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SouthWare Excellence Series: Making Excellence Easier Part Four: Application Analysis & Development Environment

Written By: Charles Chewning Jr.
Published On: January 7 2005

Detailed Application Analysis (continued)

The process of selecting mid-market accounting software usually starts with products that have achieved some name recognition and that's fine as long as the search does not end there. SouthWare Innovations (http://www.southware.com) has created in its Excellence Series a worthy competitor, serving a number of industries and offering users a surprising array of functionality, either directly as SouthWare applications or through one of their independent sales vendors (ISV).

Service Management Series

This is a complete service management system that is comprised of four specific applications to help companies manage service contracts, track service histories and required preventive maintenance for each piece of equipment under service contract, daily planning and dispatch, and service invoicing.

  • Contract Management: Tracks each service contract, including earned and unearned income, contract pricing, route scheduling, meter usage, renewal tracking, contract proposal, and addendum generation.

  • Service Orders: Handles both recurring and on-demand service calls, technician scheduling, complete time and cost tracking, and all dispatch functions. This application also interfaces with SouthWare's Return Authorization application to track returns for credit, repair, exchange, and warranty work for both items sold as well as customer-owned equipment.

  • Equipment Servicing: Maintains equipment service information including service histories, metered usage, location, status, preventive maintenance schedules, parts lists for each piece of equipment under service, skills required for servicing, and extensive warranty information, including on-line customer access for warranty inquiries, service requests, equipment service history, and notification of equipment relocation.

  • Service Invoicing: Invoicing application for service management series. Includes recurring and contract billing as well as actual service calls.

This is Part Four of a five-part note.

Part One detailed the company background and the product overview.

Part Two looked at what makes SouthWare different.

Part Three began the discussion of the applications and development environment.

Part Five will provide a competitive analysis and make user recommendations.

SouthWare NetLink

NetLink is a comprehensive tool for developing browser-based access to corporate data and processes for customers (including shopping carts), vendors, and employees. Live or off-line access is supported. The following are standard SouthWare functions.

  • Order shopping cart is saved until order is submitted.

  • Provides default pricing as well as customer-specific pricing.

  • Catalog lookup. This is where SouthWare's use of catalog technology makes it very easy to set up a storefront.

  • Automatically create customer for new sale.

  • Easy add, change, or delete line items.

  • Numerous options to show item pictures, notes, and discount from list price.

  • Optionally supports SSL encryption for secure transmission of data.

Since NetLink is a framework for building an on-line business community, virtually anything that is possible within standard SouthWare can be accomplished with a browser. Sample supported requests include

  • Sales orders submitted from customers and employees.

  • Customer request for account balance and related details.

  • Employee request for customer-related information.

  • Customer requests for service (resulting in the creation of a service order).

  • Requests for marketing materials.

  • Changes of address or phone number.

  • Request for invoice or purchase order details.

  • Review of product history.

  • Vendor review of open purchase orders.

  • Review of shipped status of open sales orders.

  • Review of product catalog and pricing.

  • Dispatch status of open service calls.

  • Internal review of current financial statements.

  • Access to employee personnel information.

ImportMate II

This is an import application with powerful filtering and validation. This powerful utility can be used to

  • Convert accounting data when switching to SouthWare from another business system.

  • Regularly update inventory pricing from vendor-supplied electronic catalogs.

  • Create payroll exception hour entries from data captured in an electronic time clock.

  • Add new stock items from a vendor price guide.

  • Create physical inventory transactions from an electronic handheld count device.

  • Import—create or change—trading partner documents, such as orders and invoices.

  • Import a file of the checks that cleared your bank to automatically mark them cleared in cash flow.

  • Create A/R transactions from invoice data generated by a special customized billing system.

  • Create A/P transactions from invoices stored in a database package.

  • Change the product category code for a group of stock items.

  • Create G/L journal transactions from data in a customized non-SouthWare package.

  • Assign an A/R account number based on customer type.

