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eXcelisys

Part 3: Quotes, Estimates and Change Orders, Oh My! — Understanding Pricing & Billing Models

Two men thinking

Creating the perfect vision of your business and even how a software solution enhances that vision is the fun part of dreaming about growing a business. Brainstorming ideas and building a mental picture of how business could be done more efficiently, or eXpanded, really gets the juices flowing. Creativity is unleashed. Evaluating the costs associated with business development, however, tends to kill the creativity. This is particularly true of software development because it often feels like a luxury item rather than an integral part of the dream, even though it is one of the elements of success.

Money is such a stressor that it often keeps a business owner from jumping into the deep end of the pool to reach the potential that the business could become. Software development is even worse. It’s hard to evaluate something you don’t understand and even harder to know if you’re getting a good deal or hiring the right developer.

The first question is whether custom development and the associated costs are worth it. Without understanding the time and effort required to build an application, custom development prices may seem high compared to commercial application options. And frankly, they are. An off-the-shelf application has been developed with a general business model in mind so it doesn’t fit anyone eXactly, but is close enough for many. The creators of the application make back their investment through repeat sales so the cost per sale can potentially be fairly low. Customization may or may not be an option after the sale, so eXpect to adapt at least some business processes to match the features and workflow of a commercial application. That is the trade-off for a lower price tag.

Custom software is designed specifically for your business model and workflow. You are the only one with that product and all of the time and effort spent to create it is done on your behalf. The value of custom is that it handles all of the work requirements you decide should be included and is designed to make your business much more efficient. As the business grows, the custom app can be tweaked to accommodate that growth. That means less time doing manual procedures or using workarounds to meet your work requirements for years. The trade-off here is that it costs more up front to build the perfect app and it will take more time to get it up and running. The return on investment, however, can potentially be huge in reducing operating costs while allowing for business eXpansion as employees refocus their efforts in more productive directions. Because any licensing costs are usually dramatically less than with most commercial solutions, surprisingly, it can often be less eXpensive than a commercial option in just a few years.

Pricing

Before deciding which is the right direction for you, it is helpful to understand the pricing structures developers use and how they use them to try to charge a fair price for their services. Hopefully, by gaining a little insight about the different billing models the evaluation process will become clearer.
Most developers use one of three pricing scenarios — a fixed bid (quote), a fixed bid with change orders, or an estimate. All of these methods are based on developer estimates. None of them can guarantee how long the actual work will take and no developer can calculate the eXact amount of time a project will require. Therefore, all methods are formulated from a “best estimate” based on the known elements of the project.

A note about developer accuracy in estimating. If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. A novice developer will generally underestimate the amount of time needed to complete the project and will offer an estimate or quote based on the eXact amount of work that’s projected to be done (with no allowances for the unknowns). A seasoned developer will do a better job of estimating the necessary time, both in hours and in calendar days. Their estimate may be higher but that’s because their eXperience allows them to anticipate, and account for, roadblocks that could pop up and cause additional development time and money.

Once the project is under way, the developer who underestimates the required time may walk away when they get to the point of diminishing returns — especially if they hit a development snag and realize they can’t turn a profit finishing the project with all of the requirements. That usually translates to cutting corners and omitting things that would make the finished product perfect. Some will stand by their word and take a financial hit to finish the work. The eXperienced developer, however, knows that a successful project always takes a bit longer than anticipated and has considered this when compiling the estimate.

How Much Does It Cost

Quotes, Bids and Estimates

  • Quote: A quote is usually a fixed price that the developer gives to the client after going through a discovery phase to determine as many of the details of the project as possible. Generally, this employs a very rigid requirements document and a well-defined scope of work. Whether the development time required is more or less than the amount of time that price represents, it is what the client pays. Period. Developers who use quotes without change orders have to make a best guess about how much additional time will be required for the unknowns and inevitable changes and add that to the quote. You pay for that time, whether it is actually used or not.
  • Fixed bid with change orders: Most often a quote comes with allowances for “change orders.” In this model, the same process is used to arrive at the initial bid as with a quote. However, if the project scope changes and new functionality is added after the scope document is approved by the client, the developer adds an up-charge for each change. In this model, it is possible for the initial quoted project price to be reasonably low and the final price to be many times higher. Keep in mind it is rare for a project scope to remain the same from start to finish so cost eXpectations should be adjusted accordingly. The changes and additions are commonly called “feature creep.” They happen because in the process of reviewing your workflow to create an app that accurately reflects it, you will re-evaluate and modify some processes along the way and you’ll want the completed application to incorporate these changes.
  • Estimates: With this model, the developer and client go through a reasonable amount of discovery, which may be a little or a lot depending on the complexity of the project and the amount of known information. Based on the scope of the project determined in the discovery phase, the developer or project manager makes an accounting of the number and complexity of the features and gives a range of the eXpected hours it will take to build. This is not a hard and fast price but a best guess based on eXperience. The client is then billed for the actual amount of work time required. Many people are uncomfortable with what they view as an open-ended price, but they are generally presupposing that the project will go beyond the high end of the estimate. This is not necessarily the case, especially in the hands of a seasoned developer. With an estimate, the client pays for the actual amount of development time. The final cost may actually come in lower than the estimate.

Feature Creep

The danger in all billing methods is the previously mentioned feature creep. One of the great advantages of custom software development is that you often recognize potential improvements to your workflow as a result of defining it in detail for the developer. Being able to modify the application while it is in development can improve your overall business efficiency. You want to take advantage of that as long as the feature creep doesn’t overwhelm the development process. If left unchecked, it can easily cause the project scope to get out of control and/or eXceed the budget.

This is why an “open-ended” estimate feels like a black hole and a quote feels like a tidy box. Time management all depends on how modifications are handled. A strategy for dealing with modifications should be determined at the outset so that it is a benefit and not a hindrance. Feature creep can be easily controlled by focusing on the priorities first and saving bonus items for later in the development process. A good developer will help you identify and manage feature creep, ensuring that core priorities don’t fall to the wayside in favor of more eXciting new features. Your developer should categorize features in terms of needs vs. wants and tackle the needs right out of the gate to ensure they get done.

Rates

Two concepts are worth mentioning here. The first is the rates developers charge. Software development may feel like the Wild West but developers by and large tend to charge what they feel their skill is worth. Low-priced developers are often young (in the sense of time in developing their skill), inexperienced (with the technologies) or slow (haven’t mastered the techniques efficiently). The price seems right, but the work may be subpar or a lot of hours end up being billed because of slow development. More eXperienced and skilled developers are more thorough, quick to resolve development challenges and faster to produce the final product. They charge more per hour but bill fewer hours. The overall cost often works out about the same but can come with a noticeable difference in quality.

Balancing Price and QualityThe second concept is the three intertwined factors of any service: good, fast and cheap. The rule of thumb is that you can choose two of the three, but you can’t have all three. If the product is good and done fast it will be eXpensive. If it’s done fast and cheap it will not meet eXpectations. If it is good and cheap the developer has to spend time on other paying work to afford the time to make it good at a low price, which requires eXtra calendar time. You choose which two are the most important factors.

Billing

  • Fixed: The quote proposal defines both the scope of work and the final price, as well as the billing increments. Commonly, the agreement will be for some form of half down and half on delivery or payment in thirds with 100% paid before the finished app is delivered. Payment before delivery protects the developer from disgruntled clients refusing to pay for time and effort on their behalf.
  • Hourly: This usually means some method of hourly pricing based on the actual hours worked. This could be billed at a straight hourly rate or even by the day, week or month. It can be handled as a pre-pay retainer or invoiced at regular intervals during development. In this scenario, the developer may deliver several intermediate builds and a finished product when the work is complete. Because this is a pay-as-you-go arrangement, developers tend to feel more free to share the work as it unfolds because they have been compensated for their time along the way.

Now that we’ve established how to approach the prospect of custom software development with the right mind-set and eXpectations, it’s time to dig into proper planning. In the next installment, we will discuss the planning and organization of development, including how to define the scope of the project, gather the necessary information for your developer, and delegate responsibilities.


If you missed Part 2, find it here: What Should You Consider When Selecting a Development Partner? What Questions Might You Ask a Potential Developer?

Read Part 4 of 7: Coming soon — Making the Plan for Planning Your Plan of the Project Plan


To read more about eXcelisys’ software design, development and consulting services, click here.

The post Survival Guide: Find, Hire and Work with a Software Developer, Successfully! (Part 3 of 7) appeared first on eXcelisys.


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eXcelisys

Part 2: What Should You Consider When Selecting a Development Partner? What Questions Might You Ask a Potential Developer?

Talent-Signs.jpg

Figuring out how to choose a great developer can be bewildering without some insight about what to look for. In this segment of our seven-part series on choosing and working with a custom app developer, we will eXplore some tips on how to vet developer candidates.

 

Hiring a developer is about creating a working relationship. You want someone who gets your business and gets you. Having a good working relationship often determines the success or failure of a development project. Hire someone you are comfortable with who also has the skills necessary to make your project successful. Beyond the quality of the working relationship, there are several questions to ask that will help you determine if you have chosen the right developer.

The Interview

Interview Questions

Developers

Is the company an individual developer or is there a team of developers? If it’s an individual, do they have a backup plan if they get hit by the proverbial bus? Individuals can be great developers, but it’s good to have a plan B.

If there is a team, are the developers dedicated to that company or is there third-party outsourcing?

  • Dedicated developers, whether employees or dedicated subcontractors, have a track record with the company and presumably work well within the framework of that company’s development services. They are bound by the service model of the company you hire and should represent the values and ethics of that company well.
  • Outsourcing refers to services that are rendered outside of the company hired to do the work. Outsourcing can be used to bring in someone with specialized technical eXpertise in an area the company lacks, or to provide staffing they don’t have. This is not necessarily bad and, when used well, can benefit the client, but understand that it can complicate a project depending on the lines of communication and availability. Some companies manage these arrangements well, while others feel a little hodge-podge.

Bringing in an outside developer for technical eXpertise can improve the final product by getting the right technology or eXtended services for a solution rather than the hired developer providing a subpar workaround. Some eXamples of technical outsourcing include branding/logo design, server configuration or even eXtension/plug-in development.

The most common image of outsourced development is offshore developers halfway around the world who work on the cheap, have limited availability during regular business hours and often suffer from a language and/or cultural barrier. That may be the first thing that comes to mind, but there are many sources for outsourcing to provide development staff. An outsourced developer could be an independent contractor, a discount developer (like through eLance or Upwork), offshore or a partner development company.

Outsourcing to provide development staff tends to be hit-or-miss, depending on how the developers are chosen and how incentivized they are to prioritize you as their client. The worst scenario is discovering after the fact that the development company does not actually have their own developers and operates simply as a middle-man. In this case, the client may be at a serious disadvantage especially if there isn’t direct access or communication with the developer(s). It is good to know the arrangement ahead of time so informed decisions can be made.

The important idea here is, Is the assigned developer(s) skilled in all of the required technologies for the project or is there a provision for what they may lack? It isn’t always possible to know all of the moving parts or required technologies of a larger development project, but what is known should be accounted for.

Communication

The lines of communication are fundamentally important to the success of any development project. Developers use different models, so it’s important to know what you’re getting into. As a client, you may have direct access to your developer, communicate through a project manager, or via a ticket system.

  • Direct Access: With direct access you communicate directly with your developer(s) to collaborate on your project. There isn’t a middle-man who acts as a go-between, so delays in getting information back and forth should be minimized and understanding should be maximized.
  • Project Manager: Many projects involve a project manager. Often, this person acts as an intermediary for all or most communication; however, this leaves open the opportunity for misunderstandings. When there is a project manager overseeing progress, you probably still want to have direct access to your developer so you can eXplain your vision directly and the developer can ask questions as necessary for clarification.
  • Ticket System: Perhaps the least efficient method of communication is a ticket system. This is where the client enters all requests and questions through electronic messages in a formal structure. You have to be clear in your description of your request and hope the developer interprets it correctly because there generally won’t be much, if any, direct communication. It’s like playing the grade school game of telephone and hoping the message loops through intact. This is often used in larger development firms, companies who employ offshore developers and companies who don’t assign a specific developer to a project, but who assign tasks to developers on a first-come, first-served basis.

eXperience

How much eXperience does the developer have? Many people want the developer to have eXperience or background in their specific industry. In development terms that can be helpful, but is not a requirement. The developer will have to be educated in your specific business flow regardless of their familiarity with your industry, so this is usually a minor factor. Often, as you provide a broad summary of your goals and work flow, the developer may connect the concept to other projects that use similar processes even in completely different industries. From the developer perspective, the process is more important than the industry. The important question you want answered is how eXperienced are they in the processes and appropriate technologies for your project.

Certified Stamp

Certification

Is the developer certified and does that matter? Software development still has a little bit of a “Wild West” feel and many developers are self-taught. Certification lets you know they know their technology, but it doesn’t indicate their level of mastery or application of the technology. Certification may be a good first step in vetting a potential developer, but it is not the only consideration.

References

There are many people who market their ability as a developer, but it’s hard to tell if they are good at what they do. Beyond eXperience and certification, how do they perform as a developer? You are hiring someone and making a fair investment in them over time so consider it like hiring an employee and check their references. How were previous working relationships? Did they understand the business need? Did they deliver a quality product? Did they set appropriate time and budget eXpectations and revisit them as requirements evolved through the development cycle? Were they good communicators? All of these help you build a picture of the developer you are hiring.

Ownership

One thing people don’t often stop to consider is ownership of custom software. Who maintains ownership during the development process and who owns it (and has access to it) when it’s finished? In a work-for-hire arrangement, the client may or may not own the product during the development process and have full access to the guts of it when the project is finished. If it is a quoted contract, the developer usually owns the product until the last farthing is paid according to the contract. This means that if things go south during the development process and the relationship ends, the client has nothing to show for their investment.

Other times, the developer may maintain developer access even after the project is finished, which means you can access it as a user, but you cannot get into the guts if you want to make changes yourself or hire someone else to make modifications in the future. This is where a contract or service agreement is infinitely helpful in spelling out the details and removing any points of contention. The caution here is to know what you’re getting and when.

In addition to the agreement between the developer and client, there are other factors that may affect ownership depending on the technologies used to develop your app. These include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • U.S. Copyright law
  • State Work-For-Hire laws
  • Intellectual property rights
  • Licensed software End User License Agreement (EULA)
  • Open source technologies licensing agreements (EULA, creative-commons [CC], general public license [GPL])

You will want to be fully informed about how these might affect your freedom to use and distribute your app in the future. Having this discussion on the front end will help alleviate any frustrations or disappointments on the back end related to the ownership of the solution you have paid for.

The discussion on ownership and when ownership transfers from the developer to the client leads to the all important question about pricing. Since this tends to be the central focus of who to hire and is often the primary consideration, it warrants a more in-depth discussion in order to provide some transparency about how different pricing models work and how to evaluate them. That will be covered in depth in Part 3.

If you missed Part 1, you can access it here: Embracing the Development Mind-Set

Read Part 3 of 7: Coming soon — Quotes, Estimates and Change Orders, Oh My!  —  Understanding Pricing & Billing Models


To read more about eXcelisys’ software design, development and consulting services, click here.

The post Survival Guide: Find, Hire and Work with a Software Developer, Successfully! (Part 2 of 7) appeared first on eXcelisys.


