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Developers save time and improve efficiencies with Microsoft Visual Studio 2012

26 Nov 12

Founded in 1991 in Christchurch, PayGlobal offers a suite of human resources (HR) and payroll management software to companies in Australia, New Zealand and Fiji.

The PayGlobal solution, Exolvo, helps companies implement complex HR processes according to industry standard best practices and local regulations, with modules that provide extensive workflows for payroll, time and attendance, business intelligence and reporting capabilities.

Business Needs

In 2011 PayGlobal released the Exolvo platform, developed using Visual Studio 2010, Windows Workflow Foundation 4.0 and Windows Communication Framework.

With the advances in Windows Workflow Foundation 4.0, such as the Workflow Activity Model, Exolvo was developed using a workflow engine rather than hard-coded application logic.

It has pre-built workflows that adhere to local best practices, are ready for rapid installation and easy customisation to suit specific company requirements. Consultants use a rehosted version of Windows Workflow Designer to customise the workflows.

The move to Windows Workflow Foundation was a major change for the company and required training to use Workflow Designer, the interface for building workflows in Visual Studio.

To make this process easier, the company wanted additional functionality to help its consultants review and more easily modify the workflows when they needed to provide customisation.

Solution

PayGlobal became an early adopter of Visual Studio Premium 2012 to take advantage of the new capabilities in Windows Workflow Foundation 4.5.

It found that the Workflow Designer had updates that would significantly help PayGlobal develop large, complex workflows.

"Visual Studio is an integrated development environment used to develop user interface applications, along with Windows applications, websites and web apps.

It supports nearly any programming language," says Bradley Borrows, Azure and Server and Tools Business Group Lead for Microsoft New Zealand.

PayGlobal has benefited from the following improvements in Workflow Designer:

* Designer Annotations – Annotations can be added to activities, states, nodes, variables and arguments

* Designer Search – PayGlobal developers save time searching large workflows using keywords

* Pan Mode – Navigating a large workflow can be cumbersome using the scroll bars, so the ability to Pan using the spacebar is a welcome addition

* Outline View – The Document Outline view provides developers with a tree-style outline, enabling them to easily navigate, understand and edit workflows

* Auto-surround with Sequence – To add an activity to a workflow in Workflow Designer 4.0, consultants had to delete the original activity, insert a new sequence, the original activity and any additional activities, creating a lot of work as they customised workflows. Workflow Foundation 4.5 automatically adds the sequence activity when it is required

* Auto-Connect and Auto-Insert – Consultants no longer have to add connections between activity nodes manually. When an activity is dragged from the toolbox and dropped on an auto-connect point, the activity is added to the workflow along with the necessary connections.

“The annotation feature helps other consultants understand the workflow logic I have configured or highlight where settings can be changed,” says Cameron McNabb, Professional Services Consultant for PayGlobal.

In addition to the improvements to the Workflow Designer, PayGlobal found that Visual Studio has many other enhancements that help boost a developer’s productivity.

“A lot of thought has gone into keyboard shortcuts. Our developers can navigate much more easily using a keyboard instead of a mouse,” Mike Nooney, Solution Architect for PayGlobal.

PayGlobal also likes the quick solution load and compile times.

Benefits

PayGlobal has taken advantage of the improvements to Visual Studio 2012 and Windows Workflow Foundation 4.5 to speed its development processes and provide an easier way for its consultants to customise its Exolvo Self-Service product for clients.

“Adopting Windows Workflow Foundation 4.5 for our Exolvo product development has made it much easier to build and maintain the complex workflows required for HR processes,” says Nooney.

Customers will ultimately benefit from faster installations and an improved ability to customise their business processes.

"We will use the Annotation capability in Visual Studio to document all of our new activities thoroughly so our consultants can easily explain workflows to clients and update them as needed," adds Nooney.

Better Designer for Consultants

Most improvements to the Workflow Designer are also available in the rehosted version. PayGlobal consultants who only use the rehosted designer will also benefit from the productivity enhancing features like the Auto-surround with Sequence and Auto-connect capabilities.

In addition, they can more easily comprehend the workflows using the Outline View and the extensive annotations that PayGlobal has added to document its processes.

“Our consultants are domain experts, so they understand the processes inherently, but they are not programmers.

"Now we are providing them with heavily annotated custom activities that they can use as building blocks to customise the workflows at the client site,” says Christoph Vollmer, Senior Developer at PayGlobal.

Improved Developer Productivity

The workflow team responsible for developing and upgrading the workflows has noticed a direct impact on its productivity.

“The drag-and-drop functionality and the Pan Mode have made the large, complex workflows we create much easier to manage,” says Nooney.

“In addition, the improvements to the Visual Studio IDE such as the additional keyboard shortcuts are helping our development work progress more quickly, and we expect they will be up to 20 per cent more productive when working on the workflows developed with Workflow Foundation 4.5.”

Visual Studio Premium 2012 it provides the functionality to help PayGlobal develop and maintain its substantial workflows in significantly less time.

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