Episode 5: Access to Alpha with Scott Binger
00:00 Adam: Intro to episode 5.
00:35 Scott: Overview of development experience with Access.
01:14 Scott: Clients range from mom and pop businesses to enterprise size corporations.
01:26 Adam: Access seems to have penetrated all levels of businesses.
01:39 Scott: Despite its weaknesses, Microsoft has marketed Access successfully.
02:16 Adam: What kind of databases have you worked with on the back-end?
02:20 Scott: Jet Engine, SQL Server, and MySQL. I'm also hoping to expand into Oracle.
02:53 Adam: What problems have you had with Access?
02:60 Scott: One is the dreaded data corruption problem.
04:29 Scott: The other is limitations for web development.
05:12 Adam: Has mobile been a blocking point?
05:18 Scott: Yes, Access does not support any mobile development.
05:42 Adam: Do you share these issues with the Access community?
05:50 Scott: There is a common thread of problems.
06:17 Scott: There is general fear that Microsoft won't take Access further.
06:40 Adam: Is Microsoft giving any signals about this?
06:46 Scott: No, this is based on my peers and the latest version of Access.
07:21 Adam: When did you start working with Alpha, what kind of apps did you build?
07:32 Scott: I started in 2010, and have built a wide variety of applications.
09:08 Adam: How many were extending Access apps vs. replacing them?
09:21 Scott: Replacing Access was made smooth by starting with the Access back-end and building a new front-end.
10:05 Adam: Does this eliminate down time when making the switch to Alpha?
10:18 Scott: That was a huge benefit.
10:31 Adam: What about extending existing Access apps?
10:38 Scott: I've been phasing functionality into Alpha, and customers are enthusiastic.
10:10 Adam: Are you making the move into mobile with Alpha?
11:16 Scott: All of my clients want mobile components.
11:40 Adam: What problems have you had with Alpha?
11:49 Scott: The one limitation has been the ease of attaching to APIs from other products.
11:51 Adam: Has this problem been with authorization or consuming API data?
13:04 Scott: Consuming the data
13:08 Adam: Do plan on settling on Alpha or looking at other products?
13:20 Scott: I plan on staying with Alpha as my only web and mobile tool.
14:00 Adam: I've heard you describe Alpha as a secret weapon.
14:12 Scott: It's a secret weapon because you can build apps in a week that would take a month in other tools.
15:39 Adam: Do you show clients the Alpha development tools?
16:03 Scott: Clients don't care about the tools. They just want the final app.
17:12 Adam: Have you acted as a mentor for developers who took over one of your apps?
17:18 Scott: Not with Alpha.
17:21 Adam: What would you tell Access developers about Alpha?
17:32 Scott: Alpha is the right way to go.
00:00 Adam: Welcome to episode 5 of Adventures in Alpha Land. Today we'll be talking with Scott Binger, CEO of Binger Data Management Group. Scott has been developing applications with Microsoft Access for 15 years, and is now moving all of his clients to Alpha Anywhere. We'll discuss his experiences with Access, and why he switched to Alpha.
00:25 Just to get started Scott, could you give me a little bit of your background with Access? When did you start working with it? What kind of projects have you worked on?
00:34 Scott: Sure. I've been using Access for about 15 years or so, pretty long time. I've built a variety, a wide range of systems in Access. Everything from a sophisticated curriculum management system for a learning center company, to an inventory management system for a vending machine business, to a CRM system for real estate company, really many, many more systems in Access.
01:09 Everything from companies... My clients with Access, range from companies with five people, five-person mom and pop shops to large enterprise organizations with greater than a thousand people.
01:26 Adam: That sounds like a normal profile from the people I've been speaking to, of developers who work with Access. They really reach a broad range. It's interesting how Access has penetrated all kinds of levels.
01:38 Scott: Yes. Despite the weakness or weaknesses of the product, Microsoft has succeeded at marketing it as a very good component- based product. You really don't realize the problems until you've purchased it, and have invested time, a lot of time, in using it.
02:12 Adam: We'll get to the problems in a minute. A little more on the background. What kind of databases have you worked with that as the back-end?
