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I'm not a software developer, but I have previously developed a project-specific Access application for another employer. My current employer would like me to help organize their workflow and data for an upcoming project, and I was considering using Access again. In previous projects the staff used large piles of Excel spreadsheets; now they would like to keep their data more organized as well as automate some processes.

I've found that it is difficult to create forms in Access that are pleasant and usable, due to the limited control over forms. Are there better options for quickly developing a business application, such as MS LightSwitch, Delphi, or .NET?

The team that will be using the application is small - less than five users.

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Are you interested in technologies or methodologies? Technologies don't matter that much on their own, outside of a context of the knowledge of the developers, a deployment environment, and the requirements specification. Methodologies depend on the schedule, budget, and team. –  Thomas Owens Aug 17 '11 at 16:25
    
Could you be more specific? What do you mean by methodologies? –  Patrick Aug 17 '11 at 16:28
    
Methodologies refer to the processes used to build software. There are various software development (or general project management) methodologies, ranging from plan-driven models such as waterfall to various iterative and/or incremental approaches such as the agile methods. –  Thomas Owens Aug 17 '11 at 16:31
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What is your schedule and budget? Are there other developers, and if they are, what experiences do they have? Will someone else be maintaining this after you deliver, and if so, what experiences do they have? What environment will this be deployed in? How much of your requirements have you documented, or what state is your SRS (or other requirements capturing format) in? Answers to those questions will drive how you select technologies. –  Thomas Owens Aug 17 '11 at 16:36
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There is no such general strategy when it comes to technology selection. There are only tradeoffs - better tools and libraries that come with a learning curve versus tools that are harder to use yet you are already knowledgable in. Ultimately, everything has to be based on the requirements of the project as those will add constraints to what you can or can't do. Unless you can add a lot more details to your question, I don't think anyone can give you any advice or suggestions. And there aren't really any tips that will apply to every project at every moment in time. –  Thomas Owens Aug 17 '11 at 16:45
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There is no such general strategy when it comes to technology selection. There are only tradeoffs. As a single example, choosing a new tool or library will introduce a learning curve, but if it's the best tool for the job, it might make it easier to express your solutions. Ultimately, everything has to be based on the requirements of the project and the capabilities of the team (to either use what they already know or learn something new) as those will add constraints to what you can or can't do.

I don't think anyone can give you the advice or suggestions that you are looking for. There aren't really any tips that will apply to every project at every moment in time.

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Have you considered using Google Docs?

Seriously, some of the online collaboration tools are pretty good nowadays and suffice for most small business purposes.

For example, a customer sales pipeline can pretty easily be managed with a single shared spreadsheet on Google Docs.

More importantly, using an existing or even free online application is an awful lot easier than writing, maintaining and hosting your own applications on an ongoing basis.

Surely running your business is more important than spending time building custom back-office applications?

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Good suggestion. This particular implementation involves data that must be stored locally by law (it's health data subject to HIPAA, a US law). But for future reference, is there a way to manage business logic in Google Docs? Or is it all embedded in spreadsheet formulas? –  Patrick Aug 17 '11 at 17:08
    
Hmm that's what you get for letting legislators get involved in technology they don't understand ;-). I'm not an expert in Google Docs by any means, but I understand that there is a scripting capability - code.google.com/googleapps/appsscript. –  mikera Aug 17 '11 at 17:14
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Use stackoverflow.com or superuser.com if you have specific problems with designing Access forms. I know you want to give users a pleasant experience, but I'm sure you can make something more visually pleasing than what they get in Excel. Make their job easier without too much emphasis on some visual wow factor. Not that employees want to look at ugly stuff all day, but they're easier to please then attracting buyers to a website.

If they're using Excel as a way to maintain data, a database will be much better. Those who do a lot of analysis, their own formulas and like to tweak the appearance every time they create a spreadsheet will not prefer a new app.

Make sure you're solving the problem instead of giving an alternative solution.

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They do like to tweak the appearance, and they're quite comfortable with things like using "find" to figure out who is calling them before they answer the phone. I have some concern about asking them to use a new platform, but it seems difficult to maintain organization in Excel. –  Patrick Aug 17 '11 at 17:04
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