7 Replies Latest reply on Dec 31, 2014 4:02 PM by Mark_M

    Need help with a report layout!



      Need help with a report layout!


      I just want to start off by saying my experience with FileMaker is relatively limited.  I've been messing around with it, on my own, for about 8 months now and I have to say it has had its rough patches, but overall, it has gone pretty smoothly.

      Now, on to my issue.  Currently, we're in the process of moving from FileMaker 12 to FileMaker 13.  With that change, we want to cleanup our current layouts and get some fresh ideas on the table.  I'm working on our "final product," a report designed around this standard (all information has to be included, but it can be changed cosmetically):


      Our final product (or Home Assessment) varies with each home.  Some homes are in great shape, have minimal defects while others are riding the line of condemning. The current layout we're using is not dynamic, we are limited by space (fields are small) and our Reviewers have to use minimal wording to fit everything in.

      Our goal is to create a dynamic, flowing report that is easy to follow for both our Clients and in-house Reviewers, and provides enough field space for those homes that just have a ton of defects.  We're also looking to incorporate photos into the body of the report.

      As it stands right now, I'm creating the report on one layout, with just a Body (layout part) & footer, and creating larger fields that resize/shift if there is empty space within the Body.  I've successfully added Container fields that hide and shift if left empty/not used.  My current problem is the flow of the report, i.e. when a section has a ton of defects in it and a large portion of text fields used, I get fields that move to the next page that get clipped off, missing text or just not showing at all.  

      Should I consider breaking each section down into its own layout and then creating scripts to merge all of these layouts in a printable format?  As new as I am, I'm pretty lost as FileMaker does not make it easy to create your own Page Breaks within the Body (but it shows you were all of the page breaks occur).  I also have the goal of making each section that has a Title (i.e. Lots and Grounds) move onto the next page (i.e. Lots and Grounds, cont'd) if it is required.

      I'm open to ideas but keep in mind that I am relatively new.

        • 1. Re: Need help with a report layout!

          Sounds like you should consider a two table approach instead of one:


          Each "defect" would be a separate related record. If the defect is found during the inspection, you add a record to inspectionDetails to record it. If it is not found, you don't.

          You then set up a list view layout based on InspectionDetails but including fields from inspections to produce the final report PDF or hard copy. This method requires using Go to related records or a scripted find to pull up just the InspectionDetails records that are linked to a specific inspection record before you print or save as PDF.

          • 2. Re: Need help with a report layout!


            My initial thought is to think about philosophically what you want to do.  Is it simply recreating with slight updates what previously existed or moving to a whole new realm of data management.

            If the desire is to simply recreate the existing form, you can do that.  On the other hand if you want to expand capabilities that is a different road you would be traveling down.  Which path is chosen depends on various aspects of the project including, but not limited to:

            * Time Frame of completion? (Does this need to happen NOW or can your organization continue to use the existing system while a new model is created and tested?)

            * Resources - time, platforms, designs, subject matter expert availability, budget, ability for one or more designers to work on a new expanded system that might need to be designed from the ground up?

            * What is the cost/benefit analysis projections based on renewing the current system v. designing a new - and hopefully - more functional system.


            A new system might have some of the following characteristics to consider:

            * Can "Input" methodology differ from "Output" method.  In other words does the way that information goes into the system need to flow the same way that information comes out of the system?  The way that data goes in and the "output report" don't need to be the same.

            * Field personnel might be able to log into the system from remote site (laptop, tablet, etc?)

            * Field personnel could create new records or review/update existing records

            * Will field personnel logging directly into client software (FM) or would it be possible to provide them with a web interface using Web Direct.

            * Field personnel when creating a new record are presented with input options for functional areas Client & Contact, Grounds, Structure, Interior, Electrical, etc. - they complete one section and are returned to an options menu or have the ability to navigate to the next area.  Each "Functional" area input is then designed to best facilitate that areas data entry and any variable length comments needed.


            To answer the questions a functional systems analysis needs to be done from the viewpoint of this is how we work today and this is how we'd like to work in the future and this is the time/budget/resource requirements needed to get there.  From that standpoint do we: upgrade as is, upgrade with slight changes, hold upgrade and design a new system or come up with a hybrid plan that says we upgrade with only slight changes and then begin work on a replacement system with greatly expanded capabilities.

            Kind of reminds me when co-workers ask me "What computer should I buy?", my response is always "First we need to talk about what you want to do with it."


            • 3. Re: Need help with a report layout!

              a) Time Frame of completion: We're using the existing model while the new is being created.

              b) I've been given a deadline of around March, and the expert availability is limited.  No one in-house knows too much about FileMaker but we have a third-party service that can help us and hopefully coach a bit more of the more advanced aspects. We have 3 people working on our layouts, but I've been given the sole task of this project.

              c) Our current method is pretty straightforward and the layout looks plain.  A lot of complaints regarding it, both from clients and from our current review staff.

              As far as personnel goes, this is all in-house. We have a separate word document that we send our inspectors that they fill out on sight and send us via e-mail.  They also take their own pictures and send them in, where we condense and place them onto our databases. Inhouse personnel logs into the FileMaker client directly.

              We want to enhance the data input speed, while also making our hardcopies / PDFs look clean and flow well.  I am digging the idea of completing one section, return to a "Overview Menu" (Where they can navigate to Lots and Grounds or go all the way down to Final Comments).  

              Honestly, our current method is primitive and dates all the way back to FileMaker 5.  Nothing has changed, only the FileMaker client updates.  

              The input method does not need to match the output method, as long as it is easy for the staff to navigate through and make edits where necessary.  We don't want to slow down the current process, we want to speed it up and make it more clean looking and less clunky.