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Part 1: Embracing the Development Mind-Set

Brain Photoillustration

Software development isn’t magic. There isn’t a black box where you can throw a bunch of ideas and requirements and out pops a smoothly working app that perfectly meets all of your business needs. Once you see that in print, it seems perfectly logical, but because the process is often hard to understand it feels like there is at least a little magic involved.

In this seven-part series, we’ll pull back the covers and eXpose what you should know when you start the hunt for a professional developer for that custom, fix, or upgrade software project. We’ll offer tips to help you select the right developer, discuss pricing models, things to consider when signing an engagement contract, and walk you through the development process from idea to deployment. In this introduction, we offer a brief fundamental overview of what you should understand before you dive into any software development project engagement.

Collaboration

Development is a partnership between the client and the developer. You bring the knowledge of your business, your workflow and your needs. The developer brings the technical knowledge and software eXpertise. Both are equally necessary for development success. The developer should have a breadth of eXperience with various processes and technologies that will give you options to make your solution function smoothly within your workflow. But until you eXplain your business, your developer won’t know the intricacies of what you need. Even if you have an eXisting system, your developer still needs to know how you currently use it and how you wish you could use it.

Knowledge

From the developer’s perspective, it takes more than just a pile of papers, eXcel spreadsheets or a database to look at to understand your business flow. You are intimately familiar with how you do your job, often to the point where you could do it in your sleep. How things should work seems obvious to you. Rarely, if ever, will your developer be able to intuit the things you do by nature. You will have to eXplain it in great detail to make it clearly understood. This means that some things will need to be eXplained multiple times before the picture becomes clear.

One strategy is to treat your developer like a new employee and teach your workflow step-by-step. You don’t have to teach all of the details of your entire business (unless the new application will manage the whole thing), but view the app like a job description and teach that job to your developer. That will make the functionality of the solution clear enough to represent the way you actually do business. It will also give your developer a foundation for making suggestions for improvement

Light-Bulb-Head.jpg

Perspective

When building a full database solution you will end up looking at your business processes with a fresh eye as they go under the microscope while trying to properly eXplain them to someone new. Using development as a springboard, it is common to find things you want to change as you go through your business details.
Software solutions reflect the business processes they represent. If those processes are inefficient, simply moving them from a paper representation to a digital representation will not make the underlying processes more streamlined or efficient. A custom app can make a process easier to manage, but will not fundamentally change it. Knowing this can put into perspective the effect the new software will have. Taking time to analyze eXisting processes with a focus on ways to improve them is a very important part of the development process.

As part of that process your developer can make suggestions for improvements in the efficiency of managing data based on their previous eXperience with data systems. It’s up to you to decide whether the suggestions that come from your collaboration make sense to incorporate.

eXpectations

Once the development process starts the eXpectations on the developer can be a bit high. There is somewhat of an art to software development. Commonly when a feature is described to a developer it seems straightforward and sounds conceptually easy. Then when the developer begins to create that feature within the framework of the application there are often nuances to the feature or its integration into the eXisting database structure that weren’t anticipated. In this case the development time can be longer than eXpected because implementation of the feature ends up being different and often more complex than planned. This can create frustration for the client because the feature seems so simple to eXplain or straightforward when done manually.

You might say, “We always … ” but the truth is, there’s probably at least one eXception to your rule. The eXceptions are easy to handle on paper or verbally, but every eXception has to be coded into the final working product. eXceptions are generally complex because they branch away from the established flow. Translating a manual process into an automated electronic process is most often like a duck on water. There is a lot of work and complexity under the surface to make the feature effortless to use. That takes time to figure out and then create. The duck on water is the magic.

Read Part 2 of 7: What Should You Consider When Selecting a Development Partner? What Questions Might You Ask a Potential Developer?

The post Survival Guide: Find, Hire and Work with a Software Developer, Successfully! (Part 1 of 7) appeared first on eXcelisys.


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Hierarchical JSON Viewer / Editor

By Andy Persons & Doug West

One of the standout new features of FileMaker Pro 16 is native support for the JSON data-interchange format. In addition to providing easy integration with a host of online services, it also provides developers with the tools to create robust hierarchical structures for use entirely within FileMaker. This hierarchical JSON viewer / editor file provides some tools for visualizing, manipulating, and leveraging JSON text.

Features

  • Automatically creates a representation of any JSON text as a hierarchical portal of records, where individual elements can be expanded and collapsed
  • Dynamically replicates changes to the hierarchical records in the JSON text, including add, edit, and delete actions
  • Highlights the corresponding JSON element when a record is selected

Applications

  • Easily visualize large JSON text, collapsing nodes to focus on just the relevant sections.
  • Manipulate JSON without needing to worry about the correct syntax
  • Convert JSON returned from a web service directly into usable Filemaker records, customizing it to your needs
  • Create and store hierarchical structures entirely in text (such as global variables), and display it as hierarchical records on the fly

How it Works

  • When JSON text is initially entered, the “JSON – Create Children” script retrieves the root keys using  JSONListKeys(), loops through the result, and creates the root records.
  • When an element is eXpanded, the same script creates its child records if they don’t eXist and eXpands the hierarchy.
  • When eXpand All is clicked, a similar script “JSON – Create All Descendants” loops through every element recursively and creates all descendants.
  • Values for each record are retrieved and set using JSONGetElement().
  • To keep things streamlined, JSON key paths are used for the parent-child keys.
  • Records are marked as arrays based on the presence of a left bracket (“[“) and formatted accordingly.
  • Since JSONFormatElements() imposes a standard format, elements have a predictable number of leading and trailing lines. These are recorded in lines_leading and lines_trailing, respectively. They are then used in the Highlight Element script to calculate which part of the JSON text should be highlighted when an element record is clicked.

Enjoy!

•• Download JSONViewer.fmp12 ••

screen shot filemaker pro hierarchical json viewer / editor


**This article is provided for free and as-is, use, enjoy, learn, and experiment at your own risk – but have fun! eXcelisys does not offer any free support or free assistance with any of the contents of this blog post. If you would like help or assistance, please consider retaining eXcelisys’ FileMaker Pro consulting & development services.

About eXcelisys, Inc.: Founded in 2001, eXcelisys (www.excelisys.com)is an FBA Platinum Partner and FileMaker Certified developer organization. eXcelisys specializes in designing, developing, customizing, supporting, consulting, migrating, upgrading, fixing, and integrating of database solutions for Desktop, Mobile, and Web applications. Our core technology competencies are FileMaker Pro, FileMaker Go, and MySQL for database frameworks, along with FileMaker WebDirect, WordPress, MySQL, PHP, CodeIgniter, PostgreSQL, Joomla, Drupal, Magento, CSS, HTML5, and Javascript for web sites and web applications. Aside from providing eXcellent customer service, our goals are to use these technologies to intuitively automate your organization’s data solution needs seamlessly and flawlessly across the web, mobile, and desktop platforms. Contact eXcelisys today for a free estimate and consultation about making your business more efficient through intuitive and effective software automation. 866-592-9235.

eXcelisys, Inc. is an independent entity and this web site/information/blog post has not been authorized, sponsored, or otherwise affiliated with FileMaker, Inc. FileMaker is a trademark of FileMaker, Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries.

The post [FMP Tip-n-Trick] Hierarchical JSON Viewer / Editor appeared first on eXcelisys.


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: FileMaker Developers Wanted :

We’re Looking For a Few Good FileMaker Developers

filemaker developers wanted

eXcelisys is eXpanding!

Demand has grown for our FileMaker Pro development and consulting services.

FT, PT, subcontractor positions available.


We are seeking motivated self–starters to join our expanding team of professional FileMaker Pro Developers

If you like setting your own hours, working from a hammock on the beach, or from a cabin overlooking a snow–capped mountain, or whatever idealistic work–from–home scenario you currently envision, eXcelisys might be the perfect fit for you.

In addition to retaining your independence and your right to work in shorts from your living room couch, you will become part of something bigger than yourself: a collective of like–minded, talented programmers, developers, project managers and business process gurus. You’ll find that, despite our autonomy and our unique individual talents, abilities and personality quirks, we share a common goal: to foster long–term technology partnerships with our clientele, and to provide a creative and positive environment for our team members that empowers each with the confidence to thrive and do his or her best.

We are looking for talented, experienced, charming, cunning, take–no–prisoners FileMaker Pro application developers and designers who can hit the ground running; who can take a project from concept to deployment; who can please every client with solutions that blow minds, win hearts and exceed expectations.

To find out more, check out the FileMaker Developers listing on the  opportunities page on our website.

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Government Approves Bio-Engineered Mosquitoes to Combat Disease

Roses are red.

Violets are blue.

Mosquitoes suck blood.

From me and from you.

There’s a groovy new way to bid them adieu.

no mosquitoes mosquitomate

eXcelisys would like to offer a huge “Hip, Hip, Hurrah!” to our client MosquitoMate for passing the EPA hurdle of approval. A few days ago, the U.S. government approved MosquitoMate’s ZAP Males® for use in 20 states.

New Assassin Mosquitoes

EPA approves method designed by MosquitoMate to combat disease

eXcelisys Assists with Developing FileMaker Pro Mosquito Tracker

eXcelisys began working with the Lexington, Kentucky-based MosquitoMate ( http://mosquitomate.com/ ) in September. The biotech startup uses the FileMaker Platform to track mosquito “drops” and larvae collection traps. During the past two months, eXcelisys has helped MosquitoMate streamline the user interface for its iPad system using FileMaker Go, which is used in the field. eXcelisys has also been working to help automate data analysis.

mosquitomate logoMosquitoMate technology involves no genetic modifications. To create the ZAP Males®, MosquitoMate breeds male mosquitoes (who don’t bite) and infects them with a naturally occurring insect bacterium called Wolbachia. Each mosquito species carries its own strain of Wolbachia. When the lab-reared ZAP Males® mate with wild females who carry a different strain of Wolbachia, the eggs don’t hatch and the population dwindles.

ZAP Males® can be used to reduce local populations of the Asian Tiger Mosquito—a significant pest that spreads deadly diseases like the Zika virus and Dengue fever. MosquitoMate’s “weaponized” mosquitoes have been tested in California, Kentucky and New York, where they reduced the biting mosquito populations by more than 80 percent.

eXcelisys VP and Project Manager Doug West was thrilled to see his client in the national news. As MosquitoMate continues to work toward taking a bite out of the mosquito population, eXcelisys will be there providing a software development salve. “We’re happy to be partnering with them in preparing for their growth after this milestone. Congrats.”

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Oyster Farm Nets Hefty Harvest by Linking FileMaker Pro and QuickBooks

FMP/QB Integration Spawns a Sea Change of Efficiency 

Oyster-Shucking.png
Located on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, Hama Hama is a fifth-generation timber and oyster farm (photo courtesy of Hama Hama).

Just as the soils of Napa Valley bestow the ideal wine-making grapes, the waters of Washington’s glacier-carved Hood Canal are idyllic for oyster farming. Here, the Hama Hama Co. raises its famous beach-cultured Hama Hama oysters and tumble-farmed Blue Pool oysters. These briny bivalve mollusks are enjoyed locally but also find their way to chefs in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. Hama Hama also offers doorstep delivery to households across the U.S.

To ensure its perishable product moves promptly from harvest to table, Hama Hama relies on FileMaker Pro for inventory and sales tracking. While this app efficiently manages the comings and goings of the oysters, it’s been a hassle on the accounting end. For years, the orders have been entered into FileMaker Pro by the sales team, then re-entered into QuickBooks by the accounting team. Fed up with the process, Hama Hama asked eXcelisys to integrate the two. “We’re a very small company so the duplication of effort is rough on us,” said Hama Hama Finance and Sustainability Director Tiffany Waters.

Waters reports that the integration is nearly complete. Hama Hama can now push “invoice data” from FileMaker Pro to QuickBooks, though there’s still some fine-tuning going on. “It’s a lot of work on the front end, but this will save us a ridiculous amount of time. The accounting clerk was spending one to two hours a day, three days a week, entering invoices.” When the integration project reaches completion Waters estimates that invoicing will take only a few minutes each day.

Family Business Thrives on Timberlands, Tide Flats

Before FileMaker Pro, QuickBooks and website ordering, Hama Hama had a humble beginning. “We’re a fifth-generation timber and oyster farm,” said Waters, noting the business set down roots in the late 1800s, then incorporated as the Hama Hama Logging Company in 1922. In the mid-1950s, the harvest lineup expanded to include oysters and clams from the Hood Canal.

Hama-Hama-Staff-Photo.png

Hama Hama is a small, family-owned business run by about 30 people. With such a small staff, it is imperative for Hama Hama to utilize efficiencies both on the oyster farm and in the office. To streamline operations, Hama Hama recently hired eXcelisys to intregrate its FileMaker Pro database with QuickBooks (photo courtesy of Hama Hama).

The company takes its name from the Hamma Hamma River, a name derived from the Twana language and rumored to translate roughly to “stinky stinky” (think salmon runs). Rising near Mount Washington, the Hamma Hamma glides down the mossy, eastern slopes of the Olympic Mountains. Reaching the base, the river dumps its gravelly, glacial-fed waters into the Hood Canal, creating a tidal flat that serves as the perfect coldwater incubator for oysters.

As for taste, the canal delivers. Like fine wine, oysters are geographic. As filter feeders, they eat by straining food particles from the water around them. Local aquatic conditions — like salinity, tidal flow and phytoplankton species — give oysters their own regional flavor idiosyncrasies. Hama Hama, therefore, works hard to protect its turf.

Hama Hama Oysters T-shirt

“We are unique as a company in that we have a lot of influence over our local environment,” said Waters, noting Hama Hama strives to strike a balance between its forestry and aquaculture ventures. “Everything we do in the uplands affects downriver. We log in sustainable ways. We don’t want to put in too much sediment and affect water quality because the oysters are actively feeding off the materials in the river.” Waters says the family jokes that their oysters are “fed by firs.”

FileMaker Pro / QuickBooks Linkup Delivers Integration Emancipation

In addition to focusing on environmental stewardship with its land and water, Hama Hama must also concentrate its efforts indoors on its business management system. To keep the operation flowing, Hama Hama uses QuickBooks — for accounting — and FileMaker Pro — for inventory/sales and to track the chain of custody for its shellfish. To meet regulations, Hama Hama must document data such as the location of origin, the water temperature where the shellfish are harvested, and so forth.

But the FileMaker/QuickBooks arrangement required duplicate data entry with order information added to each system separately. Seeking to streamline the process, Hama Hama sought integration eXpertise from eXcelisys. Simply put, Hama Hama needed both systems to talk to each other so the order information could be entered (once!) in FileMaker Pro and pushed to QuickBooks for invoicing.

 FileMaker QuickBooks Integration
FileMaker Pro and QuickBooks Integration

eXcelisys Senior FileMaker Developer Ken Moorhead spearheaded the project, which involved laying a pathway for moving data between the two apps. Moorhead said the first task was to build out the customer list. To do this, he needed to synchronize the systems so when an order was entered into FileMaker and sent to QuickBooks, QuickBooks would know which customer FileMaker Pro was talking about. QuickBooks gives each customer its own ID. To complete the process, Moorhead had to find each unique QuickBooks customer ID and link it to that customer in FileMaker Pro.

But that was only the start of the process. The integration involved linking up lots of fragile text strings so FileMaker Pro and QuickBooks could communicate. Consider an order for 3 dozen “trucker” sized Hama Hama oysters. The order is entered into the FileMaker Pro database, then pushed to QuickBooks. To build the invoice appropriately, QuickBooks needs to recognize the data from FileMaker Pro — the specific item purchased, the quantity, the size, and so forth.

