, and the consequent requirement for rapid development, deployment and customization (see Ramco Systems - Diversity Marshaled Through Flexibility). The product has been devised to cater for diverse companies' needs to operate from multiple locations and with multiple currencies and/or languages. Further, it should answer to the organizational growth and diversity needs that require a broad range of applications and features and continual business process change. The system has also long allowed the application modules to be distributed over multiple servers, and, at the same time, it provides transparent access across this distributed area, making all the databases appear to be a single, integrated database.
Also, each of Ramco's application modules is capable of working standalone or with other Ramco module or third-party applications in many configurations, in order to meet specific business needs. The system has been fairly scalable too, allowing the addition or subtraction of users, functions, applications, servers, or locations with a reasonably low effort. Ramco VirtualWorks is architected as business processes that are dynamically linked to the supporting software components, which integrates other applications (both technically and from a business process management perspective) into a single business process supported by the resulting "composite" application.
The key element that contributes to the uniqueness of Ramco's offering, therefore, has been Ramco VirtualWorks, a virtual enterprise platform for designing, developing and deploying enterprise applications. In other words, it is a model-driven code generator that generates complete component-based applications from specified business requirements. Ramco VirtualWorks incorporates all the stages of software development life cycle (SDLC) including Requirements Modeling (done by functionality specialists/consultants), Design Specification (done by a design engineer/software architect), Construction (done by a developer), Testing (done by a quality engineer), and Deployment & Administration (done by business analyst/system administrator).
External service providers/system integrators and Ramco partners can use the business process modeling or object-oriented analysis and design tools to define the business requirements specifications. These are available to Ramco over the Internet and converted into terms understood by the VirtualWorks Requirements Workbench, with the idea to likely later reuse the produced components. The other VirtualWorks Workbenches generate the database schemas, user interfaces, and process flow control software. Finally, the resulting software components would then be made available to the partner for onsite testing and implementation.
Ramco and others have used the above methods for several years to build custom solutions. In the analysis of these projects, moreover, Ramco claims and customers verify, significant improvements in cost, time and quality. The platform also provides a form of "future proofing" application investments, one project for a major aircraft manufacturer was near completion when the customer decided to switch platforms from a Microsoft-centric environment to a J2EE /IBM WebSphere environment. This challenge would be nearly impossible in most development environments nowadays but was reportedly accomplished in a matter of days using Ramco VirtualWorks. This is because the business processes and business rules are defined independently from the software code in a business-focused application model, and the software code is generated from the model.
We see other vendors discussing some of the same methods and objectives as set forth by Ramco. We believe that Ramco may have raised the bar relative to what should be expected from enterprise applications, and other vendors are expected to follow. Ramco needs to prove its claims in the marketplace before other vendors or a large number of users will accept this as a breakthrough. However, assuming Ramco's claims are verified, most vendors are still very invested in their existing application products and technology and will need significant time and investment to evolve their solutions to meet the technology challenge set from Ramco. The above technology has the potential to convert the future of enterprise applications - from cast in stone' traditional monolithic products to application assembly to meet the specific ongoing needs of any organization.
This concludes Part One of a two-part note.
Part Two will cover User and Vendor Recommendations.