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Introduction

Thanks for taking the time to join me on a trip down my Road to Damascus, I trust you will find it useful and informative?

I have been developing Data Management Solutions for small to medium sized businesses in the UK for over a decade, using a variety of development tools including Visual Studio, SharePoint, Flex and MS Access. I would regard myself as primarily an Access Developer, as over the years I have pushed the envelope of what can be done with OLE integration with the MS Office Suite to leverage seamless connectivity with Word, Outlook, Excel and PowerPoint.

Since 2002 I have been working on a sophisticated MS Access based Case Management Solution for UK Members of Parliament to assist them with constituency casework, press release management and political research. This product called CMITS has formed the cornerstone of a very successful business and it is used by a large number of senior political figures both in government and on the opposition benches.

For many years I have seen CMITS grow from a very basic CRM to become a very flexible integrated data management system that provides comprehensive document management, including scan and save functions to facilitate the seamless importation of paper based information. Tight integration with MS Outlook enables the capture and storage of emails and integration with MS Excel and MS Graph provides a familiar set of reporting and analysis tools. The primary objective of the application has been to provide users with a familiar set of tools that enable them to manage the vast amount of data passing through a Member’s office.

The reason for choosing MS Access for this solution was driven by the low number of concurrent users (4-8) and the need to provide an agile development environment that could evolve as the user group demanded more from the application. The added advantage was that there was always a route open to upsize the back-end of the database to SQL Server if future needs dictated.

Over the years, I have managed to meet almost every user group request for extended functionality to meet the ever changing business requirement. Access has provided an impressive agile development environment that has benefited the user group beyond even their expectations, but time and time again I have arrived at the same show stopping shortfall – a complete inability to easily migrate the application to the Web. With increasing numbers of staff wanting to work from home, what is a great application has effectively become office bound unless the user has parliamentary supplied hardware at home.

Having made a commitment to Microsoft as a developer, I have sadly been witness to a slow but sure abandonment of the Access development community in terms of meeting the increasing demand for web based applications. Now I am sure Microsoft will say that’s nonsense given the abundance of tools they have available to develop web apps, to which I respond “fine if you want to start again from scratch”. Recognition of this position is clearly demonstrated by their move to integrate Access 2010 with SharePoint, but is this a realistic response if you look at the cost of ownership to small businesses? The success of Access has been built on a low cost flexible development environment that has met the needs of thousands of small businesses. Microsoft has effectively decided to impose a heavy surcharge on any business that wants to migrate their applications to the web and in my view, this is a totally unacceptable approach.

Setting the above aside, the Access development community is being asked to tolerate the move to a bastardised development environment, so that Microsoft can encourage have a go hero’s to develop applications based on database templates. To say I am unimpressed would be a significant understatement, but I have to thank them for forcing me to seek alternative options in order to deliver the high level of development my clients have come to expect. I called this blog “The Road to Damascus” so I could share what I think is a development environment that enables Access developers to break free of the shackles that Microsoft are trying to impose if you don’t want to go down the high cost Visual Studio or SharePoint route.

For some time, I had been following the progress of the Alpha 5 team as an alternative to Access. You know how it is when you are thinking “i’d like to use something else, but Access does the job”. Whilst it was an appealing alternative, there was nothing in there to justify the perceived hassle of changing a familiar development. However, the arrival of Alpha 5 Version 10 changed all that with the advent of Codeless Ajax and it’s ability to easily move Access apps to the web. Now you’re probably thinking as I did that the reality can’t live up to the expectation. I downloaded the Alpha 5 trial and within 3 hours, I had connected the development environment to the Access back end and was viewing and searching data via a web browser. To say I was impressed can’t capture how I felt as my mind began racing as to what could be done and how my clients would be blown away. Don’t take it from me go and try it for yourself.

The purpose of this blog is to invite you on a journey from Access to the Web as I migrate CMITS to the Web using Alpha 5. Starting at the beginning of February, I will chart the move in the hope that any Access developers out there get a feel for where they need to be.




February 2020
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