Business challenge

All too often, software development puts a brake on business innovation. What if there was a way to transform the development process so that business users could build apps independently?

Transformation

Future Workshops’ Harmony platform, built on IBM Compose, provides an intuitive web interface that allows users to combine microservices and interface elements to build responsive apps in minutes.

Results

15

minutes to build a simple app that would take three months using traditional methods

USD 10

per month to deliver an app that might have cost USD 100k to develop from scratch

One

business user can build an app that could require a product development team of six

Business challenge story

Delivering apps at the speed of business

As a premier provider of digital and mobile applications for some of the world’s most prestigious brands, Future Workshops found that many of its clients were becoming frustrated by traditional application development processes.

“By building on IBM Compose, we have the reliability, flexibility and performance we need to help business users build new apps in minutes.”

—Matt Brooke-Smith, Founder and CEO, Future Workshops

Even with the adoption of modern methodologies such as agile, traditional app development is still too slow, expensive and inflexible to meet many emerging business needs. In particular, even the simplest time-saving apps for business users take too long to develop, require large budgets, and tie up teams of developers for months at a time.

Matt Brooke-Smith, Founder and CEO of Future Workshops, began wondering if there was a better way. “We looked back over all of the app development projects that we had done for our clients over several years, and most of them boiled down to a complex combination of a few basic functionalities.

“For example, whether you are a salesperson who wants to keep track of your client meetings, or a maintenance engineer who needs to record the results of an asset inspection, you need your mobile app to include a component that lets you capture and store data. Many apps also involve components that extract data from some kind of back-end system, or perform calculations. By connecting all of these components together in the right way, an app can support very complex business processes and workflows.”

Davide Casarin, Future Workshops’ Chief Operating Officer, comments: “The problem is, in most cases, whenever a company wants a new app, the developers end up reinventing the wheel by building and integrating all of these components from scratch. That’s why the whole process takes months and costs so much money.”

Matt Brooke-Smith adds: “We realized there was a huge opportunity not only to reuse existing components, but also to build an integration framework to link them all together, and a simple web interface that would make it possible to combine them however you like.

“The aim was to make it possible for business users to compose new applications for themselves—without needing help from developers. We knew that if we could crack this problem, we would be able to completely transform the way businesses build apps—and that’s how the Harmony project was born.”

“Our initial results suggest that instead of a three-month project with a budget of USD 100,000 and six developers, one of our users can now build an app in 15 minutes and deploy it for as little as USD 10 per month.”

—Davide Casarin, Chief Operating Officer, Future Workshops

Transformation story

Democratizing development

Future Workshops’ new Harmony platform enables a much wider range of users the ability to create applications for themselves. Via a web interface, users simply drag-and-drop components that allow them to interact with their existing business systems, and design new data-flows that help them solve business problems.

For example, a Harmony app might involve extracting customer details from a CRM system, displaying the information to the user, allowing the user to enter some new data (for example, a report on their latest sales meeting with a client), perform some calculations (for example, create a quote by adding up the prices of the products that the client wants to buy), and then transfer the new information back into the CRM system.

“The idea is that Harmony contains a bunch of pre-built, configurable components that can be snapped together like Lego bricks—making development easy even if you don’t know how to write a single line of code,” says Matt Brooke-Smith. “Of course, all the underlying complexity still exists—but Harmony’s job is to abstract it away and let our users focus on solving business problems.”

Davide Casarin explains: “To build Harmony, we chose a microservices approach. Each component is a separate cloud-based microservice with its own API, and we decided to use RabbitMQ as a messaging hub to let the services communicate and pass data to each other. To ensure that data is stored safely while it is passing through the Harmony platform, we decided to save it temporarily in a PostgreSQL database.”

While neither RabbitMQ nor PostgreSQL are particularly difficult for a skilled team like Future Workshops to set up or maintain, the company didn’t want its developers to devote the time or resources needed to become expert administrators of either system.

