Custom Database Software Development with FileMaker Pro

All of the posts on this website to date have been related to product design or development.  A recent project has highlighted a whole facet of our business that hasn’t been represented, custom database software development with FileMaker Pro.

A very Swell Idea, Inc. (AVSI) offers a unique perspective to the sale and development of custom software. Having designed software tools since 1997 for small businesses to manage their daily operations, AVSI has an excellent track record of making practical software tools that match and enhance existing business practices. Having designed custom machinery since 1991 across a wide range of industries, AVSI has an excellent track record of innovative problem solving and building mechanical systems that successfully serve their designed function. While typical software companies follow a standard business model of licensing software to the user that includes an initial per-seat cost and an annual license fee, AVSI approaches database software development with a custom machinery mindset; i.e., a fee is charged for the time and materials of the initial development, but no further fees are charged except for requested enhancements or unexpected issues. For this reason, we believe that our approach is a more desirable way to do business as it does not hold the owner hostage to a specific tool (charging fees for years to come) nor does it escalate fees for expansion of the user base. The only exception to this policy is that the core software tool, FileMaker Pro, is a traditional software tool that requires a per-seat license fee (approx $300) not paid to AVSI.

The primary benefit to commissioning a custom software tool, like when ordering a custom machine, is that the tool will be designed to behave exactly to your specifications. Any business that has been successful for several years will have inherent processes developed over time that greatly contribute to its success. Such processes usually contain checks-and-balances and other key features that have been developed by you, the owner(s), through trial-and-error, business training and industry research. By adopting an “off the shelf” software tool, the owner is essentially surrendering their tried-and-true operating processes in favor of another business’ processes. At times this may be advantageous, e.g. if the owner is planning to sell the company and wish to align their business processes with a potential buyer or if the owner’s business is not yet mature and they are looking for some best practices guidance. Adopting an “off the shelf” solution will be a learning experience, both in learning the software itself and in learning the business practices it promotes. It will require many hours of effort to become proficient at a tool which may or may not explicitly benefit the business in the long term. Some “off the shelf” tools can be manageable if they offer a sufficient level of personalization and customization, but this is rarely the case for small business software because the target market is too small to warrant such extensive up-front development. More often, there will be one or two key features that the owner (or state and local governments) deem necessary for doing business and the owner will accept to compromise their historical business knowledge in favor of the software developer’s offering.

At AVSI, we strive to capture the fundamental structure of your current processes and build them into a software tool that enhances your effectiveness. We tailor the design to your preferences, to your processes, to your existing tools and personnel. As much as you desire, we keep the paper processes intact, understanding that computers are not perfect and your existing processes are still valid. We work to understand what’s important to you and conform the tool’s features based upon that understanding. No extra, unused features will be included, so there will be no “work-around” steps necessary to make your tool work – it will be your tool. For these reasons, we believe that a custom software tool offers the best cost-to-benefit ratio both short and long term without compromising your business.

I encourage you to give us a call to discuss your custom software project and give us a chance to put our creative energy to work for you.

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Tuesday, June 5th, 2012 FileMaker, Swell Ideas Comments Off on Custom Database Software Development with FileMaker Pro

Branding the Ball – a WordPress website

I mentioned in a previous post that “I’m not an expert but I have learned that for my customers, creating a website powered by WordPress has been the best balance of cost versus capability versus self maintainability. I can build it and they can maintain it, both with relative ease and aesthetic excellence. [snip] So BoogerBall.com will become a WordPress blog site and that is a story for a future post.” Here is that post!

I am a builder. I can’t escape it. It’s how God fit me together when he jumbled up some creativity, problem solving skill and passion to help others. After building many websites from scratch (mostly for customers that have moved on), I’ve learned that there are tools out there that can make it easier. WordPress is one of those tools. When you understand how WordPress (WP) works and learn your way around customizing it with Themes, Widgets, Plugins and Settings, you can coax it very quickly to produce a very functional, connected and professional website (www.swtuts.com is a WP site that I admire). My goal for every customer is to make them look good while using my skills to meet their technical needs. WP helps me reach this goal every time AND results in a website that anyone can customize/edit.

Installing WP on my server is easy because each hosted site has a selection of available tools called the EasyApps Collection. While WP is famous for its 5 minute install (which requires setting up the database and uploading the files manually), the EasyApps installation script on my host makes it even easier. When you initiate the script, it asks you a few simple questions and then builds a smooth sailing, easy editing, quick customizing, wonderful website in just a few minutes (sorry for the alliteration there, I got carried away).

