The LawsonGuru Letter is a free periodic newsletter containing provocative commentary about issues important to the Lawson Software community. The LawsonGuru Letter is published by-and is solely the opinion of-John Henley of Decision Analytics. Visit Decision Analytics at http://www.danalytics.com. For subscription information, see the bottom of this message.
The LawsonGuru Letter is not affiliated with Lawson Software.
In this issue:
1. Guest Spot: Lawson's Commitment to the iSeries - A Commentary
2. Reporting, Part 3: Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Services
3. Worthwhile Reading
4. Reader Feedback
5. Lawson Tips & Tricks
This month, Patrick Sullivan provides us with a view from the iSeries part of the Lawson community. I'd like to increase iSeries coverage in the LawsonGuru Letter; perhaps we can convince Patrick to turn this into a regular feature? Let me know if you'd like that. Send me an email at email@example.com.
1. Guest Spot: Lawson's Commitment to the iSeries - A Commentary
(by Patrick Sullivan, Sullivan Partners LLC)
The IBM Midrange (System3x...AS/400..iSeries) community has always had an interesting dynamic: a fiercely loyal customer base that has received little to no marketing support from its manufacturer.
Many Midrange professionals-myself included-have surmised that if IBM had been as market savvy as, for example, Microsoft, today's Midrange line would not be considered a "dinosaur" as some IT professionals falsely still believe.
Due to IBM's lack of direction, it is no wonder that software vendors, like Lawson, questioned continuing development on the platform. It is interesting to note that Lawson was initially designed for IBM's Midrange line.
Thankfully at CUE (2003), Dean Hagar at Lawson announced the company's renewed commitment to the iSeries.
This comment was due in large part due to IBM's recent $500 million campaign to re-energize the iSeries marketing and development efforts-and signaling a commitment to the industry.
Consider the following findings:
- The iSeries was the #1 server in customer satisfaction 2003 (Nikkei Computer Magazine - 06/28/03 issue).
- 99% of Fortune 100 companies in 2002 realized benefits from the iSeries (Fortune Magazine 2003).
- The iSeries Operating system (OS/400) was engineered to be virus resistant.
- The iSeries has the most comprehensive dynamic partitioning feature of any midrange server (Forester Research 2004).
- The only server in industry to run applications from different operating environments (0S/400, Windows, Linux, Domino, XML) simultaneously on a single server.
- Websphere Portal Express allows IT departments an easier, more cost effective solution to consolidate IT and business processing needs.
- When consolidating Windows and Linux servers to the iSeries, customers see:
- A 90% reduction in downtime
- A 200% ROI on server workload
- An average savings of $180,000 per 100 users/year (IDC - July 2003 Analysis)
With Mr. Ellison at Oracle ruffling more than a few feathers over at PeopleSoft/JD Edwards, I believe Lawson today has an opportunity to gain iSeries clients (over JD Edwards). This opportunity is especially critical in the Retail vertical (an area where the iSeries has a major presence).
If this particular software war becomes even more prolonged, the ultimate
winner could be Lawson. However, Lawson has its own work to do. Their first priority should be to stop treating the iSeries community as "second class citizens."
While Lawson's bread-and-butter verticals of Healthcare and Education are primarily Unix-based, the iSeries has major presence in the aforementioned Retail vertical as well as other Public Service industries.
There is no reason why iSeries customers should have to wait longer for a new software release. While the wait time for 8.x was shorter than for 7.x, it is still unacceptable.
With Lawson and IBM's iSeries Division both headquartered in Minnesota-along with the fact that Business Partners contribute up to 85% of iSeries revenue-one could hope for a continued partnership that benefits all parties involved.
At this year's CUE, my hope is that IBM's commitment-and Lawson's response to the IBM commitment-is still on track.
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ - QUOTE OF THE ISSUE -
"By working faithfully eight hours a day, you may eventually get to be a boss and work twelve hours a day."
- Robert Frost
2. Reporting, Part 3: Microsoft SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services
Continuing our multi-part series on reporting, we're going to start looking at specific products; this month we'll focus on Microsoft SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services. You may remember that I previewed a beta copy in the August 2003 LawsonGuru Letter (read "Rosetta, the Crystal Killer?" at http://www.danalytics.com/guru/letter/archive/2003-08.htm).
SQL Server Reporting Services is Microsoft's entrée into the enterprise reporting market, and augments the existing analytical (OLAP) capabilities provided in SQL Server 2000 Analysis Services. SQL Server Reporting Services is relatively full-featured and pretty stable, but consider yourself warned-this is a "version 1" Microsoft product, and therefore, it can be a bit clunky. The report designer is certainly not as initially as accessible as Crystal Reports, but because it's built on Microsoft .NET, it may end up being more powerful as well as extensible.
Regardless, it's worthy of your consideration in one huge regard-price. It's a free download if you're licensed for SQL Server 2000. So, with the exception of needing a copy of Microsoft Visual Studio .NET 2003 to design reports, you can implement it as a low-cost reporting solution.
