Oct 29

Microsoft OneDrive Offers Unlimited Cloud Storage for Office 365 Subscribers

Wow! It was only a matter of time, but Microsoft has completely commoditized cloud storage by offering unlimited amounts of storage with their OneDrive service. It’s not even a separate purchase, but part of what’s included in Office 365 for consumer and business customers.

Wouldn’t Want to be Box or DropBox

This is very bad news for the smaller players in the market such as Box and DropBox who introduced the idea of backing up files to the cloud, sharing files across devices, and sharing files publicly or with specified individuals.

“Free” with an Office365 Subscription

OneDrive now offers this as part of its Office365 subscription at a fraction of the cost of other providers. The previous 1 TB storage limit was already quite generous, but making it unlimited drives the cost to practically $0. It’s clear that Microsoft intends to dominate this space and are giving it away as part of their Office subscription. Very powerful. Competitors such as Google Drive will need to respond. Google has deep pockets, but Box and DropBox do not. Hard to compete against $0.

How OneDrive Works

Simply install OneDrive on your PC and store your files in the OneDrive folder. You can create subfolders and treat it just like any other folder on your device. Those files are automatically backed up to the cloud in the background. There’s no excuse for losing data should your device be stolen or hard disk die.

With OneDrive, you can also share files in individual folders with other people by setting the permissions on the folder. Folders can be open to the general public (no login) for view rights. People often do that with pictures and OneDrive includes features to browse pictures in slide shows.

If you want others to add, edit and delete the files, you need to specify their email addresses so they can log in. Note that their email addresses do not need to be an Office365 account or a Microsoft email so you can work with people using Gmail, Yahoo, etc.

For phones, OneDrive can be used to store photos so you can take pictures on your smartphone, delete them there, and still have them appear on your PC’s OneDrive folder. No need to worry about running out of storage space on your phone or the hassles of transferring them to your PC.

Microsoft AccessLimitations with Microsoft Access

Note that because the files are copied to the OneDrive cloud in the background of the PC, this is not equivalent to sharing an Access database file across a LAN. If you have a “master” backend database on your PC’s OneDrive folder, it gets copied to the cloud as CPU cycles are available on your PC. If you share that folder with others, the updated database will be copied to their OneDrive folder based on their PC’s availability. While this is fine if the database is read only, if edits occur, this will not synchronize properly. So don’t try to use OneDrive as an alternative to a LAN.

Sep 23

Designing a Data Entry System Properly; Overhauling the Healthcare.gov Web Site

Healthcare.govSince my original impression that the debut of the Healthcare.gov web site was a technological disaster, I’ve contended that the website could be created for much cheaper, and be much easier to use than the mess that was delivered.

New York TimesThere finally seems to be progress in this direction according to today’s New York Times article, HealthCare.gov Is Given an Overhaul. I was quoted by Robert Pear:

“Instead of being user-friendly, the original website was user-hostile”

Basics of Data Entry Systems

We at FMS have created countless database systems where data entry played an important role. Unlike fancy graphics filled systems that look nice, data entry systems must be designed with a focus on ease-of-use by the end-user to enter, review, and update their information. If there are many questions and complex relationships, users need to be able to see as much of that on one screen as possible. If multiple screens are required, being able to move back and forth between screens without losing data and having changes in one screen reflected on others is critical for an efficient and intuitive user experience.

Data Entry Systems Should Target Users with Large Screens

For complex tasks such as writing a paper or working on a large spreadsheet, computers remain the preferred platform for getting work done where people can have one or multiple large screens. Serious data entry applications should target that user.

Mobile Apps Have a Role, but Not for Serious Data Entry

While mobile applications have a place, it’s not appropriate for complicated data entry since one question per screen is very inefficient. Not being able to see previous entries and pressing Next and Back for each question drives users crazy. The original designers of the Healthcare.gov web site designed it as if it were a simple, consumer mobile app meant to be filled out with a few finger clicks. They were either paid by the screen or just clueless about what a business data entry system requires.

Initial Request for Information Should be Anonymous

The purpose of the public facing Healthcare.gov website should be focused on helping prospects with the buying process. People need to quickly browse the health insurance options that are available to them in their state and cost estimates. The initial data entry should be the minimal anonymous information necessary to produce those results such as gender, age, zip code, family size, etc. Nothing personal such as names, social security numbers, email address, etc.

Automating a Paper Form

National ArvhivesOnly after customers have made a decision to buy should they be required (and expect) to provide more detailed information. This application feature is the core of the public facing Healthcare.gov website and is simply the automation of a 12 page paper form. It shouldn’t be that difficult.

We at FMS have automated paper forms for decades. Recently, we did this for a series of paper documents at the National Archives. The cost of doing this was in the tens of thousands of dollars, not the hundred of millions that Healthcare.gov cost.

