Increasingly, we are encountering organizations that are reevaluating their existing investment in FileMaker or looking at building new solutions where Salesforce is a primary option. This article will help you to make an informed solution in comparing the options available.

filemaker vs salesforce

Forbes recently rated Salesforce at #1 out of the most innovative companies. Their enterprise values is listed at $20.7 billion. FileMaker’s parent company Apple, was rated #5 with $303.4 billion enterprise value. It’s an interesting study. In any case, neither FileMaker or Salesforce are going away any time soon. But you do need good advice to evaluate the options and know when to use the right tool to solve your business problems.

It is difficult to compare the two products because they can be used to solve different problems and individual projects vary greatly. Nevertheless, here are some high level comparisons and generalizations that can be helpful:

  • Number of Users – FileMaker is aimed at workgroups or groups of less than 250 users. Within a large enterprise this can be a department or small business their entire operation. (Note: The reach of FileMaker can be extended through the use of web portals that have static information updated or synced by FileMaker on a regular basis.) Even so, since FileMaker is still focused on workgroups of less than 250 users, it need not be considered if there are significantly more than 250 active users for the solution. If that is the case, look seriously at Salesforce. Salesforce is built on Oracle. It can handle 1000s of users. So if you need to reach that many people, Salesforce could be your choice.
  • Flexibility – Many development changes can be made to FileMaker solutions live while users are actively utilizing the database. FileMaker solutions can also be modified easily during rapid application development sessions. This is more difficult to achieve with Salesforce. You may choose FileMaker if you want to have more control over the final product.
  • Speed to Implementation – FileMaker is generally going to take less time to implement a custom solution that it will with Salesforce due to the inherently simpler development process.
  • In the Cloud – At its most basic level, being “in the cloud” boils down to having a server located somewhere outside of your office. Salesforce or FileMaker can meet this requirement. In that case, you avoid the need to maintain a server on location by paying a monthly fee for hosting.
  • Mobile – A significant advantage of FileMaker is in the area of iPad/iPhone app building/support. Being a wholly owned subsidiary of Apple, they have the R&D money available to make sure that it is a strong mobile development option. Although you can build a mobile web-application based on FileMaker that could reach Android devices, if you have an environment where you must reach Android devices, FileMaker may not be the right solution for you as utilizing the advantages of FileMaker Go is only possible with iOS devices like the iPad/iPhone. In one case study, the client decided that it made more sense to ignore the small percentage of Android devices and force them to switch to the iPhone rather than significantly increase the cost of development by not utilizing FileMaker Go. Since FileMaker Go is a free client for FileMaker systems, in some cases it may even make more financial sense to invest directly in iPads rather than purchasing additional desktop clients of FileMaker.
  • Cost – There is no question that Salesforce development is more expensive. Oracle, Apex, and its underlying technologies are more difficult to program, troubleshoot, and debug. SalesForce is usually sold on a subscription basis with base user fees of $60 to $200/person/month. For a workgroup of 50 users this could be $36,000-$120,000 annually. This is just for the platform and no custom development time. With custom SalesForce development averaging $220/hour the costs rise quickly. Salesforce solutions require more developers to be involved to produce similar results compared to FileMaker, increasing the costs again. Often a single FileMaker developer can create, support, and maintain a FileMaker solution though we generally have multiple developers work on the solution to aid in creative problem solving and reduce the risk associated with only one developer knowing the system. FileMaker does not have an ongoing per user monthly cost. It’s annual cost for a group of 50 FileMaker users for the base software would be well under $10,000.

A Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) White Paper written by technology journalist and IT business consultant Frank Ohlhorst concluded that the FileMaker Platform is ideal for:

  • Solutions that are currently based on spreadsheets or paper
  • Retrieving and exchanging data with enterprise systems
  • Data tracking, report generation, and analysis
  • Workflow solutions for the department or workgroup

The paper said that “An enterprise can expect to reduce development costs by at least 60% when compared to Salesforce.com Enterprise Edition. FileMaker significantly improves return on investment (ROI) and reduces TCO.”

Overall, the study showed that FileMaker saved over $385,000 when it was compared to Salesforce for a solution for 50 clients when analyzed in the following areas:

  • Database License
  • Development Environment
  • Development Cost
  • Deployment Cost
  • DBA Cost
  • Development Toolset Training
  • Application Upgrades
  • Platform Upgrades
  • Support/Maintenance

Another study performed by Infostructure Associates, concluded that “FileMaker Pro (an encapsulated design and development environment that allows for low cost and rapid development and deployment of applications) is not only ideal for departmental/ workgroups requirements, but also can act as a complement to enterprise platforms such as Oracle and Microsoft SQL Server. Our research indicates that FileMaker yields a reduction in time-to-delivery of 25% or more compared to common alternative databases/ development tools. In a three-year TCO analysis, FileMaker yields an average reduction of 50%, compared to these alternative tools.”

Based on our research and experience, there is no way that Salesforce can compete on pricing with FileMaker. A Salesforce solution will likely be 3-5 times more expensive when you factor in the Total Cost of Ownership over time. It will also require a longer period of time to produce similar results compared to a FileMaker solution…especially when coupled with a pre-built solution framework such a fmIgnite.

So here’s the BIG QUESTION: If FileMaker costs so much less, how can it possibly provide a good solution to your technology and business issues? The answer is simple. Despite it’s low cost, FileMaker can and does provide incredible value in many situations where it is the right fit and given a talented and experienced developer to make it work. If FileMaker or FileMaker developers were to raise their prices significantly to match Salesforce and to reduce the perception that it can’t be as good of a solution, who would lose? The answer: Every business that can benefit from FileMaker technology.

So if your budget precludes utilizing Salesforce, look at FileMaker because it can give you a lot of functionality to propel your business forward making it more effective, productive, and profitable. It’s not that FileMaker solutions are cheap. A well-implemented FileMaker full business solution could cost $50-000-$250,000+. FileMaker solutions are more cost-effective in comparison to Salesforce. A similar solution built with Salesforce could easily cost 2-4 times as much.

Maybe the choice between Salesforce OR FileMaker is not even the question. Let’s say you already have a Salesforce solution implemented within your company. Since Salesforce is built on Oracle, did you know that FileMaker can get at the data and make it even more useful for you? You can use FileMaker to connect to Salesforce and get the information you need so you can leverage the power of Salesforce and the flexibility of FileMaker to extend the Salesforce solution and fill in the gaps where Salesforce might be lacking such as producing special reports and finding information quickly and easily. Definitely, investigate this as an option.

See the following video from Richard Carlton Consulting for more information.

Tim Cimbura

Tim Cimbura – CEO and Software Engineer

Tim is an expert in creating custom business solutions that make your work more effective, productive, and profitable. He specializes in FileMaker application development (certified in versions 8-16) for Mac OS, Windows, iPad/iPhone as well as integration with the web using WordPress, PHP, and AppleScript. He knows Apple technology and Windows systems inside and out.