See, our work is data mining, and we've been accomplishing this with a combination of Excel and Access. We've set up an Access database which in turn links to a MySQL database, the "data warehouse," which contains data from the actual databases the company runs on. (We did something like this at Intermedia, except that their equivalent of the data warehouse, the "reporting server," was a true mirror of the production database. I'm told that this is a bad idea in Data Warehousing Theory, but in practice it was several orders of magnitude faster than the data warehouse I'm using now. Literally. But I digress.) For simple queries, we just have Excel talk directly to the tables in Access; more complex ones are built in Access, and Excel just calls those queries. (For those of you who know about databases, this is made a touch more complex by the fact that MySQL can't do subqueries, which means Access can't do subqueries on these tables, either.)
The thing is, my coworker, G., has set up most of his Excel files to go off an Access database on his hard drive. On his notebook. Which is with him on his trip out of the country. And also, G. tends to do a lot of things in Excel that I would do within Access. The last couple of days have been spent dealing with a spreadsheet whose main use is to generate lists of ID tags, used by our CRM system to send out emails to our users. This spreadsheet is generated by having about a half-dozen other spreadsheets, each that have queries pulled from Access; a master spreadsheet puts calculated fields from the first sheets together, and then in turn a "pivot table" (an automatic summarizing table) looks at the master sheet to generate statistics. You click on cells in the pivot table to see what fields are being used to generate that specific cell, and those fields contain the ID tags you're looking for.
This is a slow process, but at least it's error-prone.
The second thing is, this is just a part of what I was supposed to be doing. A lot of what I'm supposed to be doing I can't do. I literally don't have the data for it. G. is doing some of the reports manually, remotely, rather than having them on a network drive. (I've been putting all of my stuff on a network drive and trying to link things up that way, so it's at least theoretically possible to replicate what I'm doing on someone else's machine with just a few minutes' setup time.)
On top of all this, it looks to me like a couple of the new hires in the department are here to automate things that, well, desperately need to be automated. From a company perspective this is a good thing, but I'm not sure if I'm going to still be needed once that's all finished--they may only have enough work for just one of us again, since a lot of the reporting mechanics will be taken care of. There's part of me that wonders if G.'s somewhat Rube Goldberg setups are partially designed to make him difficult to replace or oust, but it's hard to know. It's easy to set up things that are designed just with you in mind, and to do it with no malice aforethought.
I spent all of yesterday redesigning things in Access to make the generation of the IDs for the mail lists entirely in Access. Instead of taking about 10 minutes to update, along with the double-checks, it's about a minute-long process fired off by running an Access macro. There's still a lot of Rube Goldberg-esque processes that happen after that point that could be looked at, but that's a rant for another time.
Today, barring any magical appearances of the remaining data, I try to convert one of G.'s other spreadsheets to use an OLAP cube. So far I have not been successful in doing this in a meaningful way.
Beyond work, I'm meeting Tim (from Sofawolf) for lunch today, and I've been doing a bit of investigating of freelance writing. A lot of the books on it are about copywriting (mostly advertising). Hmm.