Travelyst Mobile Update

March 31st, 2016


007493cf6eb92a84-64x64There are currently no platforms available in which travellers and travel consultants communicate directly with each other to manage a traveller’s documentation, itinerary and other information.
Therefore, ViaData came up with the idea of making a mobile application for the front end of their Travelyst Tour Operator Software to achieve this goal.  With this in mind, ViaData approached the University of Cape Town as they have supported software related student projects for many years.

The project was born so that ViaData and the students could learn while exploring the possibility of a mobile application for Travelyst.   A bi-product of this exercise may be a very usable mobile application that ViaData can ‘productionise‘ or have a good proof-of-concept that can be used as a prototype for a final mobile product in the future.

Project Background

The Travelyst mobile application will allow for the traveller to receive all their travelling documentation electronically and any changes made to their itinerary will be shown immediately via the Travelyst mobile app. It will also enable direct communication between a traveller and a travel consultant. This will be done on a single platform and will be instantaneous. The traveller will no longer have to communicate via email or multiple platforms to achieve a task.

The Keystroke Team

Some of the hurdles the team will have to overcome will include time management. They are involved in tutoring at UCT, community service as well as other courses. Therefore, they will be pressed for time which can be overcome with good planning. The team want to develop the mobile application using Phonegap software which could be a potential hurdle. None of the team has worked with this technology before and there is not much assistance available, other than the internet. They are very motivated however and determined to learn so that they feel confident using Phonegap. One of the last hurdles is integration. The team need to integrate the app with the current ViaData Travelyst backend system as well as integrating it into social media.

What the Team is Currently Working on

The UCT Keystroke Team are currently working on the Web Service call. The Web Service call is necessary in order to connect to ViaData’s Travelyst database. ViaData has started doing the initial work on the Web Service call and the team are starting to configure the architecture from their side so they can retrieve data from the Travelyst database. The database is hosted in the cloud by Internet Solutions and has a guaranteed uptime to ensure that travellers will always have instant access to the information they require.

As part of ViaData’s “Improving Every Day” ethic, we’ll be updating you as the students progress in developing the mobile front end to ViaData’s Travelyst Tour Operator Software. We hope you’ll enjoy the ride!

Travelyst “Extreme Makeover”

March 7th, 2016

At ViaData, we have been continually improving Travelyst, our Tour Operator Software Product based on the Catalyst (BSE), over the last year and a half and it is now at a stage where we can bring it to market.

We felt, though, that although the underlying technology was in place and complete, the user interface (UI) could do with a makeover. First impressions count, as we all know! To this end, we designed a new logo and colour scheme, added some fresh and modern images to the Home Page and introduced the use of Google Material Icons to set-the-tone for releasing to Mobile devices and applications.

Here’s the logo and Home Page:

 

Logo

 

 

 

 

 

Home page

 

It’s been amazing for our developers, seeing our “little one” come out on prom night vibrant and beautiful. We knew she was good – but to see her “in the flesh” was spectacular!

Our users have been captivated by the new look as well! Their comments have been wonderfully gratifying. They’ve been using Travelyst in its old guise and now, with her new “clothes” on, she’s being treated as a new and refreshing bride, with a whole new sense of wanting to get to know her again.

Here’s the Login Page:

Login

 

Working within Travelyst has just got better as well, with the new and revitalising colour scheme making it a pleasure as a working environment.

Here’s how a working page looks:

Working page

 

So…now to go with our usual mantra of “Improving Every Day”, we also have “Extreme Makeover (Software Edition)” – watch out Ty Pennington!

The Catalyst “Sizzle” – Why is Catalyst such a great platform?

November 12th, 2015

The Catalyst “Sizzle” – Why is Catalyst such a Great Platform?

At ViaData we use our own, purpose built, ‘Business Systems Engine’ (BSE), Catalyst, as the foundation for all our custom software development. Here are some reasons why Catalyst is the best software system for your business, along with quotes from our developers and users about why they love using it…

 

Technology That Never Grows Old

A customer’s system with exactly the same rules can be presented as a Windows application, a browser based application or a mobile application for Android or Apple mobile operating systems without changing the system at all. This also applies to new technologies and languages.

The Catalyst BSE technology will NEVER become obsolete. ViaData can create new presentation implementations with NO impact on the business rules in the system.

