Software that models business process

I had an interesting experience last weekend. The last couple days have been pretty hard on my eyes. I wear hard contacts and with all the new pollen in the air I haven’t been able to keep my contacts in my eyes. I’m nearly blind without them. Any ways, my wife took our 2 year old girl and me to Kelsey Creek farm for a morning walk. We were walking by the barn and I heard some ladies working. My daughter and I walked up to the barn and started chatting with them. The ladies kindly told me the barn was closed and a sign in front indicated such. I wanted to respond with—hey, give me a break I’m blind. Many people miss obvious signs and opportunities because they don’t have the eyes to see clearly what is happening in their business. The biggest reason I love Access is that it helps people see more clearly what is happening in their business.


Access isn’t about tables, queries, forms, and reports. It is about creating software that models business process. Access applications are more about empowering people to make intelligent, informed decisions. It should be the goal of every developer to spend less time writing code, hashing through queries, and laying out controls in reports. Instead we should focus on understanding the business requirements and how the data should be tracked to best provide the clear answers to questions—finding better and more efficient ways of doing things. We should spend our time making information more accessible to keep people on the same page, up-to-date, and more informed.


In ever customer visit I go one a common theme evolves. Smart folks building cool applications that help them track what is happening in their business. It is always fun to watch people take great pride in showing off how they are running their business more efficiently. Frequently they show code examples of new features that we are building into Access 2007. Many Access developers don't consider themselves developers but rather some other type of professional (accountants, IT staff, researchers, healthcare professionals, etc). They spent months-and-months building applications that collect, extract, and share vital information.


Most advanced Access developers still spend enormous amounts of time refining code libraries that are reuse for different solutions. We are making great progress reducing the number of lines of code needed to build an application. Application meta-data is a cost effective and quick way to capture the rules and constraints of the business or activity. Every Access developer I know has code samples for handling common scenarios.


For example our favorite not in list event… Now we have simple properties that allow you to specify the edit list item form. The value in the combo box gets passed as an openarg so the opening form can use it appropriately.


Most Access applications have a number of different forms that filter data. Access has some nice built in features but they need to be more intuitive and powerful. Erik will blog about the filtering stuff later but let me say it is great stuff. My design goals were to make it possible for end users to create 80-90% of filters without having to open the query designer. Simple filters like Next Week, Tomorrow, Last Week, Last Quarter allow people to find information much easier then ever before. Developers can spend more time modeling business process and less time writing custom filter forms.


Now that monitors are getting bigger and bigger applications need to make better use of the screen real estate. Many of you use Ken Getz’s anchoring code to resizing controls based on the available window space. Now we have great commands in the ribbon that anchor controls without code.


Toss your alternate row color code snippet in the garbage. I can remember my brother-in-law Brent telling me how hard it is to stare at data all day without alternate row colors. He couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t baked into Excel and Access. Vertical lines in reports are another scenario where reports don’t show information as clearly they should. The new gridlines feature hits a home run in this area.


Date Pickers are another hiccup in the road to building usable apps. Now it is pervasive on all date text boxes.


It was a beautiful day when I installed a build that had the PDF button on the ribbon. Having deep integration through out the product makes it so much easier for people to share information with others who need it. It is really a great thing to do it without having to install any other add-ins.


Access 2007 should allow many of you to retire a bunch of code if we have done our job correctly. Hopefully, you can focus more energies on efficient and cost effective ways of doing business.


I’m interested in hearing from you about your most commonly used code libraries. What are things you think the platform should just handle for you?