Vegas Reflections – Consona Connect 2008


Viva Las Vegas

SQL Administration

Don Rudo was once again on his game and enthusiastically talking about raid arrays, transaction logs, and BACKUPS BACKUPS BACKUPS!!! I had to pop in and out of his sessions to attend the others, but what I saw was very informative. There were a couple of interesting things I’d like to point out. Don himself mentioned the importance of having a test server. Also, while he did admit that Made2Manage’s use of the SA login wasn’t required, the vast majority of customers use it.

VBA and FastForms

Susan Edwards, Customizations Team Leader for Made2Manage, gave an excellent presentation on VBA and FastForms. One of the reasons I enjoyed it so much is that she fully admitted the limitations in doing this work and how it is far from an exact science. She also provided useful code that customers can edit to perform any number of different customizations. I took full advantage of her time and asked many questions about issues I’ve had creating customizations. The regular educators, do not write code for a living so they are much less likely to have an answer for any questions beyond the most basic level. For this reason, I urge Consona to use her or another consultant to teach classes at the next User Conference. For that matter, I’d like to see them offer advanced VBA/FF classes periodically which should be taught by consultants as well.

Shop Floor Data Collection and Manager

I attended the Shop Floor Data Collection Product Overview Session, however the Shop Floor Data Collection Roundtable never occurred. Instead a session was held by a John Long from W.S. Darley and Co., a Made2Manage customer, who showed us how he modifies report layouts to make them work for various business procedures. It was certainly interesting, but didn’t really apply to me.

For those who are using Shop Floor Data Collection, there are improvements coming with version 6.0. The product will run as a service rather than a program you need to open, an improved user interface, and several new tracking options and fields.

Product Roadmap for M2M and the .NET Future

This session was led by Frank O’Nell, Made2Manage Product Manager. He was clearly enthusiastic about 6.0 and seems very proud of the direction M2M is taking. Made2Manage has off-shored its development to India and he felt the product was better for it. He indicated that the Feature Teams have had a positive impact on the product as well.

There will be significant enhancements to Field Service, CRM, Shop Floor Data Collection and Manager, and others as well. Also, several of the screens have changed or been phased out.
Customer Inquiry (SYCSL) and Customer Screen (CUST) were specifically mentioned.

These changes will likely cause problems for your VBA/FastForms customizations. Of particular concern is Made2Manage’s addition of tabs to certain screens and their inconsistency of implementation. For example, they added an additional tab to the Sales Order (SO) screen and placed it to the left of the User Defined tab. User Defined is still page 4 (the path that the form is addressed at) and the extra tab to the left is named page 5. If you’ve created an additional tab already (and it’s named Page 5) what happens when you try to migrate? Even more of a concern is that on the CUST screen a tab is added, but the User Defined tab is being re-named to page 4 and the additional tab to the left will be page 3. There’s no excuse for the inconsistencies. Upon my first day back, I asked to be added to the beta testing group so I can evaluate these issues and plan accordingly. There’s no guarantee that my site will be accepted into the beta program.

Version 7.0 is supposed to be the .NET product that we’ve all been promised for several years. Mr. O’Nell explained that there were two ways to deal with the jump to .NET. Made2Manage could simply translate the current version (6.0) into the new technology platform or re-write it from scratch. Made2Manage elected the former path as they felt that re-writing the product would take too long and be cost prohibitive. He also indicated that Made2Manage wasn’t really going to translate the product, but rather they were going to write programs that would transform the code for them. Also, he claimed that all of the VFP reports written prior to 7.0 would continue to operate as normal as they had some kind of “trick” implemented. Trick was the word he used. Perhaps even more surprising, is their claim that you will be able run the old VFP M2M version along side the new .NET version on the same network because they will use the same SQL database. This would allow you to upgrade your computers one at a time, rather than all at once. The plan for 8.0 is that it would be .NET only and presumably they would stop improving all other versions.

What are my opinions of the upcoming versions? First, I am both enthusiastic and concerned at the same time about the 6.0 product. I’m anxious to drop VFP and move to a fresh, new environment. However sweeping changes, though necessary, will require myself and others to refactor our VBA and FastForms customizations. In addition to that, some user training will be required with this new version. In the past, users could use the system as they had before and only delve into the upgrades when they were ready. In this version, it seems to me that there have been substantial changes rather than simple additions, so the training will be necessary.

Second, as I mentioned above, I am disappointed that M2M still isn’t consistently implementing their changes. It seems to me that during the initial planning of 6.0, when additional tabs were being planned for various screens, that someone would suggest a consistent way of naming them. Also, I asked 3 separate Consona presenters what would happen to the tabs I added to those screens with FastForms and none had an answer. Since this product is set for GA release in a little more than 2 months, this concerns me.

Third, Made2Manage will still need to be manually re-installed on every single desktop for Version 6.0. This can be particularly tedious when it follows the actual data migration, typically late into the evening on a Saturday. It’s 2008, can’t Made2Manage be pushed from the network by now? Also, M2M will still ask you my favorite install question.

