11 Replies Latest reply on Jul 9, 2013 10:50 AM by bradleyboggs

    Is Filemaker the right choice?


      Hi All,


      First off, I apologize for the length of this post and thank any of you in advance who donate your time to reading it! I'm doing some research about different databases for the company I work for, and wanted to see if you all had any feedback for what I'm looking to do and whether or not FileMaker is a good choice...


      I realize this is definitely a biased audience, but I have faith that I'll get some honest feedback.


      First, a little background on our company:

      We manufacture custom promotional products with a lof of moving parts and no order is ever the same. We have about 65 employees but a good 45 of those are production staff (machine operators, assembly, etc.).


      Currently a lot of our process is the same as it was in the late 90's/early 2000's - based off of multiple spread sheets, word documents, and paper forms that are filled-in by hand. The owner has the "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality to the whole thing and has not been very open to getting a more advanced system to track things like incoming orders, scheduling and inventory. On the same token, we've been growing steadily and he's complaining about a lack of efficiency on all levels, and our order entry/processing always sticks out like a sore thumb to me.


      A little background on my skills:

      First, I'll be the first to point out that I'm by no means a developer. I have minor experience with very VERY old versions of access and putting together forms and formulas in CrystalReports to display that data. I also have some experience with Excel formulas/formatting. I've been using computers since I was 5 and am pretty tech-savvy, and have worked in tech support and IT in the past and am currently a Senior Graphic Designer/Pre-Production Supervisor that helps our IT contractor and in-house staff. I'm largely self taught and totally immerse myself in new topics/skills when I get into them and that mentality has served me quite well in the past, allowing me to work in a professional environment without really any formal college to speak of.


      Our Antiquated Process:

      Basically, our order entry is done manually. Purchase Orders are Faxed or Emailed as PDF's. From there, our production scheduler checks in the order and adds to a daily "PO Log" which lists the individual orders received that day, dollar amount for each, ordering client and total Daily PO dollars which is added to a Month-To-Date total for incoming PO's.


      From there, much of the same date has to be RE-ENTERED into another spreadsheet that is our production schedule. This is MANUALLY sorted by order ship date, and has to be repopulated even though much of the information was already entered into the PO Log Spreadsheet.


      If the order ship date is changed, you have to copy the 3 or 4 lines of spread sheet that list that order's details, Cut them, and "Insert Cut Cells" under the heading for the new ship date.


      As a side note, our inventory is kept totally manually on a spreadsheet, including mostly raw materials and a few finished products. Everytime something is pulled, the warehouse manager writes it down on a paper Pull Sheet by hand, which is brought to the Production Scheduler to adjust the inventory - only he's a busy guy and is consistently 2 weeks behind on those...which is stupid because a new physical inventory is done every two weeks which basically negates that completely, requiring a physical stock check frequently - especially on the few finished products we do not make ourselves which are always in demand.


      The Solution I'd Like to Put Together:

      Let me be the first to agree that this job would be better left for a qualified database developer. That said, I can't get permission to dedicate any funds to this because I don't have the support of the owner, so I need to build something and show it in action (I'm confident that I can get it approved once it's in a workable state).


      Also, my initial desires aren't incredible ambitious I don't feel (basically linked spreadsheets with a form front-end), so I think it's something I can put together in at least a rough state.


      Here's the process I see initially: Order Entry Form - Includes Item #, Date Received, Proposed Ship Date, Ordering Client and a few other fields for product/process specific info. This would all be in one table. From this, I would have two main reports that could be pulled: A production schedule report that sorts all orders by ship date and the pertinent fields shown currently on our production schedule. Also, a PO Log report that would list orders received on the given day, with only a few fields showing ordering company, proposed ship date, dollar amount for the day and dollar amount for the month.


      A linked table I would add would be for inventory. Initially I would have this only track the few pre-made items we sell which are in high-demand and the stock levels fluctuate pretty rapidly. From here, we'd have a standard inventory report that lists stock levels in-house, minus allocated stock and stock that is actually pulled. I would also have an ipad or computer in the warehouse for the warehouse manager to have a "pull sheet" form to which he would choose the item, enter how many he's pulling and the PO number their being pulled for, which would adjust the inventory in real-time as those were pulled. The "allocated" stock amount on inventory report would be culled from the items listed in the orders table, counting any orders with product number X, Y, or Z that haven't been pulled yet ( I would have a field in the inventory table listing inventory status - pulled or not pulled - which would be adjusted manually by hand OR by the "Pull Sheet" form which would be linked by way of PO number).


      Some of this is being done in Excel with multiple spreadsheets and pivot tables, but I'm trying to streamline the process, cut down on hand-written paper in the office and avoid the time wasted by entering orders in multiple spreadsheets even though the data entered is the same on many of them. I'm also trying to use technology in places like the warehouse which has until now been largely paper-based, and keep a more real-time view on the inventory for some of the faster moving products.


      If that worked out we'd build on it to track raw materials inventory and possibly Spec-Lists of orders, but that's a ways down the road if at all.


