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Archive for January, 2011

Tactical Effectiveness without IT’s Blessing …

A couple of weeks ago, I got into a bit of a debate with a IT administrator about their “view” of FileMaker Pro in the IT world.    Their position was very much like so many that I have seen over the years.  Essentially, IT departments start out by being a helping hand…wielder of great tools to help the rest of the corporation.  Somewhere along the way…IT stops being the helpful tools and support staff…and becomes it own living bureaucracy…deep in politics, bickering.  When IT depts progress to this point, the attitude of “how can I help and empower the end user” changes to one of “how can I keep the users under control so they don’t make a mess of the corporation computers.”     While security is a critical piece of the puzzle that cannot be ignored, large IT shops begin to place their own politics and agenda’s ahead of the user they are supposed to support.

Some of you might like to debate the statement above.  But it is fact.  I got a call today from a fortune 100 marketing team that was forced to used spreadsheets to solve a mission critical problem…when that they needed was a robust workgroup database with document management capabilities.  IT’s answer was for the marketing team to use MS Excel for the next 5 years until IT’s new Acme Oracle powered system comes online, then marketing could use that.  Essentially telling users that they had to use MS Excel or nothing.  Way to go big IT!!!  Your sending your own employees out to other companies looking for solutions…that you should have solved.

My recent exchange went like this:

Fortune 500 IT Guy:  My experience with FileMaker is that it is a limited end-user database tool for small to mid-sized departmental applications. It is sorely lacking in features required to built enterprise class applications. It doesn’t use a standardized language for scripting, instead using a ‘child-like’ scripting language that is non-standard (not taught in a single university environment), it’s performance querying against complex schemas is horrible. It is not a tool a professional developer would ever consider for building enterprise applications. It isn’t marketed that way, if you read their literature and website. It might be better than MS Access, but that isn’t saying much. MS Access is another want-to-be database tool for unskilled people who won’t take the time to learn real languages and robust tools. If Apple really cared at all about the enterprise world they would buy a company like Servoy and their product which started out as a ‘professional’ developer’s 4GL tool based roughly on the FileMaker model and move away from the the propietary junk they currently support to a standards based tool. Of course Mr. Jobs is a bigot when it comes to established standards like Java so that would never work at all. The iPad needs a front-end tool to Oracle, MS SQL Server, DB2, etc that isn’t dragged down by all the baggage the FileMaker still clings too. That is its Achille Heel to any acceptance in the corporate world of enterprise applications. Yes, you can throw together an iPad solution quickly that looks like something that would take months to build in XCode, but the performance would cause a revolt among mobile workers who had to use it day to day. Also there is no synchronization processes available for those situations when Wi-Fi is not available. Forgot 3G connections, unless you have a 1/2 hour to create and save individual transactions!

The response for a 20 year workgroup veteran:

You make some interesting points; however, you are making some rather sweeping statements which are somewhat disingenuous. Your primary concern is that FileMaker is not an Enterprise tool. Your reasoning for this is twofold: it does not use a standardized language “taught in…universit[ies]” (e.g. SQL), and it does not cater to “big iron” database deployments. As correctly stated, FileMaker, Inc. does not position itself as a tool for hardcore IT programmers who spend their hours optimizing code for databases running hundred of millions of records. FileMaker is clearly not intended to be that type of system.

So does that make it of no value in the Enterprise world? Of course not. Most database solutions that are developed for the enterprise are based within department, operational units, geographical regions etc. A minority of database applications are deployed enterprise-wide to thousands of users. Of course, enterprise IT units mostly focuses on these massive application deployments. To this end, enterprise IT focuses on Oracle/SQL/etc. deployments. However, most departmental users have a tremendous need to create effective applications that solve problems that are still mission critical, even though they are not big enough to be noticed by the main IT or funded at the enterprise level by management. And they need it done yesterday.

Frankly, this is where FileMaker is unbeatable. FileMaker empowers the knowledge workers (a.k.a. power users) to build their own successful solutions without the assistance of IT or other programmers.

This is abhorrent to some IT departments. I could name some fortune 100 companies that actively fight their users if their users try to build applications to solve their department database needs, many of which are being overlooked by IT because “we’ve got bigger fish to fry” or are being underfunded by management for the same reason: it’s not their pain.

This is a real shame. There are better ways for IT staff work with departments, for example by providing some guidance (e.g. “watch out for x”, “make sure you have backups”, etc.) while allowing the department to build out their own internal applications.

FileMaker on the iPad and iPhone provides a compelling solution, which allows department level power users within the enterprise to actively deploy their own shared applications on a major mobile platform. Just because it’s not “standardized” doesn’t mean it’s not useful, especially when the standardized IT department either won’t or can’t give the departments the time of day.

Power users and knowledge workers … who exist inside of every enterprise department … don’t care about SQL, Java, Flash, and all the other buzz words of the IT industry. They don’t care about your NoSQL, MapReduce, or MongoDB. They certainly don’t care about your übermensch Perl scripting or your LISP, Haskell, or Erlang. Some of them might think it’s cool, but all of them just want to be able to get to their contacts’ information and take notes on what they’re doing while they’re out in the field.

They just want their solutions to work. FileMaker Go works. It can be scripted to sync data back and forth between a server and mobile user, and with a little bit of care it can deliver effective database performance on a 3G network (I know because we’ve done it). It can handle thousands of records or tens of millions of records.

FileMaker can event communicate with Oracle or SQL. It’s just not the “darling” of enterprise IT programmers. Does that make it unusable for the enterprise? No.

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