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Case Study: ASNA's Visual RPG

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Crimson Software is an anomaly among iSeries (AS/400) software vendors--in several ways. First, it is an iSeries vendor to the core, yet none of its code runs on the iSeries! Second, it didn't bring legacy code forward to implement its solution--rather, Chris Caparon and his programming team brewed, from the ground up, a brand spanking new 21st century iSeries application.

Caparon and his team at Crimson Software used ASNA Visual RPG (AVR) to build MC2 (Managing Credit and Collections), a Windows- and Web-based credit and collections software package. Crimson Software needed a development environment that could connect quickly and effectively to the iSeries, that could provide both a traditional Windows interface as well as a browser-based user interface, and that was quick and easy to learn. Crimson found that and more in ASNA's AVR.

Filling a Gap

A couple of years ago, Caparon had a vision for a software solution for iSeries shops. With his credit and collections background, he sensed a need for a high-quality, modern credit and collection management package for the iSeries. This new product, MC2, would focus on one core area: cash flow management. From the first customer invoice to the receipt of payment, MC2 was to provide financial controls to reduce bad debt and increase cash flow. MC2 would need to integrate well not only with the iSeries, but also with credit and collection departments and the Windows office applications they use extensively.

In Caparon's original vision, MC2 needed to offer a scalable solution that worked for everyone--from small shops up to the largest iSeries enterprises. The solution also needed to offer a modern user interface. And, because Caparon wanted to make his solution available as soon as possible, Crimson need to be able to bring the application to life in a relatively short time.

Says Caparon, "AVR allows our application to be very scalable. MC2 can connect to any size iSeries [or AS/400], providing sub-second response time on existing hardware. That is simply unheard of in the iSeries software industry. ASNA's AVR makes our application run so fast that it outpaces the performance of some of our customers' green-screen packages."

Caparon's original vision for MC2 was an app that would seamlessly integrate into existing back-office accounting applications. Its purpose was to improve and extend current financial controls to deliver a quick and highly measurable return on investment. Running without the need for expensive iSeries upgrades and using existing hardware infrastructure is a very important part of MC2's ROI model.

Caparoncontinues, "When we first envisioned our package, we knew we needed a rational, modern user interface. But we also needed to work with existing iSeries hardware...and we had to offer very fast performance. When it comes to credit and collections, time is truly money and our package needs to be able to spot and report trends and directions quickly! Response times and reliability needed to be a hallmark of our application."

Building the Dream

Crimson's development team had a little Visual Basic under their belts and initially thought that they'd use VB for the development environment and the iSeries Access ODBC driver for database access. They quickly found out that the ODBC data connection was just too slow and unreliable.

Crimson's team turned its attention from coding to research. A search of iSeries development tools and environments quickly turned up ASNA Visual RPG. With just a little due diligence, the Crimson team confirmed ASNA's solid list of references and found that AVR had a high level of credibility in the iSeries community.

Caparon says, "Once we fully understood AVR, selecting it as our tool of choice was obvious. Our target market was the iSeries, and AVR, with its roots in RPG, was exactly the right choice for us."

Caparon and his development team rolled up their sleeves and starting coding MC2 in AVR. In just a few months, they had enough core components created for Caparon to hit the road and discuss MC2 with a variety of clients. Armed with a core set of needed capabilities and with the real-world feedback from several credit and collection shops, his team rapidly delivered the initial release of MC2 on time and under budget.

"We couldn't have built MC2 without AVR. The Crimson development team learned it very quickly, and we built solid solutions quickly and effectively," explains Caparon.

Caparon and his team went from concept to Version 1.0 in less than 18 months. The product was first released in August 2001. He's very proud of that. He's also proud of the fact that he and his team not only delivered the product in that time frame, but they also built an award-winning product in that time! In less than 18 months after MC2's release, Collection Advisor magazine, a credit and billing trade journal, named MC2 to a spot on its "Terrific Ten" credit and collection software list.

Changing with the Times

Even though MC2 is just approaching its second birthday, Crimson isn't resting on MC2's laurels. MC2 was initially conceived as a traditional Windows application client that talks real-time to the iSeries. This decision was driven partly by the need to interface with Microsoft Office apps such as Word and Excel, but also by what the demand was then. Two years ago, browser-based deployment was in its infancy, and Windows apps were all the rage.

Caparon elaborates, "Deployment on the Windows desktop is always a challenging affair. We're finding more and more of our customers are now ready to embrace the browser as a medium with which to deliver mission-critical back-office applications. MC2 has always had some browser-based inquiry capabilities. However, with the advent of Microsoft's .NET development environment and the pending release of ASNA's AVR for .NET, we're ready to move even more of MC2 to the browser. The browser is an interface whose time is here, and AVR for .NET gives us the tools we need to successfully port MC2 to the browser. This capability will substantially ease deployment issues for us, but, because it's still ASNA's AVR under the covers, maintain our fast performance and reliability."

Crimson absolutely made the right choice with AVR. AVR does everything Crimson needed: It performs well, is easy to learn, and enabled Crimson to build great user interfaces that run real-time against the iSeries.

Concludes Caparon, "Because of ASNA's AVR, we went from specification to award-winning software in less than 18 months. With the delivery of ASNA's AVR for .NET, the possibility for innovation with MC2 is unbounded! This is an exciting time for Crimson Software and for ASNA."

For more information about Crimson's MC2, please visit www.crimson-software.com, and for more information about ASNA Visual RPG, please visit www.asna.com/AVR_literature.asp.

Roger Pence is ASNA's education director. Prior to joining ASNA three years ago, Roger worked for many years as a journalist, speaker, and technical editor in the AS/400 community.

ASNA
14855 Blanco Road, Suite 300
San Antonio, TX 78216
USA 800-289-2762
Europe +44 (0) 1483 570666
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Web: www.asna.com

Roger Pence

Roger Pence is ASNA's Product Evangelist. Roger has been in the IBM i midrange community for so long that Elvis was alive when he started. He has been with ASNA since 2000. Prior to joining ASNA, Roger was a technical editor for NEWS/400 and the author of the 400/Group's AS/400 and Windows newsletter.

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