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Legacy application fixer-uppers

By John Brandon
November 7, 2011 06:00 AM ET

"We had all of these connections that were wired together, and not in a standard way, that created this level of fragility. We knew we needed more flexibility and stability," says Finwick.

His fears were realized in November 2010, when the Compass CRM system froze completely, leading to a half-day of downtime and the loss of about $500,000 in donations. Because Compassion works with 10 regional centers and 25 offices throughout the world that help arrange donations, it needed to minimize the number of software patches and connections its system required. The organization decided to move to a cloud-based IT infrastructure, built partly on the Microsoft .Net framework and partly on Neudesic Neuron, an enterprise bus server that connects diverse systems.

One of the organization's goals is to create a one-to-one relationship between sponsor and child. It has to be able to reassure contributors that children aren't being sponsored by multiple people. That means coordinating data about a child who lives in one country with data about a sponsor who lives in a different country. Ideally, a U.K.-based sponsor, for instance, will be able to get information quickly about a child who needs help, even if that child lives on another continent. That level of integration would not have been possible with the stand-alone CRM system, but it's possible in the cloud.

So far, Compassion has upgraded the Compass database to run on a hosted platform using several technologies, including Neudesic. And Bleum Inc., an IT outsourcing company based in Shanghai, added Web services to the Compass CRM system to help the group get by in the short term. But further out, Compassion plans to upgrade to a full cloud-based ERP system. Finwick would not say when that will happen.

ESG's Lockner says Compassion is on the right path, but she advises the charity to continue to bring users -- employees and churches and other approved groups using the system -- into the loop as it investigates cloud-based ERP systems. With a cloud architecture, the organization may need to train users on what to do when the Internet is down or provide a way to make data available offline. She says it is important to make sure users have the same level of functionality in the cloud as they do when the data is local.

Flexcon

Problem: Messaging platform is several versions old.
Solution: A series of in-place upgrades to the latest version.

At Flexcon, a Spencer, Mass.-based maker of pressure-coated films and adhesives for labels, a Lotus Notes messaging platform was becoming seriously outdated.

For Jeremiah Benjamin, the company's collaboration and tech support leader, the problem turned into a weekly support headache. For example, the system could not correctly render rich emails -- those that use complex graphics. The company also could not accommodate some add-ons for specific handheld devices because of the extra costs involved. Moreover, it took several days just to book a meeting room and match the room's size with the number of participants, says Benjamin.



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