Installation and Deployment
Installation is straightforward, and consists of server components for report management, as well as client components for report development. The server requirements are standard Microsoft: Windows Server 2000/2003, Microsoft's .NET Framework 1.1 and the IIS Web Server. SQL Server 2000 is required for the reporting management repository, which can be deployed either to the same server or to a different one. For the report developers, it requires Microsoft Visual Studio .NET 2003 (which includes Microsoft's .NET Framework 1.1), and a SQL Server connection/license for their desktop. For report consumers, it's a browser-based application, so there's nothing at all to install for the end users who aren't developing their own reports.
Choosing Your Data Sources
Despite its name, SQL Server Reporting Services can report on any data-not just SQL Server-as long as you can connect to it from OLEDB or ODBC, including Oracle, DB2, etc., and can include data from multiple data sources on the same reports. And, yes, you can use Lawson's OLEDB Provider, although it's a bit cumbersome (you have to use Lawson's Logan/IOS dme query syntax, not SQL SELECT syntax). I'm hoping we'll eventually see a Lawson-delivered native .NET data provider--built on the Lawson OLE DB provider--which embraces Lawson security, adopts standard SQL syntax, and is well-integrated into the Microsoft .NET framework.
Report Authoring Features
This product is certainly not for the faint of heart. I wouldn't even consider installing the report designer, which requires Microsoft .NET Visual Studio, for anyone who is not technical. But if you're familiar with Visual Studio, it won't take you long to become productive. If you've ever used Microsoft Access' report designer or wizards, you'll feel right at home with the authoring tools in SQL Server Reporting Services. In addition to the layout tools, you use a tool very similar to the SQL Query Analyzer to develop your queries:
In addition to a report creation wizard, you get all the features you'd expect, such as summary/total fields, formatting, subreports, etc.
By integrating SQL Server Reporting Services into .NET, the entire .NET toolset is available when creating reports. So, you can embed pivot tables, graphics and charts in your reports:
SQL Server Reporting Services supports both on-demand (pull) and event-based (push) delivery of reports. Navigation and search features help users locate and run the reports they need. Personalized subscriptions let them select the rendering formats and schedules they prefer.
You can create traditional page-oriented reports as well as highly-interactive reports with drill-down. Reports can be delivered to a portal, e-mailed or accessed via a Web-based application. Reports can be exported to all the usual standards, including HTML, Adobe PDF, TIFF, XLS, CSV, and XML:
One of the features that I liked the most is that you can provide your users with dynamic data-driven (and yes, cascading!) parameters, something you can't do without custom programming in Crystal Enterprise:
SQL Server Reporting Services includes comprehensive functionality for managing reports in a wide variety of environments. Report Manager is a Web-based tool for managing reports as a Web service. Managed reports can be executed either on demand or on a specified schedule, and are cached for consistency and performance. Security can be tailored to meet a variety of needs. Users may be granted access to run reports on demand or tailor individual report subscriptions. Administrators can delegate content management functions to specific individuals for different reports.
Using the scheduling tools, you can build a rudimentary reporting/notification process. Here's an example, where the Employee List is executed and e-mailed every Friday at 1pm:
Visual Studio Integration
In addition to developing and delivering your reports, you can use SQL Server Reporting Services to integrate reports into your custom applications as well. Because Reporting Services are written as an XML-based Web service, IT organizations can embed report content in any application and make the content available to users over any Web interface. The Web model allows organizations to deploy reports to employees, customers and partners over an extranet, isolating these audiences from the complexity of the underlying data sources while providing personalized, interactive access to data that's critical to their own decisions.
Microsoft is working with other reporting software vendors, such as Crystal, Cognos, and Brio to standardize on a common ".RDL" XML-based report definition file. This will allow each vendor's products to interoperate across your various reports. The advantage is that, if you have Crystal ".rpt" reports, you could open them in Crystal, save them as ".rdl" files, and deploy them with SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services. Or vice versa.
In the meantime, SQL Reporting Services includes an import utility for converting your existing Microsoft Access reports. And there are other 3rd-party tools available for conversion of Crystal reporting into the .RDL standard.
Price alone makes SQL Server Reporting Services an obvious choice if you're running Lawson on a Windows platform. Even if you're not, you can certainly hook it up to your Oracle or DB2 databases. In addition, if you cringe at the licensing cost for Crystal Enterprise named users (which are required if you want to properly implement report security), you should consider SQL Server Reporting Services.
3. Worthwhile Reading
How to Run IT Like a Business
Evolving from a cost center, IT is taking on the character, rigor and practices of a business within a business. It won't be easy, but for CIOs it's a matter of survival.
CIO Magazine, May 1, 2004
Backstop Your Business
Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein has amassed a collection of personnel data other teams-and corporate business managers-can only dream about.
Baseline Magazine, May 2004
A year ago RFID got rolling. Will the momentum continue?
