Sage develops and markets the largest market share payroll application in South Africa. Over 22,000 customers rely on the ACUCOBOL based application, developed over the last 30 years. During its lifetime, the application was continually updated. It now contains 3,500 screens, over 800 separate programs, and five million lines of code.
Customers love the functionality, however, surveys showed its user interface was regarded as outdated, something Annette Viljoen, Director Product Engineering at Sage South Africa, was keen to address: “We needed to modernise but this proved a challenge. Sage has stringent design guidelines we needed to comply with. Unfortunately, ACUCOBOL could not support this. We briefly considered rewriting the application, but estimated that would take us at least five years. Time to market was of the essence; we had a matter of months to modernise our application in accordance with Sage branding and design guidelines.”
Sage’s very specific requirements were met by early access to the Micro Focus® AcuToWeb product. This is designed to instantly transform ACUCOBOL applications to HTML5 web pages and deliver an improved and consistent user experience across desktop, web, tablet, and smartphone devices. Viljoen comments on the implementation process: “Micro Focus bent over backwards to ensure we made our deadlines. Working with a pre-release version can carry risk, but we were so well-supported during the implementation that we actually felt it was a huge benefit to us. AcuToWeb was easy to install. I loaded the new version onto
my machine and generated and compiled the program files. It took me less than an hour to setup AcuToWeb and have my old COBOL screens running in a web browser.”
Once Sage started working with AcuToWeb the team realised that interface modernisation was not the only benefit. In the previous system, if a change needed to be made, it had to be addressed across 3,500 different screens. With AcuToWeb cascading style sheets, a modification is made once and applied instantly across the entire system, resulting in much reduced system maintenance.
Customers would install the previous system on a server and operate them via remote internet sessions. On the African continent, internet connections and infrastructure stability are not always reliable. Connection errors could easily result in file corruptions in the payroll application. The new AcuToWeb version of the application is web-based. It can be accessed from any hardware, including tablets and mobile devices.
Viljoen explains the significance of this: “With our new web-based application, support can be given remotely, through a simple log-on process, rather than onsite, involving extensive travel. Payroll administrators can access their records via tablet from anywhere, making life easier and aligning much better with today’s remote working practices. File corruption is a thing of the past now.”
Processing speed is key in a payroll application, especially around peak times such as tax reporting. COBOL is one of the fastest programming languages and Sage was concerned the new AcuToWeb system might not be able to match its performance. “In fact,” Viljoen remarks: “we noticed a batch performance improvement of at least 20 percent. This already significant increase will improve even further when the general AcuToWeb release will add 64-bit support for a faster user experience.”