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OT? Source control for accountants...

Hi all,

I have a quick question mainly to serve my own curiosity - does anyone know if the accounting world has discovered version control systems? My girlfriend, who works for a large accounting firm, was away on business last week. She and her collegues take their laptops, and work from each others shared directories. They came back on friday, and synchronised each others changes by copying relevant files (from 100's of files they all worked on) into a shared directory on a master server.

Anyway, it seems that one of her collegues overwrote some files while copying their part onto the master server, and they lost about a half days work. So she was in at work today with the others, trying to fix the mistake. I told her their setup was ridiculous, and explained that even in my 15 employee consulting company we have systems to ensure that our code is versioned, mistakes can be undone, and if I loose my laptop half way around the world I don't loose any code.

So basically, I'm mildly curious to know if there are any products out there for this type of work. I think the typical developer systems such as CVS and VSS are not really suitable for their work, but surely they would work better than the current system?

Rhys Keepence
Sunday, November 17, 2002

As you know, source-control doesn't work too well with binary files, which is most likely the format those business data are in.

But then... why don't those data live in a database instead of independent files to begin with? Then, users could run the sync tool provided by the database manufacturer to synchronize the work done on their laptop to the database server.

FYI, Lotus Notes ( http://www.notes.net ) is quite good at syncing stuff. I have yet to find another tool, ideally open-source, that lets users work off-line, in a WYSIWYG environnement, and sync when they're back at the office.

Frederic Faure
Sunday, November 17, 2002

If they are on Win2000, you just choose "Tools->Synchronize"  If there are locking issues, it keeps both versions (and renames them)  If there are 100's of files that are simultaneously being edited, this clearly is not a robust solution.  But this is how I synch my desktop and laptop, and it works fine for me.

Bella
Sunday, November 17, 2002

If all they did was copy files to the server, then by definition, they should still have the originals on their laptops.

Without more detail, it is very difficult to say. What software system do they use to 'synch'? Like Frederic Faure said, CVS not ideal for binary files. Unless the  applications that they use actually provides an audit trail, they are pretty much stuffed. Sounds like they were using something like Excel files. If they hose these on the file system, then they are pretty much stuffed.

Check out something like openACS http://openacs.org . It is a web toolkit that you can use to build an intranet type service among other things. There is an effort currently going on there to provide a standard intranet 'distro' dotWRK. This is based on dotLRN http://dotrn.org , which is built on openACS.

One of the things it gives you (amongst many others)  is a file storage service, both personal/private and shared. What it does is that when you upload a new version of the file, it keeps the old version. So while it may be the same file, you will have copies of all the versions you have uploaded. Something like you describe happens, and you just revert/download an older version.

tapiwa
Sunday, November 17, 2002

my bad... the dotLRN url is http://dotlrn.org and not dotrn.org

tapiwa
Sunday, November 17, 2002

CVS is not simple to set-up, but once set-up, I think Tortoise CVS is reasonably simple. Branching or tagging might require more understanding, but "Commit", "Update" and "Add" are simple enough and work beautifully.

http://tortoisecvs.org

Ori Berger
Sunday, November 17, 2002

Frederic,
Thanks for the sugguestion of Lotus Notes - i'll forward that onto her.

tapiwa,
I'm sketchy on the details, but I think the person copied the week-old files from the server back to their filesystem, overwriting whatever work was changed on that particular laptop.

Unfortunately I think any suggestions I give her will fall on deaf ears. This place is amazing - its a major firm in my city and yet they all work for 40-60 hours a week on 3+ year old low end laptops, running win98 (or on destop pcs with dodgy flickering 14" monitors). Working conditions are absolute crap. The partners in charge are all too tight to lash out on anything for the employees, even tools to increase productivity.

Rhys Keepence
Monday, November 18, 2002

"The partners in charge are all too tight to lash out on anything for the employees, even tools to increase productivity. "

hey, they are accountants, what did you expect? ;-) 

Punter
Monday, November 18, 2002

My sister's an accountant. For ages she's been nagging the partners about getting more computers in the office.

A while back someone arrived, delivered a nice new PC, and TOOK AWAY one of the older ones...

She's going "no, no.. I meant, more computers so we have ONE EACH..."

It's not the speed of the machines that's the problem, it's the queuing up to use them that takes the time. Sometimes I really do wonder if there are any industries that aren't all screwed up.

Katie Lucas
Monday, November 18, 2002

This is a bit of shameless self-promotion, but it certainly is apropos: The company I work for ( http://www.ciphershare.com ) has a product called WorkSafe that has version control and allows for collaboration on any file type. It's targeted at "business" users (as opposed to developers -- although we do use it for source control on some projects), so it should be pretty much perfect for accountants. As the name implies, there's a lot of security built into it (client-side encryption, fine-grained sharing, and so on), but if that isn't important then it can be fairly easily ignored (and helps ensure that the company never finds out the hard way that it *is* important).

If the company is interested, a demo (or trial or whatever) can be set up pretty easily.

Adam Pritchard
Monday, November 18, 2002

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