NuEra-ID Pty Ltd

SYDNEY  AUSTRALIA   2227    (ABN 25 126 210 320)    Ph:+61 2 9016 4695 

"Helping others to have a future assures our own."

Job Tasking and Reporting System

Setting the Scene
Imagine your company's business is to provide services to other companies wishing to outsource some parts of their business because they believe your company will do it better and cheaper than an in-house workforce could.  One of the issues you will face is how to monitor the work your people are doing so that you can bill your client.  Your client will undoubtedly have a computer system within their organisation serving their needs and will most probably require your workforce to input data into those systems so that the client can have visibility of work being performed for their own management information needs.  This creates a dilemma. 

Option 1 - Input into your reporting system and the customer's reporting system = Duplicated Input. You have to do double input.  That is, you have to input data into your own systems and input similar data into the client's system.  If you are lucky, you can negotiate a contract where the client will pay you for the duplicated input.  (Yes, some clients are not that astute when it comes to guarding the dollars and cents! Especially the clients who are big companies.)  On the other hand, in the case of those clients who are more careful with their money and more demanding in their contracts, they may not agree to pay for the duplicated input in which case you have to carry the cost as a part of winning the contract.  A good recipe for losing money!
Option 2 - Use your systems and pass info to your customer's.  You may be lucky enough to have a customer who is sophisticated enough to define for you their information needs such that you can use your own systems on their site and simply provide them with reports, on a periodic basis, of the work done for them. These reports can be supplied in a format such that, if the customer wishes to, they can input these reports electronically into the databases of their own systems.
Option 3 - Use the same computer system as your customer and have electronic data interchange between them.  With this option, you adopt the same computer systems as your customers.  For example, if you customer is using the Mincom ERP, you purchase the same datagbase with the prior agreement from the customer that you can interface the two databases. When you update your database, it triggers updates to the customer's database. The aim of this is to eliminate double input and ensure (you hope!),compatibility between your data and that of your client's.  This is possibly the most expensive and stupidest thing to do but it has happened in the past and, in all cases, without success.  If and when the customer relets the contract to a new supplier, you are left with an expensive acquistion that does not necessarily match the systems of your next customer.
Option 4 - Use the customer's system to report your work and get paid to input the data the customer needs.  This arrangement is a half-way house where the client lets your people use his computer systems to report their work back to your systems and you get paid to enter the data the customer requires regarding the services that were provided plus other matters relating to the actual work operation.  In this arrangement, you are spared the cost of supplying your own computer terminals on site but still have duplicated input, the cost of which either your or your customer has to absorb.

JTaR was created for a customer faced with having no other reasonable option but "Option 4".

A Case Study of Applying JTaR.
PMMS Main Input Screen - Thumbnail

Fig 1. Corporate System's (PMMS) Input Screen

In the case study we are describing, things are a little bit complicated to explain because there is "our" client, that is, the company we are trying to help, and "their" client, the company they are serving.  So we shall call "our" client, "our customer" from this point onwards to try to make things less confusing.  Our customer's client used Microsoft Software for all of its needs.  Our customer initially used spreadsheets on their client's computer network for their employees to report the work they were performing.  This data was then typed into the form shown opposite.  Unfortunately, as anyone who has shared a spreadsheet across a network would know, the spreadsheet is locked when a person is using it.  Worse, people often forget to close a spreadsheet when they have finished using it so it remains locked to everyone else who needs to make input.  When this happens, Microsoft, helpfully tells people the spreadsheet is locked and would they like to create a new one... to which they usually answer, "Yes".  Should this happen, the "real" spreadsheet doesn't get filled in.  The data is lost.  A multitude of duplicate spreadsheets are created and saved in various "home" folders around the network.  In this particular case study, our customer was not billing for around a third of the work that was being done for their client because the billing information was being lost in the reporting process.  Great for their client.  Not so good for our customer.  As a further assault on profitability, the format of the spreadsheet did not match the format of the form our customer's system used.  The clerk had to do a lot of tiring mental manipulation to take data from one cell on the spreadsheet and type it into the correct place on the PMMS input form. An example PMMS input screen is shown opposite.

