Crescendo ported to Reality Database

Efficiency Partners’ Crescendo enterprise software has been successfully ported to Northgate/Arinso’s Reality database environment.   The Reality database offers a large number of compatibility options to accommodate most features commonly available in other “Pick” or “Multivalue” databases.  It also provides an architecture that permits each user process to be managed individually through the Windows task manager, along with a rapid image-based database save and restore capability.

Historically EP has favored TigerLogic’s mvBASE version of the Multivalue database, which remains the primary database engine for most of its customers.  One of EP’s significant customers, United Tranzactions, LLC (UTA), recently elected to migrate its systems to the Reality platform.  EP engineers researched the functional and syntactical nuances that separated the two database environments.  One of the biggest challenges, says EP CEO Sam Hazleton, was how to manage a single set of Crescendo’s over 5,000 programs that can function properly in both environments.  “I’ll never be put in a position where I have to manage two separate copies of the same code.  With some innovative changes to Crescendo’s precompiler, we were able to model the differences between the two environments in such a way that no program conversion whatsoever is required when migrating between Multivalue versions.”

Crescendo upgrade highlights 2006-2009

 Crescendo Upgrade Highlights 2006-2009

Efficiency Partners is constantly applying design and programming effort to improve its core Crescendo software, which serves as the foundation for each of its customers’ unique systems.  Below are just a few highlights among many system-wide improvements that have been made during the past four years.

 

It is important to point out that many of the improvements, while undetectable to the average user, have been made to our EP development tools, which allow our technicians to develop specialized software applications more quickly and effectively.

 

1. View screen interface improvements

In 2004 we thoroughly revamped our system’s user interface, including all menus and entry screens.  However the widely used “view” screens remained in their original, more primitive form.  We’ve now updated the view screens as well to include the updated look & feel as well as spreadsheet-style data grids and action buttons.  This fits more data on the screen and allows for more targeted drill-down and better screen printouts. 

2. View screen overlay changes

Formerly, any change to a view screen required programmer customization of that screen, leading to more maintenance effort.  Now, we’ve enabled the same unique “overlay” technology for view screens as exists for menus and input screens.  This gives our customers nearly total control over the specific information that displays in the view screens, without ever changing the underlying program.

3. Universal screen capacity flexibility

One very recent but powerful improvement has been to allow user control over the size (i.e. the number of available rows and columns) individually for each screen in the system.  Historically, the amount of information that displayed on the screen was limited to a 80 x 24 grid.  Now every screen, including menus, input screens, views and applications (on-screen living reports) can be set to any larger size up to 160 x 60.  This increases by as much as 500% the amount of information that can be displayed on any single screen, and blows the lid of off traditional limitations in screen real estate.

4. Application overlay changes

Among the most useful of Crescendo’s user interface options are its applications (aka “living reports”).  EP has now extended its overlay user customization technology to this interface as well.  This allows nearly every aspect of an application to be tailored specifically for the needs of the business, without impacting the integrity of the underlying program.  Allowable changes include screen sizing, column displays, colors, running totals, screen refresh rates, add, delete or secure action buttons, etc.  This allows for maximum system customization without hindering the ability to apply future upgrades.

5. Application performance improvement for long data lists

Applications are far superior to traditional printed reports in that they integrate editing and decision making, and furnish a dynamic, real-time view of the database.  One limitation that has historically hindered their ability to replace traditional reports completely was that performance was substantially compromised with longer reports in excess of 5,000 rows of data.  EP has now shattered this barrier, utilizing temporary file space for paging in much the same way that operating systems use the hard drive as “virtual memory”.  Now application screens offer good performance for any length report, permitting every traditional “dead” report to be replaced by a living one.

