Lawson Software, a mid-range enterprise application vendor, has announced the first in a series of customer relationship management (CRM) applications it plans to roll out over the next year.
Lawson, which has carved out substantial markets in retail, healthcare and professional service enterprises, announced a sales force automation (SFA) product it hopes will rival larger competitors such as Oracle and Siebel Systems.
In the initial release, Lawson will include product configuration along with bid and price quotation. The server components will be available on Windows NT, Unix and AS/400 platforms, while client access will include both Windows and Web browsers.
In line with Lawson's strategy of developing for groupware environments, a Lotus Notes/Domino version will also be available. Palm Pilot and Windows CE clients will be added. Company officials said that integration to Lawson's back-end reporting and analysis tools, which has drawn praise from analysts, will serve as a key differentiator.
The first products are part of a broader strategy to make CRM products an integral part of a suite designed to manage supplier, partner, investor, customer and employee relationships.
Lawson will roll out additional components of Lawson's CRM solution, including marketing and support automation in 2000.
Although Lawson's strategy is to offer its CRM products as part of a tightly integrated suite of back and front office applications, Richard Lawson, the company's chief operating officer, accepted it might have to sell as part of a best in class, mixed play.
"We have no problem being one of the pieces, but of course we'd like to provide the whole pie," he said.
This however puts Lawson into a fiercely contested market where companies such as Siebel have already made strategic partnerships with mid-range vendors JD Edwards and Great Plains Software.
It may also confuse Lawson's position elsewhere. In the UK, for example, it has a relationship with IBM Global Services for hosted ERP in retail, but Siebel has recently strengthened its ties with IBM.
Analysts had mixed reactions. Liz Malis, research director, Benchmarking Partners said, "Lawson's open architecture and long lead in Web-enabling its applications uniquely positions the company to deliver solutions with the level of integration, information access and cross-system functionality needed for implementing a far-reaching ebusiness strategy."
But Josh Greenbaum, principal with Berkeley, California based Enterprise Applications Consulting, said that while this announcement is good news for existing customers, "These guys are going to have a lot to do. There's a lot of competition out there."
The SFA product is in early beta at selected customer sites and Lawson said it will go to full customer shipping within 90 days.
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