Lawson Updates ERP, Unveils SaaS Plans at User Conference
Published: March 15, 2007
by Alex Woodie
Lawson Software announced a new release of its M3 (formerly Movex) ERP application suite that addresses performance concerns last week at its annual user conference, held in San Diego. The software giant also outlined its plans for the ERP hosting and software as a service (SaaS) market, added more OEM'ed WebSphere components from IBM into its technology stack, unveiled a new version of Lawson Business Intelligence, and expanded its network of partners, among other announcements.
It's been a long haul for Lawson and its acquisition of Intentia over the past 18 months. Difficulties in reconciling the two companies' accounting methods delayed the closing of the deal, while some questions remain regarding its product consolidation strategy and its next-generation "Landmark" application. The company took the chance last week at its conference and user exchange (CUE) to contemplate its journey, thank customers for sticking with Lawson, and lay out the steps it will take to stay competitive in the future.
At the top of the list is M3 version 7.1, a new release of the Java-based ERP suite used by about 500 companies around the world. ( Between 1,200 and 1,500 Lawson customers are still running the old RPG-based version of Movex, which is a concern to the company.) M3 7.1 provides the application layer that sits atop Lawson M3 System Foundation, a collection of middleware, announced just last month, that's designed to protect M3 applications from system-level changes, as well as streamline the eventual move to a common infrastructure layer with S3, Lawson's other line of ERP apps, and, eventually, Landmark.
While the move to common WebSphere-based plumbing is nice, Lawson really hopes users don't notice the difference. What it hopes stands front and center in users' minds when they get a chance to see version 7.l is the new .NET-based smart client interface that debuts with the release.
In previous releases of M3, users interacted with the system through a browser-based, thin-client interface, called Workplace. However, that product didn't give users the flexibility they needed to optimize their jobs, and it was slow, according to John Glendhill, M3 product manager.
Glendhill says the new smart client blends the best of thick-client technology--better screen response and Windows-like behavior--with benefits associated with thin-client technology--centralized deployment and management. Once users download the smart client, they can customize their "canvas" screen with an array of widgets. The new smart client is much faster and should make the overall user experience much more satisfying, Glendhill says.
One M3 customer that can testify to the less-than-satisfying experience with slow thin clients is Weitzer Parkett, an Austrian wood flooring company that recently upgraded to M3 5.1 from Movex 11.3, an RPG-based version. Andreas Purkarthofer, a company representative and the president of Movex User Group Austria, is not impressed with Workplace.
"I'm not a friend of the GUI," Purkarthofer says. "If we have a power user who's fast with fingers, they have to wait." The green screens with older versions of M3, on the other hand, were "extremely fast." "In the database, it's faster I think. Only Workplace is slow," he says, adding that Lawson recommended he move the Workplace server from the iSeries, where it currently sits, to a Windows server to speed processing. Another option would be to move to M3 7.1 and get the new smart client, but Weitzer Parkett just installed 5.1 and is going to stay with it for a while, he says.
M3 7.1, which becomes available in May, contains 100 functional enhancements overall. Several of the other major enhancements include: a new Supply Chain Order module that links the various orders within a supply chain to provide better visibility into the supply chain; a new Fashion Production Planning module that simulates production capability at multiple sites to enable better decision making; various enhancements to the Forecasting and Demand Planner applications that should improve the accuracy and speed of forecasts; and several new features in the Sales and Marketing module designed to boost tracking of marketing activities, management of marketing promotions, and make reporting easier.
Lawson also announced an expansion of its partnership with IBM that will result in Lawson including the WebSphere Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) with Lawson System Foundation (LSF), the technology layer used by S3. It's unclear from the announcement if WebSphere ESB--a critical component in building and running a service oriented architecture (SOA)--will also be included with Lawson M3 System Foundation, the (slightly different) version of LSF used with M3 applications. A Lawson executive said the ESB would support Lawson M3 System Foundation, but the company's official statement on the matter is this: "Future releases of the Lawson M3 System Foundation may include additional, optional IBM components as they are optimized on Lawson M3 System Foundation," which leaves a little to be desired in clarity and purpose.
There was less ambiguity in Lawson's direction in the blossoming application hosting and SaaS markets. With the company's newly announced Lawson Total Care Platinum program, customers can opt to house their S3 and M3 applications in IBM data centers, and have IBMers provide the regular care and feeding required by hardware, applications, operating systems, and databases.
Customers can bank on 99.7 percent system uptime, and feel safe knowing IBM has done the legwork of building redundancies for network connections, electrical feeds, and cooling, "The type of stuff that internal IT departments often struggle to provide," says Terry Plath, Lawson's director of ERP market development. What's more, Platinum also promises "a strategic step to offer SaaS," says Plath, hinting we should expect to hear more about Lawson's SaaS strategy in the coming months.
While Lawson's SaaS strategy is being hashed out, M3 and S3 customers can start using Lawson Business Intelligence version 9.02, which was also announced at CUE. With this release, Lawson BI is now available in Swedish and French, opening the product to more potential users. The product's integration with M3 has also been enhanced with the capability to link Lawson BI with the Lawson Business Performance Warehouse in M3 deployments, giving customers a "single version of the truth," the company says.
Lawson also announced an overhaul to its global partner program, which was necessary following the acquisition of Intentia, which had customers all over the world. (Lawson previously was focused primarily on the North American market.) With the new Lawson Partner Network, the ERP giant recognizes four types of partners: service partners, including system integrators; channel partners, including resellers in countries where Lawson doesn't have a direct presence; software and product partners, which offer products that complement Lawson's ERP products; and technology partners.
Rounding out the news deluge was the Lawson Learning Accelerator, an interactive and customizable ERP desktop simulator that Lawson claims can reduce training times by up to 80 percent; and the Global Reporting Initiative, a drive to help organizations better track their progress in being good global citizens by doing things like reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, protecting wildlife habitat, boosting workplace diversity, and tracking customer complaints.
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