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FileMaker and Departmental Database Applications

FileMaker Pro is widely used throughout the MIT community to support many different workflow and data management issues at the department level. For data management needs that exceed what a spreadsheet can offer, FileMaker can be used for the design of highly customizable cross-platform (Mac and Windows) database solutions. FileMaker databases proliferate throughout MIT departments, labs, and centers. They range from simple single table files, used mostly for sorting and searching, all the way to complex applications with dozens of related tables, professionally developed functionality and user interfaces, connecting multiple users to their own data as well as centrally stored data resources on campus.

FileMaker services at MIT

The FileMaker product line has evolved significantly over 20 years and now offers a robust and secure platform for managing complex business functions and large quantities of data. The cost of FileMaker’s evolution and the ease of use for end-users is a steeper learning curve for those who are charged with developing or supporting FileMaker solutions. Regardless of whether the database was developed by someone in your area or by an outside professional developer, you may well find yourself in the need of some guidance related to support, maintenance, data management and functional enhancement.

If there isn’t someone knowledgeable about the database employed currently in your area and no outside developer relationship exists, Departmental Consulting and Application Development (DCAD), an IS&T team, has FileMaker resources to help DLCs resolve their internal database needs. DCAD is involved in development of new FileMaker solutions as well as with the ongoing support of its own solutions scattered around campus.

When to use a FileMaker solution?

If your database needs fit within these constraints, developing a FileMaker solution is appropriate if your database:

  • Does not house any combination of personal information as defined in section 17.02 of the Massachusetts regulation for safeguarding the personal information of Massachusetts residents. This includes a person's name in combination with ANY of the following:
    • Social Security Number
    • Driver's license or state ID number
    • Financial account or credit card number
  • Is not a system of record
  • Will not share sensitive information via the web
  • Will not exceed 80 simultaneous connections (if web-enabled)
  • Will be accessed through FileMaker clients from a single department, lab, or center

If the statements listed above are True, then FileMaker may be suitable for your needs. When implemented according to MIT standards and best practices, FileMaker should serve your department well.

You are strongly urged to refer to the checklist of security guidelines.

If your needs exceed the limits listed above, you should probably be looking at another technology. DCAD can help you make that judgment call and provide you with the necessary services to get you on your way.

Circumstances that suggest you may need help

If this is the first time you are encountering FileMaker as part of your job duties here at MIT, you may find that you are working with a pre-existing department- or professionally developed solution. You will likely need some on-the-job training for using the database to accomplish your day-to-day activities, particularly if you haven’t used FileMaker before. Inquire within your area first to get training for using your solution to complete your job duties. For generic FileMaker training or help, visit the IS&T software training pages or contact the Help Desk. If you are the sole user or are expected to “support” the database, you will likely need some outside help at some point.

Here is an incomplete list but with some specific examples of situations where you probably would benefit from getting outside guidance and where contacting DCAD might be of use.

  • You find that the version of the FileMaker database being used is no longer supported here at MIT.
  • The database cannot accommodate the data that you would like to enter.
  • You have multiple FileMaker databases and are having to enter the same data in many places.
  • Your database stores any of the following pieces of personal information about anyone:
    • Social Security Number
    • Driver's license or state ID number
    • Financial account or credit card number

Develop, deploy, and manage your FileMaker application