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Posts Tagged ‘mobile applications

Sage Mobile Service

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Introduction

Last year at Sage Summit we showed proof of concept demos of a number of mobile applications we were developing. At this year’s Sage Summit we announced that these were now shipping. In this blog posting, I’m going to talk about one of these new mobile applications, namely Sage Mobile Service. This application dispatches technicians to perform work for customers and enables them to get directions, customer information and to collect payments.

Common users of this service would be plumbers or electricians. Where calls come into a dispatch center and they need to be scheduled to visit various sites. There they perform work and can collect payments. Hopefully any companies that perform work of this nature will find this App helpful.

This application consists of three parts: a web application to manage customers and dispatch work orders, an iPhone application for technicians to receive information and take payments and then a connection to your on premise ERP system to share transactions and data.

The Dispatch Web Site

The Dispatch Web Site is a standard web application that runs in any modern browser. From this website you can manage your customers and create work orders for your technicians to perform. Below is the welcome/dashboard home page for this website.

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You can get lists of the current work orders along with lists of your customers and drill down into the detailed information of anything listed.

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When a call comes in from a customer, perhaps for a plumbing problem, you can enter in all the information and then schedule a technician to perform the work.

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As soon as the work order is saved with an assigned technician and scheduled time, it will be available on his iPhone so he can go do the work.

The iPhone App

The technician receives these service call requests from their iPhone via an App. This App lets them know where they should be and when. The App will present a schedule of the work they need to perform today, tomorrow and in the future. This gives the technician an idea of all the work they have to do today and how long they have been scheduled to perform that work. Below is a screen shot of a work order on an iPhone, you can scroll down for more information or tap to drill down for more detailed information.

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They can also get additional information on the customer, like their location, directions and contact people. They can also bring up a history of service calls for that customer so they know ahead of time what work has been performed previously.

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From the App they can also add work items and parts. So if they need to add their billable hours or add any chargeable parts then they can do this.

When the work is completed, the technician can either receive payment via swiping a credit card through a device attached to their iPhone or they can mark it on account. Of course all sales taxes will be calculated automatically as part of this process. If it’s on account then an invoice will be sent later. Next week I’ll talk about the Sage Billing and Payments web application which can be used to collect these invoices if they aren’t paid on time.

Connected to ERP

Where do the customers come from? Where do the payments made go? The answer is your on premise ERP system. A small connector is installed onto your on premise ERP system which is configured to communicate with your Sage cloud account. This connector will upload information from your ERP like your list of customers to the cloud and will download transactions as they are completed to the ERP. Initially we have connectors for Sage 100 ERP and Sage 300 ERP. We will have connectors for Sage 50 ERP (US and Canada) following shortly.

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In the case of Sage Mobile Service all the customer information along with information required to fill out A/R Invoices is uploaded to the cloud and then A/R Invoices are downloaded and inserted into the ERP as transactions are processed in the cloud or on the mobile devices. The connectors for Sage 100 ERP and Sage 300 ERP run continuously as a Windows service and need to be installed on a server that is generally running. The Sage 50 ERP connectors are part of the product and need to be run manually every now and again.

All the requests are queued, so if one system or another is down, things will catch up again once it is available. The connectors only call up to the cloud, the cloud never calls down to the ERP. This means you don’t need to operate a web server and you don’t need to reconfigure your firewall. Installation is very easy and transparent.

International

Initially we have been rolling this out in North America. We will be rolling this out internationally, but first we have to provide the sales tax calculation engine (currently we use Avalara) and we need to provide integration to local credit card processors. Depending on the region, it might make sense to roll out the service, perhaps without credit card support, but this will be on a case by case basis. Fortunately most regions have simpler VAT type sales taxes rather than the crazy US system.

Summary

The world of mobile applications is opening up all sorts of new opportunities to expand ERP systems from beyond hidden backroom offices out into the real world. No one wants to have to enter data twice, so these applications are great mechanisms to get transactions entered directly into the ERP from the point of work and not relying on paper records that are later typed in (perhaps inaccurately). Sage Service Billing is one of our first wave of these applications with more to follow.

