SSA Delivers New ERP LX Platform for iSeries
May 10, 2005 Alex Woodie
It’s been two-and-a-half years since SSA Global first started talking about plans to converge its growing stable of OS/400-based ERP suites into a single product with a single code base. The company finally delivered on that promise last week when it announced the general availability of ERP LX, a new ERP suite that may look familiar to BPCS users, and which is intended to be the ERP system that the company’s BPCS, PRMS, KBM, PRISM, and Infinium customers eventually migrate to.
Before it became the trendy thing to do in the enterprise software space–before Oracle, PeopleSoft, and SAP initiated hostile takeovers and bidding wars for rival software companies–SSA Global saw value in acquiring down-on-their-luck software companies with proven products and large user bases. Since the company emerged from its bankruptcy in 2000, SSA Global has acquired about half a dozen software companies, many of them with OS/400 products, with the idea that it could provide a sort of “safe haven” to provide continued maintenance for users of older ERP systems, while at the same time selling them new functionality through various “extension” products, such as CRM, SCM, and business intelligence.
For this safe haven idea to go to the next level, however, it became apparent that SSA Global would eventually need to whittle down the number of core ERP products going forward. The company never backtracked on its commitment to never sunset a product (and still provides maintenance for multiple versions of its products), but delivering new functionality through new releases of dozens of disparate ERP suites simply didn’t make sense financially.
In the fall of 2003, just after acquiring the Baan business and effectively doubling its revenues and installed base overnight, SSA Global first unveiled its strategy to standardize on two core ERP platforms, one for the iSeries, and one for Unix and Windows based on the Baan product line. The company delivered on the Baan part of that promise last August, and last week, it finally delivered on the iSeries part of the promise.
A Heavy Dose of BPCS
SSA Global started shipping ERP LX at version 8.3, suggesting it’s the next release of BPCS after BPCS version 8.2, which the company shipped two years ago. However, in developing ERP LX, SSA Global has taken a “best of feature” approach that blends the top elements from all of SSA Global’s ERP suites, says Cory Eaves, the company’s chief technology officer.
“A lot of ERP LX comes from BPCS, but a lot it comes from PRMS and KBM, too,” Eaves says. “It’s not right to think of it as the next generation of BPCS.”
While much of the features and functionality of ERP LX comes from BPCS and may look similar, the underlying technology in ERP LX is quite different from BPCS, which was developed in the AS/SET 4GL environment, Eaves says. “ERP LX was written in IBM‘s standard Eclipse tooling,” he says. “Some of it’s Java, some of it’s RPG ILE. Technically, it’s very different” from previous releases of BPCS.
SSA Global is targeting BPCS users with this first release of ERP LX, and it will target users of its other ERP products with future releases of ERP LX, Eaves says. The reason that BPCS users are being provided tools and methodologies to upgrade to ERP LX before other customers is that BPCS users simply represent the largest OS/400 ERP user base for SSA Global, he says. PRMS is the next largest, and users of that product will get the upgrade tools via an ERP LX service pack later this year, followed by KBN, PRISM, and Infinium MM/PR, in that order.
Eaves says SSA has taken a “very comprehensive approach” to upgrades and will provide BPCS shops with migration tools, methodology, and professional services to make the switch to ERP LX. A conversion tool will be available to move all currently supported BPCS applications, including BPCS versions 4.05, 6.X, and 8.X, to ERP LX 8.3. “It will convert at the touch of a button,” Eaves says of the conversion tool–except, of course, for any modifications the users may have made to their BPCS applications. Those won’t go so nicely.
Modifications have always been the sticking point for any major ERP upgrade or migration, and it will be no different with ERP LX. To help ease the burden, SSA Global plans to deliver a scanning tool that tells the user what parts of a BPCS application have not been modified and can be migrated fairly easily with the conversion tool, and which areas of the application have been modified and therefore must be rewritten for ERP LX. Eaves says SSA Global will provide professional services to rewrite modifications for ERP LX; modifications can be made in either Java or RPG, he says. However, this tool will not be available until the first service pack ships later this year.
So why would a shop go through the hassle of an ERP upgrade, just to switch architectures? They probably wouldn’t, and they shouldn’t have to in the case of ERP LX, as the release also brings new functionality to BPCS users, including a Web-based interface (greenscreens are still supported, for all you dinosaurs out there) and new workflow capabilities.
The new workflow looks to be the big area of improvement for ERP LX. While older versions of BPCS supported things like database triggers, the new workflow capability is graphical, and should be easier for non-programmer types to use. Eaves says the new capability enables the automatic generation of a workflow–such as kicking off an inventory cycle count, or a work order approval–from hundreds of different events.
“Now we have a full graphical workflow system with about 350 events that can trigger these workflows,” Eave says. “There are six major workflow starting points, and you can go in and customize these things.” For example, the customer order workflow can be modified to alert a sales manager when one of a company’s top 10 customers places an order. “That’s now very easy to do with the system,” he says.
The new workflow system and the Web-based interface require a J2EE Web application server, such as IBM’s WebSphere. Does that mean that customers have to use WebSphere or some other J2EE app server to use ERP LX? “Strictly speaking, no,” Eaves says. “But practically speaking, yes. They wouldn’t have to use the Web-based user interface or workflow, but if they want to use those new features, they need a Java application server. They would be giving up a lot of the benefits of ERP LX if they don’t have a Java application server.”
A Java application server is also a prerequisite for using what Eaves describes as the “SSA technology architecture,” which is a middle layer that sits between the ERP system and the Java application server, and provides all kinds of services, such as the user interface, security, single sign-on, message routing, and data analysis, which are commonly accessed by both the underlying ERP product and any extension product, such as CRM or SCM. “The SSA technology architecture is sort of the common underpinning for all of the SSA products,” Eaves says. “It’s our answer to the service oriented architecture.”
SSA ERP LX 8.3 is supported on OS/400 V5R1 through V5R3, and is a free upgrade to all BPCS customers on maintenance. For more information, visit www.ssaglobal.com.