© 2019 by Kirkness Associate Ltd

Ask The Experts (and each other)

May 17

Which platform is best for us?




I'm having a crisis. You know, one of those ones where you've recently paid for 3 paid members on airtable, and have essentially finished building your CRM, and are halfway to being done with a manufacturing-order-process... and you start to wonder, is Airtable right for this company?


I love Airtable, I really do. But, I'm worried there might be a better solution for our needs out there, so I'll provide a summary of what we want to do, and we'll see what the experts think.




I need to build:

- a custom CRM with order tracking, task tracking and interaction tracking

- inventory management (currently excel)

- manufacturing database (create new purchase order, track all jobs, schedule jobs to different machines depending on what stage the job is in etc)

- Project tracker - upcoming, current, completed, past "projects", asset manager for different components that are essentially copy and paste



- I'd love to be able to link all the bases to the CRM, which with airtable isn't available and I have no idea if its going to happen

- Document creation for manufacturing purchase orders (current solution, integromat and webmerge)

- Graphs, kanbans, calanders, spreadsheet views, and the ability to filter those and create custom views

- Available in China

- Rich text editing would be a major plus but not required

- Relatively easy to learn (I'm fine with HTML and CSS but PHP and JS aren't second nature to me, so I tend to do a lot of googling and trial and error)








I currently have this split into 2 bases - Contacts (industry contacts etc) and then our CRM.


Contacts is simple - table for companies, contacts and interactions, all linked together. If a contact becomes a potential/actual lead/customer, they get moved to the CRM


The CRM has companies, contacts, tasks and interactions - plus, I use it to track out incoming orders via woocommerce and email/phone. So that section is orders (linked to companies), product line items (linked to prouct table), shipping


I enter all the order info manually - I tried a woocommerce integration via zapier, but had issues when it comes to products. I haven't looked at trying it with integromat yet because I've only just started using it a few days ago



*a manufacturing job in our company is referred to as a BLA, and can be for stock items or customer orders


This is the really tricky one. Basically what I have at the moment is a set-up similar to how you would do an invoicing table, and I'm working on an integration with webmerge to create PDF 'purchase orders' so to speak. This is in a separate base so unfortunately can't link to the CRM.


Where it will get really tricky is in Scheduling the jobs to be manufactured. Its currently in an excel spreadsheet, with several tables, and while the overview will be simple, I then have to figure out a way to crate the tables that show the forecast for every machine, which can then be updated with actual results, to then update the production schedule, and also show the monthly forecast as a bar graph... all I'm sure I can do with airtable.


I haven't figured out how yet, but I would like to try and implement some way of checking off tasks in a BLA before it proceeds to the next step

I plan on using Airtable for other things as well, but they're a lot simpler.


The major things that are lacking with airtable for me are:


- Linking between bases

- Lacking rich-text editing

- I want to create a view to each company/contact that is more reminisce of a traditional CRM in layout while retaining interactivity (so page designer isn't really an option)

- The page designer is lacking in design options/flexibility so I'm having to use a third party via (webmerge) to create documents


Features I love about airtable:


- It's available in China, and has attachment fields, which is a big deal since all our documents are on dropbox which means we have to email things to China instead... airtable will fill in that gap for us

- The different views, filtering options, and relative ease for me to learn

- Aesthetically, it's pretty nice compared to other options I've seen

- All those other little things that make Airtable great



I'll also be needing to onboard staff members that aren't the most tech savvy, and I'm wondering if there's a solution out there that will be easier for them to navigate. In saying that, they're all reasonably comfortable with excel


So there's my massive, messy brain dump.


Honestly, if airtable is going to be my best option, I'm more than happy to continue with it. I need to put together a cost report, and considering how much time this custom DB is going to save us, I may be able to justify additional services that will fill in the gaps for airtable.


I just need to be sure it is the best option, before I spend too much more time on it.

Hi Sarah


You ask some very good questions in your post! You may find the latest blog entry helps you decide about the best platform choice - and I have a view on this myself.


I'm about to go out of the office for a while and will respond to you more fully later - hopefully the article will help in the meantime.



Hi Sarah


I back at my desk again - and have been giving your requirement some thought. Maybe you've had a chance to look at the comparison document I've produced... (not sure where you are in the world though so maybe not).


If you've looked at the blog side of this site, you'll see that I tend to focus on working with products I like and have found to be capable and well supported. At the moment this means Airtable, Knack and Ninox.


Looking at your requirements, I don't think Airtable is the right platform for you - this isn't because I don't like Airtable - it's more that it isn't the best fit for some of the reasons you mention - and here are some others:


  1. Assuming you have several people using your database, you are not able to create a system in which users only see the elements they require to do their jobs.

  2. The User Interface is, I agree, very friendly and familiar. But for a complex database (and I think you should probably only have one) it soon becomes cumbersome and confusing. Presenting all the data in a spreadsheet type format is not ideal for systems used to automate processes and procedures.

