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Since 1963, Peterborough Software has been providing personnel and payroll products and services throughout the United Kingdom. From its roots as a payroll service bureau, Peterborough evolved into the leading UK supplier of human resources software and services. Early products were on large mainframe computers before the company shifted with the market into midrange systems. Its first PC-based products were unveiled in 1987.
Peterborough's applications have been enormously successful. Of the working population in the U.K., one in four is paid through a Peterborough-based system. More than 70 percent of the Times of London Top 100 companies are customers and 45 percent of the largest companies in the world use Peterborough for human resource management.
With such a successful tradition, the company has a seasoned perspective on good software development and the tools and methods to make it happen. When it came time to create a Windows based version of their popular HR management program, Peterborough adopted OpenInsight from Revelation Technologies, Inc. of Stamford, Conn.
OpenInsight is a repository-based development environment that facilitates the design, development, and maintenance of all components in a graphical, WindowsÃ¢â€žÂ¢ based application. The product includes a suite of event-driven tools for designing and creating windows, reports, popups, and other events. It uses the powerful BASIC+ event-driven scripting language to provide database management and application definition.
All of these tools are integrated into OpenInsight's unique repository that facilitates a collaborative development process. Using the repository, developers can re-use software components within a single application or across multiple applications. Overall quality increases as previously tested and approved components are reused consistently. The repository also includes application inheritance, component "check-in/check-out" for off-line work, impact analysis, and extensibility to accommodate other third-party tools and components. Collectively, the OpenInsight tools foster the Iterative Application Development methodology for rapid, incremental development cycles.
It's not as though Peterborough was unfamiliar with development tools from Revelation. Quite the contrary. In fact, using Revelation's DOS-application builder, Advanced Revelation, Peterborough had created already a highly successful PC application suite for human resources management.
According to Dennis Rymill, development manager, when the Windows project kicked off, Revelation had the incumbent position. "We were very happy and successful with Revelation's products," he said, "so naturally, we included OpenInsight in our evaluation. We looked at Microsoft Access and some other products, but they each had some limitations. Plus, the recent industry comparisons were heavily favouring OpenInsight."
Armed with the OpenInsight development environment, Peterborough's software engineers set out to create their Windows applications. "Our goal was to put the power of our mainframe applications onto the PC LAN environment," King said. "We wanted to have consistent functionality across platforms, without compromises."
One programmer was initially assigned to the project to create a prototype of the new suite. "It took him only four months to create a working application," Rymill said. "Then we added more people to the project, and ramped up with more functions and more modules."
Currently, Peterborough's PC application suite consists of two modules: Personnel and Payroll. Work is in progress on three more: Training Management, Absence Management, and Recruitment Management. All Peterborough applications can be licensed and used individually or in an integrated set.
Given its roots as a payroll service bureau, it isn't surprising that Peterborough's Payroll application is so strong. A wide range of standard functions provides comprehensive payroll management for even the largest enterprises.
"We have customers that are paying 10,000 employees using our PC-based system," King said. "It was for those customers that we added a rich set of reporting and auditing features that they require. No one else can match our wide set of features and functions." Those include reconciliation reports, individual exceptions, reverse pay runs, and complete year-end and statutory reporting.
The Peterborough Personnel module tackles human resources management by tracking salary history, career history, training and qualifications, and absence history. According to King, the integration of these two applications has resulted in a clear advantage. "We're the only major player in the market to offer an integrated payroll and personnel system."
According to Rymill, Revelation Technologies was the right partner for the project. "OpenInsight is a good environment in which to develop," he said. "There are few, if any limitations. We especially like the repository. We have had multiple programmers working on these applications, and the check-in/check-out feature has really sped up our development. In addition, we were able to use the repository to re-use our 'core code' in each application."
In creating the interface, Peterborough immediately saw the need for standards. "We needed to have a consistent interface on all of the applications, Rymill noted. "We had to set guidelines on when and how to use 3-D buttons, check-boxes, combo boxes, and the like. We prototyped different options and had our users try them. Once we settled on our standards, we were able to achieve everything we wanted using Window Designer. Then, we stored these screen templates in the repository so that developers could re-use them without re-inventing them."
Peterborough has also used Revelation's new Report Designer to augment the reporting features of the HR applications. Report Designer is a professional database reporting tool for manipulating raw OpenInsight data into modern, graphical reports. It features two-pass reporting, full banding, Object Linking and Embedding, drag-'n'-drop functionality, and complete formatting and totalling facilities.
"It's a very impressive tool," said Rymill. "It's been giving us excellent performance in our products. End users can create reports from structured patterns using icons. They can easily put together a very nice looking report in no time. It's very straightforward for them to follow."
Even as development work continues on upcoming HR applications, Rymill and King have an eye on future market directions. "We're very keen on looking at OpenInsight: Notes Edition," Rymill said. "We think that the workgroup/groupware market could be a natural fit for our HR products."
Note - Since this article was written, Perterborough Software became known as Rebus Software and PS2000 is now under the stewardship of Northgate Information systems.