Organize your Sim Center with Airtable

02/13/2017

Blog post by SimGHOSTS Training Director Kirrian Steer

Organize your Sim Center with Airtable

Some of you who attended SGAUS16 will know that I have a bit of an obsession with spreadsheets, data analysis and organizing. At that event, Emma Horsfield and I presented a workshop on the Excel form and spreadsheet that we had developed for recording session attendance, room use and manikin use. We demonstrated the spreadsheet set-up, the VBA programming to build the data entry form, and the display of the program data in a dashboard layout built using Pivot Tables, Pivot Charts and Slicers. This was impossible to cover in two hours so we provided a sample file and step by step instructions for participants to finish when they returned to work. I’ll admit that you need to be pretty keen have followed through on this – there was quite a bit of work involved and to some it was too overwhelming.

When planning our spreadsheet we had some grand plans of linking this to more spreadsheets containing details of other information related to the center activities to create a database that would allow reporting on just about anything we would want to know. We decided that this was too much for the session but that we would go ahead and develop it for our own use. Despite the best of intentions, life got in the way and we didn’t get past the spreadsheet we presented. That all changed a few days ago when I discovered Airtable - a brilliant FREE app that allows you to build your own database without needing any programming knowledge. Even better, I could copy and paste our existing spreadsheet straight into it and build a form without any programming.

As a test, I opened Airtable without taking any tutorials or using their templates, all I did was watch their short video on what was possible . I was able to work out quite quickly how everything worked and what I needed to do to create the database of my dreams from scratch. It did take a bit of time – the formulae in my Excel spreadsheet didn’t copy across, just the values in the cell. It meant that I had to go back and re-enter the formulae for calculated fields. I also had to format each column (known as fields in Airtable) so that the data entry form would record information in the correct format.

I’m having lots of fun working on different ideas for how to use Airtable and will share them with you as I learn more about the app and fine tune my databases. So far I have been able to report on the consumables used by each discipline or department in the last quarter, and predict the consumables required for the next month based on the sessions scheduled. It’s also possible to view a calendar of upcoming sessions and access the scenario documentation and photos of the room and manikin set up with a couple of clicks. You can even manage your staff scheduling, manikin maintenance and error log reporting.

One aspect of Airtable that I haven’t explored yet is integration with Zapier. Zapier can be used to automate actions or workflows between apps. There are over 750 apps available on Zapier so it is worth checking out as well if you haven’t seen it yet. If you use Airtable (or Zapier) I would love to hear how you use it and your likes and dislikes about it. Please leave your comments in the box below.

Author note – I declare that I have no affiliation with Airtable.