6. System architecture simplification

Crescendo was originally organized within the multivalue database environment with a separate program area for each of Crescendo’s twenty five modules.  As ongoing integration efforts multiplied the number of “neural pathways” between the modules, the functional boundaries evaporated, leaving a more cohesive, fluid and monolithic system.  The original segregated structure became a hindrance in this environment, so EP has eliminated the unnecessary original “scaffolding” and created a single program area for all system code.  This simplification enhances installations, maintenance, modifications and upgrades, and gives the entire system a smaller, sleeker footprint.

7. Pre-field code snippets

Crescendo morphs to fit the unique business workflows of each customer organization.   One of the ways it does this is by allowing for “snap-in” business rules to be applied as needed to virtually every crack and crevice in the system.  EP has opened yet another opportunity for business rule snap-ins in the form of “pre-field” code snippets.  This is code that executes just prior to the cursor being positioned at any given field, enhancing the ability to perform more intelligent defaulting as well as field-by-field security.

8. Application grid edit, display and printing updates

Without question, since the dawn of the computer age, the “spreadsheet” has been the most useful, enduring format for the presentation and manipulation of data.  Even in printed formats, there is something clean, organized and reassuring about gridlines that cordon off data cells.  Crescendo has fully embraced this universal data exchange medium in a variety of ways.  A large number of business functions have been converted to the aforementioned “application” screens, which combine the power of spreadsheet presentation with button-based one-click decision execution.  The application spreadsheet presentation environment has been enhanced dramatically in the latest Crescendo release.  In addition, all Crescendo detail screens, which have since 2004 been presented in spreadsheet grid format, have now also been endowed with a new grid-style edit capability which makes for lightning fast global revisions of particular data fields.  All grid displays can now be output as a hard copy in tabular format replete with gridlines for organized presentations.  Simple grid display utilities have been developed as well to facilitate the quick deployment of snap-in info displays in any screen.

9. Web integration

Since the internet explosion, page-at-a-time browsers such as internet explorer have emerged as a universal interface for connecting to information resources in the “cloud”.  Crescendo-driven companies can now leverage this worldwide technology to provide data display and update access to vendors, customers, outside salespeople and even traveling employees who connect via a web browser from anywhere in the world.  EP has developed a simple yet reliable and efficient web portal to the Crescendo multivalue database that allows any desired information to be securely fed as web content to a browser and then safely updated to Crescendo.  This technology can have explosive impact for improvements in efficiency, accuracy and convenience for vendors, customers and your own staff.

10. Level II internet-based credit card processing

A few years back, the credit companies instituted new security guidelines for business-to-business merchant transactions, offering more attractive processing rates in exchange for “level II” compliance.  At the same time, EP’s chosen processor, Heartland Payment Systems, developed its own internet-based point-of-sale gateway to allow for the elimination of old-school dialup credit card approvals.  EP worked with Heartland’s developers to produce its own software interface to this new gateway, which resulted in dramatically faster, more secure approvals in conjunction with more attractive processing rates.  EP’s customers have been able to save thousands each year in credit card fees while simultaneously increasing transaction speed as a result.

11.  Emailed or Web-accessible business documents in HTML or PDF

EP has created system-wide integrated support for the production and transmission of all business documents such as quotes, order acknowledgements, invoices, pricing inquiries and purchase orders in the emailed format of your choice.  The HTML format allows for minimum file sizes, integrated graphics and direct business form presentation from a web portal.  The PDF format is also popular for transmitting multi-page documents as a universally accessible email attachment.  The emailed HTML format can be employed to allow your trading partners to acknowledge PO’s, pay invoices, or accept quotes by filling out a simple embedded form on your business document and then clicking an embedded submit button.  The information is seamlessly and directly updated through the web portal to your Crescendo system, and your vendor or customer never has to leave his Outlook email screen!

