A Web-based Database Admin Tool.
By Mike

    So much for the simple answer, which is also somewhat misleading but does help with the search engines. The name comes from a brainstorming session involving much coffee and Kahlua and our aversion to products with "solution" in their title. Skating close to the edge, admin concentrate added to a weak solution makes it powerful.

The story of Admin Concentrate:

    First DemoHad Admin Concentrate started life as a general web-based database management tool, it would have probably represented tables, indices, joins, SQL and all the other stuff OS-Commerce, phpMyAdmin and others of this ilk do. There would also have been little point in writing it and this would be a very short story. Instead, it began life as a one-off custom back-end for a company who didn't know what they wanted or when they wanted it. Pitching the bid involved it's pre-incarnation - an HTML/Javascript demo promising the earth and all the kingdoms thereof. I couldn't see why they bit our hand off until I saw their existing back-end which brought on flashbacks to the old mainframe days <shudder>.

    Once the decision was made, work started on the inner workings of the system. Regardless of the lack of specs and lack of payment, there were certain jobs which needed doing and would need doing for any future systems we worked on and so I made full use of generic code based on the capabilities of SQL (any dialect) and parameters to drive it without limiting it to a particular customer. I pointed out to my partner, the graphics and UI specialist of the team, that this should be the last time I spend more time working on a project than she does.

 Time passed, business considerations put a cramp on their end of the contract and more features were added. Browsing, bulk sequential updates, mass simultanious updates, generic screen handling. Fully aware of my own shortcomings, I handed the early output to the Sarmonster with the instructions "Make it pretty. Don't worry about how to implement it, that's my problem.". Applying the result proved it was possible and then converting it to a skin made for future flexibility.

    My years of writing SQL engines and nine solid months of writing nothing but SQL at a certain large software company (being the only software engineer on the team who knew SQL from my DB2 days) paid off in finding ways of merging data which only came about because I couldn't think of why it wasn't possible. As the code became optimized and there was still no sign of a deadline, I wrote code to figure out many of it's own needs until one night, having just removed yet more data which was now surplus to requirements, I realized there was little there which was not in the SQL defining the database.

    The result is a custom application requiring little more than the definition of the datase to configure itself. Free of the restrictions of other offerings, it makes no assumptions as to what created the database or which engine it is running under (For testing purposes MySQL and PostGRE SQL are supported but others will be added before release). Once configured, it provides the most powerful set of easy-to-use tools in any back-end. Admin Concentrate is oriented on the way e-commerce databases are maintained in the real world, saving customers as much time and money as possible.

The future of Admin Concentrate:

    Admin Concentrate is still under development but preliminary alpha testing looks excellent. At the pleading of our testers we have shifted emphasis from a public demo system (which is still available) to a fully working, configurable system to work on their servers. Spending 8 hours updating a database becomes unbearably frustrating when you know that it could be done in 15 minutes! Testing is currently closed but anyone interested in an early evaluation should contact "Sales" at this site.

Delivery is expected roughly in September, but a pre-release version with limited functionality could be available earlier for urgent jobs. However, the bottom line is that it is ready when it is ready. I'll take the flack for delayed software before I unleash something I'm not proud to be associated with.




The Dawn of a New Admin Tool
(The not-so-technical version)
By Sarmonster

(OK, December of 2004)

I received a request from a company for a custom e-commerce site.  I called up my partner Mike & we started on a proposal.  Myself being a graphics-oriented web designer, he being one of the world’s top software engineers (his last job was on an advanced prototyping team), we sat down to brainstorm on what we could offer the prospective client.

While doing research (read: surfing) for ideas, my partner was appalled by how phenomenally bad the admin tools currently in use were; “I’ve not seen anything this bad since I worked on mainframes!”  In less than a day he sent me a demo for what their admin tool could look like, I sang his praises, told him how brilliant he was, and how much this thing ROCKED, there was no way they’d say no.

  I presented it to the VP of Marketing and the CEO, along with the front-end designs, with an á la carte pricing setup. I was a little nervous that they might not understand what I was offering them.  I used scenarios they could identify with: 

“Hurricane in Malaysia, all of this supplier’s prices go up 25%, or $5.00, either way.”  Three clicks, type in the change, submit, and anywhere from one to ALL their prices were updated. "Gas prices go up, you can do the same with shipping."

I demonstrated bulk updates; "You need to go through and edit every product with

Where the logo idea came from

(noun)___ in it, maybe change the wording because of a copyright issue." There was no surfing back to the menu, hit the submit button & you were at the next file, even custom updates took half the time.  The Marketing VP was ecstatic; “This could save us days of work!”
The CEO said “You’ve got the job, I’ll have you two work out the budget.”

I explicitly told my partner not to lift a finger on this project until we had the initial check. 

No one has ever said "Now Mike, there's a man who knows how to take advice!"

After a month, the client was bogged down with internal issues, and I had to go on to other projects, but my partner had gone roaring ahead on this admin tool.  When I told him problems within the company had us dead in the water with the client, he said

“When the first spreadsheet was shown to an accountant he cried, and said ‘I can do a week’s worth of work in an hour!’

“That’s what Admin Concentrate is to web administration.”

A Test of My Communication Skills

Feeling a bit like a fifth wheel, I whipped out a logo and went to work on a more intuitive interface, Mike was very accommodating "Build it as you think it should be & I'll get it to work." I did, and we revealed an interface we were reasonably happy with.

My work is not yet done, we still need to write the help files. I want your janitor to be able to figure out how the thing works. I want ten minutes training time.

I started asking around.  Those who I could get to understand what it was were excited to get their hands on it, I’ve had several calls from associates asking “is it done yet?!” 

“Mike!”  I cried, “There are people in Seattle using PHPMyAdmin to update records!*  We must help these poor people!" Being the least technical of the team, and somewhat able to communicate in the realm of people who describe me as 'someone who works with computers', I’m faced with figuring out how to get They Who Sign the Checks to take the time to see that Admin Concentrate could potentially save them thousands of hours/dollars.  I'm open to suggestions.

The Marketing VP from the original company even called me, telling his tale of woe; he’d spent three hours updating products that with A.C. would’ve taken maybe ten minutes.  I felt like I was rubbing salt in his wounds by telling him the tool could now throw together an interface more or less by itself  using only the SQL table definitions; you could get to any record in three clicks or less, and it would even tell you which records were linked to any other given record.  Autocomplete doesn’t have you scrolling for records, jump to doesn’t have you scrolling at all, and you’d never have to re-type anything that was already in there:  You could add a new record based on a previous one.

I hope I didn’t make him cry.

So there’s the story so far.

*PHPmyAdmin is an excellent product, but it is definitely NOT meant for updating individual records.