Matt Brooke-Smith says: “We don’t see managing databases and messaging hubs as a big differentiator for our business. We want to focus on the things that really move our company forward, which means our whole team needs to concentrate on making Harmony as powerful, flexible and intuitive as possible. So we wanted to have someone else look after both RabbitMQ and PostgreSQL, and provide an SLA that we and our clients could rely on. That’s why we chose IBM® Compose.”

IBM Compose is a database-as-a-service platform that provides fully managed, highly available computing clusters to run a range of popular open-source databases and middleware technologies in the cloud. It provides end-to-end monitoring, instant provisioning, seamless scaling, automated backups and rapid failover – all without requiring the attention of a database administrator.

“Compose can spin up a new instance of Postgres or RabbitMQ faster than I can boil the kettle for a cup of tea,” says Matt Brooke-Smith. “It’s a matter of 10 or 20 seconds, and then a few clicks to choose the options you want. It’s so much easier than all the server configuration, load-balancing and so on that you need to set up with a lower-level cloud offering.

“From a business perspective, that means we can set up a new client on the Harmony platform in no time at all. Once the instance is set up, users can create new apps in seconds.”

Compose will also make it easy to integrate additional services into Harmony in future. The company is already experimenting with MongoDB and Elasticsearch via Compose, and is particularly interested in some of the innovative IBM Watson® APIs.

Davide Casarin comments: “The ability to provision Watson-compatible apps in seconds is really compelling. For example, some of the Watson AlchemyLanguage APIs for analyzing sentiment or creating summaries of text could be really interesting for our end-users. And the Speech to Text and Text to Speech APIs would be very useful for building hands-free mobile apps.”

Results story

An app for every user?

Harmony helps companies seize opportunities for digital transformation that simply haven’t been available in the past.

Matt Brooke-Smith comments: “In the business-to-consumer space, we’re seeing a trend where companies are trying to customize their offerings not just for groups of consumers, but for individual customers. Harmony brings this same ‘business-to-individual’ mindset to the world of app development. For the first time, it’s possible for everyone to have their own app, or even multiple apps, to help them achieve whatever they need.”

Using traditional approaches, creating apps to address minor or fleeting business needs was often not worthwhile, because by the time a development team could deliver an app, the opportunity would have passed. Now that users can build apps in a matter of hours using Harmony and start using them immediately, it becomes practical to develop apps to solve all sorts of problems.

Davide Casarin says: “Harmony is in private beta today, and we’re testing it with five clients, ranging from large enterprises to start-ups. Our initial results suggest that instead of a three-month project with a budget of USD 100,000 and a product development team of six, one of our users can now build an app in 15 minutes and deploy it for as little as USD 10 per month. That’s a complete game-changer for the whole app development industry.”

Matt Brooke-Smith concludes: “If you have a smartphone connected to the Internet, you are basically carrying a supercomputer around in your pocket—and yet so few people today are able to harness that power to help them work smarter in their everyday life. With Harmony, we’re going to change all that.

“By building on IBM Compose, we have the reliability, flexibility and performance we need to help business users build new apps in minutes—and allow companies to seamlessly scale up the most successful ones so that thousands of users can benefit from them. By slashing the time, costs and risk of development, we’re opening up business opportunities that have never been possible before.”

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About Future Workshops

Future Workshops specializes in making mobile products for premium international brands. Drawing on its experience in developing bespoke mobile and digital applications across a huge range of business use-cases, the company has built Harmony, a new, easy-to-use application design and delivery platform. The Harmony platform empowers business users to build apps themselves, without any help from their IT department—dramatically reducing the time, cost and risk of software development.

Take the next step

IBM Cloud Data Services offers a complete portfolio of data and analytics services providing unique and seamless product integrations to build apps faster and gain new insights easier with flexible deployment and pricing options. For more information about how IBM Cloud Data Services can help businesses solve tough big data problems rapidly and cost-effectively, please visit ibm.biz/clouddataservices.

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