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Volume 8, Number 13 -- April 3, 2008

Lawson Makes Progress on Landmark Journey

Published: April 3, 2008

by Alex Woodie

It's been about three years since Lawson Software launched Landmark, a new development environment destined to bring its applications into the 21st service oriented architecture (SOA) century. Along with giving them Landmark tools and new Landmark applications, Lawson has promised to convert its ERP suites to the new SOA world. At its recent user conference, Pramod Mathur, a key player in Landmark's development, gave IT Jungle the lowdown on Landmark's progression and how it will evolve in the future.

Lawson gave Landmark its formal name at its annual CUE conference three years ago in San Diego, but it had its beginnings long before. At the heart of Landmark is a high-level development language--described by some Lawson developers as a fifth-generation language--that Lawson developers will use to write new applications, and that the existing M3 and S3 ERP application suites will be converted to, modernized, and regenerated in. But Landmark is really more than that, and refers to all sorts of tools, utilities, middleware, and applications that will help Lawson and its customers adapt their ERP investments to the new SOA world.

"We always wanted to build a development platform like Landmark," says Mathur, who has worn many different hats during his 23 years with Lawson, and is currently a technical product director. "It's the culmination of 25 years of building software, different techniques and methodologies. This is one of the proudest moments for Lawson employees who have been associated with Landmark. It represents what we always imagined we could do one day, and are now doing."

While Lawson is in the middle of its Landmark rollout, the St. Paul, Minnesota, company has already achieved some of the goals it set for its R&D division. Mathur gives the example of an employee maintenance application, which would have taken 1,300 lines of code in Lawson's proprietary 4GL when he first joined the company. Before implementing Landmark, the greater needs of customers expanded that simple maintenance app to about 14,000 lines in the 4GL (which would then generate an even greater amount of RPG and COBOL). "With Landmark we're able to do the same application . . . in about 700 lines of code," he says.

"So from a productivity, quality, and deployment standpoint, it's just an amazing product that has been developed," he says. "The proof point comes from the implementations that we've already done." The first Landmark application to reach general availability was a strategic sourcing application for government procurement offices that Lawson announced at CUE 2005 in San Diego, and which Lawson delivered in 2006. Mathur says that application was the "highest quality, bug-free system" that Lawson has ever delivered. "We didn't have to come out with three versions before we stabilized the product. It was stabilized in first release and met customer expectations," he says.

Since then, Lawson has continued to spread Landmark components. This includes Lawson System Foundation 9, which was launched in December 2006 as part of the first major revision of S3 for i5/OS in five years, and which provided the technology underpinnings to enable Lawson's System i S3 users to begin the transition to Landmark. The company followed that up several months later with the launch of Lawson M3 System Foundation, which provided the same types of Landmark technology underpinnings for the former Movex ERP suite Lawson obtained from Intentia.

Lawson eventually plans to migrate the M3 and S3 ERP applications to Landmark, but exactly when this will occur has not been decided; the company is adamant that Landmark not become a painful upgrade for its customers.

In the meantime, Lawson has rolled out several other Landmark components, including last month's introduction at CUE 08 of the Strategic Human Capital Management (SHCM) suite, which takes a seat alongside S3 and M3 as a core Lawson application. One of the three SHCM components, the Talent Management system, was developed entirely in Landmark.

Also unveiled at CUE 08 was the Smart Office interface, another Landmark product. With Smart Office tools and Lawson's .NET-based Smart Client interface, M3 and S3 customers can access ERP features through Microsoft Office, and provide a slick "user experience" front-end to Landmark SOA processes running behind the scenes. "We can create a whole new user experience in terms of how an end user will interact with the application using an entirely new Landmark user experience," Mathur says.

Today, Lawson is in the third part of a three-part, multi-year project to roll out the full Landmark ecosystem. "We are in a transition," Mathur says. "We have not converted all our applications, our M3 and S3 applications, yet. That is a journey that we are on. We made a promise to ourselves that we will not shock our customers with everything converted and then go to market, and then have them go through a humongous migration process and a migration plan. Our position has been one of co-existence with the least amount of business disruption. We started out with giving them the Landmark runtime. We did that with System Foundation and all the technologies on which Landmark runs, as well as our existing applications run. That was number one. Step number two was we provided our customers with add-on modules to the existing applications, strategic sourcing being one and contact management another.

"What they are now getting familiarizes them not only with the Landmark runtime," Mathur continues, "but also the Landmark applications, allowing them to slowly grow into that. We don't disrupt a lot. And only customers interested in those applications got those applications. They became our early adopters and also provided a much higher degree of confidence to the rest of the community where Landmark would be better accepted. Everybody wants to know what problems other people are having before they jump to it."

"Our third step," Mathur continues, "was to come up with an entire suite of applications, and what better suite can we come up with than a cross-industry suite, like HCM, that all S3 and M3 customers can embrace. That's where we are right now. Our step in the future is to provide more and more of our suites to them. We have not announced those yet. I can't tell you what they are. But I know that a lot of active work is going on at Lawson to get those. And so we are going to provide more suites to our customers. We will be providing Landmark design tools to customers, to provide them the capability to extend their applications and develop applications using the technology just as much as we do ourselves."

At the same time, Lawson is also working on delivering deeper integration with Web services and SOA into its products. Again, Mathur breaks down customer integration needs into three constituent parts.

"The first is a customer just wants to use applications. Then there are customers who want to be able to integrate the Lawson applications themselves or using third-party tools, and they're asking for Web services. Today they use APIs. They have access to our Internet-based applications, over HTTP, with addressable ways of getting to our applications. But they are asking for Web services, which we have for two-thirds of our applications we have, and will have for all of our applications here very soon."

"Then at another level," Mathur continues, "they're asking for the ability to do the integration using Lawson tools. There we're providing tools to them. We call it the ProcessFlow Integrator product, which allows them to choreograph a process. It allows users to take a Lawson object, a third-party object, using Web services, and integrates the two, all using Lawson, without having to go outside the Lawson ecosystem, without having to bring in third party-tools to do the integration. At the third level, customers want to be able to choreograph the business process automation. Not just an integration process, but the ability to take business processes from another system, and business processes from Lawson systems, and integrate those business processes using a choreography engine, and then be able to deploy it, whether it's workflow or business processes, which require multi-step activities. We provide 20-plus adapters into Lawson systems and WS adapters, SQL adapters, JMS adapters, MQ adapters, and all these adapters that we provide to make it easy for them to bring in data and content from other systems, into a business process that overall enhances the Lawson process and automates them."

S3 is a bit ahead of M3 in availability of templates that automate the execution and flow of business processes in an SOA context. According to Mathur, there's a collection of about 100 processes currently available for S3. M3--which accounts for the bulk of Lawson's i5/OS user base--has a handful of processes available, but Lawson wants to do more testing and refinement before turning them loose on the M3 user base, Mathur says.

"We just announced that ProcessFlow Integrator is available to M3 customers," he says. "We announced that it is generally available, so we can take orders and we can sell the product. We are providing them with a starter pack with a few processes, and will grow that over time."


RELATED STORIES

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