The above is possible because the technology and business rules within Catalyst are kept completely separate in all areas of the system (both back end and front end).

It is interesting to note that many systems and architectures claim to separate business rules and presentation BUT business logic is usually built into both, for example the presentation layer includes screen layouts and screen level validations.

Within Catalyst the presentation layer is 100% business agnostic and doesn’t know anything about the business it is serving. This is because the links between the two layers are held in data in a simple data structure.

“Catalyst design of database backend and user frontend is flexible in that the front end has no business logic and can be a web or app interface, allowing for diverse access possibilities – on the road, in the office or from the home. – Victor Brink (developer, ViaData)

 

Completely Scalable

Your business will never outgrow Catalyst, which means that you can safely rely on Catalyst to power your company for many, many years to come, with no need to spend money on another system at a later stage.

Catalyst systems are completely scalable and can handle business data from a small business to very large enterprises.

“Catalyst systems are highly scalable, on the same measure that SQL Server is scalable. On the web front, this is effectively limitless. So whether it’s a small customer or a large one, Catalyst is scalable enough to handle whatever one throws at it.” – Kosie du Buisson (developer, ViaData)

 

Simple and Consistent Interface Design

Catalyst users become productive on the system very quickly, thereby enabling the business to earn a return on investment at a very early stage of system implementation.

The Catalyst system is quick to learn and easy to teach and train on for users, and the Interface design is simple and consistent across the entire system.

The interface design includes the standard placement of objects across the entire system, along with the standard use of options and controls and shortcuts for most functionality.

“An easy and intuitive learning curve for new users” – Craig Dunsmuir (TEE College)

“A generic interface that behaves consistently across all aspects of the data” – Craig Dunsmuir (TEE College)

 

The Incredibly Versatile Catalyst “Grid”

Using the Catalyst Grid, users can mine for data very easily and efficiently, drastically reducing time to get meaningful business results.

The Catalyst Grid is amazing! It’s used everywhere to display rows of data, it’s flexible, dynamic and configurable, and provides powerful sorting, filtering, printing and exporting features.

“Most incredible user interface – users love to work on Catalyst grids due to all the functions like filter, search, export, report functionalities”. – Truia Meyer (Dole)

“Quick drag-and-drop column and view reorganisation that can be exported and printed; right-click grouping and sub-grouping, with drag-and-drop reordering, that can include totals, counts, averages, etc.; simple point-and-click filter building which can be further refined through advanced features, then saved and reused on new data sets; comprehensive data views which are easily narrowed and refined – users easily generate their own data extractions; data manipulation and arrangement in views is easier than in a spreadsheet (and always up-to-date) and lastly fine-grained user security and access on entities and methods.” – Craig Dunsmuir (TEE College)

 

Drastically Reduced Development Time

Your business will benefit from Catalyst’s extremely short development time in that users will be able to use the system and produce meaningful business results shortly after the system is introduced. There is no extended wait for the system to go live, thereby saving time and money.

Catalyst development time is very short, in that the prototype ‘becomes’ the system and is not thrown away when the actual system is written, unlike other software system development.

“Rapid development process – save a lot of time and energy on the mundane stuff and spend the majority of development time on the exciting and really import issues”. – Truia Meyer (Dole)

“Rapid delivery of ‘prototypes’, allowing the engagement of user interaction and approval very early; reduces the level of detail in specs and empowers business analysts to get more involved with the actual development at an earlier stage. Reduces development time substantially. – Sabi Isaacs (business analyst, ViaData)

 

Consistent and Standardised Catalyst Environment

A User that has used any Catalyst-based system will easily take to any other Catalyst system or new functionality within an existing system, covering a different aspect of the business. This reduces training time and money.

Aids an Agile development process due to quick turn around and thus significantly reduces cost, allowing budget for further, incremental, revisions once a set of functionality has been rolled out

The Catalyst development environment is tightly controlled and standardised, and includes version controls, naming conventions and change control. This means that all changes connected to a user request are logged and authorised by the system.

