Jumping On Problems with Suprtool

Longtime Customer Art Bahrs

Art Bahrs ( has been using Suprtool since 1989 and qualifies as a Suprtool expert in his own right. Art was initiated to Suprtool at Oregon Health Sciences Foundation where he worked for six years and even presented a paper on Suprtool's data manipulation capabilities at the annual SRN conference in 1996.

We noticed that Art was one of the frequent posters to the Robelle-L mailing list, responding to a great variety of Suprtool topics and questions. We asked Art if he would like to share some of his Suprtool experiences and honed in on his expertise with data manipulation and troubleshooting.

Art estimates that 45-60% of his Suprtool usage revolves around troubleshooting data problems. Denkor Corporation is a dental practice management company for four affiliate dental groups in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. Just a few days ago, one of the Patient Service Representatives accidentally deleted a client. As Art explained, a lost record does not help dentist-patient relations one bit. "Imagine the patient standing there holding his sore mouth and you've lost the record with all his insurance information, etc." Using Suprtool, Art was able to quickly identify the root of the problem: a few mangled fields. Then with Suprtool's DBEdit module, Art fixed the fields on the fly and the dentist regained the patient's data.

Art continues, "Now maybe I could have done this with Query. But I really try to avoid using Query. With its weird syntax from the 70s, Query is cryptic and complicated and much slower." Art finds Suprtool's command structure to be far more intuitive and points out that Suprtool comes with good documentation and online help. And of course, Suprtool is also backed by Robelle's well-known support team.

Art finds Suprtool's DBEdit to be a very powerful module and speculates that most programmer/analysts don't know that they can edit their IMAGE data so easily with Suprtool's DBEdit. In 2000, Robelle added variable substitution capabilities to Suprtool, which was one of the most popular enhancement requests in Suprtool's history. Variable substitution allows the use of CI variables directly inside Suprtool, eliminating the need to define temporary use files. Art uses this functionality often and comments that "CI variable substitution is wonderful." For example, there are 40 date variables that are relevant at Denkor Corp. So if he needs to change data based on the date, e.g. move 90-day outstanding balances into 120-day outstanding balances, he can do it all by setting the appropriate variables in a Use file invoked by his jobstream, rather than having to update his hard-coded values for every new period.

Suprtool is great for what Art calls "pump and dumps." Art explains, "Suprtool lets you look at the real data unaltered which can make a world of a difference when troubleshooting problems." For example, at Boyd Coffee, Art recalls an instance where data uploaded from a handheld computer was off by a couple of bytes. He dumped the data with Suprtool to quickly find the problem. Then, still using Suprtool, he was able to update the records to adjust the offsets.

Art cautions that Suprtool is not a fancy report-writer, but he has used it often for ad-hoc requests where the user just needs to see the data - no fancy formatting required. For example, a business problem might arise where management requires some data that is not normally reported on. In such cases, Art uses Suprtool to pull the data and produce a "quick and dirty" report. For regularly scheduled executive reports Denkor Corp., a PowerHouse shop, uses the Quiz report writer. If Art suspects something is wrong in one of the Quiz reports, the first thing he does is check it with Suprtool (another "pump and dump").

Any conversation about Quiz quickly turns to the subject of performance. Quiz produces sophisticated reports, but those fancy reports come at a price: some of them take a real long time to run. One of the Denkor reports, which accessed a KSAM file, was taking all day to complete. "No joke. By front-ending Suprtool, we reduced the run time from 12 hours to 15 minutes on an overworked 928!"

Another functional group that Art serves with Suprtool is the accounting department. "Those accountants love their spreadsheets." The only problem is that Excel runs on the PC and the data needed by the accountants lives on the 3000. Again, the answer is Suprtool. Art uses Suprtool to create comma-delimited output, which is easy to pull into any PC application.

Another pesky problem that just about every company has had to deal with is reassigned area codes. Art remembers an area code project that he worked on at the Oregon Health Sciences Foundation. The only way to assign the right area code is to match it to the three-digit prefix in the telephone number. Art used Suprtool to define the parts of each telephone number, select the records that needed updating, and update the area code, all in one pass. "I could have written a program to do this, but it would have taken me a lot longer than using Suprtool."

Art emphasizes that last point: "Using Suprtool is a lot quicker than writing a COBOL program. There's no compile time, no testing, and no errors to fix. At the Foundation, I was a one-man shop so there was no time for writing or maintaining custom programs." It's true that 6-10 Suprtool commands can often replace 100-150 lines of COBOL code.

Art's next project is a top-down directive, which the Board will be watching closely. Denkor is the parent of four dental companies. To increase operational efficiency, upper management wants to combine the four separate databases into one. This will eliminate the need for multiple log-ins and streamline the reporting functions that require data from all four subsidiaries. One of the challenges will be finding and eliminating the duplicate entries. Art is already thinking ahead to Suprtool's ability to link multiple datasets with the SuprLink module. "We are just in the planning stages, but already I foresee Suprtool as a major part of the project (QTP is the other major part)."