Solutions for Modeling the Accounting

In the previous post in this series, we concluded by recognizing several interactions our stakeholders need to undertake with our accounting. In this post, we’ll use their interactions to derive criteria for finding an appropriate IT solution for providing an accounting. We’ll see that neither simple, fast, and cheap spreadsheets nor standard databases (without extensive customization) are fully satisfactory. We conclude that the SaaS product AirTable provides the right mix of power with accessibility.

As a warning, several product- or technical-workflows are demonstrated in the next few paragraphs. This is for those who desire extra assistance in understanding the workflow overhead occasioned by a spreadsheet or the PostgreSQL database system. The broader gist can be understood without needing to know these technologies. To this end, the detailed work will be hidden within disclosure triangles.

Emergent Criteria

Our initial base criteria, based on use cases from principal stakeholders, are these:

  1. Can identify Learning Goals and bundle them into macro-objects and those macro-objects into nth level abstractions
  2. Cycles are possible and permissible
  3. Calculated attributes are possible. Examples:
  • Two numerical attributes can be summed
  • Two attributes can have textual operations (join, delimited by a character)
  • Attributes can be calculated using a limited set of programmatic expressions
  1. Schema changes can be made quickly and possibly even discussed as “changesets”
  2. Schema meta-documentation is preserved in an accessible fashion
  3. Accessibility to many levels of stakeholders
  4. Low requirements of information technology education in order to:
  • Update schema
  • Add content
  • Display content in discipline-appropriate views e.g. “report views” might be appropriate for sales staff to access and print; “rubric views” might be appropriate for on-site educators to use as a checklist in progress discussions with learners

For each dimension the score is “0, no support; 1, support; 2, innovative support; 3, unique advantage.” The higher the total, the better.

In the following posts, we’ll weigh spreadsheets, databases, and AirTable against these criteria.

  1. Data Hygiene Breakage: The Case Against Spreadsheets
  2. Accessibility Roadblocks: The Case Against Databases
  3. AirTable: The Best of Spreadsheets & Databases


In these comparison posts, we’ve seen how the requirements of our key stakeholders drive the criteria for the interactivity of our accounting. While spreadsheets offer a familiar, nearly-intuitive UI, they are too permissive in terms of data discipline such that they are doomed to turn into a mess. Conversely, databases enforce high data discipline, but their interfaces, sans custom code or 3rd-party applications, inhibit the use, and therefore the utility, of the accounting.

Next: Evaluating Spreadsheets)