End User Reporting with Sungard BSR Advance
So, I work for Duke University's Alumni and Development Systems group. We provide and support technology infrastructure for fundraising across the entire university and health system. While the Office of Information Technology (OIT) technically manages our mainframe in terms of performing backups, dealing with disaster recovery, etc, we support and train staff to use the systems, and provide customization, integration, and additional tools.
Our base system is an old version of BSR Advance (BSR is now SunGard Higher Education). It's a mainframe only system for which we developed a windows GUI using ClientBuilder.
Many years ago, we also developed a visual basic application that allowed our development officers to generate reports very easily. Nothing so complicated as Crystal Reports, where you would have to know things about table structure and field names and the like. It was essentially a form application in which you entered criteria - mostly through the use of checkboxes - in order to generate a report. For example, you could get a file drop of all the alumni who graduated from the Engineering School between 1990 and 1999, were active (ie, not deceased or no contact). Or all the donors who gave at least $1000 to the art museum.
The reports themselves are generated from our reportin database, which one of the programmers on staff wrote a bunch of Cobol / JCL to generate delimited files on a nightly basis, which we import into SQL Server.
Apparently, this is a kind of tool that nobody else has. My boss says many other universities using the BSR Advance system have "report writers" - staffers whose sole job it is to generate such reports on request, and most of these schools have several of these staffers - 4, 5, or even 6 full time staff dedicated to generating reports.
Thanks to this reporting application, we have one. The vast majority of the reports that our development officers get are self-generated, and that's really cool.
We're actually in the process of re-inventing this reporting application using Adobe Flex technology and Coldfusion as a backend. It will actually use the same database that the current Visual Basic application uses. The advantage of the Flex-based application is that it won't require client installation. This app gets installed in many departments across the university and health system, and in this day and age, most uses don't have the ability to install software on their desktops, so it becomes a logistical nightmare. For that reason, we avoid doing releases unless absolutely necessary. With the Flex app - being web-based - we can fix bugs and add features and have them immediately available to all users, with no new software installation required.
We'll be able to add many new features, too. I'm actually very excited about it.
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