At a recent Claris FileMaker User Group MN (FMPUG-MN) meetup, a successful business owner demonstrated the features of his custom app built on the Claris FileMaker low-code/pro-code platform. He also discussed all the business value his solution has brought him, and the advantages he’s gained by building a custom app versus using an off-the-shelf solution.
At our FMPUG meetup the following month, we did a deeper dive into this business solution. Learning from two of the developers who had worked on the project, we were able to look at the solution behind-the-scenes. We watched as the developers demoed how they built the solution, and we learned how we can all capitalize on some of the amazing features they’d built in.
Their presentation included discussion about two business solution catalysts: fmIgnite and fmFlare, and how they work together to create a brilliant, full-featured FileMaker solution while saving thousands of hours of custom coding. Even in a low-code solution that allows for fast changes, the addition of pro-code modules from fmIgnite and fmFlare are able to move things forward quickly, making complex FileMaker solutions much more affordable and achievable.
Here’s a quick overview and summary of some of the main points:
The ability to flexibly map routes was key for this service company. Andy first talks in detail about GIS and mapping capabilities in the FileMaker solution that fully integrates with all other FileMaker data in the solution:
- Maps are created using fmFlare in a card window that pops up and does all the heavy lifting code work behind the scenes.
- He shows several different mapping libraries and advanced functions such as drawing area bounding boxes and getting specific parcel data.
- Also mentioned are GeoJSON, Esri, etc.
Shawn then discusses the overall structure of fmIgnite. He begins with the anchor-buoy relationship graph design.
Next, Shawn demonstrates the fmFlare integration with regards to some of the more advanced features in the application such as:
- Email sending with Mandrill, MailGun, or Sparkpost
- Text message sending with Twillio
- Data table columns
- and more.
Watch the video:
Read the unedited transcript of the video below:
Tim Cimbura: The prologue, I just used all “p” words, prologue presentation pizza in person. Intentionally. I had to think of a “p” word that would be the start or the beginning. The other ones just fell into place. Yeah. Preview.
So, just as a quick intro, last month, we had Nick Holland, who is the business owner of Peregrine Pest control, demo his FileMaker solution … that is a custom FileMaker solution. At that time, we didn’t know he was going to take the entire hour to do his demo. But he really went into full depth on that and it was really good. So I posted that at this link, if you haven’t got a chance to see that.
And today’s presentation will be by Shawn Krueger and Andy Walz, who are two of the developers who worked on this solution. They’re going to demonstrate kind of the behind the scenes of it. So how was developed and how it works under the hood.
This is a photo of where we are today at LuminFire. If you’re not here, in person, this is the building. This actually is a drone video, so it gets really cool here. It’s not live though. Yeah. So I’m going to stop sharing my screen.
Andy Walz: Alright. So without going back to the Peregrine file, hopefully you had a chance to see that or watch the video, I’m going to just reintroduce a product we have called fmFlare that is used to drive a lot of the more advanced functionality that you saw in that that demo last last month. Things like the maps, the calendars, the emails, it sends the text messages. We have built up modules for functionality like that using services like Twilio, Ezri, ArcGIS, Mailgun, and a whole number of third party service providers that we get asked to integrate FileMaker with all the time.
And we’ve built modules for that in this solution called fmFlare. It’s a FileMaker file. No plugins. It’s all native functionality. There’s probably 1000s of insert from URL, skip steps in this file. And what we’ve done is made it maybe 10s of 1000s. I know what we’ve done is made it super easy for ourselves and other developers to use fmflare integrations by just setting up script parameters and script call from your solution, that proxy through fmFlare and fmFlare knows how to communicate with all these third party providers and fmFlare will return results. It will either return the data you’re asking for, or it will return HTML that you can display. In a web viewer in your own solution, I’m going to get into that more in a minute or, or it will display content in a web viewer or a card window with a web viewer. So you can even very quickly add advanced functionality to your solutions without even making layouts or things like that. So what we’re going to look at, what I’m going to demo today is all going to be out of our examples file. And we package this along with fmFlare, and this file is completely open so you can look at all of the scripts to do whatever it is that you want to, to do to integrate with. And you can copy and paste these scripts into your solution, and then modify them so that it uses your data instead of the example data. But for testing, we’ve made layouts here that allow you to just enter some sample data and send requests and see what you get back. And it really aids the development process.
What you’re going to find here, say for example, for MailChimp, like the things that we’ve been asked, that most people commonly want to do with these solutions. And we focus on that first, like what our customers are asking for, not necessarily making sure that we have examples for every single function in an API. But you can get a long ways with what we’ve got here and avoid having to write all those scripts yourself.
So today, I’m going to focus on maps and show you the mapping flare that we’ve been working on for a number of years now. And then Shawn is going to take over and talk about email and calendars, and possibly a few other things you saw in Peregrine and how they, how you could use them through here.
