LANSA Going Vertical with New B2B Apps
by Alex Woodie
LANSA is continuing its transformation from a vendor of high-level application development tools into a purveyor of applications, with the introduction of a new collection of bundled B2B e-commerce solutions for vertical industries. The first industry-specific application bundle to ship under LANSA's new Commerce Edition Direct label, announced in late July, is aimed at the food distribution business; additional applications for healthcare, insurance, and the government are expected to soon follow.
LANSA's new app for the food business, CE Direct UCCNet, enables companies to synchronize their stocking and naming conventions for food packages with UCCnet, the global product registry allowing the food distribution industry to go online. UCCnet is a network that distributes product information--such as size, weight, and product IDs--among business-to-business partners to facilitate Internet-based trading. UCCnet is a nonprofit, tax-exempt subsidiary maintained by Uniform Code Council, the company responsible for developing and maintaining standards, such as barcodes, for that industry.
LANSA's new CE Direct for UCCnet is an OS/400 application and services offering that allows companies to translate their AS/400 or iSeries files into the XML-based data types required by UCCnet. Like all of LANSA's new CE Direct applications, CE Direct for UCCnet is built on the underpinnings of LANSA Integrator, a relatively new Java Message Service-based product designed to facilitate bi-directional XML communication, without requiring users to know all the ins and outs of Java or XML.
CE Direct for UCCnet acts as a gateway for integrating companies' legacy ERP systems with UCCnet, providing pre-built integration points for extracting data from the ERP systems' Item Master files and converting or creating new file extensions for certain UCCnet attributes, such as Dimensional and Hazmat, as well as Global Trade Identification Numbers and Global Location Numbers.
In addition to launching CE Direct for UCCnet, LANSA has become an In Synch Alliance Partner with UCCnet, said Bill Hood, LANSA's marketing director. "Today companies such as Kraft, Procter & Gamble, Ralston-Purina, Wal-Mart, and hundreds of their trading partners are mandating many customers to become UCCnet compliant," he said. LANSA has also announced its first CE Direct for UCCnet customer, Crowley Foods, a Binghamton, New York, manufacturer of dairy products.
LANSA's second new offering, CE Direct Sell-Side, is not targeted at any particular industry; rather, it is an iSeries application engineered to provide companies with a speedy B2B e-commerce extension to their ERP systems or other manufacturing systems.
CE Direct Sell-Side supports the execution of five types of B2B transactions, including inbound stock inquiry, inbound price inquiry, inbound product inquiry, inbound order status inquiry, and inbound order to pending cart. The application uses LANSA Integrator to handle conversion of data types (comma and separated files [CSV and TSV], XML, and XLS spreadsheets are all accepted) and uses HTTP, through an OS/400 Web server, as the transportation mechanism.
CE Direct Sell-Side brings a deeper level of transaction automation than LANSA's first-generation offering, which was originally called Commerce Edition but has since been renamed Commerce Edition Direct Self-Service. CE Direct Self-Service allows companies to offer their customers and suppliers the capability to make orders, and check the status of orders, using a Web browser. CE Direct Sell-Side goes beyond the browser by enabling "machine to machine" communication, said Alan Christensen, director of e-business solutions at LANSA.
"We're going well beyond self-service," Christensen said. "If I'm selling widgets and a customer submits an order with 200 line items, they don't want to do it on the Web. They want to extract the purchase orders from their procurement application on their ERP system and shoot it down the pipe."
Christensen said that over the years, LANSA--and presumably its business partners and the independent software vendors that use LANSA's tools to build their applications--have run into just about every ERP system on the platform, such as MAPICS, daly.commerce, PRMS, and Mac-Pac. Based on this real-world experience with the ERP vendors' APIs, and how the LANSA tool best integrates with them, LANSA is now able to offer pre-built interfaces in its new series of CE Direct applications that can plug into these ERP systems without requiring the customer, consultant, or systems integrator to face steep learning curves every time.
Such is the advantage of building applications based on a fourth-generation language, LANSA's RDML.
"Historically, we're there with the right product, at the right time," Christensen said. "There's usually a bell curve of early adopters. By dealing with our lab in Australia, we can come around with a product that's marketable before the market hits the big bulge" of the bell curve.
This is the strategy LANSA is taking with the online trading exchanges, which were driving billions of dollars into the market capitalizations of publicly traded stock companies three years ago. Today the hype is mostly gone, and LANSA is working to develop CE Direct bundles for the online trading exchanges managed by Commerce One and Ariba, and Covisint, the exchange for the automotive industry.
"B2B is a commodity, not black magic, like it was two or three years ago," Christensen said. "Our biggest advantage is speed-to-market, selling solutions with a tool."
Indeed, the value proposition of LANSA three years ago was protection against technological change. The nature of LANSA's RDML, or any 4GL for that matter, is such that it is fairly easy to recompile your 4GL source code into any new language that was supported by your 4GL vendor. But people aren't buying 4GL tools anymore. Tool sales are flat, and people today want quick answers to their technology problems, said Hood.
Because of this change, LANSA is becoming much more proactive in driving the types of solutions it thinks its customers might buy, rather than responding to the technology requests of its installed base. Today, the balance between pushing technology and responding to customer requests is about 50/50, said Christensen.
LANSA has its plate full with new products these days. In addition to the three new CE Directs for the online exchanges, the company expects to ship a new CE Direct for HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) by the beginning of September, as well as a new CE Direct Buy-Side bundle in two to three months. CE Direct bundles for the insurance industry and government organizations are also on the drawing board.
Christensen said LANSA is considering developing a CE Direct bundle for RosettaNet, the online exchange for the electronics and computer industry, but that it is not as high on the list of priorities. Incidentally, UCCnet recently acquired RosettaNet, which should make gaining RosettaNet compliance easier, considering LANSA is already a UCCnet partner.
But the technology isn't the only thing happening at the Oak Brook, Illinois, company these days. LANSA is making personnel moves and working to expand its presence in Europe and Japan. Bill Benjamin, the company's longtime vice president of business development, recently left the company for other career opportunities, and the company is reportedly close to finding a replacement. LANSA recently hired Jonathan Selby to lead the company's European operations from England, and formed LANSA Japan Ltd.
Contact the Editors
Last Updated: 8/20/02
Copyright © 1996-2008 Guild Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved.