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May 4, 2009

Lawson may benefit from new enterprise search platform

Lawson Software recently launched an integrated enterprise search appliance, Lawson Enterprise Search. Datamonitor believes that such platforms can offer considerable benefits for enterprise resource planning users and judges LES to be a step in the right direction for the company, although the success of the product will depend on its level of differentiation from those of larger competitors.

By CBR Staff Writer

Lawson Software, an enterprise application vendor best known for its mid-market-focused enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution, recently launched an integrated enterprise search product, Lawson Enterprise Search (LES). The vendor has positioned LES as a comprehensive enterprise search and retrieval (ESR) platform that has the capability to search both structured and unstructured data across its applications, including the S3 enterprise system Lawson Business Intelligence, as well as locally stored end-user data. The first release caters for the current users of Lawson S3 Enterprise Management System (clients in services industries) only. In its next version, the vendor intends to extend LES’s reach to its M3 users (in manufacturing industries) as well.

The technology behind LES is based on the open-source search project Apache Lucene, arguably the most popular search engine of this type. Along with Lucene, LES includes elements from Compass, another open-source project, built on top of Lucene and aimed at simplifying the integration of search into any Java application. Further open-source elements include Jetty, a web server and servlet container implemented in Java, and Quartz, a job-scheduling system. LES is offered as a virtual appliance that runs on all versions of the VMware hypervisor and can be installed, configured and maintained via the vCenter Lifecycle Manager. The current version does not offer support for other hypervisors. Datamonitor feels that although VMware-only compatibility is reasonable given that this is the first version of LES, future versions should aim to be compatible with other hypervisors as well.

The benefits of an integrated ESR platform are considerable. By making a wide range of enterprise data searchable, ESR solutions enable the quick discovery of data and rapid decision-making, which in turn increases employee productivity and reduces organizational risks. LES targets this very requirement at end-user organizations. The search appliance is offered as a part of the Lawson user productivity platform of tools called Smart Office, a Windows-based graphical user interface that allows end-users to access ERP modules from within Microsoft Office applications such as Outlook, Excel, Word and PowerPoint. A search box in the Smart Office provides a native search interface, helping end-users to quickly answer queries using data from various enterprise applications and databases.

Given that enterprise data is often unstructured and tagged poorly, search becomes imperative for ensuring a quick turnaround. If a retailer needs to recall a specific product within its inventory, for example, it can use an ESR solution such as LES to find and deactivate all items, purchase orders and requisitions associated with the recalled product. Without the search option, the same action would require a manual combing of the enterprise software system. In all likelihood, such a search effort would still fail to bring up unstructured data (such as scanned and fax invoices, Computer Output to Laser Disc documents, plain word documents) associated with ERP records, exposing the client to the risk of oversight. Datamonitor believes that the integration of ESR in enterprise applications is imminent and could provide considerable value over the long term.

It could be assumed that Lawson is now looking for a piece of the broader ESR market, but this is probably not the case. The company has instead embarked on a prudent strategy of offering LES only to existing customers of its ERP suite. From the vendor’s viewpoint, this is clearly an easier market to target. The ESR marketplace is highly competitive and Lawson could have faced considerable challenges had it chosen to compete head-on with the likes of Google, Oracle, Autonomy and Endeca. By offering LES exclusively to its user-base, Lawson will further its stated goal of service-enabling the applications in its portfolio and developing integrated processes across multiple applications.

On the other hand, LES will also help Lawson guard against competitors cutting into its stack with an ESR solution. The presence and steady adoption of a large number of enterprise-grade, open-source search solutions has made basic search technology (indexing, parsing and querying) fairly standardized, with precious little to differentiate between vendors.

LES could win over third-party ESR providers in the contextualization of search, however. While all ESR engines would theoretically pull up the same results if applied to a common dataset, ordering this information by relevance requires a thorough comprehension of the patterns around the content and end-user needs. Lawson has always focused on sector-specific solutions and provides tailored solutions for many micro-verticals as well. Its specific experience with verticals and midsize organizations could help it to understand the needs of its end-users better. Knowledge of the types of content, storage patterns and data usage at these clients could help in tailoring searches and defining better ontologies. For the existing end-users of Lawson’s ERP solutions, this will likely translate to better and more accurate search results.

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Datamonitor feels that LES is a step in the right direction for Lawson. LES could further endear the company to its existing users and position it as a smaller but vertically-focused vendor that is well suited to serve the needs of mid-sized users. LES will also serve to make Lawson’s portfolio appear more holistic and better integrated. The long-term value of LES will, however, depend on whether it can deliver significant differentiation from larger and more generic ESR providers.


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