LANSA Adds Refinements to BPI Product
April 14, 2009 Alex Woodie
Users of LANSA‘s visual business process integration (BPI) tool, Composer, can expect to see a smoother installation, better performance, and improved manageability with version 2.0, which recently became generally available. The software–which automates common integration tasks and office grunt-work (such as re-keying an order from Word into a 5250 application) using customizable workflows created in a drag-and-drop editor–also gains more EDI and document output functionality, as well as support for Windows Server.
LANSA launched the first version of Composer a little over a year ago as a way to simplify common integration tasks in the back offices and IT departments of small and mid size businesses. While larger companies can afford sophisticated BPI tools, the SMB could not justify the six- or seven-figure costs of these tools.
But SMBs aren’t immune to the productivity drains that afflict larger companies, says David Brault, LANSA’s product marketing manager. “One of the biggest issues we find in the SMB market today is we just have too many manual processes,” he says. “Every time somebody has to get on the phone, send a fax, walk over to a filing cabinet, or manually sort a document, it negatively impacts the productivity of that company.”
Composer combines LANSA’s existing data integration tool, called Integrator, with a graphical business process mapping tool, Mapforce from Altova (an OEM partner), and the result is a product that allows business analysts to string business processes together in a GUI environment, without having to worry about low-level integration interfaces and protocols (Composer uses LANSA’s 4GL technology to generate the actual code for them).
Breaking Down Product Barriers
Feedback from early Composer adopters has led LANSA to bolster the product’s functionality with more than 100 enhancements. The new features are spread across several key areas and involve IT disciplines–such as EDI and document management–that one doesn’t normally associate with LANSA, but shows how the company is innovating to help its customers.
Composer 2.0 brings two key EDI enhancements, says Dermot O’Doherty, a LANSA Composer implementation specialist. First, LANSA has made it easier to set up and manage trading partner profiles. Secondly, the product gives customers more visibility into EDI traffic, as well as more flexibility to customize EDI processes according to specific customer requirements. Both are important features for companies that do a high volume of EDI transactions.
Composer, which already supported the core EDI standards with version 1, will get additional EDI capabilities in the future, O’Doherty says. “From what I’m hearing and what we’re seeing feedback from sales and presales, there’s been a lot more interest in traditional EDI than what we anticipated,” he says.
In fact, customers are close to being able to dump their legacy EDI translation tools and use Composer instead, Brault says. “We really misjudged the level of discontent that customers were having with their legacy EDI translators,” he says. “In the next stages, we’ll say, if you want to finally get rid of your EDI translation tool, you can, and just go with LANSA Composer…. It’s not quite there yet, but we’re getting very close.”
LANSA Composer 2.0 also brings benefits in the area of document output management–a well-defined midrange discipline that LANSA traditionally has not played in. Specifically, this release brings the capability to automatically convert i OS (OS/400) spool files into PDF documents, which can then be distributed via e-mail, FTP, HTTP, or fax.
The new version also gives users more options on what to do with files as part of a business process orchestration. “A lot of times, as these files get processed, they want to have better control over how or where document archived,” Brault says. “If you want to keep a copy of every inbound document [you have to figure out] how do you want to move it, and where do you want to archive it. We just made that a little easier with version 2.”
So, is LANSA going after the document output management vendors with Composer 2.0, as it apparently will do with the EDI translation vendors? Hardly, says Brault. “It’s just part of general BPI,” he says. “We’re just trying to become this one stop shop where you don’t have to have seven tools to do all this stuff.”
Less Muss, No Fuss
Further evidence of a maturing BPI tool comes from new auditing, version management, and exception handling features in Composer 2.0.
The new version’s management feature keeps track of every business process orchestration that has been developed with the customer’s implementation of the product, including all changes and saves, and the proper order of sequences. “It enables customers to view, delete, or restore prior versions of these processes on demand,” Brault says.
Composer will also now generate a log of all the steps in a given process orchestration. “It kind of tells you in English exactly what this process is going to do,” Brault says. “So if somebody says, ‘I’m not sure what you’re doing in this process,’ you can just print this out, and they can get a good gander at exactly what’s going on.”
Better exception handling procedures in Composer 2.0 will be warmly received by customers who rely on the product for critical business functions. With this release, customers can make amendments to processes, and continue from the point of interruption when unexpected events occur.
LANSA gives customers more deployment options with this release. An automated deployment option can eliminate many of manual steps previously required to deploy the product, and cut down on errors. Version 2.0 also supports IBM i 6.1 out of the box.
One of the most anticipated new features in Composer 2.0 is support for Microsoft Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2008. Previously, the product only supported i5/OS and IBM i as production environments.
Support for Windows will be greatly appreciated by customers running older iron who can’t afford the additional CPWs that Composer can impose–especially for things such as parsing XML documents, which can consume hardware resources like nobody’s business.
One prospective Composer customer had a very old AS/400, with less than 1 GB of RAM, that ran everything, including JD Edwards, according to O’Doherty. “To load an engine like this on a machine like that simply wouldn’t fly,” he says. “It takes $50 to go to Best Buy to put 4 GB of RAM in a Windows server. To do the same thing on an iSeries . . . you’re talking $7,000 to $10,000. It’s a lot more cost effective for them in terms of hardware.”
But customers that are actively investing in new technology, including the rip-roaring new Model 520s and 550s, should have no problem running Composer on IBM i, LANSA says. And with a license fee that sits in the range of $10,000 to $30,000, LANSA Composer won’t break the bank.
For more information on LANSA’s Composer, see the links below and www.lansa.com.