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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.


How Does FileMaker Solve the Biggest Problems for Creative Teams?

Internal creative teams face diverse challenges for project, product and asset management. The same app often needs to serve as a project tracker, as well as a database for thousands of proprietary products and their associated rich media files. Because creative teams are well aware of how that app should function, the shortcomings of off-the-shelf databases and cloud solutions are all too apparent.

This is why larger companies (and agencies) often turn to their IT teams to build a custom app for them, as most teams are at least aware of the solutions landscape, and many have their own developers to support teams internally.

However, working on (and supporting) the evolution of a custom app (as opposed to an off-the-shelf software product) is a very different animal. IT managers need to stay more focused on implementation and management than on internal custom app development. IT specialists may not have the time or the flexibility, let alone the skill, to satisfy the complex and tailored needs of a marketing and digital creative team.

Developing an app requires flexibility, agility, and customization. Claris FileMaker remains one of the most well-known custom app building platforms on the market. It addresses the needs of creative groups that require a secure, robust, and most importantly, responsive database.

What Do Creative Teams Need from an Asset Management Database?

Digital marketing and communication teams work with a wide range of partners and audiences both outside and within the company. Internally, that same team often serves crucial income-generating sales, product, and e-commerce teams…all of which are demanding quality assets on an ongoing basis.

During any given day, internal communications and marketing teams interact with:

  • Multiple audiences (B2B and B2C)
  • E-commerce/product databases
  • Creative agencies
  • Production companies
  • Printing companies/fulfillment houses
  • Internal product and sales teams

Keep in mind (though we hardly need to remind internal marcom folks) that internal departments do not necessarily share the same location. Designers and creative directors also interface frequently with outside agencies, with those agencies both receiving and generating massive image and video files. Retail partners often have final approval over floor displays and graphics.

The cloud isn’t always the best solution for transferring and sharing resource-demanding files like high-res images and videos. You have no way of controlling the bandwidth speeds of offsite third parties, and those large files can be time-consuming to download.

As the team delivers different revisions of images and video, keeping them in one location undercuts the headaches of verifying which versions have been approved. A unified, searchable repository custom-built specifically for your workflow refines the entire resource management process.

creative team maximizing productivity

Why FileMaker?

Designers and creative directors will often tell us that they need something more robust than a searchable database. They also need a project management tool to ensure that everyone involved in the process turns in deliverables on time.

Creative teams often try to solve the problem of product definition and asset management with spreadsheets. Shared sheets do pose as a temporary solution. In the long term, however, reliance on spreadsheets leads to lost data, confusion, time-consuming manual updates, and reduced productivity.

FileMaker is a custom app building platform with endless integration opportunities for your individual data environment. We recommend FileMaker for creative teams for a few key reasons:

  1. Ties into different project management tools
  2. Easy to use
  3. Keeps records easily identifiable and organized
  4. Fast and easy to customize for your internal processes
  5. Manages thousands of individual pieces of creative (images, photos, etc.)
  6. Creates a paper trail of the workflow of your internal creative team
  7. Tracks the process that gets creative to deliverable status
  8. Offers features like project request forms

Because it easily syncs and follows project management flows, it enables everyone to follow the same schedule. As a tool, it can be used within individual groups or company-wide, giving you an inherently future-proof data solution.

Why Localized FileMaker Hardware Instead of a Cloud Solution?

Storing items locally may sound counterintuitive in the age of the cloud. Even as memory gets increasingly cheaper, the cost of cloud storage can be unpredictable when you’re storing resource hogs like full-res graphics and photos.

There’s also an IP issue to consider with local storage: You own both the app and the data. You manage every single creative asset in a database that sits on hardware to which you control access.

With your own app, you’ve got utterly proprietary, private, and localized assets. As a department, you also control the fate of those assets. If, in the future, your IT management changes your cloud infrastructure, this saves you the headache of migrating those massive files from several different cloud-based directories to yet another cloud structure.

There’s also the issue of security. Creative images often feature products that haven’t yet been released, or are managed by strict NDAs. A local server gives project managers decisive control over embargoed materials. The cloud offers plenty of security, but a localized resource may provide even more oversight for pieces of creative that have a restricted “for your eyes only” audience.

Why Work with a Third Party Instead of Going it On Your Own?

Expertise is always going to cut down on development time and cost. A professional FileMaker developer like Skeleton Key evolves into an available partner utterly familiar with your business environment and your departmental needs.

A creative team can also have additional control when working directly with a development firm. As the primary user group for the app, your team knows what it needs, and it might be inefficient to try to communicate those needs through an internal IT manager. In other words: When you communicate your needs directly to a firm whose main mission is to deliver a custom app, nothing gets lost in translation.

