JDE brings forth financials suite that's been six years in the making

What do you do when you want to bring your 12-year-old proprietary manufacturing and financials software into an object-oriented, client-server world, and hopefully get a jump on the competition?

What do you do when you want to bring your 12-year-old proprietary manufacturing and financials software into an object-oriented, client-server world, and hopefully get a jump on the competition?

You could hire a couple of hundred extra staff, spend a total of about $US200m over six years in R&D, and partner with some of the biggest names in the business, as JD Edwards did.

Did I mention crunching more than 12 million lines of code down to 2 million? Sure, these are big figures. But if JD Edwards--the company set up by Jack, Dan and Edward 19 years ago in Denver, Colorado--was ever accused of being late to the party in the past by its competitors (SSA, SAP, Baan, Marcam, etc), OneWorld is its loud response.

In announcing the worldwide release of OneWorld in Sydney just over a week ago, the successor to the AS/400-based World, JDE was keen to stress that existing users would not be left behind. Glenn Tubb, JDE’s Australia and New Zealand general manager, says World customers will have up to five years for transition to the new version. They were also involved in a 15-month beta programme, during which, JDE says, their needs were closely listened to.

The features users asked for throughout OneWorld’s development can be summed up as: stability, simplification and help to prepare for an unpredictable future--universal themes in the IT world.

If keeping its existing customers happy is one obvious priority, gaining new ones is clearly the other. By partnering with Microsoft (Windows NT, Win95), Digital (Alpha) and Hewlett-Packard (HP-UX, HP9000), and increasing the number of IBM platforms supported (adding RS/6000 running AIX and S/390 running MVS), JDE hopes to widen its attraction in a community keenly focused on an open-platform, open-standard, client-server future. Likewise including connectivity to DB400, Oracle, DB2 6000 and Microsoft’s SQL server databases. Informix and Sybase are “in the schedule”.

The Digital-Microsoft link-up is particularly important. JDE expects much, if not most, growth through the NT/Alpha stream. Also, each installation requires an Intel/NT “deployment server”, which JDE describes as a “configuration map which knows where all the pieces are”. The company says it will target manufacturing and distribution sites, telcos and government agencies. A Digital official adds “loyal Digital customers” to the list. With NT sales rapidly climbing (150% up on last year: Microsoft New Zealand head Geoff Lawrie), JDE obviously hopes some of the success will rub off.

Lack of support structures in New Zealand prevented the company releasing OneWorld at the same time as the US--August 1--according to Richard Mathews, general manager for JDE New Zealand, although staff have recently received in-depth training in Denver. As a result, local users have little hands-on experience of the product thus far--the promotion roadshow hits New Zealand next week--though JDE New Zealand says it has several local users interested. Derek Simpson from Caltex, a 300-user World site, says he is “really excited” by his first views of the product. He was most impressed by the effort the company had put into the migration path, noting that users can run the new and old versions simultaneously until the full changeover. He sees a number of obvious benefits, such as sales reps being able to update a central database after gathering details on the ground. Caltex New Zealand has no immediate plans to move to OneWorld.

JDE sees CNC, Configurable Network Computing, as the real jewel in OneWorld’s crown, outshining the toolset and applications suite. JDE pitches CNC between the fourth and fifth waves of client-server computing.

The fourth wave includes “distributed objects”--pieces of message-oriented, reusable code to which implementation of operational database data is transparent. This means the application doesn’t care which piece of hardware the particular bit of data runs on. The fifth wave is “pervasive objects”, in which applications objects will be bought and sold as widely and easily as applications are today. John Hamer, JDE NZ’s director of new technology, describes the purpose of CNC as “moving the bits around the network”. These bits are the presentation, logic (business functions), data, data warehouse and data extraction capabilities of the system. The architecture is intended to easily absorb new technologies, and incorporate various platform OSes on your network “without relinking, recoding or recompiling”.

JDE cites an IDC report to back its claims to technological superiority, which is worth quoting in itself. Says author Tony Picardi: “The movement to client-server has been to enable the business organisation to become more decentralised, and the reason for doing that is to pass control of the business decision down to the field, closer to the customer--so that the decisions can be made faster, so they can be made more customer-intimate, and so the organisation can accommodate more of the diversity it sees in its customer base”. This, it seems, is the real Holy Grail of client-server, the real attraction for business.

JDE has more than 170 customer sites throughout Australasia, 50 in New Zealand; 12,000 worldwide. Turnover down-under last year was $A30m, worldwide $US350m.

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