FileMakers Features

Well at least you’ve got your health…or have you?

Most of us will put our health above all else in our daily lives and it’s often what we hang on to when the finer things in life evade us. So, it makes perfect sense, that we rate the NHS as such a crucial pillar of our society. With the service being critical to each and every one of us the key question is how we ensure that we make the most out of its capabilities. A recent report published by the Nuffield Trust and the Health Foundation shines a light on one of the key challenges that the NHS faces, the limitations of the data available.

So, with the reams of data at its disposal, how can we make it start to work for the NHS and improve this vital government service. After all, if you don’t have your health, what do you have?

Demystifying the data

It’s all well and good saying that the NHS needs more investment, but if we don’t know which areas to focus on we could be throwing good money after bad. According to Gwyn Bevan, one of the authors of the aforementioned report, the lack of data at our disposal, and its consistency, means that we cannot compare performance effectively across the four nations of the UK and assess which is offering the UK taxpayer best value for money.

The primary reason for this is that data gleaned from the NHS is not granular enough. The report goes on to state that data across the UK does not show how expenditure is channelled to fund frontline services. So, it got me thinking, surely this is not helping us pinpoint where the problems are within the system. It seems that the sheer volume of data collected by our hospitals is enough to deter a true analysis of performance with the data currently being largely unstructured. In any other business we would be looking at how to use the data at our disposal for competitive advantage, so why not in the NHS? Once we can give the data structure and manage it, then we can apply it to create a more effective NHS which will be an increasingly data smart business.

Applying the right medicine

This is where a customised database solution can come into its own. If data is amenable and people are encouraged to use it, the NHS and businesses of all sectors will benefit.

We’ve already seen, through our work with various clients, evidence of companies working with data within the healthcare sector and using it to improve patient care exponentially. The Free Diagnostic Pathology Software Project, which is actually a result of a Department of Health initiative to improve the NHS through the use of technology, is a good place to start. The team has been using FileMaker to build its own database solution that allows it to speed up the reporting of cancer diagnoses and reduce the element of human error for diagnostic pathologists. As a result, the lab can now report 85 percent of specimens within seven days as opposed to the 40 percent prior to adopting a FileMaker solution.

The Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases (RNHRD) is another great example. It has found that automating the collection and scoring of data can play a big role in improving customer care. By shifting something as simple as a patient questionnaire from paper to iPad, using the FileMaker Platform, the hospital is now able to use its data with ease and measure patient progress over time, improving patient care thanks to less time spent processing data.

Healing Honey is another case in point. The company developed an antimicrobial honey that can be used in cases of resistance to, or unavailability of, antibiotics. Using FileMaker it has been able to bring the solution to hospitals in record time and at a fraction of the cost of using paper-based systems.

So, steps are being taken across the sector to improve management and application of data, but a more consistent approach is required to make an impact in all corners of the UK. As things stand, our national treasure is struggling under the weight of the data millstone hanging around its neck. It’s now time for the NHS to focus its attention to shifting its data online, analysing it and using it to improve the service that citizens of the UK receive.

 

Defying Gravity

With every week that passes I’m lucky enough to witness the great work our clients are doing with the FileMaker Platform. Whether it’s great things that are being done in schools, efficiency systems being implemented in hospitals or business enhancing work in companies from every sector, I’m continually impressed and inspired by what people can do with a database, so far removed from traditional perceptions of what a database or spreadsheet is capable of. A shining example of this is Framestore, who recently took the floor at the Apple Store – Regent Street, to share how it used FileMaker to make the impossible, possible when creating the Hollywood blockbuster, Gravity.

What lies beneath the red carpet

Let’s be honest, when most of us think about the movie industry, the glitz and glamour of the red carpet will be at the top of our minds, but the exponential amounts of work that go in behind the scenes, before actors even set foot on the set, is what makes it all possible. Unfortunately though, this is not likely to get you onto that exclusive Oscar podium.

