SYSPRO, a global software manufacturer, wanted to offer customers a workflow solution that would integrate with its enterprise resource planning software and other applications. However, it could take years to write code for the product, and SYSPRO needed a solution flexible enough for customers with diverse business processes. To speed development and facilitate custom workflows, SYSPRO implemented its solution with Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 and the Microsoft .NET Framework 4. The company used new graphical design tools to develop a workflow solution based on Windows Workflow Foundation and Windows Communication Foundation. The Microsoft tools simplify development and reduce the need to write code. The solution also improves team collaboration. As a result, SYSPRO delivered its new product in six months instead of three years.
Based in Johannesburg, South Africa, SYSPRO is a pioneer in enterprise resource planning (ERP) software. It offers an integrated solution that gives companies in multiple industries control over the planning and management of business processes. SYSPRO is a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner with more than 350 employees worldwide.
||Visual Studio 2010 and the .NET Framework 4 gave us out-of-the-box tools that made application development a lot easier…. As a result, we were able to deliver a complete solution in six months.
Since SYSPRO was established in 1978, it has focused on developing enterprise-class solutions for the global marketplace. The company is dedicated to responding rapidly to customer requirements, and it has developed custom solutions for organizations of all sizes in a variety of industries. SYSPRO realized that, for many companies, implementing an ERP system to improve business operations was not enough. They also wanted to reduce paperwork and eliminate manual processes that hindered efficiency. For example, to create a purchase requisition, an employee might need to print a paper copy of an approval form for a manager to sign before entering the information into ERP software.
SYSPRO decided to develop workflow software that would integrate with its ERP system and other applications and data sources. The company faced several challenges, including designing a product that would be flexible enough for its diverse customer base. “We’re serving approximately 14,000 customers, and no two companies have the same business processes,” says Kevin Dherman, Software Architect at SYSPRO. “Instead of hard-coding a general solution that no one would use, we wanted to give them a tool set to build their own workflows.”
The company wanted similar flexibility for its own development processes. Through the years, it had developed its ERP software with multiple programming languages, from Assembler and COBOL in the early years to Microsoft Visual C# more recently. The company knew that creating a workflow solution for its ERP software in any of those languages would be time-consuming and costly. Dherman says, “If we continued to do even half of our development in one of the programming languages, we would still be working on the project three years from now.”
SYSPRO sought tools that it could use to bring its workflow product to market faster. It wanted to spend less time writing code and more time developing solutions that would enhance its customers’ business processes.
In 2008, SYSPRO began investigating the Microsoft .NET Framework 3.5, including Windows Workflow Foundation. The company hoped to embed a workflow designer based on the technology in its ERP software. Then, instead of writing code, customers could use visual models to orchestrate their own workflows. SYSPRO used the Microsoft Visual Studio Team System 2008 Team Suite development system and managed source code in Microsoft Visual Studio Team System 2008 Team Foundation Server. The company knew it was headed in the right direction, but it needed an easier way to create workflows that would integrate with multiple applications.
SYSPRO realized it had found the answer when it learned about Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 and the Microsoft .NET Framework 4. The company could use Visual Studio 2010 templates to graphically construct and debug applications, and it would be easier to rehost the Windows Workflow Designer in SYSPRO ERP software. Its developers could also take advantage of better interoperation with Windows Workflow Foundation and Windows Communication Foundation, a unified programming model in the .NET Framework used to create service-oriented applications. By using Windows Communication Foundation, SYSPRO planned to implement a service that would expose the business logic of workflows to its ERP solution and other software.
SYSPRO began working with a beta version of Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate in June 2009. The company planned to deploy the solution to all the developers in the company within a year and upgrade to Microsoft Visual Studio Team Foundation Server 2010. However, it first wanted to develop and release a workflow module for its ERP software. Dherman and a core team of 14 developers began working immediately with Visual Studio 2010 designers and templates.
||We realized that if employees had experience developing Microsoft applications then they could work with Visual Studio 2010. Working with the solution made it a lot easier to bring new people onto the team.
Dherman reports that getting started was easy, even for new developers. With the new Windows Workflow Designer, designing a workflow was similar to creating a flowchart. “It’s very simple to work with the Windows Workflow Designer in Visual Studio 2010,” he says. “For example, we could drag activity designers onto the surface to create a workflow. Then we could test the workflow in isolation, and do unit testing to check code activity. When we were happy with the workflow, it was equally easy to deploy the solution to the main application.”
By using a Windows Workflow Designer template, the developers created a Windows Communication Foundation service to host workflows that can be accessed like Web services. The new solution, called SYSPRO Workflow Services, is part of SYSPRO 6.1, which the company plans to release in April 2010. The solution includes an integrated workflow designer. SYSPRO customers will use the designer to create custom workflow activities that execute with the ERP software or external applications. Customers will also be able to monitor workflows and generate reports to see how long it takes to complete each activity.
SYSPRO looks forward to exploring other enhancements such as Windows Azure Tools for Microsoft Visual Studio. It could use the tools to develop scalable ERP applications and services that run in the cloud on the Windows Azure platform.
With Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 and the Microsoft .NET Framework 4, SYSPRO has simplified development and is getting its products to market faster. The company is also improving collaboration among developers and testers, and it looks forward to using the solution to meet new challenges.
Cuts Development Time by 80 Percent
By taking advantage of the Microsoft development tools, SYSPRO estimates that it has cut development time for its new workflow solution by more than 80 percent. “Visual Studio 2010 and the .NET Framework 4 gave us out-of-the-box tools that made application development a lot easier,” says Dherman. “We didn’t have to worry about setting up a runtime environment or programming the back end. As a result, we were able to deliver a complete solution in six months.”
Because the solution simplifies development and reduces the need to write code, developers with backgrounds in different programming languages can work together in a shared environment. This means that SYSPRO can take advantage of its existing skill set and add new resources quickly. “We realized that if employees had experience developing Microsoft applications then they could work with Visual Studio 2010,” says Dherman. “Working with the solution made it a lot easier to bring new people onto the team.”
Collaboration is also easier with the new solution. Dherman can create work items and track progress in Microsoft Visual Studio Team Explorer 2010, and his development team uses the tool to work more efficiently. “I run a team of 14 developers, and by working with Visual Studio 2010 and Team Foundation Server, I can assign parts of the project to different people. And at the end of the week, I will have a working application in front of me,” he says. “Developers can view and share code and also collaborate with testers a lot easier.”
SYSPRO anticipates that Visual Studio 2010 and the .NET Framework 4 will play an increasing role in development activities. For example, the development team recently used the tools to create a service that synchronizes the contacts in its customer relationship management software with the Microsoft Office Outlook 2007 messaging and collaboration client. Dherman says, “Instead of trying to code everything, we are increasingly using the .NET Framework 4 and Visual Studio 2010 to design components that do the work for us.”
The company is using the solution to enhance its current product line and improve its own operating environment. However, it looks forward to exploring more opportunities such as cloud-based services. Dherman says, “We know where the world is heading with software-as-a-service solutions, and with Visual Studio 2010 we’ll be ready when the trend really hits the market.”
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Microsoft Visual Studio 2010
Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 is an integrated development system that helps simplify the entire development process from design to deployment. Unleash your creativity with powerful prototyping, modeling, and design tools that help you bring your vision to life. Work within a personalized environment that helps accelerate the coding process and supports the use of your existing skills, and target a growing number of platforms, including Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 and cloud services. Also, work more efficiently thanks to integrated testing and debugging tools that you can use to find and fix bugs quickly and easily to help ensure high-quality solutions.
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Document published April 2010