Are you still using faxes and emails to communicate between different branches of a business?
Many businesses have a need to keep data, or applications/data in some degree of synchrony, and if you have a Visual DataFlex application, Martin Kelley of DM Software has a remarkably efficient answer, using web services and Visual DataFlex.
Retail Services -
Cash Tills and Stock Management
The Jonathan James chain of shoe shops has 100 shops and all use a Visual DataFlex application managing stock and running the cash tills, representing with multiple tills in some of these. It is vital that there is a two way exchange of data between the tills and the head office, while at the same time tills must be able to operate independently if communications are down, and then re-synchronise with the minimum of manual attention.
Using a central server hosted by Asckey Data Services Ltd, Martin Kelley has provided a comprehensive and seemingly bullet proof solution to this, and one that could apply to any similar retail chain.
The VDF application resident in each till holds its own trading and stock files, and in real time communicates, via web services, with the central database.
|Martin Kelley explains "In fact, virtually all shops have at least two PCs. ie: One till and a back office PC, which can easily swap roles as backup till and/or backoffice PC as necessary. Each live till mirrors its own database onto the back office PC and the back office PC has Its own master database which is updated from the till as well. That adds up to three Databases per Branch each of which is kept in full synchronisation via VDF web services and the central VDF Web Application server. The the scenario is that of of 100 branches processing thousands of transactions per hour, (a transaction is not just a sales transaction but records everything that takes place on the till, thats a minimum of twelve database updates for the simplest of sales), 7 days per week, all mediated by Web services messages"||
The screen image is of the live shop communications screen. Click here for a larger version with some explanatory detail.
As part of this the central database knows how to communicate with each till in every shop, again using web services. As transactions are received, not only are they consolidated into the central database, they are passed on to another till (usually the back office one in the same shop) nominated as the backup till for the transactions received. As a result, data is held with multiple redundancy, contributing to what has been a completely bullet proof operation since the system started to operate.
Should any till fail, then the back office process can be commissioned, the software installed and initiated with the ID of the PC that is to take over the back office function. Finding no data, the first thing the application does is to ask the HQ application where its backup data is, and proceeds to recover it all entirely automatically.
Should communications go down, pending data requests and transmissions are simply queued until back on line. Shop staff need to take no action to correct things other than getting the physical communications back on line. Martin Kelley says The trick where the Internet is concerned is to never assume anything has worked until you have confirmation that it has. And write all transactions in such a way that they can be applied multiple times over without making the target data invalid. Then you just keep sending until you get a definite got it response which could be hours or days later, it wouldnt matter.
As well as transactions from the shops, the HQ server sends details of price changes, stock updates, even automated application updates out to the tills.
Antony Kilford, Systems Manager for Broughton Brothers, the parent company says "Before we had Martin Kelleys system, our data exchanges with shops were time consuming and needed technically aware staff, being based on manual, dial up communications, and only once a day. Now, it is completely automatic, and much back office real time, with every shop exchanging data hourly, and with no operator intervention. This has made our management much more efficient, and the staff are much happier not having to manage the manual updating system"
Managing Stock Swaps
Individual shops In a retail group like this will often need to beg stock from others to meet a particular customer need. Not a problem, except that the ensuing paperwork very often gets a little neglected! The system is now being extended to allow for the handling of the whole process automatically, including keeping stock levels at all points at the shop from where it is being taken, the central HQ database, the Transit Stock (pending the recipient confirming physical receipt, the stock item is recorded as in transit.) and the recipient shop all in sync.
Ultimately, instead of ringing round to find stock, shop managers should be able to simply ask, through the system Who has one of these to spare and make the request entirely through the application.
Synchronising Manufacture and Distribution
Martin Kelley has applied the same system handling complex orders from Fimex Ltd, a UK sock and nightwear manufacturer which has a manufacturing base Turkey. Detailed manufacturing orders, which are highly complex, are initiated via a Windows desktop Visual DataFlex application which validates that the order is correct and fully completed. Each order transaction is then sent via a web services message to the central server, and from there via a web services mediated message to the identical application on a PC in Turkey which inserts the data into its local database. Comments, manufacturing process stages and final dispatch updates to that order are all exchanged from application to application transparently to the user via the same web services based messaging.
Adrian Dobbs, Fimexs IT manager says "We used to coordinate orders and production instructions via e-mails, with couriered documents taking 6-8 days when needed. Now, we are effectively running one production management system between two offices thousands of miles apart, with virtually instant update, and all we need is an Internet connection at each end. The system has never lost a transaction, and because the ordering software validates the creation of orders, all the problems of misinterpreted e-mails that used to arise have disappeared".
Next step -
With the system now working well, and considerable confidence having been built up, Fimex intend to bring a second manufacturing site onto the system, this time in China. A good illustration of the fact that the Internet removes all geographical considerations to such matters!
DM Software Comment
Martin Kelley, who has implemented both these systems, says The amazing thing is how fast this all happens. We thought that such things as a restore to a new PC would take a while, but it all happens extraordinarily quickly. The combination of Visual DataFlex Web Application Server and the server hardware set up for us by Asckey Data Services Ltd has proved brilliant for this kind of work.
While needing some tailoring to the specific data, such as making sure that each different shop or branch only gets to see the data that belongs to it, while the main office gets to see all the order data from each branch (but no non-order- management related local data) the system can be applied to any Visual DataFlex based application. And while generic database replication is commonplace today, this level of selective, tailored, transaction by transaction, near real time data exchange is rather more ambitious.
A further spin off has emerged from this in the use of the web service as a messaging tool. eg: should head office wish to upload a log file for a particular branch, or change the branch schedule times, or perform some maintenance work to the Database they can simply issue a request which will be automatically executed as soon as its received at the branch, usually a few minutes later.
If you need to keep multiple locations in sync and havent got a workable solution, talk to us!