13 Tips for Staying Focused During a Virtual Event or Meeting

RSC is proud of the fact that we are a virtual company. We’ve been working from home for 20 years and have seasoned expertise to share with the world during this time of social isolation and distancing. For more tips on working from home, check out our previous article, 12 Tips for Working from Home.

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At this point, everyone knows that large masses of people across the world are working from home in a preventive measure against COVID-19, or the coronavirus.

Alongside the hot topic of working from home is the topic of virtual meetings. How do you get the most out of a virtual meeting? What are the best virtual meeting techniques for engaging participants and attendees? How are virtual meetings conducted? What do people do to stay focused after a long day of working from home, a lot of meetings, and/or a particularly long web event?

Our staff has 20 years of experience to share with our readers and clients on these subjects, and, generally how to improve virtual meetings. Below are our practiced techniques that we use on a daily basis to help us get the most out of our virtual workplace.

1) Invest in multiple computer monitors.

Moving back and forth between multiple windows can take time and focus away from a meeting. Use one monitor to keep needed information—such as a web browser, detailed notes, an excel spreadsheet, or more—at your fingertips while displaying the meeting on the other.

Using multiple monitors or screens can help you find information quickly during virtual meetings.

Another solution for keeping a lot of information visible during a meeting is to connect your laptop with an HDMI cord to a computer monitor. Some of our staff have found that, when screens need to be displayed, displaying your screen from your laptop and putting others’ displayed screens on your monitor helps keep everything readable.

2) Invest in some essential, RSC-recommended equipment.

There are a couple pieces of equipment that RSC staff swear by for our meetings. This equipment helps keep us comfortable and focuses our attention towards the topic(s) at hand.

A desk or computer tray that lets you stand.

Virtual meetings are a great time to stand up and stretch your legs, which will help you stay attentive if you’ve been sitting all day. Standing up periodically can also help energize you for the rest of the work day, as well as being good for your joints and muscles.

Noise-cancelling headphones.

Noise-cancelling headphones are essential for virtual meetings.

High-quality, noise-cancelling headphones keep out the sound of that experimental band next door, plus any other unexpected distractions, like kids, pets, construction, etc. Exceptionally powerful headphones drown out all sound entirely, creating a tunnel-focus effect and allowing you to concentrate.

3) Take notes and create a task list.

A general meetings best practice, take notes and create a task list for yourself from your notes. RSC uses many tools for taking notes, like post-its, excel spreadsheets, Word documents, text editors, and more. Find the tool(s) that work best for you and stick to that system so your notes aren’t scattered.

The Effectiveness of Post-it note-taking vs. using Word Docs

While both post-it notes and word docs can be great virtual meeting tools, they both have their pros and cons. Using Post-it notes, or sticky notes, can be very effective for creating your task list. Their mobility allows you to quickly and effectively prioritize and re-prioritize, like so many of us have to do if a project takes a turn of direction. Using sticky notes in a notebook keeps them organized; using them around your computer makes them more visible.

Find the most effective method for taking notes that allows you to share them with coworkers.

That being said, while Post-its are great for your own personal task list, they may not be the most effective solution for when you need to share your notes, or have a log of what you’ve been doing. For this, RSC prefers to use a Word doc and its many professional features. Word has a plethora of organizational features like tables of contents, graphs, and heading styles to keep your notes organized. They can be good for sharing between smaller groups of people, but if updates to the doc are being made by many people, a document sharing and editing service might be more effective.

4) Speak up during meetings.

Don’t let the fact that you’re hidden behind a screen, and your coworkers can’t see the non-verbal cues that you have something to contribute, limit you from making comments on where you can help. Virtual meetings can be daunting because of this, so practice speaking up in meetings if that is a challenge you face.

5) Create and contribute to an environment that fosters watercooler banter.

Be yourself during meetings and use appropriate moments to get to know your colleagues better.

Having a healthy balance between focused, goal-oriented discussion and goofy, light-hearted banter is extremely important for the health of an organization, no matter the type of work environment. While on virtual meetings, it can be tempting to start out the meeting with everyone muted, waiting for the organizer, project lead, or overseer to start the meeting. Use this time, or any other time that may be appropriate, to banter with your coworkers, and don’t be afraid to be yourself during the meeting and make friendly chat or harmless jokes. Even playing some virtual team meeting games could be a helpful tip on how to make conference calls more interactive.

6) Don’t multi-task. Actively listen. Ask questions.

An essential tip for any meeting type and for virtual meeting etiquette, resist the urge to work on other projects or tasks during your virtual meeting. Choose to be present. This will ensure that you are getting the most out of your time and can contribute to the effectiveness of the meeting.

Come prepared to your virtual meetings by opening any tabs and checking that your software is working.