“Quality is reinforced by massive reuse at a number of levels, including the implementation of multiple systems and many users; internal use of our own systems written in Catalyst, including our development environment and the reuse of existing elements of the architecture as foundational building blocks for new features.” – Alister Main (operations director, ViaData)

 

Shared No-Cost Functional Benefit for Clients

Clients always have the latest Catalyst system with the latest enhancements, including those requested by other clients, so there is a shared benefit for all.

Catalyst systems are modernised and improved continuously (without clients explicitly requesting these changes). This includes screen layouts and new features such as exporting grids to Excel, scheduled emailed reports and emailed reports (instead of printed versions).

“Catalyst has a lot of potential, it is continually getting new features and improving … and those improvements are going to all customers free of charge.  So it’s a shared potential and shared improvement.” – Kosie du Buisson (developer, ViaData)

 

Keeps Pace with Your Business

The Catalyst system never lags behind the business – development and enhancements are a phone call away, and enhancements are also added as a result of other developments. This means that users are always working on the latest, fully integrated system.

The Catalyst business system is built at the pace required by the business and it all integrates perfectly.

“As the business grows, it’s easy to develop add-on modules. Because it’s developed from a ‘big picture’ understanding of the business, the new modules fit neatly onto pre-existing modules. In my experience this is the most problematic issue with bespoke systems – the ‘add-ons’ don’t lead to an integrated system, but starts to become messy and looks like ‘patchwork’. This is not the case with Catalyst.” – Nikki Maritz (IBTC)

UCT Information Systems Expo

October 19th, 2015

Every year, the Department of Information Systems at the University of Cape Town holds a Systems Project Expo to showcase their third year and fourth year Systems Development group projects. This varied selection of advanced systems is designed to industry conditions and tackle actual business issues.

ViaData’s Involvement:

The 3rd year shield and top group has been proudly sponsored by ViaData for the last 23 years. ViaData is involved with the UCT Information Systems Expo because it re-establishes our connection with some of the very bright minds being developed at UCT. We also want to recognise the effort put in by the students and we get to see some of the great concepts being prototyped and developed by students.

The Presentation Evening:

Mark Fairweather, CEO of Open Box Software www.openboxsoftware.com gave the keynote address.  He focussed on the achievements of previous graduates of UCT’s IS Program (he being one) and some key guidelines for students, including find your passion, put in your time (remember the 10,000 hours ‘rule’ of Malcolm Gladwell) and go out and make a difference.

Craig Byren, MD at ViaData www.viadata.co.za (also a past IS Department Graduate) presented the 3rd year certificates and awards – saying a few words and focussing on lessons learned from an Interview with President Barrack Obama (by American comedian Mark Maron) – this can be found at: //tinyurl.com/qevgy2f

Here are two extracts from Maron’s interview:

When asked what he believes in, President Obama’s answer was ‘I believe in fact, and I believe in reason’ – a sound basis for decision-making going forward.

When asked how he changes the world – Obama’s (paraphrased) response was “societies (and the world) cannot be turned 90 degrees, the course needs to be changed one degree at a time. So to change the world all I do is to set out every day to make small changes that will leave society (and the world) better than before the change”.

This is exactly in line with ViaData’s mantra ‘Improving Every Day’

IMG_0779

Above: ViaData MD Craig Byren with the winning 3rd year team.

Finally, Head of Department, Associate Professor Kevin Johnston, closed the evening with some final words of insight for the students in an ardent speech – focussing on two fundamental thoughts and how these relate to the year that passed at UCT and the choices that face students going forward. He highlighted that we all have the right to know AND the power to choose.

In summary:

The common themes of the evening were: Information is critical to making any decisions (personal, business and political); There is no substitute for hard work; We ALL have the power to make a difference, but we have to choose to make that difference.

During the course of the evening, the students were also given time to share their views on the past year, and their comments reminded everyone how great student life is.

 

 

 

Improvement – Security

October 14th, 2015

At ViaData, we use a generic template structure for security in our Catalyst Business Systems Engine for all our systems. For large systems, security access for users can be complex to implement, however for smaller systems with fewer users, or where all users play essentially the same role, it can be very basic.

A simple user security data structure consists of users, security groups, users assigned to security groups, and then access to data entities assigned to these security groups. User access can then be controlled to view, modify, delete or add entities, at the security group level. Additional User access control to specific “tasks” in the system is also managed at the security group level.

