Receivable/Accounts - Information for Credit and Collection Issues

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Database Adventures - Lantica's Sesame



Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to make a public admission that I am half-a-geek.  I can speak fluently to IT people in a common language, and execute rudimentary computer tasks without the need to call technical support.  Because I’m older, and I developed my computer skills from the VIC20 days forward, I know how to convert EBCDIC files to ASCII, set up a rudimentary network, replace a power supply in a desktop computer, determine an external IP network address, and perform some simple HTML coding.  But what I have always enjoyed working with are databases.

When I first started working in my field, databases had replaced index cards on rolling carts (they weren`t that long gone though, and people I worked with remembered them).  My first database was introduced to was a PICK system database – I didn’t like it at all, and I still have flashback nightmares.  I later went on to work with Dbase, Oracle, FoxPro, and a few assorted other databases before coming across a real gem – Symantec’s Q&A for DOS.

 
Symantec's Q&A

Back in 1988, Q&A was the first thing I saw that resembled what we now know to be a relational database – it had the ability to grab information from one part of the database (or even another external file) and bring that value back to the record you are in.  It also was incredibly compact and powerful – built for a 286/386 computer, and put on a Pentium machine, it had the ability to search a half a million database records, and pull up an indexed field search instantly.  I’m not talking three seconds, I mean instantly. 

In the collections world, it was a godsend.  If a guy named Frank called in, and said we called him today, we could search all half a million records for a name containing “Frank” that had been worked that day, and pull up the result within a second or two.  Same for searching by the last four digits of the telephone number coming up on call display, files worked that day, and so on.  It eliminated the need to leave a robotic message for a consumer, and insist they call back with “file number 38736421”. 

The other powerful option of Q&A was the ability to do calculations on the fly, huge imports and exports, and file updates.  So, if we wanted to extract selected records and export them to list with the credit bureau, a quarter of a million records laid out in a flat file format took maybe 10 minutes total.  Even a modern database would have a hard time competing with this 20 year old DOS program for efficiency.  It had the ability to match duplicate debtor records by social insurance number, output merge letters, calculate compound interest, and more.

Whether it was because of its’ ease of use, or positive word of mouth, Q&A was more widespread than you know – the Ontario court system used Q&A for many years, and a user fan base formed to host an annual database convention in New England.

 
Lantica`s Sesame

However, in 1998, Symantec pulled the plug on Q&A, but that fan base and a ground roots movement formed a company called Lantica, and they built a successor program called Sesame.  Sesame was built by users for users, and has some amazing abilities.  But let me explain just three of them.
 
Imagine you have a database with a million records.  Each of the records has 200 fields.  If you had a SQL database, you would index some key fields, at the cost of storage space, to optimize searches to allow the ability to search for select records in less than two minutes.  If you searched by a non-indexed field, you were looking at the two minute mark or more.  Enter Sesame – it doesn’t use indexed fields, because it doesn’t need to.  It can search a million records by wildcard values in multiple fields, and get my results in a few seconds.

For its second trick, Sesame takes other programs and rides them to the rodeo ... need a merge document?  No problem, it’ll use MS Word to do that for you.  Want to set up an email function?  It’ll fire up whatever default program you have on your terminal.  Reports?  They come out in HTML format in your default web browser program.  But it’s not just about sending data to another program – it has the ability to run a shell program under its command, or an asynchronous shell beside Sesame.

The last but most important function about Sesame is that it’s programming functions are simple and easy to use – want to reformat text from CAPS to Capitalized Text?  I wrote a 5 line script to fix it.  The other beauty of this program is that you can save these `on the fly` programming, and use it as a “mass update” function, for ongoing future use, or you can integrate it into your database program later in an upgrade.

Our company uses Sesame.  When I get the chance to geek out to other IT-type folks about databases, most people haven’t heard of it, but after talking to them about the differences between it and SQL or Oracle, those technical people start drooling and writing down Lantica’s website.  Lantica is the company that produces and supports Sesame, and you can find them at www.lantica.com.  I’ve met some of the people at Lantica personally, and I have to tell you they not only have an amazing program, they have amazing and incredibly helpful people.

If you want to read about the history of Q&A and Sesame, you can see it here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Q%26A_(software)

 
Conclusion 

If anyone feels like talking about databases, wants to learn more about Sesame, or want to share a horror story about old DOS-based database software, I can be reached directly at my office at 226-444-5695.

Thanks kindly,

Blair DeMarco-Wettlaufer
Kingston Data and Credit – www.kingstondc.com
Cambridge, ON
226-444-5695