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Agora Paves the Way on .NET Advantage

Someone had to be the first. Advantage 2012r2—the first Advantage release totally in the .NET environment—became available last July, and although ACS went live on it immediately, Agora Publishing stepped up to the plate as the first client to implement it.

Agora is on an annual upgrade schedule. Even though this upgrade was a bit more involved—with not only new features, but also such improvements as a new user interface and the use of C# programming language for select sets—it took just 20% more time than a typical upgrade. And with NO adjustments to the original target date.

Suzanne Earley, manager of Advantage projects at Agora, gave a presentation at the recent Advantage User Group meeting describing how the upgrade went. She was assisted by Doug Moore, the Advantage project manager.

Their presentation pointed out that while retaining the functionality of prior Advantage releases and adding many new application features, the new .NET Advantage provides many system-wide enhancements. The major system-wide changes involve the way you navigate through Advantage, the introduction of the "ribbon," and the replacement of the Advantage tools with C# programming language for select sets. Code deployment is also quite a bit more organized and streamlined.

Agora is very pleased with the release. As the guinea pig, they uncovered numerous issues that have now been resolved, making the upgrade process even easier for the second, third and subsequent clients.

Some amount of training will be necessary for these main areas: navigation, select sets and ribbon customization, as well as for the new features each client chooses to implement. Navigation training was pretty straightforward while select set training was expected to be rather gnarly. However, all agreed that it went more smoothly than expected, and the introduction of C# means that it will be easier to hire and train new employees from the large pool of C# savvy people.

Users at Agora gave positive feedback on the overall usability of the new release and especially liked the ribbon. “The Ribbon customization has been hugely beneficial in streamlining the individual teams’ needs within the system,” reports Suzanne. She went on to comment: “The search function from the menu has made administrators' jobs easier. It’s not necessary to remember all the views that you need to go to randomly for system setup projects.”

The other key area involves deployment. In the past, ACS would provide individual code components for the client to rotate into production, but now ACS pre-compiles and delivers just one set of code. The code is all maintained at ACS which helps with configuration management and reduces code rotation errors. It also means that users can stay in the system during code rotation. “The .NET version does not require users to get out of the system to rotate a new piece of code,” explains Suzanne. “They just receive a pop-up letting them know that a new version is available.”

Once a client is on a .NET release, code deployment should be a simple matter. The system administrator can see a list of all the software changes and can request a deployment package from ACS with the code that they want.

You’re probably thinking at this point that a change of this magnitude can’t be ALL rosy. And, yes, there were some challenges with the release.

New version deployment is normally inclusive of all the fixes since a client’s last update, which is a change from the previous approach. Although it may seem that the number of changes to test with each update is overwhelming, this is only the case for the first .NET upgrade, which involves a new platform, language and underlying code. They will be easier from then on, and the more often a client gets updates, the simpler the testing will be. ACS is still reviewing deployment options, so please discuss your needs with your account manager.

Agora team leader Suzanne Earley wishes to thank the many people—too numerous to list--at Agora that participated in the project.

The ACS project team for this upgrade included Doug Moore, project manager, John Moore, lead engineer, and Angie Moore, project analyst, with additional support from Scott Ghormley, Ashley Richter, Dick Hile, Ray Zick, Larry Kleber and Matt Varblow.

See your Advantage Account Manager to discuss your upgrade to .NET.

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