Infor Shares Development Plans for Lawson M3
July 25, 2011 Alex Woodie
Users of Lawson Software‘s M3 suite are getting Infor‘s new SharePoint-based Workspace user interface, and ION, a Java-based enterprise service bus (ESB), the ERP giant announced last week. Conversely, Infor plans to adopt some of Lawson’s products and technology for its existing offerings, including its Smart Office interface, Mashup Designer, and Enterprise Search options.
Infor bolstered its already-dominant position in the IBM i enterprise software space with its $1.83 billion purchase of Lawson, one of the few remaining large ERP software houses that cater to midmarket and enterprise customers. While both of Lawson’s flagship ERP products–the M3 and S3 suites–run on the IBM i platform, the Java-based M3 suite (formerly Intentia International’s Movex) has a much larger IBM i installed base and sits right in the platform’s sweet spots in the manufacturing and distribution industries.
Following the official ratification of the friendly takeover by Lawson shareholders earlier this month, the Atlanta, Georgia, software company moved quickly to begin addressing any concerns that Lawson’s M3 customers’ might have about their future with Infor by issuing, in effect, a statement of direction (to borrow an IBM term).
Sharing is Caring
One of the top development priorities is making M3 suite work with Workspace, the new Microsoft SharePoint-based graphical user interface (GUI) that Infor unveiled earlier this year. Infor plans to make Workspace the standard GUI for all of its products, which it says will make it easier to train users, in addition to providing them the application resources they need and securing the whole thing. The technology isn’t yet offered with Infor’s IBM i ERP systems, but will begin to in the next six to nine months, Infor officials told IT Jungle during the Workspace launch earlier this year.
The other big development priority for M3 involves ION, the ESB and business process management (BPM) tool that is at the heart of Infor’s service oriented architecture (SOA) strategy. ION, which is based on ActiveMQ‘s open source message broker technology, will be the key product that makes it relatively easy for Lawson customers to utilize other Web service-enabled Infor products. At the top of the ION-ization wish list are Infor’s product lifecycle management (PLM), supply chain planning, and warehouse management offerings, according to Henrik Billgren, the vice president of product development for M3.
ION is a big deal to M3 customers, Billgren said. “Lawson had made minor investments on the process flow side,” he told IT Jungle. “We have a product called Process Flow Integrator, and it can co-exist with ION quite nicely, but ION is a complete service bus.” He said ION-ized application flows are “unbreakable” and secure.
While Infor is not ready to share delivery schedules for the M3 integration work, there’s no reason why the first two–Workspace and ION–shouldn’t be ready by the end of the year, Billgren said. M3 developers in Sweden (the ancestral home of Intentia, which Lawson bought in 2005) and Infor developers in Atlanta and other areas already have working prototypes, he says.
While Lawson customers look to score the biggest technology benefits from the acquisition, Infor customers can also look forward to utilizing some of Lawson’s creations.
At the top of the list here is Lawson’s Smart Office, a Microsoft .NET-based framework introduced in 2008 that allows users to access a range of Lawson applications (including ERP, collaboration, business intelligence, and portals) from within Microsoft Office applications, such as Outlook or Excel. Billgren sees Smart Office being used by power users, while Workspace is the go-to interface for the majority of users.
Infor will also expand Lawson’s Enterprise Search offering to its other products. Enterprise Search is a “Google-style” search function that lets users search against structured and unstructured data residing in their ERP systems and elsewhere. Lawson rolled it out for S3 in 2009, and added support for M3 in February 2010.
Last but not least is the Mashup Designer, a Smart Office tool Lawson unveiled at its user conference in April that allows customers to build their own composite applications, without programming.
No timeline was given for supporting any Infor products with Smart Office, Enterprise Search, or Mashup Designer.
There are no big changes planned for the industries that M3 will serve. M3 has a very big following in two verticals–fashion and food and beverage–where Infor isn’t as strong. M3’s position in the manufacturing, distribution, and equipment service management and rental markets will be less strategic to Infor, which already has a glut of manufacturing-oriented ERP and MRP systems running on IBM i and other platforms.
“The M3 solution complements the Infor industry offerings very well, and adds a lot of strategic value to a number of verticals that we’re already engaged in,” Billgren said.
While M3’s heritage is the IBM midrange platform and the majority of its 2,000 customers run it on IBM midrange gear, M3 won’t be managed within Infor’s iSeries division. According to Billgren, it will be managed alongside ERP LN, which is the old Baan product.
“I wouldn’t consider M3 an iSeries product,” continued Billgren, who said that 60 to 70 percent of M3 users run the Java version (meaning 30 to 40 percent still run the heritage RPG version). “Most of our customers, the medium-sized manufacturers and distributors, select iSeries. But I do believe, moving forward with Infor, we will be much more aggressive on other platforms.”
Just the same, M3 looks to become the fourth major, actively developed IBM i-supported (if not IBM i-based) ERP suite in Infor’s lineup, with the other’s being ERP LX (BPCS), ERP XA (MAPICS), and ERP System 21. Infor is encouraging customers on all of its other acquired IBM i ERP systems (such as PRMS, PRISM, BRAIN, Anael, KBM, and Daly.Commerce) to take advantage of its Flex upgrade path to move to one of the actively developed suites.
There are a number of unanswered questions at this point regarding the integration of Lawson into Infor, including how M3 will play in Infor’s Flex upgrade program. Other areas that will need fleshing out include: whether there will be cuts to the Swedish development team; which company’s business intelligence strategy to put forward; whether there will be changes to M3 maintenance fees; and the future of the company’s respective cloud offerings.
As far as layoffs go, Infor did confirm that a “job reduction” did occur two weeks ago in Lawson’s former headquarters in St. Paul, Minnesota. The company did not disclose the number of people laid off or if there will be more.
Overall, Infor and Lawson view the future as rosy for M3 customers. “Investment is happening as we speak,” Billgren said. Going forward under Infor’s wing “is strengthening the existing roadmap we already had. We will invest more moving forward, strengthening the solution for our existing customer and potential new customers.”