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“Not Your Parent’s FileMaker”: How We React When We See Older Versions of the Platform

When organizations come to Skeleton Key to build an application in FileMaker, it’s not always the case that they need something built “from scratch.” In fact, a significant portion of our potential clients already have a FileMaker solution in place—they just need it to be updated and modernized.

That FileMaker is widely used is not surprising. The platform itself has been around for just over 30 years. By Claris’ own numbers, more than 24 million copies of FileMaker have been delivered, with over one million users under active subscription. So chances are good that almost anyone has (or will) run into a FileMaker application “in the wild.”

What does take us by surprise is when we find that their current solution was built a decade or two ago using a much older version of FileMaker—like FileMaker 6 or 7. (For reference, the current version as of this writing is FileMaker 19.)

On the one hand, there’s a sense of pride that swells up when we see this, as it’s a testament to the stability and robustness of the FileMaker platform. It speaks volumes when a business builds a custom app to support its unique workflow with FileMaker and is still using that app some 20 years later.

Indeed, one of the great things about FileMaker is that it affords customization and expansion. We’ve had clients with critical systems built in earlier versions of FileMaker who absolutely did not want to “reinvent the wheel” with a newer version. In many of those instances, we were able to take their core system and add functionality to it without a rebuild, piecing together modern functions that they needed on top of existing data structures. In a day and age when users are asked to upgrade or replace their core systems every couple of years, if not every couple of months, that kind of combined backwards compatibility and future-proofing is a rarity.

That said, the FileMaker of today is different, in many ways, from the FileMaker of 30, 20 or even 10 years ago. So, if your last encounter with FileMaker was one of those older versions, you might not be aware of some of the notable evolutions that have happened in the platform, and you might well be asking the wrong questions when it comes to custom development platforms in general.

Here are some of the myths and misunderstandings we hear often:

  1. FileMaker is Just Microsoft Access on Steroids
  2. FileMaker is Another Database Solution With a Fancy Front End
  3. FileMaker is for Mac (Apple) Environments Only
  4. FileMaker is Good for Small Offices, but It’s Not Robust Enough for Larger Organizations
  5. You Need a Full-Time Database Person to Administrate FileMaker Once It’s Up and Running

#1 “FileMaker is Just Microsoft Access on Steroids”

From the start, Access was meant to be a means for companies to create simple databases and forms for small teams of Windows users…and it never really grew beyond that. (Indeed, Microsoft itself states clearly that “We no longer recommend Access Services for new web apps and web databases.”)

FileMaker, on the other hand, was always intended to be a development platform. Today’s FileMaker supports modern security, integration and interface standards, native servers on Windows and macOS, and hundreds of simultaneous users on both native and web-based clients across multiple operating systems and device types. Thus, it has many more features and a much wider application than Access or other database software in its class.

#2 “FileMaker is Another Database Solution With a Fancy Front End”

It’s true that FileMaker has a very user-friendly interface, and can be used to create other user-friendly applications, even by people who don’t have a lot of experience with coding or creating databases (i.e., “low code”). But it would be false to say that FileMaker is simply a “fancy front end” to an otherwise “plain-vanilla” database.

For one thing, there are several FileMaker products that work together to do different things. The different parts of the platform offer more modern connectivity and data management options. For example, FileMaker offers a native REST API and can integrate with third-party systems using REST, JSON, JavaScript, cURL and various forms of ODBC.

There are also features that help integrate FileMaker applications with other useful tools. On iOS, the FileMaker platform offers camera, gesture, GPS, and sensor integration.

The server and workstation components of the platform also support an extensible plug-in architecture, with a rich ecosystem of plug-in developers.

Needless to say, the capabilities of the platform go well beyond that of a traditional database, even one with a user-friendly GUI.

#3 “FileMaker is for Mac (Apple) Environments Only”

Yes, Claris (the makers of FileMaker) is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Apple. But FileMaker goes beyond Apple products. It also offers native clients for Windows and a browser-based client for several brands of supported browsers. This means that applications built with FileMaker can run on virtually any workstation, tablet, or mobile device, independent of the operating system.

#4 “FileMaker is Good for Small Offices, but It’s Not Robust Enough for Larger Organizations”

Today’s FileMaker can easily scale to support hundreds of simultaneous users on a single instance of FileMaker Server, offering a secure and scalable cloud-based option for hosting solutions with high availability and an extra layer of security.

