Using Screen “Overlays” to Streamline Smart Office

Nov 04 2013

Here is a great solution for streamlining Smart Office which will make life faster and simpler for users. This new solution for screen redesign is an effective way of adding functionality while keeping the M3 base free from modification.

The approach is to use customised “overlay” screens which sit seamlessly on top of the M3 functions and display information in a more user-friendly way, while still retaining all of the M3 business logic behind the scenes.

As Peter Ebeid, one of the ComActivity technical team commented, “When developing solutions, the goal is always to speed up the data entry, and have a more streamlined process flow. For example, this could mean either displaying the panels in a more relevant way for the user, or actually condensing the number of screens that a user has to navigate through”.

The idea behind the solution is that new screens are built from scratch (by adding fields from standard M3 screens) and these screens “overlay” less efficient screens, and are seamlessly integrated into the workflow.  By doing this, screens become more effective – superfluous information can be removed, and important information can be streamlined and consolidated. Information that is input into the customised overlay is automatically entered back into the standard screen in the background.

We have found this to be very successful, and the applications are endless, but typically we use overlays to do one of the following:

  • a ‘one-for-many’ overlay, where many screens are replaced in the user’s workflow by a single screen, or
  • a ‘one-for-one’ overlay, where a complex screen is redesigned to become more usable, and incorporated back into the flow.

One-for-Many Overlay

one for many overlay

This intuitive example streamlines a process by delivering the user access to all the required fields in a single screen rather than having to navigate through a series of screens. This problem is regularly faced by Smart Office users who are processing customer orders. For a single order, they frequently need to use multiple screens to input customer and order details. An overlay can put all the information for an order into a single screen.

One-for-one Overlay

In this scenario, where an overly-complex section of a single screen is redesigned and incorporated into an overlay, a typical application might be for customising a screen for an item which contains a large number of components. Overlays can be used to build a screen which might make this data more easily accessible. For example, a complex and lengthy data entry table with empty, unused columns, could be laid out in a more useful way for the user:

one for one overlay

In this deceptively simple solution, the columns and headers were switched, which meant superfluous columns were removed from the display, and a data entry row is condensed into a single cell. This is far clearer than the default layout available for this screen in LSO. Once the entry is completed, the data is updated in M3, and the user seamlessly rejoins the usual workflow.

The technology

Technically speaking, the way it works is that when the M3 panel displays, it instantiates a new LSO panel with customised content and lays it over the top of the M3 panel. The normal M3 background activity still occurs, but it is behind the scenes. All the user sees is the overlay screen. As data is entered into each field, updates are automatically made in M3. The panels are organic to LSO, as they are built using Windows Presentation Framework, which is the same tool used to design the LSO front end.

Conclusion

There are a range of ways that LSO can be streamlined, but we think this is an exciting new way because the customisation is truly integrated into the workflow.  It provides a way to deliver functionality with vanilla M3, avoiding any need to directly modify the business database. The options are limitless – in this article, we have given some typical examples, but basically you can use overlays to do anything in a screen as part of the Smart Office workflow.

Case Study: To see how overlays helped streamline Order Entry at leading Australian building supplier, Stramit, click here

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