Many organizations using virtual meeting software often wonder how to engage remote meeting participants. Leaving open the list of attendees on your software so you can see everyone’s name can help you think of ways to engage everyone. Look to ask questions to all the participants, if the group size allows. Asking questions and encouraging conversation have been proven time and time again as some of the best practices for virtual communication. Read more tips about this, and virtual meetings in general, at an article we found from “CIO from IDG”.

7) Come prepared.

Take five minutes before the meeting and make sure that your virtual meeting software is working properly. Audio and screen sharing can be some of the first features to stop working if your internet connection is bad, so test these out before logging onto the meeting. If your internet connection refuses to cooperate, take a few minutes to find a spot where it is working.

Open any documents, tabs, visual aids, etc. that you may need for the meeting before it starts. This will reduce lag time, which will minimize distraction.

8) Have something to fidget or doodle with.

If you’ve had a lot of meetings, or are getting to the end of the day when it’s hard to focus, having something to fidget with during a meeting can help direct that energy into something else so you can focus. Some people prefer the infamous fidget spinner, while others opt for something more sophisticated, like a fidget cube. These are both inexpensive on Amazon. If you don’t want to spend any money, a pen or pencil also works just fine.

Speaking of pencils, while a lot of taboo surrounds doodling during meetings, sometimes light, minimally-involved drawing can help you focus while you’re not directing the conversation. Cartoon characters, geometric shapes, or abstract line art can be effective shapes to draw.

9) Change locations periodically.

One of the most difficult aspects of working from home is that it can feel mundane very quickly. Changing locations for meetings, or even periodically throughout the day can help stave off this mundane-ness. Working by a window can give you some sun and add interest as you watch what’s going on outside. Working in a more secluded spot can help you focus all your energy into one task. Evaluate how you’re feeling and what you need to focus in that particular moment.

10) Be honest with yourself and choose spots in which you know you can focus.

Be honest with yourself in choosing work locations. Not all of us can focus while in bed.

For some people, this could be a desk, while for others it might be the giant bean-bag on the ground. This could even change depending on the type of meeting. Work sessions might be great to take sitting cross-legged on your bed, while meetings with clients might be better to take at a desk. Whatever the spot may be, be honest with yourself and make sure that you can focus in it.

11) Make sure your at-home workspace is the perfect temperature.

Before signing on, check the thermostat of your meeting space. There may not be an opportune time during the meeting to change it if you get too cold or too hot, and temperature and climate can be some of the quickest ways to get distracted during meetings.

12) RSC loves caffeine.

If your health allows for it, caffeine can be a great way to stay focused. This can be in the form of energy drinks, soda, or coffee, which are recognizably not the healthiest solutions, or you can buy caffeine to add to water or any other preferred drink.

If you prefer to not drink caffeine, cold or favorite drinks can help you stay awake. Also, making sure that you eat regularly throughout the day will help you stay awake and focused, instead of thinking about how hungry you are.

13) RSC also loves naps.

In our last article, 12 Tips for Working from Home, we mentioned that taking frequent breaks can help you stay alert and ready for a full work day. One of RSC’s favorite activities during these breaks is taking naps. If you didn’t sleep well the night before, or you’ve had a particularly full or challenging work day, this can be a great way to recharge and keep on going. Even if your workday has been the same as any other, naps can be a nice mental break to keep you going. Taking one a little before your meeting can help you not think about anything you might be over-thinking or not looking forward to.


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12 Tips for Working from Home

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Considering the potential increase of the coronavirus, many companies are encouraging–or even requiring–their employees work from home. Working from home can be a difficult transition if you are not used to it: housemates can be distracting. The couch can look oh-so-comfortable, and a 20 minute nap can easily turn into an hour and 20 minute nap. Working from home can seem like the perfect opportunity to get the honey-do list completed and chores that have been piling up can look enticing. The list of readily-available distractions could continue for miles.

We understand the challenges that can come with working from home: RSC is a virtual company. This means that we have no physical office space, so every employee works from home, and we have 20 years of experience and tips we’ve collected on creating an ideal work environment in your home. Below are our staff’s first-hand recommendations. We hope you find them useful!

1) Create a “Work Only” space.

An image of a home office by a scenic window.
Create a comfortable, yet distraction-free, work space.

Aside from helping you focus on work instead of binge-watching “Frasier”, setting up an area at home that is “work-only” can signify to others that you are working and shouldn’t be bothered. Additionally, it helps you de-stress once work is over, because you can mentally “put work away” and fully enjoy the rest of the house and activities that are going on.

2) Set office hours and stick to them.

An image of a home office with a computer, notebook, and other accessories on a desk.
Stick to your office hours.

