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Another Major Office Automation Case Study
 

Introduction:

Client is amongst the world's top three office automation companies. They already have an application in place for the same purpose. However, there are some shortcomings in that application which client wants to take care of through another, more sophisticated application.

The sales executives visit the prospective clients for an analysis of their office automation infrastructure. They analyze the infrastructure in terms of cost to the client in operating and maintaining the office automation products. They also try to estimate the cost for the onsite or offsite storage. They identify the areas for improvement in the client’s processes. All the information gathered by the sales executives is fed into this application and a presentation is generated for the client. Through this presentation the sales executive suggests to the client the means through which the client can save on costs.

This product needs to be designed to assist the client in providing value-added service to its customers. The Document Analysis process equips sales people to conduct enterprise-wide site surveys of workgroup/document workflow processes and evaluates the related output devices currently in place. The sales person can inventory the client or prospect’s output devices and conduct complete volume and operating cost analysis. The outcome is to determine if the output technology in place matches the workgroup’s applications cost effectively.

The findings of the site survey, the complete output device inventory, and the current volumes and operating cost would be fed into the application. The application would compile all the site survey information, compute all the math, format the results both graphically and in text, and produce the full color DOCUMENT ANALYSIS automatically. The application needs to be completely user friendly with an interface that is easy to navigate.

Limitations of the Existing System

The application in its current version has the following limitations:
  • No facility for database replication The existing application consists of only the client application built in MS Access. This application runs on the laptop/desktop of the Sales Executives who collect and enter the details of the projects they undertake independently. There is no facility for replicating the data to a central server. Since there is no central repository of all the projects being done by the Sales Executives, the Managers do not have any idea of the projects being done by their subordinates. This limits the managers from having a control over the subordinates and the quality of work that they are doing. Besides, in the absence of a central database the company runs the risk of losing a prospective client if a Sales Executive leaves the company, as the company will not be able to capitalize on the information with that Sales Executive.
  • Navigation not user-friendly The navigation provided in the existing application is not at all user-friendly. It restricts the user into using a specific mode of operation and data entry and does not provide any flexibility. Besides, the application is also very restrictive in navigating from one UI to another, as it does not allow the user to keep more than one form to be open
    simultaneously.
  • Security aspects not taken care of The application does not ask for login information from the user before he starts using the application. This opens a major loophole as it may allow an unauthorized person to have access to all the projects that a Sales Executive is working on if he/she is somehow able to take control of his machine. Besides, the application does not have any feature to allow for rights driven access to the application.
  • GUI not very appealing The GUI plays a major role in the success of an application. The existing application does not have a very appealing UI and it fails the basic rules that are considered while designing a UI.

Solution Proposed

The features that were proposed to the client to take care of the limitations mentioned above are:

  • Disabling a remote user from using the application installed on his machine if he is deactivated at the server. This section works on the premise that all the information that the user has collected regarding the projects carried out by him/her while he/she was an employee of client, is proprietary information of company. If the user is no longer working for the client, he/she should not be able to use the application as well as have access to the information collected. This would make sure that if a user has left the company and has been deactivated by the administrator, he/she is not able to use the application as well as view the data collected over the period and use it for any other company that he/she joins.
  • Modular Design. Follows MVC model. This ensures that the application developed is modular and easy to manage. Also this minimizes the amount of recoding done in the application.
  • Database security. Unauthorized access not allowed. User to access only through application. The database is compiled and password protected thus restricting the user from making any modifications through the back-end.
  • Database to maintain the user and time stamps. This would maintain a complete log of the actions done by the user on the application. Similar information is also maintained at the server so that the application administrator has a complete control over the application and its users.
  • Easy Navigation. Utmost care has been taken to decide on the navigation for the application. The user has multiple options to execute every task in the application, which makes it highly user-friendly. This also makes it a non-restrictive application enabling the user to use the different features of the application depending on his/her convenience. Also, all the major functionalities of the application are available to the user up front and are accessible to him/her irrespective of the module the user is working on.
  • Attractive and user friendly GUI. The GUI has been designed to enhance the interest of the user in using the application. Also, the UI now projects the brand image of the company as well as the application.
  • Enables easy data entry. The data being entered in the application also involves the details of all the equipment that a prospective client has. These may involve entering the details of hundreds of equipments. Features like data grid, spreadsheets and import feature have been provided in the application to ease the data entry process.
  • Modules interlinked with the help of Wizards. The information being entered is divided into multiple stages. To enable the user to enter the data easily these stages have been linked together in the form of wizards.
  • Provision for direct access to any of the modules through the links provided.
  • Synchronization of data between client database and Central Database. To enable the company to have a central repository of all projects related data a feature has been provided to synchronize the data between the client database and central database.
  • Periodic backup of data from the central database server and maintaining the log thereof.
  • Data Archival facility
  • More organized Help File
  • Help on each control on the screen
  • Report generation in a well formatted word document
  • Choice of templates for Power Point Presentations.

Technology

Since the application is based on a client-server framework we have used VB 6.0 with back-ends as MS Access at the client and MS SQL at the server with data synchronization between the two.

VBA has been used in the application to generate MS Word based reports, to save data into the database when some changes are made in the MS Word based reports, to save equipment details into the database when spreadsheet is used as data entry mode, to generate reports in Power Point and to save the data back in the database when some changes are made in the Power Point based reports.

 WinSock programming has been used for any kind of data communication between client and server.

 

 

Solutions :
Modular design

Database security
Database to maintain the user and time stamps
Easy navigation
Attractive and user friendly GUI
Enables easy data entry
Modules interlinked with the help of wizards
Provision for direct access to any of the modules
Synchronization of data
Periodic backup of data from the central database server
Data archival facility
More organized help File
Help on each control on the screen
Report generation in a well formatted word document
Choice of templates for power point presentations