Custom Application Development

January 22, 2009  5:00 PM

Application Design for Green Reporting

SJC SJC Profile: SJC

Perhaps the phrase “Green IT” and various variations of same is over-used, however I suspect that its prevalence does cause us to think “green”, even if we’re sick of doing so.  When I chose “Application Design for Green Reporting” perhaps you wondered why I might have chosen such a title.  Good question 🙂

Seriously though, my reasoning is simple – and that is my belief that we as developers can and should do everything we can to ensure an appropriate use of resources – and in those resources I would include not only the obvious paper, but also disk space  (since inefficient disk usage may result in the need for added disks, and thus more energy used). 

Saving paper is certainly the easiest way to design for green, and we as developers have the opportunity to affect paper usage in a dramatic way – those steps may include:

  • Offering on-screen views in lieu of paper
  • Offering ability to print to a document such as PDF
  • Designing reports using minimal header and footer margins
  • Working with users to ensure ALL data printed is used
  • Working with different font sizes to reduce paper needs
  • Reviewing sub-total lines, are they used or just there because…?
  • Reviewing page breaks – Are ALL page breaks required?

Additional Notes:

  • Printing to PDF documents is great, but … here is an area where disk usage should be considered and an appropriate way to maintain (delete) out-dated or no longer needed “printouts”
  • Margins in general require review with a critical eye.  Header and footer areas should contain only information useful to the users.  Use one liners wherever feasible.
  • If a report will be going only to a laser printer, pages required for printing a report can sometimes be significantly reduced by going from two-lines per record to a single line per record – all with the same information only by changing to landscape mode
  • A proper mix of font sizes can also significantly reduce paper use, while at the same time ooften producing a much more readable report!
  • I have found many an opportunity to eliminate sub-total lines which has resulted in great paper savings
  • Page break review might be a situation such as providing an alternative to printing the report with a page break at each customer change – or not.  Providing an option rather than forcing the page break can make a hugh difference.  Make the default to the “green” choice of no page-break.

How many pages have you saved today?

January 22, 2009  2:58 PM

2009 Delivered — Now What?

SJC SJC Profile: SJC

Here we are at the start of a New Year and by all accounts and most crystal balls we can look forward to another year of challenges. Actually though, it may not be a year much different than any other in that there are always challenges with IT technology.  We have much to look forward to — I believe that current economic conditions will accelerate the identification and implementation of systems and processes that will allow us in IT to become more efficient, and provide our users with more effective applications with which to work.  

Earlier this morning I read “A CIO’s Five Rules for Managing Through Tough Times”posted on CIO Insight.  I believe that each of the points made in that brief post are pretty much what I would consider to be generally sound management principles — regardless of the business area.  There has been much written during hard economic times about the risks of not planning for the future, as well as the advantage which can be gained through maintaining some level of work toward the time when the economy improves.  His first point “Maintain focus on key projects that will yield long-term business advantage” is, in my opinion, somewhat of a no-brainer, although I have seen over-and-over again the “long-term business advantage” projects either shelved indefinitely or canceled.  I believe that unless the company started the project for all the wrong reasons that this is a grave mistake.

Particulary in the area of custom applications, timing is everything.  This is a good time!

January 13, 2009  11:04 PM

Software Development, Security and Programming Errors

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Within the last few hours quite a buzz has been created by the release of the CWE/SANS Top 25 Most Dangerous Programming Errors list.  USA Today posted an article on the list with an insert about The Importance of the Flaws List.  Early today the BBC News posted Dangerous Coding Errors Revealed.  Certainly the buzz will continue!

There is much to be said about security, and certainly the independent developer needs to be just as mindful of potential flaws as the corporate developer in a team environment.  This list is for every developer to consider.  I was amazed to find a couple of practices in the Top 25 that I have, at one time or another, been guilty of doing.

The list categorizes the top 25 into categories of “Insecure Interaction Between Components“, “Risky Resource Management” and my personal favorite, “Pourous Defenses“.  The errors themselves are related to a “CWE”, or Common Weakness Enumeration which is described in detail on the CWE website.  For example, one of the Top 25  in the “Pourous Defenses” category is identified as CWE-259 Hard Coded Password.  Reviewing the entry regarding the CWE-259 I believe begins to reveal the significance and usefulness of this Top 25 list to ALL developers.

Personally, to be honest, I might not have paid much attention to it had it not been called to my attention by my son who has been involved in the project for months.  I hope readers of this blog find the material useful themselves.  Oh yes, it is estimated that some 85% of the criminal activity on the internet have resulted from these Top 25 “NOT best practices!” 🙂 in coding.