Indeed, some of Skeleton Key’s best clients are larger organizations, including Bass Pro Shops and the Public Works Department for the City of Florissant, Missouri.

#5 “You Need a Full-Time Database Person to Maintain and Administrate FileMaker Once It’s Up and Running”

Untrue. In fact, very little knowledge of coding or database management is needed to use, modify, or otherwise maintain a custom solution built and deployed in the FileMaker platform. All you need is a little familiarity with the platform, an understanding of your own workflow and a little training.

That said, many Skeleton Key clients do re-engage us periodically to upgrade or enhance their FileMaker solution for them. Most find that doing so can add capabilities and yet still be more cost-effective than commercially available SaaS solutions.

Can We Show You the Latest FileMaker?

Curious about what the most recent version of FileMaker can do? Of whether it might be a “fit” for the project you are working on? We would be happy to discuss your particular needs and workflow and give you an honest assessment of if and how FileMaker can help. To start, simply fill out this form.

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Is FileMaker Just Microsoft Access on Steroids?

Strangely enough, every few years some well-meaning IT professional asks us this question, and to be completely honest, we can understand why. Eons ago, in the early days of the FileMaker product, this comparison made sense, as both FileMaker and Access let a user author databases that were self-contained and for individual users. Since then, a lot has changed.

The short answer to the title question is: NO.

A slightly longer answer would be something like this: FileMaker is a development platform that supports modern standards, native servers on Windows and Mac OS, and hundreds of simultaneous users on both native and web-based clients across multiple operating systems and device types. Microsoft Access, on the other hand, is a database application for building locally-hosted databases for very small teams of Windows users only.

So is FileMaker right for your organization? Here are some points worth knowing if you are considering FileMaker vs. Access:

  • FileMaker provides both a client-server architecture (for widespread deployment of a solution), as well as the ability to launch the very same solution locally on a standalone workstation or supported mobile device. This allows for both greater flexibility during the solution development lifecycle, as well as a hedge against interruptions to business continuity.
  • FileMaker offers native clients for Windows, macOS and iOS, and offers a browser-based client for several brands of supported browsers on virtually any workstation, tablet or mobile device, independent of the operating system.
  • FileMaker offers Encryption at Rest (EAR), Encryption in Transit (EIT), role-based security, field-level security,  conditional access and validation based on calculations, Active Directory integration, and OAUTH integration as native features of the platform.
  • FileMaker supports live integration with a variety of SQL sources within both the server and the native client. Supported SQL sources include Microsoft SQL, ORACLE, MySQL, PostgreSQL and Db2. This integration allows tables and views from those data sources to be commingled in the FileMaker data schema, along with native FileMaker data, and to be expressed in FileMaker layouts and manipulated by FileMaker scripts.
  • FileMaker offers a native REST API, and can integrate with third-party systems using REST, JSON, JavaScript and cURL.
  • On iOS, the FileMaker platform also offers camera, gesture, GPS and sensor integration.
  • The server and workstation components of the platform also support an extensible plug-in architecture with a rich eco-system of plug-in developers.
  • FileMaker can easily scale to support hundreds of simultaneous users on a single instance of FileMaker Server. FileMaker Server is available in the AWS Marketplace as FileMaker Cloud for AWS and now as FileMaker Cloud (Standard and Essentials), which offer secure and scalable cloud-based options for hosting solutions with high availability and an extra layer of security.
  • FileMaker, Inc. has been a consistently profitable business for decades and is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Apple. The platform has seen a growth in R&D in the past decade, with dramatic investments in the technology, annual releases of new versions, and a publicly visible roadmap that continues to embrace modern standards, additional enhancements to security, further scalability, additional integrations, etc.
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What is Rapid Application Development, and Is It Right for My Business?

Rapid Application Development (RAD) is an approach to designing software applications where a prototype of the application is developed quickly and then refined through several iterations. It is often contrasted with the waterfall method of software development, where an application is developed in discrete stages: Requirements specification, then design and implementation, and finally testing.

What this simple definition doesn’t make clear is the explosion in demand for Rapid Application Development occurring across a number of industries. Between the relentless drive for more innovative products, the rise of mobile technologies, and rapidly changing business requirements, there is immense pressure put on application developers. Traditional methods of development too often yield products that are “too little, too late.”

To meet this demand, more and more application development needs are being outsourced to companies (like Skeleton Key) that use market-leading platforms (like Claris FileMaker) to quickly build and deploy custom applications for customers. But how does one go about determining whether a Rapid Application Development approach makes sense from a business perspective?

