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Success Story - PurvisGray Technology Group

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PurvisGray Technology Group


Modernization


Telecommunications


WebSmart ILE

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Browser-based apps give new life to IBM System i

"We could have done this (streamlining Customer Service) with WebSphere but from a development standpoint, it would have taken longer and would have been far more expensive. The ILE/RPG and CGI programs generated by WebSmart run much faster than the programs WebSphere would have produced."

With the click of one button we can update the information in the System i database, the Microsoft Exchange Server calendar, as well as email the appointment to the field rep. It has been working flawlessly and there has been a huge improvement in efficiency.

Joe Bolton, CEO, PurvisGray Technology Group


Gallery - Click images to enlarge them

After abandoning IBM’s mid-sized platform, Arrow Environmental returned, thanks in part to WebSmart.

The shortcomings posed by their midrange-based system seemed superficial... One thing Pickhardt understood was the great reliability the System i had always offered. If they could modernize and add functionality to the existing applications, and integrate other technologies to accommodate an automated Customer Service Request/Lead Tracking system, he would be willing to give midrange technology another chance.

Florida-based Purvis Gray Technology Group had a client who, after 15 years, decided to permanently switch off their IBM Midrange computer. Green screens, dated applications and other issues were perceived as limiting, so they moved on to alternative technology.

George Pickhardt, President of Arrow Environmental, Inc., a Family owned environmental services company comprised of 50+ employees, was energized by the promise of a new PC based system upon which their financial and other business applications would run. He was particularly interested in a new customer service request and lead tracking system that would integrate with contact management components, providing extensive reporting capabilities for management, and a messaging system that would pass lead information electronically to field representatives.

With an implementation price around one hundred thousand dollars, the system was installed and Arrow tried, over the course of 18 months to work out the bugs, but due to significant on-going problems, the ribbon cutting ceremony never came. Pickhardt's expectations dropped as they struggled to meet even basic business requirements.

Joe Bolton, CEO of Purvis Gray Technology Group, and strong IBM midrange proponent says many companies move from the IBM midrange to PC based platforms because of ineffective marketing. He sites IBM's inability to effectively position this system as the primary cause. "Most customers don't know you can easily develop GUI and Web-based applications for the System i, or that it can be used as a file or web server and integrated into your existing network and office applications. They also think the cost of maintaining the System i is greater because they don't understand the reliability factor or the true total cost of ownership over the life of the system," states Bolton.

Getting By

Arrow received hundreds of calls from customers and prospects every day. Because the systems were not integrated, Arrow cobbled together a manual fix consisting of paper forms. When a call was received, Customer Service Representatives would record notes on a sheet of paper. The CSR would review a field representative's on-line calendar, and book an appointment. The information was then entered into the System i lead-tracking system with corresponding information keyed into Microsoft Outlook. An email message including contact information and appointment time would then be entered and sent to the rep's cell phone. Statistical information was limited and Management couldn't distinguish between calls that were pending or completed.

It was imperative to regroup, reasoned Pickhardt. In retrospect, the shortcomings posed by their midrange-based system seemed superficial by comparison. One thing Pickhardt understood was the great reliability the System i had always offered. If they could modernize and add functionality to the existing applications, and integrate other technologies to accommodate an automated Customer Service Request/Lead Tracking system, he would be willing to give midrange technology another chance.

Pickhardt started a new dialog with Purvis Gray to see if they could recover lost ground. Bolton championed a solution that would represent a dramatic advancement in technology for Arrow and would also bring a System i along with their legacy applications back into play. He proposed converting the application front-ends so in-office personnel or reps in the field could access them using a common web-based browser. "We decided to make the leap over the client server environment," Bolton adds. "GUI's are nice but they really don't pose a great advantage in a decentralized computing environment." Prognosticating on trends, Bolton says, "Applications will be web-enabled in the future; everything will be browser-based. You'll be able to view your business information from anywhere."

Knowledgeable in the area of IBM midrange computing technology, Bolton had a long track record with an application development tool from called ProGen Plus. His development team used the product to create and maintain some of the software that Purvis Gray offered. They had just begun to work with BCD's new Web/Wireless solution called ProGen WebSmart, placing browser-based front ends and queries on some of their financial software products.

Purvis Gray developers assigned to the project used WebSmart's Interactive Development Environment (IDE) to design Arrow's new browser-based applications and extend the existing RPG based programs. WebSmart's IDE includes more than 70 templates which greatly reduces the amount of programming. The built in language, ProGen Macro Language (PML), let them extend the logic of programs to customize the applications. PML is easy to use because it includes several programming aids like a window list with all available functions, prompts for values as you type function names, pop-up info boxes with names of valid objects that can be specified for various parameters, online help, a syntax checker, on the fly HTML editing and more.

WebSmart is also comprised of a System i-based Web Application Server (WAS) which runs the programs. These programs are generated in ILE CGI, and take full advantage of RPG IV features, such as bound modules, service programs and sub procedures. Using the JSE component, developers can also deploy their applications as Java Servlets.

Using WebSmart and ProGen Plus, Bolton integrated Arrow's RPG-based core business applications with a new customer service request and lead tracking system, and Microsoft Exchange Server to handle scheduling and email messaging for people in the field. "The application provided a web view of the System i data and the Microsoft Exchange calendar data for intranet and extranet access all on one web-based screen," says Bolton. Text messages containing information on daily appointments are passed to their cell phones from the application without the need to re-enter the information. "BCD's WebSmart solution was pivotal in keeping Arrow on a System i because it allowed us to update our customers' computing environment with current technology. "Because the tool was easy to learn and use, we didn't have a steep learning curve," he adds.

Asked if the use of WebSphere was considered, Bolton comments, "We could have done this with WebSphere but from a development standpoint, it would have taken longer and would have been far more expensive. The ILE/RPG and CGI programs generated by WebSmart run much faster than the programs WebSphere would have produced."

Streamlined Customer Service

Now, when customers call in, customer service reps can enter the lead once which in turn will update the System i lead tracking database, the field rep's calendar in Exchange Server, and send an email message to the field rep's cell phone all on one WebSmart developed browser-based screen. "With the click of one button we can update the information in the System i database, the Microsoft Exchange Server calendar, as well as email the appointment to the field rep", states Bolton. "It has been working flawlessly and there has been a huge improvement in efficiency." If the field rep wants more information or needs to enter times when he is not available, he can access the server remotely.

Improvements in customer service are visible too. Statistics are maintained and management can review all the calls pending. Also, they can set alerts for various conditions such as multiple calls from the same customer in a 30-day period.

Arrow intends to add offices in southwest Florida in the future Since their System i-based core business applications are now web-enabled, facilitating Extranet access from the new offices will be easy and inexpensive. Each facility will link up to the System i and access Arrow's WebSmart developed applications over a DSL connection.

Was it worth the money and effort to stay with the System i? "They are money ahead," states Bolton. "Using WebSmart as a development tool, our client now understands the System i is a viable business web server and it will continue to meet their present and future needs."

 

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