With all of the products, sizes and packing options, there were a lot of text strings (data) to match between the two apps. In addition, Hama Hama rolls shipping prices into the cost per dozen, so QuickBooks needed to find the appropriate price list for each customer based on its location. “It is amazing,” said Waters, “the amount of detail that goes into this in making sure things are accurate — to ensure that when we enter something into the FileMaker Pro database it will get into QuickBooks.”

For Moorhead, the hunt-and-peck process seemed routine.

“Once you get the data points lined up to the customer’s workflow, it’s actually relatively easy. But integration is never cookie cutter. Every customer — every accountant on the planet — has a slightly different way of doing things. It’s always a slow process; there’s a lot of data to pick through.” ~ eXcelisys developer Ken Moorhead

Hidden Pearls

Over the course of the integration project, Waters has been pleased with eXcelisys. “Ken [Moorhead] is really great to work with,” said Waters, noting he responds quickly to queries and is always willing to get on the phone to clear up an issue efficiently instead of sending endless emails back and forth to pin down the specifics of a problem. “It’s great to work with a company that recognizes, ‘Hey, we’ve hit our limit with email. Let’s talk.’”

While anyone can enjoy Hama Hama oysters through overnight delivery, Waters urges people to visit the Olympic Peninsula and enjoy them freshly shucked at the Hama Hama Oyster Saloon at the company headquarters in Lilliwaup, Washington. “We are two hours from Seattle,” she said, noting the peninsula has plenty of hikes and rivers to explore. “There are a lot of amazing, beautiful things to see out here.”

Oysters on Table

Oyster Field
Top: The Hama Hama Oyster Saloon offers an oyster-heavy menu, allowing visitors to enjoy oysters just a few hundred yards from where they are harvested. Above: Hama Hama runs a farm store, which sells fresh oysters and clams and other local products like ice cream, cheese, grass-fed beef and chocolate (photos courtesy of Hama Hama).

To read about another eXcelisys solution benefitting food producers, click here.

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Custom FileMaker Pro App Pedals Bike Tour Company on a New Journey

Tour-Tracker takes the hammering out of managing two-wheeled travelers to a more coasting eXperience!

WomanTours Van

Dedicated to helping women grow into intrepid bike travelers, WomanTours has been spreading the joys of two-wheeled travel since 1994. The women-only bike tour company offers more than 50 cycling trips a year, from weeklong domestic romps to epic cross-country tours (think 58 days of pedal-pushing from sea to shining sea). International bike and barge tours are also popular.

The women come for community and camaraderie and because WomanTours makes bike travel so darn fun and easy. WomanTours is a full-service, hands-on provider, handling each rider’s luggage, lodging arrangements, meals and snacks, while also providing support and gear (SAG) vehicles, guides and mechanical assistance.

WomanTours Riders in Spain
WomanTours riders make their way along Spain’s roadways during a two-week inn tour.

Self-proclaimed “WomanTours groupie” Sue Rapp of Waukesha, Wisconsin, loves traveling with WomanTours because all she has to do is show up and ride. “The hardest decision you have to make every day is choosing which jersey to wear.” Rapp took her first trip in 2004. She had just beaten breast cancer and wanted to prove to herself that she was well, so she signed up for an 8-week tour. She didn’t even own a bike. Since then, Rapp has taken more than a dozen trips with WomanTours, including one that had her pedaling over the Andes Mountains.

“WomanTours inspires you to push beyond what you think you can do,” said Rapp. “They supply the support service around women to make sure they achieve their goals and will work overtime to make sure you have a wonderful time.”

 Jackie on Mount Kilimanjaro
Jackie on the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro

WomanTours owner Jackie Marchand began cycling during her college years before she even knew that cycling was a thing. “I bought a bike and started pedaling around, going up roads to see where they would take me. I had no idea anyone else did that.” After earning her MBA, Marchand spent a decade at Terry Bicycles, an East Coast manufacturer of female-tailored bikes. She worked with WomanTours on joint marketing projects, took some trips with the tour company and purchased it in 2004 when the founder retired.

To ensure each trip unfolds smoothly, WomanTours relies on a custom FileMaker Pro application built by eXcelisys. The Tour-Tracker enables WomanTours to manage customer data and relationships; track registrations and payments; allocate resources like support vehicles and rental bikes; assign tour leaders; organize lodging arrangements, restaurant reservations, vendor information and trip itineraries; and manage pre-trip packet mailings.

When Marchand took over, she inherited an eXisting FileMaker Pro custom application that came via a subscription service. Almost immediately, she saw opportunities for improvement. Marchand understood FileMaker Pro — she had taken classes and utilized an intricate FileMaker Pro app at Terry. She tried to make the existing solution work for her but struggled getting the reports she needed. Seeing firsthand the limitations of a subscription service, Marchand opted to pursue building her own custom FileMaker Pro app and hired eXcelisys.

For eXcelisys developer Laura Vie, digging into WomanTours’ FileMaker Pro application was a complete joy ride. As an avid cyclist herself and secretary of the Missouri Bicycle Federation, Vie was excited to work on the project. Vie had pedaled her way through many organized rides and driven SAG several times, so she felt a direct link to the project.

Vie knew from personal eXperience that out on the open road — especially in remote areas — you don’t want to come up short of tools, spare tubes, food and water, or a place to rest your weary head at night. Vie approached the app development as if she was coordinating her own far-flung adventure. In her mind’s eye, she could see the planning and eXecution of an epic ride unfold before her as she laid out the modules, step by step.

Like the Tour de France, FileMaker Pro app building is conquered one stage at a time. For Vie, the road to victory unfolded like this:

Stage 1: Dashboard Development

After noodling around the old application, Vie began an epic redesign. The original FileMaker Pro solution lacked branding and effective navigation. Instead of simple keywords, it utilized color-coded square buttons with abbreviations to navigate around different layouts, making it difficult for users to sort through the details. Vie created a cleaner, well-branded dashboard with clear-cut navigation tabs to ensure ease of use.

Welcome Screen of Old App
Welcome screen of old app

A significant shortcoming of the old solution was the lack of company resource management to ensure tours were properly equipped. “I started thinking about workflow and what information they need to run the tours,” said Vie, “so I added a preferences panel so WomanTours could manage all of its tour assets. The old FileMaker Pro solution tracked registration activity but offered no means to keep track of all of the support elements necessary for a smoothly functioning tour.”

New FileMaker Pro App Screen Dashboard
New tour-tracker dashboard

In the preferences layout, added to the new Tour-Tracker app, WomanTours can track the behind-the-scenes elements that make tour support appear seamless to the riders. Marchand can manage assets like the bike rental fleet, the tour vans and staff.

When planning and scheduling tours, Marchand needs to know what resources are available. Within the preferences area, every resource with its current status can be quickly updated so nothing is double-booked or scheduled when unavailable. Bikes and vans can be pulled out of service for maintenance and repairs. Each tour guide’s availability can be actively managed, as well as their applicable credentials, ensuring they keep matters like their first aid certifications up to date.

Stage 2: Planning a Tour de Fun

Having taken bike trips herself, Vie knew that the success was in the details so she added a “tour” panel that allows WomanTours to construct new trips and manage all of the details of each trip (like vendors and lodging). When a new trip is built, WomanTours staff can use the Tour-Tracker to add maps, course descriptions, terrain details and arrival and departure information for the tour.

Since WomanTours has a lot of repeat customers, it’s imperative that new trips are added to the roster each year. The tour panel helps simplify this process. Some trips — like the 3,100-mile Southern Tier ride from San Diego to St. Augustine, Florida — are so popular they are repeated frequently. Because the trip information is captured in the Tour-Tracker solution, it’s easy to duplicate past trips or tweak them after receiving feedback from participants.

FileMaker Pro App Tour Planning Screen

Stage 3: Capturing Reservations / Registrations

Having been involved with MO Bike Federation rides, Vie understood the registration details necessary for a successful trip and added a comprehensive registration panel where WomanTours staff can view the details of each person’s reservation. On the administrative end, rider preferences and payment information are captured here.

Old App Registration Screen

Registration screen from the original app

As for the actual tour, the information helps with trip planning. Guides can see if a participant will be bringing her own bike or renting one from WomanTours. Room assignment preferences are noted here, as are dietary and medical needs. Knowing the dietary restrictions of each participant is important as staffers work to prepare high-calorie / high-fuel meals to keep the riders going. Some trips include restaurant meals, but often, when traveling through remote areas, meals are cooked in a traveling kitchen by a tour leader or chef, who needs access to each rider’s food allergies and preferences.

Redesigned Registration Screen in FileMaker ProRegistration screen from redesigned app

Stage 4: Hitting the Road

Each tour leader is given a roster and manifest that give her a snapshot of the riders on her tour. The ride roster has the important contact information for every rider to make sure everyone is accounted for throughout the journey. The ride manifest includes information about health issues, food preferences, room assignments, date of birth and an emergency contact should the need arise.

Prior to each trip, registered participants receive pre-trip packets with a supply list and a training guide to help them prepare for the miles ahead. This is an invaluable resource for seasoned riders and newbies alike. The ride roster makes these mailings easy. “The office is unbelievable,” said Rapp. “They make sure everyone is well-prepared coming into the trip.”

Stage 5: Keeping them Coming

The contact panel is another important hub in the WomanTours Tour-Tracker application. In the “notes” section, WomanTours can track guest interactions so tour leaders can stay up to speed on the riders they serve. “They come back year after year,” said Marchand. “We need to know what’s going on in their lives. We are a personalized business. They expect us to remember that they are getting over an injury, or that their husband had cancer last year.”

Contact Management Screen

The contact management system also helps with targeted promotions. If a woman inquires about trips to Albania, it can be added to her contact information so she can be notified should a trip to Albania arise. (Yes, this is on the WomanTours docket for 2019).

Stage 6: Freewheeling into the Future

Marchand has been pleased with the performance of her eXcelisys-built FileMaker Pro app, which handles all of the trip minutiae so the tour guides can focus on taking care of the guests. When riders feel overwhelmed by the miles ahead, Marchand reminds them that all they have to do is ride — WomanTours will take care of everything else so they can expend all of their energy on the road. “You can ride 50 miles in a day if you don’t have to do anything else.”

These days, Marchand spends a lot of her time planning new trips. She doesn’t get out on the road with guests as often as she’d like, but when she does, she’s reminded of the people on the front end that the backend Tour-Tracker database application serves. What she loves most about WomanTours is “watching the growth in our guests. Even on a four-day tour, they change from the first ride to the last picnic. They are so much more self-confident and empowered. They come off the bike just beaming.”

WomanTours Group Shot

To read about another eXcelisys solution benefitting the recreational services industry, click here to view: Happy Camping with FileMaker Pro.

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Custom FileMaker Go iPad App Helps FMS Health & Safety Identify Dysfunctional Movement to Reduce Injuries and Workers’ Compensation Costs

Mike Contreras would like to teach the world to move. Fluidly. Adeptly. With no hitches. No pain. “Our research — and the research out there — shows that if you can improve how somebody moves, you can improve everything about the quality of their life.” Thanks to a custom FileMaker Go iPad App built by eXcelisys, Contreras’s data now moves fluidly and adeptly too.

Workers Lifting Items in Factory
 

To create a culture of movement that helps people move better, reduces the potential of injury, and enables businesses to realize the full potential of their workforce ~ FMS Health & Safety Mission Statement

 

 

A Battalion Chief with the Orange County Fire Authority and founder of FMS Health & Safety, Contreras began exploring the intersection of health and movement in 2006 when he took charge of the Fire Authority’s wellness and fitness program. As Contreras worked with Fire Academy recruits and their workers’ compensation claims, he wondered if there was a way to predict — and thus prevent — future injury.

Functional Movement Screen Visual

 

 

 

Contreras’ investigation led him to the Functional Movement Screen. Developed by physical therapist Gray Cook and athletic trainer Lee Burton, the Functional Movement Screen (FMS) is a popular assessment tool used by trainers to identify risk factors for injury. FMS first took off as a screening tool for athletes. It’s used at the NFL and NHL combines, said Contreras. “The thought was, before we take them out full steam ahead, let’s see if there are limitations and fix them. Then we can go play hard.”

FMS utilizes seven movement screens that test the biomechanics of the hips, core, shoulders, spine, knees and ankles. Using the tests, a screener can identify dysfunctional movement patterns, weaknesses and asymmetries so corrective exercises can be prescribed to restore functional movement, thus decreasing the risk of musculoskeletal injury.

After Contreras instituted FMS at the firehouse, injury rates dipped and workers’ compensation claims decreased. The success of the FMS program put a fire in his belly and in December 2015, Contreras founded FMS Health & Safety to bring functional movement to the masses.

Health & Safety Word Cloud

Law and Order

Initially, FMS Health & Safety targeted tactical athletes (like firefighters, police and the military) as well as other industries (like manufacturers and utility companies) who sought to minimize work-related injuries to reduce workers’ compensation costs. Later, FMS Health & Safety took on corporate clients interested in employee wellness. “Our program is for anybody who wants to improve the movement and, ultimately, the capabilities and capacity of their workers,” said Contreras.

Medics carry worker on stretcher

 

In the early days, FMS Health & Safety screeners used paper scorecards to collect test data. Afterward, they keyed the results into Excel. “As we took on more clients, this got to be problematic,” said Contreras. “A spreadsheet is great for one client, but one client with 3,000 employees in 70 locations, it starts to be a challenge.” Contreras also began to worry that the paper data was not secure and could be lost in transit before it was collated in Excel.

Contreras also ran into problems with accessibility and usability. “Data is only good if you can control it and use it,” said Contreras, noting he needs efficient data analysis capabilities to put together appropriate post-screen training and education programs for clients. In addition, the paperwork piled up. Literally. Because FMS Health & Safety holds client records for five years, Contreras had to rent a storage locker to house the paper overflow.

As the drawbacks to this paper-driven, spreadsheet system mounted, Contreras decided to pursue other options.

Pain Relieved with an eXercise

FMS Health & Safety decided to explore the idea of a custom database application and attended an Idea to iPad seminar hosted by Apple and FileMaker, Inc. Contreras was hooked up with a FileMaker Pro developer and started down the path for a custom database solution. “I was sold on the concept,” said Contreras.

 Worker holds iPad

 

 

Unfortunately Contreras became frustrated with the project and shelved it for nine months. But the business kept growing and other business opportunities arose, such as licensing his screening system. “I realized, I can’t license a pencil and a piece of paper, so I circled back around.” Contreras contacted FileMaker, Inc., again and asked for a referral for another FileMaker Pro developer. Soon after, FileMaker connected Contreras with eXcelisys and eXcelisys’ VP/Project Manager Doug West took over.

“Doug is phenomenal,” said Contreras. “He took the time to understand the complete FileMaker Go iPad App — the A to Z of my plan and my needs and how this database was going to fit into my whole operation. I wouldn’t be using FileMaker Pro if it wasn’t for Doug.”

 FileMaker Cloud Product Diagram
 

The FMS Health & Safety database is hosted in the FileMaker Cloud. iPads connect and sync to get the latest information. This also shares the data with those people who have been screened. Using a desktop computer, they can access their data, along with reminders about the corrective exercises assigned to them.

