Technology and Business: A Love Story

Here at Alchemy Consulting Group, we provide software for business data organization using FileMaker to create a customized software solution. We love FileMaker for all its functionality and customization features. Our love of bringing technology and business together to maximize efficiency got us thinking about the very intense relationship between business and technology.  We are currently able to produce thousands of times what we used to be able to in agricultural communities, and that’s all because of the production increases technology affords us, whether that be in agriculture, medicine, communications, or any other field. Here, we’d like to go over a little bit of the history of how technology has changed the business world.

The Rise of Inventions

Some time around the 19th century the amount of patents being issued from the United States Patent Office began to rise markedly. While many of these inventions seem archaic or of not much use in today’s society, they allowed many businesses to make huge strides in productivity. Some of these inventions included railroad air brakes, barbed wire, the camera, the typewriter, and much more. These inventions pervaded just about every industry, creating a trend where companies who relied on the latest, most efficient technology got ahead.

Communication and Electricity

Industry requires energy, and before electricity all that energy had to come directly from sources like coal or water. For something like light, which previously required some kind of slow burning material and combustion, you can imagine how costly these fuel sources were to industry. In comes Thomas Edison with his incandescent light bulb, and suddenly lighting is many times cheaper for industries across the nation. By the late 19th century, electric utilities were widespread enough that they became viable for residential neighborhoods.

The beginning of the communication boom can be attributed to Alexander Graham Bell and the invention of the telephone. Just think about the lost revenue a business would have if they had to send a rider out for each and every message that they needed sent. In fact, current production levels wouldn’t even be possible with the communication level of businesses pre-telephone.

Current Developments

If the additional inter-connectivity provided by the telephone caused industries to boom worldwide, you can only imagine the economic explosion caused by the internet. Nowadays, having a smart phone is more of a necessity in the working world than a luxury, if that gives you an idea as to the Internet’s importance. The internet can connect people around the world virtually instantaneously, and at a much cheaper cost than even the telephone can provide. On top of the internet, the sheer computing power of technology today has so far outmatched what the human brain is capable of on its own, that businesses who don’t make use of it quickly fall behind the competition.

One of the biggest areas where computing power helps businesses is data aggregation, organization, and management. One of the biggest problems businesses run into is scalability. Running a business of 10 people is very different from running a business with a thousand people, and that’s across all industries. Some industries scale better than others. When it comes to lost revenue due to inefficient communication of important data, that money can really add up fast as businesses get bigger and bigger.

 

Here at Alchemy Consulting Group, we provide software for business data organizations using  FileMaker 15 and above. If you are looking to trim the fat off your business by cutting unnecessary costs and increasing efficiency, then we can provide the custom software solution to help you do that. If you have any questions about our business or service, please don’t hesitate to give one of our knowledgeable representatives a call today; they’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have.

Filemaker: An Overview

In today’s world, if you ignore advances in technology there is a good chance that your business could get left in the dust. NASA may still use old computing technology, but the day to day stuff (GPS tracking, swiping your credit card, daily planning apps) usually relies on new or perfected technology. The day to day for businesses is no different, and if you aren’t making use of the best data organization technologies, you could be losing potential savings. Here at Alchemy Consulting Group, we create software for business using FileMaker, which we believe to be one of the most effective data organization tools available. If you are unfamiliar with this platform, we go over what FileMaker is, and its history, here.

History

Originally developed for Macintosh systems as a personal database application, FileMaker was created by Apple’s Claris Corporation. Since its inception, it has moved to also incorporate the Windows market as well, now being a cross platform tool. Before FileMaker 7, there was a brief attempt to run on Linux, but that was abandoned.

When it began, FileMaker was an MS-DOS program called Nutshell. It was made by Nashoba Systems in Concord, Massachusetts, and marketed by a company called Leading Edge. It made use of the new advances Macintosh offered, along with a then new graphical user interface (or GUI). At first, this new version wasn’t accepted by industry leaders, that is until Nashoba partnered with Forethought Inc., when the program was reintroduced as the FileMaker that we all can identify today.

Eventually Forethought was purchased and owned by Microsoft when they were introducing PowerPoint. While Microsoft had their own database application, it failed to perform as well as FileMaker so they stopped pushing it. They tried to get the rights to publish FileMaker, but Nashoba retained them and created the next version of the program.

