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An Update From Engineering

Dick Hile

An auto mechanic had a famous heart surgeon's car in his shop and took the opportunity for a little friendly banter. "You know, Doc, cars are a lot more complicated than they used to be, what with embedded chips, GPS systems, anti-emission devices and all the rest. In fact, I'm sure my job is every bit as difficult as yours and yet you've got the fancy house and country club membership. What gives?" The surgeon nodded as he paid, agreeing that he wouldn't have a clue how to fix his own car. As he was leaving the shop he turned back. "There is one little difference, though. You mechanics get to turn off the engine while you work."

While software development is, thankfully,not a life or death issue, the engineering staff at ACS is acutely aware that both the publishing and computer industries are subject to fast-paced, unrelenting change. Whether we think of broad trends in technology or day-to-day operational challenges, we see a diminished tolerance for downtime or delay coupled with rising expectations for 24x7 service. Both computers and organizations are held to ever-rising standards. Let me highlight several initiatives under way here at ACS to build a product and an organization that is available whenever you need us.

We continue to streamline our upgrade process. In one recent example, we migrated 500+ GB of data (over one billion rows) from Oracle to Sql Server, applied 800 schema upgrades and advanced through seven Advantage revisions. We know that it is critical that upgrades be completed as rapidly and painlessly as possible.

We are also experimenting with new models for developing modifications to Advantage. In one recent project, we set aside the traditional four step model ? specifications, code, QA, documentation ? in favor of a more dynamic process that started with a high-level functionality ‘roadmap' in lieu of a complete spec. Coding, testing and documentation all proceeded in parallel, with frequent checkpoints for web demos and hands-on access to the software throughout the development. For certain projects, we see significant potential in this more ‘agile' development model.

For clients who use Advantage web or enterprise integration services to achieve real-time interaction with other enterprise software and to invent new ways to use Advantage, the number of individual ‘methods' available through the Advantage API has grown steadily over the past four years (see Chart).

We've also made significant progress recently toward addressing the remaining incompatibilities between background processes like customer de-dupe and online users. We look forward to installing these improvements at client sites and continuing our dialog with you about how Advantage can best help you meet business demands without ‘missing a beat'.

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