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The full manual for the custom software discussed below can be downloaded: (MS Word 178KB): http or ftp

Background

The enterprise database for which this linked Search and Report feature were developed is used at the Heritage Council of Western Australia and has been in place for 11 years as of late 2002.

Like many organisations providing information services to the public, they have to answer questions covering a range of linked facts and so the entire database is linked with it being possible to navigate from any given item through simple and indirect relationships. The linking facility is data-driven so as new modules are added, they can be linked to other starting points.

The system has a number of starting List screens which reflect the primary roles of different users (eg: Grant Administration). However, the search and report facility is available to all users.

A unique evolutionary interface was refined over about a year with user feedback from both regular and casual staff. As shown below, it features a list of Searchables which can be re-ordered by any user. The order of these lists are saved for each of the starting points so people who typically use the system from one perspective have their favourite entries bubble to the top. Saving per-user was trialed but saving by perspective worked much better.

The order of the Searchables is independent of the database structure and purely reflects user priorities in using information for searching and reporting.

The system was originally implemented in 4th Dimension version 2, later upgraded to 3, using the AreaListPro and PrintListPro table viewing and printing externals. As such, the GUI design is constrained by what is possible with those externals.

It probably looks a little old-fashioned with its white background and flat buttons (remember it is an 11yo GUI) but worked very well and continues to get good user feedback.

One of the minor features people appreciate are the italicised hints in the screens. They are perceived as less distracting than popup balloons or tooltips and merge well into the background as users become familiar.

Searching

This Ad-Hoc search is considerably more flexible than the standard 4D search and allows you to search by almost anything in the database.


The list of Searchables comprises most of the particular fields in the Central database, viewed in order, depending on the List screen from which you opened Ad-Hoc screen (ie from Places, Grants, Correspondence In etc). The following example shows a search for Grants.


You move Searchables up the list by dragging them, or highlight them with a single click and press the To Top button.


The important thing to remember is that any changes in the order of Searchables is only saved when you explicitly say so, by pressing the Save Order button at the bottom of the Searchables.

Reporting

The reporting interface is almost identical to Searching and you can even quickly create a report from the last items used in a search by pressing the Sch Cols button.