Manufacturing Activity Management System Developed in Just 4 Months with Visual WebGui

Manufacturing industries extensively use contract resources to perform 'non-core' or 'overload' tasks or services, and require business processes and systems to manage and control the activity of these providers.

Paper based processes, while apparently simple and effective up-front, cannot readily provide the necessary site access control or comprehensive reporting, neither for planned activities nor for review of activities, in the event of an issue.

This project provides a first cut application to deliver the missing consistency and simplicity in input data, as well as the structure and consistency for reporting. The specific target of the project is the creation of 'control certificates' for control of site entry and simple permission to work, to be followed by the 'control certificates' for regulated activities such as confined space work, height work or hot work.

The primary products of the project are data consistency, conformance with existing controlled document formats, reporting and, very importantly, all delivered via the very accessible UI provided by Visual WebGui. The 'control certificate' created by the application is entirely consistent with the existing paper process, yet the application shares 'up-to-the-minute' information with many business stakeholders and facilitates comprehensive reporting, and captures and integrates new information that was never connectable in the past.

The customer needed to move certain paper based 'activity management' processes to an electronic format. The major concerns were:
- Significant changes to regulatory and insurance requirements for activity/incident recording, management and reporting.
- Achieving consistency in input data for dozens of managers, hundreds of providers and thousands of work locations as they all change and evolve over time.
- Automatic sharing of appropriate information between stakeholders.
- Reporting and review functions appropriate to specific users.
- Easy, 'non-invasive' deployment to tightly controlled PC desktop.

Changes to regulatory and insurance concerns mean that paper based processes are no longer adequate to provide necessary control and certification. This application provides the means to create a structured draft document for review/approval. On publication, a unique ID is assigned to create 'control certificate'.

For the client, the paper based work control processes do not facilitate sharing of information, management of activities, or specifically, control of entry to the business, and there are no associated reporting or review functions other than manual review and assembly of a 'one time' report for a specific question to be answered. The significant changes to regulatory and insurance requirements mean that the 'old way' is no longer viable.

The client manages hundreds of provider activities each month. The client desired an application that integrated the input data for hundreds of contracting companies, thousands of contract company employees, thousands of possible activity locations, and hundreds of requisites for each activity into an application that provides for all of these to be consistently, yet simply used in the creation of 'control certificates', and for the application to become the core of the activity management process.

It was required to provide an accessible application that allows staff to create and share/issue 'control certificates' and information to control contract activities, ensuring all pre-requisites are met, that all necessary actions/requirements are flagged and that monitoring and approval is adequate. In addition, relevant and comprehensive reporting is in place so that expected needs are addressed, and other requests can be met promptly.

This application provides, to all stakeholders, a shared, accessible means to have a reliable, up-to-date, shared picture of planned business activity, to control site access, to provide reports, and to review activity. Draft activity permits and other 'control certificates' are accessible to all authorized staff as soon as they are created. With this application all activities are simple to access and visualize with integrated user specific navigation and reporting capabilities.

The application now provides the single point of focus for all aspects of activity management and reporting. Maintenance tools for the data, particularly, hierarchical data are available to authorized users.

It was also important to deliver the business requirements to user PC's without local installation or reliance on any specific PC software or configuration. As part of a global organization, the options for end user delivery of the new application were limited due to tight control of the desktop configuration, and distribution of a custom WinForms or Access application was problematic. Deployment to a particular user had to be minimal - this is achieved by simply by adding a new user to a group.

At the same time the Visual WebGui application platform ensures excellent performance and a high level of usability without extensive training. So, delivering a familiar and comfortable user interface that gets new users up and running quickly was very significant.

At the same time as providing all these process improvements, it is still possible to produce a simple 'piece of paper' that is identical to the old paper based system, but which is backed by all the benefits of controlled input selections and reporting.

Most of the development team had been recently using Access/VBA and SQL, with current and earlier experience with older versions of VS and VB.Net and C#. Even though it took a while to get re-familiarized with vs VBA, the fact that Visual WebGui doesn't require learning new skill sets for other forms of web development gave it an exceptional lead over any other technique.

Visual WebGui RIA Platform provided the ideal technical environment to build and deliver the UI solution to staff. Visual WebGui is entirely server based, requiring nothing to be done on the client PC.

Performance as a database client is excellent, and the UI styling is very familiar to users - the Outlook style navigation tabs, treeviews and lists are both familiar and powerful, and the ability to push various content types, such as PDF, to the client is powerful.

Using Visual WebGui simplifies web development by narrowing the development into a single development language. This was even more helpful since most of the team was not very experienced with web development which allowed them to start developing without having to learn new languages and skills, and therefore eased their transition from VBA/Access to VB.Net/C#.

Since Visual WebGui is server based, no complicated co-ordination between client and server technologies are required. This is in fact very simple to implement and deploy - just write the application and publish it. Visual WebGui applications, in addition, can be accessed from any standard browser without any client installation or configuration required. The impeccable security afforded by the Visual WebGui approach will be invaluable when the future version is offered to internet based clients.

Another benefit of that approach is that deployment is easy and simple. Once the IIS production server was configured according to the simple instructions, the application was deployed to the production server simply by copying the output files into the appropriate folder on the server. Upgrading is also easy and simply requires new files to be copied over the previous version. Simple but important client specific information, like client name and connection string, is stored in web.config, which can readily be edited if needed.

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