So, it was great to hear Alex Jackson, software developer at Framestore, shine a light on the less heralded stars of the film industry. As was clear from Alex’s talk, when you’re making a top Hollywood movie, tracking the minutiae is vital, with every movement of the camera having to be tracked to a high level of precision. When you’re filming a movie set in zero gravity, this is more critical than ever. It left Framestore with two clear choices. Either they could string up the cream of Hollywood’s talent and treat them like the cast of Thunderbirds for a few months on set, or they could use computer graphics. Not surprisingly, Framestore opted for the latter and, as a consequence of focusing so much on visual effects with 80 percent of the film being computer generated, had an awful lot of data to control and capture. It was intriguing to hear from Alex what the connection is between a file naming convention and keeping Sandra Bullock spinning in free space.

This is where FileMaker made its way onto the big screen. When the film is broken down into 500 shots, with each comprising 30 sequences, with 366 shot set ups and 2409 takes; you start to realise the importance of managing this data. FileMaker not only helps Framestore control the setup in the studio, it also helps capture the reams of data. For example, during the filming of Gravity, cameras had to be mounted on a large robot and constantly adjusted throughout the take. Using FileMaker, Framestore tracked everything related to the camera throughout a scene, from the lighting levels that are so crucial when producing visual effects, through to the exact position of the camera at specific points within the take.

With such intricate work going on, on set, there is a great pressure for the whole team to be aligned and know exactly what is going on. FileMaker is critical in joining up the back office with those working on set and then the other companies that are also working on the film. While the staff are in the studio, Framestore will have 500 artists at its base office, working on the same shot, making it crucial that everyone is on the same page, regardless of location.

Singing from the same hymn sheet but with a different voice

The film industry is as good an example as any of the value of a fully customisable database solution. As Alex mentioned at the Apple store, every film is different and Gravity required a bespoke database tracking thousands of variables. Each and every project needs a database that will work for its specific requirements, rather than forcing Framestore to adapt its needs to those of a pre-existing  solution. This flexibility, allied with the ability to set up a new database at the drop of a hat, be that by exporting a humble spreadsheet or starting completely from scratch, is crucial for such big money projects that need to get up and running immediately.

Setting a platform

So, while it may not go down too well with the film-watching public to make ‘Database – The Movie’, it’s clearly a critical cog in the film industry; dare I say that behind every good film maker there’s a FileMaker. We are seeing FileMaker working with numerous companies in this line of business but have accepted that we are never going to have our name up in lights. To enjoy the talents of the greatest actors of our time we have to set a platform for them; to ignore the importance of data management would be like pulling that red carpet from under them, and no one wants to see the stars or the back room crew fall flat on their face, do they?

 

Kids, get out your tech-books

Today’s children are dealing with technology and handling data as instinctively as we put pen to paper.  As natural innovators, members of “Generation Z” automatically use technology for their own ends – to make their lives easier. It makes sense, therefore, that they expect education providers to have an equally strong understanding of the technology that will enable them to stretch themselves academically and take the first steps into a career of their choice. Increasingly, improving data management is more than an administrative benefit; it can push students to reach their academic potential. So the question is: what are we doing and how far can effective data management drive the education sector?

Sharing the wealth

The integration of technology is critical to the future success of our educational institutions. Thankfully this is an area in which the UK seems to be on the right track. A recent report, compiled for Pearson by the Economist Intelligence Unit, ranks the UK as providing the second best education in Europe. But even in the light of this success, there is always room to question whether there is an even better way of working.

As John Fallon, CEO of Pearson said: “Digital technology could play a part in sharing good ideas,” a trend that could enhance the role teachers play in developing young talent. Pearson has already developed a database through which education professionals from 50 countries can share information and knowledge. This culture of sharing is a great blueprint for educational bodies to follow and shows clearly the potential that lies in the intelligent use of data. To promote continual improvement, we need to see technology as supplementing rather than supplanting work of professionals such as teachers. The innovation and talent is already at our fingertips; the challenge is in sharing this with others.

