Formula Love

Confessions from the Life of a Non-Coder

“I’m Actually Using My High School Algebra,” and Other Reflections of a Word-Girl Turned Formula Creator

By Katie Wilcox

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I’m not a developer or a mathematician. My background is in professional writing. Sure, I can get around with some basic html tags and can Google like a champ, but as far as formal coding training goes, I have zilch. My javascript knowledge before I started working within the Onspring platform ranged somewhere around the territory of “don’t computers use that?” supplemented by a four-hour weekend Javascript course at the local community college (which I took only to get a professional development employer incentive).

Since my exposure to Onspring, I now create formulas regularly to auto-calculate data points and kick off actions in the system. (Believe me, I’m as surprised as you are!) If you’re like me and don’t have a lot of experience with coding or calculations, you may appreciate my non-developer takeaways learned from harnessing the power of Onspring formulas:

1. A detailed formula can simplify other elements of the system.

For example, formulas can help administrators address in one location the myriad rules surrounding triggers, message send rules and more. In one of my projects, we had several distinct individual and combined conditions for when triggers/outcomes, messages and content security rules were supposed to run. Not only were these combined conditions intricate to assemble, they seemed to change regularly. Instead of adding 8-10 logic rules to each trigger, message and access rule, I created a formula to address the conditions which outputs “Yes” or “No.” When the formula outputs “Yes,” all the reliant elements run. Now if I need to add a rule or modify a component, I can simple tweak the one formula without having to update several system pieces.

2. Formulas reduce human error.

There are values in any solution that end users should directly input into a record. Conversely, there are components where you can skip the human error element by having the system calculate the number, date or list value without needing the user to do a thing. One of our common use cases is for SLA tracking in relationship with a status field. With a list-based formula field, I can dictate a “Past Due” status and message when the team has exceeded their SLA or when a “due date” is in the past. It allows the system to process the facts without worrying about data inaccuracies or purposeful mis-modifications.

Formula View for Current Risk Score Sample formula in the Onspring platform

3. Not all formulas are created equal.

There is sometimes more than one way to arrive at the same calculated value in an Onspring formula. Be sure to check the provided functions and operators to find what will help you get to your desired outcome in the most efficient manner. You have a quick link right within the formula builder to access the help library, which includes an explanation and example of every helper formula available. In addition, new formulas are often added with Onspring releases. If a new formula becomes available to use for something you’ve arrived at through other formula means, it’s definitely worth implementing the new syntax. These new formulas may be more efficient or more thorough than what has worked for you in the past.

Understanding Formulas - Help Formula help is a click away

4. Test, test test!

One of my favorite aspects of Onspring is that you can “live calculate” formulas while interacting with the content record. This allows you to truly test if your formulas work without having to save the record many times. Watch for highlights and real-time changing formula values on the page as you modify or add values in a record. Note: Live-calculated values don’t get stored in the system until you save the record.

Formulas are one of the sharpest tools in the Onspring arsenal. When used well they automate data entry, refine process flows and enhance the end-user experience. The best part is, people like me can write them and easily incorporate into a solution. If you’ve been using formulas in your system, what are some of your favorite success stories or lessons learned? Comment below. I would love to hear from you!

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