When I first explored the Snapshot Link feature in FileMaker 11, I was not overly impressed. Almost immediately I put into a category of “cute but not important” and moved on to the other features that showed more promise. If you are not familiar with the feature, you can find a video of it on the FileMaker web site. Although the video is accurate in describing the possible use of the feature, this didn’t seem a very likely “real world” compelling situation to me.
I had an interesting experience with Snapshot Link this week and I’d like to share it with you. I’m currently under contract with a Fortune 500 company as an in house developer for a particular project. I go into their office every week day, have a cube and even have an email address with company. I’m not a badged employee and when the project ends, I’m back on the street. So I’m a pseudo “in house developer” these days and I’ve enjoyed the experience immensely. It is a different experience than traditional consulting and just the FileMaker development palate cleanser I’ve needed.
How does this pertain to the Snapshot Link feature? I’m glad you asked! I think Snapshot Link has more potential for the in house developer. The in house developer tends to be more intimate with the database data and the workflow experience of users. This is due, in a large part, because you are in the office every day. You have more meetings with your customer stakeholders and this included the impromptu lunches and water cooler conferences. I think that in this setting, there is more potential for Snapshot Link usage to go viral and that is just what happened to me.
So I have someone come into my cube and ask if I can spare a moment to help them with the database. The database is a very sophisticated rules engine the encompasses well over 100 tables and its final output goes to three different departments. This department tells me that if this one field is empty and this other field is not, the data should be broken up here, here and here. We do a search and there are 80 records out of 6,000 in this table under this set of conditions. For this customer, there isn’t a magnitude placed on the number of records. If the departments disagree on as little as 8 to as many as 8,000 records, it can still be a passionate debate.
Although the company has a site license for FileMaker 11, few machines have it installed. I’m lucky that I pushed their IT department to install the update for myself and most of the key stakeholders of the project. So the Snapshot Link was an option for me in this situation and that is what I did. I wrote up the justification for the change and sent out the Snapshot Link for the 80 record found set. About 20 minutes later, one of the other department stakeholders stops by my cube and I was sure they wanted to discuss the proposed change to the data and structure. What they really wanted me to do is show them how to use the Snapshot Link feature. By the end of the day, all three major department stakeholders are using this feature and links are going out in rapid order. Not just the links, but a significant amount of new information is being uncovered in regards to how the departments see the data differently for their workload needs!
The ability for multiple department stakeholders to include detailed analysis for found sets of data with a Snapshot Link is going to greatly enhance the progress on this complex project.
When working with complex databases, I tend to create a script that I call “the night janitor”. This is a script that evolves over time and deals with bad data entry or provides a work around option for data sets. This works well with FileMaker 11 Server that has the ability to run scripts after traditional business hours. In my current situation, I’m using my night janitor instead of a dizzying array of validation settings that are needed. I decided to use the Snapshot Link feature here as well. I created a system to store links for data sets that are improper for our database needs. This allows me the ability to analyze them and discuss them with stakeholders instead of poorly thought out “validation” knee jerk reactions to complex data entry needs.
Snapshot Link really is a sleeper feature and particularly useful in situations in which multiple departments have different but equal dependencies on the data. It can help facilitate needs analysis with customers and can go viral. It can also be used as a troubleshooting aid for both "one off" and ongoing operation needs!