The Swiss Alcohol Board EAV had just one year to transform a 15-year-old mission-critical desktop application into a modern web app – and to make it future-proof.
Moving a proven application to the web
The Swiss Alcohol Board (Eidgenössische Alkoholverwaltung, EAV) is responsible for the implementation of alcohol laws in Switzerland. Its work is therefore concerned with spirits, distilled liquors, wine, and high-grade alcohol for industrial purposes. EAV administers all distillery, storage and ethanol authorizations and, among other things, calculates the tax that the producers are required to pay.
EAV’s core application, COMEAV, was developed in Uniface. It has been adapted and expanded over the years to satisfy changing government regulations and business requirements.
In 2016, an amendment to Switzerland’s Alcohol Act meant that EAV would be integrated into the Federal Customs Administration (Eidgenössische
Zollverwaltung, EZV). This reorganization necessitated systems changes, and EAV’s senior managers decided to take the opportunity to modernize
COMEAV. The aim was to run the application for the next several years in an optimized manner and utilize the latest technological advances.
A committee of experts led by Heinz Liener, Head of IT at the EAV, examined various options with a view to achieving this objective. These included ideas such as a full redesign, or switching to SAP or to Oracle ADF. In the end, the study concluded that transformation of the existing application, used by a good 80 of the 130 EAV staff, into a web application was the most feasible and economical route: “Firstly, we already had access to internal expertise associated with developing with Uniface,” recalls Liener. “Secondly, we knew we could convert all the necessary input screens into web input screens using the modern Uniface environment, and thereby build the service-oriented architecture we wanted.”
Integration into the existing landscape
EAV’s IT-integration into the EZV needs to be completed by 1 January 2018. The challenge is therefore to convert the core application within one year so that it can be integrated as smoothly as possible into the new agency’s system landscape. Given the tight time-frame, building a new application from scratch would be risky. For that reason, the decision was taken to adapt the application, while also converting it from a monolithic to a modular structure.
In the future, the application will comprise modules for web services, business logic, and database. At the same time, the EAV core application is being slimmed down. EZV already has solutions in its SAP system for functions such as sending payment or dunning notices, and so the challenge is to remove these functions from the core application and replace them with web services connecting to the SAP equivalents. This will eliminate duplicated data and functions.
As a pilot project, senior managers at the EAV initially used Uniface consultants to transfer around 25 of the existing functions from the current desktop platform to web applications and their modern user interface. “The pilot results were wholly positive, and users who carried out tests for us were able to handle the new interface really well straight away. The other changes were hidden from users,” says Liener.
Large parts of the code can be reused
Based on this pilot, six developers at the EAV are now converting all the functions and requirements to web applications that will still be needed.
They have been delighted to find that they can continue to use around 70 percent of the code from the existing desktop application. Given that the original application contains more than 900,000 lines of code, this is a significant figure. The high level of re-use means that conversion and modularization of the application is being realized with commendable speed.
Web application users are quickly becoming familiar with the modernized interface. Functionality is being transferred to the web platform in a two month cycle. After functionality has been transferred, clicking on the corresponding menu item in the client-server application, which continues to be used in the transitional period, takes the user to the web version. Heinz Liener comments: “Because we have hardly changed the workflow, colleagues are coping excellently with the new version.”
EAV’s digital admin for farmers
Modernizing the core application was not the only project for Liener’s team. Before that, they had programmed an e-Government solution to act as a front end to the core application. Using the web application, around 35,000 farmers can file their annual alcohol tax return using the browser. (Previously they had to complete elaborate paper forms, whose contents EAV staff transferred manually into the application, and then checked.)
The pilot results were wholly positive, and users who carried out tests for us were able to handle the new interface really well straight away.”
– Heinz Liener
Head of IT, EAV
Now, data entered by farmers on the e-Government platform flows automatically into the core application via a service interface programmed with help from Uniface. The EAV staff immediately
progress the assessments, without any break or manual form-checking.
Not only is entering the volumes of liquor distilled a far quicker process, but Liener is also pleased to report that the error rate has dropped dramatically. An added benefit is that farmers can instantly see their own production figures and stock levels in the web application. Access is provided via an online farming portal, used by most farmers in Switzerland. The new service was used immediately by well over 10,000 of EAV’s registered users.
Everything on schedule
The decision to use Uniface to meet all the technical specifications of the Federal Customs Administration has proved to be absolutely the right one. Despite the tight time-frame, all project milestones have been achieved, thanks to EAV’s in-house expertise combined with support from Uniface consultants.
We have made the application fit for the future within a very short time, and simultaneously protected our investments.”
– Heinz Liener
Head of IT, EAV
According to Heinz Liener, the Federal Customs Administration’s in-house provider is on track to complete a modernized, modularized application.
“The modernized solution lets us exploit existing interfaces and digitalize processes that, until now, have been paper based. As a result, COMEAV – which to date has only been accessible internally – is becoming available to external users,” says Liener. Liener is also confident about future changes to the Uniface application.
His developers can react quickly to possible changes in the law and rapidly undertake any adaptations necessary following integration into the Federal Customs Administration. “We have made the application fit for the future within a very short time, and simultaneously protected our investments,” says Liener.