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Interactive Form/Spreadsheet To Auto Update When External Source Has Made Changes

Posted on 2013-11-22
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Last Modified: 2013-12-05
I am in discussions concerning the development of a system that will allow our external suppliers the ability to have a form on their end which they will complete/modify.  On our end, we would be able to immediately see any changes that were made.  Unfortunately, I am a total Newbie in terms of this.  I was thinking of something such as SFTP or XML that would "listen" for changes and respond accordingly.  Write access would be for the suppliers while the users at my company would only be able to read/view the file/form.. Basically, this would be a standard form which can be completed externally and viewed immediately on our end. SharePoint is out of the question since the company is not willing to buy the licenses. This is still in open discussion so am reaching out to the Experts for some much needed advice/ideas/suggestions etc.  Thanks in advance!
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Question by:Christopher Wright
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by:AlexPace
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Seems like a web app would be perfect if it is just a form.
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by:Christopher Wright
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Sweet.  Where would I start to look?
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by:Ray Paseur
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I got a neglected question alert on this, and I'm not sure I can help but I'll try.  Give me some background information, please.

Does your organization have a web site now?  If so, please post the URL so we can have a look.

Do you have web programming skills within the organization?  For example, is there someone there who uses PHP or ASP or ColdFusion to create the web pages?

Do you (personally) understand the client/server protocol?

Do you have adequate budget for the project?  What tools are you using to estimate the costs?

There may be many ways to skin this cat, and almost all of them are going to require some level of effort to achieve professional work products.  Security and authentication of data has to be part of the consideration.  The general design is probably a data base driven web application that allows inputs and views.

Please let me know if I'm missing any important detail like, "Our external suppliers are in Antarctica and they don't have computers."  :-)
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by:Christopher Wright
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Hi there Ray_Paseur and thank you for addressing my question.  We are working with an Oracle database and want to have the online catalog we are developing here to be what provides the information for each of the items in the database. I have provided answers to your questions below:

Does your organization have a web site now?  If so, please post the URL so we can have a look.
- Other than the typical retail store online, my company does not have a "section" for a functionality such as this.  Typically, this would be found under something such as "Current Vendors click here..." to guide them to update the form pertaining to this question.  http://www.adsinc.com/

Do you have web programming skills within the organization?  For example, is there someone there who uses PHP or ASP or ColdFusion to create the web pages?
- Personally, I am not well versed in PHP or ASP but we do have programmers within the organization that would tackle this.
 

Do you (personally) understand the client/server protocol?
- I have a very limited understanding but was hoping to become more versed while assisting in the development of this project.

Do you have adequate budget for the project?  What tools are you using to estimate the costs?
- While we have adequate budget for the project, we are striving to spend only man hours and not $.  We want to build this from the ground up and offer this to our external suppliers as a free tool to update/provide their online item catalog.
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Ray Paseur earned 500 total points
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Looks to me like you have all the prerequisites covered.  You will want to get your programmers involved early.  Here is the general design that I would envision, and it would almost certainly spend considerable man-hours but would not require you to purchase any other software or hardware.

The supplier would have an authentication page - login with user name and password.  This would take them to a "table maintenance" script that allowed them to insert, update and delete the information in their portion of the online item catalog.

As it exists now, the web site almost certainly draws its data model from the Oracle data base, and it would continue to do that.  Each access to the web site gets a web page that is built from information in the data base.  So data base changes can be essentially instantaneous.  As soon as the supplier has made a change to the data, it will be reflected on the next request for the associated web pages.

As with many things in software development, the devil is in the details.  Areas of detailed consideration (at least the ones I can think of) would include security of the supplier login, sanitizing external data, keeping a log of changes, rollback of erroneous updates, etc.
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by:Christopher Wright
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Perfect! That is great information Ray.  Not to be needy, but is there anything out there that I can look at as an example.  Is there sample script?  What about scaled down versions such as an Access database and Excel spreadsheets with FTP or XML? This would be something that I could serve as a training model for myself as well as a proof of concept when this is presented to other groups internally.  Thanks
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by:Ray Paseur
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Thanks for the points.  The short answer is, "No samples that I know of."  But it's a thoroughly viable concept and as evidence I would cite any public web forum where users sign in and post information.  The main design difference you would use would be the information silos that would separate the suppliers in a way that protected their catalogs from each other.  I would not try to do a mockup with any combination of FTP, XML, Excel or Access -- I think those would be the wrong tools and far enough away from the "real" implementation that they would raise more issues than they would solve.  A better path to a mockup might be to use PHP with the PDO data base extension on the server and use HTML forms to communicate from the client web browser to the server.  PHP has an introductory tutorial that might be helpful.
http://php.net/tut.php

It's a fairly advanced application development effort.  Best of luck with it, ~Ray
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