12.  Direct control of Windows from within Crescendo

The multivalued database environment (e.g. mvBASE) runs as an application in the Windows operating system environment.  In its native form, the multivalue database offers limited access and connectivity to basic Windows functions.  EP has developed a piece of software called mvWIS (multivalue Windows Information Server) that places direct control over a wide variety of Windows O/S functions in the hands of a Crescendo programmer or program user.  At last count, mvWIS supported over three dozen Windows task execution, file and folder system, device access and internet-based communications functions that put the world (and the world wide web) at the feet of the Crescendo-powered enterprise.

SST Uses Zappers for Inventory Counting and Picking

Solid Sealing Technology, Inc.  (SST) has been using the Crescendo enterprise software in its growing manufacturing business since its inception in 2004.  As their company grows,  owners Gary Balfour and Alan Fuierer are constantly seizing opportunities to maximize workflow efficiency.  SST recently deployed Opticon OPN 2001 pocket memory scanners (which we here at Efficiency Partners affectionately call “zappers”) in their stockroom.  These simple, inexpensive devices are employed by SST for two primary functions, inventory cycle/physical count and issuance of components to manufacturing work orders.

SST builds both catalog and custom products from thousands of engineered components.  Because purchased component lead times can be lengthy, SST requires pinpoint inventory accuracy to be able to make and keep delivery promises to its customers.  In addition, SST maintains end-to-end lot traceability to support its quality objectives, so each batch of components is bagged and tagged with barcode labels within the stockroom bin system.  To keep its inventories accurate, SST relies upon cycle counts, counting approximately 20 items twice each week.  SST recently performed a complete physical count (its first in five years).  With the help of zappers and scale-counting techniques, SST was able to perform the count of 200,000 individual pieces of inventory in a single day.  Zappers allow specific lot numbers and quantities to be accurately recorded and then directly uploaded to the system with the simple push of a button.   After zapping the bin number, the operator zaps the barcode label on the bag and then zaps the quantity using a barcoded number pad.  Items with high quantities are counted by weight using a scale attached directly to the Crescendo system to save time.   As each bin is counted and zapped, a simple green sticker is applied to the bin to prevent double counting or overlooked bins.

The other important application for zappers at SST is picking source components from the stockroom to production work orders.  When issuing required components to manufacturing work orders, the operator first scans the work order number, then the lot number barcode on the component package, then the quantity issued using the barcoded number pad.  The operator can maximize his/her efficiency in this process by picking multiple work orders at a time and recording items picked with the zapper.  The zapper is subsequently uploaded to the system automatically, with a visible display of any picking discrepancies.  This new process ensures accuracy  for both inventory and quality control purposes, as well as efficient workflows.

Opticon “zappers” can help save both time and errors for many business processes.  They are easy to use and easy to integrate with other applications.  Contact Efficiency Partners at 518-874-0616 to discuss ways your business processes can become more efficient.

Opportunities Abound to Eliminate Grunt-Work

EP consultants make it a point to spend time at our customers’ sites on a regular basis.  This puts us in direct contact with their people, procedures and problems, and enables us to deliver targeted solutions quickly with minimal organizational disruption.

On one such consulting visit recently at Orion Fashions, a Manhattan-based distributor of costume jewelry, I was shocked to discover, quite by accident, that an accounting person was spending nearly an entire day of manual effort to post a single customer payment.   As most of Orion’s customers are large retail chains, they will frequently send a single payment which covers several hundred individual invoices.  I noticed the accounting clerk accessed the chain store’s web portal to obtain and print payment breakdown information, and then laboriously rekeyed pages of individual invoice numbers into their EP Crescendo cash receipt screen.  With a few hours work, our programmers had added a button to the cash receipt entry that would electronically import the payment detail from a spreadsheet downloaded from the chain store’s web portal.  This modest time investment will save literally hundreds of hours of time each year for Orion’s accounting staff.

If you look around your company, these types of opportunities to streamline repetitive activities exist everywhere.  Companies that commit to making these types of improvements continuously are able to expand their revenues and their margins consistently.  Contact Efficiency Partners at 518-874-0616 to see how your enterprise could benefit from the expertise of our consultants and technicians who can quickly identify and implement solutions that will make your business run more efficiently.

