FileMakers Features

Don’t run before you can walk: Why a staggered software approach can pay dividends

tech apps

In this article, James Ducker, Managing Director and FileMaker Developer at Decent Group, discusses how a staggered approach to implementing business software can help a small company cope with the financial and organisational stresses of change.

Bespoke software and custom applications have been huge enablers for all walks of business, from the large conglomerate to the sole trader. Solutions that exist today can handle every administrative facet of a company, from keeping track of financials, tracking stock levels, managing HR practices and more.

Implementing successful business applications into a small organisation however is not a case of simply purchasing something off the shelf and pressing go. Plug and play solutions do exist, yes, but they are rarely tailored to the exacting needs of smaller high-growth companies which have a propensity to evolve rapidly.


Don’t bite off more than you can chew

It is only natural when considering a piece of business software that a budding entrepreneur will want something all singing and all dancing from the word go. Something which can handle every element of their business straight away. Unfortunately however, solutions on this scale are often prohibitively expensive, and while desirable, the business ramifications of transitioning every existing process and system onto something completely new could be drastic, and questionable.

Existing staff members would have to retrain on a completely new platform, continuity of service would undoubtedly be affected, not to mention the gargantuan task of transitioning existing business data into the new system. In short, as much as a small business may be keen to streamline all its operations at once, this is by no means an overnight job, but by investing just a little amount of time in the beginning will save you hours later. I am not talking months of time, I am talking a few well invested hours in something tailored to your business needs.


Custom apps by numbers

The advice we give to many of our clients who have smaller-sized businesses is that whilst they should certainly have the end goal in sight when they start their journey into custom business apps, they should also appreciate that a staggered implementation often works the best.

What this means is that instead of selecting a turnkey system such as SAP for example, where once its turned on, everything needs to adapt to the new solution; they instead implement a series of customisable business apps over time which handle individual tasks. This approach pays dividends. Not only is the cost of implementation spread over months or even years, it also means the transitioning of business processes and business data is easier to manage.

For example, a product management custom app for a SMB retailer in month one, could evolve to incorporate a warehouse picking app in month two, gain ecommerce integration in month six, and so on and so forth.

The lesson for small business owners is that by implementing something yourself in this way, or if you call on the services of a third-party developer, the cost and workload can be spread to suit the pace of your business, maximising productivity in the process. Most importantly, it is vital that a correct software tool is chosen which allows this approach to custom applications which can grow and evolve alongside a business.


Speed dating (and falling in love) with paperless business

Missed the FileMaker 14 launch event? Never fear, one of our presenters and pro-FileMaker developer, Jordan Watson from We Know Data, shares his thoughts on the day:

keep calm and love data 

You were tasked with converting a paper form to a fully-fledged iPad solution in just two hours. What form did you convert?

I went for a speed-dating form! In its initial paper-form it required a lot of manual entry and repetition. I thought that by transitioning it to iPad, it could automate a lot of the process, reduce data entry and improve efficiency. As a result the speed-dating company could stage further events, and expand with ease. The design was, of course, an important aspect to get right. To reflect the nature of the form, and the speed-dating industry, I went for a romantic red…


What features of FileMaker 14 did you use to create your final solution?

I used the new signature capture tool that allows users to electronically sign their name on the iPad screen. It also means that when signing, users can also pull up the terms and conditions alongside their own signature. Before FileMaker 14, this was just a blank space that could sometimes confuse users, as they were unaware exactly what they were signing.

I also used the new FileMaker 14 buttons from the design toolbox that allowed me to place high-quality retina icons on-screen, making the form a lot more professional, and more like a native iOS app. Using the in-field placeholder text, I was also able to build a simplified less cluttered design.


How did you make your dating form look so professional in such a short space of time?

FileMaker 14 supports a rapid development timeframe; tools like the new Script Workplace are invaluable when building an application from scratch, quickly. Making the application look professional from the start encourages user interaction, with the colour scheme also helping in this regard. We used FileMaker Go and hid the FileMaker toolbar from the application. This again aided it in looking like a native iOS application, giving the users the impression they were using something familiar.


Were you impressed with the ease of transitioning your paper form to iPad so quickly?

