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Planning a FileMaker Solution

Now it is time to look at projects you can create with FileMaker. This chapter provides you not only with project design tips and techniques but also with the database architecture planning that you need to know in order to make your FileMaker solutions as productive as possible.

Each of the projects in this part provides a real-life example that you can use as-is or modify. Each project has been chosen to demonstrate particular features of FileMaker as well as to address a variety of business needs. You will find that the projects in each chapter are almost complete. The "almost" is because planning a FileMaker solution almost always starts with the same basic steps. In this chapter, you will see how to plan a FileMaker solution. These steps are not repeated in the later chapters except in the cases where you might need to vary the basic planning steps. You start by answering some basic questions to plan your FileMaker solution; having done that, it is time to start actually implementing your solution. After that, some specific issues with regard to layouts and databases need your attention.

FileMaker is a remarkably powerful tool that can be used easily for projects large and small. One of the greatest features of FileMaker is the ease with which you can make changes as a project evolves. Your needs might change; also, as you start working with a FileMaker solution, you and your colleagues might realize that you can ask new questions and get even more useful answers. In traditional project development processes, such changes in midstream are expensive and often not even possible. With FileMaker, you can start with a simple project and let it evolve over time.

However, taking some time at the start to plan the project is time well spent. The most important difference between this type of planning with FileMaker and up-front planning on traditional IT projects is that the stakes are much lower with FileMaker. Make your best guesses as to the answers to these questions, knowing that changes will not be the end of the world.

What Is the Scope of the Project?

You can do so much with FileMaker that it can be tempting to start out trying to accomplish too much. Specify the scope of the project, bearing in mind that whether you work in a large corporation or in a part-time business of your own, it is better to get a basic system up and running quickly rather than to fiddle around for months (or years) trying to develop the ultimate system.

What Information Do You Need to Handle?

If you’re working in a business you know, this might be the most difficult question to answer. You are probably so close to the data that it is hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. Make a list of the data you need to manage. Do not worry if it is incomplete (or too complete)—you can easily change it with FileMaker. But at least start with a list of your data.

How Should You Talk About the Data?

Every business has its own lingo. Often, people make fun of computer-ese, but, in fact, computer-ese pales next to the jargon of lawyers, librarians, and just about everyone else who works in a specific business. In designing your FileMaker solution, use the language of your users. If you are your own user, this is easy. Resist the temptation to show off your database skills—do not make people learn a new language in order to use your solution.

What Are the Rules Governing the Data?

Every time you can establish a rule for the data you deal with, you can translate that rule into a validation routine that FileMaker can automatically perform. For each rule you need to ask yourself (or whoever will use the system), "Is this always true?" Can you ever have two customers with the same name? Will the sale price to the customer always be greater than your acquisition cost? Even during a special sale? If the answer is "sometimes," that does not mean the rule is invalid—it just means that you have to accommodate exceptions in FileMaker’s validation routines.

The more rules you can devise, the cleaner your data will be. But do not become sidetracked with rules for data that is rarely used. If the place cards for the fiftieth anniversary party of the business have a special rule for their data, that is nice; but get on with the rules for day-to-day operations.

What Reports Do You Need?

If you are automating an existing system, you already have some reports to use as a model. Do you want to replicate them? Or is this an opportunity to start from scratch? Do you need paper reports or a paper trail, or will onscreen reports be sufficient? Are there specific paper sizes and forms with which you need to work? Know this up front so you can design layouts once.

Do You Need to Import or Export Data?

This is an important question. Are you going to be converting data or starting from scratch with your new FileMaker solution?

Do You Have Ongoing Import/Export Needs?

If your solution is to be part of a larger system, you might need to move data into and out of it. FileMaker handles importing and exporting of data, but you should know from the start if you are going to have to do this. If you can avoid it for your first project, you will have an easier time.

What Are Your Security Needs?

Security is one of the three aspects of a project that is hard to add on after the fact. (The other two are networking and version control.) If you will be the only one using the solution and if you only use one computer that is under your control, you can skip this question. Otherwise, consider who will need access to the data. You might want to review the FileMaker security model to see what you can do. (A document on security is provided in the Electronic Documentation folder inside the English Extras folder when you install FileMaker.)

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