      One of my colleagues (the production scheduler) has previous experience with Access (more than I do) and I've played around with the database software in Open Office a bit, but I like that Filemaker is Cross-Platform, mobile and web capable right out of the box, and seemingly a bit simpler to setup while still being powerful. Also, there seems to be a good community for it which I'm sure will be helpful.


      To give you some idea of the volume of business we do, we process about 200 to 400 PO's a month. Userbase would likely be 4 to 8 individuals for actual data entry and 3 or 4 more that would just be Read Only for web reports via interal bookmarks in their browsers.


      Also, we DON'T need this to do accounting or act as a CRM...I want to keep this simple and streamlined for primary use in our Pre-Production and Production departments. Primary OS is Windows, with maybe a few ipads and a mac here and there.


      So, if you've made it this far, let her rip! Is FileMaker a good choice? Or would I be overcomplicating things?


      If we go this route, I'll be investing my own time into training myself up properly in how to use it, and at least at first I would be investing my own personal time into it as an experiment and learning opportunity.


      Thanks again!







        • 1. Re: Is Filemaker the right choice?

          Hello Bradley,


          FileMaker can easily handle all of your requirements. However, you will want to have a dedicated machine, preferably a server to host FileMaker Server. Especially with the need for iPad remote access.


          Does your warehouse have "reliable" wifi? If so, you can remote into the server hosted file. Make sure that you create layouts specific to the iPad. It will make the end user experience much nicer. If you do not have wifi in the warehouse, you will have to build a solution that can live on the iPad and be used offline. Then sync the changes to your main solution hosted on FileMaker Server when your warehouse manager gets back into an area with a reliable connection.


          If you would like to try out FileMaker Pro and FileMaker Server, there is a 30 day trial available for download on FileMaker's site. http://www.filemaker.com/products/filemaker.html is the product line information page and there are links for the trials available there.





          • 2. Re: Is Filemaker the right choice?

            Hello Bradley,


            I forgot to mention to look at the starter solutions included with a copy of FileMaker Pro. They will give you some good ideas and maybe a starting point for your "show the owner what the posibilies are". There are Purchase Order, Inventory, and Document Management solution examples avaible for you to use, tinker with and/ or take apart.




            • 3. Re: Is Filemaker the right choice?

              Hi Nicole,


              Thank you for your reply! I downloaded the trial and it definitely looks promising; I've been playing with the inventory solution all day (even before I posted). I've used it both on the ipad and on my own machine and I see the potential, especially when contemplating what I could do with custom user-specific or role-specific forms. Unfortunately I think I'll have to invest more time into making a preliminary solution for us to sell it.


              As for hosting, we do have a Windows Server. If that didn't work out for some reason though, I'm sure we could arrange a Mac mini or something to be a dedicated host.


              One question from our IT consultant was about reliability...Given our small userbase and that we're not going to be amassing millions of records overnight, is reliability a concern?

              • 4. Re: Is Filemaker the right choice?

                Hello Bradley,


                FileMaker can be extremely reliable. As a program it can handle up to an 8TB file with a maximum of 1 million tables per file and 64 quadrillion total records per table over life time of the file. (I am not saying I would recommend anything so gargantuan, but these are the upper limits. Your hardware would have to be pretty spectacular and your solution extremely optimized for it to run with any decent response time.)


                The reliability of the connection was what I was concerned with when it comes to iPad usage in the warehouse situation. If you have an intermittent connection to a live host, you can corrupt data or have processes stopped in mid cycle. Not a good place to be with important information. Think transactional when writing scripts, syncing, etc. All of your data/ actions are completed or none of them are completed per transaction. This way your data stays nice and clean.


                The reliability of your solution also depends on how well you create it. The network and systems that host it and the users.


                If you have a server box that is hit really hard by a lot of other sources (virtual servers, web, mail, sharepoint, or RDP, etc.) I would definitely recommend a dedicated server. FileMaker Server needs some knowledge about backups and especially NOT running any scanning software, Time Machine, incremental backups on the live files. FileMaker Server handles all of the backups of the live files well, if setup properly. FileMaker Server can handle up to 250 concurrent FileMaker Pro users, so your small user base will be no problem.


                If you are serious about creating solutions, I would highly recommend investing in FileMaker Pro Advanced. The additional developer tools available are worth the extra cost. Especially the data viewer and script debugger.


                The FileMaker Training Series is a good source for learning good practices. The tutorials, webinars and tech guides are also a great place to start. Ray Cologon's Bible (FileMaker 10, but still relevant), The Missing Manual Series by Susan Prosser and Stuart Gripman, and the Developer Reference by Bob Bowers, Scott Love, Steve Lane and Dawn Heady are great books on FileMaker.



                • 5. Re: Is Filemaker the right choice?


                  check your PM's

                  • 6. Re: Is Filemaker the right choice?

                    Yes FileMaker would be just fine for your needs and frankly is your only real choice if you must create something yourself before getting professionals involved. I have created many solutions as I suspect most developers have that are similar for what you need. I do think using a starter solution is best I would use this one: http://fmstartingpoint.com/ and even it show it to your boss to get an idea of what FileMaker is capable of. If you start with that you should be able to modify it and get started with FileMaker in no time. Good luck!



