How to Managing Complexity with Technology?
For 20 years Filemaker Pro has been my secret weapon for professional success.
Throughout the years, I’ve held many positions and titles, either in small organizations with limited budgets, or large organizations where the bureaucracy was so bound up it was more advantageous to lead on my own. In virtually every case, I built a process tool or organizational database that helped me and my team to become more productive.
Filemaker Pro is built around the notion that incredible productivity can be achieved without a lot of complicated programming.
First, let me describe Filemaker Pro and some of its history and then I will describe some examples of how I’ve used it in my professional life. Filemaker Pro started as a standalone database application. Filemaker Inc. is an Apple subsidiary, and Filemaker Pro is built around the notion that incredible productivity can be achieved without a lot of complicated programming. Most of the development work is in a drag-n-drop environment and scripting step to modify can be done easily. In additional to the traditional text, date, number, time, and calculation fields, Filemaker Pro has a container field that will accept video files, music, pdfs, or any other document type.
Over the past few years, Filemaker has increasingly focused their platform advances on mobile and the internet. Latest releases allow easy application development for iOS users through Filemaker Go and Android users through WebDirect. Filemaker Pro also allows integration with existing web sites, enabling integration with maps, tracking numbers, or other specific web requests. In short, the platform has four elements, Filemaker Pro, Filemaker Pro Advanced, Filemaker Server, and Filemaker Go. Development, testing, and small group deployment is done using Filemaker Pro or Filemaker Pro Advanced. Filemaker Server is used to deploy applications at scale, and Filemaker Go is used by iOS devices to run a Filemaker file or to connect with Filemaker Server.
I first became aware of Filemaker Pro while working as an intern for a boutique travel and tour operator. The company was using it as a CRM and invoicing application. I liked what I saw and convinced my father to buy me a copy by promising, “I’m not sure how, but I will create something useful for the family business.” I spent the next few months building an entirely custom AR/AP system for my family’s wholesale produce company. Over time, additional modules where added to facilitate check writing and inventory tracking. A couple of years ago, I spent a few months in my spare time, reskinning the application, adding attractive buttons, simplifying ease of use for the end user, and adding user security features. We also chose to host the file with a vendor allowing company employees access from multiple locations.
Organization is often the key to success, and the Filemaker Pro Platform allows users at very low cost to create incredibly powerful flexible tools and applications.
While still working for the travel company, I updated the firm’s simple CRM to accommodate multiple invoices for the same client, track specific group tour participants, and to retain custom travel offerings and pricings by client. Some years later, I went to work for the Florida Legislature where I used Filemaker Pro to track millions of contact records. On one particular project, we mailed tens of thousands of surveys and thousands of responses were received by mail. I had a team of five people working to enter the data. Initially they were keying the responses into a spreadsheet, but the error rate was high. So, I created an application, and the users were able to connect using their internet browsers, i.e. Firefox, Explorer, etc., searching from the list of contacts previously mailed and only adding new information. This approach dramatically reduced the entry time per record and reduced frustration with the staff trying to make out poorly written or incomplete return address information.
While working on political campaigns, I used Filemaker Pro to create door-to-door contact lists, used by volunteers to track neighborhood outreach efforts. I also used it to identify matching records on different lists. For example, registered voters, and donors, each list is separate, and I wanted to be able to see how much a donor had given to candidates for instance and needed to match that information with their voter record.
Recently, while attending graduate school, I used Filemaker Pro Advanced to aggregate, courses offered with scheduling and prior year’s class course rating information. I was then able to produce a standalone (runtime) application for PC, MAC, and iOS users. Hundreds of student-users saved time and were able to make better-informed decisions because the information was consolidated and at their fingertips.
These are just some example of how I’ve used Filemaker Pro, but I’m sure by now you are imagining how Filemaker could be helpful in your own situation. Organization is often the key to success, and the Filemaker Pro Platform allows users at very low cost to create incredibly powerful flexible tools and applications.
Filemaker Pro Platform Overview (Video 1:40) http://fmdl.filemaker.com/MISC/fm15/filemaker-platform-overview-video_848x480_en.mp4
Filemaker Developer License, $99 per year, includes a test copy of Filemaker Server. https://store.filemaker.com/product/FDS
Filemaker Server on Amazon Web Services (Advanced User): http://www.soundsessential.com/filemaker-pro/the-fmp-files/item/filemaker-server-on-amazon-web-services-part-1