Monday, December 30, 2013

Realtrac ERP Software Development Team. Alpha Phase Blog

Greetings all,
This is Matt from the Realtrac development team. As you've probably heard, Realtrac is busy preparing a brand new release of the Realtrac ERP system. A little more than a year ago, myself and a group of talented developers set out to rewrite Realtrac from scratch. Our job was a tough one. We wanted to build on the obvious strengths of Realtrac while bringing it up to current standards. 2013 sure is an exciting time to be writing job shop software. Computers are fast and powerful, letting us provide more functionality in Realtrac while maintaining it's speed and ease of use. In addition, everyone uses the web, people have miniature computers in their pockets and data is no longer siloed in it's own locked up store.
Realtrac has lots of announcements coming up about these sorts of capabilities But first, I just wanted to give everyone an idea of just what we've been doing for the past year.
Writing an ERP system is a pretty monumental task. What at first may seem like a simple set of screens with some accounting figures, is, to quote the most lovable green animated figure I know, Shrek, "like an onion". Onions, like an ERP system, have many layers. What on the surface appears to be some simple accounting figures and statistical data turns out to be a set of complex business rules underneath. And most importantly, all the data talks and interacts with one another.
Rewriting an existing product like Realtrac only compounds the difficulty of the task. We want to write a system that's friendly to existing Realtrac 9 users, while opening it up and making it more powerful than ever. Keeping the simplicity and speed while providing a platform that would let a small business grow, and would let Realtrac grow with it.
So our first few months around the office looked a lot like a college classroom. Developers learning the basics of Realtrac. Talking with our experienced sales and support team to understand the breadth and depth of our customer base. (The most important thing you learn is that no 2 companies do things the same, and writing software to help rather than hinder them is a difficult task.) Whiteboards were furiously drawn upon, then erased and started over from scratch. Repeat, repeat!
But eventually, we found ourselves with a great foundation to build the "Next Generation" of great ERP software upon.
The next step? A bunch of highly talented software developers (I often call us "nerds", but I'm not sure everyone appreciates it as lovingly as I intend it) put our nose to the grindstone and got to work. We've also been very lucky. Every one of our coworkers, from ownership to management to our awesome sales, support and office staff has helped us along the way. They frequently threw fresh coffee (yum) and chili (yum) in to the office to keep us going. Every 3 weeks we'd have a big meeting with our entire team and show off our progress. This constant feedback loop meant we never strayed too far off task, everyone saw what we were doing, and our momentum just kept building.
This past August, we had several milestones that were a pretty huge deal. First, we had an amazing group of our customers take the time out of their busy work schedules to come here to Livonia and spend a day with us looking at the new product (more on that in a minute). Second, we shipped our first official build of Realtrac 10 to our "internal customers" (a fancy way of saying, people other than the Realtrac nerd team started using our software. For a developer, there's nothing quite like that feeling of a year or more of work culminating in people actually using your product. It's really fun to build new things and release them to the world.)
Oh, so yeah, along the way we had some awesome customers come in, take a look at our product, give us feedback and help us determine where we are going in the future. Needless to say, it was a busy day. Even better, everyone liked what they saw and were ready to deploy Realtrac 10 at their organizations!
As we sit here in December, we're ready to enter in to yet another new phase.
All of our Realtrac team have been using Realtrac 10 since August, and in November we commenced on our Alpha testing at an existing Realtrac 9 customer location. Our alpha test has gone amazing. We've gotten some great feedback and redesigned some systems. Build, test, fix, repeat. Every bit of feedback, every change that goes in makes the product better than it was immediately before.
This new phase I speak of? This week and next, we are deploying Realtrac 10 at a select number of customer sites as Beta tests. These customers are kind enough to invite us in to their place of business, take time out of their schedules to learn a new product, test the product, and give us feedback. For many of our customers (and likely you as well), their time is the most precious asset they have. So we understand what a great gift this is that they are sharing with us.
Good news for them though is that in exchange for their time, we're looking to deliver an amazing ERP system that builds on the strengths of Realtrac 9, while delivering all sorts of cool new functionality.
Hopefully this gives everyone a quick idea of what life is like here at Realtrac HQ, development department. After our first set of Betas, I'll post a quick update to let everyone know how it's going. And we still have that issue of all those vague teases I mentioned in the introduction. More on those, and some of the great new features in Realtrac 10, later.

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