And we do give away a basic version of fmFlare for free. And then it’s licensed for the more advanced functionality based on how you’re going to use it and how many people are going to use it and things like that. But it’s priced in such a way that it can save you a lot versus custom development yourself.
So for geotag, GIS geographic information systems, and we also do address verification, zip code lookup, USPS address formatting or local geocoding, which is converting an address to latitude and longitude. That type of functionality is in here, too, you may have seen the address lookup in the Peregrine solution. That one, as is, it’s like a type ahead. And so it’s actually looking for matches as you type in an address. And then you click on the matching address, and it fills in the rest of the form for you. fmFlare has functionalities that can help you build some of that. That one does require a little more schema in your own solution because it uses value lists and things like that.
But anyway, today I’m going to show you maps. So I’ve got a number of examples here. Well, let me just start with a new record. So what you can do here is quickly build maps to map a single point or map multiple points. I’ve demoed some of this in the past, it was probably over a year ago. But some of you might remember. You can pass in data as a FileMaker list, or as geoJSON, which is just JSON, but an agreed upon standard format of JSON. If you Google geoJSON, there’s documentation on the web that shows you exactly how to format it. And if you’re wanting to map a lot of data, with a lot of properties, it’s the way to go. And you can build it using file makers native JSON functionality, or I like to use the data API script step as well, because you can get, you have to massage it a little bit. But you can get JSON and convert it to geoJSON, and really quickly map lots of data that’s in your solution. And then the newest feature is ArcGIS data, which is what I’m going to spend the most time on today.
So but just to give you an idea, St. Paul is somewhere around there. And you can enter a zoom level, if you want to return the web, your source to your solution and map it in your solution. Here is all of this data is just setting up a script parameter. And depending on what that parameter looks like, you’re going to get, one map or the other. So, you can choose. We’ve got a base map library here. So you can, some of these require an API key, but a lot of them don’t. And so you can, you can do one or more base maps, with different layers. There’s a lot of functionality here. And just to just to show you what’s happening behind the scenes, we were really just taking the data in these fields, setting it to variables, and then building a script parameter.
We’ve got examples of every key and value that’s supported. So I have pasted it in here for convenience. So if you’re working with this yourself, we give you an example like this, and this is one of our more complex ones, I mean, you might be passing in an API key and some data. But this one takes all sorts of different kinds of options for setting up the map, like how it behaves, what it’s centered on, whether you have what’s your starting zoom level is, what type of data you want to map. And these are not all required, you don’t have to pass all of these every time if you just want a simple map, you’d be passing like a handful. If you’re mapping data, and you want popovers, lots of different settings supported for that.
Searching is now supported. There are lots of different options for that, like what happens when you click on the search result. And base maps, you can, do one or more credentials for different services. And most recently, you can also now draw your own features or place your own points on the map. If you want to have your solution, somebody to be able to choose a location and have FileMaker track that and all fmFlare examples work this way. So again, this is mostly just for testing purposes, and you would take a script like this and put it in your own solution and pass the parameters to get the result you want.
So I prepared a number of examples but I’m going to start with a little thing that most people don’t know about. And that’s that there’s a lot of GIS spatial data available on the worldwide web for free. And there is a company called Esri, whose CEO is actually a University of Minnesota graduate. They’re the leading software and service provider in the GIS space. And their main product is called ArcGIS. And it is, like FileMaker, it’s a desktop platform, a web platform, a mobile platform, they have all they cut, they span the gamut. The whole package is very expensive but they have an online version that’s actually quite affordable. And so we have a number of clients using ArcGIS Online to store their own spatial data, and to have fmFlare communicate with that to make maps or to do spatial processing in FileMaker. But a lot of government agencies, cities, natural resource departments, things like that, they’re all going to, most of them are using Esri. And so it was important for us to integrate with that. And what you’re going to find is that more and more of these agencies are giving away data for free. And because we make it easy, they’re even providing the data as web services that you can consume on the fly. And so I’m going to show you just how easy that is.
So last night, I was Googling to find some examples. And some keywords when you’re searching, or just open GIS data. Like the location, you want to find counties, a lot of this is managed at the county level, so that’s a good place to look. Or there are state and federal agencies, the Census Bureau has a huge set of data they call TIGER, and you can pull in demographic information and match it with your existing contacts and your FileMaker CRM, just to throw out a few examples.
What you’re gonna find is a lot of these GIS portals, if you look up here, you’re gonna see. They’re in the Esri shop that’s driven by ArcGIS. And they have a bunch of data of different types here. What are you interested in? What might augment your existing FileMaker solution? Parcels we get asked about a lot, because parcels tie closely to addresses not always exactly, but parcels contain information about like, property value, tax, ID number, tax information, boundaries. We were working with some city government clients that do permitting or code violation tracking or public works and parcels that, they have to mail postcards to everyone within 500 feet of, a project that’s dig that’s got to happen or when someone applies, if you’re going to do rebuild your garage, and but you need a variance because it’s too close to the street or something like that, you have to notify all the neighbors, that kind of thing is can be accomplished if you have, parcel data that augments what’s already in your, in your CRM so you hone in here and you look and ArcGIS provides, this link right at the bottom that says I want to go here let me zoom in.