Fourth, I’m not sure why anyone would really want to run both 7.0 versions on one network if everything works as seamlessly as they claim.

Finally, when I asked a few questions about upcoming versions, specifically regarding the VFP reporting “trick,” Mr. O’Nell said that he couldn’t explain how it would be done but said, “trust me.” I responded in kind that if our language was logical, trust should be a four letter word. The “trick” sounds suspiciously like the wrapper code for VFP that was implemented in the SQL upgrade. That was supposed to “work” as well, and it sort of did. Old reports ran, but many of them took ridiculous amounts of time to do so. Furthermore, if they are not being consistent in functionality in version 6.0, how can I trust that they will be able to write a program which will in turn, write the next version of M2M? I seem to remember Microsoft trying to pull this off with a translation program which would port your code from Visual Basic 6.0 to Visual Basic .NET and it was riddled with problems. I find it hard to believe that M2M will fare considerably better than Microsoft in this regard.

After what I heard, I cautiously look forward to the future but I don’t intend to migrate quickly. I’ll let others work the bugs out and I will be testing any new versions thoroughly before implementing them.

I’d like my readers, both of them, to feel free to share things that I failed to mention in the comments.

In my next post, I’ll share with you some of the interesting and funny things I saw and did in Vegas.

5 comments to Vegas Reflections – Consona Connect 2008

  • Jason Griffith

    They actually did hold the SFDC Roundtable. The note on the door said it was canceled, but it was actually just moved down to the first floor instead of the third. I do not know who wrote the sign, but apparently there was some failure to communicate on that one.

    Another change that they mentioned in the FastForms with VBA class that might be of importance is that many of the controls in v6.0 have been placed into containers, which could effect custom code also.

    I apparently signed up for a couple of the Executive Sessions, and went to the first but skipped the second. The one that I went to focused on the economy right now and essentially came down to Jeff Tognoni mentioning that he’s not worried right now for Consona, regardless of what has been seen in the stock market. Economics is not my cup of tea, so to speak, so I stopped paying attention after about 5 minutes. I write code, not economic policies.

    While I am new to M2M, I have worked with ERP systems for a number of years now. I attended the Product Overview class for Advanced Scheduling and was very impressed. For a manufacturing company that needs to hold to any kind of schedule, this has incredible potential. And the word at the conference was that v6.0 was bringing in a much more user-friendly interface for it. A lot of people in the class, afterward, mentioned that they were somewhat confused by it, but having managed an MRP system before I had no problems with understanding it and seeing how good this could really be.

    The Roundtable on SFDC by Chris La Tray was 50/50 on sales pitch and Q&A. There were a lot of questions from people in the room, and Chris La Tray did not have a whole lot of time to actually expand on anything he was saying. If you attended the Product Overview for SFDC on Thursday, you basically got the exact same information that you missed in the Roundtable.

    From the General Session, the key items I found in what they presented there was that the problems with the On Hand Qty fields on the Item Master have “been fixed” in v6.0. It is my understanding that they have claimed to have them fixed several times before (which they obviously are not), so we will have to see when v6.0 is released whether or not that is true. Also, SQL Server and Windows Server 2008 will both be supported win v6.0. We are currently running both of these right now without any issues anyway, but they will officially be supported. They still will not run at 64-bit capacity due to the fact that VFP cannot compile beyond 32-bit, but take it for what it is worth. They also set v7.0 release for the end of the 4th Qtr 2009 if you happen to be the overly trusting type.

    The Product Overview (SFDC) class by Chris La Tray mentioned that they plan for a new release at the end of November, which will coincide with the release of M2M 6.0. It is going to be run as a service, and developed in .NET with an updated interface and Developer environment. They have what they are calling a “paperless” option, which basically allows you to select items, jobs, and so forth from the scanning devices themselves rather than making you print out a pick list with bar codes on it. They included three new transaction types, but I wrote down the whole list without noting which ones were new. We do not use SFDC right now, so I do not know which are new/old. I can put the whole list down if anyone wants it though. This is one of the few classes that I actually took multiple pages of notes on though.

    I attended the M2M CRM Options class with Brian Tognani, Jim Tuttle, and Jim Marzola on Thursday which covered various topics concerning CRM (obviously). This is another option that we have not yet bought into, but I could see some potential in. I have used similar systems working for both Ecostar (Dish Network) and IBM, and was able to see positive results from both of them. They mentioned that Consona will be giving Webinars on the subject sometime in November.

    The class on Advanced Reporting (Gary Gerny, Andy Pickard, and David Anderson) was good. It helped me to understand how to use them much more than the online videos that they offer. The information presented in the class was not included on the disks that they gave us during registration and needed to be requested by filling out a form in the class room. I completely forgot about filling out the form when I left, so I guess I am out of luck on that one. This was the only class that helped me understand something that I was struggling with before going, but that should be taken as a compliment to this class rather than an insult to all of the others.