Lastly, your needs will change. Tools—all tools—will depreciate over time. Maybe a UX will need a refresh. In the tech world, a year or two could represent a decade of evolution. Having a partner in place who already understands your departmental needs and culture makes those refreshes more cost-effective, faster, and well-informed. A reputable developer will help you take expedient advantage of new tools that come into the market over time.

work with a FileMaker Expert

Working with an expert provides:

  • Additional flexibility and resource/cost management
  • Improved collaboration across teams
  • Tried-and-tested efficient development process
  • Actions and customization based on your individual use cases

Creative Teams Drive Technical Innovation

Designers and digital marketing professionals need IT solutions that are sophisticated but simple to use. As a highly customizable solution, FileMaker is a well-resourced platform that functions as data repository, searchable library, and project management tool for your team, no matter your audience or your campaign.

We have extensive experience in customizing FileMaker apps for a wide range of creative leaders in companies that share a wholesale and retail audience. Use the contact form below if you want to find out more!

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.

creative team working

A Creative Services Introduction to FileMaker

For teams in the creative services industry, staying flexible is critical to the successful design and deployment of projects. At the same time, having to perform repetitive tasks frequently interferes with tasks that require a more creative touch. Fortunately, the FileMaker Platform can help your organization overcome both of these challenges with customized software built around your team’s workflows.

In this post, we’ll explore some of the real-world inefficiencies the FileMaker Platform is designed to streamline, so you can transform how your creative team works at every level.

Project Management

If your team uses multiple software platforms to track and manage ongoing projects, it doesn’t take much to delay project timelines. From losing track of critical documents to having to switch between multiple applications and reenter the same status and tracking information multiple times, having disparate and disconnected software systems ultimately breeds inefficiency.

FileMaker allows you to consolidate disparate software programs and database systems into one centralized platform. At the same time, your team members can continue using the specialized tools and services they still need  without worrying about losing track of any aspect of their projects.

Ultimately, using a customized FileMaker solution to oversee your creative projects allows your organization to deliver more predictable timelines. You’ll also minimize project overhead by more efficiently utilizing project management resources, potentially allowing your team to manage more projects in less time.

Photo Management

Whether your organization relies on photographs to create advertisements or track assets, a FileMaker solution can help you manage those photos more efficiently and effectively. With powerful search capabilities and the ability to leverage Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, your team can quickly tag and find the images they need based on specific criteria. At the same time, FileMaker’s mobile platform allows everyone in your organization to access those same photos whenever  work takes them into the field on photo shoots or client site visits.

Video Production and Editing

A customized FileMaker solution can allow your team to track every second of every shot at every stage from production to post-production. By allowing you to track where you’re at during every stage of creation and editing, you can quickly identify any roadblocks or conflicts that might impact how you’re allocating talent or equipment. Since your entire team can work on a shared platform, FileMaker significantly minimizes the risk of miscommunication at every stage. And with robust reporting features, you can schedule automated project updates to keep all key stakeholders updated on timelines while you focus on more critical tasks.

Organizations in the creative services industry have even used the FileMaker Platform to develop compelling visual effects programs customized to their needs. Since visual effects often require processing vast amounts of data and the FileMaker Platform specializes in just that, a tailored program offers an ideal opportunity to streamline video production and post-production.

Advertising Design and Strategy

From tracking advertisement assets during development to finding the ideal locations to place those ads, FileMaker makes it easy to ensure you’re maximizing every client’s advertising budget. These capabilities allow your team to stay focused on the more creative aspects of designing attention-grabbing ads. At the same time, FileMaker’s data API capabilities can even allow you to track the ongoing success of advertisements, so you can further refine marketing strategies with real-time data.

Apparel and Fashion

For a clothing or fashion-oriented organization, FileMaker can manage all your mission-critical tasks, including:

  • Inventory tracking and management
  • Online and offline sales
  • Design and production

With FileMaker, your team will be able to track every step of your next project, thereby maximizing communication and collaboration while minimizing obstacles or bottlenecks. And with an intuitive user interface that can be crafted to match your unique workflow and perspective, your team members can quickly learn the intricacies of your solution so they can integrate it into their day-to-day tasks right away.

Web Design and SEO

Effective web design and the ability to be found by customers have become critical aspects of ensuring the ongoing success for businesses in every industry. FileMaker can simplify every aspect of web design and search engine optimization (SEO) for both your own internal operations and those of your clients. From tracking critical keywords to performing website audits and tracking design changes, the FileMaker platform makes it easy to ensure you’re maintaining a strong online presence in an increasingly digital world.

Partner with the Experts at Skeleton Key

Whether your team has hit a work rut or disparate software systems have overburdened your day-to-day operations, the FileMaker experts at Skeleton Key are here to help you overcome your barriers to success. We’ve already helped hundreds of organizations in every industry streamline inefficiencies with FileMaker, and we’re ready to help you find innovative solutions to your problems. Contact our team to get started today.