Build me a modern small business solution
December 20, 2012 9:18 PM   Subscribe

What is the state-of-the-art Small/Medium-sized "Enterprise" business process database workflow solution these days?

Throughout the 90's I cut my teeth on, and was quite successful as a client-server database software developer creating end-user solutions for vertical markets in Paradox, Delphi, PowerBuilder, and C++/ODBC and native SQL. These were complex multi-user business process systems that involved data entry, workflows, and custom reporting along with the associated administrative tools that might be needed. Around the turn of the century as it were, I switched jobs, moving to a career with my current company focused on high-performance image/signal-processing algorithm development in C++. All is well. Those years as a geeky kid sitting in front of the Commodore 64 actually paid off. Yay! 

Fast-forward 13 years later.

Recently I regained contact with my good friend and first boss who hired me out of college to work at custom database software firm. Now he is a very successful entrepreneur and small business owner in a non-technical field, and finds himself needing exactly the same sort of system that we used to build to help manage and run his current company. I would love to help him out, as either a small side project, or direct him to some COTS solution that wouldn't cost him six figures. Unfortunately, I find myself needing to talk to the millennial equivalent of my 25-year old self, as I am now woefully behind-the-times when it comes to the state of IT-focused database systems for business. 

Without knowing every detail of what my friend needs, here are the requirements as I understand them in no particular order:

• Multi-user data entry and reporting system that allows reasonable customization of fields, workflow rules, reporting, and user notifications/action triggers
• Easily accessible from co-located offices, ideally web-based
• Direct access to the backend database at the central location for reporting, archival, etc.
• Shared dashboard showing workflow progress/status of projects/tasks
• Ability to share/link attachments such as spreadsheets, docs, etc. ideally in a way that facilitated shared edits, and possibly versioning.
• Ability to see dashboard, receive notifications and view/enter data on iOS/Android devices
• If possible, this would all be built on top of a clean, modern software architecture that could be supported easily into the future. Something that is not based on an anachronism or the equivalent of a 21-st century COBOL. HTML5/JavaScript/Cloud buzzword mojo considered a plus assuming it actually adds value.

Bottom-line, a fully-customizable COTS product that already exists is strongly preferred. Installing and tweaking is more welcome than multi-month custom programming efforts, since neither of us have the time or frankly, youthful exuberance to re-train everything that would be needed to build this ourselves knowing that properly encoding business logic and workflow take time no matter what you are programming in.

So database jockeys, whatcha got that's all SAAS-y and the new hotness? Can you help me and my bud, and while you're at it put our old and busted Paradox/Delphi skillz to shame, or do I need to dig out all 14 of my old Win 95 install disks and rebuild my old development box?
posted by bmosher to Computers & Internet (5 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
This is the kind of thing that everyone uses Salesforce for these days.
posted by I EAT TAPAS at 9:46 PM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

It sounds like BMC Amp Remedy could do these things. Unfortunately I have no idea what it costs and I hate it. It may be a lot more stable in a small environment though.
posted by MonsieurBon at 10:18 PM on December 20, 2012

Have you considered Filemaker?
posted by colorproof at 2:23 AM on December 21, 2012 is pretty much the thing.

I absolutely LOVE it. I've used it in my last two jobs and it's so easy and customizable. I never took a formal class, but it's so intutive that I was able to wade in and start using it from day 1. (Now I'm kind of the shit with it.)

The user conference they have in San Francisco is fun, and you get to learn the latest and greatest and meet with 100,000 other users and see what cool thing they're doing.

There are a shit-ton of amazing Apps you can buy, and some are free, that allow you to integrate all kinds of legacy systems into Salesforce.

There are sales, service and order modules, inventory and forecasting. If you have an ERP it'll work with that too.

I've used Microsoft Dynamics and the difference is...well compare the kluginess of Microsoft to the elegance of anything and you'll know what I mean.

In short, is worth a look.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:27 AM on December 21, 2012

It sounds like might be exactly the sort of thing my buddy needs. I'll take a look and direct him that way. Thanks, all!
posted by bmosher at 9:58 AM on December 22, 2012

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