Eventually, Apple formed a subsidiary called Claris, which purchased Nashoba. FileMaker was continuing to succeed at this point where other database applications failed, and has kept up that success to this very day. FileMaker is still Claris’ most successful product, and Apple shifted focus to it, renaming the company FileMaker, Inc. to focus more exclusively on the product. There have been many FileMaker updates over the years, with it currently on version 16. Some notable new features include mobile compatibility with FileMaker Go, PDF creation, modern OS compatibility, integrated themes, faster WAN, free universal client for bar code scanning, FileMaker Cloud, state-of-the-art Web integration, and much more.

FileMaker is used world wide, with many languages available, including Chinese, English, Dutch, French Italian, Japanese, German, and more.

 

Here at Alchemy Consulting Group, we help create software for businesses using FileMaker 13 through FileMaker 16. With years of experience in the field, we can create a database tailored to your business’ specific needs. Most of the time, these apps pay for themselves in a matter of months. When it comes to being successful in business, efficiency is key, and FileMaker database solutions are a great way to maximize efficiency. If you have any questions about our service, please don’t hesitate to give one of our friendly representatives a call today.

 

Tips For Choosing The Best Software Development Company

Nowadays, running a successful business without taking advantage of the latest technological trends is almost impossible. It’s just too easy for your competition to corner the market with all the added efficiency and productivity that modern business software solutions allow for. Luckily, there’s no reason for you to put the burden of software development on yourself when there are so many knowledgeable professionals out there that can do it for you.

However, when choosing a business app development company, it’s important to vet your options to make sure you’re getting the best service possible. With so many of your business’ internal processes riding on this service, you want to ensure that you’re getting the most qualified, knowledgeable custom app development available. Here are some tips to help you in this decision:

Timetable

First thing is first, you want to make sure that your custom app development can be completed within a time frame that works for your business. Make sure to discuss this with each prospective app development company, and veto any that can’t work with your deadlines. While only hindsight can tell you for sure if they will follow through in time, the following tips help you evaluate the business further.

Ask For Credentials

Business software development requires a certain set of skills. The quality of your business application will likely be a reflection of how honed the skills of the people you hire are. Look for accredited qualifications, usually listed on their business site. Here at Alchemy Consulting Group, LLC, we are a Filemaker Business Alliance Platinum Member. Our president, Bob Shockey, also serves on the Advisory Board for Filemaker Developers in Southern California. We currently hold certifications for every version of Filemaker from 7 through 15.

Ask For References/Samples

When determining which business application development company is best for you, one great resource is previous customers. Ask for testimonials and examples of previous work, as that can often give you an indication of the level of detail of work that you can expect.

Learn Who Is Working On Your Software Development

Personally meeting the developer working on your business software is one of the best ways to determine the work you will be getting. Many companies outsource development to save costs, which is great if they pass it on to you, but can be harmful when the work isn’t up to standard. Make sure to ask to speak with the developer who will be working with you, and establish a connection to make getting updates easier.

Maintenance And Tech Support

Your business software will not do you any good if you don’t know how to use it, or is full of bugs you don’t know how to fix. Make sure your business software development company offers some kind of maintenance and tech support service after their software has been implemented.

Implementing state of the art business software into your company helps you determine savings and earnings potential in all kinds of ways. If you’d like to know more about how your company could benefit from business software development, check out our ROI calculator.

Our company is run by a team of dedicated professionals with years of experience in the industry. We’ve worked hard to build up trust with our clients by creating profitable software solutions, and we think it shows. If you have any questions about how business software development could benefit your company, don’t hesitate to call one of our trusted professionals today. They’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have.

FileMaker Dynamic Gradient Layouts

Dynamic Gradient Layouts

Hopefully, you have had time to check out some of the fantastic new features in FileMaker 16. One of the more useful features, from a development standpoint, is the Layout Objects palette. This shows you a hierarchy of objects placed on your layout, including fields, portals, buttons, web objects, rules, and shapes. Upon examination, one thing you might have noticed is that there are lot more objects on your layouts than you might realize. Place a few fields and buttons in a portal, and you can see it add up very quickly.

While the Layout Objects palette undoubtedly makes managing all of this easier, you may want to minimize the number of objects you are placing on your layout. Shapes, in particular, create a lot of clutter – especially if you are like me, and you like to use shaded and colorized areas to delineate different parts of your layout. This is a good technique to help users understand the logical hierarchy of their data by putting it together in chunks, or drawing attention to the more important data points.

 

Take a look at the layout below. How many objects do you think have been placed on this layout? How many parts are there? Go ahead, take a look. I’ll wait.

