I Hate FileMaker

“I hate FileMaker!” Several years ago, these were the words I heard from a veteran developer. This is a true tale of corporate waste and lost money.

I was working in a large corporate IT environment. We had implemented a great FileMaker project management solution that had been in use for years to track all the important information associated with thousands of jobs.

An IT executive decided to replace this FileMaker solution with something that was considered more of an “enterprise solution”. To him this meant a web-based application with an industrial strength Microsoft SQL Server backend. (Sometimes I agree this might be necessary…but in this case it was not.) Call me cynical, but I do believe that some of these major decisions are made on the golf course by buddies that want to help each other’s companies and do not have the knowledge required to make a good technical decision.

Anyway, a new company was brought in with their project management solution and a team of developers that were tasked with customization, importing of data from the existing system, and implementation of the product including training, etc. I was interfacing directly with the new developers to assist with reproducing similar functionality as the original solution and to import the existing data when the developer threw up his hands and said “I hate FileMaker!” “Why?” I asked. “Because it does things we just can’t do.” was his answer. He was finding it very difficult to replicate functionality that is inherent to how FileMaker works as a client…functionality that puts power in the hands of users to find and work with data in ways that can take hundreds of hours to replicate in a pure web-based solution.

The new application was eventually implemented. Soon after, it was rejected by users as more difficult to use and less useful that the original FileMaker solution. After a few months, the company that made the product was bought out by another vendor and they killed the application. So in the interim of deciding what new direction was necessary, the FileMaker solution was reinstated.

I’d estimate up to $2.5 million dollars of money was thrown at this problem with the major result being an incredible waste and loss of productivity…all because FileMaker was not considered to be an “enterprise solution”. The lack of understanding of what FileMaker was and what problems it is good at solving caused this issue.

FileMaker solves many problems effectively and with elegance. Since FileMaker is a tool to build totally customized software, it all depends on the quality of the developers that build the solution. Although, FileMaker can handle more users, FileMaker excels in the workgroup space where there are often less than 250 users…meaning a smaller company or a department within a large corporation.

Knowing when to deploy FileMaker to solve a problem and take advantage of its capabilities is the key to winning. When it does fit, you’ll hear the end users and IT management say in unison “We LOVE FileMaker!”

Comments

  1. I hear you, Tim. The other reason I hear “I hate FileMaker” a lot is because a particular solution wasn’t built correctly. I’m humble enough to recognize that I am sometimes a contributor to those problems, especially in my younger and less experienced days; however, I certainly can’t take credit for most of the issues I’ve seen.

    FileMaker, like any other RAD environment, is a tool. It’s like a person whose house isn’t built correctly deciding that he hates hammers. It’s not the tool that most people hate; it’s what people do—or fail to do—with it.

  2. Others reasons that I have heard this from my customers are:

    1 – Typically the solutions are not well documented as they are were done on the fly (not really a FileMaker problem)

    2 – There is no version management, and many version control systems do not work well with FileMaker

    3 – FileMaker Server has unique requirements for the setup of the server

    4 – FileMaker Server does not virtualize well

    5 – FileMaker does not scale well

    6 – FileMaker is slow for remote users

    7 – Not Part of our “Standard”

    8 – We only use .Net

    9 – We can not cluster it for DR (Disaster Recovery)

    10 – FileMaker is not an Enterprise App

    The list goes on an on, essentially they will give you any excuse in the book. The key to getting them to accept this is to address their concerns on each item they give you why they “hate FileMaker”.

    Oh in terms of the 2.5 million spent, I have several clients that have blown way past that in trying replace FileMaker solutions.

    Daniel Harlow

    Harlow Technologies Inc.

  3. Love the comments and the article. I have been developing FileMaker solutions since 94, and Im not just saying this without dabbling into other systems, of which I have done so over several years. With that said I must say that FileMaker is an awesome product and will continue to be since they have strong backend support by Apple, the worlds largest company. The product will continue to be upgraded and improved on a regular basis. They listen to the developers feedback, and it shows.

    I recommend any Client or company thinking about using FileMaker to make sure that you get a real developer and not a hack, who just wants the billable hours, and decorates the system with bells and whistles. These guys run away from a real system since they really couldn’t grasp the overall structure, and schema. They are the real culprits of giving FMP a bad name in certain situations.

    It is a mid to low volume solution, and no it doesn’t cluster to increase performance as the database gets larger, nut archiving is a solution. I have had some issues remotely with our London and Japanese offices, my work around was to use virtual desktops using Aquanet. I predict they will release an Enterprise edition one day which will help with the 10 questions above, and when that happens lookout!

    Jaywill Sands
    Systems Developer
    NMA Group/Corbis

  4. Great article Tim.

    I’ve run into this with IT and clients often.

    With the clients, it’s usually one of two things that shaped their opinion.
    1. they hired some one “posing” as a FileMaker developer, and the db was never functional in the correct way. (using a lot of data keys, etc)

    2. Their exposure to FM was a friends Recipe, book, cd, etc, db (usually a poorly built flat file)

    I worked at and for Apple (main campus) as a FM developer. Even their IT group (IS&T) HATED FM. They didn’t understand it, had no background in it, and would not support it. This was as late as 2004, and yet it was used in just about every group there. The group I was in, had our own server rooms and at times would integrate with IS&T, and never with IS&T’s happy blessings! Their complaints besides no knowledge of it were sometimes sort of valid, meaning they were true but not show stoppers. (i.e. the pre .fp7 clear text, no external authentication)

    I have also worked for a couple of companies, that decided to bring in another product. One company went broke trying to get it up and running, and in the other case (Apple) they brought in Oracle folks and they too “hated filemaker,” because they could not replicate the functionality already in place using FM at anything close to reasonable costs, if at any cost!

    Just my two cents here!

  5. Yi Hsiao says:

    OMG, I am having the same problem for past 5 years. I built a filemaker database to manage our intensive research activities and huge number of results. it’s web published so the whole company can benefit from it. Everyone has ever use it looks it. Yet, I had very hard time to convince any senior leader to remotely understand what i am doing let alone support it. Recently our company hired a consulting company to solve knowledge management issue, almost a year into the project, I haven’t seen any reasonable solution yet.

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