                    • 7. Re: Is Filemaker the right choice?

                      Thanks Lemmtech & Nicole! Both very helpful responses! I think I'm going to have a go at this - even if I fail it'll be a learning experience.


                      Nicole, I'll check out the resources you mentioned. And a HUGE Thanks! for the tip about scripting everything to be transactional - that's what I had in mind from the get-go but I didn't know what that was called in the database world - so now I know what to search for/study.


                      Thanks for the tip, Lemmtech! I'll download that and see how it's made. With that and the few solutions that came with the trial, I'm getting a lot of inspiration and I'm going to start dissecting them.


                      I'm under no dilusions that this will be a quick or easy process, but here's hoping it results in something useful!

                      • 8. Re: Is Filemaker the right choice?

                        I suggest you contact me directy so I can give you some advice before you get started. My contact information is here: http://www.lemmtech.com/about-us/contact-information

                        • 9. Re: Is Filemaker the right choice?

                          Hello Bradley,


                          I am glad I could be of help. If you need any advice as you start to delve deeper, everyone on TechNet is generally pleased to give recommendations and guidance. 


                          Welcome to the FileMaker world! Enjoy.



                          • 10. Re: Is Filemaker the right choice?

                            Hi Bradley


                            We've been in business since 2001 (and using FileMaker Pro eigth years before that) and we sell a FileMaker based ERP for the graphics arts industry, so, the answer to your original question – as others have mentioned – is a big YES.


                            However, my reply is more oriented to the scope and the approach you need to take in this project, in my opinion.


                            What I understand from your industry is that you guys have a lot of stuff in stock: pencils, watches, plates, hats, you name it. And then a customer calls and wants to buy some of your stuff with his logo printed on it.


                            This means you have a printing process (mostly done on silk screen but there can be another print systems) and a retail sales process, which bond together to offer a final product to your customer.


                            Now, in order to have a FileMaker solution that can run your entire company, you need to split the whole project in smaller pieces (remember the "divide and conquer" principle?). These main pieces would be:


                            1. The Administrative/Accounting process: Customers, contacts, invoicing, AR, vendors, inventory, PO's, Purchases, AP, banking and so on.
                            2. The sales process: Quotes, customers followup, salespeople activities, sales opportunities, etc. All a CRM can do.
                            3. The production process: job orders, prepress, printing, finishing, print proofs, waste material, print costs, etc.


                            Of course, each of these pieces can be divided in smaller pieces until you get a full tree of things that need to be done.


                            If you try to eat the whole cake in one bite you'll probably get choked, so to speak...


                            In my opinion, you should approach your project starting by point 1, which is the easiest because it's almost universal. Then go to point 2 and when you are peacefully running on those two, then get point three which is the funny (i.e. hardest) one.


                            To solve point 1 and 2 you can download a copy of FileMaker Starting Point and add the extra fields/functionality you may need. Once you are comfortable with this, then engage with production.


                            Regarding your boss, you just need to speak the same language than him: Money. Every business man talks and understands money. If you tell him about how wonderful and modern his company will be after investing in FileMaker you'll surely crash against a brick wall. If you put the things in terms of the cost of not having FileMaker in his company then you'll get open ears.


                            Try to find out hard data: how much money he's loosing on each area, waste materials, delayed supplies, angry customers, money, money, money. If you put things in money-speak then your project most probably will have a go.


                            These are my 2¢ of mexican pesos, hope you find this useful.



                            • 11. Re: Is Filemaker the right choice?

                              Hi Ibrahim,


                              My apologies for the delay in getting back to your post - didn't get alerted to it. Thanks for taking the time to reply!


                              In regards to most of our industry, you're correct that a lot of companies decorate stock items. Our company though, does custom manufacture about 90-95% of our products from scratch, so it becomes a bit more complicated process keeping track of all the custom elements.


                              For now, we aren't looking to invoice or include CRM into this project as those aren't the highest efficiency losses for us - we have existing Accounting software and CRM processes in place. I am keeping these in mind when I design the other pieces though so that I can (hopefully) add that functionality later down the road.


                              As pure happenstance, we needed a database to track something else (very simple), and I got am email discount special for FMProAdvanced in my email from FM at a great price, so my boss did give me the go ahead to get it. I've made a "module" for that first part, and another simple module to track another part of the process and so far it's going pretty well. I showed him the first simple module on my ipad and now he's totally sold. Once I can get our solution built, he's ready to roll out ipads in rugged cases for our production staff and we're looking at a lot of cool possibilities to streamline our workflow and inventory management in the factory. From there, we'll add scheduling and pre-production processing and then to Quoting, CRM and Accounting. Even though those are seemingly easier and are more universal, the more emergent need is in the factory. After all of the that other stuff is done, I'll probably work with a former colleague who is a PHP/SQL wizard to build a web interface so our customers and mobile sales people on the road can check inventory and order status from a web page.


                              I was signed up for some workshops with The Support Group in July but they got postponed to late August due to low attendance. Currently I've purchased the Filemaker Training Series and am working through that slowly as time permits and will see how far I get before the workshops start.


                              Thanks again everyone!