Is there a software tool for a small-business database problem?
November 22, 2011 8:39 AM   Subscribe

My office needs a seemingly simple database setup. I don't know what tool to use to set things up (or if we need to outsource it). Can the hivemind help?

We have a small company (<10 employees), and we need to keep track of some metrics on our clients. Each week, approximately 5 staff members need to grade each client (around 40 active clients at any given time) on a 1-5 scale on a list of about 15 items. We'd like to move away from the paper-based solution of having each staff member fill out an evaluation form for each client each week and having one staff member collate the results in the appropriate files.

Is there a simple way (or relatively simple) to set up this kind of "database" (or pseudo-database; maybe an Excel spreadsheet will suffice)? One challenge is that we might have people adding their evaluations at the same time; I don't know how best to handle that scenario, or even if that's something we need to worry about.

We're a mostly Windows environment, but there are a couple of Macs. If necessary, the Mac folks can be asked to use a Windows computer for filling out these evaluations.

We're small enough (and plan to stay small enough) that we're not overly concerned about security for the database. If we can restrict staff members to only editing their evaluations, that's great, but if we can only say "don't edit other peoples' stuff," we can make that work.
posted by philosophygeek to Computers & Internet (12 answers total)
There are a million ways to do this. I'd be inclined to use a staff survey setup on Formspring, copied and re-issued once each week. You'll even get pie charts!

You could also use Google Docs for this but I don't like that as much.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:41 AM on November 22, 2011

I would pay a capable young student in your area to make a very simple web app for you.
posted by michaelh at 8:51 AM on November 22, 2011

My wife's business is using Zoho Creator for some fairly sophisticated relational databases. It's not perfect, but it works. Wrapping your head around the concepts of a RDB is a little work at first, but if that's what you need, it's much more powerful than working with a flat-file database.

If it's not what you need, then I'd recommend a spreadsheet in Google Docs.

If you've got multiple people filling in information into the same document, you want that document to live on a server somewhere. Passing around an Excel file is going to end in tears.
posted by adamrice at 8:51 AM on November 22, 2011

Agree with adamrice -- you want something hosted, either internally or "in the cloud," rather than a file that people compete to edit. I have not worked with Zoho Creator, but it looks interesting for this use-case. I'm a rails guy, and I can say that a competent Rails guy could whip up an app to handle this very quickly -- unfortunately I'm also an overworked grad student, or I'd put a bid in.
posted by Alterscape at 8:55 AM on November 22, 2011

FileMaker is very good at this sort of thing and is cross-platform, but may be more expensive of a solution than you're looking for. As a caveat: its ease of use is also a bit of an Achilles Heel - over time homegrown solutions have a tendency accrete extra fields and poor data models, but if you have someone on hand who knows a thing or two about database theory you ought to be OK.
posted by usonian at 8:56 AM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I cringe to suggest this, as it's a bloated Microsoft POS, but if you already have SharePoint, it would be very good for this. If you don't already have it, stay away.
posted by desjardins at 8:57 AM on November 22, 2011

Survey Monkey will do exactly what you want, and will even spit out reports and charts tabulating all the results.
posted by jbickers at 8:58 AM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is a great thing to use google forms for. If you need something fancier, you can always export that data later
posted by rockindata at 8:59 AM on November 22, 2011

Seconding a simple custom web app. As Alterscape points out, any decent web/database person could put the basic framework together in a couple of hours.
posted by Doofus Magoo at 9:52 AM on November 22, 2011

Google Docs Spreadsheet with a Form.
posted by blue_beetle at 2:37 PM on November 22, 2011

I am pretty much in love with intuit QuickBase for needs just like this. It's online and hosted etc.
posted by BrodieShadeTree at 6:51 PM on November 22, 2011

This is what MS Access supposedly was designed for ( I haven't used the latest versions). Filemaker (mentioned before) is another option. If your requirements are simple enough you may be able to get by with using the designers only & no programming, however creating this is definitely a job for a power user at least .
This would result in an application that would be available to windows users on your LAN.
posted by canoehead at 10:20 AM on November 23, 2011

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