January 6, 2009  3:54 PM

A New Year – A New Application

SJC SJC Profile: SJC

Other developers may not experience this, but for me it seems that leading up to the end of a year I become very busily engaged in “tidying up” or putting some “finishing touches” on an application (or two) that I’ve been working on.  Then, as the New Year begins, I find myself in somewhat of a lull – perhaps looking at what’s next, evaluating the previous year’s work, or if I’m lucky – even being able to work on a project for myself!  That is what I’ve been doing to start 2009.

After spending so much time in the past months with maintaining and “tweaking” existing applications I have been able to actually start an application “from scratch”, and it has been wonderful!  My development environment of choice, Visual Dataflex (VDF), is in pre-release of its latest version and I have begun working with their latest pre-release distribution and have been using it for my “new” application – which is designed 100% for my personal purposes.  (I’ve decided that this developer is going to give himself the gift of a streamlined custom program for record-keeping, something he’s not particularly efficient at, and generally dislikes!)

In doing this I have been able to learn how to use new features provided in VDF, and also have been able to free myself of my “old ways” which were developed through years of using Dataflex.  I have found this experience to be a great opportunity to “think” in ways that I haven’t in the past, ways that will help me become a better developer producing better applications more quickly. 

As an independent developer it is always a challenge to take time for learning “outside the box” of an existing application.  There is always a tradeoff when considering “billable” hours vs “learning” hours.  During these difficult economic times some developers may find that they just do not have the work they would like to have, and I’d suggest that they take some time to “play” as a way of learning.  There is so much to learn, and so little time to do it!

December 31, 2008  10:45 AM

Goodbye to 2008

SJC SJC Profile: SJC

I don’t know about you, but this year has simply flown by for me!  It has been a year of challenges personally as well as professionally, I guess that means I’m “normal” after all 🙂

At the close of each year I truly like to take a look back at where I was at the start of the year, and where I am as the year closes.  At the close  of last year I posted A Developers New Year Resolutions  never thinking at the time that it would be useful a year later to look back at it, but it has been.  The year started off with a bang, and I was genuinely embracing each of the resolutions and taking them on with enthusiasm.

In May, however, my personal “life” had to take front and center as the result of a family medical issue.  The resulting detour was immense, taking its toll physically as well as emotionally.  Some residual effects linger as the year closes, although they have nowhere near the impact as that period from May through October had. 

As an independent developer and basically single person business such an event has significant consequences.  There is a hugh impact in ones ability to service customers well — an absolute priority to me.  I certainly wasn’t ready for the energy drain it would take on me.

As for my resolutions — for most I grade myself at a C or C+ for the year.  Not by nature being a planner, I grade myself as a “D” however.  My resolution list said “I Will Plan” — testing — my work.  Shortcuts were taken with my testing on agreement of my major client who themselves picked up on testing more thoroughly than usual, knowing that I was shortcutting.  That was a situation that we made work.

Goodbye 2008!  Thanks for the memories!  I’m looking ahead to 2009 embracing those same resolutions I posted a year ago!

December 31, 2008  2:36 AM

The “Paperless” Office — Myth or Real Possibility?

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Let’s face it — paper is not going away!  The “Paperless” office is a myth!  However, what is a real possibility is the office with “less paper” — and there are many indications that it is happening.  I just can’t imagine a time when managers that I’ve worked with will not want their “hard copy” of a report — “just in case…” — of what?  Who knows? …but “just in case…”! 

We who manage IT have a responsibility to conserve resources wherever we can – it is both good business as well as good for the environment.  One need not do much more than watch most offices in operation for a couple of hours to identify wasteful and unnecessary paper usage.  There is much that we can contribute to improve office procedures to use “less paper”.

From the software design standpoint, a critical review of reports which get run regularly might indicate that certain data is never used, and by eliminating the data paper volume may be reduced as much as 60% — that’s a serious savings over time, and probably well worth the investment to change the report.  Also with regard to reports — has the capability to print to disk, pdf or maybe fax been made available for the report?  How many times I’ve seen reports first printed to the laser printer, then brought to the fax machine to be sent!  (Then the report put into the waste paper basket!).  Another IT suggestion may be the investment required to provide duplexing printers — using half the paper per print job!  What a concept!  Yet another possible contribution to “less paper” can be incorporating a document imaging system or scanning into an application.

I suspect there are many opportunites that you can identify in your organization where a little bit of creative IT (Intuitive Thinking) can result in the “less paper” office — but paperless?  Forget it!.

December 30, 2008  10:39 PM

Observations from my 2009 Crystal Ball

SJC SJC Profile: SJC

I figure I might as well join the ranks of the forecasters for the upcoming year — heck, what good is a New Year if not to look ahead at what might be?  My 2009 crystal ball is multi-colored and multi-dimensional, pointing to the need for IT talent with a wide range of skills.  Given the current (and projected) economic climate, it seems only natural that an individual with broad experience will find their opportunities less limited than the narrowly focused and experienced individual.  Just because the economic climate is poor doesn’t really eliminate many real needs that companies have and are looking for from their IT departments.  Multi-talented individuals can help the department do more with less if that individual is used to potential.