Hitting the right notes                  

Let’s take a look this on a more granular level, at the coal-face if you will. The Academy of Contemporary Music (ACM) has been working with the FileMaker Platform, utilising its customisable database technology to enhance the education that is helping to shape tomorrow’s stars.

FileMaker has enabled ACM to manage every aspect of the student experience, from processing applications, through to identifying those who need extra academic help and keeping them up to speed with upcoming events and deadlines. This brings me to my next point: the management of data is not only a boon for administrative staff. Automating administrative procedures is certainly of great benefit for ACM, but more intuitive management of data has also allowed the staff to use this time that they have saved to improve the first-hand educational experience of its students. For instance, course materials and feedback on assignments are available through a student portal and automated alerts are sent to tutors when a student’s attendance starts to tail off, allowing teachers to focus more time on the pupils that need help.

Making exceptional the norm

It’s clear that there is some great work going on in schools and higher education institutions up and down the country, but the challenge now is not just to celebrate the achievements of these leaders, but to ensure that this high standard becomes the norm. This is where handling data can make an impact both at the grass roots level and in the wider context of international education standards. If individual institutions can handle data more effectively to provide a better level of education to their students, then the next step is to share this data, very much in the manner that Pearson has begun to do. As always, we have the raw materials and they are great, but let’s not allow this potential to escape unfulfilled.

 

Seeing the Wood for the Trees

We’ve been talking for the last couple of months about planting the seeds of knowledge and educating others to unlock the potential of their data. But this month we are changing tack somewhat and talking about planting real seeds, and how planting these in the wrong place has become a real threat to our national heritage, all as a result of poor data management.

According to a recent report  conducted by the Forestry Commission, tree cover in the UK has increased significantly in the last 100 years. However, the Woodland Trust has raised doubts over the substance of these statistics, claiming that ancient forests are being put at risk and citing poor management of data as the major reason for this. The Trust believes that inaccurate recording of data has worsened the scale of ancient woodland being lost to development and it claims that the government can’t tell it how much ancient woodland has been damaged by development in the past 10 years.

While it is worrying that data so crucial to our national heritage is being handled in this way, it clearly highlights the massive opportunity and potential that an intuitive, custom database solution can hold.  Equipped with such a solution, the Forestry Commission would be able to input instantly usable data from the field, linking up colleagues working far and wide across the country.

A stronger hold over the vast swathes of data that the Forestry Commission holds would solve what seems to be the key problem in losing ancient woodland to development. The Ancient Woodland Inventory, the method used to track ancient woodland, currently does not record stands of trees smaller than two hectares as ancient woodland. This seems to be because the organisation is unable to process and manage such large amounts of data. Being able to track the minutiae of the data such as this in real-time could play a large part in conserving this land. Employees could enter data on the move, to be analysed by colleagues elsewhere in the country, eradicating the lag time that can hinder such large data gathering operations. An intuitive database could enable and encourage much more frequent reporting, giving the Forestry Commission a 360˚ view of a key part of our national heritage and making sure that ancient woodland does not slip through the net.

This seems a classic case of an industry/public sector body where a technological solution is not given due consideration because it feels too far departed from the core service that the organisation in question provides. True, when one thinks of the Forestry Commission, it’s probably as far away from the working environment that people traditionally identify with databases as possible. But this need not be the case. Technology such as customisable database solutions must be seen as enablers that can be used in any walk of life to maximise potential. In this case, a system where field surveyors could enter data directly, from the field, and input it into a database where it could be tracked and analysed immediately, by colleagues in the office, would go a long way to offering the protection that our ancient forests evidently need. By collecting more accurate data and being able to access and assess it in real-time, comparing numerous data sets, we could do a lot more than organise a few spreadsheets; we could save a large part of our natural heritage.

The point here is that not only technical organisations need to manage data, it is essential in all professions; no matter how far detached they may seem from technology. By intelligently managing data, the Forestry Commission would be able to not only track what has happened in the past and identify trends; it would be able to focus on finding a solution to the issue and put an end to the loss of ancient forestry to development. If you will pardon the pun, many organisations need to branch out and challenge the ways in which they work and deal with data. The consequences of not doing so can be wide ranging and damaging in every aspect of our lives.

