Search and databases often have troubled relationships. Web-based search utilities have become essential business tools. The database is the lifeblood of many a business’ record-keeping system. Both are vital — just don’t try to put the two together or integrate spreadsheets and other documents with them.
For example, searching just doesn’t exist with Oracle or Microsoft Access. Users with technical skills can build a structured query, but these products do not have the sort of simple search features found at Google’s or Yahoo’s home pages, for instance.
Data searching does not get much better with Microsoft Excel, the world’s most widely used de facto database. Searching in Excel forces you to hop from cell to cell, among all the cells that contain any of the search terms adjacent to each other. If the same search terms are too many columns apart, the search will be fruitless.
That’s not the case with TrackVia, an online database service that offers the rare amenity of real-time search. TrackVia even pulls data from a variety of sources including Excel, Quarto Pro and ACT. Its Software as a Service (SaaS) platform makes it an ideal business solution for small and medium-sized companies.
Easy Search Terms
In business for a little more than 2 1/2 years, TrackVia has always had a search feature. The company recently added an advanced set of features. These new bells and whistles make it more like an Internet search engine on steroids.
For example, users can enter phrases in quotation marks to indicate that the terms must appear together. Starting a search term with an equal sign provides an exact match. Thus, “=Rob” will return records with an exact match such as Rob, but not Robert or robbery. And starting a search with a minus sign eliminates any records with that term in the mix.
I am not a huge fan of structured databases. So I liked the straightforward searching functions in TrackVia. Using it, I can avoid rigid search syntax to create search queries. For instance, I can search date and time fields by simply entering “Nov. 20” or “2 P.M.” to find records involving that information.
Some of the features found in the product raise the question, “Why don’t other databases let me do this?” Take the act of looking for data in records containing empty fields or specific fields, for instance.
Searching on a blank search window returns records with blank fields. Putting a field name before a term limits the search for that term to the designated field.
A really cool feature is the ability to create ad-hoc queries by combining the search terms. For example, I uploaded a spreadsheet containing a list of sources with different specialties I use as a journalist. I also added another file containing topics about which I have written in the various technology categories I cover.
I entered the search terms “security flaws” and “2007” to find a list of sources I used for my articles on network security issues published last year. TrackVia quickly assembled a list of article titles and the sources they contained by date. To do this with my old-fashioned, hunt-and-peck strategy, I would have had to scroll down my list of story titles in my spreadsheet and then call up each article in the list until I found the sources I needed.
Another feature that makes TrackVia unique is the ability to search on the change notes, comments and attachment names that are displayed in the history section of every TrackVia record. I can search the conversations and context around data records that represent business processes or workflow by simply checking from a companion list of options near the search terms window.
TrackVia is easy to get started. The company offers a free, fully functional 14-day trial service. There is no software to download and nothing to configure.
The process involves entering some basic user information and working with a drop-down menu to set up the database.
Entering a project name and database name is optional — “NONE” is the default. Then select one of three options: upload your spreadsheet, start with a sample database or choose and name database fields from scratch.
The last option could be especially convenient for users starting a new business process. You select the types of information you want to track and the specific data fields you want to use. The sample database option serves up a list of more than 20 information types. The choices include assets, clients, contacts, e-mail, products, tasks and sales leads.
If you decide to upload your own spreadsheet, TrackVia analyzes the data and compiles it into a database that displays much like a spreadsheet. But this is where the similarity to a traditional spreadsheet ends. The TrackVia platform displays and filters the data in a variety of customized and standard views.
Tech Support Excels
I like talking to real people on the phone when I need technical help. TrackVia doesn’t offer me a menu of topics so I can search for a solution from a programmed script. Instead, the company uses a real help desk with live assistants that actually answer the phone. This is a definite plus for the small-business owner without an IT staff or even a worker in a larger company whose corporate help desk is always busy.
The look and feel of TrackVia is that of doing searches in Excel, only better. TrackVia also stores images and documents attached to records.
One of my favorite things about using Google is its mapping capabilities. I do not have to give that up with TrackVia or do the mapping task separately. The company licenses this feature from Google as a mashup. This lets TrackVia pull data from my spreadsheet and place the location from my address fields on a map view directly within my TrackVia display.
So Much More
TrackVia is not a full-fledged business intelligence tool, but it does so much more than other records management software. Just the choice of views makes a subscription worth it. Depending on the selected filters and the selected fields from my records, I can view the results in a table view, statistics view or pie chart view.
I can also use TrackVia for document integration, to create letters and other documents to produce distribution lists, or to create customized templates in the word processor format of my choice.
Perhaps the ultimate usefulness of TrackVia is the feature that lets me copy and paste data from various Web sites into a record-keeping system that allows me to find what I need when I need it. Getting data of all sorts in and out is easy.
TrackVia can also facilitate collaboration. Users within an organization or working on the same project from different locations can share information using a variety of tools.
TrackVia costs US$249 per month for 20 users. Each additional user costs $3. This entry-level business subscription covers up to 300,000 records and 4 GB of attachments.
Additional pricing plans are available for Business Plus, Business Pro and Enterprise subscriptions.
LongJump, another Online database offers similar features but interesting capabilities like Mobile Access, Java Programming capabilities. Check it out at http://www.longjump.com/database.