As a leader in the corporate RAD (Rapid Application Development) field, I wanted to share some trends that companies should be considering. RAD is a programming specialty in which database and app developers focus on building applications much quicker using tools like Microsoft’s Access, Excel, SharePoint and Azure and other platforms such as Alpha Software. RAD still utilizes strong security and automation methods, but allows us to build databases in ½ to ¼ of the time as other development platforms. My company (WorkSmart Database Masters) has consultants in 7 states across the U.S. and more than 60% of our clients are mid-sized corporations. But, these trends are useful to both smaller and larger businesses as well.
The Power of BI
Business Intelligence (BI) has been gaining momentum in small and mid-sized businesses. For a number of years, understanding “Big Data” was mostly utilized in large and technologically-savvy companies. Businesses like Google, Amazon and Facebook have teams of statisticians to understand this mass amount of data (and their customers) to predict trends based on many criteria gathered from your profiles and buying habits. I’m sure you’ve even spotted ads in sites which appear to be watching what you’re buying or viewing on sites and offering up complementary products or services that fit your particular demographic. These large companies have had the tools to drill deep into this information to understand what it all means for them. But, what about the rest of us?
Enter Microsoft’s Power BI, released less than a year ago. Power BI is a powerful business analytics tool which enables users to visualize, analyze and slice data just about any way you’d want. By connecting this tool with systems throughout your organization including accounting, manufacturing, service, HR, sales/marketing and many other systems, smaller companies can now begin to better understand their own, internal sources of information and make better decisions. Better still, users can connect to different data sources at the same time, allowing you to make comparisons on how decisions from one data source (sales) affect the outcome on a different data area (production). With Power BI, you can even pull information from online sources such as Wikipedia, SalesForce, MailChimp, QuickBooks and Facebook.
Visualizations are no longer limited to bar charts and pie charts. There are dozens of custom visuals from bubble charts, gauges, maps, sand visuals and even a fish bowl, all of which are interactive and allow you to drill down into your data by any criteria you select. And, you can create your own dashboards which allow you to see your business at a glance, in real time. Power BI includes both a desktop and web version. And, dashboards work on any device, from smart phones to tablets to laptops. What’s the cost? FREE. Of course, you can purchase a premium version to get additional functionality, but the free product is sufficient for many.
Cloud-based, Remote Access to… Access
The second trend is focused on those millions of users that have existing Access databases. In some cases, companies are using older versions of Access which they cannot upgrade. Or, they have users that want to connect to their database while they are working remotely. For those situations, companies are turning to Microsoft’s Azure RemoteApp.
As a quick background, you may have heard of Remote Desktop (RDP) or standard Remote App. These are software that allows one user to remotely connect to a desktop interface on the company’s server. The difference between the two, is that Remote Desktop provides an entire user desktop, so a user can run any program like Word, Excel, etc…, and RemoteApp puts the user directly into a single program, without seeing the desktop icons. Either way, this software must be installed by someone familiar with servers.
Azure RemoteApp is similar to RemoteApp, but the Access database application is stored in the cloud. This means that you don’t need an IT rep to install it onto a server. It is available to anyone (with user rights) to connect to the database and use it anywhere they have an internet connection. It is also scalable, so you can have several remote users in the same database at the same time. The other huge plus is that if you have other software like Power BI described above, you can create a connection to an Access database that is hosted in Azure RemoteApp. This was much more difficult if the database was hosted on an internal server. Also, you can run earlier (aka legacy) versions of Access through RemoteApp and this allows you to keep Office 365 on your local desktop for the rest of your work and run your legacy Access databases through RemoteApp.
Now, keep in mind that the typical Access forms and reports are designed for PCs and laptops, so if you are viewing a database on a smartphone, there is a lot of scrolling involved. So, what WorkSmart Database Masters has started doing for clients is creating smartphone-friendly forms for users on these devices. This provides less information on a form, but reduces the amount of scrolling necessary.
Products like Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana and Amazon’s Echo will become more and more utilized in the business space. The simpler functions are currently used to check out traffic and weather conditions, pull up a website, add a task to your tasks list, add an appointment to your calendar or just send a text or email. But you will be seeing business users utilizing these software apps to open a client within your CRM or accounting software, dictate a letter, open Power BI dashboards, ask how a particular sector of the company is performing today (e.g. sales made) and ask what service issues have occurred (delivery delays). Additionally, this will integrate into the Internet of Things (IoT) where sensors will measure everything from temperature, electricity used, movement (e.g. what part of a store customers are spending time in) and system uptime and downtime.
Cost: Starting at $0, since some software apps are integrated into devices you currently use.