 

Sowing the seeds of growth

No matter what line of business you are in or how well you are performing, there is always room for improvement. Here at FileMaker, on a daily basis, we’re showing some of the UK’s most innovative SMBs how to tap into the latent potential of their business information and find new ways of working that will help them become fast-growth businesses. In short, we are showing that there are always measures you can take to improve your business, regardless of size or technical expertise.  We are firm believers that there should be nothing stopping the latest generation of entrepreneurs pursuing rapid growth from the earliest stages of their business. This is why we have begun to share our expertise with the next generation of innovators. As the philosopher, John Scruton, has said, education ‘is not about social engineering’ but ‘about passing knowledge from those who have it to those who need it.’ Let’s share the wealth.

Tomato

Teacher, don’t leave those kids alone

Undoubtedly there always has been and always will be a nucleus of entrepreneurial spirit and fresh ideas throughout the UK. We are not necessarily seeing more innovative ideas than we were twenty years ago, but we have the technology to make these dreams a reality. Today’s school pupils are growing up with technology from the get-go, and it is ingrained in their everyday work. So, what better place to start sharing the potential that FileMaker can hold for an aspirational business? This was the thinking behind the project day that we recently ran in conjunction with Fujitsu at UTC Reading.

Working with Fujitsu, we were able to show the students how they could apply their knowledge of databases to deliver real business improvements. During the morning session our FileMaker experts ran the kids through a hands-on session, showing them how to build an application to analyse test results that they would be running from NAS devices, supplied by Fujitsu, later on in the afternoon. The uptake was fantastic and showed the students that understanding how to build a database could make technology work for them, rather than the other way around. It was great to get the FileMaker software into the hands of these young people and show them how they could use the technology and their own expertise to complete their own work to a higher standard.

 

The next generation of developers

We have always prized our developers as the key to sharing the wealth of benefits that a FileMaker solution can deliver. It was particularly pleasing, therefore, to see the seeds being sown for the next generation of developers with a number of new attendees registering for our FileMaker Experience Day later on in the month. It was great to be able to fast-track some more potential developers and let them apply and develop their knowledge.

Once again, University Technical College Reading played host to us for our latest session educating SMBs about the FileMaker solution. Welcoming people of all ages, from all spheres of business, the latest Experience Day really showed off the true value that FileMaker holds in allowing any type of business to develop a solution tailored to their own needs that helps them use their wealth of data more effectively.

So, education is the order of the day. The UK’s SMBs need to tap into the potential of their own data, and we in turn need to show them how to tap into their own potential. By starting with the next generation of entrepreneurs at the outset of their journey, we open the door to technology as a true enabler. The earlier we deliver the message that technology can always offer a more productive way of working, the greater the chance that these ideas will be embedded in the next generation of SMBs that we can help flourish in the near future. The future’s bright: we look forward to helping you make it brighter.

 

 

The Database – Where Knowledge is Power

There is a lot of truth in the phrase ‘knowledge is power’ and nowhere is this more applicable than in our field of work. On a daily basis, business solutions built on relational databases are allowing SMBs around the UK to tap into the full potential of the data they hold and helping them become agile, responsive and geared for growth. This is fantastic for those organisations that have taken control over their databases, but what about those that have become stuck in a rut and can’t see there is a more efficient way of doing things?

Then it occurred to me the other day, while working on preparing our FileMaker Experience Day, we are actually sitting on our own powerful, intuitive body of knowledge, our FileMaker developers.

The Database - Where Knowledge is Power

Developing a plan

The FileMaker developer community, and the way in which it has grown, is indicative of how the FileMaker solution works itself. Driven by a desire to tap potential and share knowledge, FileMaker experts have been able to develop databases that save small businesses hours and sometimes days every month, giving them a platform for growth and helping them to pursue an innovative approach in their respective fields. In the same way that the FileMaker platform allows companies to open up the vast resources locked in their database, the developer community can share its knowledge and experiences with other SMBs.