The short answer, yes! The long answer… my first copy of FileMaker was FileMaker Pro 12; it’s unbelievable how quick it is to now put together a solution on 14. It’s especially useful when starting a solution from scratch – with 14, going from nothing to something is so much easier.

This speed in development could be reflected in user adoption. A dating app can prove tricky to get customers to adopt, but providing a slick design helps users to interact with it. Being able to rapidly build a demo application like we did could also help the board of a company decide to adopt FileMaker in its business; it’s like taking a test car for a drive to see how great things can be.


What does it mean to you to be a member of the FileMaker Community and a valued FileMaker Business Alliance platinum-level partner, and how do events like the launch help you?

From a business perspective, events like the FileMaker 14 launch allow us as developers to showcase our work and highlight what we can do to an attentive audience. It may not necessarily result in leads, but it is important for developers to show how they operate as a professional organisation. We also want to find new talent, well fitted to life as a FileMaker developer – events like this bring us to their attention.



Bringing together the FileMaker Community

FM community“It’s good to know that software can build a family like this.”

“Family” – it’s a pretty powerful description for a group of technology experts. But this comment from a developer at our FileMaker 14 launch event in June really resonated with us. The event, held at the iconic Ivy in Central London, highlighted all that is great about the FileMaker community; we had FileMaker customers, developers and more all in the same room discussing the latest iteration of the platform.

Technology is becoming more entrepreneurial, allowing creative thinkers to try new approaches to the management of their business. The FileMaker community is full of these types of people, meaning our events can explore opportunities to do better-business as much as exploring technical fixes.

FileMaker 14 is designed to make the journey to paperless business quicker and easier than ever before. So first and foremost we wanted attendees to ask questions of developers, see current business solutions developed through FileMaker, and witness the handiwork of some of our very own FBA (FileMaker Business Alliance) Platinum developers. They did!

DIY development

The numbers at the launch event showed just how many different industries are keen to see FileMaker in action. The great thing about the simplicity of FileMaker 14 is that any of these people could go on to learn how to use the platform themselves. Of course, it’s helpful to have experienced developers on hand to provide advice. But through our frequent free webinar programme and FileMaker Community web resource, there is plenty of support for those in-house developers or tech-savvy staff who are looking to build their own solution.

Independence and creative problem solving go hand-in-hand. This is why we’ve made FileMaker such an easy-to-use solution; anyone can learn the basics. If you’re looking to build useful solutions that run on iPad, iPhone, Windows, Mac or the web, there’s an avenue to learn how to do so. Don’t be nervous about jumping in. The FileMaker Community is incredibly welcoming and here to help everyone, regardless of whether they’re a beginner or advanced developer.

Meet other FileMakers

The desire to make great things happen is common amongst our developers, who gladly answered questions on all sorts of topics from the crowd. Hopefully the audience picked up some helpful tidbits that they will be taking back to their own FileMaker applications and solutions.

For those who might have missed the launch event (you can check out the wrap-up below), never fear! There are numerous ways to hear more about FileMaker and seek out advice. Attend one of our webinars, download a free Training Series manual, voice a query through the FileMaker Community forum, sign up to our FileMaker success program, or a attend a live event. There’s more ways than ever to engage with other developers. Welcome to the FileMaker family!

Thanks to the participation of Platinum partners; DataTherapy, Decent Group, Transmedia Training and We Know Data these leading community members really brought the event to life.


We Know Data, and FileMaker know upgrades

Jordan Watson, FileMaker Developer at We Know Data talks about why he’s pleased with the developer innovations in the brand new FileMaker 14 Platform.

Speed increase

Four years ago, I had my first run-in with FileMaker when I wanted to help my friend speed up some elements of his sports event company. Back then, I was using FileMaker Pro 12.

Software moves fast, and new programs, apps and platforms are released every day. If FileMaker didn’t innovate from its first iteration, it wouldn’t be around today – it would be consigned to a forgotten Wikipedia page. Fortunately for me, and others in my profession – it did, and that’s why it has been my go-to development platform for the last four years.

We’re now on the brand-new version, FileMaker 14, and I’d say it’s really significant for me as a developer. Numerous features have been overhauled to create a platform which is not only faster to develop on, but more feature-rich and compatible than ever before.

