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Why One Canadian Developer Won’t Build BlackBerry Apps

March 26th, 2012 No comments

When it comes to any business, success boils down to the decisions you make. Sound decisions help you grow. Bad decisions hold you back. The stakes can be even higher with startups, as limited resources demand even tighter focus and fewer opportunities for do-overs.

As a young startup launching a cloud-based platform called Clio, we needed to select which mobile client(s) to support and decided to skip the Research In Motion BlackBerry. Opting not to develop a BlackBerry app hardly sounds like a tough decision today. However, this was 2007 and the mobile landscape was a vastly different place. There was Palm and no Android; the first Apple iPhone had just emerged on the scene; and BlackBerry was leading the pack with 44.5% of the U.S. PDA market as of Q1 2008.

Furthermore, our startup creates Web-based practice management tools for the law industry, which even today is considered to be one of the last hold-outs where BlackBerry dominates.

Certainly, there were technical issues at play in our decision. Research in Motion may have had a five-year head start on Apple, but they failed to build out a developer community and made the BlackBerry platform too complex for third-party developers. For end-users, navigating web-based applications on the BlackBerry browser was cumbersome at best.

The stodgy nature of BlackBerry stood in stark contrast to the iPhone’s fresh design and incredibly intuitive touch-based user interface. The iPhone was and is exactly what good technology should look and feel like.

The Clio Mobile App for iPhone offered a beautiful, dead-simple design that put a lawyer’s entire practice right at their fingertips. We were able to get a proof-of-concept Web app for iPhone working in less than a week, whereas a similar app for BlackBerry would have taken at least two months to build. With our limited development and engineering resources, we decided to launch Clio Mobile without BlackBerry support.

So there we were, in 2007, launching a legal Web-services tool without a BlackBerry app. During that first year, there were outcries from BlackBerry users – when were we going to develop a Clio for BlackBerry? Then it got quieter. 2009 marked the turning point when the calls from BlackBerry supporters became fewer and far between. Since then, we’ve rolled out apps for iPhone, iPad and Android.

“Play where the puck is going to be”

As a Canadian company, it’s practically in our DNA to quote Wayne Gretzky. The Great One once summed up the secret to strategic decision making when he said: “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”

When the iPhone first went on sale in June 2007, AT&T reported that more iPhones were sold in that first weekend than they had sold in the first month of any other wireless device in their entire history.

We believed that the incredible reception of the iPhone foretold its future success. Granted, the people who spent the night waiting in line outside Apple stores in sleeping bags and folding chairs represented the small minority of the early adopting tech crowd. However, if you want to see what the mainstream public will be using tomorrow consider what the local tech circles are using today.

Our solutions cater to legal professionals, but at the end of the day, lawyers are no different than other consumers. They’re attracted to beautifully-designed products and will opt for devices that make their working lives easier.

Know your customers

Understanding where our target audience fits in the technology adoption curve helped us realize we shouldn’t expend any resources on BlackBerry. The legal field is notoriously slow to embrace new technology – for lawyers, faxing is still a common communication method, after all. However, as a cloud computing provider, we’re already catering toward the bleeding-edge of the law industry.

The early adopters of the legal world who embrace the cloud are most likely the very same people ready to toss their BlackBerries aside the first chance they get. If we’re building a product geared toward the early adopters, we need to make sure we stay ahead of the curve in all facets of the design and marketing process.

Furthermore, our solutions target small practices and solo lawyers rather than law firms. These smaller businesses are far more agile when it comes to deploying a new technology platform. There’s no lengthy procurement process. A small firm can decide to use an iPhone or Android phone without all the red tape of their larger counterparts. Therefore, it goes to follow that Clio customers will more quickly gravitate to better technologies like iPhone and Android.

Scan the broader market trends

While change may move at a faster pace with smaller companies, large enterprises will eventually catch up. This appears to be the case with BlackBerry. A 2011 survey found that more than 30 percent of BlackBerry users in large enterprises (those with greater than 10,000 employees) expect to migrate to a different platform within the next year.

The main reason behind this major reduction in market-share? A lack of user satisfaction. The report also noted that employees are increasingly using their own mobile devices for business purposes, making end user satisfaction all the more critical.

As long as they prove useful, employees will continue to bring their personal tools to work, whether an IT manager likes it or not. That’s the driving force behind the consumerization of IT phenomenon.

Just as we looked at the long lines of enthusiastic consumers waiting to get their hands on an iPhone back in 2007, software companies catering to enterprise organizations would serve themselves well to keep a close eye on developing trends in the small to mid-size market.

Guest post written by Jack Newton

Jack Newton is CEO and co-founder of Clio, a Vancouver-based company that offers Web-based practice management software for solo practitioners and small-to-medium sized law firms.

Categories: blackberry, mobile, mobile applications Tags:

Joomla jumps to the enterprise

March 20th, 2012 No comments

Today, Joomla — the name is a phonetic spelling for the Swahili word “Jumla,” which means “as a whole” — is one of the most popular open source content management systems (CMS), claiming that 2.7 percent of the Web is Joomla-based sites.

If you were to drop Joomla on a straight line with other popular open source CMS projects [1], it would fall somewhere between WordPress and Drupal. Joomla, which is offered under the General Public License (GPL) version 2.0, is more robust than WordPress, while Drupal is usually favored by those with a developer background.