First, WP needs to install in a folder on your web server and you need to choose a name for that folder. The default is “/wordpress”. I usually change it to something more generic like “/site” or something very specific to the site I’m building. The folder may come up from time to time in working with and sharing your site so you do want to choose carefully. Consider a link http://BoogerBall.com/wordpress/the_original_story.htm vs. the same link to http://BoogerBall.com/savem/the_original_story.htm. The former tells the world what tool you use to manage your site. The latter keeps it simple and adds some intrigue to your link. For BoogerBall.com, I will choose “bb/” as it is short and sweet and relevant (and not too gross).

Next, choose a login and password. This script creates both an SQL database and an initial WP admin user with the same credentials. Because WP is a database driven tool, your site loads fast and information you add to it can be used in many unique ways. Behind the scenes, it may seem more complex than a simple html site, but up front it is much simpler to manage (consider the work of changing the look of a simple html site – page by page vs. the simplicity of installing a new theme in WP – in seconds the whole site has a fresh look).

If your host has a script like mine, you will immediately want to upgrade your WP install to the latest version. WP has instructions on their site how to do this. If you’ve installed version 2.7 or later, the updates are automated (click and wait a moment). If not, you will need to use ftp to upload and download the latest files. For ftp, I recommend an easy tool called FileZilla – its free and it has a cool name that makes me think of a giant green lizard breathing fire into my website – making things happen. You will also need a text editor for a step or two.

Some people use WP as simply a blog tool. They have a regular “www…” site and then have a link to their blog “www…/blog”. I prefer to use the blog tool as the entire site, taking advantage of all of its cool features. To do this, you will need to configure WP to run from the root folder of your site so www… connects directly to the WP pages. This simple tutorial makes that possible.

As WP is primarily a blog tool, it’s prudent to understand how you might make it work for a fully featured website. Content on a WP site takes two forms, Posts and Pages. Pages are designed to be mostly static info that doesn’t change very often. Most WP themes have a menu bar that automatically makes a button for each Page. For the sites that I’ve helped launch, Pages are used for the About page, a Contact page, a Calendar (linked to a Google Calendar) or other basic but important information. Posts are designed to be the primary authoring tool for the WP site. Some of my customers use Posts to share what’s new or to document a monthly report. Articles such as this one are perfect for Posts. Posts are sorted on a WP site by date so they produce a running history of the content you’ve added. Posts have the ability to be organized with Categories and Tags which further extend the navigation possibilities. If you are selling something, each item may be placed on its own Post and each Post can have a Category (For Sale or Sold) which will help sort the content. There are many possibilities, but understanding Pages and Posts will help you make the most of WP.

WP has many additional features that make it a powerful ally in web design. Plugins are one of those features. Many free plugins exist that you can install directly inside your WP control panel. Some favorites that I use are Image Widget, Simple Hit Counter, Secure and Accessible PHP Contact Form and Subscribe To. If I have helped with your site, you already should have these installed. Themes are another one of those features. You can download and install new themes in a flash from inside WP. If you’re code savvy, you can customize a theme using the built-in Edit Themes tool. I usually find a theme that looks swell, download it and customize it to make it more swell. Another feature that makes WP a cool tool are just the basic WP settings that give you a whole host of controls over your site (including automatic search engine registration). Best of all, each of these features will be the subject of a future post (so much to say, so few keystrokes).

So there it is. It took me more time to ink out the words of this post (yes, I do write all of my posts on paper before “going online” – call me obsolete) than it took me to turn BoogerBall.com into a fully functional, searchable, Google savvy website. Now all I need is content and creating quality content is where your time should be spent. WordPress makes that possible.  Now that BoogerBall.com has its start as a WordPress site, the next step is to customize it.

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Thursday, July 28th, 2011 Product Development Comments Off on Branding the Ball – a WordPress website

SolidWorks Certification …Rock Star?

Last November, I was approached by the Certification folks at SolidWorks to contribute some images and a few quotes that might help promote becoming a Certified SolidWorks Professional to attendees of SolidWorks World 2011.  Being a CSWP, CSWP-AWS and CSWP-ASMS, and being willing at every opportunity to promote the use of good tools in creative design, I submitted some work for consideration.
“Being SolidWorks certified sharpens your skills.  It means you know what you’re doing and you can prove it.”

“I use SolidWorks to design any type of frame because the Weldments tools make it so easy.”

Did you go to SolidWorks World this year?  I missed the big event but I learned that it was recorded and posted online.  If you shift the timeline on this video to about 5:25, you will catch Mike Puckett and Avelino Rochino introducing us as “Rock Stars”.

I highly recommend becoming certified, not because the test is easy or hard, not because it will make you stand out above the crowd, but because it will stretch your skills.  Stretching means learning and learning is something you should never stop doing. It was fun to support SolidWorks with some cool images, but I’m no Rock Star!

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Tuesday, May 10th, 2011 SolidWorks Comments Off on SolidWorks Certification …Rock Star?