COBOL Development Environment

There are many programming languages available today and many advocates for each language. Since the language is simply a tool to create a program that performs a task, the best language to use varies depending on the task you need done. Data communications, Internet web pages, database analysis, and business applications are all software, but they are very different in nature. The SouthWare Excellence Series was developed in 1984 using COBOL, an industry standard at the time. While some people say that COBOL has outlived its usefulness, SouthWare and many others counter by saying that COBOL offers a robust set of features such as:

  • Proven Reliability: 80 percent of all business applications exist in COBOL. COBOL technology has been in use since businesses first started to use computers, and Acucobol is running mission-critical applications in thousands of businesses today. There is not a more proven business language in existence.

  • Flexible and Secure File Handling: COBOL was invented to write business applications, and its language contains a rich set of powerful I/O commands. The integrity and security of data has always been a focus of COBOL applications. Acucobol also offers significant flexibility in the structure of data files. Their Vision file structure format optimizes performance. However, if users so choose, they can use other structures such as Oracle, Informix, Sybase, ODBC, C-ISAM, Btrieve, or MINISAM. Users can even mix multiple structures on the same system, and with the same version of object code.

  • Fast Performance: COBOL was designed for fast and reliable data handling. Data manipulation and throughput continue to be strengths of the COBOL language.

  • Portability: Acucobol object code is fully portable across over 600 platforms without recompiling. Acucobol users can run the same object program on any platform Acucobol supports, and Acucobol supports more environments than any other language.

  • Ability to Add New Features without Rewriting: Acucobol has implemented new features in its language by adding new optional syntax. This allows developers to utilize new features as they wish without being forced to rewrite code that is working. This is a critical element of SouthWare's S.M.A.R.T. methodology.

  • Ease of Program Maintenance: COBOL is an easy language to develop in, and maintenance is simplified because its English-like syntax results in "self-documenting" source code. Any language can result in well-documented programs if the programmer takes the time to do it, but COBOL enforces this better than other languages.

  • Scalability: COBOL programs can easily be scaled up or down and are currently performing vital work on mainframes, workstations, minicomputers, and micros.

  • GUI Support: Acucorp has developed logical extensions to the ANSI COBOL syntax that allow developers to have access to the expected set of graphical interface tools while remaining in COBOL. This separates Acucorp from other COBOL vendors and results in a graphical language with the capabilities of other graphical languages. SouthWare uses these options in the various styles provided in the Excellence Series so users can utilize GUI as they like.

  • Standards: There have been ANSI standards for COBOL since 1968. Every six to ten years these standards are extended to meet the requirements of the current operating environment. This type of standardization is not found in some newer languages and results in competing versions that are not necessarily compatible. The presence of COBOL standards helps ensure that business software written in COBOL conforms to internationally accepted minimums to help protect your investment in your system.

  • Integration with Other Languages: When a business application needs to perform a task that is not best suited to COBOL, Acucobol lets users call out to programs written in other languages. This allows users to utilize the best language for a particular task.

  • Business Process Orientation: COBOL is a procedural language that can readily duplicate the ordered procedures used by businesses.

  • Applets or Web Based Computing: As the use of the Web by businesses increases in the future, users may need to download applications that would then run in their browser. Acucorp has provided a Web Browser Plug-In that provides this capability for programs written in Acucobol.

  • Accuracy: COBOL defines the accuracy required during a calculation by using data types like COMPUTATIONAL-3. This guarantees that the same code and data will produce the same results on different systems. In other languages, such as Java, precision during calculation is not defined. This means that a program using floating point arithmetic can produce different answers on different systems.

This concludes Part Four of a five-part note.

Part One detailed the company background and the product overview.

Part Two looked at what makes SouthWare different.

Part Three began the discussion of the applications and development environment.

Part Five will provide a competitive analysis and make user recommendations.

About the Author

Charles Chewning, Jr. is president of Solutions, a Richmond, Virginia-based consulting firm specializing in accounting software selection. He is considered a leading software selection expert. Chewning has written a number of accounting software reviews and is a frequent speaker on the subject of accounting software selection as well as sales and marketing. He is the publisher of The Accounting Library (http://www.accountinglibrary.com). He can be reached at cchewning@accountinglibrary.com.

 
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