Charity Reworks Processes With VS .Net

Some enterprise customers may claim Microsoft Corp. has abandoned its original .Net strategy, but don't count the Annie E. Casey Foundation among them.

Some enterprise customers may claim Microsoft Corp. has abandoned its original .Net strategy, but dont count the Annie E. Casey Foundation among them.

The foundation is using Microsofts Visual Studio .Net development platform to rewrite a key application related to its grant-making process. The Redmond, Wash., software developer is scheduled to highlight the foundation at VSLive in San Francisco this week.

Baltimore-based AECF is one of the largest charitable foundations in the United States, granting about $180 million each year to help better the plight of disadvantaged children.

When AECF Director of Technology and Information Management Henry Dennig decided to upgrade the foundations grant processing system from its existing legacy system to a new Web-based application, he called in Ajilon LLC, of Towson, Md.

Jim Lane, an Ajilon consultant and lead architect on the project, said he immediately thought to use Visual Studio .Net. "We have had great experience with .Net," Lane said.

Lane set out to replace the existing Request Information Forms system, known as RIF, with a new system called eRIF.

Microsofts tools helped shave at least two-thirds off the effort it would have taken to create the application, Lane said, adding that he has been working on the application for five months and is in the final testing phases before it goes live Feb. 28.

If not for Visual Studio .Net and add-on components from Infragistics Inc., of East Windsor, N.J., "it would have taken three developers the same amount of time" to develop the same system, Lane said. Infragistics will announce its NetAdvantage Suite 2003 for Visual Studio this week.

Lane deployed Visual Studio .Net, including an early version of the yet-to-be-released Visual Studio .Net 2003, ASP.Net, the .Net Framework and Microsofts SQL Server 2000 as the back-end database. In addition, Lane used XML Web services as an integration technology.

Linking eRIF to an existing Java-based portal application took what amounted to "a 20-minute phone call," as opposed to a possible two months of coding because of XML Web services and both systems support for Simple Object Access Protocol and other Web services standards, Lane said.

AECF will use three servers to maintain the 70,000 lines of code in the application. One server will support the foundations Web site, another will support XML Web services, and a third will run Microsofts SharePoint collaboration software, Dennig said.

In addition to Infragistics presentation-layer components, the eRIF system includes Visual Basic .Net code, C#, HTML, XML and other code, Microsoft officials said.

Dennig is expected to appear onstage at VSLive as part of a video presentation. In addition, he will conduct a live demonstration of eRIF during the keynote presentation of Eric Rudder, Microsofts senior vice president of developer and platform evangelism. Dennig said that using .Net "saved us time and developer dollars. It also saved us a lot of complexity in terms of management scope."

Specifically, eRIF can shorten AECFs grant processing time by 40 percent, "which translates to our grantees getting their money faster," Dennig said.

The next phase of the project, once the AECF staff is up and running on eRIF, is to provide more external access to enable grantees some vision into the system; more management information included in the AECF reports; and, further down the road, possibly re-evaluating the overall grant-making back end.