All the above is integrated into Catalyst and forms a great “out of the box” feature for a Catalyst development project. It provides a familiar structure for security within Catalyst and deviations for specific implementations can then be built within this environment.

The Problem

Some data entities are used by all users in a system, always with the same level of access, but need assigning to security groups specific to an Implementation every time we create a new system, even though the data entity will always be generally accessible to everyone. Also, whenever a new user is added, the administrator needs to remember to assign them to the appropriate Security Groups that allow access to these ‘general’ entities.

Solution

We improved Catalyst by adding a security group called ‘All Users’, so that in our template system, entities that have general access are allocated to the ‘All Users’ security group, giving Users access “right out the box”.

Advantages

The advantages of adding the new ‘All Users’ functionality is that, when rolling out a new system, no security setup or thinking about it is required for these entities, and any entitles specific to the implementation that require the same level of global access, can also be allocated to this security group and forgotten.

The key improvement is that every time an administrator adds a new user, they don’t have to worry about adding the user to the security group these entities belong to, because all users are automatically part of the ‘All Users ‘security group

This improvement to Catalyst, as usual, has been extended to all existing systems, for the benefit of all Catalyst users.

Improvement – Gridlock

September 16th, 2015

Grid display

Users asked us to create an export functionality for grids to be exported to Excel. We felt this was an important part of our continuous improvement program for both our Web clients and our Windows clients and so we put our heads together to solve the problem.

Our grids of information have many formatting characteristics hidden in them, such as column width data, formatting and alignment. In our Windows version of Catalyst we made use of a purchased grid component that supported all this formatting, however, for our Web version we had to write the support ourselves.

However, when exported to Excel all formatting was dropped for both the Windows and Web versions of Catalyst. We wanted the Excel exports to look exactly like the grids in Catalyst. We felt that this was a necessary improvement to the Catalyst system that would delight our users.

Solving the problem

When we started to re-look at the problem, we realised that we could re-use all the Web drawing code and get perfect results of the web grid in Excel.

We tweaked the code slightly so that it would present an exported Excel spreadsheet instead of a grid and we were good to go, with all our formatting and code in place.

Distributing the delight…

Our users were delighted at the new improved export functionality, but unfortunately our non-web users were feeling left out of all the fun. We then integrated the export process we had developed for our web users into the Windows application so that any grid can be exported to Excel exactly as it looks on screen, with all the colour and formatting in place – and immediate win with our expanding user base.

And more…

Our users were so enamoured with the new reporting functionality that we found that users were regularly running weekly reports for their non-Catalyst superiors and co-workers in the form of Management Summaries. We were asked by one of our clients to support this weekly creation and distribution of these reports and after two weeks of manual labour another Catalyst improvement was conceived.

We added some scheduling functionality to program the creation and distribution of any Excel report on a periodic basis for the benefit of our users.

This last improvement was created using all the functionality we had created before and taken from an idea to completion in just 4 hours.

In our effort at continuous self-improvement and continuously delighting our users, we had added an Excel export functionality to our web version on Catalyst, transferred that same functionality to our general user population, and added scheduled printing of management summaries for our users – a real case of Improving Every Day. A job well done!

Improvement – Catalyst Creation

August 21st, 2015

At ViaData we use our own, purpose built, ‘Business Systems Engine’, Catalyst, as the foundation for all our custom software development. One of the strengths of Catalyst is the shared benefit we are able to pass on to all our clients, whenever we build new ‘general’ functionality in Catalyst or add new features to the base application.

Here’s an example of how a single modification benefitted everyone…

The default functionality for modifying a record in Catalyst is to run the Modify Method (double click the row in a grid) which opens a maintenance Screen for that record.

Catalyst already has the functionality built in to select multiple records in a grid and modify them all together, displaying a list on the left hand side of the maintenance screen of all the records selected. This then allows the user to navigate up and down the list of items on the left, to modify them via the panel on the Right Hand Side.

The enhancement

image001

We wanted to improve this functionality to open with the multiple selection predefined by the developer. This requirement was specifically for our Travel CRM and Booking system, “Travelyst”, where we wanted to allow the user to double-click on a Quote Line, opening all lines on the Quote in the ‘Batch Modify’ mode, with the line that was clicked on selected on opening of the maintenance screen.

