ERROS - The Open Universal Business Model and The Developer Consortium

www.erros.co.uk

In previous issues of 400times we have looked at the concept behind ERROS - the Neural Database for AS/400. We have previously identified that ERROS offers a new way of working and designing applications on the AS/400. The next step is to look at how the concept could be applied to build fully functional ERP systems using a fraction of the time and resources of traditional system.

This discussion document looks at how ERROS is the catalyst behind a new way of working. The document is authored by Rob Dixon of Erros PLC and paves the few for a new and exciting challenge.

The ERROS Open Universal Business Model

The Open Source initiative for program code has been very successful, but even unrestricted access to other people’s source code still leaves a great deal of work to be done before the source can be understood, modified as necessary, compiled, tested and put into production. It may not be easy to integrate with existing data or applications.

Changes to the open source may be necessary because some of the basic functionality may need changing. It may be that the source needs changing simply to accomodate larger or smaller quantity, price and value fields, etc.. Changes of this sort may seem simple at an intellectual level, but they still require considerable effort to ensure that all the necessary changes have been made and that they have been thoroughly tested.

Underlying all computer applications is a business model, even if the files and programs have been created without a business model being formally defined. The ERROS Open Business Model will make a Universal Business Model rather than program source code publicly available. Public access to this business model over the Internet will allow much more rapid deployment of applications, using patented multi-dimensional Neural Database techniques, mostly without any programming.

The people, companies, products, services, and processes, etc. of business, and the relationships between them, are defined in the Universal Business Model in the ERROS Neural Database, using the terminology and language of the business. The business model is dramatically more compact than program source code, and can be understood without programming skills.

Applications, with menus and procedures, defined in the ERROS Neural Database rather than in programs, control access to those parts of the business model and user data appropriate for the required function or process (e.g. sales order entry) and also control the actions (e.g. read, add, delete, etc.) that can be performed by each operator on each part of the user data. These application filters are also stored in the Neural Database.

No programs are generated (this is not a "Case" tool), and many complex applications can be created without the creation of any new programs. Only when an entirely new function is required, for example a mathematical routine, will new program code be needed. Application creation does not usually require physical file design and no new files are usually created during the application creation process.

The business model, through the application filters, drives a small kernel of existing programs in the ERROS runtime system. This will be obtainable for a relatively low license fee, based on the number of concurrent users. As it can generate HTML dynamically, all applications work immediately over the Internet, without any file conversion or program change. ERROS can be used to create major Internet sites. All links within the Neural Database are automatically bi-directional and are recorded without the use of URL’s.

Default values for quantity, price, etc., field lengths for each user company are stored in the Neural Database and the ERROS runtime kernel expands/contracts column sizes dynamically, whether these are displayed, using traditional green screens or 5250 emulators or an Internet browser, or printed.

The applications are robust and scaleable, suitable for companies large or small, are able to handle large data and transaction volumes with large numbers of concurrent users, and are much easier to control. They are automatically Object-Oriented, and have a consistent structure with only a tiny fraction of the complexity of existing packages. Since they use so few computer resources, they generally perform much more quickly than those created with other means. Maintenance can often be done without shutting systems down. Costs for initial development and for maintenance are much reduced, as are the running costs of the systems. An audit trail records all business model and application definition changes and user data database changes and who made each change, and when. Transaction boundaries for commitment control are defined in the database rather than in programs.

There is no need to understand user requirements in full detail before starting to build the new application and there is no need for detailed design of the application. Rather, the approach is to build the application in an incremental manner. At any point, additional entity types can be defined or additional attributes defined for existing entity types. Changes to the database structure can be made as required, even if the application is in use for testing purposes or has gone live.

Work on defining the Universal Business Model started some time ago. The ERROS Neural Database, which runs on the IBM iSeries (AS/400) family of servers, probably the most robust and most powerful Internet servers available today, allows incremental development. A consortium of developers will expand the model in a co-operative venture to cover an increasingly wide range of areas and types of business. A continually updated Universal Business Model will allow developers to respond much more quickly to user requirements and to ensure that systems evolve in line with the ever changing world of users.