              The two table approach isn't bad either.  Would the checkboxes become an issue on that approach? Not all line items would be the same, as each one could be different (Like the Walks and Stoops/Steps might be marked as Acceptable, but the Patio could be marked as Not Present)



              • 4. Re: Need help with a report layout!


                Given the further information then, you probably want to look at a simplified upgrade to the current system based on the March deadline.

                Maybe think about a two model approach for the long term.  Short term, update and implement the existing model.  Long term, create a new system from scratch that allows for greatly increased functionality.  I could easily see a long term project taking 6-12 months to go through the fact gathering, system design, functional requirements, prototyping, testing, modification, testing, and deployment phases.

                The ability to envision long term functionality needs to be based on a solid understanding of what the system needs to do and how can FM be adapted to meet those needs.  Without executive level support any such endeavor can be doomed to failure based on lack of resources (budget, manpower, etc.).  It might be beneficial to gain an understanding of functionality that FM can bring to the table to make the system more modern, incorporate mobile computing options where the field personnel are inputting data directly, and a reviewed/edited/approval process by office staff.  As part of that process you might want to bring in a Systems Consultant to facilitate that understanding.   Maybe a 2-4 hour commitment for someone to come in (or video conference) and demonstrate how FM can better meet the needs of such a business model.  More a "please come in and show us some things about FM meeting the needs for mobile data gathering, review, output, and web integration (possibly) and less about fix this specific problem".

                Some things to think about:

                1.  Does your current "3rd" party have the expertise that might be needed to assist with such a project?  If so should they be our first choice or should we examine using others that may bring certain skills to the table.

                2.  What is the cost/benefit of such a project?  If field personnel are inputting data directly, there is a manpower savings from having to have someone re-key the information from the Word field report?  What would the impact be of a successful project in terms of the professional appearance and reputation of the company as viewed by our clients?

                3.  Do we develop the in-house talent to design, deploy and maintain such a system or to we pay someone to make it for us.  In my organization we are much happier having the in-house capabilities to maintain such solutions instead of having to bring someone else in every time we need to change something.  It makes us more flexible to changing conditions.



                • 5. Re: Need help with a report layout!

                  Thank you Mark and Philmod for helping me out.  I've sent all of this to upper management for them to consider.  Given that we have limited knowledge with FileMaker, this is starting to pan out into something that we are going to have the third party source "coach" us on.  We have set up an appointment with them and they do offer services for FileMaker.

                  Again, I appreciate you guys taking the time to bounce some ideas back at me.  I do have an idea of what I'd like to do with the system but again I'm very limited in knowledge.  (My idea is to have maybe prompts that pop up for each section, asking the four choices and based upon it being a Not Assessed or Defect, a series of questions and possibly container fields for photos to provide.)

                  We hire home inspectors across the country, whether they be independent or apart of a larger inspection group.  Getting them all on FileMaker Go would not be easy and infact, I imagine impossible. I've thrown the idea out there to get a field report on some kind format (whether an .xml file or whatever) and then just transfer everything over; however, that goes against our philosophy as we want our in-house staff to review everything with a critical eye, double checking the inspector's report and photos. This line of work has the potential for liability, so we have a system that pretty much triple double checks all reports before we even send them out.  Take, for example, a home had a cracked sidewalk that could be viewed as a trip hazard; the inspector took a picture of it, failed to report it and we end up not reporting about it. If a buyer were to trip over that, all parties become liable and it gets ugly.

                  • 6. Re: Need help with a report layout!

                    In the long run, you might consider a system where the inspectors fill out this data on an iPhone or iPad using FM GO and then they go to a place with decent WiFi and "synch" the data back to your main database. (A laptop could also be set up to do this--possibly using a run time FM Pro solution--though the synch would be a little different using a run time.)

                    That would save you a lot of labor hours getting the data into your database and also reduce the chance of data entry errors when transferring data from the Word doc and inserting pictures as you currently do.

                    SeedCode and 360Works both offer third party "synch" tools for exactly this purpose. (And I saw a demo by a SeedCode rep last year that is very similar to what you need to do here. They set up a system for one of their clients for an institution that finances construction projects. They had the need to dispatch inspectors to inspect and photographically document the progress on each job site in order to authorize the release of the next installment of financed funding to the general contractor.)

                    • 7. Re: Need help with a report layout!


                      Thanks for the additional info Zacherie it helps to get the juices churning.

                      When you say "home inspectors across the country, whether they be independent or apart of a larger inspection group" that leads me to think that you may have two primary situations where the external data is gathered for your system: Company employees and "contractors" (those hired for one-off jobs independently or someone employed by another company and you frequently deal with the company but not necessarily with the specific individual inspector.

                      Make this information clear to the 3rd party consultants and see what they say about the possibility of a web based front-end.  FM12 has Instant Web Publishing (IWP) and FM13 (as I understand it has Web Direct).  I'm making my first solution right now which includes a client side (File Maker Pro 12 Software) for back office users and FM12's IWP for use by outside users.  I'll be honest with saying I know nothing of FM13 Go, but a quick check indicates it might work only on IOS (Apple) devices.  That may be an issue for independent contractors.  A web interface to gather the inspection data from independent contractors platform independent as to whether they have FileMaker or not.

                      If this were to be viable way to go, remember the security aspects of how the system would function.  You want to think through these carefully especially when dealing with independent contracts that may only access the system once during a specific time-frame.  How will a User ID and Password be sent to the individual?  Can the account creation be automated?  Can accounts be set to function only during specific times and then "auto-expire" so by default access is removed?  Things like that.

                      Through a workflow process it will be pretty easy for the field inspector to input data and then "Flag" those records for review by office staff.  Currently in IWP I can't upload files via a web interface (I think) but the little checking I've done indicates there are plug-ins that will allow that functionality.  Again talk to  your consultants about it.

                      Best of luck.