New editing interfaces for agileBase

We’re taking a short break this week from working on features for system builders, to release two new updates that bring improvements for end users.

The ‘standard’ data editing experience in agileBase is to see data in rows and columns, then click on a row to edit a record. This suits many applications, but not all. Sometimes people want to view data in calendar or timeline format, as an editable spreadsheet, with draggable cards or in a popup (so you can keep a list of data on screen and edit one of the records at the same time).

All of this is now possible – we’ll recap a couple of existing options and tell you what’s new here.

Calendar view

Any view with one or more date fields in it can be shown in the calendar. And within the calendar, data can be shown in the standard ‘wall calendar’ interface or in a GANTT-style grid, suitable for project management or visualisation.

Inline editing

When inline editing is enabled, the on-screen view becomes editable as if it were a spreadsheet. This is great for quickly editing large numbers of records – you don’t need to drill down into each one.

Cards interface

Individual records are represented as cards in columns, and can be dragged about the screen to re-order them. This can be useful when working with tasks to be done for example, moving them between ‘waiting’, ‘in progress’, ‘done’, or ‘abandoned’ for example. Or with sales enquiries, moving them from ‘lead’ to ‘qualified’ to ‘quoted’, ‘paid’, ‘in progress’ and ‘completed’ say.

New: With this week’s update, each column can have sub-categories, so you can move cards not only horizontally but vertically to re-order them within a column.

New: popup editing

This week we launch a completely new option, available as a standard feature for agileBase – editing a record in a popup panel.

When looking at a view, you will notice an arrow at the left of each row appear as you hover over the row. Simply click this arrow to open a popup editor for that record, which can be resized and moved around the screen. That way, you can edit the record whilst not losing sight of the the context, i.e. the rest of the rows of data on screen.

The editor is slightly simplified to fit in a small popup, notably there are no tabs in it linking to child records. So if you edit an organisation for example, you can edit all the organisation details, but not related ‘child’ records such as contacts.

The customers who’ve asked for this are really keen to start using it – many thanks to Castell Howell Foods for requesting this feature.

Taken together these user interface options will allow every person to work in the most optimal and efficient way, whatever task they’re trying to accomplish.

Please let us know what you think of them and what ideas you have to improve the everyday experience of using agileBase.

May agileBase update

We are pleased to announce a few updates and improvements to the agileBase platform this week.

Workflow efficiency

‘Delete records’ and ‘lock records’ workflows now run in a single database transaction. This means that the work is processed more quickly, but if any database errors occur, then rather than locking those which succeed and ignoring any which fail, the system will cancel all changes.

Facilities will shortly be added to the development homepage whereby you can easily see any problematic workflows.

Chaser improvements

A couple of additions have been made to the popular ’email chaser’ feature:

  • ‘thank you’ emails can now automatically be sent to all people who supply the requested information
  • an internal person can be notified of any errors due to mis-formatted email addresses for recipients
  • multiple files from a child table can now be attached to a single chaser email

Please see https://docs.agilebase.co.uk/docs/workflows/send-chaser/ for more details

Dropdown option popularity

When you filter on a dropdown or tags field, you can now easily see the most and least frequent, or popular values. The most used will be bolder. Hovering over an option shows the count for that item.

For the technically minded, the boldness is calculated on a log scale from the relative number of times that option appears in the view being filtered.

We’ll be in touch again soon with some more development interface improvements, in the meantime keep well and please contact us with any questions.

Community support forum and new features

Dear agileBase fundi,

Firstly for today’s update, we’ve got some community building news, as well as the usual feature updates.

Community Support Forum

We’d like to invite you all to join our new community support forum. This is a shared space where you can request support, get updates and have your questions answered.

It’s a real-time chat system which we’ll monitor during the working day so you should be able to get more immediate answers than over email, also everyone will be able to benefit from sharing questions and answers.

If you’d like to make any support request confidentially, then of course you can still email us at support@agilechilli.com.

The forum is for agileBase users only, so entry is by invitation. To sign up please 

  1. go to https://app.element.io/ and create an account
  2. let us know the username you created and we’ll invite you in

Once signed up, you don’t need to remember the URL, just click your user icon at the top right, when logged into agileBase, and select ‘community support forum’ – you’ll be taken straight there. The ‘question mark’ help icons scattered throughout the agileBase development interface will also contain a link there, as well as to the relevant documentation page.

The forum currently contains three channels, you can join any you wish:

  • support – for asking questions
  • updates – automated pre-release notifications of new features which have been developed, as well as bugfixes, before they make their way to the live server
  • documentation – automated notifications of new documentation updates – this could be an interesting way to find out about features you may not have come across before

For those interested in the technology, the forum’s powered by the open source matrix.org communications system, hosted by https://element.io, a UK headquartered provider.

Feature updates

New for this release are a number of new features requested by customers.

Counts of objects

On the development homepage, in list views, you can now see a total count of the objects on screen, be they tables, views, tiles, roles or users. Filtering the list will update the count.

Where there are other columns that can usefully be totalled or counted, they are too, so just for example you can see how many users have two factor authentication enabled, out of your total number, or for tables, how many contain personal or confidential data and what the total number of records in the system is, across all tables.

To get to the development homepage, simply toggle to development mode (using the toggle switch at the top right of the screen) when on the normal tiles homepage, e.g. immediately after logging in.

Cloning users

Cloning a user is now possible, from the user editing panel. A new user will be created with the same set of roles, privileges and tiles.

Cards interface updates

When a column contains no cards, it will shrink in width, still allowing you to drag cards into it, but not taking up unnecessary space.

Coming in a few months will be the ability to group and re-order cards within a column.

JSON MIME type

API requests which return JSON now properly set the HTTP response header to type “application/json”

Keep well. We look forward to seeing you in the forum! Thanks to the initial users who’ve helped us test out and get to grips with setting up the technology.

agileBase update April 2022 – workshop review

Firstly, a big thanks to those who came to our first agileBase workshop last week. We really appreciate the time you took and the energy you put into the afternoon.

I hope you got a lot out of it – we certainly did, it’s really useful to see what works and what needs more work, for both agileBase the platform and the process of running a workshop itself – we will be doing more events of one sort and another.

We realise not everyone was able to make it, particularly for those particularly far away from our office in Bristol, we’ll be running another event closer to you soon.

Some of the things we took away from that afternoon are:

Chasers

Email chasers are one reasonably new feature that many people are very keen to try out, as there are benefits in automating many communications processes. We gave a brief overview and will be talking to you individually to help get your particular cases working.

The Cards interface

(also described as T-cards, Kanban cards or a Trello style interface)

Many also thought this new feature will be useful and there was some great feedback about how to improve the functionality, which we’ve scheduled to develop further, particularly to allow vertical grouping/sorting of cards within a column.

The cards interface is currently a paid add-on, though following discussions, as of next year’s price review, the functionality will become part of the base agileBase platform, available to everyone above the ‘team’ (the smallest scope package) at no extra cost.

BI Reporting

Many customers are starting to do more with external reporting, particularly using the Power BI tool. We’re happy to help anyone who wants to set this up.

Learner Progression

Our big idea that we introduced during the day was ‘learner progression’. Our ambition is to be able to support many more people on the path to becoming agileBase builders and architects – able to develop their own applications. We’re getting a better idea of which types of people and businesses this particularly benefits, and there was some helpful discussion on the day. We do believe in many organisations there’s a massive under-utilisation of skilled people, who can contribute a lot to their companies by taking on a role sometimes called ‘citizen developer’.

The company benefits by getting more from their existing staff, avoiding having to make new hires and the individual benefits by learning new skills and advancing their career.

On a wider scale, a societal benefit is that typically the people who take on these roles are a more diverse group than the pool of people who are traditional software developers.

This is a large undertaking for us, involving new features, training materials and programmes of training and personal support. For the reasons above, we do believe it’s the right way to go. Although we are a small team, we’re properly planning how to resource this and are scaling up through an increased use of contractors, consultants and delivery partners, as well as moving to to focus more of our time on this key project.

Communication

One way we can start is by providing increased visibility into the work we’re doing and allowing customers to talk more easily both to us and to each other.

To that end, we’re introducing a forum which will initially include channels for

  • customer support and potentially mutual support
  • live notifications of new features and fixes, in advance of being released
  • live notifications of documentation updates and expansions

We’re still figuring out some details but will send everyone an invite soon. Links to the forum will also be added from within agileBase.

New release

Since last week, a couple of fixes have been made, so a minor release of the agileBase platform is due. This will be released within the next couple of days and include

  • better calculation editing – the editing screen is larger and searching for a field to add by name has been made more intuitive
  • recent changes to tables and views can now be seen with a new ‘recent changes’ menu available in development mode

Developer features feature complete

Developer interface update

The new agileBase developer interface is now feature complete!

Tables, views, users, roles and tiles can now all be created, edited and removed, without having to switch back to the old administrator interface.

