When Mercy Ships conducts its missions of mercy in ports around the world, it owes a great deal to Borland Software Corp.s JBuilder, which is the primary development tool the organization uses to build its core systems.
Mercy Ships, based in Garden Valley, Texas, is a global charity that uses a fleet of hospital ships to deliver health care services to the poor in countries worldwide.
IT systems are the organizations lifeblood, and Borlands JBuilder pumps through the core systems.
Mercy Ships had initially developed all its internal applications using IBMs Informix 4GL. But the organization wanted to upgrade its systems to be more flexible—based on more modern technology—and to take advantage of advanced user interfaces, according to Kelvin Burton, Mercy Ships chief technology officer.
To that end, Mercy Ships tapped ArtinSoft LLC, in San Jose, Costa Rica, to migrate Mercy Ships Informix 4GL-based systems to Java. ArtinSoft chose Borlands JBuilder as its tool of choice for the job. That effort began in 1999.
ArtinSoft has long since handed over the development of Mercy Ships internal applications to the organization itself, but Mercy Ships still uses JBuilder, Burton said.
The first application to be converted from Informix 4GL to Java was PartnerShip, Mercy Ships distributed database application that manages key relationships for the organization, including making requests for donations and storing donor contact information.
Burton said the use of JBuilder has increased developer productivity, helped speed up and streamline the application development process, and increased the ease of use of Mercy Ships applications.
“We are in an era in which developers must focus on enhancing both their individual art and their contribution within a larger team—a team that often spans organizational roles, geographies and time zones,” said Rob Cheng, director of developer solutions at Borland, in Cupertino, Calif.
“Today, the successful delivery of software depends on teamwork, communication, agility and efficiency,” Cheng said. “JBuilder provides a path for customers who want to more fully optimize their software development activities for their increasingly complex, distributed and demanding business environment.”
“The core application is the system that started out as our donor management system, since our lifeblood is the financial donations we get,” Burton said.
“And the whole recording, receipting and marketing that happens off the back of that database is part of that core application. But because were a distributed organization, were operating that in 16 countries at the moment,” he said.
Burton said the systems also reach into “some human resource areas, and also into our procurement department. Procurement is a big thing for us because what were usually doing is dealing with large pharmaceutical companies, looking for donations of medicines and equipment.”
Mercy Ships replicates the PartnerShip database across each of its sites nightly, Burton said.
Meanwhile, Mercy Ships also built a security application using JBuilder.
“The security system is something that we introduced last year in relation to the change in port security regulations that happened July 1 of last year,” Burton said. “And thats a system where were making security badges and taking photos and printing them onto ID cards and scanning them on the gangway and then making reports of whos on board, etc. Thats a stand-alone system designed specifically for that requirement and built using JBuilder.”
Moreover, Burtons IT efforts support all the major nonmedical systems for the entire operation, he said.
“The IT focus is the supporting of the whole fundraising side of things, the communication with the vessels and the volunteer processing,” Burton said.
Mercy Ships manages approximately 1,200 volunteers per year, Burton said. “And theres a lot of application process and placement involved in that,” he said.
“Thats particularly critical when you get into the medical phase of the outreach and youve got a different surgeon coming in every two or three weeks, and a different team of nurses, and a different set of anesthesiologists, and all those supporting people. Weve got a finite set of operating theaters, but we want them operating at full capacity.” As you can imagine, Burton said, theres quite a bit of logistics involved in that, and our IT systems are supporting that—getting that right mix of people at the right time.”
Mercy Ships tries out
UML and Together”>
Meanwhile, Mercy Ships has recently begun looking at UML (Unified Modeling Language) modeling and has been using Borlands Together tool to model specifications, Burton said.
“UML modeling with Together allows us to more effectively model specifications,” Burton said.
But Burton cautioned that his organizations use of Together and UML is still in its early days.
“We are delving into the UML area,” Burton said. “Weve used some of the auditing requirements; weve done a little bit of work with the UML; were still on a pretty steep learning curve in that area.”
The challenges arent strictly technological. One of the biggest is skill sets. “The trouble is, most of us have been around too long to have ever studied that at college or anything like that. So were trying to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps on that. So its an evolving area for us,” Burton said.
Overall, Burton said he believes JBuilder is one of the leading products in its field.
“We never had any reason to think we could do any better in any other way,” said Burton of JBuilder. However, he added, “What were interested in in the next version [of JBuilder] is its Eclipse [open-source application development framework] integration. Thats of interest to us—not so much because were excited about what Eclipse will do for us, but because were using a lot of open-source projects like Hibernate and the Spring framework, and those projects are starting to produce plug-ins for the Eclipse environment, which were interested in looking at.”
Further, Burton said that Mercy Ships does not “want to switch IDEs [integrated development environments] because were quite happy with what JBuilder is doing for us. Therefore, the ability to continue with JBuilder and get the benefits of the Eclipse underpinnings and the ability to use the Eclipse plug-ins is something were quite interested in. We just see that as a natural evolution to where we are now. We like the way JBuilder integrates with Together, although were still learning what we can do with Together. Its such a well-integrated suite. We have never had to call support. It just works.”