Information Week, May 24, 2004
4. Reader Feedback
|Send your comments to mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.|
|Some comments on the May 2004 issue (see http://www.danalytics.com/guru/letter/archive/2004-05.htm):|
|Your comments on Lawson's new support site, CUE, and whether or not Lawson could deliver on its pledge to reshape how it delivers value to its clients:|
|"It's pathetic for a technical company to have a support site with a single point of entry that does not work reliably. Things happen to all of us and I understand that, but when a company places all their eggs in one basket, that basket had better be fool proof.|
Lawson does nothing but stress the use of their support site; GSC refers all of us to it; products, patches, and articles can only be found on this site.
Lawson simply cannot afford for it to be down. They publicized a new and improved site; they claimed it was going to be easier to use and more user friendly; they promised it would be a smooth and totally transparent transition. Oops.
And I think it is especially ironic that it went down the very next week after CUE where Lawson management promised a new kind of company.
Not a good start."
|"After having read the May 2004 LawsonGuru Letter, I felt an urge to comment on Keri White's "Guest Spot" article.|
I too was in attendance last week and enjoyed the keynote speaker, Dr. Jerry Leninger. However Keri's comment where she agrees with Dr. Leninger's comment about how we should be able to improve the quality of ERP software given we can send send men and women to space misses an important point. Quality is not free.
I speak from experience, having been involved in my earlier days with IBM and its work with NASA on both the ground-based and shuttle-based programs and the software engineering practices used to achieve those levels of quality. For the typical business application, decisions are made based on numerous factors but it is generally agreed that striving for "zero defects" would make the software cost-prohibitive. I do agree though that there is certainly room for improving the level of quality in most software applications today."
|"I would like to believe that Lawson will deliver on its promise (It's Time) by putting its customers at the forefront; however, as I sat there and listened, it brought me back a number of years to a point in time when I was employed by IBM. It sounded to me that Lawson was a mini-IBM - slogans, banners, posters, fluff but not much depth. From the Lawson folks I know and speak with, they are being driven hard for revenue (i.e., increase utilization and billables) which can get in the way of cultivating client relationships. I do wish them well but if history is any indication of future results, I don't believe they have the necessary culture in place (yet) to make this happen." |
| || |
|"1.5 hours: The amount of time the 14-member team from our organization waited for our Lawson account managers and sales rep to show up to a pre-scheduled meeting Tuesday evening in Atlanta, before finally giving up.|
I hope the next 998 days are more successful than the first 2 days of Lawson's new commitment to their clients."
|Regarding last month's Tip on "alt-characters", this from a Lawson consultant: |
| || |
|"I liked the nice Guest Trick and Tip. One problem though: |
When it comes to upgrading and pulling the data from one product line to the next, chances are that the data that is not standard Lawson characters will be kicked out by the Lawson tools as an error, which will label that record as errored. So there will be manual error edits required or an in-line sed swap command required to fix them all. Either way, guess what? Additional time will be required to deal with the nifty little trick that now is not so nifty.
It would be better to have a new field added to the table for the Actual British Pound symbol or what not. Or better yet why not use Design Studio to make the symbols appear on the forms themselves. Also add them into the reports via 4GL as well.
There is a reason these symbols are not included in the data. I would suggest some thinking this through further before making these entries."
|And Bob Beverley's reply: |
| || |
|"I haven't tried upgrading with the characters, but I'm in the middle of one right now - so I will. It was the GSC that recommended the WinInt font 3 years ago, so I'd be inclined to think that chances are just as good that they will upgrade successfully. I'll let you know what I find." |
| || |
|[Editor's note: I have not tested this with an upgrade either, but did test it with the usual Lawson database utilities (rngdbdump/importdb, dbdump/dbload, and expsysdb/impexp), and had no problems.]|
| || |
5. Lawson Tips & Tricks
Share your tips. Send them to mailto:email@example.com.
(This month's tip comes from Ian Wilson at TIAA-CREF.)
Another Debugging Option : CTRL-ALT-A.
Another option to view "debug" information in Portal is the CTRL-ALT-A key combination, which brings up a host of very interesting information based on your last action.
For example, log into Portal and click in your Main Content pane, then press CTRL-ALT-A. It initially brings up your user profile but you have access to related pages in your Navigation Pane, so you can view hotkeys, IOS versions ... etc. This basically works throughout Portal in most instances, and is especially useful when working with an app : You can view the XML, HTML, Transaction XML, objects, variables, custom script, AGS data ... and a whole host of very interesting goodies related to the current Lawson program.
This option is an excellent feature that many people don't know about. "Detach" the window so you can work as normal with this debug window running alongside in case you need it, and it's great for checking options and other program-related info.
The LawsonGuru Letter is a free periodic newsletter providing provocative commentary on issues important to the Lawson Software community. The LawsonGuru Letter is published by--and is solely the opinion of--John Henley of Decision Analytics. Visit Decision Analytics at http://www.danalytics.com.
For subscription information, see the bottom of this message.
© Copyright 2004, Decision Analytics. All rights reserved. Please share The LawsonGuru Letter in whole or in part as long as copyright and attribution are always included.
Decision Analytics is an independent consultancy, focusing on Lawson technical projects, and specializing in customization/modification, data conversion, and integration/interfaces. Please visit http://www.danalytics.com for more information.
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