The event at UTC Reading will be a chance to see the developer community in full swing. When we think of developers we often conjure up images of technical geniuses (read geeks) formed from years of study- and it is true that our developers are skilled in their field – but the FileMaker developer community is much more accessible and a big reason for this fact is that many of our developers did not start off their career in IT or programming. Anyone who has used FileMaker to build a solution suited to their business can potentially become a developer. It is based on the premise of the sharing of knowledge. Sharing knowledge allows businesses to share the depth of knowledge that resides in their database to help themselves and their clients progress. Many of our developers have grown with us from the start, adapting to changing business pressures alongside our technology and constantly pushing the envelope for exciting SMBs.

The Experience Day is a chance to share this knowledge with a new swathe of innovative, positive SMBs, just waiting for their latent potential to be unleashed. On the day FileMaker experts will be able to take you through the process of creating a relational database, tailored to your business’ needs, using the humble spreadsheet as a starting point.

Time and time again history has shown that those working at the coal face often know their industry best. Our developers are the people dealing with the FileMaker solution on a daily basis, constantly tweaking and adapting to overcome new problems posed by fresh business pressures. By giving this knowledge and experience a place to thrive, we can make sure that we pass on the understanding that data is just the plain facts. When data is processed, organized, structured or presented in a given (timely) context so as to make them useful, it is called Information. It’s quite simple really: to provide the best information, we need to harness the data of those who work with us day in day out. Knowledge is power and we are lucky enough to have it in plentiful supply; let’s make sure we apply it.

Kieran Saunders, FileMaker Product Specialist

 

Putting the ‘Prod’ in Productivity

Productivity is a word often bandied about in business, but what do we really mean by it? Why do we work the way we do and are we really using IT to its fullest potential or is it holding us back? These were the questions we were putting to the SMBs we spoke to at our latest event at the Look Mum No Hands! Coffee shop on Silicon Roundabout, where we sought to free innovative SMBs from the shackles of the spreadsheet!

Look Mum No Hands!

Start-ups and small companies are the most fertile breeding grounds for innovation and exciting ideas, but they are often held back by IT that is not tailored to a company’s specific needs. At its best, IT can enable employees and businesses to grow at a phenomenal rate and achieve great things, yet it has the tendency to blinker people and stop them thinking ‘I could do this better’. This is the issue that we wanted to tackle at Look Mum No Hands!.

We met some great SMBs with big ideas on Tuesday and it was a genuine pleasure to open their eyes to the latent potential they could tap into through an easy-to-use, intuitive business solution. These businesses are looking to grow at pace but they have been hamstrung by technology they have had to adapt to rather than a bespoke data solution that works for them. Our team of experts was on hand to share a wealth of experience in helping business grow not only at a great pace, but to manage this growth effectively. Over a coffee we gave entrepreneurs the chance to bring along their own spreadsheets or other data forms and show them how easy it is to develop a bespoke data solution that works for their business. The fact that we could do this over a short break in a coffee shop shows how quickly things can be turned around.

So just how much room for improvement is there?

Getting complacent

Looking at a recent piece of research that we have undertaken, 87 per cent of UK SMB decision makers see themselves as highly skilled when it comes to using IT tools, yet when we conducted a separate survey, speaking to IT pros, they painted quite a different picture. These professionals certainly don’t see many users as experts, only recognising 21 per cent of Microsoft Word users as having a strong or advanced understanding. From the same survey, conducted through Spiceworks (a community for IT pros) we found that almost half (47 per cent) of IT pros spend at least three hours a week helping employees with productivity suite issues. So what are we to take from this, that businesses are happy for employees to be nothing more than ‘ok’ at using their core business tools?  It strikes me that we wouldn’t settle for mediocrity in any other area of business so why in IT?

Let’s look at the positives though. There is evidently a huge potential to be unlocked here. By giving people intuitive technology that they are able to use expertly, businesses can take full advantage of the innovative instincts and creative potential within the workforce.