Understanding RAD vs. Waterfall: Keeping an Innovative Edge as Requirements Change

At first, Rapid Application Development might simply seem like a promise to create applications more quickly. Really, it is an entirely different approach to understanding and refining application requirements during the process of development.

To see this, it helps to contrast Rapid Application Development with the traditional waterfall method of development. In a waterfall approach, there are discrete stages of software development: Specifying the requirements, designing the application, implementing the application, testing and ongoing maintenance.

waterfall method of software development

This might seem like a logical workflow, and it is for many types of engineering problems. If you want to build a bridge, for example, the waterfall model makes sense. One starts by specifying the requirements that the bridge needs to meet, and then goes on to designing and building that specific bridge. The final bridge is tested for structural soundness and safety and, if it passes, can then be used.

In the bridge example, the waterfall method works because:

  • The uses to which the bridge are to be put are well defined and unlikely to change
  • The requirements for the bridge itself are also unlikely to change
  • While there might be unforeseen problems or issues, accommodating them will not force one to deviate too much from the original design
  • The bridge itself will not change the nature of the problem being solved (outside of solving it)

The assumptions don’t always hold when it comes to developing new applications. User needs and business requirements are constantly in flux, and application requirements may not be all that well defined (or understood) in the first place. Unforeseen problems, issues or opportunities can mean dramatic rethinking of a given application’s architecture and approach. Furthermore, the software itself can change the nature of the challenges and opportunities that are presented along the way, meaning that even great foresight into business requirements may prove incomplete at the project evolves. The waterfall approach is often too slow to address this kind of problem space.

Rapid Application Development is different. Instead of meticulously documenting requirements and design, the first goal is to develop a working prototype or “minimally viable product” as quickly as possible. The prototype might not meet all possible requirements, and it might even be deficient in some ways, but the advantage of having the prototype is that it allows stakeholders to better refine their requirements and further shape the development of the prototype based on something significantly more tangible than a blueprint or plan.

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So, while Rapid Application Development might not make sense for a bridge—it’s much harder to “just throw up” a prototype of a bridge and make several rounds of refinements—it is much better suited to modern business challenges where software is involved.

What kinds of business challenges? There are several situations that reveal why RAD is superior for building software.

The Business Case for Custom Applications Built with Rapid Application Development

Let’s look at some of the market forces driving the need for Rapid Application Development:

Exploding demand for mobile-compatible apps. Smartphone use has just about doubled over the past five years, and mobile apps now consume 65% of our digital media time. While much of the growth of the market recently has been due to “on demand” apps that promise to make every service more like Uber, there has also been a slow, steady increase in the number of custom applications that businesses use on tablets and phones for work functions. Thus, modern business applications need to be both cross-platform and mobile-compatible.

Application requirements are often nebulous, and changing. In an environment where growth and innovation are ever-present, it’s not uncommon to have the spark of an idea for an application…but not have a clear vision for the application requirements. Sometimes stakeholders need to see what’s possible before they refine those requirements.

Existing technologies are rigid and over-designed. There are thousands of pieces of enterprise software and SaaS solutions out there. One study, by cloud identity company Okta, found that 10% of businesses have more than 200 apps in their enterprise technology systems. Many of these are incredibly rigid and require specialized expertise in each layer of the development stack. On the other hand, many customers end up never using many of the features these solutions offer, and so are paying for wasted features. This is driving more and more organizations to develop their own custom business applications.

From a market perspective, this creates a perfect storm: High demand for custom apps that can function across technology platforms and be easily refined and modified as requirements change, a dissatisfaction with traditional enterprise apps, and an overarching need to get to market quickly.

(For some examples of the kind of custom applications we’re discussing, see our case studies for a manufacturing company, a government agency, a non-profit and a creative team.)

What Are Some of the Advantages of Rapid Application Development (RAD)?

Even if the market need for custom software is apparent, it might not be clear why a business should look to hire a vendor that practices Rapid Application Development using the FileMaker platform. Here are four advantages this approach has for organizations:

  • Enhanced flexibility and adaptability. Developers can make adjustments quickly “on-the-fly” during the development process.
  • Faster delivery time. Small issues that hold up deployment on a traditional development model can be solved at later iterations, giving organizations a functional application more quickly.
  • Code reuse. Functional units of code tend to be used and reused, which leads to less manual coding, fewer errors and shorter testing times.
  • Fewer surprises. By collaborating throughout the development cycle, developers and stakeholders both have a better idea of what to expect. If there are major problems or misunderstandings, the pivot can come sooner.

