"Over the past few years, our group has become completely dependent on FileMaker Pro relational databases," says Dr Williams. "FileMaker databases have replaced notebooks and spreadsheets for most lab work and even some primary analysis. The improvement in lab data acquisition and handling has been amazing and unrelated files and data sets can often be easily tracked and merged. Best of all, our lab data are now accessible over the Internet from any computer in the lab or around the world."
Finding simple data in a sophisticated lab may sound easy, but the process can be surprisingly difficult. To confirm the sex and age of samples, for instance, researchers may have to search through several sets of lab notebooks and Excel spreadsheets. To determine the size of related samples, they may have to sift through shoe boxes full of animal cage cards.
Local control, speed and mobility are far more important than processing speed or high–level feature sets. Most importantly, you need to retain full control of your own data. And that's where FileMaker's ability to work so smoothly with Excel is a huge advantage.
"Entering data directly into a consolidated database greatly simplifies record keeping and minimizes data loss and data transcription errors," says Dr. Williams. "Data should flow from one stage or level to the next without the need to transcribe or reformat."
The path to connected data flow begins by connecting FileMaker and Excel.
"Most lab researchers use Excel in some capacity to manage lab data. Since the interface between Excel and FileMaker is so easy, it's simple to extend Excel beyond disjointed sets of spreadsheets to a FileMaker Pro relational database," says Dr. Williams.
Not only does data from Excel easily integrate into FileMaker, but data from FileMaker easily integrates into Excel.
"By typing in a case identification number, researchers worldwide have immediate access to information in any of the related databases — all of which can easily be exported to Excel for analysis," says Dr. Williams. "Excel is excellent for quickly computing simple statistics, such as the mean, media, average or errors. But Excel is definitely not a database program."
He is equally cautionary about what he calls "heavy iron commercial programs."
"Oracle and Sybase are a mismatch for the typical laboratory environment, which needs to change on a weekly, or even daily, basis," he says. "Local control, speed and mobility are far more important than processing speed or high–level feature sets. Most importantly, you need to retain full control of your own data. And that's where FileMaker's ability to work so smoothly with Excel is a huge advantage."