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  • Database vs. spreadsheet

    I have heard alot of talk about spreadsheet templates for estimating, but there has not been much said about using database programs, I down loaded Jerralds File Maker beta program and liked it. I perform a wide variety of services and like everyone else I'm tring to steamline the process. Does anyone else use a database? What are the pros and cons? What do you guys think?

    Duane

  • #2
    Re: Database vs. spreadsheet

    Duane-

    Databases are an excellent choice, if you can find one that does what you want. There's only two problems I have with them:

    First- the reporting and analysis. To create a report in a database, you either need to use a pre-loaded format, or "build" a new report- much more work than a spreadsheet. With a spreadsheet, I can just pop formulas in to manipulate the data anyway I need to.

    Second- if I need to blow out an estimate quickly, using items that aren't in my database, I need to "create" those items, one by one. With a spreadsheet, I just enter the info in the rows, copy the calculation formulas down, and I'm done. The advantage of the database is, once you've entered those items once, they're in there for good.

    As someone who uses Excel for the most part, but is also getting some stuff going in Timberline (The grand-daddy, $6,000 database program), I'd say they both have their place. The spreadsheets are just simpler to get your feet wet.

    Bob

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    • #3
      Re: Database vs. spreadsheet

      Bob it’s not really my intent to argue from a purely defensive partisan position but it is generally felt by most computer pundits that one of the advantages of database managers over spreadsheets is better reporting. With a database, you can organize the same data many ways in reports and very quickly move between them.

      A quote from an article comparing databases vs. spreadsheets gave the following example:
      ---" For monthly sales reports, you want to look at sales by person, by region and by product. In a spreadsheet, you basically have to enter or copy that information three times in three spreadsheets to get the desired reports. In a database, you enter it once and then use the reporting features to compile the data in the three formats with a click of the button."---
      The manipulation of the data in that example unless I’m missing something is a lot easier, more thorough, and certainly LESS PRONE TO ERRORS than popping in spreadsheet formulas to manipulate data

      The downside is you either need to already have those reports in the database solution you are using or need to know how to write your own with the database manager you are using (typically FileMaker or Access). I’m a FileMaker advocate just because I feel the learning curve to report writing in FileMaker is far gentler than it is in Access and even Excel for that matter.

      The advantage that I think spreadsheets might have over a database is the creation of "what if scenarios" which fits in with what you were talking about when you said, "manipulate the data". "Reporting" however is different than "manipulating data".

      What I do is export the data typically from a database generated report as a SYLK (symbolic link) document and then do my "what if" playing around with it in Excel.

      In response to your second issue with the database solution that I personally use for our operation (not the one that Duane and you have checked out which is a scaled down version) when I enter a new item straight into an estimate (database file) for the first time that item is also automatically added to my CostBook (database file) too.

      In fact it’s added to the CostBook database with a "flag" on it saying it was new and added on x/x/xx date by username yy as part of the zz estimate and the data has either been confirmed and approved or is waiting for approval so that the next time I would go to use the data I can gauge it’s veracity and accuracy. That would be really jumping through hoops to do with a spreadsheet solution. What’s that shows off is just some of the power of a Relational Database.

      Where you wrote ---"The advantage of the database is, once you've entered those items once, they're in there for good."---
      That is true (sort of) and that is what makes a database solution far easier to maintain. However (and this is what I meant by "sort of") once again thanks to Relational Database design it is possible to very easily have all the my CostBook database items or assemblies that use 1x3 select pine as a component update automatically (or at your command) when the price for that one item changes.

      I do however think it’s generally a little easier and less intimidating to the "contractor personality" archetype (or stereotype for that matter) to get up and running in a hurry with Excel as opposed to FileMaker and certainly Microsoft Access. I think that’s because of the visual metaphoric connection Excel has to a real world article, the paper columnar spreadsheet. What’s the metaphorical equivalent to a Relational Database? I’m not sure there is one.

      Once again though I think a database management system handles and organizes large amounts of data much better and a lot more elegantly than a spreadsheet. I have 4887 line items for just finish carpentry and architectural woodwork alone. If all that is in a spreadsheet and I have to scroll through to find what I’m looking for that could take a while. With the CostBook database I have I can restrict what I am looking through to just the 337 line items I have devoted to just stairs & railing items. Or even further restrict it to just Cherry stairs & railing line items. Etc. I think finding what you are looking for is a lot easier in a database driven system.

      My original goal with that Simplified Estimating Worksheet solution that Duane, you, and who knows who else have seen was to create an "Introductory Database Management Estimating Solution" for the small contractor with the emphasis on keeping the data organized and easily updateable. Does it succeed at that? We’ll not quite (yet), there are a few tweaks I’ve been working in. Duane I do have a newer better much improved version that I told Bob about that I just haven’t gotten around to finishing off yet. I’ll e-mail you as soon as it’s done and ready for testing.

      I’ve been meaning to write something comparing databases to spreadsheets for that website but just haven’t gotten around to it in a while so it's not quite finished yet. Maybe this will get me off my butt. I was also thinking that seeing Bob’s file library appear yesterday that that would get me to finish the latest round of revision to my Simplified Estimating Worksheet and I could submit there and get some feedback too. Lets see what happens these next few days I guess.