To be useful, the data had to go both directions. The iPads in the field needed to be able to pull down data from the hosted file, as well as send information back to it. Doug developed a custom synchronization routine to keep the data up-to-date between the FileMaker Cloud database and the offline copies used for data collection in FileMaker Go on the iPads. “It’s a fully automated, one-click process for exchanging data with the server,” said Doug. This was a good option for Contreras because his company doesn’t have an IT department to maintain a local server so a hands-off, cloud-based hosting option was ideal.

In addition, the FileMaker Go database solution lacked branding, so Doug added the FMS Health & Safety corporate colors and logo and stylized the FileMaker Go iPad App interface so it was more consistent with the company’s corporate image.

 FMS custom branded screen with FileMaker Go on iPad
 

Contreras likes the simplicity and ease with which the database can be utilized. “We don’t build rockets here. It’s pretty simple and the interface makes it simple.”

 Mobility Screening App on iPad running FIleMaker Go
 

FMS Health & Safety uses the mobility screening data it collects to identify where employees have limitations in their movement so corrective exercises can be implemented.

Doug also saw an opportunity to add back-office capabilities and turned the solution into more than a data collection tool. The FileMaker Go iPad App system now handles invoicing. Previously, clients used a sign-in sheet at the screening site and Contreras had to reconcile the names one by one.

Functional for the Future

Contreras is pleased with the final outcome of his custom FileMaker Go/Pro database solution and the efficiency the iPads add to the screening process. He says the iPads have cut data-entry man hours by 98 percent and he’s relieved to know the data is safe and secure. “It allows us to focus on the things we need to focus on instead of punching endless numbers into a spreadsheet.”

 Workers discuss screening test on FileMaker Go iPad App

 

And what Contreras wants to focus on is helping people. Contreras sees FMS Health & Safety as an extension of his firefighter duty to help people in distress. While many clients hire FMS Health & Safety hoping to reduce lost days and workers’ compensation claims, Contreras remains committed to the employees. “We’re doing it for the workers,” he said. “I could retire tomorrow with a pension and be fine, but truly, I really look at, ‘Do you know how many lives we could change if we could teach people how to care for themselves?’ ”

For Contreras, caring for oneself involves maintaining functional mobility. “I’ve seen it before — where the inability to squat or go to the bathroom becomes a death sentence. You fall, go to a care home, get an infection and die. Maybe that doesn’t have to be the outcome.”


To read about another eXcelisys solution that benefits the healthcare industry, click here.

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Hierarchical Portal Filtering Incorporating Drag-n-Drop Technique

By Andy Persons

This is part three of a three-part series on hierarchical portals in FileMaker Pro. You can find part one here and part two hereDemonstrating how to provide drag-and-drop rearranging and arbitrary sorting of hierarchical items.

Standard Interface

A common request when implementing hierarchical portal filtering is the ability to drag an item exactly where you want it to go. If you want it inside another element, just drag it on top. If you want it between two elements, just drag it in between them.

It’s a standard interface element in other areas, such as the Finder in MacOS, Explorer in Windows, and on some websites. However, the intuitive simplicity conceals quite a bit of complexity.

  • It needs to be able to clearly indicate when an item will be dropped “inside” another and when it will be “inserted” between two items.
  • It needs to elegantly handle the edge case when a user drags an item between the last child of parent and the parent’s “sibling”. Does it become the last child of that parent or the next sibling of the parent?
  • It needs to maintain the hierarchical structure at all times while providing arbitrary sort order.

Concealed Complexity

Here’s the overview:

  • This technique uses the drag-and-drop method demonstrated in this file, along with drop-target CSS to provide the visual indicators.
  • Each portal row has three container fields as drop targets. The top field will sort the dragged item above it (indicated by a line on its top border) and the bottom one will sort it below it (indicated by a line on its bottom border). The third field will make the dragged item a child of that record. Its drop target CSS is set to change the entire background color.
  • Sorting is accomplished by loading a dictionary of each related record’s id and sort number into a global variable at record load. The sort_path field uses this to calculate the sort number of each ancestor record into a single decimal number. To maintain the correct hierarchical sorting, the sort is padded with zeroes at the beginning and end. If the limits of four integer and six decimal digits are exceeded, it will automatically re-serialize the siblings.

These features could also be combined with the sorting from Part 2, if desired.

Enjoy!

•• HierarchyRevisited part 3.fmp12 ••

screen shot filemaker pro hierarchical portal filtering Part3


**This article is provided for free and as-is, use, enjoy, learn, and experiment at your own risk – but have fun! eXcelisys does not offer any free support or free assistance with any of the contents of this blog post. If you would like help or assistance, please consider retaining eXcelisys’ FileMaker Pro consulting & development services.

About eXcelisys, Inc.: Founded in 2001, eXcelisys (www.excelisys.com)is an FBA Platinum Partner and FileMaker Certified developer organization. eXcelisys specializes in designing, developing, customizing, supporting, consulting, migrating, upgrading, fixing, and integrating of database solutions for Desktop, Mobile, and Web applications. Our core technology competencies are FileMaker Pro, FileMaker Go, and MySQL for database frameworks, along with FileMaker WebDirect, WordPress, MySQL, PHP, CodeIgniter, PostgreSQL, Joomla, Drupal, Magento, CSS, HTML5, and Javascript for web sites and web applications. Aside from providing eXcellent customer service, our goals are to use these technologies to intuitively automate your organization’s data solution needs seamlessly and flawlessly across the web, mobile, and desktop platforms. Contact eXcelisys today for a free estimate and consultation about making your business more efficient through intuitive and effective software automation. 866-592-9235.

eXcelisys, Inc. is an independent entity and this web site/information/blog post has not been authorized, sponsored, or otherwise affiliated with FileMaker, Inc. FileMaker is a trademark of FileMaker, Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries.

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Ziptastic Revisited

By: Doug West

**Requires FileMaker Pro 16

Lookup the city and state for any ZIP Code quickly and easily using JSON data from the Ziptastic web service API with FileMaker Pro 16.

Ziptastic is a simple web service for accessing geolocation data associated with postal codes. The API provided at getziptastic.com supports postal codes in 70 countries. By sending a US-based ZIP Code in a URL, we can quickly and easily get the associated city, county, and state. This service replaces the hassle of creating and updating an offline reference for postal codes.

We first provided the Ziptastic tip file for this web service roughly four years ago as a demonstration of the Insert From URL script step that was introduced in FileMaker Pro 12. Enhancements in FileMaker Pro 16 now allow us to simplify this process even more. Let’s take a look at the fundamental differences:

OLD Way (FileMaker Pro 12+)

  • Insert From URL script step returns JSON results to a global field
  • Separate script is called to parse field values out of the JSON data object

NEW Way (FileMaker Pro 16+)

  • Insert From URL script step returns JSON results to a global variable
  • JSONGetElement function is called to parse field values out of the JSON data object

Net Result
We have eliminated the script for the JSON parsing and the global field we were using to store the response from the Ziptastic API. Adding this feature to a solution now requires only one script and no additional fields. The script can be triggered when the user exists the ZIP Code field, and the city and state will be looked up so the user doesn’t have to enter them manually.

The Ziptastic service continues to be free for up to 100 requests per day, but now offers premium service levels for higher usage. The revenue generated by the subscriptions allows them to update the data monthly instead of only twice a year. Additional details for this web service can be found at getziptastic.com, but the concepts described in this tip are relevant to any web service using JSON as the data interchange format.

•• Download FREE FileMaker Pro demo file ••

screen shot of demo using FileMaker Pro and JSON with ziptastic web service


**This article is provided for free and as-is, use, enjoy, learn, and experiment at your own risk – but have fun! eXcelisys does not offer any free support or free assistance with any of the contents of this blog post. If you would like help or assistance, please consider retaining eXcelisys’ FileMaker Pro consulting & development services.

About eXcelisys, Inc.: Founded in 2001, eXcelisys (www.excelisys.com)is an FBA Platinum Partner and FileMaker Certified developer organization. eXcelisys specializes in designing, developing, customizing, supporting, consulting, migrating, upgrading, fixing, and integrating of database solutions for Desktop, Mobile, and Web applications. Our core technology competencies are FileMaker Pro, FileMaker Go, and MySQL for database frameworks, along with FileMaker WebDirect, WordPress, MySQL, PHP, CodeIgniter, PostgreSQL, Joomla, Drupal, Magento, CSS, HTML5, and Javascript for web sites and web applications. Aside from providing eXcellent customer service, our goals are to use these technologies to intuitively automate your organization’s data solution needs seamlessly and flawlessly across the web, mobile, and desktop platforms. Contact eXcelisys today for a free estimate and consultation about making your business more efficient through intuitive and effective software automation. 866-592-9235.

eXcelisys, Inc. is an independent entity and this web site/information/blog post has not been authorized, sponsored, or otherwise affiliated with FileMaker, Inc. FileMaker is a trademark of FileMaker, Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries.

The post [FMP Tip-n-Trick] Ziptastic Revisited Using FileMaker Pro 16 appeared first on eXcelisys.

 

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eXcelisys

FileMaker Pro Custom App with Interactive Maps & Scheduling Grids Turn Campground & Canoe Management into a Leisure Activity

Riverview Campground Map

Located on the Rifle River in Sterling, Michigan, River View Campground & Canoe Livery hosts some 2,000 guests each weekend.

Paper-process overload is one of the top reasons organizations turn to a FileMaker Pro Custom App. In the mid-2000s, River View Campground & Canoe Livery co-owner Todd Golebiewski realized he needed a better canoe and campground management system to stay afloat. With 300 canoes, 200 kayaks and 1,500 tubes — plus 2,000 weekend campers — it was a little too much to track with River View’s old-fashioned paper-stuffed binder system.

Located two hours north of Detroit, River View has experienced a steady current of growth since opening in 1991. Golebiewski co-owns the campground with his mother, Joanne Schmid. “We are one of the Midwest’s largest canoe, tube and kayak outfitters,” said Golebiewski, whose 160-acre campground in Sterling, Michigan, includes 1.3 miles of frontage on the Rifle River. “On any given weekend we cater to about 2,000 guests.”

The Rifle River is a favorite waterway for city dwellers who want to kick back, sip some suds and soak up the sun. Likewise, the Rifle is popular with families who prefer the safety of a mellow-moving river when taking a break from their land-based lives.

Relaxing on the Rifle River

Relaxing on the Rifle River / photo courtesy of River View Campground & Canoe Livery

“Our experience here is a combination of Mardi Gras and NFL tailgate,” said Golebiewski, who also works in sports broadcasting as a field technician for SMT (formerly Sportvision). “There are loud and rowdy groups but also families who want a quieter experience. We separate them in our park by having two distinct areas for them to gather and play.”

In 2006, Golebiewski decided to bail on his paper-and-binder system but came up empty-handed in his software search. “We looked at all of the existing solutions for campground management, but there was nothing that dealt with river trip operations in quite the way that we operate, so we decided to do it ourselves. We chose to go with a  FileMaker Pro custom app. because we were familiar with Apple products, but quickly realized we could not do it all ourselves, so we sought out an experienced developer and found eXcelisys.”

Up a Creek Without a Canoe Tracker

When Golebiewski came to eXcelisys with his idea for the Canoe Tracker, he had already built the interface and basic inventory database but needed help with more complex features like generating the trip schedule and displaying the live inventory. For each day to flow smoothly, the FileMaker Pro custom app database needed to track the river inventory and the people with their ever-evolving plans.

“River View has a flood of customers every weekend from sunup to sundown,” said eXcelisys Solution Consultant Laura Vie, who completed development work on the project. “People make reservations, but they change their minds. They come running into the office in their swimsuits wanting a kayak instead of a canoe, or needing to switch departure times. It was a nightmare logistically.”

Camp Bus at Riverview Campground
Campers queue up for rides to the river drops / photo courtesy of River View

As guests modified their plans, the office workers picked up their walkie-talkies to alert the canoe operators and bus drivers, who tried to keep up by jotting down changes on their clipboards. Now, whenever there’s a scheduling or equipment change, it’s updated across the network and available on the office desktops and on iPads in the field.

Paper Schedule from Legacy System
Prior to each departure, bus drivers receive a printed copy of the updated master schedule (shown above), which tells them which group is going out, as well as which specific members of the group and how many adults (ADLT) and kids (KDS). The schedule also details the river equipment each member has rented. For example: C (canoe); DK (double kayak); SK (single kayak); DT (double tube); RT (river tube); CT (cooler tube); and KT (kiddy tube).
Scheduling Screen on iPad for iOS App

Up-to-the-minute river trip information is available for viewing on iPads or iPhones for use at remote river landings. This helps operators prepare equipment for bus arrivals and track which groups are still on the river at any given moment.

The float coordinator now has a master schedule (with up-to-the-minute changes) that is printed prior to each bus departure. This helps with managing the hordes of campers queued up to get on the river. Each weekend, some 200 to 300 people depart for the river every 30 minutes between 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.

“The coordinator hands the updated master sheet to the bus driver, which gives a count of the people, tells which location to drive to, and what gear should be there,” said Golebiewski. “Say there’s 300 people ready to go out. We know that’s comprised of 12 different groups and can call off group names to get them loaded quickly.”

Equipment management is smoother because office staffers know exactly what river inventory is available each day. The database tracks canoes, kayaks, river tubes and “cooler” tubes that can be tied on and towed behind each flotilla to keep beverages and snacks close at hand.

Inventory Screen in FileMaker Pro Custom App

The Campground Tracker keeps tabs on how much river inventory is available for rent each day.

Canoe Kindling Fuels Campground Software Bonfire

The Canoe Tracker worked so swimmingly that Golebiewski asked eXcelisys to add campground reservation functionality a few years later. In time, the Canoe Tracker morphed into the Campground Tracker to give River View one cohesive custom FileMaker Pro app database solution for managing campground and canoe reservations.

The Campground Tracker is highly visual, with interactive maps that make scheduling a breeze. Golebiewski had a hand in the map-making. He created aerial campground maps of River View in Photoshop, then handed them off to eXcelisys, who made them interactive. The interactive maps make it quick and easy for staff to find — and fill — vacant campsites.

“Visually, it’s really cool,” said Vie, who fussed with the maps to make the fields and buttons function properly. “You can click on any campsite and create a reservation for it.” In addition, the map layout includes a listing of every campsite in the section, the name of the group that has each site reserved, the number of campers in the group, and if the site is on hold or confirmed and paid.

Riverview Campground Map Screen in FileMaker Pro Custom App

Using the interactive maps, River View staff can click on a campsite to make a reservation. Looking at this map, it is clear that site A12 is available and can hold 4–8 campers.

The Campground Tracker streamlines:

· Campsite Management / Site Inventory: Before the Campground Tracker, administering River View’s 270 campsites involved sorting through hand-scribbled reservation slips kept in a master binder with staff members using a paper map to sort groups into sites. It was like a giant game of Tetris shuffling campers into sites that met their needs while trying to fill the campground to its maximum occupancy and ensure large groups received enough adjoining campsites so everyone could camp together. Now, with the interactive maps, the campsite information is readily available in bird’s-eye view enabling staffers to see which sites are open and how many campers each site can hold. Staffers can reassign campsites with a simple click.

· Bookings / Reservations: The Campground Tracker prevents the double booking of campsites and the overbooking of canoes because the inventory is “live.” It also allows staff to make bookings simultaneously without sharing the scheduling book. Previously, River View had one “master” binder with the reservation information and campground map on which reserved sites were marked. The office staff could only work with one booking at a time, no matter how many patrons were on the phone lines. Often, they had to take notes and make callbacks.