02:21 Scott: Focusing on three different kinds -- JET engine, which is the Microsoft Access database, SQL server, I've been using SQL server 2008, and more recently, I have started using SQL Server 2012, and also MySQL. I'm hoping to expand out into Oracle and some others, but those three right now, for the most part.
02:52 Adam: Let's get back to the problems that you described. What kind of problems have you found, and what have you done to try to work around them?
02:59 Scott: There are two types of problems in Access. One type is the persistent bug issue that sooner or later, all Access developers run into. This is absolutely dreaded because no matter how good you are as an Access developer, and how good the architecture of your databases is, the database has potential for becoming corrupt, and leading to all sorts of problems.
03:36 I've worked on projects, fortunately not that many, where I've had the problem of being almost at the point of rollout with a client, and have seen very random bug issues. That pointed ultimately to database corruption issues.
04:02 So database corruption is one problem with Access. They have various tools to repair and fix, those are pretty limited. What I've wound up doing was investing a lot of time to rollback modifications rollback enhancements, and redoing a lot of work at my own expense to make things work.
04:28 The other world of Access issues, I guess is more of its limitation and limitations with Web capabilities. You really have to understand Access' limitations with Web development if you are developing a Web application in Access. For example, if you're writing certain macros, there are certain features within the macros that are not supported in a Web-based environment.
05:04 There are many other new nuances with Web development in Access that can be a really big headache to a developer.
05:12 Adam: What about mobile, has that been a blocking point also?
05:17 Scott: Yes, hugely. As far as I know, Access does not support any type of mobile development for developers. If anything, I would think it's the ability to use a Web-based application on a mobile device. That's pretty much it.
05:42 Adam: Are you involved in the Access community? Do you have ways of interacting with other developers? Do you share these issues with them?
05:50 Scott: I do, absolutely. What I have found over the years is that there's such a common thread of problems. The corruption issue, which I spoke about, is very common in the Access community. The Web development limitations is also very...That frustration is very common.
06:17 The general consensus is that Microsoft should be doing a lot more to support the product. The fear that they really have plateaued with Access and are not going to take it any further. Microsoft would not take Access any further.
06:39 Adam: You're getting that from your peers, or is Microsoft giving any explicit signals about this that you've seen?
06:47 Scott: I have not seen anything from Microsoft explicitly. This is just from my peers, and various online resources, from talking to people, and there's definitely a sense... My impression from the latest version of Access, 2013, is not that much different from the prior version, which leads me to believe that they're not investing a great deal of resources in building out the product.
07:19 Adam: Let's move on to Alpha Anywhere. When did you start working with Alpha? What kind of apps did you start working with when you first made the transition?
07:32 Scott: I started using Alpha in 2010. I have built a wide variety of applications since then. The very first application I've built was a comprehensive performance tracking system for a transportation consulting company to help them track the performance of buses and trains throughout Europe, to see what buses and trains were early and late, and by what margins.
08:07 That particular application was a attached to a really extensive SQL server database. I still support the application, and it's still used on a regular basis.
08:22 The subsequent applications that I've built since then have been... I built an electronic medical record system for a large healthcare practice, New York-based healthcare practice, a comprehensive reporting system for a major automotive company, a data warehouse system for an Arts and Cultural Center, and many more applications that span many different industries.
08:55 The great thing about Alpha is that you can use it as a tool for any industry in any type of ... to solve, so many different types of database needs.
09:07 Adam: Were most of these applications that you built in Alpha brand new, with new databases? How many of them were either extending Access apps or replacing them?
09:20 Scott: I would say, a good deal were either extending or replacing them. The transition to be able to either extend or replace is...Speaking to replacing existing applications was fantastic. It was so smooth. Starting with taking the back-end of an Access database, and building out the application side -- the front-end side in Alpha.
09:46 It was so easy to attach that new front-end to the pre- existing Access database, and alleviated all the concerns of the client that their data was secured, and the transition was seamless.
10:05 Adam: I also imagine this eliminates the downtime or at least minimizes it. They could keep working with their existing system and data while you were building the new one.
10:18 Scott: Absolutely, yes. That was a huge benefit of it because they did not want that downtime. As a result, it was able to be seamless.
