Lawson Software buys into IBM's SOA vision

Lawson Software will work with IBM to build service oriented architecture support into its products.

Lawson Software will work with IBM to develop new service oriented architecture (SOA) interfaces to its line of business application software, the two companies announced Wednesday.

Lawson will make IBM's WebSphere middleware software the foundation for its SOA-enabled platform, code-named "Project Landmark," said Dean Hager, Lawson's chief product officer. The first Landmark components, which include Lawson's financial, supply chain management, and human resources software, will begin shipping within the next year, he said.

SOA applications are designed in such a way that different parts of the application can operate independently of each other. Because of this design, any one feature can be changed without breaking other parts of the application.

This makes an SOA architecture much more responsive to changing business requirements than traditional software development, where one feature change could derail an entire application, said Steve Mills, senior vice president of IBM's software group.

The ideas behind SOA have been around for a "long time," but advances in Internet standards and software development tools have now made them easier to develop, he said.

"Our view at IBM is that we've reached yet another inflection point in the technology industry," Mills said. "If I want to run my business around the business processes, then I need an underlying application infrastructure that's responsive to that."

The Lawson partnership solves problems for both IBM and Lawson, said Bob Anderson, an analyst with Gartner. "Lawson was in the position of being a big vendor in the ERP market without a big commitment to SOA, and knowing they couldn't do it on their own," he said. "IBM did not have a major business applications vendor that was fully committed (to its architecture)."

A heated race for leadership in the SOA space has developed over the past 18 months, with IBM, Oracle, Microsoft, and SAP all pushing their respective products in this direction, Anderson said. But SOA is still in its early days, he said. "There's still a lot of execution that we have in front of us," he said.

One customer that has taken the plunge is Fireman's Fund Insurance Co., which has awarded IBM a US$94 million contract to adapt Fireman's 500 internal applications to an SOA. The transition will reduce the insurance company's total number of applications to 143 and is projected to save Fireman's Fund US$200 million over the next 10 years, according to Chief Information Officer Fred Matteson.

IBM has already moved Fireman's Fund's seven billing systems to a SOA, and the company's insurance quote system is expected to be converted next month, Matteson said.

The flexibility of a SOA architecture will allow the company to quickly develop new features and products, Matteson said. "As markets expand, I can increase the amount of work that I do. As markets contract, I can reduce the amount of work."

Still, it's going to take a lot of work before Fireman's Fund is ready to move all the way to SOA, Matteson said. For one thing SOA technology still needs work on things like handling failed transactions, he said. For another, it may prove difficult to adapt all of Fireman's Fund's 500 legacy applications to the modular architecture that SOA requires. "Those systems weren't designed to be modularized," he said.

Service-oriented architectures have been embraced by only 10 or 20 percent of users right now, and are mostly in the very early phases of adoption, Anderson said. But over the next few years there will be increasing competitive pressure to adopt SOAs, he said.

One catalyst for change will be the speed with which SOA-enabled customers will be able to change their applications, Anderson said. "The 2007 timeframe will be when folks say, 'Gee, part of our competitive advantage here is to be able to quickly add a supplier," he said. "Folks that hold off and say, 'We're going to do business the way we always have. I don't think they understand just how fast the speed of change is going to be in the future."

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