Filemaker Pro and Cloud: the best web database software that you may never use

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Filemaker App Example

Blog Article by Keith Fowlkes on January 22, 2020
keith.fowlkes@hessconsortium.org

I know this might be a little rant and many of my readers may wonder why I care about this little company's software... but stay with me for a minute.

Over my years as a technology leader, I've used Oracle, Informix, SQL Server, Postgres and MySQL database platforms with a bunch of different development tools.  While these enterprise platforms have done well over the years, my favorite database product for smaller projects is Filemaker Pro.  Don't laugh.  The software is the best "point-click-design-publish" database software ever created.  While most database professionals might call it a "toy database," professionals and beginners can do some pretty amazing things with this software... and fast.

Filemaker Pro has an international footprint with large and small organizations using it for a variety of purposes.  If there was ever a product for a small or mid-sized business to create their own custom transaction database system, it would be Filemaker Pro.  Ready for use with Mac, Windows and web-based access, it is one of the easiest software packages you will ever use.  The web functionality in Filemaker is unmatched with web-direct access to the database through Filemaker server or a cloud-hosting software.  You design the interface and functionality in the beautiful GUI in the Filemaker software, publish it to the web and the web GUI is nearly 100% exact to what you created in the software.  It is a thing of beauty!

So, why have you not heard or used Filemaker Pro?  Sadly, because this software is a pearl trapped in an impenetrable corporate clam.

The company is a wholly owned subsidiary of Apple called Claris (there's history there too) and has been somewhat neglected over its nearly 30 years in existence by its big daddy.  Much like Apple's on-again, off-again relationship with higher education and enterprise business applications, Filemaker has had its ups and downs with its enterprise customers.  The problem is and has been consistency in the company's business practices and, most troubling to current customers, the recent change in user/seat licensing of the software.  I fear that their latest move in licensing could kill one of the best software tools I've seen in my career.  But, there is so much more potential out there for Claris and Filemaker Pro.

The major concern in my mind is with Claris' new Filemaker Cloud service.  Claris (formerly Filemaker, Inc.) has made the decision to license any web-based user as a full-client user.  This means that any visitor to a Filemaker web-direct enabled site is licensed at the same cost ($19.00 - $39.00 per cloud seat) as a full-time user seat.  This is a great price for companies using the cloud service for employees using the software on a regular basis but is by no means competitive when developing web-based applications for casual web-direct users of general use forms, data entry/updates and the occasional database search user.  To make matters worse, the cost of concurrent licensing for "anonymous" web users is 3x more than named user accounts.  In short, it is too expensive for companies to use Filemaker Cloud as a web-enabled application platform because anyone hitting the web interface is taking up an expensive, full-client license.

I cannot stress this enough.  Claris has a diamond in their Filemaker Pro software but their current approach to the market shows a serious lack of vision for what the company could be.  They are letting organizations like Caspio, Quickbase, Lightspoke and AppGini kill them in the competitive web database market with tools that cannot touch the capabilities of Filemaker and its cloud service.

So, I know that it's easy to complain but harder to offer up solutions so I want to offer up a new vision for Claris.  Claris might ask, why should an ERP analyst care?  Because I LOVE the software and their user community does too!!

This is what I would do if I were leading Claris... as if they asked.  

Primarily, the core problem lies with distinguishing the difference between a full-client and a casual web-direct client.

The cost for the full-client user seat for the cloud is great.  $19-$39 is a competitive per-seat price for cloud service and the cost for the client/ development software is fine also at between $300-$500, depending on whether you are a commercial or non-profit organization.  It is the web-direct access licensing that must be changed if Claris is to capture the market that is out there just waiting for this product.

Given that the Filemaker Cloud Service is housed in Amazon's Web Services ecosystem, it would be relatively easy to meter access to the web-direct interface.  It should also be possible to create a meter to show how long and where the recurring web-direct sessions are and whether they are casual web app users or concurrent web-direct users, using the software as an employee or non-casual visitor to the cloud interface.

There is one functional issue in an otherwise flawless software and cloud resource product.  Filemaker seems to have limitations of around 100 or so concurrent web-direct users (based on server capacity).  I would assume that Claris has this capped because the web-direct code is deeply tied to the user authentication process for full-licensed users.  If Claris could solve these problems and market the product as a easy-to-use, rapid development software and server solution, I believe that my technology colleagues would begin to look at this platform as a serious replacement for some of the (in my opinion) lesser products in the small to mid-market today.

If Claris made a few key visionary changes in the way they approach the market, I believe that some of the large database companies could learn a ton from this little company, their software design and functionality.  I stress that Filemaker is not an enterprise-level database product but, with the right leadership, I believe they could be a serious contender in the future for many small and mid-sized organizations looking for an easy-to-use, reliable and rapid development web database platform.

There are several other items that I believe should be addressed by the company in their sales and support services as well as the strategic marketing of the product but I will hold those thoughts for another time... or if they ever ask me.  ;)


Author information: Keith Fowlkes is Vice President for Technology Contracts with E&I Cooperative Services in Jericho, NY. Keith is a veteran chief information officer in higher education with over 25 years in technology leadership.  Over these years, Keith served as CIO for Saint Mary's College (Notre Dame, IN)., the University of Virginia at Wise and Centre College.  He is a frequent consultant, writer, speaker and thought-leader in the area of strategic educational and operational technology. Keith is also the co-founder, executive director and board vice president for the Higher Education Systems & Services Consortium (HESS).  

Copyright 2020 Keith Fowlkes.  All rights reserved.  
If you would like to reprint or repost this article, please contact Keith at keith.fowlkes@hessconsortium.org.