Separating Data Entry from Complex Validation

A high volume, data entry system like Healthcare.gov should be designed to collect the user’s information as quickly as possible without trying to validate everything with other government systems in real-time. The cross-validation of information against IRS, HHS, Homeland Security, and other databases should happen in a background process that can withstand slowdowns or down times of dependent systems. This separates the complexity and risk of linking multiple systems together, manages the load on the other systems, and lets the user get done quicker. If a problem is detected later, an email can be sent to the user to fix the mistake or invalidate their application. Regardless, none of that needs to happen while the user is entering their data. After all, it’s not as if they were going to get insurance immediately upon pressing Submit.

Taxpayer Abuse

It remains shocking to me that it cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars initially for the broken Healthcare.gov site, and hundreds of millions dollars afterwards to the same contractors to fix it. The procurement process and incentives are completely inverted for creating and delivering quality software. It’s outright theft, but no one seems to be held responsible for it, and lots of people profiting mightily from it.

Conclusion: Data Entry Systems Aren’t Difficult If You Know What You’re Doing

Logistics Support SystemI’ve contended that we at FMS could have created the public facing Healthcare.gov site for $1 million. Some people scoff at that, but in our world and that of our customers, $1 million still goes a long ways. We created an international humanitarian relief logistics system for the United Nations for half that amount, and it supports full language localization as it’s deployed in 80+ countries. Healthcare.gov didn’t even support Spanish when it debuted, and that was one of its original requirements.

Creating a good data entry system is not rocket science. This is not something that needs to be done in Silicon Valley. What’s needed is a team who’ve done it before and know what they’re doing. Creating this type of solution requires a solid database foundation, understanding the user needs, creating an intuitive user experience, and building it so that it’s maintainable over time. It’s not something that can be created by people on their first paid programming job, but it’s not a rare skill. I’m proud that my development team at FMS have been with me for decades and continue to deliver systems that just work.

Aug 26

Free Update for Total Access Analyzer 2010 and 2007

Total Access AnalyzerTotal Access Analyzer is the most popular Microsoft Access add-in of all time. Analyzing all the objects and code in your database, Total Access Analyzer generates detailed documentation and detects 300+ ways to fix, improve, and speed up your Access applications.

We have released free updates of Total Access Analyzer 2007 and 2010 to existing customers:

The updates include the following fixes and enhancements:

  • Module Cross-Reference incorrectly listing procedures that didn’t exist when they existed
  • Improved SQL query parsing to better cross-reference table and field names passed as function parameters
  • For secure databases, document queries even when logged in without admin rights
  • Support documenting library references of long DLL file names and paths
  • Setup issues resolved for certain machines and motherboards
  • For Microsoft Access 2010’s 64-bit version, support for Windows 8

Existing customers were already notified with download instructions.

Aug 11

Speaking at the New York City Microsoft Access User Group on September 8

NYC SkylineOn Monday September 8th at 6:30 PM, I’m the featured guest speaker for the Microsoft Access User Group in New York City.

Microsoft Corporation Headquarters
11 Times Square
8th Avenue and 41st Street (NE Corner)

Hosted at Microsoft’s offices, I’ll showcase some of our Microsoft Access products. I’ll also answer any questions about my experiences with technology, media, and business.

Join me at this free event. More details to follow. Link to other Upcoming Events.

Aug 01

Total Access Statistics Ships for Microsoft Access 2013

Total Access StatisticsTotal Access Statistics is the most advanced data analysis program for Microsoft Access. It extends the power of Microsoft Access queries with a wide range of statistical calculations including percentiles, frequency distributions, correlations, regressions, rankings, running totals, financial cash flow analysis, data normalization, crosstabs with Chi-Square, t-Tests, ANOVA, non-parametrics, probabilities, and more.

Total Access Statistics is now available for Microsoft Access 2013. Total Access Statistics 2013 includes many enhancements since the prior release of Total Access Statistics 2010:

  • Support for the 32 and 64 bit versions of Access 2013 with separate add-ins for each
  • New redistributable runtime libraries to support Access 2013, 2010, 2007, and 2003
  • Support for Windows 8 (and all Windows versions supported by Access)
  • Improved performance when analyzing large data sets
  • For Percentiles, when assigning percentile values to a field in your table, you can specify calculations such as quartiles, quintiles, octiles, deciles, etc. rather than just percentile
  • Field format is set to Percent for percentage fields in the Frequency, Crosstab (when percentages are in columns), and Chi-Square details tables
  • When tables are generated from the add-in, the field column widths are resized to show the entire field name and data
  • Updated user manual and help file

Here’s a complete list of new features. For more information visit these resources: