Article

OpalisRobot software makes Windows task automation manageable

Matthew A. DeBellis, News Writer

Just a few months ago, a health care organization in Nashville was paying an employee to manually download and merge files via file transfer protocol (FTP).

The employee checked hourly and spent much of his shift manually downloading and merging the 20,000 to 30,000 files sent on a typical day from partner companies. When he wasn't at work, the files weren't downloaded, leaving the company database incomplete.

"The employee went home at the end of the shift, and nothing was uploaded until the next day," said Darren Lacy, senior consultant at Decision Source, hired to remedy the inefficient process. "Health care doesn't stop at five o'clock."

MANUAL NO MORE

As often is the case in the technology industry, a company has built a business around improving such inefficiencies. Opalis Software of Toronto has developed a product that can automatically download FTP files, send e-mail notification when complete and automate other monitoring other tasks on the Windows platform. Luckily, the health care organization was a client of Decision Source, a Nashville-based consultancy. The company did not want to rebuild the process, it just wanted to streamline the existing process. After listening to his client, Lacy knew OpalisRobot 4.0 would help.

Now the menial task of downloading FTP files is gone. The Decision Source client has configured OpalisRobot to download data from each partner company's FTP Web site every hour around the clock, merge the data and

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then load the files on its own database. The files contain information such as patient diagnoses and sales transactions. The software can notify internal IT staff with an e-mail when downloads are complete, as well as correct system errors such as service stoppages and network connectivity problems.

ALL IS QUIET

Lacy, who handled the project alone, set up OpalisRobot in a day or two and hasn't heard from his client since. He's not surprised, because the graphical, point-and-click software tool doesn't require any programming and allows the client to do its own maintenance and improvements, he said. It's simple and saves time for IT departments.

"Anyone In the IT department can learn it pretty quickly," Lacy said. "They haven't had any problems with it at all."

Zero follow-up visits by Decision Source also pleases executives because "we're not going to come in there on a weekly basis" to maintain and tinker with OpalisRobot – and send them invoices, he said.

Decision Source, founded in April 2001, works with Cognos business software and Microsoft products, such as SQL Server 2000, Visual Basic and ASP.NET technology. A Windows monitoring software like OpalisRobot is handy for a consulting shops like Decision Source that aim to build long-term relationships based in part on successful technology integration.

In the past year and a half, Decision Source, has recommended and installed OpalisRobot for five clients and expects several more OpalisRobot projects by year end. Decision Source also uses OpalisRobot internally to assist in its database hosting business.

TASK AUTOMATTION OPTIONS SLIM

"The options for robust automation, monitoring and notification software for Windows are few," Lacy said. What's available isn't adequate, he said.

One is Windows Task Scheduler, a graphical tool included in Windows since the Windows 98. Though it can schedule tasks such as anti-virus software updates, the features are limited. It can't send notification when tasks are complete, and it doesn't let IT pros automate successive, related tasks and choose the order in which they occur. With Task Scheduler, each task stands alone, he said.

Another option is the Windows Script Language (WSL), a hardcore programming tool rooted in BASIC. This monitoring and task automation option requires a savvy software developer with ample time – and users are still left with the same shortcomings of the Windows Task Scheduler.

"It's extremely complex to program dependency between the tasks to be automated," Lacy said. "It's practically impossible."

For more information:

IT security best practices

Expert advice on FTP


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