 

filemaker dynamic gradient

 

Now for the answer: zero. Zip. Nada. Zilch. Bupkis. There are absolutely no objects placed on the layout. Here’s what the Layout Objects palette looks like:

 

 

This was achieved by a relatively simple and obscure technique. In essence, we are exploiting a little-known quirk of the Parts definition. Everyone knows that any part can have a gradient applied to it. But did you know that a gradient, when the two color sliders are perfectly stacked on top of one another, creates a hard line between the two colors? Furthermore, did you know that you can have more than one set of gradient sliders on one part or object? That’s what I did here. Look closely at the slider for the header.  At first glance, it might look like there are just two sliders, but there are actually four – two sets, each stacked on top of one another. One set consists of a black and a grey slider; the second consists of the same grey and blue. This gives us the same flat, sharp look that we would get from placing rectangle objects on the layout.

 

 

To add an additional slider to a gradient control, just hover your mouse over an empty area of the control. A green “+” circle will appear. Click to add the slider. You will need to do this twice to replicate the technique shown here and create three distinct areas of solid color using four sliders (note: you can have no more than five sliders total, so if you are hoping for four areas of color, too bad).

 

So how did we get the vertically divided area in the body part of the list view? I can’t tell you, it’s very advanced. Just kidding. It’s extremely simple, and requires only one step: by default, the angle of the gradient tool is set to 270º. This divides the gradient horizontally. By rotating the gradient angle control to 0º, we change to the desired vertical division.

 

 

Here’s another really cool thing about dividing a body part this way: by changing the colors of the gradient for the active state, we can change both of these color areas to whatever we want as the user hovers over the record. This is not easily achievable with a rectangle object placed on the layout.

 

There are some things you need to consider before applying this technique to your own layout. First of all, you can control the size of each section of color by moving a pair of sliders to a different location on the control. You will quickly find that the control is finicky, and you will see the colors flip-flop as you try to stack them up. Be patient, young padawan. You will learn to control them with practice. As for getting an exact measurement, guides are your friend. There is no numeric indicator of the sizing of the sections. Not only that, but resizing the part means resizing all of its gradient sections, and this can affect your design. Second, as soon as you place any object on your layout that is not limited in its anchoring to top and left only, you will find that your layout parts have become elastic in browse mode, and some wild resizing can take place. You may find a circumstance where this is a desirable behavior; so far, I have found no practical use for this. Contact me if you come up with one!

 

All in all, this can be a good technique if used sparingly and with forethought. Have fun!
FileMaker 16

FileMaker 16 Is Here!

FileMaker, Inc., a subsidiary of Apple Computer, announced the release of FileMaker 16. This version is packed with some very important new features that makes the FileMaker platform even more powerful.

FileMaker was already a great product – so great that we have been able to devote 100% of our services for all of our customers to it for a solid 18+ years. Now, with FileMaker 16, Alchemy Consulting stands ready to deliver even more and greater apps.

Among the new features:

  • New mobile features that enhance the user experience on iPad and other iOS devices, including better signature capture, and animations that give better feedback on what’s happening with your data.
  • Cards, a new way of presenting information in a window. It’s cool, trust me!
  • Enhanced PDF support
  • An all-new interface for Windows users
  • New ways to connect to the rest of the world using great APIs like REST, cURL, and JSON. Again, trust me, it’s very cool!

This is only a tiny scratch of the surface of this great new release! Find out more at http://www.filemaker.com/products/whats-new.html#home. And if you have any questions, contact us.

field service app

Behind the Decision to Create the ServTek Field Service App

Service businesses are everywhere. In fact, much has been made of the fact that the U.S. economy has become primarily a service economy. Roughly 80% of our economy is now service-based. Much of that service is handled by field service personnel — people who come to you, whether its in your home or your business. The spectrum of businesses that meet this description is vast – from plumbing and HVAC service, to mobile dog grooming, to industrial furnace maintenance.

