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Making an Old FileMaker System Young Again

The Support Group Helps Mass Insight Help Schools

Mass Insight is a Boston-based group that works to benefit education and provide competitive advantages to schools on multiple levels. The organization is comprised of two segments: Mass Insight Global Partnerships, a consulting firm that unites schools, companies and government agencies for the purpose of building competitive advantage, and Mass Insight Education, a non-profit affiliate that works to improve public school performance in the math and sciences as well as help to revive the schools themselves.

The organization uses a FileMaker Pro database to store every one of their contacts for both sides of the business. As of the spring of 2009, the system was still running on 5.0, the version it was originally built in. It was a single flat file that had grown haphazardly over the years and was now a mass of entry layouts and hard-coded checkboxes that the staff used to categorize their records. The system was confusing to use; some of the labels were so old that “no one knew what anything meant,” says Joanna Manikas, VP of Business & Information Systems. “There was no common language or identifiers.” Furthermore, accurate searches were nearly impossible for users that needed to be able to pull up a set of contacts at a moment’s notice. Manikas wanted to do a lot more with the system but it was clear that a massive overhaul was needed before any new functionality could be added.

Enter The Support Group, Inc.‘s J Caprioli, who took over as Mass Insight’s lead developer and continues to work with them to this day. J’s first order of business was to upgrade the system to FileMaker 10, and then begin a complete restructuring of the file. He condensed the 50+ category fields (along with their 50+ matching value lists) into a much more manageable four - for program, sector, type/level of school, and district - and converted all of their data to related records so that users could enter more relevant categories and perform more targeted searches. He streamlined the data entry process and created more flexible reporting tools. Once the initial work was completed many new features were added as well, including the ability to log notes for each contact, track fundraising efforts, and schedule meetings with multiple attendees. The meeting component in particular “has been huge,” says Manikas. “We can now facilitate gatherings of leaders and track the invitees with ease, as well as record if they accepted, declined, or attended. We can easily pull attendance lists, send emails to a group of attendees, and see all meetings for a contact and all attendees for a meeting. I love it.”

Manikas says she is “thrilled” with J’s work and everyone she’s dealt with at The Support Group. “The relationship has been great right from the start. Every touch with company has been terrific - whether I’m going to a training, working with J, or just contacting their sales team to put together a proposal for another project. J has done a great job; I haven’t thrown him any curve balls that he hasn’t been able to figure out for us, and very quickly. He goes right at it and immediately understands what we’re trying to do.” Manikas looks forward to the relationship continuing and says there are already plans in the works for additional modules.

Most importantly, says Manikas, the team at The Support Group has been “extremely responsive and helpful in getting us to think about how we use data and what data can do. A lot of times people have a hard time knowing what they want. These guys ask the right questions.”

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