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Standalone dashboard hooks into existing Synergy/DE-based software

Based in Newcastle, Australia, BusinessCraft Pty Ltd provides accounting and mission-critical software systems to the manufacturing, service, and building industries. Recently one of BusinessCraft’s customers requested functionality that would enable the customer to use Crystal Reports to generate PDF sales reports for management. BusinessCraft was able to meet this customer’s objectives by using Synergy .NET to develop a dashboard application that plugs into BusinessCraft’s existing Synergy/DE-based application.

The Requirement

BusinessCraft’s customer provided a very detailed mockup of the type of reports they wanted Crystal Reports to produce. But the data rules were so complex that Crystal Reports wasn’t a viable option. “This particular code did not lend itself to the nice SQL queries that Crystal Reports requires,” explains BusinessCraft software architect Steven Parish. “Crystal Reports is not set up for this kind of procedural code, which would have had to take place elsewhere, slowing down the process or even making it impossible.”

Another option BusinessCraft considered was Microsoft Excel, using macros to do the procedural analysis. “This option would have definitely been the easiest and fastest way to achieve our customer’s goal,” states Parish. “However, it wasn’t practical in the long run. Two years down the road, if the person who wrote the program left the company, no one would know how to support it.” Furthermore, this solution would be harder to maintain, as each customer could have different versions of Microsoft Excel installed, representing a logistical nightmare.

The Solution

BusinessCraft ultimately went another direction, choosing to use Synergy .NET to create a standalone dashboard application that could integrate with their existing traditional Synergy application. “We already had a goal to create a dashboard application, so going down this route was a way to add momentum to that project,” explains Parish.

BusinessCraft decided to use Synergy .NET because it enabled them to use the Synergy Select class to read ISAM data directly, instead of relying on xfODBC for data access. Using Crystal Reports, Excel, or any other third-party application would have made it necessary to set up ODBC access to their ISAM files, and the Select class proved to be much faster at retrieving data than other methods. For UI design, BusinessCraft chose DevExpress controls. “Everything you can do in Excel, you can do in DevExpress,” states Parish. “They have a great formula editor, and you can add charts with a minimal amount of work.”

The Dashboard application is based around a core framework for displaying views with the available “plugin” modules, using the Synergy License Management SDK to control which modules customers can access. The Synergy Code Generator was used to generate the Data Access classes using the schema information already set up in the repository. States Parish, “We have found the Synergy Code Generator to be a great time saver for coding these classes which can be very laborious if done by hand.” The Data Access classes use the new Select class to retrieve a collection of records based on filter criteria. All data access is automatically cached for each table to make repeated searches more efficient.

By creating a standalone dashboard that can integrate with a variety of applications, BusinessCraft is able to meet not only this customer’s requirements but also those of other customers who have requested similar functionality. Parish explains, “With this standalone product, we’ll be able to quickly respond to other customers’ requests in a way that makes us look modern and doesn’t interfere with the development of our core product.”

So far, feedback about the Dashboard has been extremely positive. Another of BusinessCraft’s customers, a local building company called ConvaTech, predicts the Dashboard will save them approximately two days a month in preparing management financial reports. Plus, they have access to their information daily instead of having to wait until the end of the month.

States ConvaTech’s Business Improvement & Quality Coordinator Caitlin Botha, “We have recently implemented the BusinessCraft Dashboard in an attempt to bolster our reporting and analytical capabilities. We are currently using the Dashboard to report detailed sales data such as sales activity, margin trends, and product composition. We have found the Dashboard to be a flexible, easy-to-use platform which is utilised for a variety of different analytical purposes within our business. The reporting generated via the Dashboard is viewed in a number of forums and is utilised by many key stakeholders on a regular basis. The system is robust and the figures generated by the Dashboard tie back to our financial reporting, ensuring there is no ambiguity. We are very happy with this tool and believe its usage within the business will continue to grow into the future.”

Another main benefit of the Dashboard is that even ConvaTech’s employees who don’t use BusinessCraft’s software are able to use the Dashboard and get access to all of this reporting as well.

Next Steps

The next steps for the BusinessCraft Dashboard are to extend the analysis to include other modules in the BusinessCraft suite, such as General Ledger, Suppliers, Inventory, and Contracts Management, and to roll these out as each module is completed.