Document Imaging Sensible for Any Business

Even the smallest business can become quickly buried in an avalanche of paperwork.  Traditional filing practices can expose vital company documents to damage and decay from pests, fire and the elements,  the risk of loss or being misplaced, and many long hours spent in the document retrieval process.

Efficiency Partners’ customers have been scanning, storing and retrieving their vital business records electronically for years.  Business documents such as shop paperwork, packing lists, vendor invoices, material certifications, contracts, HR records, meeting notes, etc. are batch scanned and automatically linked to corresponding Crescendo database records using simple barcoding technology.   For example, when a vendor invoice is received in the mail, the A/P clerk enters the invoice details into the Crescendo system.  Upon acceptance of the new payable invoice record, a small adhesive barcode tag is automatically printed on a nearby light-duty barcode printer such as the Zebra LP-2844Z.  The clerk affixes this tag to the original invoice document and, instead of manually placing it in a filing cabinet, drops it in a “to be scanned” box with other recent documents.  At the end of the day, this stack of documents to be scanned is loaded into the automatic document feeder of a Twain-compatible scanner such as the Ricoh Aficio or the Fujitsu Scanpartner, and the Crescendo scanning interface software is invoked.  With the click of a button, all the documents in the feeder are scanned, automatically linked to source records, compressed and permanently archived on an accessible drive.  From that point forward, any Crescendo user can access these documents directly without getting up from their desk or having to browse or search through a list of hundreds of similar files.

Sensible on-site and physical media-based backup strategies ensure that these vital documents are never entrusted solely to a single hard drive which is prone to failure.  Most of EP’s customers are so confident of Crescendo’s archiving and retrieval system that they don’t bother to save the original physical copies of the documents.  They go straight from the scanner to a “scanned” box, which is kept for a few days and then sent for recycling.

Efficiency Partners can deliver a document imaging solution that is custom-tailored to your company’s paperflow and that reduces human effort dramatically while enhancing reliability and accessibility.  The low cost of today’s high-capacity storage media enables any business to store valuable documents indefinitely.  Contact us at 518-874-0616 to get started.

EP Facilitates Functional Division For Financial Services Co.

National Check Trust (NCT) is a financial services company based in Miramar, FL that guarantees bounced consumer checks for merchants nationwide in the automobile, furniture and construction trades.  NCT utilizes EP’s Crescendo software to manage a huge inventory of consumer obligations, a dizzying array of bank accounts, and a complex set of business rules.

In 2008 NCT launched NCT Collection Services, Inc., a separate but tightly integrated collection arm, leveraging NCT’s collection expertise to serve new markets.  NCT looked to Efficiency Partners to not only provide an accounting system for the new venture, but also to integrate its operations seamlessly and electronically with NCT’s own accounting database, providing full visibility at the case level on both companies’ systems.

This aggressive level of operational integration is a boon for both companies, as it allows every transaction to be keyed only once yet instantly populated on both sides.  As such, NCT and CSI can share technical and administrative resources to reduce operating overhead.  Working in close cooperation with NCT’s internal IT staff, EP began the project in May of 2008 and completed it in January 2009.

Reckoning System Costs as an Investment, Not an Expense

Success has a lot to do with attitude.  For the small or medium-sized business enterprise, creating and maintaining a computerized information system, with all its attendant servers, workstations, networking equipment, operating systems, software programming and security protection, is never going to be a cheap proposition.  But your attitude toward information system expenditures, whether you see them as an investment to be maximized, or as an expense to be minimized,  can make all the difference in the world to your success.

Unfortunately, some company owners perceive their computer-related expenses as a necessarily evil — like a tax — that does nothing but reduce their bottom line profit.  So they lay out the minimum amount of money needed to get the job of the moment done.  For business managers with this mindset, usually these expenditures are in response to some sort of crisis such as a server crash.  However the “savings” these frugal folks realize are deceptive and temporary at best.