In 2009 I see more attention being paid to training existing IT staff in new areas rather than looking to hire from the outside.  There is no argument that budgets will be tight to non-existent.  Management will certainly  be looking to chop costs anywhere they can without risking failure of the operations.  I suspect that IT departments who to this point have been reluctant to join the virtualization bandwagon will be forced to train staff and begin implementing virtualized systems.  There have been many case stories showing that huge savings can be achieved – not only with hardware savings, but also support and staff.

My crystal ball does show a lot of activity — like a storm at sea, there is churning of the waters and constant change.  Certainly there will be loss of IT jobs as projects get canceled.  What I see for the future is that many will find they have to get training that perhaps they do not yet have.  I suspect that 2009 will see more hiring from the smaller companies than the large ones – which will mean fewer hires overall and more unemployment.  Some IT workers used to large operations may have to be satisfied working in smaller environments and keeping much busier than they’re used to. 

December 29, 2008  3:00 PM

Accelerated ERP Implementation Risks

SJC SJC Profile: SJC

To this day (…and possibly forever) I remember August 1, 1999 not with fond memories, but rather with a complex set of emotions which begin a churning upset in my stomach.  The day was, without a doubt, one of the most memorable days of my life for its stress level.  It was the perfect example of an ERP implementation gone wrong!  In retrospect it is understandable that it was.

What has brought this infamous day to mind was reading a white paper entitled “ERP at the Speed of Light“, an excellent white paper which I discovered this morning as the result of an email. Looking back for me as I read the white paper’s list of “key risks” of an accelerated implementation, we experienced each of the risks outlined in the paper, as well as a few more not mentioned — not the least of which was “buggy” and incomplete software.  While we made every effort to work with the “out-of-the-box” processes offered, they just didn’t work.

The article states that “…in any scenario, there is a certain level of disruption of existing operations in the course of an ERP engagement…”, and we certainly experienced that to the utmost!  Our implementation accomplished only one primary goal in its early stages — our unmanageable different applications inherited during growth through acquisition were replaced — as a company we were now all “on the same page”, the page hating the new software.  We had in fact been united!

December 29, 2008  11:20 AM

Power and Dollar Savings for IT

SJC SJC Profile: SJC

Green IT — the very name for me conjurs up images of a lush field in Vermont on a sunny day — the air is clear and clean — just a beautiful sight!  Then from there my images go to the “long green” currencies which I’ve had in my hand, and surely the saving of the “long green” speaks loud and clear to any well managed IT department.  Yes Virginia, there is a green IT — and it can save the green of the fields, and the green cash in the company coffers.

There have been a number of articles published recently about green IT and saving power.  Certainly the increasingly popular use of server virtualization where multiple physical servers are replaced by a single physical server running multiple virtual servers can produce a dramatic energy savings.  I suspect that one possibly over-looked area of potential savings exists by replacing existing “old” computers with up-to-date energy efficient systems.

A recent article in January’s Microsoft TechNet Magazine by Jim Lynch of got me thinking green again.  The article “What On Earth Is Green IT?” is available on-line.  Available on-line at Techsoup is a useful 1 page list entitled “10 Green Technology Resolutions for 2009“.  Both are worth taking a look at.

December 26, 2008  11:00 PM

Backup Strategy and Disaster Recovery

SJC SJC Profile: SJC

Nobody that I know disagrees about the value and need for reliable backups.  Regardless of company size, having backups in place that protect company data is essential, yet recent writings and surveys seem to indicate that very few disaster recovery plans are tested for their effectiveness.  In fact most “true” disaster recovery plans will take into account much more than data backup.

A disaster recovery plan is like business continuity insurance — without it the best one can hope for is to “remember” all of the required pieces in order to solve the resulting puzzle.  Documentation is the best friend of a disaster recovery plan.  As an absolute minimum those functions absolutely required for the business to operate need to be identified, and a plan for recovering those functions documented thoroughly and clearly so that minimal “expert” help is required.  Speed of recovery must be considered, as well as the multitude of different disaster scenarios “most” likely to be faced.

For the small company my experience indicates that the most over-looked consideration regarding their backup strategy is that no consideration is given to ensuring that somehow there is a backup residing off premises of the “server” room.  Many companies have gone to backing to a USB disk attached to the system.  This provides safety for the event of server failure — and provides for quick backup and recovery.  However, in most cases the disk receiving the backup is physically located in the immediate proximity of the server and stays there, and as such, is subject to the same physical disaster potentials such as water, flood and fire as the server itself.

Using tape as a backup media has a number of disadvantages, however, it is very easy for a backup tape to be consistently brought off-premises.  Perhaps it is not quite as easy when the backup is to such as a USB disk — however — how much is that data really worth?  Somehow, its certainly best to have off-premises backup.

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