Tim Cimbura: We have pizza coming at noon, approximately, and maybe we’ll just let people get up and get your pizza. And if you have to go over a few minutes, you can just continue talking.
Shawn Krueger: All right, I think my stuff will be not quite as in depth. So we’re just going to go over kind of an overview of this is our basic, our toolkit here at lumen fire. fmIgnite is our main business solution that we customized for a lot of clients like that’s what Paragon is running, that he demoed last month, and just kind of showing the mapping of how we integrate, via fmFlare to other services that we, we have brilliant saying brilliant flows, all things to transfer data here and there. And then on the other side of things, and we’re talking to WordPress websites, using WooCommerce, for online stores. Anyone then just just about any other API you can think of.
I’ve got some screenshots here, so that we’re not as beholden to the demo gods, here’s, I guess, everyone always wants to see the relationship graph. So here’s our fmIgnite. This is updated somewhat since Peregrine. For a while we were using the selector connector model method from Todd Geist, and Jason from see code kind of develop that. And at the time, it was really neat to allow us to do some things, but in the era of card windows, it’s not necessary. And we found, as your solution grows, it slows things down quite a bit. So we’ve gone back to anchor buoy, our first true love for relationship graphs. So just kind of showing some little tips of, the graph gets pretty big. And we tend to do everything kind of vertically. So we’ve got, the FileMaker kind of sticky notes. So we’ve got this number system to jump to a specific section. So if you want to get to the job section of the graph, you open the relationship graph, and you type 14, and it jumps right to that sticky note that says 14. So here, just a view of some of the other anchor sections, and how things are arranged with the buoys off to the right. And then just, there’s the way zoomed out view of everything. So pretty well organized, that helps it so that if any of our developers hop in, they can see what section they’re working on and get to things. It’s a pretty common interface.
And then here, we’re going to go within the solution. We’ve got our admin section. And here we’re in integrations. This is where we connect fmFlare. We’ve got our license key for that. And then underneath here, we’ve got specific integrations within that. So, for GIS mapping, we have a bunch of different services that we can connect to, as Andy mentioned, like, here’s the API keys, that we would store for, for here. And then, other services, some of them require an API key, some don’t. So and then pretty common one is transactional email. So we’ve got Support for sending email via FileMaker smtp. But we don’t like to do that Mandril, SparkPost and Mailgun are three common APIs that we work with. And that in Peregrine’s case, they’re using that to send their customers notifications that, hey, we’re going to be at your site on Tuesday at 10 o’clock. Here’s a picture of your check. And so all that’s going out via email, automatically on schedules, and people get automatic reminders. And then there’s a template to format, the email, puts their logo at the bottom. This one’s pretty simple, you can get as fancier as you want there.
So, that is kind of the quick covering of the, under the hood, stuff in Peregrine here. there’s in addition to the email notifications, they’re also doing text notifications. and then their customer contact refer record has the preferences for how they like to be contacted, do they? Do they want texts? Do they not want text or they want emails or not? And so the notification scripts will check that and then, send out the appropriate notifications. Their technicians are looking at the calendars and see if Can you show just one of the example scripts like that sending text messages or something? Maybe you can find it. Let’s see. Actually, let me pull up one of the email ones. So our email fmFlare. Again, you’re sending a bunch of parameters. And yeah, this is one of our older scripts, so uses the more list style parameters, but then When we’re sending this to fmFare, then we are using the JSON for parameters. So here we’re setting up the basic what type of email service and method are we doing? See the message itself, I guess we’re already bringing that in. And then we’re, here’s where we’re putting everything together to send to fmFlare. And then we’re gathering up our recipients. We’ve got CC, BCC, any attachments, looping through and adding those. And then, if we’re sending the email client, or SMTP, or Mandrill, or Sparkpost, or MailGun, the different functions are all built in here to, to gather up, this one will go, the subscript will go retrieve the mailgun API token and whatever it needs for that, and come back to here. So we’ve got one place that does that we can call to repeatedly. And then you’re we keep adding to this subscript JSON. So here we’re adding sender name. And so by the time we’re done, then we just have the request made on we’ve got which service which function and then the subscript JSON that we’ve been adding to along the way. And then we call fmFlare with all that JSON, and then we get a response back, and we can parse out. Was it successful? Was there an error we can return an error code to a parent script? So yeah, cool.
Tim Cimbura: Any questions? If not, I want to thank Andy and Shawn for presenting today, giving us a little bit of the behind the scenes on this solution. And I think then we’ll go ahead and have our pizza and call it a day here. Thanks for joining us.