Fall 2004 - Copyright 2004 by S. I. Inc.


Programming as a Hobby

For long time readers of this newsletter it will come as no surprise that Robert Schuldenfrei can write programs. What you may not know is that he has never made his living writing programs professionally. Because of managerial responsibilities, Bob never really had time to program, although, as you read further, he has done so from time to time. The last computer language he knew “cold” was FORTRAN. Well, that is about to change. Bob is learning C#! C# is a Windows orientated language designed to be one of the two foundation languages (the other being Visual Basic) of Microsoft's .NET initiatives.

Once this learning project was begun, it was assumed that it would only produce “toy” programs. In fact, that was exactly what happened at first... It was, however, quickly discovered how powerful C# is and so the scope of the project was greatly expanded. Now, the project is to translate (and improve) MCS-3 so as to run as a Windows application. Having said that, this project can be thought of as the traditional Chinese journey of 1,000 miles and only the first step has been taken. We are a long way from a working version of MCS-3. What will this system look like when, and if, it is completed? It will be a working version of MCS-3 running in Windows with a Windows look and feel. Unlike COBOL MCS-3, the Windows version will not use ISAM files, but will utilize Microsoft's SQL Server database. All of the reports that are built into MCS-3 will be coded in Crystal Reports (CR) so that users can create their own additional reports with CR. That is where we are going. How far along is that first step?

Bob is still learning C#, so it is not that far along. As of this writing the following is working: There is a parent window constructed with drop down menus for each of the major modules of MCS-3. (INV, COE, SFC, MRP, POC, and FRP) The only one that is operational at this point are INV. Within Inventory the Item Master, Stockroom Detail, and Product Structure is working. Stockroom transactions have been implemented. Six of the reports are working. Anyone familiar with the product can recognize that we have a long way to go, but the proverbial dog definitely walks.

Programming for Bob started in 1963 with FORTRAN. In the late 1960s he learned BASIC and taught those languages to college students at the graduate and undergraduate levels. In the 1970s COBOL and PL/1 were added to the mix. In the late 1970s he managed a team of designers and programmers that developed and implemented the production control system for Amstar sugar. As part of that effort, Bob actually coded a few of the Amstar modules. When S. I. Inc. owned MCS-3 he made minor changes to that system. Later, he made all of the major alterations necessitated by the year 2000 issue. However, time never permitted the learning of a pure Windows language. As readers of the WORKS know, Bob has focused on marketing systems and has not had time for the joys of programming until now.

If you do the math, you realize that Bob is nearing retirement age. He feels, however, that he is no where near ready to hang it up. So... Bob is taking up C# as a hobby. Anyone who has done any programming knows that getting a computer to do one's bidding is its own reward. There is nothing like the thrill when a large and complicated system works for the first time. MCS-3 is nothing if not large and complicated! Fortunately, it was designed as small modules. Thus, it is a perfect candidate for the step by step approach of the thousand mile journey.

Where will this all lead? Who knows! We will be moving to Palm Beach, FL in the future. If we get enough of MCS-3 working to be useful, we will try to get a few small local manufactures to use the system to manage production. There are a bunch of small fabrication shops along I-95 and we trust that many of them would try a system if the price were right. Stand by for further developments.

CRM Seminar for Allegiant

During the summer we once again put on the seminar: Customer Relationship Management (CRM), “it’s about people not computers.” S. I. Inc. ran this highly successful program for Allegiant Systems, Inc. of Newton, MA. Robert Schuldenfrei was the principal speaker. There were a number of companies in the audience from the service sector. It did not take a lot of effort to convince these folks that CRM is important. The first half of the program was devoted to explaining what CRM is and what it is not. We stressed the importance of recording everything. It is not very important what computer system you use, but that you use CRM. As the tag line of the seminar suggests, it is about getting people to commit to a CRM process.

During the second half, we discussed four approaches to CRM. First was about using the firm's existing accounting system. Next, we focused in on two popular CRM packages, ACT! and Goldmine. Third, we talked about building your own custom system using a database like Access. Finally, we introduced Microsoft's new add-in for Outlook: Business Contacts. This latest offering expands on the standard Contacts feature of Outlook. What Microsoft has done is to separate people from organizations. Thus, a user can structure all of the companies who are customers and prospects. Then he can tie the people who are his contacts to these organizations. In the end you have a pretty fair CRM system on the cheap.

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