Are you tired of correcting the same data-entry mistakes again and again? Expression Builder allows you to set up ‘expressions’ within the Accela Civic Platform that guide users as they enter data into the system. By automating where possible and enabling fields to change based on user selections, expressions give you greater control over your data and improve its quality.
In the latest webinar from Vision33’s Accela webinar series, our Accela experts hosted an introductory session on Expression Builder with examples of common uses for expressions. Presenters Kristin Farmer and Tara McCullough covered the essentials on expressions: what they are, when they’re useful, and how to build them with the wizard tool.
To learn more about using Accela’s Expression Builder feature, with examples built directly in a demo environment, watch the on-demand recording of Vision33’s Accela webinar about Expression Builder by clicking here.
Here are three ways you can use Expression Builder in Accela.
1. Calculate Values Automatically
Everyone makes math mistakes occasionally. Or sometimes we get the math right, but we type the wrong one without noticing. That’s why having your technology calculate values wherever possible—instead of the user—just makes sense.
For example: if you're collecting information about costs for a proposed project, you might need users to enter the breakdown of costs across several aspects such as material and labor. As McCullough explains, “You can enter values in those fields but then you’d have to take a calculator, add up the numbers, and enter the sum in the ‘total cost’ field.” Instead, anytime there’s a change to one of the contributing project costs, an expression will calculate the total cost and auto-populate the field.
“The other thing to do, then, is to disable the ‘total cost’ field,” adds McCullough. “Because, after you build your expression to do all the work for the user, you don't want that user to be able to make changes to the total cost. You’re making the system responsible for calculating that.”
2. Make Fields Required or Hidden
You’ve likely encountered this before, either within your Accela platform or while using any web form at all: you enter data into one form field, and another form field disappears or becomes newly required. Simply put, the form changes in response to your selection. And although the concept is simple, there are endless use cases for putting it into practice.
One expression our experts see with almost every Accela implementation involves including an ‘other’ option within a drop-down menu. “This is a really typical set-up,” comments McCullough. “You provide values in a drop-down list, but you can’t necessarily cover all the options—so you include an ‘other’ in your list.” In these scenarios, you may want a text box where users can type their answers. An expression can make a text box a required field when ‘other’ is selected but disable it when users select a different value.
Another common challenge is offering a group of checkboxes where users can make multiple selections and wanting to ensure they select at least one checkbox. “There’s no way, through configuration, to make at least one checkbox required in a group of checkboxes. But we can easily build an expression to do that,” McCullough points out.
3. Auto-Populate Fields Based on User Entry
Based on the information entered into one field, expressions can automatically fill in other form fields for you. This is another type of expression with many potential uses. Like all expressions, it can be implemented in Accela’s back office, in the public-facing portal, or both.
Expressions expedite online application processes. As a user enters information into one section of an application, an expression can automatically populate other sections. Users can then review the application to edit or confirm the auto-populated sections before submitting the form.
You can also use expressions to populate fields hidden from users. Say you want to populate a field based on a public user’s input—for some sort of internal use—but you don’t necessarily want the auto-populated field to be visible to that user. Building an expression to create hidden fields can eliminate needless manual workarounds tasks, like having a staff member categorize applications individually.
Learn More About Using Expression Builder in the Accela Civic Platform
Expression Builder is a valuable tool for better managing your data. When you have dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of users—staff and citizens alike—all entering data into the same platform, it helps to take advantage of automation wherever possible. By stopping small mistakes before they enter your system, you’re saving yourself from needless work down the road.
At Vision33 we have over 100 technology consultants with firsthand government experience and we’ve worked as a partner on over 55 government technology platform implementations. Our expert eGovernment team is dedicated to providing value to the Accela community through this webinar series. Watch the on-demand webinar recording to learn more about Expression Builder—and how using expressions can save you from countless data-entry headaches.