As the architecture of the Catalyst Windows client was structured in a sound way, we were able to easily improve the existing code to allow an additional attribute to be added to the code that executes a ‘Custom Modify’ Task in Catalyst – this new attribute defining which records should be selected when the Task was executed.

Now we are able to add a Custom task to the Quote lines on a Quote in Travelyst, which we set as the default Task on a Quoteline, causing it to run when the line is double clicked. The existing ‘single record’ Modify is still available on a right click.

The effort required to develop this enhancement was just a few hours, a major improvement on other software houses’ development times.

The improvement

The new functionality added to support a specific requirement in Travelyst was added to the generic functionality of Catalyst and is now available to easily be used by existing or future Catalyst based systems. A system improvement that is free of charge.

This multiplication effect is one of the key value improvements passed on to all of our clients when we develop software using Catalyst BSE. Improvements such as this one are included in the hosting and license fees of Catalyst systems. This means that our clients benefit from development that is done on projects other than their own at no cost to themselves.

Improvement – Training Triumphs

August 17th, 2015

We had a problem where user manuals were taking a colossal amount of time and effort to create and write, especially if they included screenshots (which we had to mark-up). This way of doing things required someone who had an excellent grasp of English and who also understood the inner workings of the system very well. They had to be able to describe precisely what was required to perform a series of steps when executing a business function or action.

These manuals took a lot of time to produce, and they tended to get left gathering dust and were rarely read by the customer, particularly if they were in printed form. They also got out of sync with the system quickly and refreshing them with up-to-date screen shots was laborious and infrequently done.

We knew this was a problem that had to be addressed and so we started looking for a solution that required minimum effort and time from the staff, particularly the system architect and programmers. We also required that the training material be easily available, viewable and comprehensible. Lastly, the new methodology had to be able to show off any system competencies in an exciting and entertaining manner.

The solution:

After some round table discussions, we decided to go with a video tutorial solution. We felt that this would be the perfect way to improve our training methodology and make it stimulating at the same time.

With our new methodology, our business analyst (BA) decides on the title and business function to be depicted on the video. The BA then writes a brief overview explaining what the function does, why it is required and any other pertinent data. Notes are written in point form on the steps required, without explaining where things are located or what their icons or buttons look like, but instead giving those names.

A screen recording tool (we use Camtasia) is then used to record the steps to perform the depicted function. The BA then sends the screen capture, introduction and step notes to the video editor (we use an outside consultant to do this).

The Video Editor (VE) cleans up the video, removing time delays, jerkiness and odd mouse movements. The VE highlights relevant portions of the screen at the correct time and adds the script to the video. The VE also adds an introduction and title page and an outro (a standardised ViaData ending) to the video and sends the video back to the Business Analyst for final review and publishing.

The results and benefits of our new training methodology:

  • Here are two examples of our training videos for you to peruse:

//www.viadata.co.za/blog/?attachment_id=114

//www.viadata.co.za/blog/?attachment_id=115

  • The videos are a great improvement on the old printed training material, and are eminently watchable, simple and easy to produce.
  • Time spent on producing training material is greatly reduced, a great improvement for a busy team.
  • The training video highlights a system’s capabilities very efficiently, a great improvement over the previous methodology.
  • The user’s time spent on understanding a function is greatly shortened and improved.

Here’s an example of our new training methodology at work:

A recent system delivered to 2500 users was installed with an email providing the link to the URL containing 8 training videos. (No other training material was required on rollout).

Once again, ViaData was able to take a business process and improve it for the benefit of its users and for greater productivity. Why not give us a call the next time you need an improvement in your business processes?

 

Improvement – Travelyst

May 25th, 2015

This story is about our Travel Industry CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system, Travelyst and how we improved the system and delighted the client in the process…

The system provides a mechanism for travel consultants to build a detailed travel itinerary for customers. It supports a fairly generic processing of lines on the travel itinerary (accommodation, flights, transfers etc.), so each segment of the itinerary is added individually.

Flights are added as an ad-hoc service as there is no standard pricing and the consultants capture the descriptions manually, for example “Flights on EY (EY 430) | Depart: Abu Dhabi @ 09h00 | Arrive: HKT @ 18h40”.

