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Baan pieces app bundle together

The business application software maker will unveil a new, component-based version of the company's enterprise application package.

Following through with its plans, Netherlands-based business application software maker Baan (BAANF) will unveil a new, component-based version of the company's enterprise application package next week intended to simplify installation and management, according to company executives.

Baan ERP, the successor to the existing Baan IV suite, will ship in June, according to the company.

Baan ERP will include individual application components representing particular ERP (enterprise resource planning) processes, such as manufacturing, planning and scheduling, logistics, finance, and accounting, Baan executives said.

The component approach puts Baan on the same technology path as its chief competitor, SAP, which rolled out a component architecture last year.

Baan--sometimes referred to as the "other European software company," given the market domination of German giant SAP--is quietly inching up its share of the business applications market, analysts said.

The company emerged from obscurity three years ago to become one of the world's largest software makers, due in part to the exploding market for packaged business software.

The global market for enterprise applications is estimated to be worth $15 billion this year and is expected to rise to $20 billion by 2000, according to analysts' estimates. The market's growth is being fueled by the trend where companies buy prewritten software that can be tailored to their own needs, as opposed to putting together their own information management systems.

Also next week, Baan will debut DEM-SE (Dynamic Enterprise Modeling-Strategy Execution), the next version of the company's business modeling tool. The new tool, used to map out business applications before assembling new systems, provides users with graphical navigation, business rules and models, and a better workflow system.

"It provides a graphic view" of the processes within the application package, said Donald Drury, Baan's vice president of product marketing. "The goal is to reduce the complexity of the product at the front end."

Baan's competitors have, or will, also release similar tools that open up the inner workings of their application packages. "I expect it to be a constant objective of all the players in the market," Dennis Byron, a senior analyst for International Data Corporation, said.

Byron said he expects to see ERP vendors release similar tools and methodologies over the coming weeks.

The move to dynamic enterprise modeling by major vendors in the market is driven by their desire to sell their relatively complex products to smaller businesses. "As all of them want to sell to smaller companies, they want to make the implementation process easier and less confusing," Byron said.

Baan ERP also includes new technology called BOIs (Business Object Interfaces) and the XMA (eXtended Middleware Architecture), which combine to build a framework for linking both Baan components and third-party products.

BOIs are application interfaces that allow integration of various components. Baan is grouping the BOIs into application-specific categories such as human resource management, warehouse management, and plant maintenance.

XMA is a framework developed by Baan that allows communications between components and third-party products by acting as a buffer between the different components and the middleware. The framework opens up Baan's applications to DCOM- (Distributed Component Object Model) and CORBA- (Common Object Request Broker Architecture) compliant applications.

Baan's Drury also said the new architecture will let users extend their systems beyond the scope of the traditional ERP framework. "We see in the future the discussion within the industry changing from ERP to defining components, like aerospace and defense, or finance," he said.

Baan supports popular Unix platforms as well as Microsoft NT, and rational database systems, like Oracle, Informix, IBM, Sybase, and Microsoft SQL Server.

One customer is looking forward to an enhanced DLL (dynamic link library) server with the new Baan package. "The function server DLL will be a godsend," said Jeff Kuo, president of Oasis Food Company, located in Hillside, New Jersey. "Right now, there is no easy way for scripting in the NT or Windows way to automate processes. At the applications level sure. With the DLL, they've built it in."

He also said he looks forward to the Internet and intranet features of the new product. "It's big because it will help ERP get to all of the users within the company, and it will help us formulate our intranet structure within the company."

Another customer currently implementing a Baan system said he looks forward to the new component model of ERP to ease this process. "With components, you can roll the product right into your industry," said Bob Baunoch, an executive of Echlin, an automotive parts manufacturing corporation. "Another good thing is you don't have to wait a couple of years for the next release to upgrade. Now you can upgrade the component for your industry. It's more responsive for the vertical industries."

This ability to upgrade by component is key, Aberdeen Group analyst Ed Black said. "It gives the customer more flexibility and better planning. They won't be bound to moving the whole ship, just pieces."

Black said Baan ERP lives up to the earlier proclamations made by Baan executives last year, outlining the component strategy. "And I'm impressed with the speed in which they got it ready to move on to market. I was expecting mid-year. To have it come out at the end of the first quarter is very impressive."

Pricing for Baan ERP was not released.