 

Southern California, and many, many communities throughout the U.S., are populated with small businesses that dispatch employees in a vehicle to multiple locations. Often, how many locations can be reached in one day has a direct effect on the bottom line; more is better. Adding to this essential need is a host of problems that need to be solved:
  • Communication: Sharing information merely by mobile phone or texting is inefficient, even with touch-to-talk systems. While a lot of information can be conveyed in a short conversation, there is no documentation of important info like addresses or scheduling changes. The field agent has to write it down (hopefully not while driving!).
  • Double-entry: If you’ve ever jotted down something someone else already wrote on the other end of the phone line, you’ve experienced double entry. Or, if you’ve typed info into a spreadsheet that was already written down on a completed work order, same thing. In today’s world, if you are duplicating information, you are, quite frankly, doing it wrong. Not only is it terribly wasteful, but it creates a perfect environment for two big problems: transcription errors and dueling data. The first one is obvious – people sometimes misread or mistype information. The latter of the two simply means that if you have one address for a customer in one place, and a different one in another, you now have no way of knowing which one is the current, correct address. Who gets to be the one to call the customer to straighten it out?
  • Navigation: Whether your company uses standalone GPS systems or just a map app on a mobile phone, there is still the often time-consuming task of entering the address into the unit. Once again, double-entry, and once again, not doing it right.
  • Paper forms: Who doesn’t instantly recognize the beat-up aluminum box/clipboard of the tradesman? Who doesn’t love it when he asks you to fill out your address and phone number on the top half of the form? Oh, right, nobody loves that. And see above re: double entry. That form is most likely essential, as it has an authorized signature on it. If only there was a better way… (see below for a better way).
  • Delayed access:  While the completed paper form is out with the field service technician, it’s not back at the office. So at the end of the day, that stack of paper copies has to make its way back so it can be dealt with by the office staff. Perhaps the company policy is to take the truck home overnight – not helpful if the truck has to come back to the office first, just to drop off a stack of completed work orders.
  • Collecting payment: If your people collect payment in the field, you probably want to give your clients the option to pay with a credit card. Unfortunately, unless you have a way to run the card right then and there, you are probably violating the terms of your card processor agreement if the info – number, CVV, expiration date, etc. – is being written down or stored in a way that could be considered insecure. If anything goes wrong and your customer’s card data is stolen, you’ve not only lost a customer, you’ve also potentially exposed yourself to legal action. Not good.
  • Customer Service: Customers change appointments. It’s what they do. Customers also make emergency calls, making it necessary to juggle an already full schedule. They cancel all the time, too. If your job calendar is always changing, you need to keep your field service team up to date without wasting even more time on the phone.

 

At Alchemy Consulting, we knew we could solve these and many other problems. We have experience with companies like this, and we know there are so many more that could use our help. With our well-known expertise at user interface design, we also knew that we could make it straightforward and easy to learn.

 
But why, you may ask, try to compete with the many third-party apps that claim to be the perfect answer to the problem of field service mobility? Could we really build a better field service app?  The answer turns out to be an easy “yes,” because of one difference: the word “Core.”
 

Alchemy Consulting is a custom development shop, using the power and rapid app development power of FileMaker. That means we custom-tailor every app we write. The Core part above means that we identified some common elements to start with, adding all of the underpinnings to add tons of new functionality on an as-needed basis. Off-the-shelf and vertical market field service app s do not possess this advantage. We handily beat all of the competition in this regard.
 

Thus, ServTek was born. We started by identifying a simple, core group of tasks that most office and mobile users would need – regardless of industry. We knew from the get-go that mobility was a key component, but that the office staff who support mobile users should be given equal time. We built a system that gives the office staff the ability to schedule jobs as they come in, in real-time. We hooked in the mobile component so that field service techs can see the job queue live as it updates, and we gave them the ability to get driving directions in Google Maps, enter work order details, collect signatures, log photos at the job site, run a credit card using a card swiper, and email the customer an invoice copy. Add to that a billing module for the office, along with aging reports, and a lot gets done. Boom.
 

Because the ServTek Core field service app is just a starting point, we can add tons of new functionality. A few examples:

  • Inventory Management
  • Time Tracking
  • Work Orders
  • Work in Progress
  • Contracts
  • DocuSign
  • Subcontractors
  • Mailing Lists
  • Sales/Follow Ups

Because no two businesses are alike, we can easily add other types of functionality as well. There is nothing in the list above that we have not done, in some form or another.
 

If your business sends people out in the field, you owe it to yourself to take a look at ServTek. Call us today at 888.663.6382 to learn more.

filemaker inventory

Inventory: FileMaker has the Answer

FileMaker, Inc. has published an excellent new e-book that outlines how businesses can leverage inventory systems built on the FileMaker platform. Not only does it outline the benefits of having a custom inventory management system, but it gives some important insights and statistics that will help with making the decision to go forward.

