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Process Automation and Productivity Multiplier

An alternative model to bespoke software solutions, or complex off the shelf packages, is a software toolkit.

A software toolkit is a highly configurable core software base; it differs from an off the shelf software package, in that core functions and mappings between different components of a solution are highly flexible and can be manipulated without the need to re-engineer the code base. Powerful visual tools are used to develop flexible customised solutions. These solutions can be created without the skills needed to write the code for the software, requiring instead an in-depth understanding of the relevant business processes and the ability to map those processes onto an abstract model.

Investment in a software “toolkit” can therefore be shared across a multiple of business solutions, gaining some of the economies of scale of packaged software but providing a greater ability to create unique or novel solutions.

Figure 1 – The economies of scale of toolkits lie between off the shelf and bespoke software

 

Tool kits cannot solve all business problems, however they can be adopted to serve different sectors or broad areas of business processes (e.g. order processing). In these broad environments a common framework of functions, parameters, inputs and outputs exist, though the relationship between them will be widely diverse.

 

Practical Application of Toolkit technology

An example of a sector specific toolkit has been developed for the postal and package delivery sector by Pinesoft Computers.

In what is potentially a highly commoditised industry, suppliers in this industry continuously strive to differentiate themselves through the adoption of technologies beyond those of transportation and materials handling. Technology is used to improve efficiency, increase quality of service and introduce value added services including consignment tracking, proof of delivery, flexible delivery options and tailored management information. Economies of scale are achieved a) by moving items of similar physical properties, for example by using mail sortation machines and conveyor belt based parcel sort hubs, and b) by maintaining data on consignments in a common format, to enable efficient data processing for operations and revenue management.

A common problem in this sector is the capturing, cleaning and storing of consignment specific data to enable common labelling standards, high quality of service and accurate billing. The problem arises because of the diversity of shippers, all of which may have their own despatch processes and addressing standards; inbound international shipments exemplify these problems. Solutions often employ technologies as diverse as scanning, weighing, printing, Optical Character Recognition and postcode lookup. The solutions that integrate these technologies are typically created using bespoke software, the alternative of adapting customisable “off the shelf” software packages is typically rejected because of the lack of suitable packages, or the high costs of purchasing, then adapting packaged software.

Pinesoft is a software development house specialising in line-of business systems for business services enterprises and has developed several systems for the mail and package distribution sector, encompassing all aspects of the supply chain. Pinesoft specialises in “Agile” incremental, rapid development methodologies, and works with a wide range of hardware and software technologies.

Driven by a range of demands for ad hoc data capturing solutions, from different clients in the sector, Pinesoft has developed a software toolkit “PostID” that can be used to rapidly create highly tailored solutions.

The Pinesoft toolkit has a modular architecture, where each module, referred to as a processor, represents a different part of a process flow. Unique applications are created by selecting a collection of processors, configuring how each processor behaves, and deciding how the selected output or selection of outputs of a processor  are mapped, (“wired”), to the selected input(s) of another or other connected processor(s).

Example of processor types include scanning, data entry, data handling, logic, image handling, OCR, user interface, messaging and reporting. Examples of reporting processors, for example, include a PDF Printer, a RAW printer or a report builder.

Development of the application is managed visually by importing processors, configuring processors and then mapping the relationships between processors by dragging and dropping a link between one or more processors. This selection of configured and connected processors is then saved as a configuration and becomes the bespoke application developed by the toolkit. An example of an application as it appears in the visual workspace is shown below. 

Figure 2 – Example of the modularised architecture of a toolkit developed application

In order to keep complex applications manageable, subprocessors – a processor type that contains a collection of processors can be utilised, offering a simple set of inputs and outputs to do a task requiring a multitude of individual processors..

Existing or new processors can be rapidly developed to incorporate new integrated technologies, logic or API interfaces to corporate systems. The development capability of the toolkit is therefore continuously expanding and it is planned to plug in new technologies as further innovations are adopted in the sector and the toolkit is expanded to incorporate other sectors and process types. Most applications can be developed very rapidly as in many instances just the user interface component itself is required to be developed from scratch.

 

Visit http://www.post-id.co.uk to find out more

Contact us to arrange for a demonstration of the capabilities of PostID for your application. We offer to build part of your application for you, free of charge, in front of you if your application is indeed suitable for automation with PostID.