Inventory database technology and design

Combining Microsoft Access or SQL Server with a PDA-based, barcode capable field acquisition system is a reliable, simple and cost effective method of inventory control and reporting. Using a PDA for data collection greatly improves the efficiency of everyday inventory operations. Using a desktop-based database allows great power and flexibility for reporting and inventory analyses.

We write custom databases and welcome your project!
We already have inventory databases that can be further customized to suit individual needs. ChemInvent, our primary database system, is barcode-capable and can be integrated with a satellite package (see an example of chemical inventory database dynamically linked with a MSDS database).

We think that software ergonomics is extremely important, and we try to design the user interface for you so that it is most intuitive and requires very little memorization. Most of the user interface is self-explanatory and we try to show as much useful controls as possible on the very first screen you see, as opposed to multi-level, cascading switchboard designs other developers may offer. We will be happy to discuss the user interface with you and will consider your own sketches and designs when developing the software.

Help and documentation: our databases are fully documented with four levels of user assistance: context help, Windows help system, tool tips and web based copy of the software manual.

Barcode-based, data-driven database design: clever use of barcodes for controlling inventory makes additions and removals of items fast and eliminates typing and thinking - the latter is very important during field data collection. You can purchase special barcode labels or save money by printing your own on a regular laser printer. With most barcode-capable products we will include the necessary optimizing algorithms and our own linear barcode font that is royalty-free.

Use a lightweight PDA for field data collection and access: we can supply a database interface that operates on a PDA (Palm OS or Windows Mobile) so that you can change and update your database records in the field.

Feel free to contact us at "database at ainaco com" with any of your database development needs.

A custom database solution can come in different flavors. Here is a brief comparison of several popular options:

Database product type
Single Microsoft Access database Simple, cheap, fast development, MS Access is very popular and often already installed at your location Nonexistent multi-user functionality, software runs (properly) only on the machine that it is installed on.
Split Microsoft Access database Relatively simple, fairly inexpensive, supports limited multi-user operation (up to 10 users), MS Access is the only software you need Slightly more complex than previous type, sensitive to poor network quality, relatively high network traffic despite only the few concurrent users
Microsoft Access database over Terminal Server No changes required to existing Access database design. Robust access for a few remote users. Minimized network traffic (no data transferred). Licensed per user, gets expensive fast with addition of more users. Terminal Server must run in Application mode and requires Windows Server on the computer running the database.
Server via Microsoft Access Supports large number of concurrent users, very stable, not subject to corruption caused by network glitches Fairly complex and expensive; requires SQL Server (or other data server) and MS Access
Server via ActiveX pages Same as above, plus allows data access using Microsoft Internet Explorer 5 or better Same as above; although Access is not a must, Microsoft ActiveX object libraries must be installed on every client machine.
Server via scripted pages Same as above with no browser limitations Cost. Development requires expertise in both database management and web scripting.

Without a doubt, the most powerful and universal solution is the last one. However, it is the most difficult and expensive to design and implement. It is the best option for enterprise-level databases. For smaller projects the simpler options may be totally sufficient. Just as it is an overkill to buy an excavator to dig one post hole, it is not necessary to invest in a server-based system if you only have a few concurrent users for the database. Costs of keeping the excavator will soon exceed the benefit it gives you - the same with a server application. Choose the scale of your application sensibly.

If you are not sure whether to purchase an off-the-shelf software or have an application built for you, take a look at a brief discussion of both options.