In these unprecedented times, work continues here at agileBase (from our homes).
Whilst it’s not on the top of most people’s agenda, we do have a new release going out so I thought we should let you know the details so they aren’t a surprise. In brief…
There’s a new feature to allow easy emailing of documents uploaded to agileBase to co-workers or outside people (e.g. customers) who don’t have a login.
Next to a document, click the email button. You can then click ‘add recipient’ to choose a recipient, or manually enter an address. The system will let you choose from contacts it finds in your database.
Logging changes to locked fields
When unlocking a field to change the value, the system prompts you to enter a comment. It now automatically pre-populates the prompt with the value you’re changing from, to make it easier to see what the change was. You can add your own comment too.
Intelligent colours for charts
Do you notice anything strange about this graph? Experience any cognitive dissonance?
From now on, agileBase will colour breakdown charts based on the categories. Words like red/amber/green, hot/cold, done/in progress/overdue will be coloured appropriately. Other words will continue to be assigned random colours. If you have any words that you’d like special colours for, please let us know.
We’ve tweaked lots of other things too small to notice every day but which should make the system run more smoothly.
That’s all for now. We wish all the best to all our customers, stay safe.
A quick post to outline some actions we’ve taken so far and answer some questions.
Free additional users to enable home working
Where you can work remotely, we want to help.
That’s why for as long as the UK schools remain closed, agileBase will give you additional licenses at no extra cost. Helping your team stay safe, and your business stay productive. For example, senior management may like to have logins in order to be able to step in to help other staff.
We are waiving any fees for additional users for as long as the schools stay shut, for a reasonable number of users at our discretion.
We’ll notify you when things change and give the option of retaining these licences at the prevailing rate or cancelling without cost.
Your system administrator can add users. Automated price increase notifications may still be sent out but we will follow up to cancel them.
We are also delaying any upcoming price review changes – all customers please see the email to your accounts dept.
Our cloud software keeps everything secure, even from home
Two Factor Authentication (2FA) helps to keep your company’s data more secure, to stop outsiders stealing it, editing or even deleting it.
When someone logs in from a new device or location, our Two Factor Authentication (2FA) system prompts them for a code sent to or generated by their phone, to prove their identity.
Only specific places, like our own server and a couple of whitelisted services we use, like Google to display maps, can serve code to the browser.
Vital peace of mind when people are working remotely.
Concerned about agileBase’s business continuity? Don’t worry, we’re good
We’re experts in remote working, having always split our time between our Bristol office and our desks at home. So, we’re taking easily to the current change in circumstances, and this won’t impact our ability to support you.
What’s more we’re a multi-disciplinary team. If Coronavirus means any of us is temporarily out of action, the team will fill in and the show will go on.
We need you to tell us how we can help
Like most people right now, we find ourselves looking around and asking who and how we can help.
We can only begin to understand the challenges many of you are facing. That means we need you to tell us if this crisis shows you things which you feel we should be addressing.
For example, if anyone feels the need, we will be happy to run you through our own home-working processes, tools and systems to see if any are relevant.
Finally, we just want to say thank you.
We know you’ll be as worried as we are about the health of our loved ones, and the livelihoods of all around us. And yet many of you are working round the clock to help others, like those in the public sector and food manufacturing. For that we are all thankful.
As well as the headline feature, one other notable feature has made the cut for today’s release.
In line with our continuing rollout and promotion of two factor authentication, it’s now required for all users who want to export any data to spreadsheet. As a sensitive feature in terms of data security and privacy, exporting to spreadsheet fits well with the requirement for the logged in user to have two factor authentication enabled.
We know that many customers are looking forward to the contents of this update. We’re now starting to make good on the promises of the 2020 roadmap and can release one of the headline features – inline editing.
As this is a major feature, it’ll be introduced with a ‘beta’ label for keen early adopters to test and provide feedback on. By default it will be turned off, but can be enabled by an administrator on a view by view basis.
The goal of this feature is to allow rapid and efficient editing of data when in the list view so there’s no need to drill down into a record to edit and back to the list again after each.
Some examples of where this might be useful would be when working through a list of milestones to update statuses, or when in a list of stock items to update quantities.
How does this work: In a list view, the rows can be made editable by your system administrator. (If you do want to drill down into a particular record, that’s still possible).
In inline editing mode, the list view changes from something like this:
into this editable version:
Within a view, certain fields will be editable, but others will be read-only. Fields that can be editable are all those which are from the view’s parent table, except for
Large text fields – we want the UI to remain compact and it’s not usually required to edit large amounts of text in inline editing scenarios
Tags fields – at least not in this first beta version – this may come in a future release
Of course, calculations aren’t editable either.
To edit a field click in an editable (white) field to edit the data. Navigate to other rows with the up or down arrow keys, and across to other fields in a row with the tab key.
Clicking a non-editable field will take you to the full editing form for a record. (Alternatively, just click at the space at the beginning or end of a row).
Hovering over a text field will display the full contents. In the more condensed inline editing mode, only the start of longer content may be initially visible.
Enabling inline editing
In order to retain control, an administrator must set a view to be inline editable. There are three settings you can select
Disallow: the view can’t be inline edited
Allow but turn off by default
On by default
As an admin, go to the manage tab for a view and under ‘advanced options’, select one of the above.
When inline editing is allowed (either off or on by default), a switch appears at the bottom of the view with which the user can change modes.
We hope you enjoy this feature and find it useful. As a beta release, feedback is especially welcome.
agileBase’s API is a very powerful yet easy to use feature. Each view gets an automatically generated API, with a URL that third parties can use as a data source. Our documentation covers generic use, however one of the most common methods of pulling data into other systems is to use Zapier, which is a ‘drag and drop’ integration tool that requires no programming (just like agileBase itself). As they put it “Easy automation for busy people. Zapier moves info between your web apps automatically, so you can focus on your most important work.”
Until now there has been no specific help documentation on using Zapier with agileBase – today’s the day to remedy that!
We will use a worked example: building a system to send a ‘hello’ SMS message whenever a new contact is added to our database. In real life, you may send appointment reminders or other notifications by text. Of course Zapier isn’t limited to sending text messages, there are tons of third party systems you can use, under many different categories, but text messages are a nice simple example for example purposes.
First, some preparatory work in agileBase. Assuming we already have a contacts database, each person with a name and mobile phone number, there’s just one extra thing we need to do.
The system will need to know when a contact has been sent a text, so it can filter them out and prevent them being repeatedly texted. To allow this, we need to add a field, call it ‘intro text sent’. Make it a date and time field, accurate to the second.
We can set it to ‘show never’, as this information’s unlikely to be useful to the average user.
Next, we create a view to provide the data to send to the text messaging service. Here’s such a view. It’s very simple, containing just the info necessary, i.e. a message calculation and the mobile phone number to send it to. We’ve put it in a tile called ‘System – Integration’. It’s a good idea to put views used for system purposes somewhere like this so they’ll be hidden from everyday users, but administrators can still easily find them.
We’ve added a couple of filters, firstly to make sure we only pick up people who have a phone number entered and secondly to filter out any who’ve already been sent the message (using the Intro Text Sent field we created above). You’ll notice for initial testing only, I’ve added a third filter here so only one contact is listed – myself. When we’ve confirmed the system works as expected, this filter can be removed.
One small note to do with this specific example only – Twilio likes to receive phone numbers in international format but without the leading +, i.e. rather than “07891 123456”, use “447891123456”. In real life we’d probably create a calculation field to format them this way, for now we’ll just make sure to enter test numbers like that.
Zapier Setup – receiving data from agileBase
That’s the agileBase side of things prepared, now to Zapier.
Log into your Zapier account and press the Make a Zap! button.
Under ‘choose app’, select ‘Webhooks by Zapier’. Webhooks are the way to communicate with agileBase. At the time of writing you’ll need a paid Zapier account to use them.
Under ‘choose trigger event’ two options will be shown – Retrieve Poll and Catch Hook. In brief, if you select Retrieve Poll, Zapier will regularly poll agileBase (say every 5 minutes) to check if there’s any new data to retrieve. If you select Catch Hook, communication will instead be started by agileBase, which will ‘push’ data to Zapier only when there is something new to send.
Here, we’ll use Catch Hook, which is generally recommended. It’s more efficient and a bit easier to set up, as agileBase will automatically record the time each record is sent to Zapier. Otherwise, you’ll have to set up additional steps in Zapier to send this information back.
When you press Continue, Zapier will provide you with a custom URL and some additional options which can be left unchanged. Copy this URL and record it in agileBase: go to the view’s manage tab, press the Send button and select ‘send data to a third party system using the API’. Paste the Zapier URL into the space provided:
Secondly, select the date & time field ‘Intro Text Sent’ (created above) in the dropdown. That means whenever a record is sent to Zapier, the timestamp will be recorded in that field. All other settings can be left on their defaults.
Finally, press the Run Workflow Now button to send a test record to Zapier.
Back in Zapier, just press Test and Continue.
Finishing Zapier setup
Zapier now has our data, at least a test record. The next step is to set up actually sending the text message.
There are dozens of Zapier-compatible services that can send text messages. We use Twilio but the process is similar whatever you choose. In fact the process is similar whatever you’re doing with the data, be that sending a text, sending the data to a Google Spreadsheet or Mailchimp, to name just three examples.
When you press Continue, you’ll be asked to sign into Twilio (in this example). Do that as prompted, then you’ll be able to set the options below. The important ones are
From Number: just select, this will automatically show any phone numbers you’ve set up in Twilio
To Number: here, click the selector on the right and select the phone number field from agileBase. By this stage, Zapier, knows which fields are in agileBase
Message: similarly, click the selctor and choose the message field from agileBase
Press Test and Continue. If all goes well, a text message will be sent and you’ll get the option to turn the integration on permanently!
Then, you can remove the test filters from the view in agileBase and everything will be live.
Although today we used the example of sending a text message, the process is very similar whichever service you decide to connect to with Zapier – you should be able to follow along the example replacing the SMS-specific steps with your own.
Good luck and please let us know what cool things you do with your data. Also if anything can be improved in this documentation, we’d be very keen to hear about that too.
Our ambition is to create a Low Code / No Code platform that can support truly ambitious organisations to build their back office across the three phases of their development; startup, scaleup and growth.
Since agileBase’s inception we’ve had the good fortune of working with a wide range of successful customers.
Some have have been driven by dedicated individuals that have grown their companies organically, from small local businesses, through SME territory to become enterprise with hundreds of millions of pounds turnover and growing.
A fair proportion are VC-backed, started by individuals with experience in an industry, who had an idea, convinced funders of its (and their) worth and put in a lot of hard work to make the vision a reality.
Still more are long-standing family firms, where each generation brought something new to the business.
Others have grown rapidly by acquisition.
Most are increasing revenues, customer and employee numbers as they grow their businesses to cover new industries and geographies.
In fact, every story is different, though luckily success is a common factor.
What does this mean for agileBase?
We have built a platform to enable business agility through technology. Specifically, the agile development of back office systems – those that can easily grow and adapt as a company finds new challenges, or pivots to a new area, as sometimes happens.
…and where do we go from here?
When we started, we were the only platform with the technical capabilities to create advanced systems. Indeed, the reason for creating agileBase was because all the other systems we tried to use for customers had a technical ceiling of some sort that meant they had to be abandoned after a certain point in time – they couldn’t create multi-level relationships for example, or couldn’t bring data from different sources into one screen.
What now sets us apart from others who’ve entered the low-code/no-code field is the ability to scale through the entire journey of a business, whatever size they reach and however fast they move.
This is important for companies because it means that they don’t need to experience the upheaval of swapping out core systems at the very point at which they need to be focusing on their own business concerns.
Switching from one major software system to another is resource-sapping at the best of times, as anyone who’s been through the experience will testify. You don’t want to be doing that when orders, working hours and stress levels are going through the roof!
We aim to capitalise on that ability and build further on it – to prove we’re the best option for companies who think for the long term.
Where are we starting from?
We have always focussed on three things; being fast, friendly and flexible.
Fast to build new systems
Flexible enough to allow you to re-build and adapt to new circumstances just as quickly
Friendly enough to be easily adopted and enjoyed by all users
We have also been very lucky in that, from the very start, we have used a rock-solid database engine that’s inherently scalable and proven at massive data volumes. That’s not something we claim to have built ourselves, but rather comes from our choice to use PostgreSQL: the world’s most advanced open source relational database.
That was an early decision that’s paid dividends ever since.
Where can we improve?
For larger, sustainable companies, additional concerns become important, such as
Data privacy and security
What do these mean and how are we taking them into account?
Well, here is our…
~ Ecosystem integration ~
Over the past year, agileBase’s API has become one of the core aspects of the platform, this ‘interface to the outside world’ is as important as the user interface itself. Customers have been using it to transfer GB of data in and out of the system per month. agileBase is in effect their ‘data engine’ powering other parts of the business, from reporting systems to public websites.
Whilst it would be nice to be able to say that we foresaw all trends, truthfully some things have surprised us and the rapid increase in API use has been one. We’ve responded by putting a lot of work in to making the API interface highly scalable and performant.
In the longer term, we will be working on not just the API itself but other enterprise integration features such as single sign-on, implemented in standards compliant ways like OAuth.
~ Control ~
In the build phase, agileBase is all about agility (duh!). In large companies, we need a way to retain the holy grail of being adaptable, whilst ensuring that developed systems retain stable and trustworthy. How do we square this circle?
We’ve thought about this for a long time and have a really exciting, even revolutionary solution.
The aim is to democratise the ability to develop apps in agileBase even further.
The first thing we’re going to do is add the ability for people to modify views directly in the tiles interface, taking advantage of modern UX practices and of our recent usability learning. That will make it even simpler and quicker for non-technical users to build systems without having to flip back between an administration interface and a separate user interface. The effect will be that changes can be seen in real time as they happen.
This allows control of departmental apps to be pushed down to the departments themselves. If someone in purchasing want to tweak the PO system to update processes and create new reports, leveraging existing databases of suppliers and contacts for example, they can do, without having to go back to central IT.
However, and this is the key point, we by default hide those changes from anyone else in the system. New views that a user creates will only be visible to them. If an administrator decides they’re really useful, they can then flip a switch and make them available to everyone (with the correct permissions). So admins can mandate a core set of views that are globally available, but then let others go for it to make the most they can of their data.
~ Efficiency ~
As you know, agileBase allows applications to be built quickly, but once those applications are in use, particularly in larger organisations, they want to be scaled up so lots of users can process lots and lots of records rapidly – efficiency becomes really important.
We have one other really revolutionary change in the offing that will affect all users’ experience of agileBase. We are going to introduce a new ‘spreadsheet’ or inline editing mode so data can be edited rapidly, in bulk, without navigating back and forth from lists of data to individual records. Of course, various protections will be built in to avoid accidentally doing damage and overwriting data by mistake.
Together with the existing workflow automation features, this and other updates in the pipeline will drastically reduce the number of person-hours specific tasks take.
~ Reliability, Privacy and Security ~
It goes without saying that these are key concerns of ours, our customers and our future customers. Our GDPR policies, procedures and security features we’ve consistentlybuiltup over a long period form a bedrock upon which the exciting capabilities above can be assembled.
We will continue to follow emerging trends and implement new data security & privacy best practices.
Our core mission of ‘business agility through technology’ remains, along with our three characteristics – to be fast, friendly and flexible. They’re part of our DNA and we will always champion them. Many of the features here will be developed in the light of those.
agileBase is now being put to work in ways we didn’t originally envisage, working as the engine for scaled up business enterprises as well as startups. There are some big and exciting changes coming, do get in touch and join us for the journey.
As 2020 draws near, we’re excitedly preparing a roadmap of all of the sci-fi style features that are planned to become part of the agileBase platform.
That will be released soon. While it’s in progress, here’s a quick rundown on some interesting stats and features from the year to date. Actually, to start with, we have a long term overview. This is a chart showing the growth of the agileBase codebase over the past 10 years.
This is what’s called a ‘burndown’ chart. Each colour band represents the amount of code added in one year. The thicker the band, the more code added. After each year, the bands get thinner towards the right because the original code is modified or removed, so there’s less of it left. New code gets added ‘on top’, a bit like layers of sediment being laid down.
You may notice a large jump half-way through 2019 at the right. That corresponds with a major change to our development and release methodology. Partly, a lot of ‘testing’ code was added to allow us to run automated tests whenever a change is introduced. Also, some infrastructure was changed to let us utilise modern tools such as Gradle and CircleCI.
The outcome of those changes is that customers can better trust the reliability of the agileBase platform for running 24×7 mission critical services, even as major new features are introduced.
Here are some outline stats of the other work completed since January.
In 2020, having laid the groundwork by making the process changes described at the top of this post, we’ll be able to make some more radical feature improvements around ensuring agileBase is the best platform for high growth businesses at allstages of their life.
We introduced basic SMS based 2FA way back in 2015. Since then, app-based 2FA has been added using the industry standard Time-based One-Time Password (TOTP) algorithm, meaning that it’s compatible with the vast majority of authenticator apps out there, such as Google Authenticator, Microsoft Authenticator or Authy. This time last year, 2FA was made mandatory for anyone with system administration privileges.
We’re now trying to encourage ‘normal’ users to adopt 2FA as well as administrators and we’d really appreciate your help with this. Here’s a quick Q&A to get you up to speed:
What will users see?
Any users who haven’t yet turned on 2FA will see a prompt on the homepage once a week, on Mondays (also on weekends if they log on then). It looks like this:
We’d love it if you can share this with your users and help them set up 2FA. If everyone activates it, it will be a big step in increasing the protection of your company data and hopefully will help your peace of mind!
Is 2FA now mandatory?
No it’s not. We would like to make this ‘on by default’ at some point in the future but we realise that it may need some extra work, for example to allow administrators to opt-out people at their discretion. Until then, users will sometimes receive a prompt when logging in but can cross it off.
What if a user has no smartphone?
If someone doesn’t have a compatible smartphone, or can’t/doesn’t want to use it for work purposes, that’s fine. You can run a 2FA app on the computer itself. One of the easiest options is probably this open source Google Chrome plugin: https://authenticator.cc/
It may even be that this is your preferred method – it can be more convenient in day to day use, though initial setup can arguably slightly more complex than taking a photo of the QR code with a phone.
What happens if a user loses or gets a new phone?
Some 2FA apps like Authy save settings online so all they need to do is re-install the app. However with others (like Google Authenticator), if you get a new phone, you have to set up 2FA again. When this happens, all the administrator has to do is un-tick ‘Enable two factor authentication’ in the user’s settings, then the user can set it up again. The user can also un-tick and re-tick this themselves to set up (as long as they can log in).
My users already use a 2FA app for other software, can they re-use that?
Yes, agileBase is compatible with the industry standard (TOTP) and all apps allow codes for multiple accounts to be added, so if a user already has an app such as Google Authenticator, Microsoft Authenticator, Duo Mobile or Authy, that can be used. Apps can also be used for multiple agileBase accounts if a user has more than one login username.
We have lots of users – how can we reduce setup time?
Since adoption is not yet mandatory, you may want to adopt a tactic such as only doing a few at a time, in cohorts for example, or training other key users in your organisation to help.
There is another option – by entering the user’s mobile phone number into their account settings, agileBase will use SMS text message codes for 2FA, so the user doesn’t have to set up 2FA themselves.
However please be aware this may result in a greater support burden yourself and potentially frustrated users. We’ve had reports that some phone networks don’t always send the codes through in a timely manner (or sometimes at all), resulting in users who are locked out. Another consideration is that text messages are less secure, vulnerable to the SIM-swap vulnerability. If it’s important to keep your company’s data safe, we strongly recommend using app-based 2FA.
Thanks for your support in helping to improve everyone’s data security.
We’ve long been fans of Zapier and over recent years many customers have made lots of really useful integrations. The combination of agileBase and Zapier allows you to not only develop back office systems quickly but also link them into the wider ecosystem of cloud applications, all without writing a single line of code.
We’re now improving the Zapier integration to allow even more use cases using push.
The standard way to link Zapier to agileBase is to create a Zap based on a webhook poll. Every few minutes, Zapier will poll agileBase to see if there’s any data to send over. The most frequently this can be set to happen is once every 5 minutes.
This works well for cases where the action’s not particularly time sensitive, such as sending new email addresses to Mailchimp or invoices to Xero for example. However sometimes, you (or rather the user) want the action to take place immediately, on the press of a button.
agileBase has had the facility to push data to third party systems on demand for quite a while, but up until now these haven’t worked well with Zapier, rather requiring manual integration by a coder.
Now, some options have been added to the Push API settings to work with Zapier out of the box. Furthermore, these options will default to Zapier-compatible settings for new integrations.
In Zapier, set up a webhook integration and select ‘Catch Hook’ or ‘Catch Raw Hook’.
In agileBase, paste the URL Zapier provides into the Push URL field. For Push data format, select ‘JSON content body (Zapier compatible)’ and optionally tick ‘generate simple format JSON’.
A more detailed tutorial on how to use Zapier with agileBase will be coming soon, in the meantime, please get in touch if you have any questions when you try this out.
Thanks to our partner Little House Consultancy for suggesting this improvement and our customer Lewis Pies for being the first people to beta test and try it out in anger.
A couple of other platform improvements have made the cut for today’s release:
Floating help panels
A great suggestion from our next-door neighbours at the Bristol Bath Science Park, Willow DNA, who are expert e-learning consultants – thanks!
When you click a question mark icon on screen to show the relevant help for a field or block, the help popup can now be dragged around the screen. You can type and use the form on screen as normal while the help remains visible. That means you don’t have to look at the help, try to remember it then close it before acting on it.
Views with charts are shown
If a view has a one or more charts, a chart icon now appears next to the view name in the menu. Hovering over the icon shows the names of all the charts.
That saves the user having to know or guess which view contains the charts they want to look at.
As a reminder, views can be organised into groups by adding the group name into the viewname, with a dash separating them – see the last part of this blog post. If you’ve already set up groups, these will carry through into the new interface.
Any views which are not in a specific group will be placed in a new group named as per the tile.
The explanations which appear under each view name come from the view descriptions as entered in the admin interface. Go to the manage tab of a view to edit its description.
Controlling hierarchy view
The hierarchy header is displayed when a record contains a relation to another, however as an administrator you can control when this happens.
To make a relation appear as a ‘parent’ of a record, simply move it up to the top of the screen, in the fields tab of the table. Similarly, move it down to take it out of the header area. It will be displayed as a parent if it’s the first field in the table, excluding special fields: cross references, titles, images and auto-generated number sequences.