Software Matters

Article excerpt

If there is a summary to be made of the direction which business application software is taking it must surely be that it is becoming more capable, especially in the interpretation of information. As a consequence, it is addressing the need for that, now more useful, information to be available to people other than those in the business discipline for which it was created.

Hence accounts software suites are easier now for sales staff and managers to use to get information about business trends; sales analyses and forecasts can be grabbed by research and development people; purchasing and stock control suites yield useful evidence for accountants --and so on.

The essence is that people from 'outside' the discipline must have some means of seeing information in a form they will recognise. Now I have nothing against accountants, you understand, but their work does give me the most fruitful example of this. In all but the leading hand-cart firms, accounting figures are notoriously difficult for sales types and others to comprehend. What they want is a pretty picture of the progress to date, current trend, forecast etc. They do not want tables full of figures.

No management discipline is an island. It exists, of course, to play its part in furthering the health, wealth and happiness of the organisation.

So if finance directors or senior accountants have to resort to drawing diagrams on bits of scrap paper to explain the implications of the figures to non-accounting colleagues, then something is very wrong.

Client-server

In client-server architectures for networks and PCs we have the computing tools to allow access to the organisation's information to everyone who needs it in their work and/or is authorised to gain access to it. What is more, that information can be held, and automatically updated, in as many different forms as it requires for everyone to understand it to the best of their ability.

I shall not dwell further on client server's details because I covered them in March 1992--which will teach you to keep your back copies.

Client server was, it seems, a trifle ahead of the applications software market. Only now are we seeing applications suites which are truly client server orientated rather than just tweaks of older software which did not really get the most from the architecture. In earlier manifestations of client server, the mutual use of files could still be cumbersome and the more imaginative client-server improvements were lacking.

Now, virtually all leading business applications vendors have, or are launching at November's Softworld exhibition, genuine client-server generations of their systems.

For example, recently chosen by Price Waterhouse as one of the top five client-server software suppliers, Lawson Software has client-server accounting, distribution and materials management applications under the generic name Open Enterprise. It has support for all the major databases, platforms and presentation systems. The systems include a repository based approach to the management of business objects such as corporate dialects, multiple languages and currencies, business rules, help text and documentation. Graphics based client software provides access to features like drill-down to information's origins and management reporting using multiple databases and applications.

Improvements in computer graphics have been of considerable assistance in accelerating all-users software. A graphical user interface allows those from outside a discipline to pull information from that discipline's files and have it presented in the manner which allows them to absorb it in an instant and on which they can act confidently.

Graphics sub-systems are now sufficiently advanced to provide the kind of charts, diagrams, 3-D drawings, even animations that would have required a studio full of people five years ago. And these graphics interpretations are available as ex-stock items waiting only for the input of the required figures to make them work. …