Terra Payments moves off browser, onto Flex

Terra Payments Inc. have outgrown the capabilities of a garden variety browser.

Some of the Montreal-based company’s real-time operations require a “”richer experience”” than Web browsers are capable of delivering, explains

David Jokinen, the firm’s vice president of product development.

“”We have people here inside our company that spend all day in front of a Web browser driving our applications,”” he said. “”(Often) that experience is not very efficient and can be prone to error because of the need to refresh the pages and go back and forward. It’s not the ideal experience for running a business application.””

Conducting business quickly and efficiently is especially critical for Terra since it processes credit card payments for Internet, mail order or telephone order, and bill payment transactions, as well as direct debits online and by phone. All transactions are processed through Terra’s own secure processing engine.

Macromedia’s Flex aims to address the problem of speedily creating rich interfaces on Web-based enterprise applications. It was developed specifically to overcome some of the limitations of traditional page-based enterprise apps.

“”The problem that Flex addresses for us is to quickly and inexpensively build a rich user experience that’s much easier for someone to learn, less likely for them to make a mistake, and a lot faster for them to use so they can get more work done in less time,”” said Jokinen.

When Macromedia invited Terra to participate in Flex’s beta program, the Montreal firm decided to develop an in-house trial project. Code-named “”Phoenix,”” the aim is to replace the existing ticket-tracking system, using Flex for the new system’s front-end. The firm is gearing up to take the new tracking system live for its internal users.

Jokinen emphasizes that his company would never use an unproven technology for an external application. It would be too risky to introduce such a tool to some “”5,000 customers who are processing $1 billion a year in payments through us,”” he said. So initially applying Flex to a lower-priority function is a good way for the firm to properly test the technology before applying it to mission-critical processes, he said.

One issue related to Flex that Terra is most concerned with is deployment, said Jokinen. Flex relies on Flash Player being present in users’ browsers, and “”that’s a dependency that our current interfaces don’t have,”” he said.

“”It’s not a big deal for internal users because we control their desktops, but for external users, it’s more tricky.””

Another concern is the ability to conduct automated testing of the user interface, said Jokinen. “”This is something that Macromedia told me they do intend to do. It’s not clear that we’re able to do that today. But it’s a requirement that we have … to lower the cost of quality assurance.””

“”There’s certain hooks in the technology that you need to be able to do that,”” he added. “”We’re still searching for those hooks in Flex. We’re not prejudicing the technology, but it’s something that I would expect it to address.””

Macromedia began its beta trials of Flex last November and started to ship out the product last month. Pricing for the product starts at US$12,000 for two CPUs, including annual maintenance.

Ron Schmelzer, senior analyst with Massachusetts-based ZapThink LLC, said Macromedia is going after a new wave of thinking . “”What if application functionality could reside on a server just as it would if it was a web application?

“”Instead of using your browser you would use something like Flex, which is based on (Macromedia) Flash. In effect, Flash becomes the new kind of browser for this kind of rich interface,”” said Schmelzer.

Once people realize you can accomplish tasks you just can’t accomplish with browsers and portals, levels in demand will start to change, he added.

“”Why should you have to go to the Amazon Web site to look at books when you can have a Flash-based Amazon app that is a click away in your desktop? Or why go to the eBay site to check the status of an auction when you can have an eBay app that sits on your desktop that is constantly aware of things?””

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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