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WebDirect at NVL Labs

NVL Laboratories provides complete Industrial Hygiene services including testing and environmental safety services for their clients. This includes testing for a variety of hazardous substances like lead and asbestos. They pride themselves in providing a complete solution for their customer’s environmental and safety needs and finds FileMaker to be an ideal tool to help make this happen.

For many years NVL has utilized FileMaker to manage their business internally. They recently decided to add new functionality to allow for a customer web-accessible interface. The requirements included the ability to view environmental reports and invoices, as well as the capability to make payments on outstanding invoices.

Before deciding to use FileMaker, NVL conducted a due diligence review to consider all options rather than just assuming that an expanded role for FileMaker was the best choice.

After considering a variety of software options, two seemed viable. One was to use traditional development tools like PHP and MySQL while the other to use FileMaker WebDirect to accomplish the same set of requirements.

Option A: Customized eCommerce Web Application

  • a hosted website to manage the process, using HTML, Javascript, for the front end, coupled to the backend with Node.js, PHP, or other
  • Use an API to communicate with a payment gateway like authorize.net
  • Connect to the backend FileMaker database using the FileMaker PHP API
  • Provide access to a document library where the reports and invoices are stored
  • Provide access to user accounts from the FileMaker database

Pros and Cons
By using industry-standard tools and resources, a greater number of support options are available. These standards allow for a more scalable solution than FileMaker’s capability. On the negative side, this kind of solution comes with higher development costs as well as an added level of difficulty in connecting and syncing website data with the internal FileMaker solution.

Option B: FileMaker WebDirect eCommerce Additions

  • Using WebDirect for the front end
  • Provide secure user login
  • Use a plugin to communicate with a payment gateway like authorize.net
  • Provide direct access to existing accounts
  • Securely provide reports and invoices directly from FileMaker

Pros and Cons
WebDirect allows for a considerably faster development cycle, and uses the existing FileMaker server and licenses already in place. It is easier to connect with the existing internal FileMaker solution. Potential downsides include the fact that WebDirect is theoretically less scalable if the number of users grows significantly. There are also somewhat more limited design options and a smaller potential pool of developers.

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After reviewing both options, NVL decided to go with FileMaker WebDirect. The rapid development process and tight integration with the existing database were key factors, as was the greater certainty of a successful outcome based on prior experiences with FileMaker. The potential negatives with FileMaker were mitigated as follows:

  1. The number of potential users for the ecommerce app is never expected to exceed FileMaker’s current theoretical limit of 500 concurrent WebDirect users.

  2. The design limitations of WebDirect were deemed fully acceptable in this particular use case.

  3. A review of available FileMaker developers in the Seattle area and nationwide showed more than sufficient options in the event that a change in developers was needed for any reason.

The WebDirect extensions to NVL’s FileMaker app have now been in production for well over a year and customers are retrieving reports and paying invoices throughout the day, every day, via the revised system. Other benefits includes:

  1. Reduced development time using standard FileMaker layout editing capabilities
  2. Simple UI changes to the web interface can be made by users at NVL and rolled out immediately

We’re excited to be starting a new project with NVL currently - extending the FileMaker application yet again to allow mobile use of the application via a new iOS app for their field services team.

~Xandon Frogget