FileMaker itself is a great platform for Rapid Application Development. In fact, in 2016, software review site G2 Crowd identified FileMaker as a market “Leader” in Rapid Application Development because of its high user satisfaction and ongoing popularity.

If you’re wanting to learn more about Rapid Application Development, or about how FileMaker is helping organizations get their custom business applications up and running faster, contact us for a free consultation.

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How Skeleton Key Helped a Manufacturing Company Streamline Production

Skeleton Key specializes in leveraging the power of the FileMaker platform to streamline operations for companies in every industry. Here’s how we helped a manufacturing company develop a more seamless experience for customers, employees, and the production process.

The Work Rut at Vistabule Teardrop Trailers

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Based in St. Paul, Minnesota, Vistabule designs, manufactures, and sells highly customizable teardrop trailers. All of their trailers are made to order, so tracking orders at every stage of the production process is critical to customer satisfaction. Previously, customers had to download and fill out an Excel worksheet to place an order. The process was time-consuming, confusing, and prone to errors because customers had to work with a complicated pricing sheet in Excel.

On an operational level, relying on Excel spreadsheets for tracking trailer orders made it difficult to stay on top of critical metrics. Vistabule had no easy way to report on or predict future costs related to the parts they used. This struggle also resulted in shortages of in-demand components, leading to delayed manufacturing timelines. And if manufacturers placed recalls on specific parts Vistabule had used in the past, there was no easy way to track which parts had ended up on which trailer so they could notify customers.

In short, Vistabule was plagued by a complicated customer experience along with needing a centralized platform for data management, pricing orders, order status tracking, shipping timelines, invoicing, reporting, and customer relationship management. Vistabule had hit a work rut that was holding them back from achieving their broader business goals.

How Skeleton Key Helped Vistabule Overcome Inefficiency

The FileMaker solution Skeleton Key built for Vistabule has provided them with:

Seamless Integration

To tackle the problem of an inefficient, complicated ordering system, our team first developed a solution with a building and estimating tool. This tool integrates with other features of their system to track orders, invoicing, the status of specific parts, expected shipping dates, demand forecasts, and customer engagement. Now Vistabule has access to the critical data they rely on for day-to-day operations consolidated in one centralized platform.

WebDirect Ordering

Our team is also in the process of rolling out an intelligent and guided WebDirect version of their FileMaker solution to make it easier for future customers to place orders directly on Vistabule’s website. That way customers will no longer be confused by a tedious spreadsheet, and Vistabule will no longer struggle with trying to track orders in Excel.

Improved Customer Safety

The FileMaker solution we built for Vistabule makes it easy for their team to prioritize customer safety. Part orders are linked to customers and tracked in the system, so all of the components Vistabule uses on a trailer are connected to the owner. In the event of a recall, Vistabule will know exactly which customers are affected and be able to notify them accordingly.

Simplified Customer Relations

Vistabule now has the ability to track potential customers who are interested in their products, making marketing a breeze while converting prospects into happy customers.

Forecasts for Parts

Vistabule’s FileMaker solution accounts for how many customers order specific parts to ensure that those critical parts are always on hand by the time they’re needed in the manufacturing process. They can also create intuitive reports that help them align their operations and inventory with what customers want.

More Efficient Workflows

Ultimately, with our solution, the team at Vistabule saves substantial time that in the past would have been spent putting in orders and tracking down parts. Tracking customer orders and parts is now an intuitive process. Actionable information is always just a click away, and orders are delivered to customers in a more timely manner.

Skeleton Key Is Here to Help You Next

Has this case study given you some ideas about how a FileMaker solution can help streamline your business operations? If so, contact the experts at Skeleton Key today. Our team will work with you to create a customized solution around your unique inefficiencies and broader goals. When you partner with Skeleton Key, your team always has the tools to succeed today while preparing for the challenges tomorrow may bring.

software solutions for government agencies

An Introduction to FileMaker for State and Local Governments

With the power of the FileMaker platform, government organizations are addressing a variety of operational inefficiencies to better serve their communities. No matter how your organization serves the community, a customized FileMaker solution can help you too. If you aren’t quite sure how, we recommend you start by reading our previous post about what FileMaker can do for your organization.

If you already have a clear picture of what FileMaker can offer your team but you’re interested in exploring some examples in a government or bureaucratic context, that’s what we’re going to detail in this post.

