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Lawson Software Inc. is overhauling its ERP suite to be more open, flexible and modular in an effort to make it easier for customers to add functionality to their Lawson systems.

The strategy, according to officials in St. Paul, Minn., calls for creating an architecture that enables faster development, breaks its applications into flexible components and opens its development environment to make it available to business analysts as well as IT developers.

The project is largely a response to a major evolution occurring in the enterprise resource planning arena, where top-tier players SAP AG, Oracle Corp., PeopleSoft Inc. and Siebel Systems Inc. are moving from proprietary development environments to more open, Web services-based ones, according to analysts.

Unwittingly cast in the enterprise software limelight during Oracle’s battle to acquire PeopleSoft, Lawson is attempting to rise to the challenge with a 1,000-day plan, announced earlier this month.

As a part of that plan, which was not widely disseminated, Lawson is engaged in a three-year project to enable its suite of business applications to be flexible and open to integration with outside applications.

The move is similar to the SOA (service-oriented architecture) that SAP, of Walldorf, Germany, introduced in March. But while market leader SAP is basing the componentization of its applications on its NetWeaver integration platform, Lawson said it will create an open development language that will result in a new development platform, redesign some of its core applications and add new functionality to the suite.

The first deliverable will come later this year with the release of an update to Lawson’s application server that includes a J2EE (Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition) layer. The new programming language will be incorporated later. The update will enable Lawson customers to upgrade their technology platforms without affecting their applications. It will also open up Lawson’s application server to development environments from IBM and BEA Systems Inc.

Lawson’s 1,000-day plan

Step Effect
Create an object-oriented

Preserves the structure of componentized applications

Componentize applications

Enables service-oriented applications in which separate
components can be treated as independent entities

Build a new development

Enables the automatic creation environment, including
a of an object that can integrate new pattern language and inherit
functionality from a user’s system

The addition of J2EE in the application server will be helpful, said Lawson user David Smith, manager of applications development at MedStar Health, in Columbia, Md.

“Right now, anything that we do custom is in COBOL,” Smith said. “That’s sort of an older language and not necessarily taught in math classes in universities.” J2EE “really brings [my team] up-to-date,” he said.

At the same time, Lawson is building a development environment that uses a pattern language to let business analysts create specifications for the types of solutions needed. Once created, the software automatically generates an object that would, by default, be integrated with the rest of the system.

The object would also inherit whatever properties it needed from the rest of the system in such a way that will make code development “extremely rapid,” said Lawson Chief Product Officer Dean Hagar.

Lawson is writing its first applications using this technology and plans a second wave of applications that build on the initial functionality of the first application set.

The company expects to release the first iteration of the platform and applications some time next year, Hagar said.

There is little question that the ERP industry is at an inflection point. “I see the transformation [inherent in the emerging SOAs] as greasing the skids towards that drive towards virtualization and dynamic computing,” said Dwight Davis, an analyst with Summit Strategies Inc., in Boston.

With Lawson moving toward “supporting Web service standards between internal modules and the outside world, it would put them squarely in the movement of all ERP vendors of supporting more open [environments],” Davis said.

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