REVIEWER: Jennifer Stucker, technical consultant for ERG.

BACKGROUND: ERG recommends and implements award-winning business management solutions from Sage Software and is a recognized leader throughout the Southwest, with deep roots in the CPA community.

PLATFORMS: We run eXamin Fusion on 32-bit IBM-compatible PCs and laptops running Windows XP, 2000 and 2003.

PROBLEM SOLVED: When implementing new software packages, we invariably need to put old data into the new database. It is often difficult to efficiently convert this data from text, Access, Excel and proprietary old formats to the formats and rules required by the new software. Software Labs eXamin Fusion allows us to effectively create a conversion from old to new formats with the ability to write once and run repeatedly - and once written, anyone (not necessarily a specialist) can rerun the conversion pack.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: We provide a better value to our customers now that we can quickly and efficiently move their information from old (often homegrown) systems onto the SQL Server platform. We have created some basic templates that can be applied to our customers' existing data the day we arrive on site. This has cut conversion time in some areas from days to hours and allows our customers to immediately visualize their own information and history using the features available in the software. We are also able to more effectively use internal resources and share information with our technical team; one of us can update the template for a customer and go on vacation, and another member can walk in and immediately rerun the conversion if desired.

STRENGTHS: Flexibility, shareability and self-documentation are strengths of the product. Fusion supports all of the input formats that we require. If our customers' data exists on a computer, we can probably connect to it. Because Fusion supports all major programming options that we are used to, we can combine data, manipulate, conditionally query and reformat it in any way we wish. Once we create the Fusion pack containing the connection and manipulation information, we can save it as a simple, small file that we can email to other consultants on our team. This allows us to collaborate on complicated projects and assist each other in ways we could not do when we were each writing our own SQL scripts, VB programs, Access databases and using other individual methods of brute-force data conversion. The visual nature of Fusion is also self-documenting. We can easily prove that we applied a customer's naming rules or classification methods because the steps are automatically drawn on the screen. Anyone can follow the process required because import sources are named onscreen and subsequent combinations and manipulations are clearly shown with arrows.

WEAKNESSES: There is a bit of a learning curve when initially working with Fusion syntax. For example, if you are used to working with Transact-SQL, but are now importing from Excel, you must remember to use the Jet syntax to convert a field to uppercase: ucase(field) instead of upper(field).

SELECTION CRITERIA: We are not aware of any other product that provides the efficiency gains and ease of use we get with Fusion.

DELIVERABLES: Fusion exports in any format we require. We can combine several sources into a single delimited text file or an Excel file. We also use Fusion to update information that already exists in a database. For example, we can take a customer's existing vendor information and link it to Fusion. Within Fusion, we can check to see if a vendor exists. If it does, we update that vendor immediately with data from the current system (using defined rules). If it does not, we create an import for the vendor. This is done in well-documented visual steps rather than in lines of code.

VENDOR SUPPORT: The support has been absolutely excellent. The support team has quickly responded to requests for help as we develop the templates we will use in all of our future implementations. Learning a new syntax and data modeling method is tough - but having a group of professional, helpful people on call has made it much smoother.

DOCUMENTATION: Fusion is easy to start; the opening screen of a new file prompts you to connect to an initial data source. The included help files explain each function, and functions are grouped by task.

eXamin Fusion
Software Labs, Inc.
1316 Blue Oaks Boulevard
Suite 300
Roseville, CA 95678
(916) 773-6272

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