Building the Next Generation of Application Software
Southwestern Gifts, Inc. (SGI), is a small catalog retailer of Southwestern art, jewelry, and gifts that distributes two catalogs per year, in May and October. About 40% of orders are received by phone and 10% by mail, and the rest via the SGI Web site. SGI employs up to 50 people, including 15 warehouse staff and 30 order-processing clerks during the Christmas shopping season, 4 accountants and bookkeepers to handle payroll and account payable, 3 buyers, a catalog designer, 4 IS staff, a warehouse manager, and the owner-operator. SGI currently has a Hewlett-Packard (HP) ProLiant midrange computer running Linux, a small Dell server running Windows Server, and 20 desktop computers, all connected by a 100 Mbps Ethernet LAN with a single T1 (1.54 Mbps) Internet connection. Ten desktop computers are used only for order entry.
The Dell server provides file and printer sharing for desktop computers and printer sharing for the HP computer. The other 10 desktop computers are used by the accountants, warehouse manager, buyers, catalog designer, and IS staff. Application software on desktop computers includes Quicken (an accounting package), various productivity tools, such as Microsoft Office, and Adobe Illustrator (graphics design software). SGI purchased an order entry and inventory control package eight years ago from an out-of-state vendor. This package stores data in a MySQL relational DBMS and uses a proprietary IDE and operating environment called Data Entry, Retrieval, and Query System (DERQS). DERKS provides forms-based data entry and data queries, a file definition tool, and a simple report generator. Screen forms are defined by using an interactive layout tool that compiles and stores screen layout and content in a screen definition file (SDF). Database tables are also defined with an interactive tool, and a simple query interface and report generator are included with the DBMS. Application programs are written in a proprietary interpreted scripting language to display and manipulate screens, manipulate database content, and generate simple reports. Most of the existing application programs are DERQS scripts, but some are written in C and C++. DERQS includes a compiler library with functions that enable C programs to display DERQS screens and interact with DERQS files and the MySQL database. This library also works with C++ programs because C++ is a superset of C.
A third IS staff member maintains the Website, including the online catalog and order-entry system. A fourth IS staff member manages the LAN and desktop computers. SGI has seen the phone and mail order parts of its business decline steadily. Although it expects to keep these systems operating for several more years, SGI sees a need to improve its Web-based ordering system to attract younger, more tech-savvy customers. SGI also wants to minimize the number of software technologies it depends on and integrates purchasing, sales, inventory, and accounting functions more tightly. To achieve these goals, SGI plans to make several improvements to its information systems, including the following: Updating the Web-based ordering system to take advantage of more recent HTML standards, later IE versions, and other browsers, such as Firefox Implementing a direct interface to financial information in the MySQL database so that data can be uploaded to Quicken and Excel Enabling buyers to interact with the sales, purchasing, and accounts payable systems Using Web-based interfaces for existing and new application programs, with support for employees working from home or while traveling SGI recently learned that the company that developed and supported DERQS has filed for bankruptcy. No company has shown an interest in purchasing the rights to DERQS, so it appears that no further upgrades or technical support will be available.
Should SGI develop any new software with DERQS? If not, what tools should it acquire for new system development?
Should SGI implement the functions of its existing DERQS-based applications by using more up-to-date development tools?
Should SGI consider replacing its disparate collection of tools and supporting software with an integrated suite from a large vendor, such as an Oracle DBMS with J Developer or Microsoft SQL Server with Visual Studio? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this replacement