Project Management

The ability to track project milestones, expenses, and timelines is critical to the success of any project. FileMaker allows your team to track every facet of your projects on one centralized platform. Because it offers the ability to integrate accounting data with the robust data API integration suite, you can be confident your next project stays within budget while tracking costs in real time. 

On top of making sure your organization isn’t overspending, you’ll be able to see exactly how your team is performing every step of the way, so you can quickly address any roadblocks before they slow progress down. With customizable dashboard functionality, you’ll even be able to ensure that every member of your team has access to the mission-critical metrics they need to measure their success.

Breaking Away From Appliance Applications

While appliance applications are often necessary and good at accomplishing a specific set of tasks, they rarely excel at efficiently streamlining the workflows unique to your organization. At the same time, they don’t give your team the ability to continually refine processes and grow. If your goal is maximizing productivity by overcoming inefficiency and work ruts, appliance applications rarely offer the flexibility to align with your goals. Fortunately, the FileMaker platform was specifically designed to help you maximize operational efficiency with a software solution built around your team’s day-to-day workflows. That makes FileMaker an ideal tool for breaking away from the constraints of appliance software as well as the work ruts they often (inadvertently) create.

Asset Management

Government organizations oversee a wide range of assets, including land, buildings, personnel, vehicles, electronic devices, and more. But how effectively are you tracking the use, location, and purpose of those assets? If there’s room for improvement, a FileMaker solution can help. From managing every asset your organization is responsible for to using the latest IoT sensors for real-time location tracking and monitoring, a FileMaker solution can streamline asset management and maximize accountability so you always know exactly where to find what you need.

Mobile Data Collection

If members of your organization frequently have to collect data in the field, they need a platform to simplify data entry while keeping your databases as up to date as possible. A FileMaker solution has the power not only to make data collection more intuitive but also to integrate all of the database sources, including MySQL, Microsoft SQL Server and Oracle, that your team might already be using.

Task Automation

If your team has become inundated with the burden of performing repetitive tasks like data entry and report creation, FileMaker can automate those tasks for you. By automating routine day-to-day tasks, you can empower your team with the freedom to focus on more critical operations that require a human touch.

Your FileMaker Experts

If operational inefficiencies have hindered your organization in the past, a FileMaker solution can help you turn those challenges into an opportunity for growth. Contact the experts at Skeleton Key today, and we’ll work with you to develop a customized FileMaker solution around your specific goals and operations.

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How Skeleton Key Helped a Government Agency Manage Data

When you partner with Skeleton Key for a customized FileMaker solution, we make it our goal to help you overcome operational inefficiencies, manage data more effectively, and maximize productivity. Here’s how we helped the City of Florissant’s Public Works Department accomplish just that.

The City of Florissant’s Public Works Department

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The Public Works Department of the City of Florissant manages occupancy permits, oversees property inspections, and handles other critical infrastructure regulations to keep residents safe and the city running smoothly. With a growing population of renters and the city requiring occupancy permits for both temporary and permanent residents, the Public Works Department deals with a massive amount of data on a daily basis.

The Problem

When a house was sold or an apartment rented in Florissant, the occupancy permit for each individual living at the residence had to be manually entered into the agency’s database. After years of using this system, their database had become bogged down by duplicate data that occurred when individuals moved residences while remaining in Florissant. In these instances, new records were created each time the same resident moved. 

As a result, their system had become bogged down by redundant data every time a new occupancy permit was issued and a new record created. These permits were then manually printed on separate pieces of paper and mailed out to residents and property owners. Because these records needed to be accessed frequently to verify residency for jobs and schools, redundant entries were noticeably slowing the process down.

Issuing occupancy permits was just a small part of the Public Works Department’s day-to-day operations. On top of handling permits, scheduling and executing property inspections was also a manual effort, and processing the physical inspection paperwork that resulted became increasingly complex. Building permit pricing tables and fees had to be manually tracked for each job, which slowed down turnaround times for residents, landlords, and contractors alike. 

Not only was their current system not a good fit for the rigorous data management they required, but they were also stretching their current technical bandwidth thin with new data-tracking requests from the city. Florissant’s community was growing, and the developer they’d relied on in the past wasn’t able to add the features they needed. That’s when they looked to Skeleton Key for help.

