Courier Services Firm Brings Mission-Critical “ARev” Application To The Web Using OpenInsight
Sterling Courier Customers Can Track Shipments On The Web
For certain companies and industries, “tomorrow” isn’t good enough. When doctors are awaiting medical shipments, such as organs and tissues, every minute counts. When television networks need critical footage, it’s a race against the clock – and the competition. And when manufacturers need critical replacement parts to keep assembly lines moving, time is money – big money.
That’s why, when they need it today, more companies turn to Sterling Courier, a division of Quick International Courier and one of the largest same-day domestic couriers in the U.S. Sterling specializes in the ultra-rushed world of emergency shipments:
Shipment Tracking is Critical
Not surprisingly, given the critical nature of these deliveries, shipment-tracking is a mission-critical application for the company. According to Glenn Smoak, vice president of Quick International and founder of Sterling Courier prior to its acquisition by Quick, reliability and performance were non-negotiable requirements for this application.
“We needed a robust, fast database that doesn’t fail or crash,” he said. “For the past 14 years, I’ve used Revelation products, going back to Rev/G. When Advanced Revelation came out, it became our foundation for our shipment-tracking system.”
Advanced Revelation is Revelation Software’s comprehensive environment for creating efficient, powerful character-based applications using a native linear-hash DBMS that is ideal for managing text-intensive applications.
“Using ‘ARev,’ we created a sophisticated order-entry application that was ideal for our needs,” Smoak said. “It has automatic look-ups and validations to prevent errors, auto-fills on key fields, and 38 indexes on the job-entry screen alone. Over the years, we’ve invested quite a bit of time and effort in creating that application. We brought it online several years ago and it’s still in use today.”
Letting Customers Track Shipments on the Web
As Sterling’s business volumes increased, its customer support center was spending increasing amounts of time fielding customer calls about shipment status. Sterling’s parent company concluded that Web-based self-service access could reduce these volumes and improve customer service as well.
“Naturally, we had an enormous investment in our ARev application,” said Smoak, “which we did not want to abandon. We called in some consultants from Sprezzatura who told us that this would be simple – by using OpenInsight as the application server.”
OpenInsight is Revelation’s repository-based development environment that facilitates the graphical creation and editing of all components in an 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. The OpenInsight database uses fields that can hold variable lengths of data and multiple values in one field – which is ideal for text-intensive applications.
All of these tools are integrated into OpenInsight's unique Application Manager 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" code modules for off-line work, impact analysis, and extensibility to accommodate other third-party tools and components.
A Remarkably Cost-Effective Solution
OpenInsight and Revelation’s Web Deployment Pack enable developers to “Web-ify” and deploy their applications without making any changes to the underlying application code. That means even ARev applications can present their linear hash data through a standard Web browser.
Sterling, with assistance from Sprezzatura, a U.S./U.K. consulting firm, installed OpenInsight on a Hewlett-Packard NetServer LC3 server running Novell NetWare 5. Using OpenInsight, Sterling and Sprezzatura were able to extend their ARev database to the Web.
“OpenInsight really became our periscope to the Web,” said Smoak. “And Sprezzatura was terrific. They came in and completed the project in less than a week. We didn’t have to change our application code – which is great because it’s a durable, stable application that we didn’t want to open up.”
Sterling’s new Web-based shipment-tracking capabilities have been instrumental to its business growth. “Web-based customer self-service has become a ‘gotta have,’” he said. “Once we show customers this site, they’re very enthusiastic. Disney chose us as their rush courier largely based on the availability of this application. Our competitors don’t have anywhere near this degree of query sophistication.
“All of our customers have just flipped over our new Web site. Now, they can enter a job-tracking number and get up-to-the-minute information on a particular shipment. Or they can enter a date range to see all jobs. They can query by departure or arrival city, too.
“But what blows them away are the partial lookups. They don’t have to phone in and ask for information. For example, one of our medical customers can type in “vei” and see all veins in transit at that moment. In addition, the shipment data is secure and for that customer only.
“And we were able to do this for a remarkably low investment. The total cost of Web-ifying the ARev application was only $14,000. That included Web server, all software licenses, access lines, consulting fees, and expenses. We recouped that investment with our first new account as a result of our Web-tracking system.”
Today, more than 35 people use this application on the network concurrently, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day., generating 3-4 miscellaneous transactions per second. Since Advanced Revelation was not initially designed for use with today’s network architectures, Revelation created the “Revelation NLM” to ensure consistently excellent performance and availability. Sterling uses the NLM for its ARev system. “The NLM is fantastic,” said Smoak. “Before, if the system locked due to a GFE, we had to log everyone off, clear the files, and rebuild all 38 indexes for 150,000 records. Our system would be “on paper” and unavailable for hours. Since we installed the Revelation NLM, we haven’t had a single GFE. It’s like backup insurance. If you need it even once, it’s worth it.”