ERP Vendor Navision Reveals Its Intentions for the iSeries
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
Last year I told you IBM and Danish ERP
software maker Navision were in negotiations that
would result in one of the popular Navision software suites being ported to the
OS/400 platform and promoted on iSeries servers. Last week, IBM and Navision went public with their
plans, and Navision's applications for small businesses will indeed be available on OS/400 shortly,
and should boost sales of iSeries servers.
Navision is probably not a familiar company to OS/400 shops, particularly those in North America.
Navision is the result of the merger, in November 2000, of two midrange ERP software vendors from
Denmark, Navision Software and Damgaard Software. The combined company, which sells ERP
applications throughout the world, has an installed base of over 130,000 installations and a reseller and
implementation partner channel that numbers over 2,250 companies. Sources at Navision say that the
company averages over 10,000 installs of its products each year, which makes Navision one of the highest-
volume players in the midrange. Navision's chief competitor on the Windows server platform is none other
than Microsoft's own Great Plains Software unit,
which Microsoft acquired at the end of 2000.
Navision and Damgaard had distinct solutions before their merger, and the combined company maintains
the differentiated product lines, because they need to server different sectors of the midrange market. The
three Damgaard product lines--now called Navision Axapta, Navision Financials, and Navision XAL--were
supported on Windows and Unix platforms running Microsoft SQL Server and Oracle databases, and were aimed at companies with more than 1,000
employees, with between $100 million and $500 million in annual revenues. The Navision Attain product,
which came from the Navision side of the merger, was always aimed at companies with 10 to 50 employees
and with revenues in the $10 million to $100 million range.
This is the sweet spot of the midrange market, and one that IBM has been neglecting with the OS/400
platform for years. The fact that IBM has been able to encourage Navision to port the Attain suite, which is
supported on Windows and Unix platforms, to the iSeries is a good sign that IBM is finally beginning to
understand that it needs many more low-end solutions on the iSeries to boost OS/400 server sales. IBM
used to have thousands of partners and resellers peddling RPG II and RPG III programs down in this neck
of the midrange woods back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and it is these companies alongside the
bigger software houses selling RPG/400 applications that made the AS/400 an undisputed success for more
than a decade. IBM cut off a lot of these partners in the late 1990s, and iSeries shipments have suffered.
Each one of these thousands of resellers might have only done a dozen deals or less a year, but when you
added them up, it was nonetheless tens of thousands of machines and billions of dollars in OS/400 products
Sources at IBM say that Navision will be working with Big Blue to push xSeries-Windows and iSeries-
OS/400 versions of the Attain suite to small and midsize companies around the world, with the exception of
Asian countries that need double-byte character set (DBCS) support, which is not available in Attain. The
Attain suite is predominantly written in C, and Navision has tweaked the AIX version of its software and
dropped it into the OS/400 PASE AIX runtime environment to move it to the iSeries. The Attain suite
supports Microsoft's SQL Server database as well as an integrated database designed by Navision called
C/Side. The Attain programs are optimized for this C/Side database, and it is the one that Navision
recommends most customers use (SQL Server is an option that Navision has to offer to compete with
Microsoft's Great Plains unit). Rather than tweak Attain to ride on top of OS/400's DB2/400 integrated
database, which would have been a lot of work, Navision decided to port its C/Side database to PASE,
which was also a lot of work. However, this simplifies the sales and support issues for Navision and,
according to sources, will result in pretty respectable performance on the iSeries as well.
Exactly how IBM and Navision will bring the Attain suite to the iSeries is still unclear. It seems likely that
the product will be available on co-branded servers such as those available from other midrange software
vendors. But given the fact that Navision is not making use of DB2/400, it is possible that there will
eventually be a true "Bumblebee" version of the iSeries for Navision's software, which will have the
DB2/400 database either removed or made inactive. The reason this is important is simple: DB2/400 may
be bundled with OS/400, but it sure isn't free. If IBM can create an iSeries Bumblebee that has DB2/400
removed and Attain on it with its own C/Side database, then it can charge a lot less money for this box
without fear of shenanigans on the part of customers or resellers. Navision gives its source code to its 2,250
partners, who customize it and support it on behalf of Navision. The average Navision Attain software
acquisition is in the range of $20,000 to $25,000, and the total solution cost for a few dozen users--
including hardware, software, and services--is in the $70,000 range. If IBM wants to push the iSeries down
in this market, it is going to have to significantly reduce its iSeries prices, and locking out DB2/400 is one
good way to do that.
No matter what paths IBM and Navision decide to take with their iSeries support for the Attain suite, the
only limit on where Attain will run will be the scalability of the software itself, say sources. Attain is a two-
tier client/server application and is probably only appropriate on iSeries machines with four or fewer
processors, which means it will probably be sold on Model 270 servers and perhaps on the Model 820s.
IBM and its resellers are peddling Attain on its xSeries machines immediately. Navision expects to have
Attain ready for the iSeries during the second quarter of 2002.