The feedback from those we spoke to at Look Mum No Hands! underlined our feeling that we have become creatures of habit, unwilling to think how things could be done better outside of the IT structures that we currently work within. It seems clear that IT rarely helps us to break the mould, but opened up to its full potential we can help these SMBs tap into their latent potential and help real people do greater things.

People-focused productivity is still an area in which software can provide a competitive advantage. What has been reinforced from the event at Look Mum No Hands! is the need for technology to improve employee productivity by nurturing their interest and unlocking their talent. Technology should not dictate how we work or the work that we do; it should enable us to innovate and help people get on with their jobs. The future is ‘instinctive IT’; let’s free the UK’s SMBs to follow their vision and embrace real productivity.

 

Is Working Remotely, Remotely Effective?

Are we kidding ourselves about the boost remote working gives to our productivity? FileMaker recently carried out some research looking into how technology use is impacting SMBs in the UK. It turns out that often the tech is failing to deliver on its promises.

Shirking from home?

92 per cent of key decision-makers at UK SMBs work remotely at some point in their (never average) weeks, but it seems that away from the safety net of the office they are still pretty hamstrung. Of those that work remotely, 40 per cent felt limited by their own organisation’s tech. Many working for SMBs may feel that they are well equipped to take on the working day armed with laptop, tablet and phone, yet cumbersome technology means that they are not getting the complete functionality of the office while off-site.

Effective employees need complete access to the full functionality of their business systems enabling them to setup office wherever they are. They need to be able to do this without being a programming genius; just access to the internet and a connected device/browser. It’s increasingly important, for SMBs in particular, to be able to work effectively wherever they are and to be able to do so at full capacity.

Working Remotely - WebDirect?

Show me the money…and my hours

Aside from the productivity issues SMBs are facing with cumbersome tech, they are losing a lot of money at the same time. According to the research, small businesses are writing off up to £3.4 billion every year thanks to technical glitches and software crashes. On top of this they’re losing precious time wrestling with these faults. C-level executives at larger SMBs are losing 3-4 hours a month from technological meltdown and a third of respondents claimed the main problem with technology was that it was too time consuming.

SMBs need solutions that can be customised to fit the specific requirements of their businesses, not force your business adapt to the whims of modern technology. Easy tailoring of solutions and simple access easier through connected devices and web browsers will allow SMBs to run their databases more efficiently than ever and free them up to spend time and resources focusing on growth.

Back to basics

Another eye-catching stat from the research is that 92 per cent of SMB decision-makers want their employees to have a better understanding of the technology that they are using. It’s all very well having all the souped up tech that money can buy, but what’s the point if no-one can use it? For SMBs it’s all about ease of use and getting the most out of the financial and human resources available. Modern hardware is simple and intuitive to use but only when matched with software that follow suit.

In short no organisation should be beholden to tech. If you truly want to focus on growth and delivering your frontline services you have to call the shots. We have seen that too many man hours and too much money is wasted each year chasing after gremlins in the system so let’s lay down some simple ground rules.

Firstly, tech should adapt to your business, not the other way around.

Secondly, it must be easily accessible and allow true remote working. If you can’t do everything you do in the office out of it then there’s still work to do.

Thirdly tech must be easy (and enjoyable) to use. If it is, then workers will be able to use it to the best advantage of the business.

Simplicity is the key; let’s make tech work for us.

 

 

This tablet is just what the doctor ordered

It would be easy to look on the current BYOD trend as a threat to business productivity. After all, with employees using the same devices for work and play, there is a danger that clients will be receiving more emails charting progress on Candy Crush Saga than the latest data on a medical trial that they are running.  Yet for all the archaic rhetoric about these devices distracting staff from their work, they hold the key to unlocking the untapped potential of almost any business. One of the pearls of wisdom I picked up when at the latest Gartner Symposium, was that 80 per cent of words will be typed on glass in 2017. The analyst house declined to mention any stats around Candy Crush use but the message is clear – tablets are here to stay and will be central to business growth in the future.

