If you’ve been using Evisions’ Argos Enterprise Reporting solution, you already know what a powerful tool it can be for making sense of complicated institutional data. But what you might not know is that Argos is much more than a reporting resource. In fact, with a little legwork and the right tools, you can use it to build custom applications.

Now, we’re not quite talking about the independent apps that you use every day on your cell phone or iPad. What we are talking about, though, is DataBlocks that are designed to perform some very complicated tasks, acting as small custom apps that perform a specific function. Learning how to harness the power can save your institution from having to spend money on additional software.

Chris Cheatwood, a systems analyst at Jacksonville State University (JSU), a campus of about 9,000 students in Jacksonville, Alabama, has taken full advantage of this capability. He and his in the Applications Support Group write app-style DataBlocks in house—a dozen, and counting—to solve common problems across campus.

As an example, take the campus mail office. They were having problems with inconsistency and assigning students to mailboxes. The mail staff was using a paper print-out of an Argos report of student names taken from Banner to assign the mailboxes. Every year, inevitable human error resulted in multiple students being assigned the same mailbox by mistake. Instead of looking for an additional software solution, Cheatwood and his staff created an ‘Argos Student Mailbox Assignment’ DataBlock, which validates input and data standards, and enforce the business rules they defined (i.e., one student to one box, and one box to one student).

In another case, last summer the university police approached the Applications Support Group about bicycle registration. The police were looking for an easy-to-navigate database to store owner information, as well as data on makes, models, and serial numbers for registered bicycles. In addition, they wanted to be able to assign each bike a numbered decal to help track bikes if they were stolen. Cheatwood’s group was able to make an easy-to-use web application for students to register their bikes’ data in the database. Then they built a DataBlock that pulled from this database and assigned each bike a decal.

What’s more, when the university police approached them with this task, their desired turnaround time was only two weeks. Cheatwood and his team were able to meet the tight deadline, though, with the help of a few shortcuts. Having created a few app-like DataBlocks before, Cheatwood was able to modify a copy of an existing one, which let them get the bike registration app up and running quickly.

The Applications Support Group at JSU is very small, with only a handful of programmers to serve nearly 10,000 students. By creating these DataBlock apps, they’ve been able to help other offices perform common tasks on their own. This in turn saves the Applications Support Group considerable amounts of time, leaving them free to tackle other projects.

JSU’s team has also included user feedback capabilities in all of these apps, so that they can fix things quickly and ensure the same problems don’t arise in future apps. With all of these app-style DataBlocks, they’ve also saved money. Even though their development time costs money, it’s much less than what it would cost to research and buy a new solution. Overall the team has found that Argos is a great tool for rapid application development.

Though a DataBlock app will never be able to replace, say, your complicated student registration system, it’s a powerful, affordable solution for tackling smaller problems as they come up.

This post is the introduction to a series of posts on how to build specific app-style DataBlocks in Argos. If you’ve built a stellar app-style DataBlock at your institution, tell us in the comments below. We might feature your app on the blog!

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