The Universal Business Model will be owned by a corporation. This will ensure that the business model is properly maintained, further developed and promoted. This corporation will be obliged to give public access to the business model over the Internet. It will be possible to view it but not to download it. This will allow potential users to determine without cost or obligation to what extent the business model might be used as the basis for applications that suited their needs.

The Universal Business Model will be licensed to software companies who wish to develop applications based on the business model, using a development tool defined in the Neural Database. Applications created by different developers on the central server are automatically integrated with each other, without redundant data. This allows developers to create applications in business areas in which they have special skills that will share common data with other applications created by other developers. Thus, for instance, different developers could build separate applications that together make an ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system. Where more than one developer creates an application in a particular business area, users would be able to choose without being concerned about integration with existing systems built on the Universal Business Model.

Since systems based on the Universal Business Model will have a similar structure and will have similar file layouts and data structures, data exchange between users of the same or different packages will be simpler.

A second development tool defined in the Neural Database allows user companies to make local changes and additions to the central business model, totally integrated yet stored on their own server, and build applications based on a combination of Universal Business Model and their own definitions.

The Developer Consortium 

The initial ideas for the developer consortium are given below, but, depending on the reaction that these receive, they may well be changed (this is not a fund raising proposal).

The consortium of developers - individuals and/or user or software companies - might wish to develop packages in their specialist areas, or they might wish to co-operate in the development of a suite of business applications to create, for instance, a complete replacement ERP package, totally scaleable and suitable for the smallest or largest companies. Development would be done on a central machine. Such a package would have only a tiny fraction of the complexity of existing ERP packages.

The basis for a first module for such a package already exists and might be made available as part of the overall package.

Developers from the consortium would not get paid but they and/or their companies would get -

  • A suite of robust, controllable, scaleable, integrated, Internet ready applications for use in their company without charge.
  • The use of the ERROS runtime software without charge for up to 10 users, with a low rate for additional users.
  • The use of the development system without charge for up to 5 users on one AS/400
  • A result that more closely fits their company's requirements than with existing packages.
  • A package that would run on a rather smaller AS/400 than their existing package if they have one, reducing operational costs.
  • A higher profile in the market place from being involved in new leading edge technology.
  • A reputation for being able to deliver more robust solutions that better fit user requirements, more quickly and more cheaply. 

There would be a limit to the number of developers involved in the consortium to ensure that there are not of 5,000 developers bursting with competing ideas, and to make everyone keener to join! The consortium members would be the first users and form the basis for a user group for the package.

The developers from the consortium would be responsible for proposing the required functionality, for part of the development work and for testing work in progress on a day-to-day basis and for ensuring that the results really meet the needs of the market place. They would have responsibility for testing the functionality, usability and robustness of the package and its fitness for purpose.

If funding can be found, a company would be set up to manage the development with full time staff. This would be a self-contained entity with its own management and staff and would own the rights to the Universal Business Model. The developers in the consortium and/or their companies might be offered shares in this company as an additional incentive for their work. They might also wish to be investors in the company. The main shareholders would be the investors, the developers, Erros plc, owners of the Neural Database, people associated with Erros. The new company would own the rights to the package developed by the consortium. The company would be responsible for doing the day-to-day development and for ensuring that a robust, scaleable, maintainable and marketable package results, suitable for companies of all sizes. They would provide the central AS/400 and Internet connections, etc.. They would also be responsible for marketing the products outside the consortium and for maintenance and future development of the products. They would also look at the problems of file conversion from other packages and endeavour to produce solutions.

The developer consortium might believe that there is no need for a company as they could do it all, but if the job is to be done properly, and if the idea is to succeed long term, there must be a properly funded commercial setup to ensure successful completion of the product and its survival after the individuals in the consortium have moved on to other things.

The hope is that the price of the resulting package would be based on the number of concurrent users with the price per user similar to prices for PC software - say $250 to $450 per module per user but with reductions to a purchaser of all the modules and reductions for large numbers of users. Maintenance would be 12 1/2% in the second and subsequent years. Absolutely no costings have been done at this stage to see whether these ideas are viable, but a solution based on the Universal Business Model would be dramatically simpler to develop and maintain than present packages.

26th October 2000


The product ERROS is created and owned by Erros PLC. More details on the history and concept of ERROS can be found on their website at www.erros.co.uk

See also: 

ERROS A New Era?  

ERROS A Closer Look