The ‘Launch Center’ is probably my favourite new feature; the images within it are very slick, and allow you create more intuitive and responsive designs for solutions across both desktops and tablets. To get that ‘professional look’ is far easier, and you can now create solutions that feel more like a native well-designed app that you would download from the App Store.

On the topic of mobility, FileMaker WebDirect is even better this year. It can now cater for double the amount of concurrent users from 50 to 100 – opening up FileMaker solutions to larger companies or those that have a more mobile workforce. The new design options also benefit WebDirect, as layouts are now intuitive across both desktop and the web. This means that developers don’t have to create two individual systems (one for web and one for desktop), saving time and money as a result – which can be passed down as savings to the customer.

Another new feature is the redesigned ‘Script Workspace’, which brings together the creation, editing and viewing of scripts and calculations into a single window when developing. With features such as auto-complete, favourites, in-line editing and shortcuts, even non-programmers can develop a useful solution for their business, or personal data, quickly and easily.

FileMaker 14 will open further doors for us, allowing us to cater to even more types, and styles, of organisation. Time savings will help our day-to-day developing lives, not to mention benefit the end-user with quicker access to the data they need, where and when they need it. The successful innovation of software is key to staying ahead, and we’re pleased it’s something FileMaker is doing in spades!


FileMaker 14 launches, marking the platform’s 30th anniversary


FileMaker 14 is here! The latest iteration of the FileMaker Platform brings with it a host of new features, enabling developers and the organisations they support to unleash their creativity and ingenuity in even more ways than before. London-based Metropolis Studios, Europe’s largest independently owned recording complex, is one organisation making the most of the new features…

“FileMaker links every part of our business here at Metropolis Studios. A great example of this is the way FileMaker Pro 14 allows us to interact with our audio/visual equipment across the studio. Additionally, the way FileMaker can now be used across all major device platforms will be incredibly useful, as we don’t have control over the devices and operating systems our customers use. FileMaker essentially allows us to have more time to concentrate on our clients and that’s invaluable.” – Oli Sussat, Director of Marketing, Communications and Technology, Metropolis Studios

Oli shares some great feedback on FileMaker 14 and highlights the enhanced video and image capabilities in this newest iteration of the platform. The iOS experience in FileMaker 14 enables new video and audio playback controls to create self-paced training applications, with clients able to play audio and video inside the FileMaker environment. This removes the requirement to switch between applications when entering live data. For the many creative organisations that already use FileMaker, such as Metropolis, this new functionality will enable significant time savings.

Looking back to move forward

The launch also coincides with FileMaker’s 30th anniversary. In that time, we’ve seen various technology trends come and go in the business domain, and the FileMaker Platform has innovated and evolved to take advantage of these trends. FileMaker 14 is no different; have a BYOD policy in place in your business? Greater device compatibility through mobile browsers via WebDirect will come in handy. Not a programmer? With the Script Workspace, even non-programmers can use scripting to create custom solutions. As we design business tools, it’s our job to recognise these ever-changing business needs.

In 30 years, over 20 million copies of FileMaker have been shipped and FileMaker Go for iPad and iPhone has surpassed 1.5 million downloads from the App Store. Alongside the tireless work of dedicated developers who use FileMaker, more and more businesses have also digitised operations through custom solutions, often in ways they couldn’t have imagined before. We’ve seen this happen steadily over the last three decades, and FileMaker 14 is our testament to continuing the trend. So what are you waiting for, why not see how FileMaker 14 can help streamline your business?


Looking forward to fourteen

We talk to Dr. Ben Fletcher, Director at DataTherapy, to get his take on what developing on FileMaker 14 will mean to his business.


What new FileMaker 14 features are you most looking forward to, which is the most exciting aspect for you?

The aspect I’m looking forward to the most would have to be the new layout and design tools. The all new button bar and layout options allow solution interfaces to be built much more quickly and consistently, a huge benefit when rolling out numerous solutions or multi-faceted systems to the same client – as it ensures every interface has the same look and feel.

The new options should discourage developers needing to roll out their own navigation interfaces from scratch, which should ultimately lead to quicker and simpler development. The simple inclusion of some high quality icons built into FileMaker, again makes the process a lot easier and removes the need for developers to license 3rd party icons or design their own. The new icons are especially good for mobile development i.e. FileMaker Go on iOS.


