How one small business uses custom FileMaker applications

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How one small business uses custom FileMaker applications

FileMaker is currently promoting the way businesses can use its software to create custom applications, so BIT spoke to someone that has done just that.

Derek Rawson operates a Mac support business in Melbourne. He's a long-time FileMaker user, having started with version 2, and has developed several applications to help with the administration of both his and his clients’ businesses.

The first was a contacts database, and over time he created solutions for invoicing and debtor management, and also a database to record the details of his clients' computers.

The most recent addition tracks eBay sales and purchases. Because some of Rawson's clients use older computers, second-hand Macs are an important source of replacement parts. Excess stock is sold online and parts required for repairs and upgrades are purchased.

Is FileMaker development as easy as the company suggests? "You can do the basic stuff really easily," he says, and if one of the FileMaker templates is close to what you need - "they're all quite usable" - you can be up and running in less than an hour.

Where greater customisation is required, Rawson's advice is to get the basics working and then refine or extend the application over time. "One of the things I love about it is that you can have a customised functional system on Day 2."

His eBay application is an example of this approach. While the project began with a template, the application now bears very little resemblance to the original.

But sometimes it can be quite difficult to implement a particular process, and when you don't use the tools regularly it can be hard to remember certain techniques, he warns.

That's where the FileMaker community comes in. The online forums are a valuable resource, but you need to learn the language in order to understand the information that people have provided and to frame any questions in terms that will yield the answer you need.

Rawson does have an advantage in that one of his friends is a recognised FileMaker expert who can set him straight if he gets bogged down with a technical issue.

And he admits FileMaker development is not for everybody. "You do need a certain bent to get into it," he says, adding that he doubts most of his ‘creative’ clients would be interested in producing their own applications even if they had the aptitude.

In any case, FileMaker is not an inexpensive program. FileMaker Pro 14 costs $401, while FileMaker Pro 14 Advanced with its more advanced development and customisation tools is $670.

While there are plenty of cheap business applications around these days, Rawson has seen custom FileMaker apps that are "worth their weight in gold" because they add such value to the business by holding and processing all the information the business needs and generates, and then provide access to that information in an intuitive and user friendly way.

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