In order to get a flight quote, travel consultants capture the flight requirements into a GDS (Global Distribution System) and receive a text based PNR (Passenger Name Record) that has a standard format, for example:

 

1.TRAVELLER/A

2  SQ6104 Y 21DEC 1 PLZJNB HK1          0820 1000   319 E 0 B

OPERATED BY SOUTH AFRICAN AIRWAYS

SEE RTSVC – TRAFFIC RESTRICTION EXISTS

3  SQ 479 Y 21DEC 1 JNBSIN HK1       A  1335 0605+1 772 E 0 M

SEE RTSVC

4  SQ5050 Y 22DEC 2 SINHKT HK1       2  0655 0750   319 E 0 M

OPERATED BY SILKAIR

SEE RTSVC

5  SQ5057 Y 01JAN 5 HKTSIN HK1       1  2010 2255   320 E 0 M

OPERATED BY SILKAIR

SEE RTSVC

6  SQ 478 Y 02JAN 6 SINJNB HK1       2  0210 0650   772 E 0 M

SEE RTSVC

7  SQ6105 Y 02JAN 6 JNBPLZ HK1       B  1045 1225   738 E 0 S

OPERATED BY SOUTH AFRICAN AIRWAYS

 

They then capture these details again into Travelyst, manually building the description.

One of our Tour Operators was finding that their consultants were constrained by how many enquiries they could handle per day as the manual capture / re-capture process was too tedious.

A thorough solution would be to engage with the GDS supplier (Amadeus or Galileo) and work out a way to import the PNR document directly into Travelyst – but this method can be cumbersome and take months to deliver.

We wanted to improve Travelyst and the time it took to implement the solution in a big way. This issue was raised in May of 2015 when the client asked for a way to speed up the capture of the flight segments.

We looked at the requirement, and the format of the PNR, thought a little bit out of the box and settled on the Consultant copying the PNR to the Clipboard and then pasting it into Travelyst. The system then validates the PNR, splits up the lines and uses Airline and Airport codes to create meaningful descriptions, and adds all the necessary lines to the itinerary.

unnamed

We released the functionality to the system one week after the initial request and the response to the system’s improvement has been extremely positive:

“Wow!! The flights add on is absolutely magic!! And going to make a massive difference, really outstanding, thank you so very much!

Shona Pittaway

Managing Director, Perfect Destinations”

ViaData – Improving Every Day

Improvements: Quiet Time

May 20th, 2015

We at ViaData were feeling the pinch of projects, where we would get the impression that we were not nailing our time schedules down as they should be and hence there was room for improvement. We attributed this to various factors including:

  • Answering incoming emails
  • Telephone calls
  • Requests from other team members
  • Visits from customers and partners
  • Outside visits on location
  • Conferences
  • Projects competing for time
  • Travel time
  • General office distraction

We were finding that days would go by and we wouldn’t move forward with critical work items on our plate and the common response was “where did the day go”. We were all starting to feel frustrated!

Improving

As a company or as individuals, we were not improving on this front. In fact, it was impeding our progress and we couldn’t allow that to happen.

After giving the problem some thought during a team meeting in April 2015, we decided to implement a three hour “Quiet Time” each morning from 08H30 until 12H30 in order to improve our work quality, output and time management.

Quiet Time 

Before Quiet Time, each person needs to be 100% sure they know exactly what they will do and achieve during the Quiet Time and ask questions if they are not sure.

 Quiet Time Rules

  • Switch off your email.
  • Assign one person per day to answer and filter incoming calls.
  • Work “head-down” for 3 hours.
  • At the end – take stock of what has been achieved and record the time.

Quiet Time Improvements:

  • Time management
  • Work quality
  • Work output
  • Project scheduling
  • Efficient, dedicated help on intricate issues.
  • Concentrated effort by our developers
  • Undistracted work that is less prone to errors
  • Downtime has been eradicated
  • Practical, dedicated, focussed, distraction free activity in the office.

In fact, Quiet Time has worked so well, that we are considering further improvement by implementing a second dedicated Quiet Time period in the afternoon that will ensure that our very best client dedicated effort is being implemented for the vast majority of the day. The middle and late afternoon periods of the work day will be used for personal time, catching up on phone calls, work breaks and lunch.

If you have an idea that will help improve work output, please write about it in the comments section!

ViaData – Improving Every Day