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.”
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.”