Treat work hours like sacred time. Set a schedule–it helps to keep your at-home hours the same as a usual nine-to-five workday, or whatever is typical of your organization–and don’t vary from these. Don’t justify that a 45-minute run to the store won’t effect your schedule too much. Don’t let distractions like kids, peanut butter cookies on the counter, or playing with your pets pull you away from your focus.

3) Schedule meetings for mornings.

Leaving the beginning of the work day for meetings is a great way to stay focused throughout the day, because you now have a task that helps you know what you need to accomplish. It also helps motivate you to get out of bed and work instead of pushing your schedule back and procrastinating the work day.

4) Match your work hours to the schedule of your housemates.

An image of a woman wearing glasses at a desk working on a computer. She is smiling and is in an art studio with paintbrushes.
For a distraction-free workspace, work at the same time as the people with whom you live.

Maintaining the same working hours as the people you live with is a great way to enjoy your time off once work is done. It minimizes distractions so everyone can have a quiet environment to work in and doesn’t step on each others’ toes. 

5) Take frequent breaks.

Standing up from the computer is important not only for your posture, but also for your mental health. Getting up frequently and taking a stroll around the yard or house will help you keep a fresh attitude towards work and cut down on the mundaneness of working from home. Some of our staff hold to a strict “get up every hour” rule.

6) Schedule “Leave the House” time.

An image of a dog laying under a desk and office chair while someone in blue jeans, sitting at the desk, works.
Schedule a time to get out of the house and stretch your legs.

Schedule a time to get out of the house and detach from work. Usually, this would include activities like going out to lunch, working out at a gym, or taking a yoga class, but with the stay-in-place mandate applicable to most of us, this principle looks a little different right now. Going for a walk or drive can be great substitutes for this. If you have a garden or yard, walk around it. Even using technology like a wii could help you get in the mindset that will help you de-stress from work and clear your head.

7) Schedule your meals.

On the topic of breaks, it can be easy to get wrapped up in the “I’ll just do one more thing” mentality and forget to eat regular meals. Scheduling a specific time for your meals can help you keep a consistent schedule, maintain energy for the work day, and reinforce taking frequent breaks.

An infographic with RSC's twelve tips for working from home listed.

8) Get ready in the morning just as if you’re going to work.

Dressing the same way you would for the office can help you mentally get in the zone to work, separate your “work-only” space from the rest of the house, and keep you focused on tasks: even the rote, mundane ones. Changing clothes once you’re done working into lounge-around-the-house attire helps you relax and separate even more from the office.

9) Don’t go straight to your workspace in the morning.

An image of a home office in a bedroom with calendars on the wall, a surfboard leaned against the wall, and a small shelf.
Refrain from sleeping right up until your work hours in order to get a few more minutes of sleep.

Give yourself time to ease into the day, enjoy the morning, and prep for work just like you would any other day. Let your house be your house for a little bit before you go into work mode. This, just like many of the previous points, will help you separate the spaces between work and home so you can de-stress after work.

10) Use a headset or noise canceling headgear.

Minimize distractions by using a quality, noise-cancelling headset for when you’re in meetings or listening to music to stay focused. You won’t be able to hear anything that may want to distract you. You’ll be able to  focus well so the day relatively flies by.

11) Invest in equipment to help your posture and joints.

An image of a supportive desk chair by a wood desk with a computer on it.
Invest in supportive equipment for your home office.

Giving your body good support will help make your at-home office comfortable. It’s not worth it to ruin your back, neck, hands, wrists, etc. while working. Some essential pieces to consider for your home office may be:

  • Supportive chair with adjustable height
  • Adjustable-height computer stand for sitting and standing
  • Keyboard for carpel tunnel
  • Mouse for carpel tunnel
  • Footrest
  • extra back support

12) Take advantage of some creature comforts, but not too many.

An overhead image of a woman sitting with her legs outstretched on a bed or couch, working on a computer.
If sitting on the couch helps you focus, then take advantage of that. But don’t use so many creature comforts that you can’t focus.

If you work better with some background noise that you wouldn’t usually be able to put on in the office, then put on some music or white noise. If you have a favorite window to sit by, or a favorite spot in your house, then set up your workspace in that area. If you have a favorite coffee, tea, or beverage that you don’t usually get at work, then pour yourself some of that.

Creature comforts can easily infringe on the “Creating a ‘Work Only’ Space” idea discussed above. It’s easy to surround yourself with too many. Determine which ones and how many help you stay focused and which ones don’t.


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Three SQL Tips to make ARCHIBUS View Development easier

My name is Todd Forsyth.  I’m the Technical Lead at RSC LLC.  We specialize in installing, hosting and managing ARCHIBUS CAFM/IWMS systems.  This is one of a series of posts on how to make that process easier if you’re doing something similar yourself.