How will the new Script Workspace affect the way you develop solutions with FileMaker 14?

The new Script Workspace is a big move forward.  The old script editor, while very familiar to long standing FileMaker developers like myself who had grown with it, could potentially be off-putting to newer developers used to traditional software development environments (that have features like predictive type ahead and syntax code colouring).  The new interface for Script Workspace does a great job of balancing the needs of both the seasoned and new developer alike; there are plenty of refinements which make working with scripts much friendlier and more efficient for both.


FileMaker WebDirect is up to 25% faster – will this help to bolster the mobile solutions that you can now offer clients?

It’s always pleasantly surprising and welcome when a software upgrade improves performance. In IT, people have generally got very cynical, as many upgrades frequently add to functionality, but at the cost of performance and speed.  It certainly makes mobile development more viable for customers that may have an existing investment of slightly older devices, not to mention catering for the instantaneous response that many mobile users have now come to expect.


How do you think the new FileMaker 14 features and functionality will save time when developing?

I can easily imagine that the host of new features will make most developers more efficient in their general processes – more so when working on solutions which are interface or scripting intensive. When you add these time savings up across a month, or an entire year – it’s passing on major operational savings to technology consultancies that use FileMaker as their primary development platform.


How will FileMaker 14 make your job easier?

Ultimately, as a consultant, FileMaker 14 will make it quicker for me to be able to develop compelling business systems to my customers in less time, and to a higher quality. FileMaker has always been good at building bespoke solutions for niche markets and unusual needs quickly. FileMaker 14 simply builds on this solid foundation, with its new features and functionality making it even quicker to get a new solution up and running. It’s a win-win solution!



The consultative approach to development

This post comes courtesy of Mike Smith, Director at MaJic Solutions

business analysis

If you were paid to paint someone’s house, you wouldn’t paint half of it and then walk off with the money, would you? The same is true with software development; creating a useful business solution for an individual or organisation doesn’t start and end with just the software, there’s a lot more to it than that.

FileMaker developers need to ensure that they create solutions for their customers which are long-lasting, upgradeable and most of all, useful. The initial ‘business analysis’ period that a developer spends with their client is key to this, and for MaJic Solutions, one of the most important parts of the entire developmental process…


Let’s analyse the situation

A proper business analysis for us can take anything from 48 hours up to two weeks, and it depends on the size and complexity of the organisation. It’s that time that you find out the issues and problems within the business. Then bring to the table ideas and technology that the organisation’s stakeholders hadn’t thought of. If the project is then accepted, physical development of the software can then start, and this is far, far easier due to all the background work that’s already taken place.

Once the solution is ready, we test it with the users, often by hosting it in the cloud. Once we’ve gathered all relevant feedback, made modifications and finalised changes it’s then fully deployed.

Through this methodology, we find that because the key stakeholders and users have been briefed on, and exposed to, the solution over a number of weeks or months – that they are already very familiar with how to use it once it’s ready. The training happens organically, and that’s, in our experience, the best way that people retain their knowledge. We find formal training often isn’t necessary, people don’t tend to need to be taught about something that they’ve helped to design!


FileMaker does the talking, so we don’t need to

Aside from being easy to develop on, FileMaker, which we use exclusively for our solutions, is also very easy for people to use. Because of its user-friendly nature, providing you develop a good enough user-interface – people find it very intuitive. Put it like this, in 15 years of business, we’ve only ever been asked once for a user-manual for something we’ve created with FileMaker!

The underlying point here is that there is no one area in the ‘development’ process which is more or less important than the others. Consultation, guidance, developing, testing, support – when you play every part right, that’s when you’ll succeed – not only with your software, but as a true business consultant.


The importance of supporting staff in software roll-outs

help key

‘Here’s your software solution. Enjoy!’

For businesses, technology implementations don’t play out that way. We hear more and more about ‘digital businesses’; organisations that are making the most of the tech available to them, and leaving their slow-to-adopt competitors behind. Why aren’t all businesses simply rolling out new technology throughout their organisation and embracing the digital future? Well, it’s just not that straightforward.