10:30 Adam: What about extending? Do you have systems that are still partway in Access, and then new features in Alpha?
10:38 Scott: Yes. I've been working a lot with systems that still have components in Access, and phasing those components, phasing that functionality into Alpha. For the most part, the majority is already in Alpha. There's some limited reporting and transactional functionality that's still maintained on the Access side. Clients are very enthusiastic about transitioning that over, and getting everything in the Alpha world.
11:01 Adam: We said that mobile was a problem for Access. Are you making the move into mobile now that you are using Alpha?
11:17 Scott: Without a doubt, yes. In fact, all of my clients expressed some level of interest in having a mobile component to their existing application. I'm already working with several clients on developing that, and anticipate that's going to be a very important segment of the business moving forward.
11:40 Adam: You have a lot of good things to say about Alpha, and that's great. Be honest, what limitations have you found? What problems, what do you wish they'd extend?
11:49 Scott: The one limitation, if I would point to anything, with Alpha currently is the API world. It's the ease of attaching an Alpha application to more APIs that are out there. I work a lot with various workflow management products, and I had found myself stumbling a little bit with building out the API or the Application Programming Interface so Alpha can talk to that software.
12:25 I've been able to do it successfully. It's taking a lot of effort on my part. Alpha has such a great API, Google API. Now, they've developed...You can log-in via Facebook, via LinkedIn, and other social and professional networking sites to extend that API capability. To extend that out a little bit would be great.
12:50 Adam: When you say you have problems with the API, is this specifically on things like OAuth and authorization, or consuming the JSON or XML data that the APIs are sending?
13:03 Scott: Consuming the data that APIs are sending.
13:08 Adam: Based on your current experience with Alpha, is this your development system of choice? Do you have plans to continue working with it? Are you looking at any of the other systems that build mobile apps, for example?
13:20 Scott: Four years ago when I found Alpha, I was really pleased with the product. I'm so happy that I discovered it. I've made a significant investment in my business, both on the financial standpoint, as well as time standpoint, to use Alpha as my primary and really only Web and Mobile development tool. I do not have plans to use other platforms. I do plan on continuing using Alpha. It's a great resource going forward.
13:59 Adam: A leading question. In talking to you, previous to this podcast, I've heard you use the phrase "secret weapon." Can you elaborate on that, why Alpha is a secret weapon?
14:12 Scott: I see Alpha as a secret weapon. An application that would ordinarily take a developer months to build, you can potentially build on Alpha in a matter of a week. That is tremendous. I know that to be true, just in speaking to other developers, and hearing stories of developers using ASP and PHP, and various features and functionality that have taken them literally months to build. It's so easy and smooth to do, using Alpha.
14:58 Going back to the secret weapon idea, that savings of time is passed on to my clients. They are wowed by the short amount of time that it took to develop a well and sophisticated application, and are impressed by what's possible when they've, typically, had bad experiences in the past with other platforms.
15:39 Adam: As one developer to another I'm always interested in methodology, and also what you could call sales approaches. Do you ever try showing them the builders, sitting in front of a UX component with the client, and moving things around, or do you just build it, and then show them the finished result?
16:03 Scott: To be perfectly honest, Adam, I never have shown them. I never lifted up the hood. Not because I have not wanted to or been excited about what's possible, but simply because there's an interest from the client's perspective of wanting it to be done the way they need it to be done, and as fast as possible. If Alpha's the right platform to do that, which is absolutely no doubt in my mind that it is the best platform to do that, then that's great.
16:49 For the most part, that will hold true for most businesses out there, unless you're dealing with an IT company or an IT department for a company that plans on taking over management of the application.
17:11 Adam: Have you done any of that? Have you built things, and then worked as a mentor or advisor for people who took it over?
17:18 Scott: Not with Alpha.
17:22 Adam: We're at the end of our time. I'll give you a last chance to sum up for Access people. What would you advise other Access people, as far as the potential of Alpha?
17:32 Scott: The potential of Alpha is tremendous. It took me months to find the right tool when I was looking to make the transition. Many hours of research. I would say that, "Save yourselves the time. This is the right way to go. You can start building applications immediately, and you'll really be so happy with the decision to switch over to Alpha from Access."