    I was late showing up to the Keeping on Top of IT Trends class, so I did not catch the instructor’s name, but it was a very interesting class to attend. It was fun to see how many people in the class liked to contradict either each other or the instructor when somebody would claim that something could not be done only to find someone else who was already doing it. This class was definitely the most enjoyable to attend, though most of the material covered was pretty obvious if you stay up on IT trends yourself to any degree.

    The only thing I have to add concerning Michael Henderson’s Upgrading to v6.0 class is that Check Layouts have an error that they see frequently in upgrades so far with the address being printed in the wrong place. He mentioned that it was an easy fix to make, but that it happened quite a bit and was not easy to catch if you did not try to place it in a windowed envelope to double check it. David asked the age old question about when they are going to get rid of the horrible Favorites Bar, and the only response was a laugh and a note that they have “modified” it so that it should cause “fewer” errors. They pointed us towards Cory Burns as the most experienced developer for trouble shooting upgrades to v6.0. Another note is that IFE will likely cause errors in 6.0 and will *definitely* cause errors in v7.0, so if you are using them now it will probably be a good idea to get them converted to FastForms as soon as you can.

    I traded my second executive session for a trip to Managing Your Shop Floor with Jim Tuttle. Most of this was pretty basic information that you can find on their website, but he did mention that v6.0 introduces Job Order Mass Status Change options which will allow you to change the status of a large number of jobs according to various options that you can set. We did not go into details on that, so take it for what it might be worth to you and shoot Jim an email if you need more information on it.

    My final class was an overview of the Solidworks Interface, and was late to this class as well so again I do not have the instructor’s name. From my experience in other companies, I know that this option has incredible potential for saving time and effort and making sure that your routers and your BoM’s remain synchronized. When asked about the price on the product, the instructor said that he had absolutely no clue, as he was strictly R&D, and that you would need to contact your CAM if you wanted that information.

    That ended up being much longer that I intended, but there is the short version of what I experienced during each of the classes.

  • Wow, what a first comment. 🙂 I met Jason at the conference and immediately knew he was someone I had to trade cards with.

    Let me comment on your comment. Some of your comments regarding VB and FF, I didn’t mention because I will be covering them in a later post when I discuss those technologies at length. The Favorites Bar issue is another. Most people don’t realize that it’s a problem to begin with.

    In regards to your comments about “sales pitches,” the vast majority of them have a sales component. Many sessions I skip entirely because I know from experience that I’m going to be wasting my time listening to a sales presentation that I could have gotten via the internet.

    Often, the trick is to approach the demonstrator between sessions and pick his brain. I did that with SFDC and got the information I needed that way.

    Questions about price almost always come up at these demos and the speaker defers to your CAM (Customer Account Manager). It’s not that the tech doesn’t know the approximate costs involved, but rather it’s like used car lots that don’t list their prices on the windows. They want to have the chance to sell it to you and don’t want to blow that with sticker shock.

    IT Trends was taught by Don Rudo who is one of Made2Manage’s best consultants.

    Michael Henderson is always pretty candid in his talks which is why I ask him questions. His answers are not sanitized as so many others are. I’ve since talked to Corey Burns and he’s expecting quite a few calls because his name was mentioned in the demo.

    Anyway, thanks for checking out the blog and I hope to read more insightful comments from you in the future.

  • Jason Griffith

    I figured that with this post being about the conference, I might as well throw my notes in there too for the sake of having them consolidated for anyone who was interested. That certainly was not all of my notes and comments on all of the classes, but I did not want to completely overwhelm everyone. 😉

    When the conference was explained to me by people who had gone previously, it was explained as basically a week of training, where you go to learn how to use M2M or how to program FF/VBA/etc. So, I was not expecting the sales pitches when I got there (not to such a degree, at least). You could chop off some of my fingers and I would still be able to count on a single hand the number of classes that did not include some form of sales. I have no problem with them doing it, it just was not what I was expecting from what I had been told about previous conferences.

    I got a pretty good feel this time though for classes to avoid and classes to take for next year. I got the chance to talk to a couple of the speakers between sessions, and I can agree that there is a lot more you can gain between classes or during lunches than you can in the class room. The same applies to almost any environment though – it is always better to do it one-on-one than in a class room if you want specifics.

    I think Don Rudo and Michael Henderson were probably the most enjoyable classes all together. I had my hand raised to ask about the horrid favorites bar when he called on you to ask it instead. We have to deal with problems related to the favorites bar on a near weekly basis. We get some big problems that come up, then manage to get everyone to agree not to use them anymore, and not a week later they go right back to doing it again. If anyone ever figures out a way to kill that feature, you will definitely go down in M2M history as a hero.

    I always like to check up on the thoughts and feelings of somebody who knows what in the world is going on. After searching for an M2M blog for nearly 2 weeks, I went ahead and gave up on the idea of finding one. I was thrilled when you handed me your card with your blog on it and am eager to become an active participant.

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