Golebiewski says the Campground Tracker has also reduced booking errors. With the paper system, “special requests” were scribbled on the margins of the reservation sheets and sometimes got overlooked. With the new database solution, notes are time-stamped and all reservation details are entered into a networked system everyone can access. “It helps with customer communication,” said Golebiewski, noting anyone can pick up a reservation at any moment and help the customer make any changes.

Invoicing: As most campground owners know, managing groups and their payments can be tedious. One person may book for a group of 50 with each person, or couple, or family in the group paying their own fees. That’s a lot of data to keep track of and at the end of the weekend, the group may have a hefty balance if everyone hasn’t paid or if ice and firewood have been picked up at the camp store. If there’s a balance due, who is responsible? The Campground Tracker solves this issue by listing all of the purchases and charges individually for each person in the group. This makes it easy to figure out who has paid for what.

Campground Tracker Billing Screen in FileMaker Pro Custom App

The Campground Tracker helps with billing. The “group info” tab (above) displays all of the individual member reservations within the “Bucksnort” group along with their charges and payments.

Blazing New Trails for the Future

Golebiewski continues to tweak operations at River View with the help of eXcelisys. Currently, eXcelisys is adding an email module to automate email responses. A majority of booking requests and deposits are now coming through the River View website. With the new email system, staff members will no longer have to manually reply to these electronic requests. Instead, the Campground Tracker will automatically send emails to confirm reservations, acknowledge payments and so forth.

“My eXcelisys team of Levi and Kurt [Knippel] handled my tough campground reservation system project and came up with a great FileMaker Pro custom app solution for my business,” said Golebiewski. “They were able to handle all of my curveballs and delivered a great solution that has helped my business significantly.”

eXcelisys’ efforts have made Golebiewski a happy camper, indeed!

To read other eXcelisys client testimonials, click here.

The post Happy Camping at Riverview with FileMaker Pro Custom App appeared first on eXcelisys.


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eXcelisys

Editable FileMaker Pro Virtual Lists

FMP tip developed by David Thorp, Article written by Andy Persons

*Tested in FileMaker Pro 14-16

Virtual Lists

Since FileMaker Pro virtual lists were introduced more than five years go, they have seen wide use due to two primary benefits: flexibility and performance. The whole point of this tip is EDITING values in a virtual list.  That's new and fancy and most people believed impossible, until now!

Flexibility

FileMaker Pro Virtual lists allow us to display information (usually in a portal) in virtually (pun unintended) any configuration we want. We can gather information from a variety of sources and combine them how we wish, without impacting the schema (other than the initial setup of the virtual list structure). Once the structure is in place, we can also reuse it for multiple purposes.

Performance

FileMaker Pro Virtual lists have another, sometimes crucial benefit: they can be dramatically faster than retrieving data directly, especially over a remote connection. Because developers control what data is retrieved, they can avoid loading unnecessary data; because they control when it is retrieved, can avoid reloading it unnecessarily. This can result in greatly improved user experiences.

Limitations

However, FileMaker Pro virtual lists have a crucial limitation: because they rely on calculations, they cannot be edited directly. This technique allows us to work around this limitation.

This can be applied to any usage of FileMaker Pro virtual lists. For example, you might wish to quickly retrieve a list of contacts in a popover, while retaining the ability to edit names for quick corrections. Or you could display a list of students with their classes in a cross-tab arrangement, with the ability to change their class assignments on-the-fly.

Here’s an overview:

  1. Global fields are placed over the virtual fields and set to be hidden except for the active row.
  2. When a user clicks in a virtual field, the value is entered into the corresponding editable field and the focus moved there.
  3. When the user modifies the editable global field, the database is updated.
  4. The virtual list is then refreshed to load the changes.

screen shot of filemaker pro virtual ists demo file

The result is that a user can click into the unstored calculation field on the virtual list directly and it will seem like they are directly editing the values.

Though this technique was developed with FileMaker Pro virtual lists in mind, it could be used any time you want to create the experience of “editing” a calculation field.

screen shot of filemaker pro virtual lists editing demo file

Please see the demo file for more details.

 • • • Download Demo File • • •

ENJOY!


**This article is provided for free and as-is, use, enjoy, learn, and experiment at your own risk – but have fun! eXcelisys does not offer any free support or free assistance with any of the contents of this blog post. If you would like help or assistance, please consider retaining eXcelisys’ FileMaker Pro consulting & development services.

About eXcelisys, Inc.: Founded in 2001, eXcelisys (www.excelisys.com)is an FBA Platinum Partner and FileMaker Certified developer organization. eXcelisys specializes in designing, developing, customizing, supporting, consulting, migrating, upgrading, fixing, and integrating of database solutions for Desktop, Mobile, and Web applications. Our core technology competencies are FileMaker Pro, FileMaker Go, and MySQL for database frameworks, along with FileMaker WebDirect, WordPress, MySQL, PHP, CodeIgniter, PostgreSQL, Joomla, Drupal, Magento, CSS, HTML5, and Javascript for web sites and web applications. Aside from providing eXcellent customer service, our goals are to use these technologies to intuitively automate your organization’s data solution needs seamlessly and flawlessly across the web, mobile, and desktop platforms. Contact eXcelisys today for a free estimate and consultation about making your business more efficient through intuitive and effective software automation. 866-592-9235.

eXcelisys, Inc. is an independent entity and this web site/information/blog post has not been authorized, sponsored, or otherwise affiliated with FileMaker, Inc. FileMaker is a trademark of FileMaker, Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries.

eXcelisys

Editable FileMaker Pro Virtual Lists

FMP tip developed by David Thorp, Article written by Andy Persons

*Tested in FileMaker Pro 14-16

Virtual Lists

Since FileMaker Pro virtual lists were introduced more than five years go, they have seen wide use due to two primary benefits: flexibility and performance. The whole point of this tip is EDITING values in a virtual list.  That’s new and fancy and most people believed impossible, until now!

Flexibility

FileMaker Pro Virtual lists allow us to display information (usually in a portal) in virtually (pun unintended) any configuration we want. We can gather information from a variety of sources and combine them how we wish, without impacting the schema (other than the initial setup of the virtual list structure). Once the structure is in place, we can also reuse it for multiple purposes.

Performance

FileMaker Pro Virtual lists have another, sometimes crucial benefit: they can be dramatically faster than retrieving data directly, especially over a remote connection. Because developers control what data is retrieved, they can avoid loading unnecessary data; because they control when it is retrieved, can avoid reloading it unnecessarily. This can result in greatly improved user experiences.

Limitations

However, FileMaker Pro virtual lists have a crucial limitation: because they rely on calculations, they cannot be edited directly. This technique allows us to work around this limitation.

This can be applied to any usage of FileMaker Pro virtual lists. For example, you might wish to quickly retrieve a list of contacts in a popover, while retaining the ability to edit names for quick corrections. Or you could display a list of students with their classes in a cross-tab arrangement, with the ability to change their class assignments on-the-fly.

Here’s an overview:

  1. Global fields are placed over the virtual fields and set to be hidden except for the active row.
  2. When a user clicks in a virtual field, the value is entered into the corresponding editable field and the focus moved there.
  3. When the user modifies the editable global field, the database is updated.
  4. The virtual list is then refreshed to load the changes.

screen shot of filemaker pro virtual ists demo file

The result is that a user can click into the unstored calculation field on the virtual list directly and it will seem like they are directly editing the values.

Though this technique was developed with FileMaker Pro virtual lists in mind, it could be used any time you want to create the experience of “editing” a calculation field.

screen shot of filemaker pro virtual lists editing demo file

Please see the demo file for more details.

 • • • Download Demo File • • •

ENJOY!


**This article is provided for free and as-is, use, enjoy, learn, and experiment at your own risk – but have fun! eXcelisys does not offer any free support or free assistance with any of the contents of this blog post. If you would like help or assistance, please consider retaining eXcelisys’ FileMaker Pro consulting & development services.

About eXcelisys, Inc.: Founded in 2001, eXcelisys (www.excelisys.com)is an FBA Platinum Partner and FileMaker Certified developer organization. eXcelisys specializes in designing, developing, customizing, supporting, consulting, migrating, upgrading, fixing, and integrating of database solutions for Desktop, Mobile, and Web applications. Our core technology competencies are FileMaker Pro, FileMaker Go, and MySQL for database frameworks, along with FileMaker WebDirect, WordPress, MySQL, PHP, CodeIgniter, PostgreSQL, Joomla, Drupal, Magento, CSS, HTML5, and Javascript for web sites and web applications. Aside from providing eXcellent customer service, our goals are to use these technologies to intuitively automate your organization’s data solution needs seamlessly and flawlessly across the web, mobile, and desktop platforms. Contact eXcelisys today for a free estimate and consultation about making your business more efficient through intuitive and effective software automation. 866-592-9235.

eXcelisys, Inc. is an independent entity and this web site/information/blog post has not been authorized, sponsored, or otherwise affiliated with FileMaker, Inc. FileMaker is a trademark of FileMaker, Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries.

The post FileMaker Pro Virtual Lists appeared first on eXcelisys.

 

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• FileMaker® Pro Tip-n-Trick •

FileMaker Master-Detail in a Web Viewer

By: RJ Carroll

* This has been tested on FileMaker Pro 14-16

FileMaker Master-Detail views are a great way to minimize the number of separate layouts and also provide users with the best of both worlds when it comes to viewing their data as a hybrid of FileMaker Pro’s native “List” and “Form” views. A Master-Detail interface is also naturally intuitive to users familiar with side navigation panels that are commonplace across the web. Given their popularity with users, developers have long sought a simple, flexible way to implement master-detail views in custom apps.

The Old Masters

Originally, to create a Master-Detail view, the common approach was to add a second table occurrence for the table that the current layout is based on with the relationship defined as a Cartesian (“X”) join. This setup requires placing a portal to the new TO on the layout to serve as the “master” list, then attaching a Go To Related Record step to a button or field in the portal row. Because this basic approach can quickly become hard to manage in larger solutions with a lot of tables, a more popular method has been to use some type of a virtual list. (An implementation of a virtual list master-detail is the approach is that’s used in the Master Detail 2.0 module available on Modular FileMaker.) But what if you just want a Master-Detail without adding lots of extra tables, fields, and sets of scripts to your app?

Visualizing The “List Of”

One way to create FileMaker Master-Detail views everywhere with minimal overhead is to harness the power of a “List Of” summary. We’ve found a lot of magical uses of FileMaker Pro’s “List Of” summary field since it was introduced in FileMaker Pro 13. “List Of” summaries possess two key features that make them useful in setting up a new, super-fast type of Master-Detail view: (1) You have access from the current record to all the data for the entire found set and (2) the data is in the same sort order as the found set. So, just by creating a summary list of names, and placing that field on a layout, you already have a type of native master-detail view. It’s just not very useful for navigation. At least not yet…

Nobody Does Lists Like HTML

HTML lists have probably been around forever. They were definitely around when I learned HTML back in the 90’s, and they still work the same way. The cool thing about an HTML list item is that, unlike a portal row, it doesn’t care how much vertical space it takes up. Another cool thing about an HTML list item is that it–and this may be shocking–can be a link. Thanks to the specifications of FMP URI scheme, it can even be a link to the very FileMaker database you’re currently using. So this gives you immense power to create a Master-Detail view composed of only four easy steps:

  1. Create a stored calculation field that wraps some meaningful text from the record, along with the record number or primary key in HTML <li> and <a> tags that contain an fmp:// link back to the target record in FileMaker.
  2. Define a “List Of” summary of that field to show all the HTML elements in the found set.
  3. Place a web viewer on the layout that references the summary field and contains a little opening and closing HTML.
  4. Write a script to accept the parameter passed back to FileMaker when you click the link and navigate to the appropriate record.

That’s really all there is to it. Depending on how you setup your solution, the web viewer layout object, calculation and summary fields can literally be pasted into any part of your app without any modifications at all. If you want to get fancier and more creative, this FileMaker Master-Detail technique can also be expanded to harness CSS styling, sub-summary headers, images or anything else your web skills allow. Check out this implementation by downloading our demo file. It shouldn’t be hard to master the details in no time at all.

• Download the demo file and give it a view! •

FileMaker Master-Detail in a Web Viewer

** PLEASE NOTE: A new security feature in FileMaker Pro 16 requires you to expressly enable execution of web scripting. Make sure this has been enabled as shown below.

FileMaker Pro 16 Privilege settings


***This article is provided for free and as-is, use, enjoy, learn, and experiment at your own risk – but have fun! eXcelisys does not offer any free support or free assistance with any of the contents of this blog post. If you would like our help or assistance, please consider retaining eXcelisys’ consulting & development services.

About eXcelisys, Inc.: Founded in 2001, eXcelisys (www.excelisys.com) is an FBA Platinum Partner and FileMaker Certified developer organization. we specialize in designing, developing, customizing, supporting, consulting, migrating, upgrading, fixing, and integrating of database solutions for Desktop, Mobile, and Web. Our core technology competencies are FileMaker Pro, FileMaker Go, PostgreSQL, and MySQL for database frameworks. Complimenting those database frameworks we have competency with FileMaker WebDirect, WordPress, PHP, CodeIgniter, Joomla, Drupal, Magento, CSS, HTML5, and Javascript for web sites and web applications. Aside from providing excellent customer service, our goals are to use these technologies to intuitively automate your organization’s data solution needs seamlessly and flawlessly across the web, mobile, and desktop platforms. Contact eXcelisys today for a free estimate and consultation regarding your business software automation needs @ 866-592-9235.

eXcelisys, Inc. is an independent entity and this web site/information/blog post has not been authorized, sponsored, or otherwise affiliated with FileMaker, Inc. FileMaker is a trademark of FileMaker, Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries.

The post [FMP Tip-n-Trick] FileMaker Master-Detail in a Web Viewer appeared first on eXcelisys.

 

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eXcelisys

Inverted Portals With FileMaker Pro

By: Doug West

**Tested on FileMaker Pro versions 14-16

Portals are great for displaying information in the appropriate context. Unfortunately, they don’t always provide the most intuitive user experience when newcomers are learning how to enter data in a FileMaker solution.

After configuring a relationship in the Manage Database window to enable the option to “Allow creation of records in this table via this relationship”, we can easily create related records within a portal by simply typing new values in the last row of a corresponding portal. Entering the first batch of related records seems straightforward enough. But what happens once you’ve exceeded the number of visible rows in the portal?

portal sample screen shot

Here is where we start to see the puzzled looks. When we’re ready to add the next related record, we first have to scroll through the list of existing records to access the blank “record creation row” at the bottom. This is enough of a nuisance that we often see buttons to improve the user experience through scripting.

So today’s challenge was to find the most efficient solution to this usability problem, with the added requirement to present the results in descending order by date. This concept for inverted portals must allow creation of new records on the first row, followed by the existing data rows from newest to oldest. We’ll be able to add entries without the nuisance of scrolling and we’ll see the most relevant information first.

So how can we get the record creation row to appear at the top of the portal? As is often the case in FileMaker Pro, there is more than one way to do it. Maybe your first attempt could involve some global fields for entering data above the portal, which could then trigger a script to create a related record, set the data, and clear the global fields. Effective? Sure, but not elegant. I’m looking for a cleaner approach that’s a bit “lighter”.

