Over the last few years we have seen a huge surge in requests for our company to evaluate the viability of upgrading their FileMaker databases. We have seen this in all industries including medical, retail, government and especially in the manufacturing and logistics industries. It seems everyone had that one person at their company that knew how to use FileMaker to build out a simply yet effective business management application. It was a game changer when it was built and now their deca-million dollar organization is running on a piece of software that cost $100 a year to license. We applaud these companies for taking the initiative they took when the application was built and also feel their pain as they try and move their company to an enterprise level ERP or similiar application. So... if you are at this point in your business what should you do?
Step 1: Accept Reality
We know this can be hard but let's face it. The FileMaker database you built 20 years ago is not going to last much longer. You are probably spending more time working around it then you are saving by using it. Yes, we know that your entire customer database is in there. Yes, we know that everyone in the company has used it for years and retraining them will be a challenge. Yes, we have heard all your other reasons why you can't change. One piece of advice is to just accept the fact that you can't keep working like this.
Step 2: Create a High Level Scope
Chances are that you need the FileMaker application to do more then it is doing now but you've lived with it so long all those good ideas are now forgotten. Or maybe you've purchased some other software to do things you really wish your main application could do. It's fine to dream a little. Write down a bullet point list of all the things you wish it could do. This might include reports you have always wanted. It might be the ability to use it from your phone on the road or maybe to access the application while you are at home. Whatever it is just start with a bullet pointed list.
Step 3: Get a Budget
This isn't going to be cheap, accept that. We are not trying to be overly crass here but seriously, you are going to spend a lot. If you do it right the ROI will be measured in months or maybe a few years. That is a great return on your investment. So, don't be cheap but you also don't need to hire SAP, IBM and Oracle all at the same time. Just sit down and decide on what it would be worth to do the upgrade. When we do this with clients we try and ask questions around how much staff time will be saved if we reduce the manual data entry, or how much money will be saved if you have better real time reporting and you can reduce the amount of inventory you have to carry. Depending on your business that analysis will be different. You can be as sophisticated as you want to be on this but don't over think it. Just try and come up with a reasonable number. Last comment: What will it cost your company if this software suddenly fails? Delta just lost $150 Million dollars for a 5 hour outage of their ERP software.
Step 4: Call a few Vendors
We'd love the chance to meet you but even if you call us we still recommend calling a few other software developers. You need to look beyond price and try to determine if the company you are talking to is a good fit in other areas. For instance, can they get this done in your time frame. Do they have developers who understand your software (for instance if you are using Microsoft SQL Server in your office can they work with that)? Do they ask good questions or do they just tell you they have done this before. Can they upgrade the software as it is or do they have the experience to build something better. Will there be a language or timezone barrier if you work with them? Do they offer maintenance and support on the software they build or do you need to hire a full time developer or database administrator after they are done?
Step 5: Take the Plunge
Once you find a good vendor accept the fact they you will never find the "perfect" vendor. Perfect is the enemy of getting things done. You won't find the perfect vendor so don't try. Find someone who has done this before, has the team to complete the work and has a good reputation.
Step 6: Manage the Vendor
A lot of clients make the mistake of signing the contract and walking away. Your developer needs your time, your feedback and your expertise on running your business. The best application developers will ask lots of questions early and throughout the project. Plan on taking time out of your week to meet with them and help them build the application correctly.
We hope this helps give you a good idea of next steps if you are upgrade a legacy FileMaker (or similiar) software application for your business.