If you’ve done much ARCHIBUS customization, you know that the key is building great ARCHIBUS Views, or AXVW files.  And so much of what makes this hard is getting the data that you need into the view.  I’m going to talk about 3 SQL tricks I’ve learned to make this process easier.

Queries Rather Than Tables

Many of the example queries you’ll see in ARCHIBUS views define datasources that connect directly to database tables.  This is useful, of course, but sometimes you need data from multiple tables, which is very difficult, or even impossible, to write a datasource that does this by just referring to the tables directly.

When this happens, it’s time to have the datasource refer to an SQL Query instead of to the tables themselves.   This gives you the opportunity to develop the query in another tool (like SQL Server Management Studio), so you can be sure you have the data right, and then embed the Query in your ARCHIBUS View.

Here is an example from a custom Energy Management View RSC built recently.  This was a BIG query.  I haven’t include the whole query, or all the columns we really used in the datasource definition, but you get the idea:

 

       <dataSource
id=”ds_waterChart” applyVpaRestrictions=”false”>
              <!– Define parameters for the
custom SQL query –>
              <parameter
name=”locationField” dataType=”verbatim”
value=”ctry_id”/>
              <parameter
name=”locationValue” dataType=”text”
value=””/>
              <parameter
name=”timePeriodFrom” dataType=”text”
value=””/>
              <parameter
name=”timePeriodTo” dataType=”text” value=””/>
              <!– Define a custom SQL query
that can be restricted by various location values –>
              <sql
dialect=”generic”>select
                           ‘Water Usage
Comparison’ water_usage_label,
                           ‘Water Cost
Comparison’ water_cost_label,
                           sum(case
                                  when
b.time_period like ‘2013-%’
                                  then   a.qty_volume * c.area_fraction
                                  else   0
                           end) base_usage_hcf
              from   bill_line_archive a
              join
                           bill_archive b
              on            a.bill_id
= b.bill_id
              join
                           rsc_primary_building
c
              on            b.bl_id
= c.primary_bl_id
              and           a.meterseq = c.meterseq
              join
                           bl d
              on            c.bl_id
= d.bl_id
              join
                           vn e
              on            a.vn_id
= e.vn_id
              where  b.bill_type_id = ‘WATER’
        </sql>
              <table
name=”bill_archive” role=”main”/>
              <field
name=”water_usage_label” dataType=”text”>
                     <title
translatable=”true”>Water Usage</title>
              </field>
              <field
name=”water_cost_label” dataType=”text”>
                     <title
translatable=”true”>Water Cost</title>
              </field>
              <field
name=”base_usage_hcf” dataType=”number” size=”12″
decimals=”2″>
                     <title
translatable=”true”>2013 Usage (HCF)</title>
              </field>
       </dataSource>

Use unions to write a few small queries instead of one GIGANTIC query.

Sometimes, writing even a query that can do EVERYTHING you need it to is frustratingly complex.  It is often easier to write a series of SMALLER queries that can be tied together with a UNION operator, where each query does part of the work.

For those not familiar with the SQL Union Clause, it is used to combine the result-set of two or more SELECT statements.  Each SELECT statement within the UNION must have the same number of columns.  The columns must also have similar data types.  Additionally, the columns in each SELECT statement must be in the same order.  As long as you follow these fairly simple rules, it’s easy to sew two queries together as though they were one, then embed the combined query in the SQL clause of an AXVW View.

A recent example was a view that was supposed to show the results of inspections, and to say whether these had passed, or failed.  But “Pass” or “Fail” wasn’t a value stored in the database; I needed to do some logic to decide for each row.

Rather than writing one query, I wrote two.  One that had logic to select all the “Pass” rows, and one to select all the “Fail” rows.  Then I used the “UNION” clause to join them up.  Much easier.

When complexity is high, and so is repetition, use a Database View.

I’m generally not a big fan of using Database Views in connection with the ARCHIBUS Application.  For those not familiar with database views (as opposed to ARCHIBUS Views, which is just another name for an AXVW file) see this link.  Basically an SQL View is a “virtual table,” a SQL query embedded in the database that queries can be written against.  The problem with Database Views is that you have something outside the AXVW that it is dependent on (the SQL View).  So any time you need to change the data that the AXVW is looking at, you need to change the SQL View.  And if you move the AXVW from environment to another, you have to remember to bring the SQL View along, too.

So when should you use one?  Well, sometimes you’ll find yourself using NEARLY the SAME complex SQL Query in several AXVW files, or the SAME SQL Query multiple times in the SAME AXVW file.  Changes to ALL these queries would be very time-consuming.  So in the long term, it’s simpler to store all this oft-repeated SQL logic in one place.  The SQL View.