How about two portals using the same related table occurrence with no scripts and no extra fields? By telling our first portal to filter out all existing records (using a very simple formula! (see demo)), we’re left with just the record creation row. Position that above another copy of the same portal showing the existing data sorted by date, while hiding objects in the record creation row at the bottom.

•• Download FREE FileMaker Pro demo file ••

screen shot of demo for FileMaker Pro Inverted Portals

We now have an upside-down portal that’s sure to satisfy developers and end users alike! We haven’t added any scripts, fields, or table occurrences, and we’ve saved your users at least a few mouse-clicks along the way.

ENJOY!


**This article is provided for free and as-is, use, enjoy, learn, and experiment at your own risk – but have fun! eXcelisys does not offer any free support or free assistance with any of the contents of this blog post. If you would like help or assistance, please consider retaining eXcelisys’ FileMaker Pro consulting & development services.

About eXcelisys, Inc.: Founded in 2001, eXcelisys (www.excelisys.com)is an FBA Platinum Partner and FileMaker Certified developer organization. eXcelisys specializes in designing, developing, customizing, supporting, consulting, migrating, upgrading, fixing, and integrating of database solutions for Desktop, Mobile, and Web applications. Our core technology competencies are FileMaker Pro, FileMaker Go, and MySQL for database frameworks, along with FileMaker WebDirect, WordPress, MySQL, PHP, CodeIgniter, PostgreSQL, Joomla, Drupal, Magento, CSS, HTML5, and Javascript for web sites and web applications. Aside from providing eXcellent customer service, our goals are to use these technologies to intuitively automate your organization’s data solution needs seamlessly and flawlessly across the web, mobile, and desktop platforms. Contact eXcelisys today for a free estimate and consultation about making your business more efficient through intuitive and effective software automation. 866-592-9235.

eXcelisys, Inc. is an independent entity and this web site/information/blog post has not been authorized, sponsored, or otherwise affiliated with FileMaker, Inc. FileMaker is a trademark of FileMaker, Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries.

The post [FMP Tip-n-Trick] Inverted Portals with FileMaker Pro appeared first on eXcelisys.

 

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eXcelisys

Hierarchical Portal Filtering within FileMaker Pro

By Andy Persons

This is the second of a three-part series on FileMaker Pro hierarchical portal filtering. You can find part one here.

This FileMaker Pro hierarchical portal filtering file demonstrates how to provide high-performance sorting of a hierarchical portal by various fields, while maintaining the hierarchy. **Been tested in FileMaker Pro versions 14-16.

Download the FileMaker Pro hierarchical portal filtering demo file.

filemaker pro hierarchical portal filtering part 2 screenshot

Static Approach

The most straightforward approach would require creating an index “path” calculation for every field that you might want to sort by. For example, if you wanted to sort by name, you’d have to create a sort_name field that contained “Plants Vegetables Roots Carrots”. Each additional field that you wanted users to be able to sort by would need a similar field. Also, whenever a record was edited, all descendant records would need to have their sort fields updated.

Dynamic Approach

For very small data sets, you could make the path field an unstored calculation and have each record calculate up the path chain dynamically. However, this would very quickly become so slow as to be unusable.

Dynamic Approach with High-Performance

This FileMaker Pro hierarchical portal filtering file demonstrates an approach that combines the light footprint of a dynamic approach with performance closer to that of a static approach.

Here’s the overview:

  • A dictionary field (sort_dictionary) of record id’s and sort field values is created in the data table.
  • Before sorting, all related values of sort_dictionary are copied into a global variable named $$sort_dictionary using the List() function.
  • A sort key field (sort_key) is calculated on the fly by replacing IDs in the record’s id_path with the corresponding sort value from $$sort_dictionary and padding it with zeros if it’s a number field.
  • For example, an id_path with “000001 000034 000052 000076” would become “Plants Vegetables Roots Carrots” on the fly, using the values from $$sort_dictionary
  • The portal is then set to sort by sort_key.
  • Because the data from both id_path and $$sort_dictionary have already been downloaded to the local machine, sort_key can calculate very quickly.

Next Installment: Hierarchy Advanced 2.3

Drag-and-drop arbitrary sorting and reassignment

Stay Tuned!


**This article is provided for free and as-is, use, enjoy, learn, and experiment at your own risk – but have fun! eXcelisys does not offer any free support or free assistance with any of the contents of this blog post. If you would like help or assistance, please consider retaining eXcelisys’ FileMaker Pro consulting & development services.

About eXcelisys, Inc.: Founded in 2001, eXcelisys (www.excelisys.com) is an FBA Platinum Partner and FileMaker Certified developer organization. eXcelisys specializes in designing, developing, customizing, supporting, consulting, migrating, upgrading, fixing, and integrating of database solutions for Desktop, Mobile, and Web applications. Our core technology competencies are FileMaker Pro, FileMaker Go, and MySQL for database frameworks, along with FileMaker WebDirect, WordPress, MySQL, PHP, CodeIgniter, PostgreSQL, Joomla, Drupal, Magento, CSS, HTML5, and Javascript for web sites and web applications. Aside from providing eXcellent customer service, our goals are to use these technologies to intuitively automate your organization’s data solution needs seamlessly and flawlessly across the web, mobile, and desktop platforms. Contact eXcelisys today for a free estimate and consultation about making your business more efficient through intuitive and effective software automation. 866-592-9235 | info@excelisys.com

eXcelisys, Inc. is an independent entity and this web site/information/blog post has not been authorized, sponsored, or otherwise affiliated with FileMaker, Inc. FileMaker is a trademark of FileMaker, Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries.

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Got Rentals?

Got Rentals?

Finally, the Ultimate Rental-Tracking Software Solution for the Equipment Rental Industry!

 
1*wIuSsMqaD1mzTONMPeLgfQ.jpeg

Pre-made? Custom? Or SaaS? It’s a never-ending battle of pros and cons when trying to find apps that will make your rental business run smoother while giving you the best bang for the buck.

Pre-made? Tempting. It costs less up front but choosing this one-size-fits-all solution may leave you addled with useless features and not enough functionality. Custom? Seems costly but will definitely meet your needs. With SaaS (software-as-a-service), you remain at the mercy of your vendor for feature upgrades, and as fees add up over the years you may find you could have paid for a custom-fit solution instead!

Luckily, when it comes to rental business software applications, there’s another way …

eXcelisys has released a new eX-File, the eX-RentalTracker — a FileMaker Pro jump-start solution for the equipment rental industry. The app tracks inventory, bookings, returns, customer contacts, invoices and payments and includes an availability calendar. Because the basics are already there, customization is quick and easy.

The eX-RentalTracker is the best of both worlds, offering clients a software solution that’s part ready-made and part custom.

 
eX-RentalTracker

“After working with multiple customers constructing tailor-made rental tracking solutions for their businesses, we decided to build a jump-start solution for the masses,” said Doug West, eXcelisys VP for product development. “The eX-RentalTracker comes pre-built with many of the standard features our rental business clients have been requesting.”

The eX-RentalTracker is for rental businesses who’ve found out-of-the-box software solutions too clunky and custom-built systems too expensive. The eX-RentalTracker can be used on a desktop PC (Mac/Windows) with certain task-based functions available on iPads.

 

 

 

See the eX-RentalTracker in Action Today

Businesses interested in the eX-RentalTracker can request a FREE demo copyvia the eXcelisys website. After receiving the eX-RentalTracker demo, you can tool around in the app to see how easy and intuitive it is to use. You won’t need a tutorial to figure out how the eX-RentalTracker works because the tabbed interface makes navigation a cinch. Check out the “home” screen, which includes “Quick Tasks” tabs that provide rapid access to the tasks most frequently used in rental app solutions.

The eX-RentalTracker simplifies daily processes. Features include:

  • Kitting (allows multiple items to be packaged in a single rental kit)
  • Barcodes/handheld scanners (for quick check-out/check-in)
  • Instant invoicing (no more entering long strings of product numbers)
  • Equipment tracking (prompts users to select the condition of returned items at check-in so broken inventory doesn’t get placed back on the shelf)
 
1*etEQF6f9bTbg01Zbm7N8yw.png
Availability calendar prevents overbooking.
 
1*WRuxpgPP2nqQh-WLDIHIbw.png
The “Quick Tasks” tabs on the home page offer quick access to many everyday tasks, such as adding a customer, a product, a PO, a vendor or an order.
 
1*AP-ZE9vfMeCRPazsLZMxuQ.png
Track the history of each item — know where it’s been and the condition in which it was returned.

eX-File FileMaker Pro Templates Save Tons of Time & Money

eXcelisys has been designing jump-start FileMaker Pro template solutions since 2004 when the first edition of the FileMaker Pro BizTracker was released. Since then, the BizTracker (for sales-driven businesses) has evolved into a full lineup of eX-File solutions, including the eX-TruckingTracker (which tracks trips, mileage, and expenses) and the eX-EvalTracker (used to archive employee performance).

The eX-BizTracker has been a popular and steady jumping-off point for countless eXcelisys customers requesting software development. Ever proactive, eXcelisys developers modified the tried-and-true eX-BizTracker to create the eX-RentalTracker by adding features and functionality common to and frequently requested in the rental industry.

Recently, Birnn Chocolates of Vermont contracted with eXcelisys for a biz-tracking solution. After four generations and 101 years in business, Birnn Chocolates was ready to join the 21st century with a software upgrade to smooth daily operations. Owner Mel Fields had been using a hodgepodge of paper record-keeping, Excel spreadsheets and Google documents to keep the truffles flowing. Fields needed an up-to-date system to manage the production process, ensure order fulfillment and track the ingredients and finished goods for FDA compliance.

Instead of starting from scratch — like he does with his truffles — Fields started the process using the eX-BizTracker as a foundation for his business solution. During his hands-on experience with the eX-BizTracker demo, Fields discovered that many of the features he needed were already built into the software. “Being able to demo was essential for being able to pull the trigger and make the decision,” said Fields. Utilizing the pre-built mock-up allowed Fields to zero in quickly on modifications needed to make the software fit his unique business needs.

Fields is still awaiting his software solution as eXcelisys developers finish tweaking the eX-BizTracker build. Fields is certain he’s getting a great deal. “We spent some hours taking away features, but in the grand scheme of things, I’m quite sure we got a lot more for the money by starting with BizTracker.”

Like Birnn Chocolates, Cinema Camera Rentals recently came to eXcelisys seeking a custom inventory management app and used the eXcelisys BizTracker5 as the foundational template. “This approach helped me the most from a time standpoint,” said Cinema Camera rental manager Matt Stemmley. “Instead of dedicating the energy to figure out how I wanted the system to be laid out, I instead hit the ground running on envisioning functionality.”

Stemmley advises business owners to take advantage of the eX-RentalTracker. “Future customers of eXcelisys in any sort of rental capacity will ideally be able to start with the eX-RentalTracker base and add features as they see fit.” Stemmley says he “highly recommends” the eX-RentalTracker to anyone considering a rental app based on the FileMaker Pro platform. “In my opinion, it will save them countless hours that could be dedicated to other areas of design and functionality.”

Demo the eX-RentalTracker today. Like Birnn Chocolates, discover how pre-built FileMaker Pro templates can sweeten the deal in the search for the right and perfect software solution for your equipment rental business.

To request the eX-RentalTracker demo, click here.

To read about the Cinema Camera rental-tracking solution, click here.

To read about another eXcelisys-built rental-tracking solution, click here.

eXcelisys

Finally, the Ultimate Rental-Tracking Software Solution for the Equipment Rental Industry!

eX-RentalTracker rental-tracking solution

Pre-made? Custom? Or SaaS? It’s a never-ending battle of pros and cons when trying to find rental-tracking apps that will make your rental business run smoother while giving you the best bang for the buck.

Pre-made? Tempting. It costs less up front but choosing this one-size-fits-all solution may leave you addled with useless features and not enough functionality. Custom? Seems costly but will definitely meet your needs. With SaaS (software-as-a-service), you remain at the mercy of your vendor for feature upgrades, and as fees add up over the years you may find you could have paid for a custom-fit solution instead!

Luckily, when it comes to rental business software applications, there’s another way …

eXcelisys has released a new eX-File, the eX-RentalTracker — a FileMaker Pro jump-start solution for the equipment rental industry. The app tracks inventory, bookings, returns, customer contacts, invoices and payments and includes an availability calendar. Because the basics are already there, customization is quick and easy.

The eX-RentalTracker is the best of both worlds, offering clients a software solution that’s part ready-made and part custom.

rental-tracker-300x299.png“After working with multiple customers constructing tailor-made rental tracking solutions for their businesses, we decided to build a jump-start solution for the masses,” said Doug West, eXcelisys VP for product development. “The eX-RentalTracker comes pre-built with many of the standard features our rental business clients have been requesting.”

The eX-RentalTracker is for rental businesses who’ve found out-of-the-box software solutions too clunky and custom-built systems too expensive. The eX-RentalTracker can be used on a desktop PC (Mac/Windows) with certain task-based functions available on iPads.

See the eX-RentalTracker Rental-Tracking Solution in Action Today!

Business owners interested in the eX-RentalTracker can request a FREE demo copy via the eXcelisys website. After receiving the eX-RentalTracker demo, you can tool around in the app to see how easy and intuitive it is to use. You won’t need a tutorial to figure out how the eX-RentalTracker works because the tabbed interface makes navigation a cinch. Check out the “home” screen, which includes “Quick Tasks” tabs that provide rapid access to the tasks most frequently used in rental app solutions.

The eX-RentalTracker simplifies daily processes. Features include:

  • Kitting (allows multiple items to be packaged in a single rental kit)
  • Barcodes/handheld scanners (for quick check-out/check-in)
  • Instant invoicing (no more entering long strings of product numbers)
  • Equipment tracking (prompts users to select the condition of returned items at check-in so broken inventory doesn’t get placed back on the shelf)

 

eX-RentalTracker Availability calendar screen shot

Availability calendar prevents overbooking.

eX-RentalTracker Orders Screen Shot

The “Quick Tasks” tabs on the home page offer quick access to many everyday tasks, such as adding a customer, a product, a PO, a vendor or an order.

eX-RentalTracker product history screen shot

Track the history of each item — know where it’s been and the condition in which it was returned.

eX-File FileMaker Pro Templates Save Tons of Time & Money

eXcelisys has been designing jump-start FileMaker Pro template solutions since 2004 when the first edition of the FileMaker Pro BizTracker was released. Since then, the BizTracker (for sales-driven businesses) has evolved into a full lineup of eX-File solutions, including the eX-TruckingTracker (which tracks trips, mileage, and expenses) and the eX-EvalTracker (used to archive employee performance).

The eX-BizTracker has been a popular and steady jumping-off point for countless eXcelisys customers requesting software development. Ever proactive, eXcelisys developers modified the tried-and-true eX-BizTracker to create the eX-RentalTracker by adding features and functionality common to and frequently requested in the rental industry.

Recently, Birnn Chocolates of Vermont contracted with eXcelisys for a biz-tracking solution. After four generations and 101 years in business, Birnn Chocolates was ready to join the 21st century with a software upgrade to smooth daily operations. Owner Mel Fields had been using a hodgepodge of paper record-keeping, Excel spreadsheets and Google documents to keep the truffles flowing. Fields needed an up-to-date system to manage the production process, ensure order fulfillment and track the ingredients and finished goods for FDA compliance.

