Intentia Moves to Java-based ERP
If there had been any doubt of IBM’s intent to fully exploit the capabilities of Java on the AS/400, Intentia International AB quiets any murmurs with the latest release of its Movex ERP package. This Java-based edition, known as Movex Next Generation, is heralded as the world's only ERP application written entirely in Java.
The release of Movex Version 11 during the first quarter of 1999 introduces to the AS/400 market a server-side enterprise resource planning solution composed using the Java development language. Movex Next Generation, or NextGen, will be released alongside a new version of Movex written in RPG, also referred to as Movex ThisGen.
NextGen and ThisGen are being introduced together because Intentia wants to be sure its customers feel comfortable moving to this new technology, according to Ed Koepfler, president and CEO of Sweden-based Intentia’s Americas Group, covering North, Central and South America. "We didn’t want to lose a single customer because of our rewrite," he says, adding, "Intentia is introducing the new Java and RPG versions together for investment protection."
Though Movex Version 11 is not currently certified as "100 percent Java" by Sun Microsystems (Mountain View, Calif.), Intentia plans to certify the product during the second quarter of 1999, according to Johan Berg, Intentia’s president of research and development.
NextGen is a combination of Java types, according to Berg. "For parts of the code, we have implemented a ‘super-class’ structure from which all common behaviors are inherited," he says. "For the business logic executing the transactions we have, for performance reasons, chosen a single-class structure [of Java]."
It always takes an "act of God to change these things," Koepfler says of ERP code. ERP is usually quite rigid, "but what happens if you really want to reconfigure the system? ‘Hey, I just bought a business, I used to be a discrete manufacturer, I’m in process now. I used to deal in one country, now I deal in 15 countries.’ We wanted to rewrite our system using technology that would enable us to reconfigure our products on-the-fly."
Intentia wrote its own middleware for the internal conversion of Movex code, "which is extremely structured," according to Koepfler. As a result, "less than 10 percent had to be hand-coded."
IBM has been working with Intentia primarily in a consulting role, "so [Intentia] understood what we were doing with Java on the AS/400 when it initially came out and what our plans are to improve Java performance and scalability over time," says John Quarantello, IBM’s Java marketing manager for AS/400. "They wanted to make sure that if they were going to do something major like rewrite their entire application set from RPG to Java, that they knew we were going to be real serious about this," he says.
"Intentia placed a bet on Java as an industry standard, and I think we’re seeing that bet paying off with this announcement and with some other capabilities that will come out in 1999," Quarantello says.
IBM’s goal is to find "some evidence, some credibility of server-based Java, and if that comes from the ERP environment, that’s great," Quarantello says. "There’s an awful lot of credibility that comes from that. If it comes from ISVs with more niche-based applications, that’s good too. We’re going to see three main areas of Java on the server: the ERP environment, San Francisco and Java application servers [like IBM’s WebSphere]."
Intentia is really mapping itself to IBM’s strategy for the AS/400 as well as Netfinity, according to Rod Johnson, senior analyst in the Enterprise Application Strategies group of AMR Research (Boston). "The news is extremely significant for Intentia, and their development in the North American market specifically."
Some of the specific benefits Java is supposed to offer – such as the ability to run an application anywhere – don’t really make sense for most of the "core functionality" within an ERP system, Johnson points out. There are, however, two areas in which Java could enhance Intentia’s ERP. "The first is the ability to run it in a more distributed environment, where you have an AS/400 at headquarters and NT servers at different locations throughout the company," he says. "Second, Java enables Intentia to have a stronger Internet or e-commerce message than they had before."
The RPG version of Movex will eventually be displaced by the Java version, according to Koepfler, "but that will only be when the vast majority of our customers are ready to take that step." In the meantime, the company will track sales of the two releases of Version 11 and determine when the RPG version is placed into maintenance mode and new enhancements are developed exclusively in Java.
Intentia believes the learning curve for Java is much shorter than with languages such as RPG, C and C+. The shift from existing languages to Java only becomes a problem if a vendor puts a timeframe on the migration, "which puts people into a corner," Koepfler adds.
With regard to pricing, the move to Version 11 is covered under contract like any other Intentia product upgrade. The company has plans to eventually port the product to other platforms, such as Unix and NT, but did not release a timeline for these events.
"If Intentia can prove it can provide significant benefit in the maintenance and integration of their application with their customers, they’ll really be able to be differentiated from the competition," Johnson concludes. "The only other [ERP] vendor that’s been successful rolling out an application that can operate in a heterogeneous environment is J.D. Edwards. But they’ve done that through development of some very sophisticated proprietary case tools that convert the code in that environment. Java allows you to have that same sort of flexibility without development of those tools. From an IT architecture investment standpoint, Java has a positive message."