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Written by smist08

August 10, 2013 at 7:26 pm

The Sage Hybrid Cloud

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Introduction

We introduced the concept of the Sage Hybrid Cloud along with a number of connected services at our Sage Summit conference back in August. This is intended to be a cloud based platform that greatly augments our on-premises business applications.

This blog posting will look at this platform in a bit more depth. Keep in mind that this platform is still under rapid development and that things are changing rapidly. If we think of better ways to do things, we will. We are approaching this with an Agile/Startup mentality, so we aren’t going to go off for years and years and develop this platform in a vacuum. We will be developing the functionality as we need it, for our real applications. This way we won’t spend time developing infrastructure that no one ends up using. Plus we will get feedback quicker on what is needed, since we will be releasing in quick cycles.

The Hybrid Cloud Platform

Below is a diagram showing the overall architecture of this platform. We have a number of cloud services hosted in the MS Azure cloud. We have a number of Sage business applications with a connector to this cloud. Then we have a number of mobile/web applications built on top of this hybrid cloud platform. Notice that pieces of this platform are already in use, with Sage Construction Anywhere (SCA) being a released product and then Sage 300 CRE already having a connector to this cloud to support the SCA mobile application.

The purple box at the bottom represents our current APIs and access methods, and just re-iterates that these are still present and being used.

The red box indicates that we will be hosting ERPs in this environment in a similar manner to our current cloud offerings like Sage300Online.com. We’ll talk about this in much more detail in future blog posts. But consider this Sage hosted applications version 2.0.

Mobile Applications

We demo’ed a number of mobile applications that we have under development at Summit, some screenshots are here. We are working hard to make these applications provide a first class user experience. We are developing these in various technologies and combinations of technologies to drive the user experience to be the best possible. We are writing both HTML5/JavaScript applications using the Argos-SDK, along with writing applications as native iOS, Windows 8 Metro and Android applications. Plus there are technologies that allow use to combine these technologies to use them both where they make sense in an application.

These mobile applications aren’t just current ERP screens ported to mobile/web technologies, they are whole new applications that didn’t exist before these powerful mobile devices came along to enable these ideas.

ERP Connectors

Each ERP needs to connect to the Hybrid cloud, this is to upload files for items that are needed for lookup in the cloud devices like for finders. As well as to download transactions to enter into the ERP on the connected application’s behalf. The intent is to have one connector for each business application, rather than having to install and configure a separate connector for each connected service (which we hope there will be dozens of).

We want to keep the TCO of the solution as low as possible. To this end we don’t want the end user to have to configure any firewalls, DMZ or web servers. The connector will only call out to the cloud platform. There will never be calls into the connector.  Additionally you only need to configure the connector once with your SageID and away you go.

The connector will use SData Synchronization to synchronize the various files. This way it doesn’t matter if your on-premises ERP is off-line, it will catch up later. This makes the system much more robust since your mobile users can keep working even if you turn all your computers off completely.

SData

We will use SData as the communications mechanism from the hybrid cloud. The cloud will host a large set of SData feeds to be used either by the mobile and web applications or by the on-premises ERP connectors.

Since SData is based on industry standards like REST, Atom, RSS and such, it means it’s easy of pretty much any web or mobile based framework to easily use it. All modern toolkits have this support built in. Plus we provide SDKs like the Argos-SDK that have extra SData support built in.

ISVs

The intent will be that ISVs can use the SData feeds from the Hybrid Cloud as well to develop their own applications or to connect existing cloud based applications to all our Sage business applications. However we won’t start out with a complete database model, we will basically be adding to this cloud data model as we require things for our Sage developed solutions as well as for select ISVs. The intent is to get common functionality going first and then fill it in with the more obscure details later. For instance most connected services will need to access common master files like customers, vendors and items. Then most connected services will need to enter common documents like orders and invoices.

The feeling is that most integrations to ERP systems actually don’t access that many things. So the hope is that once the most common master files are synchronized and once the system accepts the most common transactions, then a great number of applications will be possible.