The Solution

By partnering with Skeleton Key, the City of Florissant was able to build a new FileMaker solution that offers the flexibility to evolve with the changing needs of their workplace and city. Streamlined data normalization means that records for residents who move and get new occupancy permits are consolidated and searched quickly. This strategy now completely eliminates instances of redundant, cumbersome data.

With the department’s FileMaker solution, the application process for occupancy and building permits is now paperless, cutting down on cost and time for all stakeholders. Applications no longer have to be manually tracked and entered into the system. Property inspections can now be scheduled quickly online, and the results can be entered in a streamlined database that simplifies report creation.

The Result

With their new FileMaker solution, the City of Florissant is now a more efficient government body and a better place for residents to live. The Public Works Department plans to continue its partnership with Skeleton Key to better respond to the needs of its growing community.

We’re Ready to Help You Next

If this case study has given you some ideas for how Skeleton Key can help your organization next, contact our experts today. We’ll work with you to understand your specific needs and goals so our experts can develop a customized solution for your organization and the community you serve.

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What You Need to Know About the FileMaker Data API

As your business grows, your team has to grapple with tracking, storing, and managing ever-increasing amounts of data. A FileMaker solution can help you take control of how your team sources and uses data at every level. With the ability to integrate multiple API sources into your FileMaker solution, your team can more efficiently handle increasing amounts of data while simultaneously turning it into valuable insights.

What Is The FileMaker Data API?

FileMaker’s Data API allows your FileMaker solution to access data hosted by other sources and even to operate as a centralized data source for other systems to utilize. Your team can then integrate that data into your application and access it from just about any device. Because FileMaker’s Data API is bi-directional, your organization’s systems can be easily accessed and integrated with external sources while facilitating interaction between platforms.

What FileMaker’s Data API Can Do for Your Team

The core capability of FileMaker’s Data API is that it allows you to unify disparate data sources. For example, an organization may already be using a FileMaker solution as its customer relationship management (CRM) platform. However, they also use QuickBooks Online Edition (QBOE) to manage financial data with Toggl and Harvest as their productivity platforms. With the FileMaker Data API, the company is able to seamlessly integrate these once disparate data sources, allowing each platform to do what it does best while still utilizing that data within their FileMaker solution. If the project management team needs to find out whether a client’s account has been settled before initiating the next phase of a project, their FileMaker solution can check QBOE in real-time for an easy answer.

What Are the Possibilities for Integration?

The FileMaker Data API works hand-in-hand with major content management systems (CMS) such as WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla. CMS users can insert data from FileMaker’s database directly into web pages. As mentioned above, FileMaker’s Data API also works with online accounting platforms like QBOE as well as with productivity solutions like Toggl and Harvest.

The FileMaker Data API integrates with enterprise project management platforms like Salesforce, Informatica, and Dell Boomi. Instead of looking through folders on your file server to locate data, users can simply log in to their custom FileMaker solution and access the data they need to manage projects.

Any other online platforms your team depends on for day-to-day tasks? Chances are, the experts at Skeleton Key can work with you to find a way to integrate those systems into your FileMaker solution.

Take Control of Your Data With Skeleton Key

At Skeleton Key, our goal is to leverage the power of FileMaker to help your organization overcome its technological barriers. Our solutions are designed to help your team tackle today’s problems while preparing for the challenges of tomorrow. If you want the benefit of a custom software solution built around your needs and goals, contact us today.

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Construction Company Addresses Operational Inefficiencies with a Mobile FileMaker Solution

The possibilities for a FileMaker solution are so broad it can be difficult for businesses to visualize how FileMaker can streamline their operations. Understanding how Skeleton Key has already helped organizations address operational inefficiencies with a FileMaker solution may give you a clearer idea of how we can help you next. In this post, we’ll take a look at the benefits Helmkamp Construction experienced after partnering with Skeleton Key for a customized FileMaker solution.

The Problemhelmkamp

Helmkamp Construction’s field superintendents had to spend 30 minutes a day entering each employee’s hours on the job site. Some superintendents used pen and paper to track hours and fax them to the home office, while others entered hours into Excel spreadsheets and emailed them. This approach resulted in numerous delays and inconsistencies.

Additionally, superintendents sometimes would enter the wrong job number, phase number, or employee number. The payroll clerk would then have to call superintendents multiple times each week to verify the information on the time sheets. Once all of this was confirmed, the payroll clerk spent roughly 15 hours a week entering the data into accounting software for 80 to 100 employees. As a result, payroll day became a bottleneck as superintendents rushed to get field times to the office so data could be entered into the system and paychecks delivered.

