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Tools to Output documents from DB based on selections

Posted on 2016-09-23
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Last Modified: 2016-09-26
Any advice or tool suggestion is helpful and will get points!

I'm currently in an IT services role where I'm creating client facing statements of work that are composed of various blocks of steps. For example, installing a firewall, configuring content filtering, installing a switch.

My existing process is a word doc template and a one note full of steps that I paste in as needed. The problem with this is that it's too manual, has no time formulas, and I also need to corollate work instructions with each step. For example installing the switch is on the SOW but the work instructions are more detailed: update current firmware, configure client snmp string, etc...

To solve these problems, I shoved it all into excel and also got some nice math time estimating features. It's still alpha but looks like it could work, abit clunky, hard to manage and version, hard to share with a team, etc...

I've got a sql background and I know I could use something like access to make the forms and output report docs but I know that adp is dead and I'd prefer something web based.

I do not want to pay for a giant document management or proposal generation application which probably doesn't event have the key feature of tying the sow lines to the work instruction steps. I also don't really want to do the DB work and then have a custom program written just for the forms and document generation.

Ideally this would be a webapp (saas or hosted) where I can check some boxes, select the steps I want, enter some numbers and have the two documents generated.

Does anyone know of anything like this for any industry? I'd imagine there are other uses for a tool like this besides IT services. I'm also very open to a saas something like access/adp/sql where I could create the logic myself drag and drop, I just don't want to make custom web forms from scratch in .net or similar.
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Question by:Aaron Tomosky
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by:als315
als315 earned 250 total points
ID: 41813628
Your task looks not very complicated from the first view. You can use MS Access. Look at sample DB which was prepared in 10 minutes.
Access can be converted to web app, but there are some limits.
DbIT.accdb
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Expert Comment

by:Vadim Rapp
ID: 41813699
I would create a database in sql server express, then created a webpage in Visual Studio.
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PatHartman earned 250 total points
ID: 41814264
Access is a rapid application development tool (RAD).  It's power is that it can connect to any database engine that supports ODBC so using SQL Server as the BE is no problem The ADP was deprecated because it did not give sufficient advantage over simply linking a standard Access app to SQL Server and provided many limitations.

Unless you need the app to be outward facing, there is no advantage to having it be a Web app and making a Web app will be more labor intensive and expensive.  I would not under any condition recommend attempting to create an Access Web App.  They are severely limited due to not supporting any programming language.  Macros will get you only so far and most people run quickly into a brick wall.

Design the schema  in SQL Server.  Link an Access FE to the SQL Server database and use the wizards to create forms and reports.  As you get better definition of what you need, add code into the form and control events to validate data.
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Author Comment

by:Aaron Tomosky
ID: 41815283
Alright so access is a viable route, good to know. If I go that way, what's the best method of keeping data in sql, linked tables?

What about lightswitch or these alternatives, worth a look?
https://www.quora.com/What-are-some-free-alternatives-to-Microsoft-Visual-Studio-LightSwitch
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by:PatHartman
PatHartman earned 250 total points
ID: 41815298
What database you use to store the data depends on three things.
1. How secure do you need the BE to be?
2. How many concurrent users do you need to support?
3. How large is the set of data?

Depending on the answers to the questions, you may decide to use SQL Server, ACE, or any other database engine.
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Author Comment

by:Aaron Tomosky
ID: 41815301
I'm very comfortable with sql and express is free. 4 users to start and may grow to 10 or so, nothing large. Data set is tiny.
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Assisted Solution

by:PatHartman
PatHartman earned 250 total points
ID: 41815308
Then that leaves you with security.  If there is no special security required, ACE will perform very well as the BE so the choice is yours.

I develop with Access as the FE and mostly SQL Server as the BE (but occasionally DB2, Oracle, Pervasive, and even Jet/ACE) because I find it to be a powerful client/server tool.  All the bad press you read about "Access" is actually directed to the native database engine which is Jet (.mdb) or ACE (.accdb).  People who compare "Access" to SQL Server have no clue what they are talking about.  A client/server app developed with an Access FE and a SQL Server BE is infinitely scaleable.  You are limited only by your SQL Server implementation.  Each user gets his own personal copy of the FE (I use a shortcut that runs a bat file to ensure that each user is always using the most recent version of the FE) and the FE links to the shared BE.  To switch from test to QA to production is simply a matter of relinking the tables.  NOTHING else needs to change.

If you elect to use Access, try to understand how its event model works.  The worst applications I have had the misfortune of having to fix have been developed by experienced developers who thought Access was inferior and tried to remake Access in the image of their favorite tool.
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Author Closing Comment

by:Aaron Tomosky
ID: 41816406
Thanks Pat and others. If there are any other RAD tools I should check out, please let me know.
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