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Evaluating the media: Making a database usable online with Caspio

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Making a database usable online with Caspio

Anyone using MS Excel Access on a regular basis will have wondered how easy it might be to move the data online. This might be with a view to enabling a client to view a database, or to allow working from another computer.

I have not tested the latest online offering of MS Office/Access so can't comment on this. I am stuck with the older version of Office which does not easily 'go online'. To solve the problem I recently took a trial with Caspio - a tool to take data online.

The brief - Take Access online

Some background....this was in response to a specific query from a client asking for access to a database I use to create a monthly report. This seemed like a good idea. They can do a bit of slicin'-and-dicin' of their own, gaining some up-to-date added value from it.

And heres the problem. The Access database on which everything sits is not online accessible and even if it were, Access is not the most intuitive platform to run queries on the fly. There is no escaping it; Access is not particularly user friendly. What was needed was a way of creating a GUI or client view which they could use without tuition.

This is the heart of the existing Access database. It kind of makes sense to me if no one else!

Caspio - The Solution?

Caspio is a bit like Access in that it runs on tables and uses queries, forms and reports. It easily deploys to your own website, literally appearing as a box where you put the code. I am using a Weebly website and it was little hassle to install. After loading my latest table of data, the rest of the time was spent configuring what the clients sees and how they manipulate the results.

A number of video tutorial do help getting to grips with Caspio. Although I have explored only a narrow selection of its capabilities it seems logical and well laid out. I would have liked to have seen more of those little pop-up explanation boxes which expand on what an option means, as there are an awful lot of options.

Once some sort of data table has been added to Caspio, the next stage is getting a table online. This can either be used to collect responses (contact form, directory, etc), or adding responses to a form. Alternatively, as in this case, I have all the data and want to allow a client to sort and filter through them.

Anyway, in either instance you need to go to the DataPages, and in this instance select Report and Tabular style. 

From here there are about 8 stages left including selecting what the fields to show, creating what the page which the client will use to select their options. Then specify what the initial and detailed results pages will look like.  

Once the wizard has gone through the various options and stages, the final thing is to deploy the code to a site. Copy the chunk of code at the end of the process and paste it into a webpage. In my experience I then spent quite a few hours refining the look and way a user selects the options. My final(ish) version looks like this:

I would predict you will spend the majority of your time on this specific page of the wizard:

This is where to decide how the fields look and operate. I wanted a Date From and Date To option which was set up as a double criteria on the same field. I was also keen to allow my client a 'Select All' option which required a bit of extra configuring. There is no coding and it is all done by working through the wizard and seeing what the impact is on a preview form.

I would recommend a newbie to look at a few video and read a couple of how-to's. Then try adding a table and creating a deploy to a site. You can't really brake it.

Regrettably this level of functionality is not free, although there is a trial with the 'enterprise' version for a week or so. I did read around to see what the others were offering. While there are cheaper ones, with something like this there needs to be a level of dependability and support, both things which the reviews suggest Caspio excel at.  

Thank you for viewing the article and I very much hope you found it interesting. Please don't hesitate to offer a comment, particularly if I get things wrong!  It would also be great if you wanted to subscribe to future blog updates.

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