Usually, a “.sql” text file containing the “CREATE VIEW” statement is made when you create the view.  To make it easier to maintain the view over the long haul, and to migrate it between environment, it’s a good idea to keep this file around.  If you don’t have a better system, it can be handy to add a comment to the AXVW that says “You need this view, too” and reference the text file used to create it.  And to keep thr .sql script for generating the view close, consider storing it with a name similar to the AXVW view in the same folder where the AXVW file lives on your system.  So if you view is “rsc_wr_update.axvw”, you might store the view-creating SQL script as “rsc_wr_update_vw.sql” in the same folder.


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Article Review: 7 Reasons You Need IWMS in 2015

With 2015 coming to a close, we thought we’d share some insights from this article7 Reasons for Your Business to Start Using IWMS in 2015,” posted by Scott Kay back in February.  We couldn’t agree more with what Scott had to say about the new trends this past year making the use of an IWMS a necessity, and thought you might like to know in case you didn’t get the chance to read it already.

Here is our summary of Scott Kay’s 7 Reasons to Start Using IWMS in 2015

1. Integration

IWMS systems are redifining the “I” in IWMS.  Most solutions are focused on presenting a simplified integration process.

 

2. Mobility

It’s no shocker that mobile devices, whether it be an Apple Tablet or an Android phone are exceeding laptops and desktops in internet access.  This being said, all management systems will need to have increased mobile usability.  Workers need platforms that allow for greater functionality for Smartphones and Tablets while out of office.

 

3. Internet of Things

We live in a connected world.  Just about everyone is connected to the internet just about all the time.  “Smart”  is applied to a greater range of devices as technology advances and becomes more affordable.  Cloud computing is now an important part of everyday activities in the business world.  A shift is happening toward usability of devices carried rather than traditional stationary systems.

 

4. Big Data/Analytics

All workers operating with facts and numbers increasingly rely on deep insight.  Not only must you have the latest numbers, but you need a greater understanding of what those number mean and how they can work for your company.

 

5. Data Standards

The transaction of data between systems must go as smoothly as possible.  This is where IWMS comes in.  A good quality IWMS (like ARCHIBUS) can help different sections of a company work together in harmony.

 

6. Capital Planning

A feature that targets government, healthcare, and higher education bodies that operate their own buildings.  The essential desire is the ability to identify the most important projects and ensure their priority with funding.  Adding capital planning as a key feature will help immensely.

 

7. 360 Degrees of Customer Experience

Businesses need to understand their customer’s behavior, how to assist the customer in all situations, and ensure the best customer service experience.  Guiding the customer is incredibly important and an effective IWMS platform must be capable of providing data about the customer’s past actions, current needs, and create future projections.

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Making Intelligent Use of ARCHIBUS Database Keys

Hi All,

My name is Todd Forsyth.  I’m the Technical Lead at RSC LLC.  We specialize in installing, hosting and managing ARCHIBUS IWMS systems.  This is one of a series of posts on how to make that process easier if you’re doing something similar yourself.

I started out my technical life not as an ARCHIBUS developer, but as a technology consultant at a major technology consulting firm.  In this role, I both installed packaged applications (including Oracle Applications and Kana Customer Service) and developed web-based applications and data warehouses from scratch.

One of the biggest surprises for me in digging into the ARCHIBUS application is how it uses database keys.  And when I say “keys,” I mean the unique values that identify a record.   Things like the Work Request Code (wr_id) in the Work Requests (wr) table.

I’ll talk about what I found surprising, the pros and cons I find with the ARCHIBUS approach, and give some practical advice on what you need to do to use these database keys intelligently.

First a little background on database keys.  As I said, the key is a single value that uniquely identifies each record.  Things like a Work Request Code, or an Employee ID, or a Room Number in ARCHIBUS.  In ADDITION to identifying records in its primary table, these values are ALSO used to tie a lot of data tables in your database together behind the scenes.  For example, each employee record in the employee table also contains columns for Room Code, Floor Code and Building Code, so you’ll know where the employee sits.

Before joining RSC, all the applications and data warehouses I’d had a deep look at used what are called “surrogate keys.”  That is, the key was always a made-up value, most often an integer number that had no intrinsic information stored in it.   In such a system an employee records might have an employee_id value of ‘291716’.    This number wouldn’t have anything to do with the real employee.  It wouldn’t be their employee number or badge number, and CERTAINLY not their name.  To find those, you’d have to use this number to look them up in the employee table.

By contrast, ARCHIBUS uses what are called “natural keys,” where the keys are meant to contain some information about the record they are the key to.  An employee_id in such a system might be something like “TFORSYTH,” telling us something about the employee’s name.