Developer insight goes beyond implementation

FileMaker developers are in their element when they spend time with businesses, identifying areas where an organisation can streamline processes. Process or efficiency problems in companies can arise anywhere, across specific departments or even the entire business – the savvy developer recognises this, and it requires them to work closely with an organisation, to fully understand its business concerns and objectives. Then begins the software development and subsequent application, aimed at combatting these pressure points. When the FileMaker solution is introduced, you can’t just walk away however, as this is the critical time when user feedback is most important.

Developers are experts in their fields. They know software and programming inside out and can build business solutions in no time at all. It’s not always the same within an organisation though. The workforce, the main FileMaker user group, by and large, probably won’t be as technologically-minded or capable with software as a developer, but they will more often than not know what’s best for their business due to the hands-on experience accumulated as part of their day-to-day role. So the support should go both ways, developer to client, and client to developer throughout the duration of the project.


Keep the conversation going

First impressions of new software are critical. Provide the right solution at the right time and staff will be singing its praises, potentially even pushing for it to be rolled out further. Get it wrong by not providing an adequate introduction to the software, and staff will struggle and either not use it, or seek alternative options.

In this regard, ongoing support is just as vital as applying the solution. We see innovative adaptations of FileMaker every day, with organisations identifying different areas of their business where a FileMaker solution can help. Sometimes, savvy in-house personnel tackle this themselves, otherwise, ongoing developer support helps those organisations that spot an area for improvement, but can’t address it without that extra bit of practical insight. Consider it a technological HR role – you’re there to make sure staff are happy with the software they use day in, day out.

Providing the tool for the job is the start. Working with staff on an ongoing basis, tweaking solutions and listening to their concerns is where developers really earn their keep. Keep the conversation going and you’ll see how far technology implementation can really go.


Your data needs YOU!

Continuing on our Digital Dark Age theme, James Ducker, Director at Decent Group shares his views on how to get the right data preservation safeguards in place now, to avoid paying down the line.


The Digital Dark Age, as a developer is it a concern of yours? Why?

It’s not something that really affects our everyday work at Decent Group, but it is definitely something we have to keep in the back of our minds when developing software. We have a responsibility to our clients to provide access to the information they want, for as long as they want it. I’m certainly interested in the subject of the Digital Dark Age though; the number of people I’ve spoken who have found a floppy disk or a cassette tape, and wondered what was on it as they no longer have the right hardware – has definitely increased.

This does create questions to whether, as an industry, we’re setting ourselves up to fail with very long term data access. It’s important to recognise the difference between data access and data preservation though, as these now defunct hardware mediums will preserve data far better than, say, paper would – but if it’s not readable then what’s the use!

Do you think there is anything that can combat it, such as emulation of legacy software?

It certainly wouldn’t be a simple solution, and there wouldn’t be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ safeguard due to the thousands of different file formats that exist today. The biggest way to combat it is to be adequately prepared.

One of our clients is an educational publisher; when we started working for them we found their digital filing system to be actually quite good and efficient, but it contained a variety of file formats that couldn’t be read, as the desktop publishing software which created them became obsolete in the 1990’s. No matter how hard we tried, we couldn’t access some book artwork that they needed. In the end we had to scan hard copies of the books in question – not the ideal solution.

Now we encourage big clients to adopt certain file standards which stand the greatest chance of longevity. Adobe’s PDF/A format has been specifically designed for preservation of digital documents and is certainly a format we’d recommend.

What should developers do to try and safeguard clients’ data for as long as possible to prevent an early onset Digital Dark Age?

PDF/A, while great for documents, doesn’t work for everything. So, another piece of advice would be to remain on a piece of software’s ‘upgrade treadmill’. What I mean by this is to do some research and select a piece of software that has been adequately tried and tested, that has proven longevity, and that is upgraded regularly. This stands you in a strong position for adequate data preservation over a long period of time (providing the software has a good history).

FileMaker is brilliant for this. Soon to be celebrating its 30th birthday there are few other solutions out there are as trusted, and as well used. Yes, staying on the upgrade treadmill does require investment in both time and money – but if the preservation of data is important to you, then it’s a worthwhile investment.

No one wants to invest in technology, software or otherwise which doesn’t have a proven shelf life or that has built-in obsolescence. It just wouldn’t make economic sense. When I’m out in the field talking to clients, I try and make them aware of this. When I mention the heritage and future roadmap of FileMaker, it’s often the time their eyes light up – and that’s the software they opt for.