Helmkamp looked at third-party entry solutions to address these inefficiencies, but they were discouraged by high annual fees for each user. That’s when they turned to Skeleton Key and started exploring a FileMaker solution to address these problems cost-effectively.

The Solution

Skeleton Key built a FileMaker solution to help smooth the process of entering work hours in the field. Superintendents access the FileMaker solution and enter time data on iPads protected by rugged cases and connected by Wi-Fi or cellular networks. The solution then works behind the scenes to convert the data into a format that can be used by the company’s payroll team.

Skeleton Key’s team designed the interface to be as intuitive as possible for individuals in the construction industry who may have varying levels of technology experience. The solution is straightforward enough that users can typically get up and running in half an hour or less. Users also have access to customization and management features that allow them to streamline data entry for frequently used items and notes. At the same time, superintendents can only enter and select valid data because it originates from their accounting system.

The Result

After deploying their FileMaker solution, the team at Helmkamp Construction has been able to transform multiple inefficiencies into growth. The solution has virtually eliminated the need for the payroll clerk to call superintendents for clarity. The company also has optimized billing operations because job time data is available to the billing department in real time.

Helmkamp’s FileMaker solution allows superintendents to enter job data in about half the time it used to take. Saving 15 minutes per day at a rate of $65 an hour for 18 superintendents saves the company $293 a day, which translates to $76,180 in cost savings each year. With a FileMaker solution, superintendents are able to use their time to manage jobs and plan work for the next day instead of being bogged down with entering hours manually.

Data entry time for the payroll clerk has been reduced from 15 hours each week to two hours. Because the clerk only has to review information to upload instead of re-keying, this saves $416 a week or $21,632 each year.

The FileMaker solution has also scaled with Helmkamp’s growth. Since deploying their FileMaker solution, the company’s field-deployed construction staff has more than doubled. Even with that growth, Helmkamp hasn’t had to hire additional payroll staff due to their FileMaker solution.

Compared to the annual fees for comparable field time entry systems, the licensing fees for Helmkamp’s FileMaker solution are about 15% to 20% of the cost. Since product licenses are sold for the number of concurrent users rather than for each user, Helmkamp realizes significant savings.

We’re Ready to Help You Next

Interested in exploring how a FileMaker solution can transform the way your team does business? Contact the FileMaker experts at Skeleton Key today. We’ll work with you to pinpoint inefficiencies and develop a solution that propels growth while preparing your team for tomorrow.

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FileMaker Cloud-Hosting FAQs

Whether your organization is already using a FileMaker solution or you’re thinking about developing one, you can maximize your capabilities by hosting a solution on the cloud. In this post, we’ll answer some of the most common questions our clients ask about hosting FileMaker on the cloud.

What Are the Options for Hosting FileMaker on the Cloud?

When hosting FileMaker on the cloud, your organization has four main options. The first and most straightforward solution is using FileMaker Cloud for AWS (Amazon Web Services). It’s designed to host your FileMaker solution via AWS, and your team can access custom apps from Amazon’s hosted servers. If you need to prioritize scalability and flexibility, FileMaker Cloud for AWS may be your best option, and Skeleton Key can help you deploy and manage the entire process.

Depending on your in-house resources, the next option worth considering is partnering with Skeleton Key to host your FileMaker solution on a dedicated cloud-based server. Since we’ll develop, deploy, support, and host your FileMaker solution, we’re proud to stand as your single point of contact for all your FileMaker needs. While we will often do this using the same FileMaker Cloud for AWS offering, there are times when a particular solution would be better hosted on a traditional Microsoft Windows Server-based Filemaker, either at Amazon or in Microsoft’s Azure Cloud, or even in a privately owned data center. Regardless, Skeleton Key can help you select, deploy and manage the right dedicated server solution for your needs.

The third option is contracting with a third-party cloud service provider to host your FileMaker solution at one of their data centers. Your third-party vendor then hosts your solution on their servers and decides how resources are managed, secured, and allocated.

The fourth and final option is hosting your solution on an in-house cloud server. You’ll be able to control precisely how your servers are managed, resources allocated, and your network secured. At the same time, you’ll be able to take a hands-on approach to scaling resources and infrastructure.

What Are the Benefits of Hosting FileMaker on the Cloud?

