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home » info bank » product reviews » Product Review: SoftTOP Tue, Aug 14, 2007

Review: SoftTOP

Product: SoftTOP
Developed By: The SoftLife Corporation
More Information:
  • SoftTop White Paper & other Literature
  • Online Demo

Introduction

Developers, system designers, and business analysts spend most of their time making sure:
  • to create the best possible user experience so that the application demands no or minimal training,
  • that the application works on multiple platforms,
  • that the application integrates well with other systems and business processes,
  • that it is easy to maintain and understand the application logic,
  • that the application is accessible over the Internet (zero or minimal client-side installation preferred),
  • that open standards are used for maximum interoperability,
  • that the application is scalable and secure
SoftTOP™ from The SoftLife Corporation offers a complete framework solution that facilitates all of the above, and, at the same time, enables rapid XML application development.

  • Microsoft has already spent lot of time and resources making sure that the Office suite of products offer the best possible user experience – SoftTOP™ leverages that facility and allows the creation of forms and front-ends using Office tools, such as Word and Excel.

  • SoftTOP™ offers a browser based interface, with Adobe PDF Reader to fill and submit the forms. This client-side architecture makes the application work on any platform.

  • SoftTOP™ is built from the ground up to work natively with XML, and it integrates with native XML database, such as NeoCore™ or Tamino™. (A native XML database is a database server that is able to handle XML in its native format without the need to change the data into another format prior to storing it.) The use of XML to store the data allows the application to be easily integrated with other business processes.

  • Instead of writing programs to format transaction forms, documents, or screens, with SoftTOP™ you simply build the forms, documents, or screens in Microsoft Word™. Instead of writing program code to do calculations already defined in Microsoft Excel™ or another spreadsheet, you simply code them in Excel™ within SoftTOP™. The schema used to create form fields can be altered and extended anytime. All these features make applications easy to maintain and enhance. With SoftTOP™, your business experts develop the user interfaces using Microsoft Word™, which is universal and easy to use. Business rules, such as edits and calculations, are maintained in XML, using simple Windows dialogs and (where appropriate), Excel™ spreadsheet formulas. Because they are XML, they are easy to understand, modify or copy, and fully extensible.

  • Since any Web browser can be used (Mozilla™, NetScape™, Microsoft Internet Explorer™, and so on) and no special client-side software is required (except for the Adobe Acrobat™ Reader, which is freely available and at no cost), applications created using SoftTOP™ allow clients from anywhere in the world running on any computer that is connected to the Internet, including even a handheld PDA, to use the system.

  • SoftTOP™ data is read and written to its native XML database, such as NeoCore™ or Tamino™, using the W3C standard XPath and XQuery syntax. SoftTOP™ optimizes the software development and maintenance process by leveraging existing XML industry standards to create the database schema. The data within the SoftTOP™ system is transmitted and stored in industry-standard XML format using the industry-standard HTTP Web protocol. Also, The End-User Client relies only on standard Adobe Acrobat™ technology, running on any Web-browser under any operating system.

  • The SoftTOP™ Server Application relies on standard J2EE™ app server technology, deployable on Windows™, Unix, Linux, or even mainframe operating systems such as IBM™s OS/390. This proven J2EE™ app server technology offers the advanced scalability and security features.

SoftTOP™ Architecture

The SoftTop™ architecture is comprised of three primary components: The Builder Application, The Server Application, and the End-User Client. (Note the yellow boxes in the following architecture diagram).



SoftTOP™ Builder Application is a Windows application, that is tightly integrated with the Microsoft Office™ XP suite, it allows business experts to easily accomplish the following tasks:
  • Define the set of transactions supported by the solution, including all business rules associated with the transaction, using simple Windows™ dialogs and Microsoft Excel™.
  • Define, for each such transaction, via Microsoft Word™, the form that is filled out to initiate the transaction and the document that is produced to complete the transaction, including the layout and appearance of each form and document. (These forms and documents can easily be based on the existing forms and documents that your business currently uses to accomplish the corresponding tasks.)
  • For each form or document, define the variable fields that will appear, including field-specific edits, defaults, and calculations.


In short, the Builder Application builds everything the Server Application needs to actually run your SoftTOP™ solution! Once these forms are ready, the Builder application allows creating PDFs for these forms, to be deployed using the Server application.

SoftTOP™ Engine is a set of Java programs (Beans, Servlets and Java Server Pages) that work together to do the following:
  • get the business rules, calculations, forms, documents, and screens that were defined in the SoftTOP™ Builder,
  • interpret the business rules, performing any edits and initiating workflow associated to the transaction,
  • use the SoftTOP™ Server to perform all calculations and complex edits defined in Excel™ formulas,
  • present the proper forms, documents, or screens to the end-user,
  • use the SoftTOP™ Gateway to store data in the XML Database as transactions are entered, approved, and completed.
SoftTOP™ Server Application is a set of server-side Java™ programs working inside a J2EE™ compliant application server, such as IBM's WebSphere™, BEA's WebLogic™, or the open source JBoss. It performs the following functions:
  • Upon request from an end-user, formats a pre-populated transaction request form in Adobe Acrobat™ PDF format in the user's Web browser.
  • Accepts input from the user, processing all edits and calculations for the transaction as defined in the Builder Application, and displays the returned PDF document showing the results of the transaction in the user's Web-browser. (Alternatively, the original transaction request form may be returned to the user with error messages displayed for easy correction and re-submission.)
  • Routes a completed transaction to your employees' worklists, according to the business rules defined for the transaction in the Builder Application, and handles approvals and rejections of the transaction.
  • When a transaction receives "final approval", updates the Business Object Repository to post the transaction, and schedules future events as defined in the Builder Application.
In short, the SoftTOP™ Server Application runs your SoftTOP™ solution!

SoftTOP™ Gateway provides the link to native XML databases, and enables the integration with any native XML database engine. In addition, the Gateway stores a full history of every transaction in the XML database for later retrieval, audit, or reversal purposes.

Summary

SoftTOP™ is ideal for creating transaction processing applications where transactions come into the enterprise on either paper or electronic forms, and are confirmed by letters or documents sent to the customer via paper, fax, or e-mail. The perfect application is in an industry with XML standards for data interchange, and where universal access, simplicity of use, time to market, and ease of modification are imperative.

SoftTOP™ makes it easy to automate individual functions or entire work processes, allowing you to replace old systems, automate processing that has always been manual - or some of both.

With SoftTOP™, the business rules (edits, calculations, and permissions) are defined in structured XML that is human-readable as well as machine-readable: These rules are not buried in programming code. This makes your business rules easy to find, easy to understand, and easy to maintain, without involving highly technical resources. Your customers, suppliers, and employees work with screens that look just like the actual forms and documents that have traditionally supported your business: This creates a tremendous training advantage, reducing the learning curve significantly. The SoftTOP™ platform enables applications to be built upon existing industry XML standards: This makes it easy to interface SoftTOP™ applications both to other applications within your business and to the external systems of suppliers, customers, or distribution channels. Because the XML standard is the basis for the SoftTOP™ application's database model, there is no costly data mapping between the application's database and the rest of the industry. (Although a SoftTOP™ application solution generally starts with an industry-standard XML database schema, because it stores its data in native XML format that database schema can be easily extended as needed, without the need for expensive database administration or additional programming.)

For more information, visit The SoftTOP™ product Web site at www.TheSoftLife.com. Also, be sure to check out the online demo.
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