It turns out that there are at least a couple of different schools of thought about the “right” way to build application databases.  Some say that all primary keys should be surrogate, or arbitrary value, keys.  Others find good reasons to use natural, meaningful data as a key.  Let’s take a closer look at why both groups think they’re right:

The Pros and Cons of Surrogate, or “Arbitrary Value” Keys

This is the world I was used to; the way Oracle Applications, and SAP, and PeopleSoft all handle their databases.  There are strengths to this approach, and challenges:

Pros
  • The key has no intelligence built into it. Meaning you cannot derive any meaning, or relationship between the surrogate key and the rest of the data columns in a row.  If things change in a way which would require you to update the basic information about a record (say you want to re-number all your rooms, or institute a new employee numbering system), this can be done without changing this value in a host of tables.    You simply change the meaningful value in the primary or “home” table where that value lives.  You could just update the room number in the room table, for example.  This sure makes it easier when these values need to be changed.
  • Surrogate keys are usually integers, which only require 4 bytes to store, so the keys, and any database indexes which use them, will be smaller in size than their natural key counterparts.  All a fancy way of saying that big queries with lots of tables run faster with surrogate keys.
 Cons
  • If foreign key tables use surrogate keys then you will be required to have a join to retrieve the real foreign key value.  (Meaning if you store the room id where an employee is seated in the employee table, you ALWAYS have to look up the “real” room number in the room table).  You wouldn’t have to do this with natural keys.  Some meaningful data (like a room number) would already be right there.  If you needed to dig deeper, though, like getting the room name, you’d STILL need to go back to the room table to get it.
  • So surrogate keys are not useful when searching for data, since they have no meaning.  You have to go back to the primary table.

 The Pros and Cons of Natural or “Real Data” Keys

This is the type of key structure ARCHIBUS uses, and all of these strengths and weaknesses are those that ARCHIBUS is subject to:

Pros
  • Since the keys store some useful data, you will usually require less joins/tables when writing a query.  I’ve definitely found this to be true in ARCHBUS.  Often you don’t need to join to the building or employee table; it’s enough that you know the key value stored in the local table you’re looking at.
  • Searches are easier because natural keys have meaning, and you don’t need to do so many joins to get to something meaningful
Cons
  • Much more work is required to change the value of the key.  Changing a Building Code, or “bl_id” value, for example, requires that ARCHIBUS look in over 100 tables where this key might be stored.  The ARCHIBUS applications are smart enough to make this change, but a developer who builds on top of ARCHIBUS must constantly keep this in mind, especially if these keys are being stored in custom tables or fields, of if such value updates happen OUTSIDE of ARCHIBUS logic (which can happen when those key values come in from outside, as through an Employee Sync with an HR system.)
  • Your primary key columns, and any indexes that looks at them will be larger because natural keys are usually strings, which take more space to store than “arbitrary” integers.  Larger key columns and indexes mean queries that take longer to run.  However, since ARCHIBUS databases are typically small in size, this isn’t usually a major concern.  Some tuning may need to be done as the database grows, however.

Using ARCHIBUS Keys Intelligently

Now, while the above has been an interesting exercise in the theoretical, it’s not a choice we really get to make in ARCHIBUS.  ARCHIBUS uses Natural Keys.  That said, this implies a few things you need to keep in mind in setting ARCHIBUS up:

  • Don’t pretend you have Surrogate Keys – I’ve known clients who are absolutely SURE surrogate keys are the way to go, even in ARCHIBUS.  They want to assign ONLY numbers to their building, employee, or department keys (or “Codes”.)  This is counter-productive for a couple of reasons:
    • ARCHIBUS exposes the keys in places many other applications expose name or description fields.  So if you want to have a clue what you’re looking at (who is this employee?  Which building is this?  Is this department Accounting or Legal?), you NEED to give this data some meaning.
    • You will find yourself customizing nearly EVERY form you use regularly to go look up the meaningful data you need from its primary table, where it’s being stored in the Description or Name field. This is a recipe for disaster when doing an upgrade.  Save your customizations for things that really matter.
  • Giving your data some meaning doesn’t mean keys are free-form text fields.  You need to be VERY careful about what you put in here.  You might want to think about exposing your potential key value schemes to these four tests before calling them final:
    • Is the primary key unique?  – My example above of using first initial, last name (TFORSYTH) as a primary key for the employee table is a good example of scheme that DOESN’T pass this test.  Adding the employee number might solve this:  (TFORSYTH F2314)
    • Does it apply to all rows?  – Are there some data points that just doesn’t fit the scheme?  What if you have an employee with a last name like “Wolfeschlegelsteinhausenbergerdorff?”  ‘Probably a bad idea to use the WHOLE last name.  Maybe X characters?
    • Is it minimal?  Remember, big size is one of the problems with natural keys.  Keep your values SHORT.  ARCHIBUS does a good job of enforcing this through their default key field sizes.
    • Is it stable over time?  This one is the real kicker.  Can you GUARANTEE that these values will never change?  Of COURSE you can’t.  But if they change ALL THE TIME, you probably need to look harder for something to use as a key.

