Software Vendor’s Casino Package rewrite project enabled by Surround Technologies
Developing a Windows user interface from scratch can be a time-consuming and costly task. Not only does the developer need to figure out how to program complex business rules and requirements into the system, but he also has the challenge of designing and developing the overall look and feel of the application -- the Graphical User Interface (GUI).
Developers at Today’s Business Computers, Inc. (TBC) came face to face with this challenge when they decided to modernize their Casino Enterprise Management System (CEMS) to a more advanced, productive, and intuitive Windows Interface.
TBC's research led them to LANSA’s Visual LANSA for its productivity and portability gains over equivalent products, such as Visual Basic, C++, and Java. The complexities of building a true Windows application, especially as developers new to event-driven programming, led them to Surround Technologies, LLC, and the Envision Visual LANSA Accelerator (EVLA) to enhance their productivity even further.
Just as much time can be spent building the "look and feel" of a system -- which includes menus, buttons and navigational components -- as can be spent programming the actual guts of it. This work can be time consuming, tedious and unproductive. "Visual LANSA Accelerator provides Visual LANSA developers with a head start by building the basic architecture, or framework, of any system," explains Lee Paul, founding partner of Surround Technologies, LLC, a LANSA software partner and developer said. "Visual LANSA Accelerator does much of the mundane work for the developer, allowing them to concentrate on creating the meat of their application instead of worrying about the GUI, navigation, and windows management of the system," continued Paul.
When TBC partners Don Guenther and Lou Vilardo began to research rewriting their CEMS system to utilize a true Windows event-driven environment, they began to question whether it was cost justified. "When you do a rewrite like this, you are really not moving the product forward, and therefore it is a tremendous cost without much gain in the way of new business features," Guenther said. Guenther, Vilardo, and their programmers had never developed this kind of interface. They already had a solid database and there existing LANSA development skills allowed them to easily move into Visual LANSA. However, they did not have the in-depth knowledge of fundamental Windows concepts required to understand the interface or to work with an event-driven programming language.
"Here we are in a transition going from the old character-based screens to wanting a visual look and feel for our older systems, as well as needing to develop new systems, and we had not yet invested in obtaining Visual LANSA knowledge and very little interface knowledge of Windows and GUI applications in general," Guenther said.
"Given our significant time constraints, we needed to find a solution that had the framework already incorporated into the solution." Guenther said. "Visual LANSA Accelerator had the pre-built components that allowed us to build a presentation-ready Visual LANSA application in a very short period of time."
"Visual LANSA Accelerator is a set of base components that form a customizable framework that can be used to develop any Visual LANSA application," according to Paul. "The VL Accelerator allows developers to quickly generate shell systems with a standard Windows user interface that requires virtually no programming. The code generating wizards can then be used to quickly develop components that can be specific to your business and easily plugged into the VL Accelerator." And now TBC partners Guenther and Vilardo agree that VL Accelerator is an invaluable solution that will be utilized in all projects going forward.
"VL Accelerator enabled us to quickly and cost-effectively rewrite our entire casino package," Vilardo said. "(VL) Accelerator made this challenge more cost effective by drastically reducing the amount of time and number of programmers required. We fully expect to see savings in the hundreds of thousands of dollars and already see an increase of 25 to 1 in our productivity."
TBC is utilizing VL Accelerator to build another Visual LANSA system from scratch. They are near completion on their new Health and Welfare Funds Management System (HWFMS), developed in conjunction with a New Jersey-based health and welfare funds manager/third party claims administrator.
VL Accelerator gives Visual LANSA developers the visual architecture, or framework, that forms the base of any Visual LANSA system -- including navigation functions, buttons and menus -- features that make up the look and feel of any GUI application. With this visual framework in place, developers can then concentrate on the meat of their systems -- the business rules and functionality. Additionally, using templates included with the VL Accelerator, developers can quickly generate the code they need to round out their Visual LANSA applications.
