A Web-enabled self-service environment has replaced aging in-house applications at the Certified General Accountants Association of British Columbia, giving some 13,000 staff, members and students direct online access to course registration

and other services.

The professional accounting body used Oracle Corp.’s Application Server, Database and JDeveloper Java development tool to build CGADirect, which is available on the Web to authorized users. Marc Fox, director of information technology at CGAA of B.C., said CGADirect replaces in-house applications built on aging database software using Cognos Inc.’s PowerHouse development tool, and running on Unix hardware from Data General Corp.

It typifies a trend. “”Wherever there’s an aggregation of users, whether it’s specific to a vertical or industry grouping … it’s almost universal that people see that moving to Web-based applications or Web-based architecture would be very beneficial,”” said Warren Shiau, research manager at IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto.

CGADirect runs on Windows, Fox said, but CGAA has tested it on Linux to ensure it has the option of switching in future. He said his association chose Oracle largely because it provided the most flexibility — the software supports Windows and Linux, and the Oracle database software could be replaced while still using the other Oracle components, he said.

Shiau said Oracle, as “”really the dominant database,”” plays a major role in Web-enabled development and the company has tried in recent versions to offer more tools for Web-based projects.

For instance, database security is integrated with Application Server, and the database includes features such as the ability to store Excel and PDF files and retrieve them using plain-text searches online, said Eric St-Jean, a solutions architect with Oracle Canada. The Web portal is integrated with the database, added Robert Gendron, solution architect manager for Oracle Canada.

The regulating body for CGAs in British Columbia, CGAA of B.C. also provides education. “”We are running in essence a small university of 6,000, almost 7,000 students here in B.C.,”” Fox said.

Only the CGAA of B.C.’s staff of about 60 people used the old software. They received course registrations by mail, fax or e-mail and entered them manually. Often forms were incomplete or unreadable, so employees had to contact people for clarification. Now CGAA members and students can complete their own registrations online. Staff are still available to answer questions and give advice, Fox said.

CGA-Direct took about two years to develop and went live about a year ago. Fox said the development took a bit longer than expected, largely because the association had limited expertise in Java development and the JDeveloper tool.

Gendron said JDeveloper reduces the amount of Java expertise developers need by handling “”plumbing”” such as database access automatically.

Before starting development, the association polled its staff for suggestions, asking everyone how they would change the processes if they could. “”We came back with a series of over 200 visions for what we could do differently,”” Fox said, and it was not obvious at first how substantial some of the changes were. This also affected the time involved in developing the new system.

He is pleased with the end result, though. The old system, made up of multiple separate silos, has been replaced with a more flexible and integrated one that better supports a growing emphasis on online distance education (provided through separate systems). CGA-Direct will continue to evolve, he said, but “”in the end, what (Oracle has) done is they’ve given us agility.””

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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