According to Gartner, through to 2018, BYOD will either double or triple the size of the mobile workforce. To take full advantage of this growth and to enable this workforce to be truly productive, it needs to be able to start and finish processes away from the office desk, even if they don’t leave the building. Having mobile capabilities is one thing, but if you can’t directly update the central database hosted in your office, the time saved will be minimal. Mobile, live access to company databases enables this true productivity to be realised, severing that last tie to the office desk.

Just in this last year we have seen how iPads can enable companies from all walks of life to make significant and sustainable improvements to business performance. For an employee working away from the office, a tablet can be the key to unlocking the huge potential of the company database.

Tablet_doctor_ordered

The perfect remedy

Take Healing Honey for example. The company produces a bug resistant anti-microbial for hospitals that is significantly improving chronic wound care treatment around the world. Now, on the face of it, managing a database would not appear to many as a primary concern for this business. But look under the skin of the organisation and you will find a database, critical to ensuring that this life-changing product can do what it does best.

Ian Staples, the company’s founder, came up against a brick wall when faced with prohibitive costs associated with trialing a medical product. The FileMaker Platform allowed him to conduct a full trial of the product at a cost the business could manage. By simply giving each doctor and nurse involved, an iPad, Healing Honey was able to record and monitor results in real-time during the trial period, immediately updating the trial database and proving the product’s worth. This allowed SurgiHoney to start saving lives quicker.

The key to growth

Equipping employees with a good mobile business solution is not just about saving time and money; it can allow businesses to focus on delivering their front-line services and expanding their organisation. Alletson Arnold is a logistics company, dedicated to processing vital immigration papers. In an industry where time is of the essence, the FileMaker Platform has enabled Alletson Arnold to not only significantly reduce time spent on each case, but it has also given managing director Jeremy Arnold the freedom to grow his business.

Providing every one of his employees with an iPad, Jeremy gave them instant access to critical resources, with a really strong database in the background. FileMaker has allowed employees to enter information while off-site, at a government agency for example. The information that is entered on an iPad is automatically updated in the main database back at the office, triggering an email update to be sent to customers, meaning that they know in real-time exactly where documents are. The time and manpower that this saves has been significant, but it is the extra resources that Jeremy can now plough into developing the business that will bring the long-term rewards.

These are just two examples of how tablets can untap the latent potential of an organisation and allow it to concentrate on delivering critical front-line services. Jumpstart, a business consultancy specialising in guiding UK businesses’ R&D credit applications has also shown the great power that such a small device can wield. As the company grew its client base, a simple database management system was needed to track the progress of numerous projects. The FileMaker database allowed Jumpstart to track hundreds of claims at any one time and has since been developed to link up the three core elements of the business. The business analysts in the office, sales people in the field and partners that refer claims to Jumpstart are now all linked by a new system, built on the FileMaker Platform. New leads can be registered via a tablet and their progress tracked across the company, enabling the business to take on and manage a greater number of leads.

It’s not what you’ve got, it’s how you use it

So making that leap of faith and letting employees work with familiar, easy-to-use  tablets and devices , can lead to great growth opportunities for a business. The resources are already there, it is how you use them that will make the difference to your organisation, and by giving employees a device that is easy to use, they can untap the latent potential that lies within their databases. With the right tools, managing a database can actually become a spot of fun, dare I say it! Who knows, in a few years estranged other halves may be safe from the distractions of the Candy Crush Saga but complaining about their partners spending too much time on FileMaker.  

 

This year’s hottest ticket: The giant database

Picture the scene – it’s a Saturday morning and you decide to brave the bus into town and visit a museum. If you’re in London, you might drop in to The National Gallery, one of the most visited galleries in the world.

Say the word “gallery,” “museum” or “library” and you could be forgiven for stirring up connotations of murky corridors and dusty tomes; an institution that’s weighted in the past and rather than in the realities of today. Even people who are otherwise of a creative disposition can sometimes fail to be engaged by them; they might appreciate specific artworks or artifacts but be left non-plussed by the experience as a whole. However, if you’re interested in the power of database technology, it might dawn on you as you’re sat in a gallery or museum that you’re also sat in a giant database.

