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Getting the dates right! - 8th March 2021

How dow we make sure that our clients enter the right date?

Internationally, there are many variations of how a date can be written - `month/day/year` being just one. MySQL databases prefer them to be entered in a strict format otherwise you get the result `...the computer says no!` Some programmes get a calendar to pop-up so that the user can select the required date; but many users prefer to type dates in manually. It would be nice to accommodate both, and, in the past being aimed at clients primarily in the UK, with our older, desk-top software we have been able to do that although we have had to adopt a UK date format of dd/mm/yyyy for manual entry. The field will allow entry either from a pop-up calendar or the keyboard and the field will also accept manual entry in the format dd-mm-yyyy and convert it but entering a dot as a separator is interpreted as something completely different from that intended.

Now, with our new Time Recording Software we are aiming our sights a little higher - trying to meet the requirements of a global market and entering dates in standard UK format will not `cut the mustard` globally.

We've tried various things in our development of the date fields so that the user can select the correct date and convert it to a suitably user-friendly format for displaying to the user and, be convertible to the format required for data storage; but our choice was finalised almost by accident:

..."I had turned up at the appointed time, and was eventually ushered into a small, windowed room. One woman sat at desk, keyboard at the ready while the other stood ready with a syringe. She went through the usual, name, address, date of birth..."
"Sorry, you`re not on the system!"
I clarified that I had passed through the reception system OK so surely I should be on here as well...?
"Oh - I've got the date wrong!"
(I noticed that the field had a pop-up calendar but she wasn't using it, preferring to enter the date manually). I repeated my birth date to her and she entered it again.
"No Sorry! It's not finding you."
"Why don't you use the calendar thing...?"
"I prefer it this way..."
"Look here's my Driving Licence - you can take all the details from there."
...(Still typing in manually.) "No Sorry - still not finding you; I'll have to call the supervisor."
...As soon as the supervisor checked he saw that the month was incorrect and a minor amendment brought up the correct date and my details!"
(This is an abridged version, the actual process was considerably longer..!

We had developed a suitable pop-up calendar that displayed in a format that was internationally understandable and converted to the format that MySQL required, but then one of our clients didn't like this as it meant that they had to change from using the keyboard to using a mouse and then back again.

(Actually if you want today's date you can still use the keyboard, tab to the date field, the calendar pops up and then you press the return key et voila! today's date is entered without the need to touch the mouse!)

We do try to accomodate our clients as much as possible so we did spend time going back over what we had already done, working out different ways to enter dates in manually and convert different formats of dates to display correctly and also get them in the required format for MySQL. Several meetings later and we were of the opinion that 'less is more' and went back to the format that worked in all cases - the pop-up calendar. It being the simplest and most effective solution to the problem.

Strangely, in removing choice, on this occasion, we have found the results to be most effective both in the UK and internationally, so this is why with our new Time and Fees Software you can no longer enter dates manually using the keyboard and have to use the datepicker, or pop-up calendar, instead. It ensures that the user has a better chance of selecting, and entering the correct date each and every time. This ultimately saves you time - time that you can spend on other more important matters.

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