All the feedback from beta testers to date is that this new interface is far faster and more intuitive to use, which is really great.

However, this is only one step on our journey to make agileBase an even better platform for workforce upskilling.

We have always aspired to help those who may have no previous experience of building applications do so by making the system as powerful and yet easy to use as possible.

This release means there is now a consistent base for all features that forms the foundations for these future developments.

This means we will soon be able to add features that guide people through a structured learner progression framework.

To review how the new release works, please take a look at our documentation page https://docs.agilebase.co.uk/docs/developer-mode/

User interface update

On the user interface side (as opposed to the developer interface), there have been a couple of improvements too.

Firstly, loading large views has been significantly sped up. Browser rendering of those views which have lots of rows and/or lots of columns should be a lot more snappy. Note if a view is slow due to other factors, like complex calculations, please contact us and we can advise.

The second update is cosmetic – the display of data cells has been rationalised, resulting in a clearer display of data. Row heights are now more consistent, so all rows in the view should have the same height. Column width is better matched to content, i.e. columns are wider where there is lots of text and narrower where not.

These changes will all go live later this week.

agileBase upskilling workshop

We’d like to invite all agileBase developers, whether beginners, part time or long term, to a free ½ day event where everyone will get to meet each other and see how other businesses use the system. You’ll learn how to step up a level in skill and use agileBase features to accomplish business goals.

As part of this, we’ll be giving a masterclass on how to use the new developer interface for both simple and complex tasks. We’ll explain how the system will in future introduce ‘learner progression’ pathways to help new people learn how to do more with the system.

There’ll be a deep dive case study on an example customer system and finally there will be group and one to one tailored workshops to help you with any projects or problems you’re working on or thinking about at the moment.

It is an afternoon event in April and we’ll start with a networking lunch at the Bristol and Bath Science Park, BS16 7FR – food and drink will be provided.

Agenda

  • 12:30pm – Lunch / networking 
  • 1:00 – Introductions
  • 1:15 – Demonstration – major new developer features for
  • 1:45 – Quick tour of new user interfaces available
    • kanban / cards view
    • inline editing interface
    • future ‘learner progression’ roadmap
  • 2:00 – Worked example – a customer will walk through the recent development of their stock control system, including integrations with a bespoke mobile/tablet application
  • 2:30 – Tailored Workshops. Please bring your own questions and problems.
    • group A – advanced: Q&A / problem solving. Examples:
      • integrating with Power BI
      • generating/emailing documents automatically e.g. invoices
      • how-tos for beginners and advanced users on calculations or joins
    • group B – beginners
    • one-to-one development sessions for customers with confidential data
  • 4.30pm – Round up

Please fill in the doodle poll to let us know which days you can be available and we’ll choose the best date to suit everyone.

We’d love to see you there, also, please do forward this invite to anyone else in your organisation who you think may benefit.

Cheers

Oliver

More developer improvements

As with our release of the tagging feature a few days ago, we’re continuing the rapid pace of work on our innovative new ‘build’ interface for agileBase developers.

This week we add many of the improvements that have been requested by developers recently – thanks must go to all the early adopters who’ve helped us along our path.

Calculation syntax highlighting

(for both beginners and experienced developers)

This is a popular request which lots of people have wanted to see. When an SQL calculation is created or edited, syntax highlighting is now enabled, which has a couple of major benefits:

  1. Complex calculations are easier to work with – for example the corresponding closing bracket for each opening bracket is shown with lines and colour highlighting
  2. For beginners, colouring SQL keywords helps give confidence that the calculation has been written correctly

Thanks go to The Safeguarding Company for the initial request.

Contextualising views and tables

(for experienced developers)

This feature was requested by one of our partners pushing agileBase projects to new levels of complexity, Little House Consultancy. It’s really useful when working with long chains of views, joining to each other; for example where each view adds a step in a particular calculation.

In those cases, it’s useful to see the entire chain of relationships in order to fully understand and easily work on the application being created.

Here’s an example from an invoicing system, showing all the views which feed data into the initial step in the invoicing process, ‘orgs to invoice’.

This feature can also be very useful when someone new joins a team – it can help them understand the system more easily. The same goes for someone with a range of agileBase projects on the go – it can help reorient you as you return to a particular one.

Within 10 minutes of release, another customer had also used this to investigate a real world problem – we’re sure it’ll get plenty more use as time goes on.

Finding views and tables by internal ID

(useful for experienced developers)

Each view or table in agileBase has an internal ID, that remains constant if you rename the object. If you are connecting with third party software via the API you need to know this ID.

