Data-driven intranets quick, but without glitz

A number of products Web-enable Microsoft Access databases. But only one--Gatsby Database Explorer--combines basic functionality with an out-of-the-box interface.


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SRS' Webmaster Erick Polsky

SRS' Webmaster Erick Polsky wanted a quick and simple product to create a Web interface for an Access database.
When Erick Polsky became Webmaster for Strategic Resource Solutions Corp. (SRS) late in 1997, his first mandate was to construct an intranet and have it operational in virtually the click of a light switch. SRS, a facilities management firm in Cary, N.C., that helps design lighting and power systems, was growing at breakneck speed--from 70 employees when Polsky joined the firm to about 500 presently. And all of these employees, many of whom are remote users, needed immediate access to new sales information, ever-changing telephone lists, 401K plan tracking, facility locations and addresses, a weekly deregulation news database, and contractor listings all housed in a Microsoft Corp. Access database.

Intranets are ideal for information retrieval, of course. But Polsky had a few problems. First, the intranet had to be designed--and maintained--by a two-person staff: Polsky and a graphic artist. That meant he had to design the intranet to minimize the amount of future work after it started to expand. Polsky wanted to allow the various departments to update their own data, without having to give them much of his own input. The second issue was his own limited development skills, which reduced some of Polsky's design options.

After looking at Cold Fusion, a leading Web site design and management tool from Allaire Corp., of Cambridge, Mass., Polsky chose Gatsby Database Explorer from Gatsby Software Inc. in Hillsborough, N.C. The product dynamically builds a Web interface for Microsoft Access databases without HTML, CGI, or Java programming.


Strategic Resource Solutions, Inc.

The company:Based on Cary, N.C., Strategic Resource Solutions, Inc.is a subsidiary of Carolina Power and Light. SRS provides systems, lighting solutions, mechanical services, support, and software to help firms control building environments and reduce energy costs. The company currently employs 500 people.

The problem:Providing employees immediate access to a variety of information such as ever-changing telephone lists housed in a Microsoft Corp. Access database.

The solution: An intranet that provides Web-enabled database access.

The IT infrastructure: Gatsby Database Explorer 1.0 from Gatsby Software in Hillsborough, N.C., which dynamically builds a Web interface for Microsoft Access databases without HTML, CGI, or Java programming. SRS' intranet also uses Compaq Proliant, Microsoft Access 97, DreamWeaver 1.2, Adobe Photoshop 4.0, and custom ASPs.

Gatsby allows Webmasters such as Polsky to build data-driven intranets easily and quickly. As a kind of a poor man's Cold Fusion, it sacrifices the glitz and some of the bells and whistles available in more customizable applications, including Drumbeat 2000 from Elementary Software and NetObjects Inc.'s Fusion. While these products permit Web-enabled database access and provide richer customization, they also tend to be more complicated to deploy and manage-something resource-strapped Web managers are looking to avoid. "They require custom creation of the interface and difficult maintenance if the database has fields or tables added or removed," Polsky says.

Gatsby 2.0, which was developed for workgroup users, has only been available since June, so few analysts have looked at the product. Deployment, so far, is limited, though the company won't provide sales figures. "Cold Fusion is much more flexible than Gatsby," says David Hadfield, general manager for American Information Components, a small Microsoft Access-focused consulting firm in Loveland, Colo. "Gatsby is an interface right out of box, so you spend no time formatting a form. It has a niche no one else is getting into."

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