      So Bob I’d fight you out in the ring over this at JLCLive this weekend but it looks as though I ain’t gonna make it.


      The Simplified Estimating Worksheet

      Comment


      • #4
        Re: Database vs. spreadsheet

        I like using a data base. I made my own so it can give me the details I want. My data base gives me a printable scope of work document with all the details of price, quantity, and specs. I can change reports to show as much detail as I want. I would never go back to a spreadsheet format.

        Darrell

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        • #5
          Re: Database vs. spreadsheet

          Darrell, what did you use? FileMaker or MS Access? Or maybe something else altogether? Just wondering. But glad you voted Database in this spreadsheet contractor world we're in here. Be sure to vote often.

          Comment


          • #6
            Re: Database vs. spreadsheet

            Jerrald-

            I use the database on Appleworks for the Macintosh.

            Comment


            • #7
              Re: Database vs. spreadsheet

              Oh geez....lol.

              Jerry-

              It's not my intent to battle it out either- your point about having that "starting point" to work from is the key to database usage. The more reports you have, and structure that's been created, the better. That's the one thing I like about spreadsheets- there's not as much to "develop". Given my druthers, I'd go database too- but it would be MY database system- which I never have the time or inclination to write. Hence, I'm waiting for yours....lol.

              Bob

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: Database vs. spreadsheet

                Darrell, very kool. Another question for you (from a fellow Mac User) while I don't have AppleWorks I had heard that it comes with FAXstf as part of the bundle. Is that true? I got a friend I'm trying to convince to go Mac and faxing was something that did come up. And are you by any chance on the OSX Jaguar operating system ?

                Comment


                • #9
                  Re: Database vs. spreadsheet

                  Thanks for your input, I do agree database programs are a little more involved than spreadsheets, and as I was planning a spreadsheet system I realized how many different sheet I would have, given how many different jobs we perform, there has to be a better way. I have the Craftsman cd program and checked out Hometech which are databases but I don't trust their numbers and they don't have enough listings and info, they of course can be customized but if I'm going to take the time to do that I'd like a better system to start with.
                  Jerrald I look forward to seeing the completed version of your system, and I appreciate the thought you put into the subject, you are a "thinking man".
                  Bob, you raise some good points, It would take some time to build such a system, I just keep hoping one of you gurus would develop one that fits my needs, hint, hint, lol...
                  Duane

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: Database vs. spreadsheet

                    Duane-

                    I'll see if I can work on it during the free time that I have between midnight and 6am....lol.

                    Bob

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Re: Database vs. spreadsheet

                      Duane since I've got one contractor friend who still insists on using a spreadsheet for that "coming soon" version I referred to I designed and scripted a button into the CostBook that will also copy the data with tab breaks between the values so that the values from it can then be pasted directly into an Excel spreadsheet instead of the estimate sheet that I made part of the solution.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Re: Database vs. spreadsheet

                        FWIW, the best learning tool for databases that I've come across is Dezignformysql, free from Datanamics, 1.3Mb in size, http://www.datanamic.com/download/dezignformysql.zip

                        SamT


                        http://www.datanamic.com/download/dezignformysql.z

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Re: Database vs. spreadsheet

                          We use a database for our company. It generates useful reports based on a lot of information entered at various times by various people. You can't beat it for keeping tabs on current jobs.

                          BUT, for estimating, I use spreadsheets. I've been using them since before we got the database software and I can't make the switch. They're more versitile and powerful than databases. Once a contract is signed we tranfer the estimate into the database. BTW, my partner estimates in the database.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Re: Database vs. spreadsheet

                            Jerrald-

                            No faxstf isn't bundled with apple works. the cost is $80 dollors. Don't let the cost fool you. It's an excellent program. You can send an estimate report via email if your want. You could also use efax if you wanted to fax it. OS X jaguar is awesome. I run out of words to describe this operating system. It's what we dreamed of 15-20 years ago.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Re: Database vs. spreadsheet

                              Darrell I have FAXstf and I paid the $80. It just I had heard that FAXstf was part o the AppleWorks bundle. Appleworks did not come loaded on any of my Macs when I got them so that's why I was asking.

                              I actually fax very very rarely now. I hate faxes. Fax needed to be manually transcribed when you get them. I absolutely 100% prefer digital copy either e-mail or computer documents. That way I can copy and paste data from the e-mail or document straight into my own programs.

                              The reason I developed that Simplified Estimating Worksheet was so that I could give it to the subs I was working with and they could then estimate there scope of the projects I was looking at. And then I could import the data from their application directly into my own master database application and I'd have their data as part of my historical data without any real data entry on my part. It just streamlined my procedures making my record keeping easier.

                              I was telling Bob just the other week I had my first forced restart of OSX just the other week when I got stuck while in Safari and I couldn't force quit out of it. I installed OSX last September. Six months and that's been the only blink of trouble I've experienced. Yeah it is pretty kool huh.

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