PaaS bucks up mobile app development

By Peter Gothard
04 Jul 2014 View Comments
scott-darrow-2

Soon after joining ADEC Group last year as its global CTO and CIO, Scott Darrow (pictured) realised the multinational healthcare, sustainability and education specialist had a software development problem. The process was plagued by “silos”, Darrow tells Computing, which meant “we were constantly late, constantly failed to deliver on time, and pretty much in every case we failed to deliver on budget”.

So when the group needed a new mobile software development platform for one of its six subsidiaries – environmental, social and corporate governance solutions firm FirstCarbon Solutions (FCS) – it realised it need to take a new approach. 

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“[We said], ‘We can’t continue doing software development like this or basically we are going to have to look at outsourcing it to someone who can do it properly’,” Darrow says.

Darrow arrived at the company shortly after tendering for the contract had got under way, and one of his first decisions as its CTO and CIO was to put the process on hold and review the candidates.

“Salesforce was one and I know there were others, but one of the issues that stood out was that a lot of the tools out there are based around somebody’s vision of what rapid development tools should be,” says Darrow. “One of the biggest issues we have is that within the group we have a bunch of .Net developers, a bunch of Java developers, and a bunch of php developers and so we have a mixture of people with various skillsets.”

Darrow finally opted for a platform-as-a-service solution from Portugal-based OutSystems – not the first name that leaps to mind when talking about rapid development platforms. So why did he choose such a relatively obscure provider?

“One of the reasons why we finally chose OutSystems was that we felt they were the most open source of all the companies, as well as the fact that our developers weren’t going to have to learn a completely new language”, because OutSystems Platform integrates easily with Visual Studio and Eclipse.

But the platform had to prove itself in a trial before the deal could be finalised. And it did – delivering a new application system for the group’s Compass subsidiary within a month.

Darrow says he really knew he’d made the right decision when a Java project that had got nowhere in 18 months was rescued by one of the developers after he learned to use OutSystems Platform in his spare time. He “rebuilt the system in OutSystems on his own in two months, and it was immediately accepted by the users”, Darrow recalls.

As a recent convert to OutSystems, Darrow is perhaps understandably evangelical about the provider – and he’s not alone. “We were meeting with some of the users in Lisbon, and one of them put their hand up and said, ‘this feels like an AA meeting – my name is Scott, and I’m addicted to OutSystems’, and it sounds ridiculous but they were being dead serious – it was very strange for a user conference,” he says.

OutSystems has delivered an impressive boost to the productivity of FirstCarbon’s developers, which is just as well as the Portuguese company likes to tie its clients in for several years, which means it’s “not cheap – particularly where there are a lot of alternatives in the market that are free”.

“The [FirstCarbon] portfolio for this year will be 50 products,” he says. “In 2015, we are aiming for 200 products. Without OutSystems that would be a completely impossible goal. That very quickly mitigates what it costs us to run the applications on the platform. Because it’s multi-tenanted we can run multiple products on the same platform so that makes it very easy.”

The support ADEC gets from OutSystems makes the provider stand out from its less expensive rivals.

“When you spend most of your life dealing with US-based companies one way or the other you get used to the way that they do business and it’s not necessarily that collaborative,” Darrow says.

“Particularly in the early days of the product, you will usually have issues with the product and basically to get to talk to someone in a technical capacity is pretty difficult. We found the total opposite with OutSystems – there was nothing we talked about that was too big or too small, and we have access  to all manner of people within the organisation from the CEO right down to the developer who looks after a certain part of the product. It’s actually  amazing.

“I don’t know what they’re drinking over there, but it’s a breath of fresh air.”

@PeterGothard

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