Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Back to Earth for a Moment.

Recently, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about, and working with, Access Web Apps, which is Microsoft’s tentative venture into making MS Access databases work “in the cloud”. I know, pretty sexy, huh? The Cloud: that’s the ticket. (Bow in the general direction of Jon Lovitz.)
Well, it’s not all that.
AWAs followed on from the idea that MS Access is the best small database solution available for Windows, and has been for over 20 years. So, moving it to the cloud was a no-brainer, at least in the beginning 6 years ago. Microsoft’s Access web database offerings turned out to be less than we hoped they would be, and still could be. We’re not done yet, so there’s still hope, but that hope has definitely faded with each passing month. However, that’s only part of my point. The rest of my thoughts have to do with how we think about, how we approach, what we do for, our clients. We’re Access developers. What we do is create Access database solutions, right? Well, not so fast.
While we may be tempted to think in terms of "a database solution", what we are really after, most of the time, is a "data management solution". Clients come looking for our help to solve problems within their organizations which usually, but not always, include managing some of their most important business-related data. They need to make processes more efficient, minimize transaction time and costs, and produce more actionable reports. Those are the things we must put front and center, not the specific tools we use to solve those problems. That means the specific tools we choose should not be the determining factor in how we do the job.
I'd say at least two other factors must be given higher priority than our choice of a specific tool:
Simplicity. A variation of Occam's Razor can be applied. When there are competing ways to get the job done, it's usually best to choose the simplest one. Not always, of course. There may be other complications which require more elaborate solutions. However, the end user's needs should be met with the least complex, but still effective, solution.
Cost. We must never lose sight of the fact that we, as developers, are expending SOMEONE's resources no matter what solution we implement. If a sexy solution offers us the chance to show off our chops, and it costs no more than a mundane solution that would get the same result, okay fine I say, show off. You don’t get that many chances to dance in front of an audience. Just remember, the person with the checkbook is paying for results, not a flamboyant Flamenco.
On the other hand, it's not likely to be in the client's best interest to invest two or three times the amount in a feel-good solution using the latest bleeding edge technology just because it can be done that way. Why go to the cloud? Is that what meets the minimum acceptable requirements of the project? If so, then do it. If not, resist the urge to try out something new, just so you can add it to your resume. I have yet to meet the client who told me, “Make sure you have a good time working on my project. I don’t really mind what it costs.”
I have had one client tell me, on the other hand, “If what you want to do will save me money, or make me more money, go ahead and do it.”
That’s been my motto for more than a dozen years now. I approach every new project with the same thing in mind. You should too.