I have a friend, who as in-house developer moved from merely departmental to divisional in 2009, and this summer it is now central IT. For once, after many IT management turnovers, his supervisor is asking open comparative questions without merely making negative assumptions:
This IT supervisor wrote to him:
Thanks for sharing [James Wesolowski's, presentation ]. It was helpful.
I think the market/need for higher ed integrations and point solutions is here and will be here for the foreseeable future.
What are your thoughts on what differentiates FileMaker from other free tools like Java, .NET, Python, PHP, etc.? Both seem to assume or require knowledgeable IT staff on-prem.
The tech tools have variations on licensing, but the value in any case is added/created by people (not tools).
My friend's response:
Subject: "Selling" FileMaker Development
The disadvantageous differences, I initially saw were these:
- It's proprietary (company-dependent).
- It's not free.
- The number of people already trained in the platform is much smaller than those you mentioned.
There are, however, numerous advantageous differences to address all three of those differences.
For #1, I've seen platforms come and go and get bought-out and killed. The difference here is that the platform is ultimately owned by Apple, which isn't going anywhere any more than MicroSoft is. The platform has never lost total user-base, but rather has at least steadily grown year after year for over twenty years. Also, despite being proprietary to an Apple subsidiary, they support far more Windows customers than Macs. Since the platform company and Apple are heavy Open Source contributors, collaborators, and implementers; in [a highly unlikely] "worst-case" scenario, ditching the platform for them would most likely mean making the platform and Draco engine Open Source, as Apple has done with other technologies:
We were discussing earlier about database and coding platforms versions and standards drastically changing over time, and thus requiring enormous resources to maintain or migrate. This has never been so nearly a burdensome issue with the dozens of FileMaker applications we develop, maintain, and support, because upgrades almost always automatically implement for us all required schema, interface, and scripting changes from version to version. We have FileMaker solutions that have been in continual use for over twenty years and, in that same span of time, have watched whole coding, mainframe, database and even networking platforms come and go on this campus. I think it would be an interesting challenge to find software solutions on campus that have had that kind of staying power, especially while keeping technologically current.
And it's not merely staying-power. Over that entire time we've continued to multiply whole new solutions and features to existing solutions. Moreover, all this growth was accomplished without central campus support, and, for most of those years, even against ill-informed departmental IT manager imperatives to replace FileMaker with something more centrally recognized (MS Access, SQL Server, Oracle, etc.). I was even recruited to help in some migration efforts, but we never succeeded in fully-eliminating a single FileMaker solution [to a department's satisfaction]. (Until recently, after over 18 months and who-knows how much money and hundreds of hours of consultant and in-house work-hours, [some-big-software-company-with-ECM-and-other-solutions] seems to have completely eliminated the need for our EDITranscripts FileMaker solution—at the expense of losing a lot of existing functionality and the capacity to easily and independently fix, maintain, enhance, and integrate the solution.)
It's also worth noting that we are using a platform from a company that is very close to us (Santa Clara), and that we even have monthly user group meetings at their company headquarters
. Furthermore, if they knew our campus is using FileMaker, and didn't know that I'm already here, we would be solicited often by several local and nationwide consultants who would want to offer [our organization] support and development services:
I've been asked in person several times by both FBA and non-FBA partners if we wanted any help.
For #2. The FileMaker platform is not free, but it's a lot cheaper than our time. Furthermore, it's a lot freer for education than it is for all the other industries who find value in paying even more for licensing and software maintenance. I used to do all Open Source development (C, Perl, etc.), until I got hooked on how quickly and flexibly I could help people get solutions to their business needs and wants with no or minimal coding. To demonstrate this, see the attached FileMaker Pros Like Us cheatsheet. It was kind of an outline and take-home cheatsheet related to in-house user training I would offer. The front page shows the most commonly used navigation, viewing, windowing, finding, sorting, printing, importing, exporting, sharing, and sending features we never have to code or develop in any way (unless we want to refine or combine those features for automation), because all those features are standardly available on every kind of client. Not only do we not have to code any of those features, but we don't have to retrain users to use any of that built in functionality from in-house application to in-house application. In brief, every application we build comes with standard and easy to learn means to view, find, sort, import, export, navigate, print, share and send any combination of fields a user wants to work with.
The backside of the attached FileMaker Pros Like Us cheatsheet shows features that do normally require developer implementation, but still, coding requirements are non-existent or very minimal and accessible to even new developers. I might argue that any Excel power-user would qualify as a starting developer, and that basic use and development is often easier than advanced features in Excel. The fact that we have a number of citizen-developed solutions testifies to the ease and low-learning curve required to begin creating useful solutions. Some of those operational staff and manager developers I observed firsthand in Enrollment Services are these:
- [List of seven staff and managers]
There are a number of other successful citizen-developers in College of Education, [another college], and other departments on campus.
For #3, see #2. It's even faster to train a FileMaker user (with aptitude) to develop a complete solution than it is to ask coding developers to build whole equivalent solutions. In fact, I grant some of our users, with no coding experience (not even HTML), custom layout access so they can organize, format, and include any data they need, which keeps us from having to keep developing layouts for users who have constantly changing needs. None of these people would have been considered to directly contribute to data and operational solutions, otherwise.
For all the reasons above, I would argue the following:
- The FileMaker platform is the most powerful piece of software available on any of our users' desktops, tablets, or phones.
- The FileMaker platform is the most sustainable platform [here] ever.
- The FileMaker platform fulfills the "Agility Through Technology" segment of [2017 goals], both technically and literally, better than any other platform.
But, on this campus, that might just be me saying all that.
Agile Solutions for Windows, macOS, iOS, Web
Senior Systems Analyst & Programmer
University Workplace Innovation
His supervisor's response:
Thanks for the well thought-out response.
This will help prepare me for the anticipated "explanations" ahead, and get conversations back on track to how IT can add value to our campus customers.
... I'd like to talk more about FM strategically.
I think the future of IT and cloud does not preclude FM. I think it will need to fit a different support structure (like FM on Windows in Docker Container on AWS, rather than just FM on Windows).
Most positive IT manager response my friend ever received.
What do you think about my friend's response?
His supervisor's response?
Maybe I'll share something similar to my supervisor, including your feedback.