Itagent is a small, independent Finnish software technology consultancy which has been in business for four years. Our business mainly consists of serving a group of few large key customers, but we are also available for ad-hoc contracting if the terms are right.
Nearly all of our products and services, both software and hardware, are tailor-made to specific needs and often exotic requirements of our customers. However, we also resell solutions from other manufacturers such as Microsoft if the situation calls for this.
Itagent is a Microsoft Partner company in ISV solutions and OEM marketing. In addition, our project lead (Niko Suni) is a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) in the Windows/DirectX technology area. We are striving to become an official Microsoft Dynamics AX partner during first half of 2008, to further extend our status as an enterprise-level solution provider.
We do not have a specific code name for the project. However, "ERP reporting enhancement" best describes what the resulting software does.
Earlier this year, our client asked us if it was possible to customize their rigid business metric reporting system. We sat down and took a look at their existing ERP back-end software (software and manufacturer name omitted on purpose).
It turned out that the data they want to see does indeed exist, but the existing client software has virtually no reporting customization capabilities so it is difficult to aggregate the data for useful business metrics reports. The existing software does provide developer-defined report templates but our client had found that these templates did not capture the actual business intelligence that would be most useful in saving work hours.
It was decided that a new reporting client would be developed as a Windows desktop application running on top of .NET Framework 2.0 core. The data aggregation would run on Windows Server 2003 and consist of a bridge between Pervasive SQL engine (which is the backbone of the existing ERP database) and Microsoft SQL Server.
Data to the new reports is aggregated dynamically from the existing database with absolutely no modification or re-configuration necessary for the existing ERP platform. This guarantees a risk-free desktop deployment as the employees of the customer can still use the old reports if something would fail in the new reporting client. To help achieve a smooth and reliable back-end operation, the server-side data components are stress-tested in addition to static code checking and unit testing which are performed on both tiers.
At the time of this writing, conceptual tests for a solution have proven successful. A program that generates enhanced reports based on more flexible, customizable rules is in production and the development is well underway, on budget and on schedule.
The customer in this project is a heavy industry manufacturing company, specializing in all lifecycle phases of hydraulic rock breaking equipment. Due to wide variety of necessary special applications needed inside the corporation, any software project for them has to be considered mission critical.
Why We Chose Developer Express Components
Having great confidence on Developer Express tools and controls – based on several internal projects that utilized them – led us to pick them as our weapon of choice in implementing the reporting surfaces, user interface and customization of our new client program.
We have found the Developer Express control kits to be quite stable and ready for mission-critical applications.
Developer Express components basically provide all the functionality we need to implement in an advanced reporting application. They are user-friendly, good-looking and very customizable without underlying code changes.
Past awards mean nothing to us, it is the performance and reliability in our own applications that determine whether we use certain tools or not. Developer Express products invariably tend to exceed our requirements in these areas. It was therefore a natural choice to use them in a business project, outcome of which really needs to work efficiently 24/7 once completed.
When presented with these opinions, our client immediately agreed on us using Developer Express products to implement the new reporting system.
Based on their past experiences, the customer had thought that it takes months (and tens of thousands €) for a developer team to implement a simple report page with graphing capabilities.
They sure were amazed when I implemented a detailed, real-time warehouse statistics report with projected futures graph literally single-handedly (with a coffee cup in my left hand) in ten minutes during a coffee break we had on our first meeting.
Using Developer Express tools in this situation led us to easily meet the first, and often among the most difficult, challenge of actually selling the solution.
As the Developer Express development tools are very reliable and robust, we simply achieve more in less time than our competitors. Once we drag and drop a Developer Express control to a form, it takes very little modification for the control to actually make said form production ready. The report class designer is seamlessly integrated into our software development toolset (Microsoft Visual Studio Team Suite 2005 & 2008) so we seldom have to even switch applications during a normal workday.
The refactoring and code modifying tools help save immense amounts of time when prototyping, developing and refining back-end code, both new and old. Refactor! Pro enables us to easily promote prototype code to production-ready state, while encouraging robust development practices such as strong naming conventions and code complexity reducing.
Due to Developer Express products enabling very rapid development of production-quality project items, we are able to save hours in every phase of the project. We can make an educated guess that without the products, the project would take at least twice as much time to complete.
Other Benefits of Developer Express Products
It is very easy to allow customization of Developer Express reports at run time, enabling the client to refine existing - as well as invent new - business intelligence requirements as time passes on.
This trait also helps immensely in supporting our solution; we could pay a social visit to the client, for example, hear their real-world feedback and develop an entirely new report to cater for their needs immediately.
The skinning system, available in all Developer Express controls, helps develop consistent and good-looking user interfaces in practically no time. Despite this, even complete re-branding is easy to do if needed.
If I Needed to Tell a Friend about Developer Express...
I would probably throw a RAD demo like the one I did in our current project's briefing meeting, and then ask the friend to decide for him/herself! This type of introduction to a technology is what impresses myself the most.