by August 11, 2001 0 comments

I am currently involved in redoing an information system that I had originally done half a decade ago. The original system was MS-DOS based and used xBase as the database. The new system is GUI based and uses Oracle at the backend. Changes in technology aside, what really struck me is the huge change in users’ requirements.

About a decade ago, reports were divided into accounting reports and MIS (Management Information Systems) reports. Accounting reports focussed on daybooks, ledger, etc. Generating the trial balance, general ledger, and stock ledger was an important landmark in implementing automation. MIS reports referred to things like receivables analysis in accounting and, say, ABC analysis in an inventory system. Other important MIS reports included group reports such as sales by product group or sales region.

The picture is very different today. Management and end users take such features for granted. The new thrust areas are (a) features that allow control over things like discount and promotional sche-mes (b) features that carry the on-line metaphor to real time and (c) features that facilitate the direct work of the end user.

Discount and promotional schemes are an essential part of modern marketing. Such schemes usually fall into two
categories–consumer schemes and trade schemes. Consumer schemes apply to the end user like the ‘Buy one, get one free’ variety. Trade schemes target distributors and dealers and are more sophisticated. They include things such as volume discounts and extra commissions.

Competition has made corporates offer an increasingly bewildering array of schemes to get products moving. Many of these schemes are localized–at the state and district level. It is not unusual to find a company with two dozen incentive schemes across India. However, a danger here is that the number crunching involved might make organizations lose control. For instance generating entitlement under a scheme calls for, not only computing the gross sales volume, but also taking things such as goods returns, and bounced cheques into consideration. Today’s software tend to include these features.

The next paradigm shift is about systems operating in real time. Managers want data to be transferred daily, if not after each transaction. The Internet has played a major role in such expectations and many people would want to run transactions on a Web host. Here, the issues involved are many and complex.

Finally we come to the last trend. Back-office staff now expect systems to generate reports exactly in the format that they want so that a minimum amount of post processing is required. Exporting data to a spreadsheet is now passé. Current users want export of a formatted spreadsheet exactly as it is formatted. Sophisticated users are also surprised if an MIS application does not support cut and paste, via the clipboard. Such people are also increasing conscious of response times and the number of keystrokes required to achieve a desired result.

The bottomline: User demands have kept pace with the rapid developments in software technology. Developers have to work harder than ever.

Gautama Ahuja  runs a turnkey software company, AHC Infotek

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