Here at Alchemy Consulting, we have built many inventory management systems – call us silly, but we like building them!

Download the e-book at http://info2.filemaker.com/GL-Inventory-Management-Reg.html.

Custom App

The Promise of Custom Software

Once upon a time, not so long ago, you would walk into a software retailer and gaze in confusion at the shelves of boxes, an image in your mind of the perfect software. You might spend an hour just reading the backs of various boxes, the text promising to solve all your problems, before picking something out, your hopes high.

Or maybe, only a few years later, you would find yourself doing a Google search for some very specific terms – “air conditioning business app,” or “silk screen graphics project management software” – in hopes of finding a vertical market solution designed just for your industry, for your specific needs.

Either way, you know what inevitably follows: hours spent trying to fit the square peg in the round hole, poring over the documentation or through user forums looking for a way to solve those few, unique problems that sent you on this search in the first place. But the answer isn’t there. Because you do things just a little bit differently, something that your customers love; or a thing that gives you an edge over your competition, a thing that you just can’t give up.

And that bunch of promises you just wasted your time on? Square box, meet round trash can.

This is where we come in. Imagine a suite of apps, whether they be mobile, desktop, or web, that does things exactly the way you want them to be done. That’s our mission. At Alchemy, we spend time with you and your team to design the best possible app to match the way you do business – a beautifully designed peg, precision machined to fit perfectly.

This is the promise of custom software, and we are just the people to deliver on it. Call us today to find out how we can build your dream app.

Alchemy Consulting's new office

Alchemy’s New Digs

Alchemy Consulting Group is excited to announce that we have moved into our new, expanded office near Brackett Airport in La Verne, CA. This new office gives us more room to spread our wings and help even more businesses be more productive, cost-efficient, and profitable.

“We really love this new office!” says Alchemy president Bob Shockey. “It’s a great upgrade. We especially enjoy the skylights. The new conference space is very comfortable and warmly decorated. We can’t wait to entertain clients here!”

The new office overlooks Brackett Airport’s southern side, with a nice view of the San Gabriel Mountains beyond, and is located at 1915 McKinley Ave, Suite E, La Verne, CA 91750.

Why You Should Upgrade To FileMaker 15

You will most probably have heard about the release of Filemaker 15 and could be contemplating whether to upgrade to it or not. As with any new release of any software, Filemaker 15 comes with so many exciting features that will make your experience using it for your business better and easier.

Take a look at the new features of Filemaker 15 that will make you want to upgrade to it:

EASIER TO USE

Filemaker Pro 15 | Alchemy Consulting Group, LLC

Filemaker applications are known for its ease of use and the developers of the software continue to grow in that reputation with this new release. Filemaker 15 comes with an updated user interface, new starter solutions, web based help and new developer tools that will help users who love to build and support their solutions themselves.

ENHANCED PERFORMANCE AND SECURITY

Filemaker Pro 15 | Alchemy Consulting Group, LLC

Filemaker 15 has newer features that will make your overall experience of Filemaker very fulfilling when it comes to security and performance.

When it comes to security, you can now hide sensitive information which you don’t want to be displayed on your screen, using the Concealed Edit Box. You will also get notified when you want to connect to hosts or website with invalid security certificate. Likewise, more SSL certificates from more vendors are now supported with this version of Filemaker.

In the line of enhanced performance, Filemaker 15 now has a feature that helps you to quickly find out the calls from connected clients which are taking the longest processing time and thus slowing down the Filemaker platform.

Additionally, the filtering and sorting of data now takes place independently. This enables you to keep using your application while those tasks are running. With the progress built in to this release, you will know when the task is completed.

IMPROVED MOBILITY

Filemaker Pro 15 | Alchemy Consulting Group, LLC

Filemaker 15 now comes with a new feature that will aid you share and move your data on different platforms, thus expanding the mobility of your workforce.

If you are accessing the platform on 3D touch enable devices, you can now access the Launch Center and launch recent files directly. Also with a touch of your finger, you can easily unlock and securely access your custom apps.

In Filemaker 15, the new WebDirect mobile phone support feature will enable you optimize fonts, buttons and menus for a better experience using the app on your phone.

Alongside these new exciting features, there is now better support and an enhanced functionality that will make your use of Filemaker more rewarding.

So, I will advise you to upgrade to Filemaker 15 if you have not done so, to start enjoying the enhanced security and easier usage which this new release presents. You can use the help of a Filemaker Pro consultant to help make the upgrade a seamless process for you.

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