There will also be parts of the cloud database that don’t have any corresponding part in the ERP. There will be a fair bit of data that resides entirely in the cloud that is specific to the cloud portions of these applications.

SageID

When you are signing on to all these various connected services, we don’t want you to need a separate login id and password for each one. We would like you to register a user-id and password with Sage once and then use that identity for accessing every Sage connected service.

Ultimately we would like this to be the user id and password that you use to sign-on to our on-premises applications as well. Then this would be your one identity for all Sage on-premises and cloud applications. Then all your access rights and roles would be associated with this one identity.

Summary

The Sage Hybrid Cloud is an exciting project. The concept is that it’s starting small with the Sage Construction Anywhere product already shipping and then going to develop quickly as we add other services. This should go quickly since we are leveraging the R&D resources of many Sage products to get new exciting mobile products into market quickly spanning the customer base of many Sage business applications.

Sage Summit 2012

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Introduction

Sage Summit is Sage’s North American conference which was held this year in Nashville, Tennessee at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center.  Pascal Houillon the CEO for Sage North America gave the opening keynote along with Himanshu Palsule, CTO. They outlined how the world is changing with the proliferation of mobile devices and how these are changing our lives.  During the keynote, a video was played that showed how all the various mobile connected services Sage is developing could affect a businessperson in their daily life. The conference ran from August 12 to 17 with the first half being for partners and then with the customers joining on Tuesday. There were many announcements, demos, town halls, tutorials, labs and presentations. This blog posting looks at a few of the items that I felt were most significant (at least to me).

Sage City

The customer half of the conference kicked off with a new idea called “Sage City”. This was held in a giant meeting room with a circular stage at the center surrounded by seating for all attendees. Then around this were a number of “villages” that were dedicated to individual industry areas like manufacturing, distribution and accounting. After an initial keynote and introduction, everyone moved to a “village” of their choosing and within the village joined a focus group of 7 or 8 people to discuss common problems and to share and brainstorm solutions to these. Then all these topics and outcomes were written up and posted around the outside of the room. There were two sessions of this separated by a break where drinks and food were brought in. This was a very interesting and innovative networking session and hopefully many good ideas resulted.

Mobile Connected Services

One of the major announcements at the conference was the progress being made on Sage’s mobile connected services initiative. Several shipping mobile connected services were demonstrated along with a number that are currently in development. Below are a couple of screen shots from the Sales Management application that was show during both the partner and customer keynote speeches. This is a native iPad application that communicates back to a cloud service using SData. Note that the applications that I have screen shots here for are in the “experience testing” stage where they are getting a large amount of customer feedback including at the UCD lab at the conference, then after all this testing, a more final form of the product will be specified, so expect these to look quite different when they ship, since they will include all this feedback.

There was also a Service Billing application demonstrated that is written using the Argos SDK and which runs on all smart phones. This application was demonstrated integrated to Sage 50, 100 and 300 ERPs showing how the services charges entered in the mobile application make it back into the ERP as A/R transactions.

Below is a picture of the high level architecture that is being used to develop these applications:

I’ll be going into a lot more detail on what this all means and how it is put together in future blog posts, to explain how we will integrate to on-premise products, how we develop these applications in the Azure cloud and how ISVs can integrate into this platform.

Sage 300 ERP 20120 Release

A very highly featured product at the show is the forthcoming Sage 300 ERP 2012 release. This is coming in September, so there were many sessions highlighting all the new features it contains and several demo stations in the trade show where people can have a look at it. Beta 2 is currently shipping which gives a pretty good look at what this product looks like. If also blogged quite a bit on everything going into the release which is summarized here. Below shows the Sage 300 ERP Desktop driven by the Purchase Order Visual Process Flow rather than the usual tree of icons.

Summary

This was a very quick overview of some of the goings on at Sage Summit. I’m sure these themes along with others will be intertwined in all my blog postings over the coming year. Looking forward to the next Sage Summit 2013 at the Gaylord National Resort and Conference Center in Washington DC.