BACKGROUND: AC Engineering, a division of AC Inc., is located in Huntsville, Alabama, and provides a wide range of engineering services, program management support and information technology services to both government and commercial customers. AC Engineering's Information Technology Group specializes in designing and implementing enterprise information systems for Web and client/server platforms.

PLATFORMS: Windows 95, 98, NT.

PROBLEM SOLVED: AC Engineering was asked by the U.S. National Guard Counterdrug Directorate to build a Web-based information management system that would provide multidimensional mission planning, execution and evaluation functions as well as ongoing resource and system management capabilities. The primary purpose for the system was the day-to-day automated support of the counterdrug activities (mission) in the National Guard offices in 54 states and territories. Data captured while conducting counterdrug mission support activities at the state level is recorded as performance measures for ongoing evaluation of mission and program effectiveness. The measures are reviewed and automatically and electronically reported to the National Guard Bureau Counterdrug Directorate where they are used to populate a data warehouse. The data warehouse provides the basis for an executive information system (EIS) and a decision support system (DSS). In addition, the National Guard uses the data warehouse as the source for answering ad hoc queries from state governors, the Defense Department and the U.S. Congress.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: The outstanding design functionality of Visible Advantage resides in its ability to facilitate the construction and perform the analysis on large (or small) enterprise models. This tool allows for the construction of a project encyclopedia that stores the business rules, definitions and process descriptions and has the capacity to link these business-planning statements to model objects. These functions combined with the ability to matrix the objects for create, read, update and delete methods support all aspects of database design. Visible Advantage also incorporates various automated quality assurance routines that provide the user with rapid feedback on any problems in the data model.

STRENGTHS: Visible Advantage can selectively analyze subsets of the encyclopedia and report on problems at three different levels (errors, warnings and completeness). It detects errors such as possible reversed relationships, missing or dangling foreign keys, incomplete processes, data model objects not accessed in the process model, unsupported planning objectives, unresolved events, data items that have no links to the logical model, and many others.

WEAKNESSES: While Visible Advantage is designed to allow models to be exchanged with other tools, we had some early difficulty converting models from some tools. However, we have noticed significant improvement with each new version of Visible Advantage.

SELECTION CRITERIA: AC Engineering needed a seamless design that would support many platforms and was portable to different development environments. The ability to build large design models that could be stored in multiple model views and be merged with other models was also important. Visible Advantage was the only design tool out of the eight we reviewed that met all of these requirements.

DELIVERABLES: The reports and "model maps" that this product can produce are wide ranging. They can also print using different notations (i.e., "crows foot" or IDEF1X ). The reporting feature enables users to select from a wide range of options, allowing reports to be as brief or detailed as necessary. The reports can even be sent to screen, file or printer. Visible Advantage provides a unique document publishing facility that saves a set of reports as a single "document." Each document can include a table of contents, an appendix of chosen report options, a user-definable index and page numbering that either runs through the entire document or restarts with each report.

VENDOR SUPPORT: Support for this product is unparalleled. Visible Systems' staff can even build workaround programs for some added functionality, if needed. The tools and tech support, along with their considerable consulting resources, have led AC Engineering to develop a long-term partnership with Visible Systems Corporation.

DOCUMENTATION: Documentation for the product is excellent. If you have problems understanding data modeling concepts or issues with the tool, Visible can provide training. They also offer computer-based training courses.

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