  3. It isn't possible within Airtable to automate processes - for example sending an invoice out.


There are others but what you want is a recommendation and for this particular application I would choose Ninox for a number of reasons:


  1. Like Airtable, Ninox has the ability to build nice looking databases with built in features for file attachments and comments.

  2. It has built in features for producing PDF documents, can automatically save them as attachments and even email them to people within the app.

  3. It has its own language which can really make your applications do the work for you. This is much easier to use than JavaScript and the learning curve is particularly gentle. You can read another blog post comparing it with JavaScript here.

  4. You can configure security access with several types of user should you need to control who can see what.

  5. It's available on multiple platforms (Cloud, Mac, iPad, iPhone and Android) with the ability to work offline using the apps - re-syncing when you re-connect.

  6. It's available in China (I checked with Ninox).

You can get a trial licence for Ninox Cloud from their website.


I hope this helps,




Hi Julian, thanks for your reply!


I started playing around with Knack yesterday, and I just signed up for a trial of Ninox today.


When it comes to limited views - nearly everyone in the company will need to have access to everything, except for a select few who will only be allowed to view the BLA section (which will contain overview, individual BLA's and the production planner for it).


Ninox definitely seems powerful, however due to not being able to link between databases (which, I understand, is a common theme in this industry), I fear a database could get very overwhelming very quickly.


I'm leaning towards knack due to the customization ability of the web app (being able to do drop down menu's is looking quite promising, as is being able to embed - I could create an entire portal for the company from scratch essentially), but then it lacks features (like a kanban view - I like how Ninox has the different views including kanban and gantt chart) and the way connections work is a little... frustrating (I love how in airtable, I can import a CSV with a column pre-filled for connections... and if the connection isn't already in the linked field, it creates it. I had a lot of trouble with knack to work out how to import contacts and companies with the connections pre-filled).


Do you have any examples of a Ninox database with a large number of tables, and how it looks?


Essentially everything we want could be sub-categorised like so:



- Companies

- Councils

- Customers


- Contacts

- Interacts/Tasks/Notes


Orders & Products

- Orders

- Products

- Inventory



- Tender list

- Tender assets



- BLA Summary

- BLA's (essentially the "invoice")

- Production Planner (this is the most complicated one... we have 3 main stages, which each have several machines assigned to them, which then have daily capacities forecasted, then updated with actual each day, and it goes on... honestly I think I'll need to make a copy of the file without sensitive data to really explain it haha)


(we are looking at completely overhauling the "BLA" process as there's a lot of redundant steps since its been built on over the years)


Plus there could be additional things we find would be beneficial to add to the database, which would likely need to link back to the CRM, so would need to be in the same database.


Our head office is a small team, with everyone's jobs linked in some way, which is why everyone would need to be able to view everything.



**Also I haven't imported any data into Ninox yet. Going to do it when we get home from voting, so I'll get a better feel of it then


(Also, I'm in Australia)


(Also, you're amazing, thanks for your advice on this)




The reasons I thought Ninox for this particular application were the ease of producing PDFs for your invoices and also I just get the feeling that there will be some coding required here and there and the Ninox language is so easy (relative to learning JS for Knack).


With Ninox, subtables can be hidden so that they don't appear as their own option on the menu and so it needn't get too cluttered - however I accept that Knack's separation of the end user and design environments and flexibility of menu structures can lead to a tidier end result - but it's less interactive as a result.


You could download copies of two Ninox apps I have produced which have a fair number of tables from my business website:




The two apps, a CRM and HR app, are both password protected

(so you won't be able to change the app designs) and limited in the number of records but you should be able to get a good idea about what a Ninox app can look like. You could also take a look at a Knack HR app (shown embedded in a test site):




It's worth noting that while I have an HR 'app' in both Ninox and Knack, I was never able to work through getting the leave duration calculations complete in Knack whereas it was relatively simple in Ninox (given I know the basic logic very well).

Hi Julian


So I've been playing with Ninox and it's growing on me! I think you're right, it is the way to go.


I do have some things I haven't quite figured out re the data model, but I'll ask those questions separately. For the moment I have created our CRM, and will be introducing 2 staff members to it tomorrow to ensure that it will work for our needs - then I'll add on to it from there.

Hi Sarah,


Writing directly from Ninox. I take care of solutions and sales for Ninox.


I have read all this thread and have a fair understanding of the applications and workflow you require. I request to have a call with you to discuss the how Ninox can help you create your business flow and database model.

Please let me know your availability,



Regards, Sakshi Singh Ninox Software GmbH Bielckenweg 15 13125 Berlin, Germany https://ninoxdb.de https://www.linkedin.com/in/singhsakshi --------------------------------------------------------- facebook.com/ninoxdb twitter.com/NinoxDB youtube.com ---------------------------------------------------------

Geschäftsführer Frank Böhmer  / Alexander Koenig HRB 154662 B Amtsgericht Berlin Charlottenburg


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