Companies with an “expense” mindset toward information systems often don’t realize that every dollar they are “saving” in systems expense may be costing them three to five dollars in salaries.  Every systems shortcut costs your employees time by forcing them to perform a manual “work-around” — not just once, but many times every day, day in and day out.  The reason that this lousy trade-off is so commonplace is that payroll expenses don’t stand out as being exceptional when folks are reviewing the P & L, and it is not obvious that excess payroll costs are a direct result of systems shortcuts.

Another reality that often goes unnoticed, is that effective information systems not only impact the bottom line by reducing payroll costs, but can increase your top line by making your revenue generating employees more productive and by making your customers happier.  Most successful entrepreneurs understand that their business isn’t a “zero sum game”.  They realize that their decisions impact both revenues and expenses, and that productive employees and satisfied customers translates to increased market share (and sometimes an increased market) as well as increased profitability.  Obviously efficient systems are not the only ingredient in a healthy, sustainable business; but they are an essential one.

Efficiency Partners customers deliberately invest in their information systems, because they’ve seen the payback firsthand.  One nice aspect of investments in systems and processes is that business process improvements pay dividends not only in the short-term, but over and over again for the foreseeable future.  Efficiency Partners’ Crescendo business process software tools don’t wear out or depreciate like investments in physical equipment, or even like software programs created by some vendors and targeted for “planned obsolescence”.  The Crescendo software has been on a track of slow and steady improvement for over twenty years.  Though their experience is sadly rare, our customers have never been forced to scrap their systems and reinvest.

If you’re ready to consider establishing a permanent systems foundation for your growing business that will allow you to invest in continuous business improvements, contact Efficiency Partners at 518-874-0616 to set up an initial consultation without cost or obligation.

“Zappers” Simplify Handheld Data Collection

They don’t look like much,  just over two inches long and an inch wide, but the Opticon handheld barcode readers, coupled with Crescendo’s integration software, can revolutionize data collection in a number of common business scenarios.  Efficiency Partners entered the world of “zappers” just under two years ago when requests from two separate customer organizations coincided, spawning a clever new combination of hardware and software technology.

Designed originally for use in consumer catalog showroom applications, the zappers (the name affectionately given these devices by the EP staff) have a scan button and a smaller delete button.  As such they are amazingly easy to use.  They capture the time and date of scan as well as the barcoded information.  This information is then imported automatically to the Crescendo system via a USB connection.  The units also charge via the USB cable and can last for several weeks on a single charge under active use.  The small units have large capacity and can hold up to 10,000 scans at once.

Back in 2007, Efficiency Partners was approached by two customers simultaneously for two totally different applications.  Orion Fashions, a costume jewelry distributor to fashion store chains such as Macy’s and JC Penney, needed an efficient solution for its salespeople to track buyer appointments to its Manhattan showroom.  Faddegon’s Nursery needed a method to track the time and activities of its interior plant maintenance service technicians.  EP struggled to figure out how to make vastly more expensive, bulky and complicated handheld computers do the job for Orion Fashions.  Then Karen McGowan of Faddegon’s Nursery faxed over a picture of the simple, tiny unit she had found on the internet.  One look at the picture and Sam Hazleton, EP’s lead designer, knew that Karen had stumbled on the perfect solution for both applications.

EP’s development team went to work immediately to create the necessary interface programming to allow the Crescendo system to communicate directly with these simple devices.  They also created specialized showroom appointment tracking applications.  Now, when a buyer enters Orion’s showroom, they are handed this small device and they simply scan the styles of jewelry they are interested in.  Orion’s salespeople then plug the unit into the USB port and the system produces nicely formatted emailed quotes with pictures and pricing for the selected styles.  The new process is simple, efficient and furnishes much more accurate and rapid feedback to Orion’s customers.  The new scanners have drawn rave reviews from Orion’s customers, salespeople and management.  Ben Miller, Orion’s Chief Operating Officer, says of the new system that “It is a god-send, as it has not only decreased the workload; it makes for a smoother operation.  It is forward thinking like this program that sets Orion apart from its competitors.”