Pitt Rivers Museum

Photo © Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford.

This holds true for almost all such collections – whether it’s The Natural History Museum to The Cumberland Pencil Museum. Large or small, they are collections of data, carefully assembled by expert developers, which have been catalogued, can be searched and are accompanied by contextual help. Best of all, you can walk through them! The next time you stop to read the informative cards next to a particular exhibit, remember you’re being guided by experts through a collection of unstructured data. Even if you’re a developer yourself, it’s always useful to see how the last person who analysed the data made of it! Recently, the British Geological Survey took the museum/database experience further by creating a 3D online database of its fossil collection, allowing viewers to engage far more closely with the artifacts using an interactive display case in the comfort of their own homes.

We’ve previously discussed the challenges facing the NHS and other public bodies in today’s economic climate and how better management of information can help these be overcome – and there are obvious parallels to be drawn with the UK’s museums and libraries. They tend to be large, complex organisations that must handle huge volumes of information, are saddled with unwieldy legacy systems and have not always been keen adopters of technology. Introducing an organisation-wide IT system in these institutions can be a huge – and complex – financial investment, but many departments and individuals within them are recognising the huge efficiency benefits that business technology can bring. Projects that start life as small bespoke business solutions can spread from one department, or even part of one department, to become a vital component of an organisation’s function.

In these situations, it pays to have a platform that is intuitive and scalable, and allows a department or organisation that may not have a resident IT department or huge levels of funding to harness its own expertise to build the best system to manage its information. We’ve also seen a variety of organisations in the academic and museums sector choosing database technology to streamline their operations. Efficiency is not the sole benefit of this – many FileMaker customers in this sector have been able to boost research and increase the scope of their audience or readership.

The realities of today – real life examples
In a corner of Oxford University, a group of academics in the Bodleian Library have been using FileMaker to resurrect what they term the “the first global social network”, bringing letters, maps and pictures out of archives and online to share with the academic community and future generations.

More than 60,000 letters from historical figures from the early-17th to the mid-19th century have been indexed and incorporated into an online database – the Electronic Enlightenment project. The name is apt; the project takes figures such as Adam Smith, Voltaire and the poet Thomas Gray, and brings them out of the archives and into the light, positioning them in the political, social and physical landscape in which they existed.
Beginning as a means of connecting tens of thousands of letters and hundreds of thousands of annotations, the Electronic Enlightenment project is creating a rich tapestry of their context by incorporating other contemporary material such as maps and portraits. Now, for example, an online visitor to the Electronic Enlightenment project can read a letter from Edmund Haley to Josiah Burchetta, written from the Bermudas on 8th July 1700 alongside scholarly annotations and in combination with a contemporary map of the location. It’s not just the figurative and social topography that is being explored here, but the way society at this time perceived the physical world that it inhabited and travelled in.

The Bodleian Library is just one instance of FileMaker’s use in this sector. The Natural History Museum’s Department of Zoology is taming the vast amount of data collected in two externally funded research projects involving the study of parasite evolutionary biology. The department has specimens coming in from Parasitologists based all over the world and, although they may sound small, the rarity of the specimens and the high cost incurred from collecting them from the field means they are highly valuable, not to mention scientifically significant.

By deploying a FileMaker solution, the department has been able to generate an overview of the data in their possession and gain insight into where specimens are at any stage of a project. Furthermore, the research team can trust the integrity of the platform – and therefore of the data. The department hasn’t kept these benefits within its walls; by investing in a FileMaker server, it has been able to share the Tissue Database on the web, where it is in use by 50 Parasitologists across the world.

Many institutions have managed to bring about great improvements using technology, without the luxury of trained IT professionals but with a spirit approaching that of entrepreneurship. By identifying an intuitive technology, without management overheads, that can be adapted to the needs of themselves and their fellow academics, they are taking the future of their departments and organisations into their own hands. In a world where the pressure on museums and academic organisations is increasing, this may become a model for others.