Manufacturing firm cautious on Java implementation

Auckland-based building material manufacturer W Stevenson & Sons has taken the plunge with Java development, but IS manager Dave Cooper remains cautious. W Stevenson & Sons has cut down on its mountain of paper-based reports after setting up a company intranet and giving its managers JavaStations, Sun's version of a network computer. Its eight-member IS team has built applications on an Oracle Web application server with Oracle tools and its database.

Auckland-based building material manufacturer W Stevenson & Sons has taken the plunge with Java development, but IS manager Dave Cooper remains cautious.

W Stevenson & Sons has cut down on its mountain of paper-based reports after setting up a company intranet and giving its managers JavaStations, Sun’s version of a network computer.

Its eight-member IS team has built applications on an Oracle Web application server with Oracle tools and its database.

Cooper says that by writing the programs in-house his team has been able to accelerate development by reusing code between applications. Apart from the limited use of Java, development has been done in Oracle Designer 2000 and Developer 2000.

After the experience, Cooper says he considers Java is still early in its development. “That’s not to say it’s not good yet. It’s come a long way, particularly in the past 12 months. We wanted to get on to it early, so when it takes off for real, as expected, we’ll have good skills and be ready to take full advantage of it.”

He says at present it’s still too early to use it in some areas. The IS department uses it for a lot of back-end processing and for the Web. It is also used for non-critical client applications. “But as far as replacing other development tools on the desktop, we’ll reserve our judgment at present.”

Along with the JavaStations the company has a fleet of PCs and dumb terminals.

Before the upgrade, the managers who now use JavaStations had no computers. Cooper says they took some time to adapt to the new technology, as some had never worked a keyboard before. “Most of them asked why they weren’t getting a PC.”

Attitudes improved once they realised they could use the company intranet to access online reporting systems. All of the reporting, financial and sales analysis and business intelligence data warehouse are now on Web pages. That means it’s almost a paperless office.

At first the reaction to the system was “a little bit hellish”. Cooper says some departments loved paper reporting but eventually saw the benefits of having much more intelligent reporting.

“They could look at the bottom line first and drill into the information if they wanted to see more details, whereas it was quite common for them to [previously] be given a 15cm report and then just to flick right to the last page to look at the bottom line, then throw the report away.”

As well as being able to deliver more intelligent reports, the system has given more power to users, who can look up financial information from their desks. Cooper says the company will consider letting some customers access the intranet for information specific to them. However, the customers it has approached so far are not yet ready for the change.

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