All the showroom benefits notwithstanding, Orion doesn’t utilize one of the most useful features of the zappers, which is its ability to capture the time and date of the scan as well as the contents.  This time and date tracking makes the Opticon zappers a perfect tool for technician time tracking.  Efficiency Partners itself uses the scanners for this purpose and has gained useful and accurate project analysis without burdening its technicians with laborious record keeping.

The zappers also have a great application in performing physical and cycle inventory counts and in tracking activity on the manufacturing floor.  The interface programming can be easily and directly linked to any Crescendo database.  Because the Crescendo system naturally produces barcode charts of any customized information, and because all Crescendo business documents can easily include barcodes, these barcode readers can be readily incorporated into any physical process for optimum efficiency, portability, accuracy and economy.

Give us a call at 518-874-0616 to discuss how these inexpensive devices, coupled with EP Crescendo software, can help revolutionize your operations.

EP Creates Web-Based Software for NCAA Division I Wrestling Events

If you’re a fan of Albany-area high school wrestling, you’ve doubtless heard of Frank Popolizio, founder of Journeymen Wrestling.  Armed with a dream for connecting local wrestlers to wrestling’s greatest stage – the NCAA – Frank has helped New York’s Albany area, historically a wrestling backwater, achieve notariety as a hub of wrestling talent.   A tireless promoter of training and competitive events, Frank’s efforts to connect local high school wrestlers with the most successful collegiate wrestling programs in the country have paid off in a big way: Both for the colleges, who have found a fresh talent pool for recruiting purposes, and for the wrestlers, who have been inspired and coached toward personal excellence.

One of the biggest annual events sponsored by Journeymen is the Northeast Collegiate Duals. Held each year during the Thanksgiving weekend, this event brings nearly twenty of the nation’s best Division I collegiate wrestling teams, including a large collection of the top-ranked individual wrestlers, together for a full day of the most eye-popping action imaginable to a local wrestling fan.

So how does Frank Popolizio lure this caliber of wrestling to New York’s Capital Region?  He provides the coaches with a smorgasbord of non-conference matchups that allow them to measure the strength of their program early in the season at a single venue that enables them to consolidate their travel schedule.  But Frank has found putting together a day-long schedule of appropriate matchups between teams of varying talent levels that satisfies all seventeen coaches at once is a task of Herculean proportions.  “I nearly broke down in tears,” said Popolizio, an accomplished former wrestler in his own right who is not easily defeated.  “It took me seven days, morning till night,” says Frank, to produce a satisfactory schedule for the Northeast Duals that met all the coaches’ requirements.  With similar collegiate events being staged in the Binghamton area, and numerous similar high school tournaments, something had to be done to make the scheduling process easier.

This is when Journeymen Wrestling turned to Efficiency Partners for help.  Sam Hazleton, EP’s CEO, has a son who wrestles with the Journeymen Club.  After a couple of brief phone conversations in which Frank outlined the scheduling rules, priorities and critical variables, Efficiency Partners was off and running to produce a web-accessible database system and scheduling engine that uses the power of the computer to instantaneously generate a variety of scheduling options for each event that fulfill each coach’s objectives.  “You’ve made my April,” said Frank Popolizio as he sampled the new program from his iphone, a few short weeks after his initial conversations with Sam Hazleton.  “No one in the country has anything like this.”

Web-based development has been a significant source of Efficiency Partners’ recent customer projects.  Few solutions outside of EP’s Crescendo software offer the ability to directly link a backend database system to the web for direct and efficient access.  Do you have a specialized scheduling environment that could benefit from a well-designed, browser-based computer application?  Contact Efficiency Partners.  The solution may be more readily achieved than you think.