Baan shrugs off troubles to move into Web world

While rivals, such as SAP, Oracle, and JD Edwards have been plastering their Web sites with collaborative e-commerce offerings...

While rivals, such as SAP, Oracle, and JD Edwards have been plastering their Web sites with collaborative e-commerce offerings for some time, Baan has been slow to launch an Internet-focused strategy.

However, for Baan, it is better late than never, writes Danny Bradbury.

In recent years the Dutch enterprise resource planning (ERP) company has suffered significant losses. It had hoped to reverse its fortunes when, in January 2000, it announced plans to enter the Internet integration market. But it did not move quickly enough and in September was bought out by Invensys.

Finally, at the end of January this year, the company released its Internet strategy, with a raft of new products to exploit the demand for integrating back-end applications across the Internet.

The iBaan range includes a portal to provide users with a single point of access to their organisations' resources, and Webtop, a thin client for the Baan 5 core ERP product.

The iBaan Collaboration product offers a set of tools for inter-company supply chain activities, such as logistics management, demand fulfilment and inventory management. Openworld 2 is an XML-based data integration product to tie back-end applications into this Internet-friendly infrastructure.

Frank Hendriksen, senior director of product marketing for Baan, has big plans for Openworld. At the centre of the product is Baan Adapter, which emerged from the original work on the Baan Enterprise Solutions technology, where the company first integrated its front and back-office processes.

"What we needed was an infrastructure that would let us open up existing systems, whether Baan or non-Baan, and open up a collaborative infrastructure," Henriksen explained. The Baan Adapter was the result. "Once you have built a bridge between one application and another, you can integrate via XML," he added.

But XML is not a panacea. Baan has to map between an internal proprietary format used for standard interactions between Baan components and external XML document type definitions.

As a mark of the progress made, Hendriksen pointed to significant optimisation work. Openworld can run database queries that target only data that has been changed since the last query, and run multiple systems in parallel to process the data stream. It is also able to express business objects as interfaces on which XML-based actions can be executed. "This can be especially useful in a Web server environment, where you accept XML documents over the Internet," Hendriksen said.

Perhaps the most promising aspect is the company's plan to introduce process integration. This will be done via E-Collaboration, a low-threshold business-to-business server.

By the autumn the company hopes to integrate E-Collaboration into Openworld 2.2, building in support for Microsoft's Biztalk, Simple Object Access Protocol (Soap) and the Rosettanet data integration language. "Baan will take the position of unlocking any of the Baan products and making sure that any business logic will be available for system-to-system integration," he said.

This sounds promising because it would move the company into the Web services world, but it has a lot of ground to make up before it can impress anyone. Baan's credibility has decreased significantly since its troubles started and its ERP rivals have been wasting no time in upgrading their business models to take advantage of the new B2B revenue stream.

One of the biggest challenges facing Baan is that companies that invested in expensive ERP solutions are likely to choose their existing supplier when venturing beyond the firewall. The company will have to go all out to win back its position.

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