I hope you’ve found this look at ARCHIBUS keys useful and informative, and that it can help inform the way you set up and use them in your system.


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Friday Training Follow Up: Types of Reports in ARCHIBUS

Robert Stephen Consulting, LLC provides free 30-minute Client Training session every Friday at 10:00AM PST!  RSC prides itself in providing learning opportunities for our clients.  We feel that if our clients know the system better, we will able to work better with them to discover and implement the solutions that they need.

Last week Bob Stephen, our CEO & Managing Director discussed Reporting in ARCHIBUS. Specifically, we covered the Four Types of Reports in ARCHIUBS.  These reports include:

  1. C & VP Level Reports
  2. Director and Manager Reports
  3. Individual Contributor Reports
  4. Reports for Staff at Large

If you’d like to know more about this particular training, email us at training@rsc2lc.com

We’d love to have you join us for this week’s training on Plain AutoCAD Basics this Friday 11/20.  Please register for the training here:
https://attendee.gototraining.com/r/6239139519237186817

Registering is required to receive a confirmation email and a link to the training.

Our weekly client trainings are held Fridays from 10:00 to 10:30am.  This is an opportunity to learn more about an area of ARCHIBUS that you may not be familiar with.

We look forward to seeing you there!

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Friday Training Follow Up: System Navigation

Robert Stephen Consulting, LLC provides free 30-minute Client Training session every Friday at 10:00AM PST! RSC prides itself in providing learning opportunities for our clients. We feel that if our clients know the system better, we will able to work better with them to discover and implement the solutions that they need.

Last Friday’s training was led by our Tech Lead, Todd.  The topic he covered was System Administration, specifically Page Navigation.  Todd discussed the four basic types of navigation:

  1. Accessibility Navigator
  2. Process Navigator
  3. Dashboard
  4. Page Navigator (Home Pages)

Before taking a deeper look at Page Navigator.  During the in depth overview, he covered:

  • How to use Page Navigator
    • What you can have on your Home Page
    • How to toggle between multiple home pages
    • Working on Tasks
    • The Applications Tab
    • The “My Favorites” Panel
  • How to build a Home Page
    • Adding a Navigation Page
    • Building the xml Descriptor Page
    • Background Shading
  • and  of course some Best Practices

If you’d like to know more about this particular training, email us at training@rsc2lc.com

We are excited to announce this week’s Client Training!  It will be held on Friday 11/13.  Below are some details on registering:

Please register for RSC’s Friday Client Training: Reports, specifically Basic Report Types, on Friday, November 13, 2015 10:00 AM – 10:30 AM PST at:https://attendee.gototraining.com/r/743991509845256705

After registering you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the training.>

Can’t wait to see you there!


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Four Free Tools to Manage ARCHIBUS in a Windows Environment

This week’s article is brought to you by Todd.  Todd is the Technical Lead at Robert Stephen Consulting, LLC.  RSC specializes in installing, hosting and managing ARCHIBUS IWMS systems.  The article Todd is sharing with us today is one of a series of posts on how to make that process easier.
Most of the ARCHIBUS Environments we build are on the Microsoft Windows Server platform.  In this post, Todd briefly shares some phenomenal tips about four FREE (or nearly free) tools he finds make the job of managing ARCHIBUS in a Windows environments much easier. The four tools include:

 

      1. Notepad ++
        • A text editor with some very nice extra features
      2. Agent Ransack
        • A file search utility
      3. WinDirStat 
        • A filesystem management utility
      4. PortQury
        • A Microsoft command line utility for checking the status of TCP/UDP ports

1. Notepad++

Link:       https://notepad-plus-plus.org/
Notepad++ is mostly a text editor.  I know what you’re thinking:  “Well, I already HAVE a text editor.  I don’t really need another one.  Mine works just fine!”

Yes, but can your text editor do these things?:

 

  • Open a “live” file (like a log) without getting in way of other processes accessing it. That way, you can look at the log in real time, without making a copy.
  • Search for all the instances of a text string in all the files in a directory you name, and allow you to quickly jump to that string in the file where it’s located.
  • Mark up source code, and help you find missing parentheses or curly braces.  I find the XML, Javascript, Java and HTML options very handy in dealing with ARCHIBUS custom views and their supporting workflow rules.  It’s also quite nice to be able to collapse expand sections of code (like an “if” block) to see how they fit into the larger code flow.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t an Integrated Development Environment (or IDE).  It doesn’t require that kind of setup or learning curve. But it is a very powerful tool that a sometimes-programmer or troubleshooter can use to make their work a lot easier.