Whilst these IDs can easily be found when editing a view or table, but not the other way round – it was hard to find a view or table by searching for its internal ID? Now, with the addition of those IDs to the list view of objects on the developer homepage this is far easier.

This can be particularly useful when working with external developers who are integrating with agileBase – they may not use agileBase, so only know the internal IDs themselves. Now you can easily find the corresponding object which they’re referencing.

Another improvement to this screen is that the first column with the name of the object is now frozen, so stays on screen when scrolling to see other information, as does the heading row always remain visible. This is similar to freezing columns or rows in a spreadsheet, which you may be familiar with.

Resizing the developer panel

(useful for any developer)

We have released a simple update to improve the usability of the system. The panel for editing objects (tables, views, fields etc.) can now be resized as well as moved on screen.

This is particularly useful when e.g. editing a large calculation – you can make the panel wider to see all parts of it as a whole.

Thanks to TasteConnection for requesting this.

Refreshing data in Power BI or other external reporting tools

(for experienced developers)

The new reporting facility allows data to be shared with external tools such as Power BI or Apache Superset (built in and provided by us). The data updates automatically once a day, however in some cases, more timely updates are necessary, particularly when integrating with an operational tool rather than a reporting tool, for example a label printer on a factory floor.

This update allows a workflow to refresh the data on request i.e. to take a snapshot of the live data.

Thanks to Lewis Pies for this request. Reporting is a relatively new feature initially taken up keenly by a few early adopters. If anyone else would like to try it out, please let us know and we can give you a run-through.

Speeding up disassembly

(for experienced developers)

As anyone  who’s worked on a project for an extended period knows, at some point you are likely to want to take the learning from users and other people over time and use it to improve the system. This frequently requires disassembling some parts of the system and building them up again in a different way.

Previously, if you wanted to remove an object such as a field or view, you had to manually find all the things that depend on it, break the links or remove them too, before removing the object itself.

Where possible, these actions are now taken automatically (after prompting). So for example, when removing a view, all charts are automatically removed. If the view is used in a referenced data field, that field is removed etc.

Automatic removal is confined to actions for which there is no major knock-on effect. For example, if a view is used in a join or filter in another view, then it can’t be automatically removed, as the behaviour of the dependent objects would change significantly.

In those cases, other tools like the contextualisation above, or view pinning, can help.

We’re really pleased with the progress of agileBase’s developer features, thanks to the suggestions of customers, along with our overarching vision, it’s becoming more powerful than we ever expected as a platform for developing back office applications. And not only for seasoned developers, our ‘learner progression’ plan ensures that anyone with a will to improve can become an agileBase developer.

In fact, our customers are finding that many of their staff from varied and in particular non-IT backgrounds, have found new roles as important members of the organisation’s improvement teams. That’s particularly important when recruiting coders is becoming more expensive and difficult.

Many thanks for your continued support and we look forward to progressing more, alongside our customers.

New feature for agileBase developers – object tagging

Today we are releasing the first ‘alpha’ version of object tagging for developers (that means it’s an early release which may not work as well as it will later on down the line, but early adopters can try the feature out).

What is object tagging? Well, it means you can attach short text tags to objects, currently fields and tables, but later other things such as views and even users or roles.

Tags can serve many purposes. One popular use is ‘red tagging’, used to mark items which need reviewing. It may be for example you want to delete a field but are unsure if anyone in the organisation still uses it. You can tag it, then you or someone else can check it out later.

It’s possible to add multiple tags to each object, so continuing that example, a junior developer could mark a field as ‘to delete’, then a manager could add a ‘verified’ tag to mean the deletion can go ahead.

Another use could be for grouping together all tables and fields used for a particular project. For example, if you’re working on a stock control project, you may like to tag tables ‘stock items’, ‘stock changes’ and ‘suppliers’, so you can then find and access them easily as you work.

Tags can be added from the editing panels for tables and fields. They can be seen when developer mode is toggled on, whenever a table or field is visible on the screen, whether that’s on the developer homepage, when looking at a record from a table or a view.

Finally, on the developer homepage, you can see all tables marked with a certain tag, by selecting that tag from the dropdown at the top centre of the screen. Any table with that tag will be shown, but also any table that has a field in it with that tag. In the connections diagram, tables linked to the tagged table are also shown, so you can explore outwards from the tagged tables.

Other updates

Inline editing improvements

The inline editing feature we rolled out by default a couple of weeks ago has gained some usability improvements – column widths will now auto-size to the content in them, so there’s less wasted screen space and you can see more columns at once.

