|Browser Streamlines Business and Tightens Security For SimplexGrinnell
When it comes to fire detection and alarm reporting the SimplexGrinnell name is synonymous with security and it has been the market leader for decades. Operating throughout the U.S. and Canada, SimplexGrinnell relies on its Baan enterprise system for start-to-finish project management, planning and tracking. In 1999 the company's IT group faced an enormous challenge - how best to sharpen the focus of its Baan Vb system to accommodate large numbers of users and an expanding range of products - without compromising safety, profitability and security.
Mark LePain, Manager of Order Fulfillment Systems for SimplexGrinnell, explains why the company decided on a browser interface to meet its needs. "SimplexGrinnell's Baan system is located in Westminster, Massachusetts", says Mark. "When we started to implement the system we realized that administrators, sales reps, project managers and operational staff from 180 districts around the country would be accessing Baan every day, often just to query the status of projects. When data entry was required, they would be using a couple of fields out of numerous Baan screens and that the out-of-the-box system did not give us the security necessary to ensure the integrity of the projects in each district
"Baan offers lots of choice, lots of power", Mark continues, "but what our users needed was simplicity. And what the IT Group needed was the assurance that users could only access information for projects in their specific district".
In October 1999, SimplexGrinnell began the process of implementing PROMPT (PROject Management, Planning, Tracking), an Intranet-based browser interface that captures and focuses Baan processes and data, requires minimal training to use, and limits users' LAN access by district.
"Two large components had to be brought together smoothly for PROMPT to work", says Jim Nickerson, SimplexGrinnell's Director of Application Development. "For the browser component we needed to ensure the GUI made sense and displayed the whole project-picture logically. On the Baan side, we needed serious depth Ð a mastery of Baan session data and Baan transactions . I selected Disus for the second component because they understood our business requirements and had worked with us since we first implemented Baan Triton."
Tom Jurenka is the Disus principal who worked most closely with Mark and Jim on PROMPT. "Disus' role was to handle the background processes and the interface between Baan data and the browser GUI",. In all, Disus customized 33 different transactions and multiple Baan sessions. In one area, 'Warehousing', Disus telescoped the prerequisite multiple Baan sessions into two browser fields: 'Quantity' and 'Update'. In another, 'Projects', Disus finessed the chicken-and-egg cycle needed to change 'Required Date' so that users need only make a single entry.
SimplexGrinnell's PROMPT system went live in October 2001 after a 3-month beta trial that involved lots of bug fixes. By any measure, the project has been a great success. On any given day PROMPT receives 180,000 hits from employees, 60 to 70% of which involves only queries. In the old days, query traffic would have impacted on the performance of the Baan system, but in the new configuration queries are simple database calls. The system operates entirely behind SimplexGrinnell's firewall where users can only access it from work and can only see project information that relates to their district.
"What did we do right?" muses Mark LePain. "Deciding to roll the user interface into a browser was very right. That decision eliminated a lot of confusion and training issues. Fully exploiting the capability in Baan to customize session logic into transactions was also very right."
On the learn-from-your-mistakes side, Mark concedes "I think we underestimated the complexity of the Baan data and how employees would use it Ð fetch it into the browser. We tend to call up too much data, much of it static. For anyone contemplating a similar project, the better choice is to break the browser into smaller pages with more frequent update cycles; and to rely on reports rather than the browser to display static data."
"I'm proud of this project", says Jim Nickerson. "It has already more than paid for itself which is the true test of any application development. From the outset it was a challenge to portray critical, security-related projects in a project-centered way, to overcome the compartmentalization of Baan data into 'Material', 'Labor', 'Sub-contractors', 'Sundry Items', etc. PROMPT captures the whole project in one picture with data from all over Baan; that was Disus' responsibility. SimplexGrinnell relied on them to get at the data, determine how it was used, and they didn't let us down. Disus delivered."
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