When he joined the company, Crawford saw the immediate need for an overhaul of the existing relational databases that managed the myriad information on the people, including 1500 volunteers, and logistics required to ensure that the conference runs smoothly each year. The database would need to operate as cross– platform and integrate seamlessly with several online application and registration systems.
Initially, Crawford was unfamiliar with FileMaker Pro but appreciated its intuitive operation and easy customization. He found it extremely user friendly and picked up on the development tools very quickly. He started from scratch, rebuilding the core of the system to work with the company's preexisting databases. The result was a custom–tailored system that would increase efficiency and enable staff to share pertinent information. "We needed something to organize our data and let everyone on staff have a unique view into the information depending on their jobs — FileMaker Pro made it easy," says Crawford.
FileMaker Pro is a powerful tool for running virtually any business. If it can help us run one of the biggest festivals and conferences in the world, then it can run just about anything.
Matt Crawford, database and new media coordinator, South by Southwest
Today, FileMaker Pro manages the company's processes across the board. Whether they want to register for one of the three conferences, submit a film for consideration or apply as a band to perform, conference participants start by filling out a form on the SXSW Web site. The data automatically feeds into the FileMaker Pro database. "FileMaker Pro works smoothly in conjunction with everything else, including our online systems," Crawford says.
According to Crawford, the ability to tailor FileMaker Pro is essential for SXSW. "It goes back to one conference contact working with many different departments here," explains Crawford. "If someone is applying to perform through a record label and is also a vendor at the event, we have to know that it's the same person. I don't think our database would be as successful if we were constrained to just one view of the data."
Having created a system to store contacts and automate the company's core processes including registration and sales, Crawford began using FileMaker Pro to store and log video captured at the event to feed into SXSW's newly launched, branded YouTube channel. "For years, we've had all this great video, but we have not had the bandwidth to do much with it," says Crawford. "By using FileMaker Pro to store and log video, we were able to launch a YouTube channel that garnered 1 million views within the first two weeks."
Always looking for increased efficiency, Crawford subsequently created another FileMaker Pro database that runs a fully automated registration line at SXSW – complete with photo taking and badge creation. "We run a tight ship at SXSW," says Crawford. "So instead of using a prepackaged solution, we decided to take a shot at creating one in FileMaker Pro."
While Crawford admits that he was skeptical at first, FileMaker Pro provided the flexibility and power required. Today, event registrants enter one of several booths equipped with Mac computers and web cams controlled by iChat. A custom FileMaker Pro database created with the help of Mac OS X Automator and AppleScript captures the participant's photo, runs a script that grabs a screen shot of the iChat window containing the attendee's photo, crops and color–corrects the image and imports it into a local database. The photo is then sent to a remotely hosted FileMaker registration database that triggers a script to print the image, the attendee's information and a radio–frequency identification (RFID) tag onto pre–printed badge stock. The conference–goer threads the badge onto a lanyard and is ready to be admitted to the event.
As a next step, Crawford is looking forward to using the SMTP email functionality in FileMaker Pro. "We send out 8,000 rejection notices to bands, just as one example of the email volumes we handle. We are constantly in direct contact with everybody, whether we are updating schedules or following up on equipment needs. The SMTP mail functionality in FileMaker Pro will be huge," he says.