Depending on the option you choose for hosting your cloud solution, your organization can enjoy benefits like these:

  • On-demand resource scalability
  • Minimal capital expenditure
  • Rapid deployment timelines
  • A hands-off approach to server management
  • The latest cybersecurity measures
  • Access to your critical data from anywhere
  • Business continuity and disaster recovery

Once you understand the most relevant benefits to your organization, you’ll be able to decide on the best cloud-hosting solution.

How Does FileMaker Licensing Work on the Cloud?

As with all solutions, your organization will need to purchase the right kind of user licensing for each user of your solution. Skeleton Key can work with you to find the ideal licensing package for your user base and growth goals.

Are There Any Disadvantages to FileMaker Hosting on the Cloud?

If you decide to host your FileMaker solution using on-premise servers, you’ll need to ensure you have the requisite infrastructure. If not, you’ll need to make the necessary equipment upgrades, which may result in delayed deployment timelines.

In addition, if you host your solution on a third-party cloud vendor’s server, you have little to no control over how your server resources are allocated and managed. While third-party vendors may be ideal if you want to take a hands-off approach to cloud management, many organizations would rather have a little leverage over their cloud resources. That’s why we most frequently recommend hosting your solution on a Skeleton Key-managed server or directly with AWS.

How Do I Decide Which Option Is Best for My Organization?

If you’re still not sure which FileMaker hosting solution is best for your organization’s needs, contact the experts at Skeleton Key today. We’ll work with you to clarify your organization’s goals, pinpoint opportunities for growth, and explore the possibilities. When you partner with Skeleton Key for your FileMaker needs, our industry-leading experts ensure your team has the knowledge and resources to make an optimal decision for your business.

Team working on project using new custom app

What FileMaker Can Offer Your Organization

Your organization faces a unique set of challenges on a daily basis. Tackling those challenges is critical to your team’s continued success; however, doing so may require a solution built around your needs and goals. Many businesses turn to custom-built software solutions to address issues that are constraining growth. But if you have a small or medium-size business, you may be concerned that you don’t have the resources for a custom software platform.

With FileMaker, a customized software platform optimized for your operations may be more feasible than you think. FileMaker has the power to transform the way your organization operates from the inside out. Whether your goal is to increase productivity, or off-the-shelf software is slowing your team down, a FileMaker solution can be built around your needs.

Benefits of the FileMaker Platform

The FileMaker Platform gives your team access to a custom software solution built around their unique workflow and robust capabilities such as:

  • File-sharing
  • Accounting
  • Contact management
  • Sales forecasting
  • Business planning and reporting
  • Lead management
  • Marketing automation
  • Project management

When you elevate your operations with a customized FileMaker solution, your organization can experience benefits like these:

Support for Any Device

Since a FileMaker solution can operate on any Mac or PC, as well as on any native iOS device, and as a web-based platform (which makes it accessible from virtually any device that can connect to the web), users are able to access mission-critical data using any of their favorite Apple,Windows or Android devices. These cross-platform possibilities make it easy to accommodate your team’s device needs. Whether working from a smartphone, laptop, tablet, or a desktop computer, your team will always have access to the same robust FileMaker toolkit.

An Intuitive Interface

With powerful dashboard functionality, FileMaker offers the flexibility to customize a user interface with a quick overview of mission-critical metrics. At the same time, customizable user experience (UX) elements make it easy for your team to hit the ground running on a platform they’re already comfortable using. When you partner with an experienced FileMaker developer, interface elements can be built around the tools your team relies on most for daily tasks, so they can take productivity to new levels.

Data Synchronization

FileMaker makes it easy to access and manage data no matter where work takes you. Remote workers can access files directly from primary systems while updating that same data in real-time, so everyone in your organization stays on the same page. Even without a network connection, FileMaker can be configured to update and merge data as soon as network connectivity is restored. With next-level database management capabilities, you no longer have to worry about misaligned data sources interfering with your operations.

Rapid Deployment

Building a custom software solution using legacy platforms and providers can take anywhere from a few months to as much as a year. With the capabilities of the FileMaker platform, you can gain access to the same customizable software features in a fraction of that time. When you partner with a team of FileMaker experts like the ones at Skeleton Key, you can expect a custom software solution in a matter of days or weeks, giving your team access to the tools they need to succeed today.

Take Advantage of FileMaker Pro

At Skeleton Key, our experts are here to help you explore the possibilities of a FileMaker solution built around your needs. Whether you’re already using a legacy platform that needs updating, or you’re considering a new solution built around your needs, contact us today and we’ll show you how the FileMaker Platform can help you achieve your larger business goals.