Volume 7, Number 44 -- November 27, 2007

VAI Gives Retailers a Windows Option for Backup

Published: November 27, 2007

by Alex Woodie

The new release of VAI's ERP system contains a little bit of new functionality for all of its customers, including the distributors that make up the bulk of its customer base, manufacturers, and even retailers. And with S2K version 3.7.6, which was officially unveiled at the VAI user conference earlier this month, retailers can continue to use their point of sale (POS) systems even when the System i or the network connection go down.

From its headquarters in Ronkonkoma, New York, Bog Vormitagg's company continues to buck the trend when it comes to midrange ERP vendors. While many ERP vendors these days are suffering from shrinking revenues or looking for bigger vendors to bail them out, VAI is continuing along the path it set more than a decade ago, when it developed its first application in RPG. Java may be coming to the S2K client (more on that later), but VAI is adamant about being responsible to customers and giving them what they want, which is real-world functionality delivered in easy-to-manage RPG code.

That path continues with S2K Enterprise version 3.7.6, which the company officially unveiled three weeks ago at the 2007 VAI User Conference in Orlando, Florida. As the last PTF planned before the delivery of S2K Enterprise 5.0 next summer, version 3.7.6 gives its customers a series of (mostly minor) new capabilities designed to help them run their businesses more efficiently.

Much of this new functionality was added to the warehouse management system (WMS), the S2K component that generated the most excitement among customers this year, says VAI's vice president of sales, Joe Scioscia (pronounced "Skee-o-skia"). "That seems to be our area of biggest growth lately," he says. "We have a lot of improvements in there."

According to VAI, WMS customers gain support for voice picking with the new release. Voice picking enables warehouse workers to receive information from computer generated voices about which and how many pallets or bins to move. By using verbal cues instead of visual ones displayed on a scanner, warehouse workers are free to use their hands to move the goods. It also makes it easier for workers who don't read and write the native language to get up to speed on their warehouse duties.

Other areas in the WMS and distribution side of S2K seeing improvement include cycle counting, bin replenishment, warehouse transfers, and consolidated purchasing, according to VAI.

VAI has also improved the manufacturing side of S2K. According to VAI, the user screens have been streamlined "to provide more information and ease of use." Better tracking of employee production time for more accurate job costing is another feature designed to benefit manufacturers.

Perhaps the biggest architectural shifts are seen in the S2K components used by VAI's retail customers, which tend to be mainly smaller, regional chains. With version 3.7.6, VAI has debuted the SalesLinx POS, a Windows-based software product that allows retailers to continue to do business, even if the company's centralized System i has gone down, or the network connection has been interrupted (which seems the more likely scenario).

"What our retailers have been asking for is a Windows-based option should the communications go down to their System i," Scioscia says. "In the event of a communication failure or server downtime, the user can run POS on the local server, then upload the transaction back to the System i when they're up and running." For these customers, running a System i locally, even a Model 515, would be cost prohibitive, but they can justify the cost of a commodity box running Windows Server 2003, he says.

In the future, the SalesLinx POS product will become a full-function POS, enabling customers to perform more advanced functions when they're offline, such as processing deliveries, layaways, or special orders--and even connect to accounting systems other than S2K running on the System i, Scioscia says. "What we're going to do with that product is to provide all the capabilities in our System i application, so that a retail customer could run decentralized and do nightly polling as well as run centralized," he says.

At the show, VAI also provided a sneak peak at S2K Enterprise version 5.0, which is currently in development and expected to be generally available during the third quarter of 2008. That product will feature a new Java front-end that will significantly boost the security of the ERP system, Scioscia says.

Will having version 5.0 on the horizon (the company elected to skip version 4.0) hurt the sales prospects for 3.7.6? It shouldn't, Scioscia says. "I don't want to short-sell 3.7.6 because we want customers to move to it, but it's 5.0 where we want customers to be eventually," he says. "5.0 is going to be a bigger release."

In the end, VAI will deliver what its customers need. "We're committed to continually updating the product, and we're committed to the System i. That's what we're trying to show our customer base," he says.


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