Database for small business

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Database for small business

Postposted on Tue Jun 26, 2012 6:47 am

I work for a small architectural firm (less than 50 people). We have not database of any kind. We're finally talking about implementing one. It would be used to store project data and hopefully photos:

Project data:
cost
building type
building size
building location
project time
etcetera

Project photos:
project name
project number
building type
general time of day
interior or exterior
building or site
image type - finished detail, construction detail, system, space, building
etcetera

Management is looking to use Microsoft Access. Is that a good fit for the job? Is there a better option that isn't any more difficult to configure?
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Re: Database for small business

Postposted on Tue Jun 26, 2012 7:32 am

Wouldn't a PHP/MySQL based website with a CMS be a better idea? You can easily install XAMPP on a local Windows box and install it yourself, or if you need to access it from external locations (at clients'?) a hosting provider could set one up for you.

Disclaimer: I have 0 experience with MS Access.
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Re: Database for small business

Postposted on Tue Jun 26, 2012 7:56 am

I'd personally go with Sql Server Express but admittedly I haven't used express for some time. As the above mentioned, MySql is a pretty good choice.
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Re: Database for small business

Postposted on Tue Jun 26, 2012 8:48 am

It sounds like you might be looking for an application + database. Have a look at 37Signals Basecamp (http://basecamp.com/one-page-project). While it is a project management application, it also has all the features you need for each "building project." Seems like a good fit. You could also use it for actual project management.

For something more custom, you might try out Drupal, and construct your own custom content types - "building projects" with all of the parameters you need (photos, details etc.)

If you are looking to BUILD your own (programming), then the following will be more useful:

I suggest taking a look at Ruby on Rails, which provides some better framework / starting point than basic PHP / MySQL. The Rails framework (Ruby is the language) lets you write minimal code and create views VERY quickly. Ruby on Rails will work with multiple databases including MySQL, but in reality the underlying database is not as important (for a small business at least) once you have a good framework in place on top of it. Learn more about Ruby: http://rubyonrails.org/screencasts

If you already have familiarity with PHP, then you might try CakePHP, which is a Rails-like framework for PHP. http://cakephp.org/

If you're into Java, there is also Groovy + Grails which is essentially, again, the same paradigm.
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Re: Database for small business

Postposted on Tue Jun 26, 2012 9:02 am

Not really looking to do any code work. Looking for minimal effort solution. If coding is required we'd shop it out to someone. I did our website and I manage our IT, and those experiences made me realize that if I take them on it is very detrimental to my architectural role.

Having said that, if the installation, configuration, and coding of a "custom" database solution is something that can be done by myself - someone with absolutely no experience - in a period of two or three days, and it will deliver a better solution, then I'd entertain the idea. If it takes anything longer than 40 hours for a completely inexperience person then it's totally off limits.

JdL, thanks for the basecamp suggestion. I'll take a look at it.

A web-based solution really would be ideal, but going for that depends on the effort required to get there.
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Re: Database for small business

Postposted on Tue Jun 26, 2012 10:03 am

An Access front end hooked into a Db on a server might work for the project data. The Db can be MS SQL, MySQL, PostgreSQL, or any other RDBMS that has a Windows connector. MS SQL would be the easiest, but MySQL or PostgreSQL would be cheaper.

For the photos, I would suggest using a pre-built web app. Piwigo (http://piwigo.org/), Gallery (http://gallery.menalto.com/), and OpenPhoto (http://theopenphotoproject.org/) are some dedicated photo album organizers, and Razuna (http://www.razuna.org/), ResourceSpace (http://www.resourcespace.org), and Fedora Commons (http://www.fedora-commons.org/) are some digital asset management systems that would work as well.

You could also go with a project management web app. Libreplan (http://www.libreplan.com), Tree.io (http://tree.io/), and Redmine (http://www.redmine.org/projects/redmine/wiki), are some I've run across.

Keep in mind all of the above are self-hosted. There are others out there that are hosted, check alternativeto.net for other options, but the self-hosted stuff is harder to find.
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Re: Database for small business

Postposted on Tue Jun 26, 2012 10:06 am

If you want it to be as simple to setup and maintain as possible, Basecamp or something similar is probably your best bet.

If you want to dip into the sysadmin side of things, there's a good list of open source packages here. The comments on that page have even more suggestions.

From your description of your expertise and desire to spend very little time on setting this up, I'd spend the $240 a year on basecamp. Shoot, it even has dropbox integration, and the ability to track billable hours!
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Re: Database for small business

Postposted on Tue Jun 26, 2012 10:54 am

Fantastic posts, all. Thanks.
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Re: Database for small business

Postposted on Tue Jun 26, 2012 10:59 am

CMS/Project management apps like Basecamp are good options. I'd recommend you look into CRM solutions too. Your big hurdle isn't going to be getting an app up and running, it's going to be getting all your users using it correctly, and making it useful to them. I wouldn't get caught up by the word database. Do you really need SQL? What is driving your requirement for a database? Is your office full of Excel junkies (you are doomed)? Who exactly are your users?

