Claris Engage is back!

More than 600 developers, Claris partners, and Claris employees gathered at the Apple campus in Austin, Texas for three days in February, marking the first in-person Claris conference since 2019. Engage brimmed with excitement and energy from attendees and Claris staff. I reconnected with old and new friends, caught up with fellow devs and partners, and even got to geek out a bit over AI. Returning from Engage, I am more confident than ever about our investments in the platform and that Claris will remain our Workplace Operating System development tool of choice for years to come.

Here’s a brief recap on Claris Engage 2024.

1. Claris, an Apple company, has strong foundations

Claris’s best-kept secret has always been its deep roots and legacy as an Apple business unit. While there were understandable reasons for not hewing closer to the parent company’s brand in the past, this conference marked a notable break in that tradition.

Engage wasn’t just a Claris conference; it felt unequivocally like an Apple experience. From the surrounding architecture, world-class facilities, the practiced professionalism of the Apple staff on campus to the design and placement of the vendor booths, Claris made a convincing statement about the strength of its corporate lineage by hosting Engage on an Apple campus.

During the conference keynote, Brad Freitag, CEO of Claris, celebrated 100 consecutive quarters of profitability. It is impressive that Claris boasts a 25-year track record of delivering continuous updates to FileMaker, a product on which over a hundred thousand businesses worldwide have come to rely. 

Claris developers are an impatient lot because we care deeply. Many, including me, have been pushing Claris to modernize more quickly. But being physically immersed in an Apple campus gave me a new perspective – Claris is playing the long game. We’ve seen some low- and pro-code platforms burn bright and fade out over the past few years. It’s one thing to build a product; it’s another to build a sustainable, profitable business. When seen through the Apple lens, it makes sense that Claris is able to take a more methodical but more durable approach precisely because they are an Apple company.

2. Claris is a Workplace Operating System development platform

Prior to Engage, many developers felt uncertain about FileMaker’s place in Claris’s platform strategy. With Engage, I think the Claris team put many of these concerns to rest. 

First, the keynote message offered the most unambiguous, full-throated statement of support for the developer community that I have seen from Claris. They spotlighted developers in customer success stories, discussed plans to enrich the developer ecosystem with training and career advancement opportunities, and called out active efforts underway to improve communications such as publishing the product backlog on the Claris Community website.

Second, there’s good evidence that the work Claris has been doing behind the scenes to engineer and reshape the company and brand from “database application builder” to “Workplace Operating System development platform” is starting to bear fruit: 

  • Claris Studio and Connect are getting a more significant share of developers’ attention. Studio and Connect sessions made up about 20% of the sessions at Engage. The event overall felt like a whole-of-platform experience instead of the more narrowly focused FileMaker conference of past years.
  • Messaging and product direction are coming into better alignment and focus. These slides from the keynote were particularly instructive. One way to think of a Workplace Operating System is to see workplace technology needs in three dimensions—internal-facing solutions, external-facing solutions, and the myriad business applications, all connected by and contributing to the workplace’s data. Here, we can see how Claris FileMaker, Connect, and Studio map to each of the three dimensions. FileMaker is for internal solutions, Studio is for external-facing solutions, and Connect helps integrate the rest of the world.
Three Dimensions: Internal Facing Solutions, External Facing Solutions, External Data Sources, Systems, and Applications. Workplace Operating System from Claris Engage 2024 Keynote slide
Workplace Operating System from Claris Engage 2024 Keynote slide.
Claris FileMaker + ClarisConnect + ClarisStudio. The Claris Platform in three dimensions from Claris 2024 Engage Keynote slide
The Claris Platform in three dimensions from Claris 2024 Engage Keynote slide.
  • Better product integration and go-to-market strategy. For instance, Claris shared plans to streamline its licensing plans. In the new model, customers pay a simple per-user license for the whole platform: Claris FileMaker, Claris Connect, and Claris Studio. This plan should allow users to access the expanded capabilities of the Claris platform without navigating a complex licensing system. For the business owners, CTOs, and CIOs out there watching this space, easier access to Claris Connect’s integration services and Claris Studio’s modern web capabilities will simplify our business systems stack, reduce the risks inherent in maintaining multiple redundant, disparate business systems, and make our information technology dollars go much further. Practically speaking, efforts such as integrating and building new connections to outside services such as QuickBooks, DocuSign, and Slack will be much easier, and the ability to extend existing FileMaker data to the web will now be possible without add-ons, workarounds, or additional licenses.

3. AI is here

Ernest Koe delivering ‘AI Foundations for Claris FileMaker Developers.’

Another highlight from Engage is Claris’s accelerating investments in AI. Between the keynote and the speaker sessions from Claris and other devs from the community, we saw some eye-opening and practical demonstrations of how generative AI features are already doing exciting things in the version of FileMaker that is in-market today. Ronnie Rios, Claris Product Manager, showed off a very cool demo where we can generate charts from a FileMaker database by simply chatting with the application. In my AI session, I walked attendees through the process of supercharging an existing FileMaker database with a smart AI chat agent that can retrieve and perform tasks on your own business data. I highly recommend checking out these sessions when Claris releases the recordings to the public soon.

And there’s more. 

We were treated to previews of what’s to come on the AI front; from what we’ve learned so far, Claris is aiming to add native generative AI features directly into FileMaker and throughout the Claris platform. We can already do a lot with AI today, but we are going to be able to quickly and easily add AI functionality to our applications using native AI scripts, functions, and calculations.

 Product roadmap plan from Claris Engage 2024 Keynote slide
 Product roadmap plan from Claris Engage 2024 Keynote slide

From my discussions and conversations with folks at Engage who are working in this intersection of AI and the Claris platform, perhaps the most important story that is emerging is this: what is truly going to differentiate companies tomorrow is not the general application of generative AI capabilities. General LLMs and generative AI capabilities will be commoditized. Real business differentiation will come from using AI and LLMs to unlock the petabytes of data that businesses have been storing locally in their databases. This is where Claris and its developer community, with a 25-year history of solving database and business systems problems, stand to really shine. Claris engineering is on track to give developers the tools they need to meaningfully unlock this expertise.

The state of the Claris union is strong

After four years away, we came back together in person to new and familiar faces on the keynote stage. Much has changed in the technology landscape in the intervening time. Platforms have come and gone—we have seen the rise and fall of numerous low-code, some-code, and pro-code platforms, and we stand at the threshold of breathtaking changes ushered in by AI. It takes focus, skillful stewardship of resources, and a great team to build products that solve real business needs and survive the test of markets. From this vantage point, it looks like Claris’s bid to play bigger and reinvent the workplace innovation platform category is starting to work, and I am excited to see it.

Proof+Geist is the proud winner of the Claris Innovation Excellence Award 2023 for Ottomatic. Learn more here.

Check out Claris’ highlights and product updates from Claris Engage 2024 post.