"VL Accelerator is a powerful tool that all development companies, like TBC, should use in developing their Windows-based systems," said Derek Maciak, Surround Technologies Vice President of Development. "The architecture was designed to separate and manage the presentation logic, which allows the developer to concentrate on the business logic. For many companies, this ‘jump-start’ functionality is essential to the success of their projects. VL Accelerator will manage everything from navigation, to menus and toolbars, to multiple windows, to user security. All of this leads to a consistent look and feel to any Windows system."
Tommy Bardinas, a Surround Technologies developer who has been working with TBC on the development of HWFMS, explains that the VL Accelerator removes the tediousness of developing interface features in Windows applications.
VL Accelerator reads in a LANSA database and, using the information about the data, automatically generates detailers, browsers and sub-browsers, including full navigational functionality that allows the end-user to access any data from anywhere in the system.
"After a database is developed, the applications can be completed in less than half the time than if you had to code each individual detailer, browser and sub-browser," Bardinas said. "You would have to code one specifically for each file layout. With VL Accelerator, through table entries, inquiries are already set up along with the detailer, browser and sub-browser, so you can concentrate on developing the business requirements of your system which would be more cost effective." And indeed HWFMS is a large, complex system containing hundreds of files, thousands of functions and millions of records.
"Through table entries, all of the application's detailers are unique, meaning the programmer doesn't have to go in and create these detailers on their own because they are already created by using the VL Accelerator Object Development templates," Bardinas added. "The programmers only have to modify existing detailers. The VL Accelerator will create a basic detailer for you based on the tables you create. You have a working application before the programmer has to do any programming." Bardinas described an example of functionality in HWFMS that was implemented with the VL Accelerator very quickly and with no programming:
In HWFMS, the end-user can go to a detailer to add a claim. There, they enter the first few letters of the member's last name. They would then see a drop-down list of all member names starting with those letters. If the member cannot be found, the end-user will be taken to a new detailer where they can enter a new member's name, social security number, phone number, and other information. When the end-user is done, the member automatically will be added to the back-end tables. "All of this is functionality available out of the box with the VL Accelerator, with no programming required," Bardinas explained. "Without VL Accelerator, it would take at least 24 hours of a moderately skilled Visual LANSA developer to create the same functionality. But with VL Accelerator, you can do all of this in one to two hours. "VL Accelerator is a fantastic starting point to get you on the right path to developing Visual LANSA applications," continued Bardinas, a long-time LANSA developer. "VL Accelerator can complete 60% or more of the application for you before you even start programming."
According to Bardinas, programming just the basic interface of HWFMS would have taken TBC several months to accomplish without the VL Accelerator, never mind developing the business functionality of the system.
"But through our one-week intensive training, TBC developers were able to be productive in a couple of weeks," Bardinas said. "While VL Accelerator is very easy to use, we offer and strongly recommend a one-week training course to introduce new developers to both the Windows and VL Accelerator concepts and implementations."
TBC agrees with Bardinas' assessment regarding the short learning curve required to use the VL Accelerator.
"By the time (Surround Technologies') Derek (Maciak) finished training us, we already had some parts of the system built that we could use," TBC's Guenther recalled. "Now, we've got it down to where we can create a new Visual LANSA screen with maintenance functionality -- browser, add, change, delete and search capabilities -- in about half a day, using the VL Accelerator. Without it, this same type of module with all the included advanced functionality could take somebody over a week to do. Surround also continues to add functionality to the VL Accelerator quite frequently. This provides more new interface features to our clients with little to no development effort on our part."
Guenther points out that the VL Accelerator gave them a head start in developing their Visual LANSA systems, and Surround’s programming expertise gave the TBC developers, who were new to Visual LANSA, the additional support they needed.
"The investment we made in the VL Accelerator was a 'no brainer,'" added TBC's Lou Vilardo. "As a small developer or a large developer, it is extremely cost effective to use the VL Accelerator to develop Visual LANSA applications."
He added: "We intend to use it for everything going forward."