Are there any other examples you have regarding compatibility issues with legacy and current data?

The good news is that we’ve done several conversion projects from really old programs, and we’ve been fortunate in that a lot of those old databases do ultimately store their data in a text form. We can code programs which can extrapolate that data, but because we’re writing  bespoke programs for individual clients, it can be quite costly and can be avoided by staying on the upgrade treadmill.

I think the other element of importance is a human one. IT Managers should constantly be looking at the best ways to look after company’s mission-critical data, and any that don’t do this are arguably being negligent. The Digital Dark Age to an extent is here now, and we all certainly need to take responsibility and do everything we can to put the relevant safeguards in place, to avoid paying for it down the line.


The Digital Dark Age – hyperbole or business concern?

Garry Thompson, CEO at Computech gives us his viewpoint around the Digital Dark Age. Providing insight into how developers of all shapes and sizes can help safeguard their clients’ data, keeping it accessible and readable for years to come. 

old computer

The Digital Dark Age, from a business context as a developer, is it a concern of yours?

Certainly it’s something we have to bear in mind, however at Computech we’re very much focussed on the here and now, safeguarding and providing easy access to our clients’ digital data – whether that be legacy from several years ago or current. We can’t help but think there’s a buzz around the topic at present, and whilst logical – it could well end up akin to the millennium bug, something that simply doesn’t happen on a scale that people are predicting.

Some of the doomsday scenarios that have been bandied around I feel are also a little over the top, yes there could be potential fallout and a few ‘casualties’ of the digital dark age in its extreme – but I don’t see not being able to pull information out of antiquated hardware as the end of the world. What’s more, there are many initiatives and projects (such as TIMBUS), which are striving to ensure this doesn’t happen.

Do you think there is anything that can be done to combat it, should we be utilising software or hardware to safeguard data?

A hybrid system that enables an organisation to set up its own cloud, to access business information via the internet, how and where it wants, is probably the most secure solution for longevity of data.

I would be very disinclined to advise a client to put all its eggs in one basket, for example all your data in one cloud or on one hard drive / physical server. What if the server farm where your data was stored ‘in the cloud’ was subjected to an act of cyber terrorism? Your data might be irretrievable, or inaccessible for some time – the potential fallout of which could be disastrous. Even throttled internet bandwidth can have a massive knock on effect to organisations who can’t afford the slow down.

Cloud is good for backup, and great for collaboration but it shouldn’t be your only data safeguard. It’s incredibly important to backup your data, regularly, and across combinations of both hardware, software and cloud if you want to be extra secure. Sometimes though simplicity is the answer. It of course depends on the type of business you have, as to how much you could be affected.

What should developers do to try and safeguard clients’ data for as long as possible to prevent an early onset Digital Dark Age?

It’s our job to make people aware of the possibilities and potential repercussions of data loss, and to make people aware of the importance of backing up locally in addition to other methods. A backup should be an ENTIRE backup, whether that’s a snapshot, dependant on the business, which gets taken once a week or twice a day.

Everything has a cost, and it’s important to strike that balance between necessities, and that extra additional security that’s nice to have. We’re huge advocates of FileMaker from a backup and a cost perspective. Its built-in backup capability is swift and efficient, and is easily backed up to a local server drive (and a local external drive). If something goes wrong, you can be back up and running within minutes, without having a great deal of technical knowledge, which is a luxury not usually available with other database technologies (such as SQL based systems for example).

Is it important for you to use tried and tested software that has proven longevity, when building data management solutions for your customers?

It’s absolutely vital, yes. FileMaker for example, is a prime example, as it has been around for thirty years, a long time compared to many other software platforms. It is being used successfully by millions of users, including many who are right on the cutting edge of technology – because they understand its underlying power, resilience, flexibility, ease of use and value.

Like any database, it needs to be implemented and built right first time, which makes a powerful case for getting a developer on board sooner rather than later. Systems, FileMaker or otherwise, that aren’t regularly fine-tuned can slow down to a crawl if they aren’t configured correctly – especially as the influx of data increases.

So in all, yes it’s important to be aware of potential Digital Dark Age scenarios. But, with the right software, backup and support, you stand a fighting chance of keeping all your mission-critical data and information safe, accessible and readable for many, many years to come.