Photo top, courtesy of Rampart Hydro Services. Graphic, bottom, courtesy of U.C. Berkeley Peer Center
Data-driven Rampart Hydro Services long used FileMaker's databaseprogram to keep job information. Now it has used a new version to build an app.

One hot IT market these days is developing business apps. But some contractors are using an old tool to build their own.

Rampart Hydro Services, a hydro demolition firm in Coraopolis, Pa., has long used Apple's FileMaker product to manage project data. Recently, James Pierson, IT and facilities manager, began using a new version, FileMaker Pro 12 ($300), to build his own apps for field data collection. It links to FileMaker Go, a mobile version for iOS devices.

FileMaker has evolved from an early-1980s MS-DOS program that had a graphical interface and the ability to create multiple tables in one document. Cross-platform and user-friendly, it allowed for easy data entry and changes to data-collection parameters. Apple has owned it since 1988.

Pierson says the program lets him create database apps to fit iPhone and iPad screens and collect virtually any type of information, including pictures and video. "There's trial and error. You've got to sit down and figure out how you want it to look and what you want it to say," he says.

At Crescent Construction Services, Charlotte, N.C., Julian Clayton, vice president of research and technology, built an app with the tool to capture data on jobsites, too. The app ties to a server and automatically sends information about needed equipment, supplies and manpower to the appropriate departments within the company. "Now the reps simply have to worry about getting the right information at the site. Everything else is taken care of," says Clayton.

"We created [FileMaker], so in most cases you don't need a programmer to make sophisticated code changes," says Eric Jacobson, senior product manager. "Just about anyone can create an app."

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