If I were you, I'd call Microsoft (dynamics), Intuit, Salesforce.com, Oracle, and anyone other software vendor who you happen to like. See what they say. Calls are free. You can always dial up the TR hivemind and see if the solutions you are pitched make sense.

For what your original post lists, Access will work fine. So would Filemaker. So would Glom.
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Re: Database for small business

Postposted on Tue Jun 26, 2012 5:45 pm

redavni wrote:CMS/Project management apps like Basecamp are good options. I'd recommend you look into CRM solutions too. Your big hurdle isn't going to be getting an app up and running, it's going to be getting all your users using it correctly, and making it useful to them. I wouldn't get caught up by the word database. Do you really need SQL? What is driving your requirement for a database? Is your office full of Excel junkies (you are doomed)? Who exactly are your users?

If I were you, I'd call Microsoft (dynamics), Intuit, Salesforce.com, Oracle, and anyone other software vendor who you happen to like. See what they say. Calls are free. You can always dial up the TR hivemind and see if the solutions you are pitched make sense.

For what your original post lists, Access will work fine. So would Filemaker. So would Glom.

Thanks, redavni, that is helpful. I'm so noob here I probably don't know what I mean; I probably did mean SQL. And yes, Excel junkies abound, and that is, in fact, the direction things have been headed in. Glom looks too interesting!
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Re: Database for small business

Postposted on Tue Jun 26, 2012 9:28 pm

Coming from the other side of things, I do technical support for a Business Intellegence reporting package and although it supports all sorts of weird and wonderful databases I've never heard of before, the simple fact is that our developers primarily code it against MS SQL...because that's what everybody uses and everybody knows. The amount of times we get calls because a dba doesn't know how to use *insert non MSSQL/Oracle db here* is too numerous to mention. Then we need to find some fancy OLEDB file.

My advice would be to stick with what's common. MSSQL/Oracle everybody knows. There's courses on them. Tons of books and lots of experience and a wealth of knowledge with them. They're supported by every program you could ever wish to use.

Yes, they cost alot more, but I'm pretty sure the hassle you save will be worth it. That's just my $0.02 from the other side.
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Re: Database for small business

Postposted on Wed Jun 27, 2012 1:27 am

Redis is a good option if you don't want to do a lot of sophisticated programming.

MongoDB is also a good solution for the newer "NoSQL" paradigm.

MySQL is great if you want to stay off the expensive Microsoft platforms and go Linux.
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Re: Database for small business

Postposted on Wed Jun 27, 2012 1:58 am

Anything that isn't based on Access. :wink:

Beyond that, it comes down to how wedded you are to using MS products/platforms, how much you're willing to pay (if anything) for the DBMS, and how much development you're willing to do (or pay for) to come up with a semi-custom or custom solution.
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Re: Database for small business

Postposted on Wed Jun 27, 2012 7:50 am

The description of this problem makes me think that it's possible that FileMaker is the best fit.

I think everyone's here focusing a little too much on the "database" portion of flip-mode's problem. He needs a good UI and quick delivery of product, not a good database (as much as it pains me to say so heh). At the risk of invoking wrath (my own included), Access might not be a bad idea for this. Just make sure to never have a large volume of data in it.
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Re: Database for small business

Postposted on Wed Jun 27, 2012 9:20 am

morphine wrote:The description of this problem makes me think that it's possible that FileMaker is the best fit.

I think everyone's here focusing a little too much on the "database" portion of flip-mode's problem. He needs a good UI and quick delivery of product, not a good database (as much as it pains me to say so heh). At the risk of invoking wrath (my own included), Access might not be a bad idea for this. Just make sure to never have a large volume of data in it.

You're hitting the bull's eye in terms of recognizing the issues at play.
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Re: Database for small business

Postposted on Wed Jun 27, 2012 9:41 am

One of my co-workers reinforced the idea of using FileMaker, since the UI is better. He uses it and showed me a little tutorial app type it has, "Project", that has "Tasks" for each project. Seems like the same Projects/Photos concept you have. They have a trial version available: here.

They even have a mobile app-building thing, so theoretically with a little work you can build your application an take an iPad with your and add photos to it on the spot. But that's another step heh.
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Re: Database for small business

Postposted on Wed Jun 27, 2012 12:05 pm

Thanks morph.
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Re: Database for small business

Postposted on Wed Jun 27, 2012 3:40 pm

You might want to consider looking at an online database like http://www.caspio.com as it allows you to create apps without any coding. I believe there is a free trial for 14 days
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Re: Database for small business

Postposted on Wed Jun 27, 2012 3:57 pm

just brew it! wrote:Anything that isn't based on Access. :wink:
.


Access is fine, as a tool for accessing your data. Just don't use the legacy Jet database for the back end. Use it to connect to a SQL server instance hosted somewhere.
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Re: Database for small business

Postposted on Wed Jun 27, 2012 6:12 pm

There is also MS LightSwitch (http://www.microsoft.com/visualstudio/en-us/lightswitch).

"Microsoft Visual Studio LightSwitch is a simplified self-service development tool that enables you to build business applications quickly and easily for the desktop and cloud." --From the website
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