With offices located in idyllic English parkland in Suffolk, not far from the Dedham Vale of John Constable fame, a golf course in front and bluebell woods behind, specialist academic book publishers Boydell and Brewer Ltd operate in an idyllic environment.
Formed in 1978, the company has grown continuously, including in 1989 the founding of the University of Rochester Press in New York State and it is now a global business selling both scholarly works to the academic community and thought provoking, attractively produced books for the general reader.
Their web site - http://www.boydell.co.uk/ is a treasure trove for anyone interested in history, literature, classical music, Spanish theatrical history and a wealth of similar material.
End User Development with DataFlex & Visual DataFlex
The whole business, on both sides of the Atlantic, is run on a suite of DataFlex and Visual DataFlex based applications, built almost entirely in-house by Boydell and Brewer co-founder, Richard Barber, a fact made all the more remarkable when you take into account that Richard has had almost no formal IT training. Richard combines his software development work with his professional roles of mediaeval historian, Arthurian expert, world wide authority on the Holy Grail, successful author, travel guide writer and yachtsman. Richard is familiar to some from the UKs popular archaeological television series, Time Team.
No commercial programs other than Microsoft® Office products such as Word and Excel are in use within the business, and the system really does handle everything, from book production management to Invoicing/Order Processing/Banking, and from typesetting via Postscript and Adobe InDesign, to populating the pages of their web site, all direct from the database under DataFlex control. Not bad for an application conceived in the DataFlex of nearly 20 years ago, still in use and with data all the way back to 1989 still retained on-line and accessible from the current applications! Absolutely phenomenal as the work of a mediaeval historian rather than an IT professional!
- Complete order processing.
- Complete book production management, calculating key way-points back from publication date according to the type of book involved.
- Estimating, budgeting, and on-line "How are we doing" appraisal of production and sales data for any book compared with budget and forecasts.
- Direct from database production of book lists and blurbs, fully formatted for high quality paper publications.
- Direct from database production of fully formatted web pages, including on-line purchasing provisions.
- Input of orders from major book shops using the industry standard EDI input
- Invoicing, Banking and Cash Receipts.
- Production of draft monthly accounts on last day of each month.
- Two way synchronisation of data with the American office database.
Richard says "When we started there was nothing on the market for our Commodore PET that would handle even basic invoicing properly. When we found we couldnt do credit notes "because we hadnt asked for that", I decided that we would have to do it for ourselves. DataFlex has done everything we have wanted to do and the result is something that exactly matches how we need the business to run, and which we can keep continually updated as our management needs change. We could not have achieved anything close to this using available packaged business software, let alone the one integrated and seamless to use application we have achieved, especially now with VDF."
Business Benefits of in-house development
Richard Barbers long term development of this business management suite is a brilliant tribute to the capacity for DataFlex to provide for long term end-user application development and evolution. The system still has data records from 1989, and is still running code developed at that time. Some of that code, e.g. for handling PostScript typesetting is highly complex, but can be transferred into Visual DataFlex still in good working order, albeit needing putting into a new context to operate. Current day developed applications using VDF v12 are coexisting with legacy character mode applications, using the same database, avoiding the need for the expense, upheaval and worry of a "big bang" redevelopment.
Nearly 20 years on, and the same system is now being extended (N.B. not re-written from scratch) to allow for real-time data synchronisation from the UK to the US, and updated to using the Microsoft® MS SQL Server database format.
Both the UK and New York State (Rochester) offices use the same set of DataFlex/Visual DataFlex applications, provided from the UK office, resulting in a common management view of the overall business.
Bespoke development benefits
This story is also a textbook example of the benefits of bespoke development in support of unique business methods. Boydell and Brewer Ltd look to be highly successful in a niche of the global book market which is extremely competitive and dominated by some very large, international companies. Richard Barber regards the system as a key facilitator of that success, especially with the up-coming removal of the last geographical/time barriers to management implied by on-line data synchronisation that we will look at as a separate story.
Boydell and Brewer Web Site http://www.boydell.co.uk/
The web site itself is a further example of this benefit. A very attractive site, it shows up very highly on Google lists when searching for a book title. Alison Robinson, Boydell and Brewers web master says "DataFlex creates all our book and book list pages directly from the database, so we refresh all our book pages and lists weekly at the press of a button".
With every page individually titled and key worded from the database for the benefit of search engines, and rebuilt so frequently, this site is a honey-pot to Google at least, and confirms that regularly changing content plus per-page search engine meta-data pays off handsomely. And all created from a development tool whos in use version (for these aspects) predates the web by years!
There are not many development systems that can combine such longevity with the adoption of current "state of the art" facilities.
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Can this benefit you?
If you are thinking that your business needs something better than standard "out of the box" management software, talk to us about using Visual DataFlex. If you want to think about doing it yourself, start off with the free VDF Personal Edition to try your ideas out, then move to a "proper" commercial licence when ready. Or we can look at your needs and build up a development plan concentrating on what will give you the most return for your budget.
If you still have a legacy DataFlex system, it really is (past!) time to move on, to a full Windows based application or perhaps even with a direct move to a web application? With VDF, you can go either - or both - ways.
Talk to us! 0845 2707747 or Email us.