Instead of starting from scratch — like he does with his truffles — Fields started the process using the eX-BizTracker as a foundation for his business solution. During his hands-on experience with the eX-BizTracker demo, Fields discovered that many of the features he needed were already built into the software. “Being able to demo was essential for being able to pull the trigger and make the decision,” said Fields. Utilizing the pre-built mock-up allowed Fields to zero in quickly on modifications needed to make the software fit his unique business needs.

Fields is still awaiting his software solution as eXcelisys developers finish tweaking the eX-BizTracker build. Fields is certain he’s getting a great deal. “We spent some hours taking away features, but in the grand scheme of things, I’m quite sure we got a lot more for the money by starting with BizTracker.”

Like Birnn Chocolates, Cinema Camera Rentals recently came to eXcelisys seeking a custom inventory management app and used the eXcelisys BizTracker5 as the foundational template. “This approach helped me the most from a time standpoint,” said Cinema Camera rental manager Matt Stemmley. “Instead of dedicating the energy to figure out how I wanted the system to be laid out, I instead hit the ground running on envisioning functionality.”

Stemmley advises business owners to take advantage of the eX-RentalTracker. “Future customers of eXcelisys in any sort of rental capacity will ideally be able to start with the eX-RentalTracker base and add features as they see fit.” Stemmley says he “highly recommends” the eX-RentalTracker to anyone considering a rental app based on the FileMaker Pro platform. “In my opinion, it will save them countless hours that could be dedicated to other areas of design and functionality.”

Demo the eX-RentalTracker today. Like Birnn Chocolates, discover how pre-built FileMaker Pro templates can sweeten the deal in the search for the right and perfect software solution for your equipment rental business.

To request the eX-RentalTracker demo, click here.

To read about the Cinema Camera rental-tracking solution, click here.

To read about another eXcelisys-built rental-tracking solution, click here.

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New Camera Rental Tracking App Trims Paperwork “Production” Time & Turns Daily Tasks into One-Click Acts

Cinema Camer Art

In the hot movie-making hub of Hollywood, Cinema Camera Rentals faces stiff competition in providing customers with the latest and greatest technology has to offer. With a need to streamline its equipment rental pipeline, Cinema Camera Rentals recently contracted with eXcelisys for a new rental tracking app. Together, the two firms wrote the script for a bang-up inventory management system and eXcelisys produced the final cut, with the system premiering in February 2017.

Lights! Camera! Plenty of Action!

Based in Culver City, California, Cinema Camera Rentals opened in 2008 when Future Line Entertainment principals Mark and Emma Cameron started renting out their small inventory of film production equipment. Future Line is known for its commercial spots, including some for Oakley WomenNike Swim and Nike Basketball.

While the Camerons focused on their production company, the rental business grew. In 2013, Matt Stemmley was brought in to join the cast as rental manager at Cinema Camera, which serves clients embarking on months-long feature film shoots and those producing high-end commercials. “We rent top-of-the-line cameras, lenses and accessories,” said Stemmley, noting the value of some equipment packages hits $50,000 to $200,000.

As a brick-and-mortar rental house serving the Los Angeles area, Cinema Camera provides more than cameras. A full production takes truckloads of equipment, including monitors for instant viewing of what the camera sees; matte boxes to prevent lens flare; tripods, dollies and gliding camera stabilizers (like the DJI Ronin) to ensure steady shots; light panels with C-stands; microphones and boom poles. Battery packs. The list goes on.

Cinema Camera rents it all, which means Stemmley has lots of serial numbers and items to track. Cinema Camera oversees nearly 2,000 individual items within its inventory. To keep track of it all, Stemmley instituted barcoding after joining the company and began utilizing Excel spreadsheets.

Stemmley’s primitive tracking system worked, but it had its limitations. To manage rental kits, purchase orders, quotes and invoicing, Stemmley had to open and review multiple files within Excel. The process was time-consuming. Stemmley understood where to find the information, but it was hard for other employees to follow up on his work. In addition, quotes could only be generated one at a time because of limited access to the Excel spreadsheets.

“I tried to envision a better workflow for day-to-day operations,” said Stemmley, who conceived of a system where employees could view each other’s work in real time and see the quotes and invoices others were preparing. “In order to push those daily tasks out onto other employees, we needed a better system. We needed a system we could all have access to.”

Looking for a solution, Stemmley reached out to other high-end rental houses to see what kind of inventory management software they used. He discovered that some opted for premade software they leased or purchased, while others bought custom systems. “I wasn’t able to get a uniform sense of the best option,” said Stemmley. One of the happiest rental houses he found utilized a FileMaker Pro system, custom-built by a software developer. Stemmley decided to follow that lead and was referred to eXcelisys for the custom FileMaker database design and development needed for the task.

FileMaker Pro Takes Spotlight as Valuable Production Assistant

In May 2016, Stemmley and eXcelisys began working on plans for a custom software solution. Stemmley created a laundry list of needs and the eXcelisys developers made them a reality. The new system connects desktop computers, wireless scanners, iPads and a Mac mini hosting the FileMaker Pro database solution, enabling real-time access to the latest information from any device by any of the employees.

Because the software is streamlined and very intuitive to use, Stemmley no longer has to micromanage the invoicing and quoting process. He can rely on other employees for these tasks. “Having a centralized point of contact … that helps,” said Stemmley. “Everybody can see everything. It’s allowed me to take the stress off myself.”

There’s also less stress to getting multiple quotes compiled and delivered in one day because the task is quicker and quotes can be created simultaneously. In addition, invoicing is faster with no more need to click through multiple Excel screens to fill out an invoice template. Items that have been scanned out and scanned in appear on the invoice automatically. The program also figures rental rates, offering the appropriate discounts for multi-day use. “Invoicing is crazy easy,” said eXcelisys developer Rob Poelking. “The numbers are there. It fills in everything. You only have to click a button.”

Cinema Camera rental tracking Invoice

Day-to-day operations also run smoother because employees can jump on a workstation, go to the home page and filter for outgoing rentals. Once the employee has a list of orders going out, the employee can select an order and print a “pick list” so the items can be assembled on time. It’s also easy to amend an order at pickup. If a customer needs to add another matte box or filter, the item can be scanned, which then automatically adds it to the order — no need to look up item numbers or pricing. It’s all there.

The new inventory management system also helps Cinema Camera track subrentals. With a goal of having the right equipment on time and on demand, Cinema Camera sometimes uses subrentals and consignments to meet customer needs. With subrentals obtained from other rental houses, Cinema Camera has to generate POs to pay for the equipment. The new software system has streamlined this process.

Camera rental tracking Inventory Orders Screen

Another custom feature includes a field that displays a customer’s insurance information — with expiration date — on the order page. To protect its investment, Cinema Camera requires customers to have at least 1 million dollars in general liability coverage. The easy display ensures this information is up to date. In the end, Stemmley says, the new tracking system has improved the outlook at Cinema Camera Rentals.

Camera rental tracking Inventory Accessories Screen

FileMaker Pro Retains All-Star Status in New Rental-Tracking App

Cinema Camera Rentals is just one of the many rental businesses eXcelisys has assisted with custom software development in recent years.  “We wanted to get more productive and apply our efforts in the right places,” said Stemmley. “Not get bogged down with paperwork.” Working with such businesses prompted eXcelisys to create the ex-RentalTracker — a jump-start FileMaker Pro template that can be quickly modified to meet the needs of any rental business.

Like Cinema Camera, maybe you, too, are torn between choosing a low-cost, premade, out-of-the-box software solution, or investing in a custom system to get everything you need. Try the eX-RentalTracker for yourself by requesting a FREE demo copy via the eXcelisys website, and get the best of both worlds.

To read about another eXcelisys rental-tracking app, click here.

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Blockbuster Rental-Tracking Inventory App Sharpens Booking Process, Cuts Equipment Retrieval and Check-in Times

Gulf Camera Inventory Control Header

During Hollywood’s rapid fade-out of 35-millimeter film, camera operator Neal Norton saw an opportunity to make money in the digital retooling of the industry. The year was 2010 and the German-made Arri ALEXA had just hit the market, providing a viable digital alternative to celluloid film.

Norton decided to take action. He partnered with cinematographer Alan Degen to found Gulf Camera and the two began stockpiling the groundbreaking ALEXA. “We could see this was the first time there was a digital camera suitable and with high enough quality to use in theatrical motion pictures,” said Norton. “We opened our rental business based on that technology.”

The duo couldn’t have written a better script. The ALEXA shot quickly to movie star fame as production companies dove into the digital revolution. Gulf Camera’s ALEXAS were in high demand. Meanwhile, Norton and Degen stayed active in the industry. Norton has worked on more than 40 feature film sets, operating cameras and steadicams for Tim Burton, Philippe Rousellot and Denzel Washington.

But working in Hollywood and managing the Florida-based rental business became a struggle. Five years in, Norton knew he needed to reframe how Gulf Camera handled its inventory and invoicing. Gulf’s spreadsheet/word processor/pen-and-paper method was inefficient and inadequate. As Norton panned for options, he came across eXcelisys.

In January 2016, Gulf Camera went live with a new rental-tracking system built by eXcelisys. A custom app, barcodes, scanners. These all make life easier for Norton.

Some favorite features:

Availability calendar: Because Norton and Degen work on bookings concurrently and from off-site locations as they travel for work, they had problems controlling inventory. “It was not unheard of for us to rent the same gear to multiple people,” Norton said. Before the new system was in place, they emailed each other continually to check on item availability. Now, with a centralized app managing the inventory for them, Norton and Degen know instantly if an item is in-house or out and when it will be back. Double-bookings are no longer a problem and the booking process is more efficient.

Inventory Availability Calendar

Barcoding for rapid check-in/check-out: The new system uses barcodes — something Gulf Camera had not previously utilized. Before barcodes, Norton had to check out — and check in — large orders by hand. This was time-consuming because some products come with 30 or 40 pieces — all separate from the basic product itself but necessary for the use of the product.

For example, when customers rent a camera body, they also need a viewfinder, cables, extension rods, filters, batteries and so forth. With barcoding, Norton scans an item and it goes on the ticket. This system ensures that all items from the “pick list” have been pulled and nothing is missing from the order.

Norton finds the barcodes especially helpful at check-in. He no longer has to hand-check each item in every return. “In the heat of production, it’s not uncommon for a piece of equipment to go missing,” said Norton, given the long days, late nights and working conditions the crew may face over the course of a shoot. “One of the keys to making this business work is making sure all the pieces come back,” said Norton. “On check-in you know immediately — instead of weeks later — if something is missing.”

Gulf Camera Inventory Prep Room

Now that Gulf Camera has a slick, centralized, barcode-driven system for rental management, Norton can’t imagine conducting business without it. “It would be torturous to do it a different way,” he said, joking that the FileMaker Pro server is the most important piece of equipment in the whole shop, though it sits next to cameras that cost upwards of $50,000.

FileMaker Pro Takes Lead Role in eXclusive Rental-Tracking App

Gulf Camera is just one of the many rental businesses eXcelisys has assisted with custom software development in recent years. After creating rental solutions over and over for different clients, eXcelisys developers had a grand idea — why not develop a jump-start FileMaker Pro template solution for the rental business industry? By end of April 2017, eXcelisys rolls out the eX-RentalTracker — a new edition to the eXcelisys eX-Files lineup of jump-start FileMaker Pro templates. Other offerings include: eX-BizTracker5eX-EvalTracker and eX-Trucking Tracker.

“The eX-RentalTracker is designed with the common base features our rental business clients have been requesting,” said Doug West, eXcelisys VP for product development. The eX-RentalTracker is aimed at rental businesses who’ve found out-of-the-box software solutions too clunky, and custom-built systems too expensive.

The eX-RentalTracker comes standard with an inventory availability calendar, kitting and barcoding. It tracks inventory, bookings, returns, invoices and payments.

Look for the public release announcement of the eX-RentalTracker in the next few weeks. Meanwhile, you can get a sneak preview and try it out for yourself by requesting a FREE demo copy of eX-RentalTracker via the eXcelisys website. The FREE demo will give you a good feel for how the rental solution jump-start will work in action for your needs. Just like Gulf Camera — you, too, can write a happy alternate ending to your rental-tracking tale of woe by contacting eXcelisys today.

For more information on the eX-Files, click here.

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FileMaker® Pro / WebDirect: FileMaker Web Subscription Service Keeps Oil Field and Reservoir Data Flowing to Prospectors 24/7

Just because your business involves fossil fuels, the technology you rely on doesn’t need to be a fossil too. A new FileMaker web solution brings new technology to finding an old resource. 
Oil Rig

In the United States, the average person consumes about 2.5 gallons of crude oil per day — or 22 barrels per year. Offshore oil production helps meet this need. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in the past decade, offshore oil production has accounted for about 30 percent of total global oil production.

Petroleum powers our lives. We rely on it all day long. Every day — and not just to gas up our cars. Plastic water bottles, bike tires, heat, ink, crayons, bandages, toilet seats, tape, roofing tar, and even propane for the backyard barbecue. All possible, thanks to petroleum.

We utilize the fossil fuel endlessly, topping off our tanks and speeding away from the pump without ever stopping to think about the process that brought the gas into our lives.

Dr. Steve Cossey thinks about it all the time.

As a geologist and founder of Cossey & Associates Geoconsulting (based in Durango, Colorado), Cossey is in the business of helping oil companies locate underwater reservoirs of the slick, black stuff we love so much. So what is Cossey’s fantastical tool for oil exploration? The humble database.

For 20 years, prospectors have used Cossey’s comprehensive FileMaker Pro database of oil field and reservoir geology to plan deepwater explorations. The database has been available through DVD subscription. Periodically, Cossey updates the database and mails out new DVDs to subscribers.

Since the early 2000s, eXcelisys has helped Cossey with the design and maintenance of his database. Last fall, Cossey decided to take the plunge and revamp his system by adding web functionality to make the database available as an online subscription service. Several factors played into the decision, primarily a drop-off in DVD subscribers following a downturn in the oil industry. To help fuel subscriptions, Cossey decided to place the database on the Internet so it would be available to anyone willing to buy a block of time to access the information.

“I thought, ‘What am I going to do to utilize this database and find some other way of getting it out there to people to use in a different mode?’ ” The conversion went live a few weeks ago, making the Cossey Turbidite Field and Reservoir Database available online and putting Cossey’s DVD-burning days behind him. “It’s very slick, very fast,” said Cossey. “I think we’ve covered all the bases.”

 FileMaker Web Tech - WebDirect Login Screen

Drilling into the Data Made Easy

What, exactly, is on the Cossey database and how do geoscientists and engineers from oil companies utilize the information?

Deepwater reservoirs are expensive to drill, so oil companies need to vet their prospects carefully. This is problematic, says Cossey, because “the deepwater environment is such a lightly known area of the world.” Oceans cover 70 percent of the earth’s surface with 95 percent of the ocean floor remaining unmapped.

Given the unknowns, how do oil companies know where to drill? They rely on analogues. Cossey’s database allows prospectors to conduct an analogue study of the area they are considering. “Aristotle used analogues,” said Cossey, noting analogues provide a reliable way to make estimates of the unknown from the known.

“Say you’re working in an area like offshore West Africa. You might know certain things — like the depth or age of the prospect, or some other characteristic,” said Cossey. Before drilling, the prospector would want more information. For instance, it’s important to know the porosity of the rock in the prospect because the porosity can be used to determine the volume of oil that can be recovered from an area. This is where Cossey’s database comes in handy.