[ Discover what's new in business applications with InfoWorld's Technology: Applications newsletter [2]. | Get the latest insight on the tech news that matters from InfoWorld’s Tech Watch blog [3]. ]

“Joomla really fits nicely between WordPress and Drupal,” says Ryan Ozimek, president of Open Source Matters, a nonprofit organization that provides organization, legal and financial support to the Joomla project.

“We’ve built a community and have a focus on reaching out to the average user and administrators of a website, but we also give under-the-hood tools to the developers and engineers trying to do something more complex,” he adds.

Joomla powers the Children’s Hospital Boston social intranet, providing a “Facebook-like” social environment and handling more than 2,500 concurrent users.

Joomla jibes with small to mid-size businesses
With such a large community and abundance of products and services, the small and medium-sized business (SMB) market is where this open source CMS is a strong contender. Small businesses like having access to thousands of add-ons that make it easy to extend basic website functionality.

“We’ve encouraged an economy around being able to productize add-ons. A small business can install a Joomla site by following a five-step tutorial on the Web, download the add-ons in a single zip file and end up with a professional site,” said Ozimek.

Ozimek said that small businesses typically use Joomla-based sites for standard brochure-like websites, to add functionality to communicate with customers using support ticketing or for ecommerce.

The SMB market is where Joomla earned its reputation, but now all eyes are on the enterprise and what Joomla can do there.

Joomla makes strides in the enterprise
This year, the enterprise is the big picture evolution for Joomla. It’s still a core CMS offering but new focus gives developers tools to build any sort of Web application that goes well beyond the good old-fashioned Joomla site.

In the enterprise, open source CMS software is highly visible. Kathleen Reidy, Senior Analyst at 451 Research [4], said acceptance and availability of open source CMS projects has grown. Ten years ago open source CMS projects existed, but there wasn’t many options for a commercial entity for an enterprise to partner with for development and support. Today, this isn’t the case.

Reidy said that open source software in the enterprise does have benefits over proprietary software. “One benefit with open source is that you can download and try it on your own instead of going through a vendor-led process of RFP, proof-of-concept and demos,” she explains.

For Joomla, its enterprise push is backed by support from companies like Microsoft and eBay who have significantly enabled the Joomla community to push the boundaries beyond the SMB market.

“EBay has 16,000 employees running on an intranet system that was built using the Joomla CMS and Joomla framework. The system does social networking and grabs terabytes of data for eBay to run reports on,” said Ozimek. “Under the hood is a new generation of technology that allows developers to go beyond the basics of having a blog or brochure base website. “

One of the more recent enterprise Joomla deployments is a social networking Intranet for Children’s Hospital Boston [5], a Harvard medical school pediatric teaching hospital.

Sarah Mahoney, the hospital’s innovation community manager, looked at open source options because the proprietary system being used at the hospital prevented them from making much-needed upgrades.

Mahoney said that Joomla looked to be the best option, and the hospital contracted CloudAccess.net for support in building the site and the private memory cloud for hosting and maintenance. Knowing that Joomla was moving to the 2.5 version, Gary Brooks, CEO of CloudAccess.net [6], felt that Joomla was the perfect fit for Children’s Hospital Boston.

“The application needed to be scalable and handle an intranet with 2,500 plus people all accessing it at one time,” says Brooks, describing the project requirements.

CloudAccess.net also needed to build hardware systems under a private HIPPA system to create a safe environment for the hospital to communicate, and the hospital also had an existing login authentication system that the Joomla platform needed to connect to.

The result is a new “Facebook-like” social environment where staff at Children’s Hospital Boston can see the social wall, participate in discussions and also create, share and collaborate on documents.

The same technology that helps businesses make a Joomla websites that displays properly can now help build a social networking system for the enterprise. It’s a big bit step forward for an open source project entering its seventh year.

The technology behind Joomla’s enterprise push
A lot of the enterprise push comes with the newest release of Joomla. Multi-database support in this version helps position Joomla as “enterprise glue” to connect separate and proprietary systems and data stores and allow companies to internally display the data.

Most open source CMS run on the MySQL database, but with the most recent version of Joomla you can use Microsoft SQL Server, Azure cloud services, Oracle or PostgreSQL. This kind of multi-database support is important for Joomla – it removes the need to spend more money and time integrating additional software to get Joomla to communicate with existing enterprise databases.

Today, Joomla is not the “little CMS that could” project that started in 2005 as a Mambo fork. It’s now really two parts: one part is the CMS for websites and the second part is the Joomla platform (which is kind of like an operating system – or the brains) for the CMS.

By splitting Joomla in two parts, Ozimek said the same developers that have worked with Joomla add-ons and have deployed Joomla websites can now use the same skills they’ve learned over the years , but start doing some crazy things with Joomla. For those working with the Joomla platform it’s the same native language and same way of doing things to go beyond the CMS .

“The reality of where technology is today, you’ve got to keep up and continuously evolve your skill set,” said Ozimek. “As a community I’m impressed by the engineering leadership and the developers who have said we’re not going to just sit here and try to keep being the best CMS because that’s a dead-end. That’s where I think the Joomla platform really separates itself from where the other CMS communities are going.”

Ozimek predicts that 2012 is going to be the year we see a lot of apps being built with the Joomla platform.

“We’re hearing that from the work eBay has done and from the support of Microsoft and other large enterprises, he said. “There’s fuel in the engine to start doing some cool stuff. “

Based in Nova Scotia, Canada, Vangie Beal has been covering small business, electronic commerce and Internet technology for more than a decade. You can tweet with her online @AuroraGG.

Categories: open source software Tags:

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