Simultaneous login change

As we mentioned back in December, simultaneous logins on different devices by the same username will now be disallowed. Logging on in one place will automatically log out any sessions a user has in another.

Exceptions are for administrators (admins often find it helpful to have more than one session open in different browsers) and for people using multiple tabs in the same browser (e.g. using incognito mode in the browser).

Remember, if you’re wanting to allow access to suppliers, partners, the public or anyone else outside your organisation, you can look at our community users feature for cost effective access.

Allowable data volume increase

We’ve recently increased the number of records that can be created in any one table, from just over two billion, to a bit under ten million trillion, or in scientific notation 10 ^ 19 (one followed by nineteen zeros).

Now whereas there’s absolutely no possibility of anyone storing that number of records any time soon, as data volumes increase there is a distinct possibility of people wanting to create more than two billion at some point. Note that this limit is the number of rows that can be created in a table, not necessarily the number that you want to store at any one time. So even if old rows are deleted, the count keeps going up.

This change takes effect for new tables created from now on. Old tables will keep the two billion limit for now, but the system will email a warning message to administrators when one billion rows is reached. If that happens we will manually upgrade the table for you.

This change also increases the number that can be calculated or stored in a whole number field, from the two billion limit to the same 10 ^ 19.

Inline editing rollout

Inline editing is a feature first released two years ago this month. It’s now matured and gained capabilities, so we think it’s ready to be made available as an option on every view, by default.

A quick recap – what is inline editing?

Normally in agileBase, when you click a record, that record opens up so you can edit it. Inline editing by contrast makes the view itself editable, similar to a spreadsheet. So you can edit fields from each record in place, without navigating away from the view.

This allows much faster data entry for people who are editing many records in one go, or who want to see the other records on screen for context, while editing.

The screenshot above shows a view with inline editing toggled on. To do this as a user, scroll to the bottom of view in agileBase and use the toggle switch at the left.

Examples of different types of field can be seen above, which are either editable inline (those with a white background), or non-editable. Clicking on a non-editable field will take you through to see the full record as normal.

The first three fields – Name, Code and Bought or Made are non-editable because they are locked, i.e. they can’t be edited without adding an explanatory comment. You’ll notice that Mustard and Worcestershire Sauce have no code and are editable. Once codes have been entered, they will become locked.

The next field, Type, is an editable tags field. Tags can be added by typing (a dropdown of available options will appear) or removed using the crosses. This is a new capability released today.

Status Of Ingredient is an editable dropdown. Last Modified is an auto-generated date for each record and therefore can’t be edited manually.

Standard Cost is an editable number and finally Completeness is a calculation, so is not editable.

One other new feature is the selected record marker. The record being edited currently, or the one which was last edited, is surrounded by a border, so you can easily follow the row across the screen, particularly useful if there are many fields and you’re scrolling.

Administrator Control

Inline editing is now allowed but off by default – as a user you can turn it on with the toggle at the bottom left view.

Administrators can change the default for a particular view to one of three states

  • available but off by default
  • on by default
  • not available (prevents people toggling inline editing on)

To do this, toggle the developer mode on (the toggle is at the top right of the screen) when looking at a view. Edit the view with the large pencil icon and under ‘properties and options’, set the Interface option to the preferred value.

We hope you enjoy using this feature and it allows you to do your work more quickly and efficiently. As always, feel free to contact us with any questions.

Business Intelligence reporting

One thing that customers have started asking for recently is the ability to create dashboards, to bring charts from various parts of the system together in one place, to share with colleagues and senior management.

Sometimes data from agileBase will be merged or shown alongside data from other places, such as accounting systems.

To allow this, we’ve added a new facility which allows Business Intelligence (BI) reporting applications to connect to agileBase and extract selected data. Bear in mind that when data is exported outside of agileBase, data privacy implications need to be understood.

If your organisation already uses a BI tool such as Microsoft’s Power BI, it can easily be connected. Just let us know and we’ll supply the details you need.

Alternatively, you can utilise the BI tool we provide and host, based on Apache Superset. This is currently in beta testing – if you’d like to join the beta programme please let us know.

Whichever tool you use, you can send the data from any agileBase view to it, by selecting an option in the view’s charting screen. Bear in mind that if you then change a field name, remove a field, or rename the view used in the BI tool, you may then need to re-do any BI charts based on that view.

For more information, please see our charting documentation, which contains an introduction to this topic.

BI reporting can be enabled for a fixed charge of £50/month, covering up to 10 views and an unlimited number (subject to fair use) of BI users (who don’t need to be agileBase users).