Roman Conquers Backlog with Oracle's HTML DB

About two-and-a-half years ago, Tony Jedlinski, VP of administration and warehouse operations at Roman, found himself with an application maintenance backlog he was sure he'd never catch up. Roman had decided 18 years earlier to build its own applications—a logical choice for one of the country's largest privately owned and operated giftware distributors, but one that imposed serious productivity demands on its developers.

"One of our biggest challenges over the years has been finding applications that suit the relatively unique needs of a company with such a diverse product line," Jedlinski says. "It just made more sense to build them ourselves. And we have a highly competent development department. But like any app dev group maintaining their own apps, we ended up with a backlog. With the economy being what it is, I didn’t have the luxury of adding staff to meet that need."

Roman has been an Oracle shop for nearly two decades, and Tony Jedlinski has been active in his local Oracle users group. That's where he encountered a development tool called Project Marvel, later dubbed HTML DB. Basically a scaled-down version of Oracle Portal, HTML DB is a rapid application development environment for database-centric HTML Web applications. It's designed to allow developers to create and deploy Web applications based on data they have, using a Web browser, and without writing any code.

"It’s an environment that capitalizes on some Oracle strengths that have been there for years," Jedlinski says. "It uses PL/SQL (Oracle's Procedural Language extension to SQL), which is as old as the hills, works as reliably as can be, and everyone knows it. And it uses HTML, which anyone working with Web pages knows."

Jedlinski, who describes himself as a "pretty advanced PL/SQL programmer" used the tool to build some applications for the users group as a volunteer. After that he thought he might have found the solution to his company's backlog.

He used the tool to construct a production environment that assigned roles to users and applications to roles. "Everyone would go to a common menu, and there would appear the applications germane to what they do," he says. That menu would eventually include 182 applications—everything from a system for managing projects in the advertising department to a sales-call presentation tool that allows sales reps to promote specific items from the catalog.

Jedlinski eventually ("and gladly") handed the tool off to his IS team for ongoing development. HTML DB is now part of the company's mainstream development toolset. Because it runs within Roman’s existing Oracle Database, exposing and manipulating data from other applications is a simple matter, Jedlinski says.

Oracle announced the general availability of its 10g database earlier this month. That release includes the HTML DB tool; the company has integrated it into all editions of 10g at no additional cost. Roman's development system is now on 10g, Jedlinski says, though the production system has not yet been upgraded from Oracle 9i.

Roman has used HTML DB to develop applications for wireless handhelds used in the company's warehouse management system. Roman's field reps also use an HTML DB-developed application to access their account lists. And earlier this year the company used the tool to create a business-to-business portal for its customers.

Jedlinski is a fan of the tool, and he even has a favorite story about it: "I was at Oracle World, and my brother, who I can’t say no to because he owns the place, called me in my hotel room at about 3:00 in the afternoon. He said that he had to have this report—it’s called a major account booking report—that lists each sales rep's major accounts and year-to-date progress. And, of course, he needed it by the next day. Using HTML DB, I completed that application, Web deployed it secured only for him, and put it on his desktop in about two-and-a-half hours. I left my hotel room and went to dinner at about 6:30, and never even had to call the office."

For more information about Oracle HTML DB, go to: Oracle. More information about Roman is available at Roman.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at [email protected].