ox.Solution.Development
Case Studies
Case Studies
Farm Credit Bank of Texas

Similar to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for home loans, the Farm Credit Bank system is a quasi-governmental institution established by the Federal Farm Loan Act of 1916. It consists of regional lending banks through which virtually all lending to agribusiness is generated in the United States; the Texas branch supports Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico and Texas.

Loan origination depends on credit analysis of which asset value projection is a core component. Predicting the future is tricky, but the complexity grows exponentially when assets are composed of livestock and crops. Agricultural inventories are highly volatile being subjected to the whims of weather, disease and life cycles.

Volumes are counted in numerous varied agriculturally-specific units of measure such as heads of cattle or bushels of grain. Each type of crop or livestock is subject to its own particular set of external factors.

Our client needed a tool that loan officers could use in the field to collect data on inventories and apply varied complex forecasting scenarios to account for the wide range of potential conditions that may affect future inventories.

We were brought in to rescue a failing internal project which attempted to create a tool using Microsoft Excel alone. With a problem domain so complex and dynamic, Microsoft Excel proved to be insufficient. We designed and managed the construction of custom software created on the then-brand-new Microsoft .Net Framework (v1.1).

Given our history with public and corporate accounting as well our business analysis skills, we were able to construct rapidly a comprehensive set of requirements working with the bank’s loan officers and department managers. Our technical team consisted of C# developers working on framework and business logic, Visual Basic .Net developers constructing the user interface, AS-400 developers managing interoperations with the bank’s accounting systems (primarily in a highly-customized instance of Cardinal) and Crystal Reports specialists for report design. Functional and usabilty testing was performed by technical QA specialists as well as a user group composed of loan officers and administrative personnel.

Texas Department on Aging

Part of the Texas Health & Human Services Commission (HHSC), the Texas Department on Aging is a state-wide government agency that provides a range of services for older Texans and their family caregivers that help ensure well-being, dignity and choice. The agency is organized into three tiers – the state level, regions and local offices – at which budgeting and funding activities occur. We provided a solution for submitting, aggregating and disseminating data on budgets, funding requests, financial activity and service demographics at each layer.

Our solution was limited by departmental constraints on the technologies that could be used. For example, we were not permitted to use a proper RDBMS like SQL Server or a web application front-end as HHSC could not provide on-going support for the servers. Further, to minimize potential support issues, we were required to keep custom development to a minimum. Staffing, especially at the local level, tended to be relatively unskilled, so our solution had to be especially user-friendly with minimum on-boarding.

We provided custom templates in Microsoft Excel for users to submit information to the agency via email. To minimize potential support issues, these templates contained no macros or other logic.

We used Microsoft Access to create a backend database. Access also housed business logic using VBA which read in the submissions. Data, reporting, user interface and business logic were separated into linked Access files to prevent the system from being too brittle. HHSC’s only on-going support requirement was maintaining backups which was already part of their workload.

This project introduced us to Miss Edna, an older lady with virtually no computer skills who worked at one of the rural local offices. To this day, our internal standards for usability are summed up in our motto, “If Miss Edna can’t use it, we didn’t do our jobs.”

Badnarik for President

Our client was the campaign for a third-party candidate for the President of the United States in the 2004 election cycle. It was the first national election cycle subject to the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA, McCain-Feingold) which established new reporting requirements and contribution limits for presidential campaigns.

Our solution provided a web form for users to submit contributions. A MySQL database held these data along with those from mailed-in and in-person contributions. Automated reports to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) were generated from these data and contribution limits were monitored per individual. Transactions were input to the campaign’s general ledger using the QuickBooks SDK which also pulled expenditure data for reporting.

SolarCraft

EpiCor is an ERP solution similar to Microsoft Dynamics and SAP that has been around since the mid-1970s. Our client, a manufacturer of remote off-grid power solutions, used EpiCor for production management, inventory, sales, accounts receivable and other critical business data. They found that it was onerous and error-prone to customize the solution to their needs, specifically building reports and data analysis needed for business intelligence and process support.

The client’s team included many power-users of Microsoft Excel and Access, so rather than just creating individual custom reports on-demand in EpiCor’s built-in reporting engine, we bypassed the EpiCor front-end and provided a set of SQL queries that pulled data directly from its Microsoft SQL Server data store. We embedded these queries into Office Data Connection (ODC) files that provided data directly to Microsoft Excel and Access.

This empowered the team to create custom reports and analyses within Excel and Access using PivotTable and other built-in Office functionality. Each of the company’s departments became more agile and management gained the ability to explore new business intelligence models without the need for engaging a consultant at each turn.

Gay Information Network

In 1998, the web was still in its infancy. Google had just gotten its start-up funding, the first browser war had just begun between Netscape and Internet Explorer and JavaScript had not yet been adopted for client-side scripting.

Our client maintained a nation-wide directory of LGBTQ-friendly businesses and hired us to create an online search tool for their listings. We created a Java applet hosted in a website which allowed users to filter the listings based on location and business type.

FICOTECH

Although ERPs are commonplace today, in the early 1990s they were only available to huge corporations. Our client, a manufacturer of fire control valve technologies for the oil and gas sector, required a production and shop-floor management solution to track job orders along with inventories of raw materials and products.

Object-Oriented Programming (OOP) was just becoming the predominant paradigm for software development. We used Borland Pascal to create MS-DOS programs which interacted with a dBASE backend over Ethernet connections.

When we say we have old-school dev cred, we mean it.