 

I find this very useful when I need to change the way a particular variable is used, or to change all instances of a function call, for example.  It’s very easy to find them all quickly, and to work my way through the search results, updating as I go.

 

Notepad++ is also more forgiving than other editors I’ve used.  Most will let you “undo” up to the last save.  Notepad++ will let you undo up to the time you opened the file.

2. Agent Ransack

Agent Ransack is a file search utility.  And it’s ALMOST free.  At $10/copy, less for larger numbers, it’s definitely well worth the normal investment. What it does isn’t complicated, but it is powerful.  Agent Ransack lets you:

 

  • Search for a filename or directory / folder name
  • Search for text inside the file, including using regular expressions (basically wildcard searches)
  • Specify the time the file was saved, created or last accessed

…all without the files / filesystem in process needing to be indexed, as is needed for Windows Filemanager Search.  And it’s quite fast.

I find these capabilities very useful in finding a file or view in ARCHIBUS’ very complex schema. WebCentral will give you the filename, but won’t tell you the location.  Agent Ransack solves that problem.

3. WinDirStat

Link:       https://windirstat.info/

It seems that no matter how big your drives are, they’re still not big enough.  How many times have you found that your drive is ALMOST full, then had a very difficult time freeing up the space you need?  It seems like the hardest task is just FINDING the offending file or application.  You have click on the properties of each folder to see its size, then look inside the biggest, look at all the folders there to find where the space is being used up, ad infinitum.

WinDirStat does all of that for you, and builds a cool and very intuitive visual representation of the things on your drive that lets you INSTANTLY see if you have a very large file gumming up the works.  Often, it’s an old log file that can be deleted instantly once you know where to find it, and your drive is once again healthy and trim.

4. PortQry

OK, this one doesn’t look cool AT ALL.  It’s a Microsoft-written command-line utility without even an install package.  But it’s SO useful.  One of the most common problems in setting up or troubleshooting an ARCHIBUS environment is for components of the application not to connect as they should.  But is the problem with the network or firewall, or the database server setup, or with the Project setup on the ARCHIBUS side?  One of the toughest things to see easily is whether the network port you’re trying to connect to is open and listening, or filtered in some way. This is what PortQry does.  With a single command line query, you can find that out in real time, and stop fiddling with all the components hoping something will work.

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Conversations with Bob: Why is IWMS essential today?

 
 
Megan: I’ve seen a lot of articles about how IWMS is a break through technology and now more than ever, with the way corporate real estate and facilities management is growing and changing, that IWMS is essential to a successful business. What are your thoughts on that?

Bob: I absolutely agree. Today’s world is changing. The U.S. used to be a global financial area as well as Japan and Europe but the world is now becoming a global economy. With technology, people can work from anywhere at anytime. We’re a virtual company. All my staff either work on site or at home. Larger companies are starting to have their staff work remotely. Understanding where groups of people are, how much square footage you have, and how much you actually need is imperative in today’s fast changing world. You begin to understand that what used to be the norm of 250 sq. ft. per person which included the common area and their office now is down, in some companies, to 50 or 60 sq. ft. per person. Why? Simply because the person isn’t there all the time. They can work from home. They’re on the road. All you really need is a desk to touchdown. They don’t actually need a space to put a picture of their family, they’ve got it on their phone or their laptop. These systems allow companies to reduce their geographic footprint as far as physical buildings go, but to still understand what they need for the amount of staff they have and where their staff are. I’ve also done things like heat maps. In London I have three satellite offices and there are 35 employees. Doesn’t it make sense for us to consolidate that into one floor and not have three satellites and pay three leases but bring them into one and only pay one lease? It really helps them to make strategic decisions like that.

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Tip of the Month: SpaceView Geography

Ever heard of SpaceView?  It is an amazing tool.

SpaceView is a web based employee locator nestled within the firewall of a corporation.  Its concept is simple: keep the information about employees simple and accessible.  Completely automated SpaceView requires minimal maintenance.  Automated AutoLisp routines create the Drawing Web Format (DWF) files each night.  The employee data information is retrieved through a lie query to the CAFM database.  This simple yet effective web-based tool provides such information as vacancies, upcoming moves, furniture layout, organization ownership, telecommunication assets, and conference room and lab location.

With the addition of redlining capabilities, planners can communicate moves, adds, and changes through the web.  Other components include an online work order system with email notification and web-based move requests.

This week we’re sharing a brief SpaceView Geography training video, brought to you by our CEO & Managing Director Bob Stephen.


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