“You pull all examples the same depth, age and thickness as your prospect,” he said. Looking at these examples from actual oil fields and reservoirs all over the world, prospectors can match known traits to determine the unknown traits — such as the porosity. “Very rapidly in my database you can pull up statistics that would take you months of searching to find,” said Cossey.

A Rock Solid Foundation

Cossey’s database is his magnum opus — it includes more than 20 years of research. He’s eager to see how well the new online platform will be received. Prior to the online conversion, Cossey used an early version of FileMaker Pro that allowed subscribers to view the data via the runtime application. Instead of merely transferring the data during the web-upgrade operation, eXcelisys developers gave the database a complete makeover to freshen the look.

“eXcelisys rewrote the new database from the ground up, utilizing FileMaker Pro 15 in the process and upgrading to WebDirect,” said eXcelisys Project Manager Kurt Knippel. “We designed the interface. It’s fairly modern, but still, it’s a FileMaker/WebDirect solution with FileMaker Pro interface conventions. It won’t win any web awards, but our goal was to make this solution easy for his customers to use.”

 
Original Database Screen

These screen shots display information on the Andromede Marine field. The original database interface is pictured above. Below, the updated, more modern interface can be seen.

Screenshot of FileMaker Web App in WebDirect

One of the most appealing new features of the custom FileMaker Pro database designed and developed by eXcelisys is the integration of PayPal. With the old subscription service, Cossey had to spend time sending out invoices and following up with accounting departments to get paid. This was often a laborious process — especially when foreign entities were involved. Now, users enter their credit card numbers directly into the system to buy access. To protect users, the transaction is SSL-encrypted and the site does not store any credit card information.

 FileMaker Web App Credit Card Processing Screen

Other advancements with the new system include:

  • Real-time data for users: With the old subscription service, Cossey updated the data in batches and sent out new DVDs every six months. This resulted in a data lag. For example, if Cossey unearthed new data three weeks after sending out a DVD, the new data would not get into the hands of subscribers until the next round of updates. Now, Cossey makes updates from his desktop and it goes live immediately.
  • Robust charting: Bar graphs and scatterplots are integral in helping users visualize data distributions and make sense of data sets. Cossey’s old database used a FileMaker plug-in for charts. The new online system utilizes an API that allows zoom functionality and interactivity. When viewing a scatterplot, users can click on a data point and a small text box pops up to display the data values at the cursor location.
  • Countdown clock: One distinctive feature the new system required was a way to track user time. Many websites offer subscription services. Often, a user buys access for a specific period of time — like 7 days, 30 days or 1 year. Cossey wanted to sell access by the minute. To accommodate this idiosyncrasy, eXcelisys developers added a timer to the website that runs quietly behind the scenes. A readout at the bottom of the screen shows a user how much time is left on the account and prompts the user to buy more time as the minutes tick down toward zero. Users can purchase time in 5, 10 or 20-hour blocks. The website logs a user out after 15 minutes of idle time and allows for subordinate users under one account.

Full Steam Ahead

Dr. Steve Cossey

Dr. Steve Cossey

Cossey, himself, is a unique specimen. He’s definitely not your average rock hound. Sure, he’s published academic papers on carbonate flow deposits and amalgamation in channel complexes, but he’s also self-published books on blurb, including a volume of poetry and another that deals with the intersection of geology and culture as it concerns the Chicontepec Basin of eastern Mexico.

Cossey grew up near Cambridge, England, and studied geology at the University of Wales in Swansea (now Swansea University). He attended graduate school at the University of South Carolina and completed field studies in Tunisia, earning his doctorate in 1978. During the 1980s, Cossey spent time in China, Indonesia and Dubai. He worked for ConocoPhillips, Sohio Petroleum, Standard Oil and BP. In 1995, Cossey left the corporate oil world to strike out on his own, and it was at this time that he began compiling his database.

While Cossey hopes the online database helps broaden his user base, he has other prospects in the works. In the fall, Cossey will lead a travel tour to Colombia. One highlight of the trip will be a ride aboard a 1921 Baldwin steam locomotive. “I have a passion for steam engines,” said Cossey, who bought the engine a few years ago and can’t wait to take it out. It’s been sitting in a shed in Bogota — idle — and unlike Cossey who is always on the move traveling and hiking and continually gathering new information for his website to provide users with the most comprehensive, up-to-date oil field and oil reservoir data available.

Read about other eXcelisys case studies, click here.

The post Geologist Fuels Consulting Biz by Drilling Deeper Into FileMaker Web Technology appeared first on eXcelisys.


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WordPress Theme Considerations

By: Fred Morgan

wordpress theme basics logo

WordPress originally began life as a blogging engine, but over time has matured into not only a great content management system (CMS), but also a full-fledged application development framework.  Consequently, WordPress holds the lion’s share of the CMS market and its widespread use has spurred the development of countless WordPress themes and plugins to extend its feature set.  However, not all WordPress themes and plugins are created equal.

There is so much variation in the way a WordPress theme (and plugin) are developed for WordPress that I am never really sure if I like it or not until I install it and start working with it on the back end.  That being said, here are a few things to consider before making your WordPress theme purchase to reduce the risk of ending up with a theme you are not satisfied with.

1.  Is the WordPress theme responsive?

responsive wordpress theme screen sizes imageIf not, forget it and move on to the next option.  People will be accessing your site from smartphones, tablets, and computers with various size monitors.  A responsive WordPress theme will automatically adjust to the screen size of the device that is requesting the page and the menus and other resources will reformat accordingly.  In today’s web world, it is absolutely critical that your site is responsive so your audience has a consistent user experience optimized for the device they are using.

Responsive themes are developed using CSS and HTML, and the CSS files can get very complex with all of the rules required to address the myriad devices in use today.  Some developers choose to write their own CSS for this purpose, which is fine so long as it works, however, my favorite themes are built with Bootstrap.  Not only is Bootstrap a complete front end framework containing fully-baked responsive CSS and robust JavaScript elements that are simple to implement, it is also by far the most used framework on the web.  Since virtually all professional web developers are familiar with Bootstrap, choosing a theme that is built around this framework will ensure that your developer will be able to customize your theme with minimal effort, which means time and cost savings for you.

2. Is the theme well documented and supported by the author?

themeforest logoMy favorite themes are generally the ones that are well-documented and well-supported.  In a marketplace like Theme Forest, you can determine the latter by the comments and reviews posted by people who have purchased the theme so you can see what kind of issues they have encountered as they have installed and configured it.  You should also choose a theme that is updated regularly as new versions of WP and required plugins are released.

A theme that is documented and supported well by the author will make the development effort much quicker, and since time = money, it will also be less expensive in the long run.

3.  Is the WordPress theme compatible with the current version of WordPress?

This probably goes without saying, but any time you purchase a WordPress theme you should make sure it is compatible with the current version of WordPress.  WordPress has changed significantly over the years and the later releases implement features and libraries that may not be compatible with older themes.

4. What assets are included with the WordPress theme?

Many WordPress themes do not include the assets (images) shown in the demo. This often leaves you with a lot of graphic placeholders that need to be replaced with your own images.  This is fine for a general purpose theme, but can be a real pain to rebuild like the demo that the you or your client fell in love with if you purchase a WordPress theme for a particular vertical market (e.g., a hair salon or restaurant)  it looks .

5. Does the WordPress theme come with an XML import file for demo content?

wordpress theme import xml logoIf the WordPress theme includes an XML import file, it will make your life much easier.  An XML import makes it very easy to set up the theme just like the demo.  Importing the XML file will typically create the menus and sample pages as well as download the image assets into the media library.  This allows you to start with the theme set up just like the demo and begin making your modifications from that point, rather than having to build all of the pages, menus, etc. from scratch.  It is always easier to edit pages and menus that have already been created than to build it all from the ground up.

6. What plugins are required by the WordPress theme and are they well supported?

wordpress theme plug ins logoWordPress themes can have required plugins so it is a good idea to take a look at those WordPress plugins to make sure they are also well documented, supported, and regularly updated.  WordPress is frequently updated and can be set to do so automatically.  This is a convenient feature because many of the updates are security-related.  However, it is possible that a WordPress core update could cause one or more of your plugins to not function properly.

There are literally thousands of plugins available for WordPress, so be careful when selecting plugins that will be an integral component of the design or functionality of your site.  Just because it looks pretty now doesn’t mean you won’t have issues with it later when a security vulnerability is discovered and the plugin has to be disabled until it is patched.

7. Is the WordPress theme specifically designed for (or at least compatible with) the plugins you intend to use?

If you intend to use a plugin like WooCommerce (a very popular e-commerce plugin) or BuddyPress to provide core functionality for your site, it is important to choose a theme that is either specifically designed for, or at least compatible with, that plugin.

8. How important is page load speed to you?

wordpress theme speed logoPage load speed is always something to consider with WordPress.  Because your site’s content is housed in a MySQL database, each page load requires the web server to interact with the database server and wait for responses. This can often cause some lag with the page load speed, especially in shared hosting environments.

WordPress themes range from clean and minimalist to heavily designed, and which is best is really a matter of preference.  However, themes and plugins load libraries and resources (e.g., css and javascript files), and some of them can contribute to slow page load speeds.  This can be true for even a minimalist theme.  For instance, BuddyPress is a very popular community building plugin, but it is also a rather large application in and of itself with quite a bit of overhead.  Complex plugins like this (or ecommerce plugins) can cause even a minimalist theme to become bloated and ultimately lag.

Consequently, if page load speed is important to you, doing a page load speed analysis is a good idea. Google provides a free tool for this purpose at: https://developers.google.com/speed/pagespeed/.  Running the test on the demo site for the theme may not provide the most accurate results since demos are typically embedded within the marketplace site. This may make page load speeds appear longer than they would if the theme were installed on your site. However, running tests on various themes within the same marketplace should help you see how they compare to each other in terms of speed.

Performance testing should be repeated once the theme is installed in its base configuration within your own hosting configuration, after activating all of the plugins you intend to use. Scrapping a theme and choosing a different one at this point is much less expensive than waiting until significant development effort has been expended and finding out then that the theme or plugins have some inherent issues affecting page load speed.

9. Is the WordPress theme highly rated by other users?

wordpress theme ratings imageAs mentioned in the first point of this article, a WordPress theme can look good on the front end but be a disaster on the back end and there is no way of knowing for sure until you install it and begin working with it.  This is where purchasing your theme from an online marketplace can be advantageous compared to purchasing directly from the developer.  A theme marketplace like Envato Market will typically offer reviews from other users who have purchased the theme in the past.  The review system allows users to rate the theme and post comments regarding what they found challenging/serendipitous to work with, the quality of support offered by the theme developer, etc.  These reviews can help sort out the good from the bad before spending your hard earned cash on a theme purchase.

Of course, there are other things you may want to consider depending on your particular needs, but this list should get you headed in the right direction.


**This article is provided for free and as-is, use, enjoy, learn, and experiment at your own risk – but have fun! eXcelisys does not offer any free support or free assistance with any of the contents of this blog post. If you would like help or assistance, please consider retaining eXcelisys’ WordPress consulting & development services.

About eXcelisys, Inc.: Founded in 2001, eXcelisys (www.excelisys.com) eXcelisys specializes in designing, developing, customizing, supporting, consulting, migrating, upgrading, fixing, and integrating of database solutions for Desktop, Mobile, and Web applications. Our core technology competencies are FileMaker Pro, FileMaker Go, and MySQL for database frameworks, along with FileMaker WebDirect, WordPress, MySQL, PHP, CodeIgniter, PostgreSQL, Joomla, Drupal, Magento, CSS, HTML5, and Javascript for web sites and web applications. Aside from providing eXcellent customer service, our goals are to use these technologies to intuitively automate your organization’s data solution needs seamlessly and flawlessly across the web, mobile, and desktop platforms. Contact eXcelisys today for a free estimate and consultation about making your business more efficient through intuitive and effective software automation. 866-592-9235.

** eXcelisys, Inc. is an independent entity and this web site/information/blog post has not been authorized, sponsored, or otherwise affiliated with The WordPress Foundation, WordCamp, or the WordPress open source project.

The post Basics Before You Purchase a WordPress Theme appeared first on eXcelisys.


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Hierarchical Portal Filtering using FileMaker Pro 15

By Andy Persons

Way back in 1996/97, I developed my original hierarchical portal filtering technique using FileMaker Pro 3. Twenty years later, we decided to take another look and update it for FileMaker Pro 15. Several alternate approaches have been developed in the interim for the hierarchical portal filtering technique (including a “lite” approach by my colleague Doug West). After reviewing them, we believe the original approach still has merit as one option to consider.  

Hierarchy Lite Advantages

The Lite approach on the hierarchical portal filtering technique focuses on ease of implementation. It works to abstract the hierarchy logic using features like global variables and portal filtering, entailing fewer schema changes and requiring fewer changes after pasting scripts and fields. Download Doug West’s version of Hierarchy Lite Demo  

Hierarchy Classic Advantages

The Classic approach to the hierarchical portal filtering technique uses a multikey in a global primary key field to filter records. This requires more work to implement and more schema changes, but can result in improved performance in certain circumstances such as high numbers of related records or WAN deployments. This is because records are filtered at the relational level rather than the portal filter level. Records that won’t be displayed simply aren’t downloaded in the first place rather than being downloaded and filtered after the fact.  

Leveraging New FileMaker Pro 15 Features

We were also able to take advantage of several features that have been added since FileMaker Pro 3:

 

Hierarchical portal filtering screen shot 

 

  • Button Bars: the text for the Expand All/Collapse All button toggle takes advantage of calculated Button Bars
  • Script Triggers: Indented arrows use repeating calculation fields with OnEnter script triggers to simulate “repeating buttons”
  • CSS: allows us to hide the In Focus formatting of the repeating field to preserve the button-like behavior

 

Hierarchical Portal Filtering FileMaker Pro Download

Download Revised Version

 

Hierarchy Advanced 2.0 Features (coming soon)

This refreshing of the original technique also sets the stage for more advanced features that we’ll be releasing in subsequent demos:

  • Dynamic sorting by any field
  • Drag-and-drop sorting and reassignment

Stay tuned for Pt2 and Pt3!

**This article is provided for free and as-is, use, enjoy, learn, and experiment at your own risk – but have fun! eXcelisys does not offer any free support or free assistance with any of the contents of this blog post. If you would like help or assistance, please consider retaining eXcelisys’ FileMaker Pro consulting & development services.

About eXcelisys, Inc.: Founded in 2001, eXcelisys (www.excelisys.com) is an FBA Platinum Partner and FileMaker Certified developer organization. eXcelisys specializes in designing, developing, customizing, supporting, consulting, migrating, upgrading, fixing, and integrating of database solutions for Desktop, Mobile, and Web applications. Our core technology competencies are FileMaker Pro, FileMaker Go, and MySQL for database frameworks, along with FileMaker WebDirect, WordPress, MySQL, PHP, CodeIgniter, PostgreSQL, Joomla, Drupal, Magento, CSS, HTML5, and Javascript for web sites and web applications. Aside from providing eXcellent customer service, our goals are to use these technologies to intuitively automate your organization’s data solution needs seamlessly and flawlessly across the web, mobile, and desktop platforms. Contact eXcelisys today for a free estimate and consultation about making your business more efficient through intuitive and effective software automation. 866-592-9235 | info@excelisys.com

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