Overview of JTaR.
Overview of the JTaR System showing how email is used to move data from the client's worksite to our customer's computer system.

Fig 2. Overview of JTaR System using Email to move data from Warehouse to Production Control Office

So we came up with a system, a schematic of which is shown opposite.  If you click on the thumbnail, you will see an enlarged view of the JTaR system that was implemented.   In this system, the customer's employee enters work into their clients terminal using a form that is displayed in Microsoft Outlook.  Once the form has been correctly completed, the employee clicks on a button marked, "Send", to send the data to the JTaR server located in the customer's control office.  The data is sent as an attachment to an email.  On arrival at the server in the customer's office, the data contained in the email's attachment is extracted and placed into a database where it is then displayed to a clerk through the JTaR application.  The clerk checks the data and augments it as necessary with further management information before it is sent in a batch process as an email attachment in Comma Separated Variable Format to the customer's main Project Management and Monitoring Application in another capital city.
Step 1.- Using the Client's System to Report Work Done on the Factory Floor.
Input Data Through MS Outlook

Fig 3. Step 1 - Input data using form created in email client (in this case Microsoft Outlook)

In a little more detail:-
Opposite is a screen shot of a form that was constructed using Visual Basic within Microsoft Outlook.  Once the form is completed by the worker on the floor, he/she presses the submit button and, after confirming they want to send an email, the data is sent as an attachment to an email to a server external to the organisation.  The data attached to the email can be compressed and encrypted with a strong encryption system such as AES256 if the information is sensitive.
Steps 2 and 3.- Extracting Data from the Email's Attachment and Inserting it into a local Server's Database.

When the email arrives at the customer's server, the attachment to the email is removed by a JTaR module running on the server. It is decrypted and decompressed and its contents are placed in a FirebirdSQL or PostgreSQL database.  When the production clerk opens up the JTaR application on her/his desk, she/he is shown a screen which displays the list of all the JTaR attachments received.  Each item in the list displayed opposite represents a task that has been performed in the clients' workplace.  Note that the form is in accordance with a form standard called CAFE; standing for Common Application Front End.  CAFE is a form standard that ensure all forms created by different software developers for different applications will look the same. CAFE aims to reduce the need for training.  Its design is such that forms are easy to learn and easy to use.  Clicking on any one of these tasks causes the form opposite to appear. This form is filled with the data that had been sent as an attachment to the email.  The clerk then checks the data and if it is complete, adds any additional information as necessary and then marks it as ready for upload into the company's ProjectMonitoring and Management System (PMMS).

JTaR Main Input Screen - Thumbnail

Fig 5. Steps 4 and 5. Screen used by Production Control Clerk to add to Job Information and prepare job data for dispatch to Corporate HQ.

Steps 4 and 5.- On-forwarding the data to the Customer's Main Project Management Database.
  The final steps involve the clerk opting to send the data onwards to the head office's computer system. This is generally done in batch where a large number of tasks are sent at the same time as a file attached to an email in a Comma Separate File Format. When the email arrives at the Head Office, the file is automatically removed, checked for accuracy and then the contents are inserted into the company's main project management and monitoring database.  Once inserted, the corresponding PMMS record IDs are sent back to JTaR, once again by an email attachment. These are then automatically inserted into the JTaR database. In this manner, there is a link between the records stored in JTaR and the records held in the PMMS system, thereby sychronising both databases and facilitating audits if necessary.

JTaR demonstrates how it is easily possible to put in place the means by which one computer system can exchange data with another.  It also provides an economical, effective means by which it is possible to utilise a customer's computer system to report work your employees are doing for that customer so as to allow later billing for those services.  Importantly, from a productivity and profitability perspective, JTaR provides the means by which it would be possible to introduce small, mobile systems into the workplace to assist your staff to be more productive without the need for a significant investment in a major computing infrastructure.  Should the customer decide they no longer need the services of your company, it is a simple matter to extract your workforce from that worksite and move onto another customer.

Copyright © NuEra-ID 2005-2011