A READER ASKS: FileMaker Email And Automation

From Dwayne Wright PMP
Certified FileMaker Developer

WEB: www.dwaynewright.com
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A READER ASKS
I am a factor looking for a functional CRM. Can email correspondence be attached to jobs/opportunities?  Is it possible to automate certain outbound email templates  to customers (not mass mail, but individual emails)?  There is more that I require, however, please respond...

DWAYNE RESPONDS
Great to hear that you are considering FileMaker for your CRM needs. FileMaker is hard to beat when it comes to costs, flexibility and reliability. You packed a lot of interesting questions in just a few words, bravo! I thought I’d take a little extra time in writing back to you and reuse this information for a blog post.

EMAIL INTEGRATION WITH FILEMAKER
In regards to email correspondence, the answer is a definite “yes”. The challenge is  deciding what form of email integration would work out best for you. Our product InBizness 2.8 has email integration with campaigns, invoices, timecards and a number of other modules. The scripts that perform these actions can be copied and recycled for use in other modules.

There are at least three different ways to integrate email correspondence with FileMaker. InBizness uses the Send Mail script step. This method requires the user to have a separate e-mail package installed on the computer. FileMaker will pass the e-mail information directly from the database to that application. The strength of this is that you can use information directly from a field in the database to fill out the To, CC, Subject or Message areas of the e-mail. You can also specify to attach an enclosure.

Other options include the ability to use the Send Mail script step with SMTP, using a third party FileMaker plug-in or having FileMaker Server send out emails via a scheduled event. All of these other options have strengths and drawbacks that an intermediate or advanced FileMaker developer should consider. The InBizness implementation of the Send Mail script is not that complicated and most casual FileMaker developers can embrace it without too much concern. I would recommend using the standard implementation of the Send Mail script step. If you find limitations that affect that method, investigate the other options of SMTP, plug-in or server side schedules.

To make matters even more interesting, there are other FileMaker based products that you can blend into an existing FileMaker system such as the .

ABOUT AUTOMATION FOR TASKS
None of the InBizness products have automation features but that is more of a design choice and not a FileMaker limitation. Like email, there are a number of automation options you can put into a FileMaker solution. Most of these would be beyond the casual FileMaker developer, unless that developer welcomes the opportunity to grow their design skill set. It isn’t that the setup of the automation is hard, because it really isn’t. The challenge is making sure that the automation works reliably under a variety of user conditions and that it doesn’t interfere with other database tasks. The golden rule for automation activities is to test, test and then test again. If there is a flaw in your automation design, that flaw can automatically affect the integrity of your database system again and again ... automatically.

The best automation is the FileMaker Server variety. This method takes the majority of user related issues out of the equation and is quite reliable (once it has been setup and tested properly). There are scripts steps that are incompatible with Server executed schedules and there are some steps that work but have constraints to consider. This is why you have to test every single server side script you run! Yes, I realize I'm close to sounding like a broken record in regards to my views on testing. As Popeye once said, "I ams what I ams Olives". (grin)

The next automation feature is using the OnTimer script trigger. Introduced with FileMaker 10, the Install OnTimer script step is used to run a script at a particular moment in time (based upon a number of seconds after it has been initialized). When the Install On Timer script step is executed, it attaches itself to the current window. If the window attached to the Install OnTimer script step is closed, the Install OnTimer event is flushed from the active FileMaker system. A window can only have one OnTimer event attached to it. If a second OnTimer event is applied to a window, the first OnTimer event instructions are flushed from the system. Some developers are using this technique as a way to turn off a timer without closing the window it was attached.

This is a broad view of email and automation FileMaker options. I would recommend documenting exactly what your needs are before you begin the design phase (or the developer you may hire for this). I would also recommend building proof of concept test files first before trying to add this code to a finish FileMaker based CRM system. Once the proof of concept experiments prove successful, then integrate that code into your active system.