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Templates – Adept, adapt, adopt

A point emphasised by running a beta program is that people have little time to invest, the people working with you to help you improve your product often do so through a spirit of generosity, but even the most generous spirit has pressing demands on their time. Most of us are looking for immediacy, we want it all we want it now!

  • So we had to make Adept more immediate, helping customer get their projects to fruition as quickly as possible. We decided to do this by improving the template capability of the product:
  • Providing templates that are complete working systems. Nothing is easier than taking something that already exists and using it, perhaps with just a little tweaking.
  • Keeping the capability to mash up components from diverse template to make new apps. Perhaps taking a Company form from one App and a Time sheet form from another to create an app that logs time against client.
  • Allowing every aspect of a form from a template to be customized, add fields and pages, remove fields and pages or change the page flow. A form created from a template is exactly the same as a form created from scratch.
  • Use your prior work as a sources of template material. We all know this one, I’d swear that I’ve already made one of these…
  • Making it easy to search for templates and forms, search app templates when you create apps, search for form templates when you create forms.

We are pleased to announce that the template capability is now fully functional and available in Adept at www.donnamobile.com.

We’ve started the ball rolling by implementing a few templates, CRM, Project Tracking and Budgeting, Client Time Recording, Expenses and Timesheets. We want to make many more ensuring that Adept addresses the needs of many, and to achieve this we need your help.

Here is our offer:

“If you want an app that runs in Adept for a purpose not covered by our existing templates contact us at support.donnamobile.com, we will be happy to develop the app for you as long as you are happy for us to make a public template from the app. You just need to make sure that we understand the task and we’ll do the rest”.

We’ll also pull roadmap features forward and implement them if your app needs new capabilities. We look forward to hearing from you soon.

Where have you been?

Get your motor running, get out on the highway

That was humming through my head – because I’m of an age - when we started beta testing our product, but would our transportation survive the rigours of the journey?

The beta program validated the main tenets of the Adept approach confirming our path, but as is often the case, more questions were raised than answers provided. Yes, there were bugs to fix, but we also needed some significant enhancements to the core product capabilities. No problems, we are software engineers, the answer is always yes (given enough time). But then…

A vortex of low hanging fruit – I like mixing metaphors sorry! Sometimes you are progressing nicely on a path and you hear “psst”, “psst, do you want a cheap Rolex?” or in this case “some quick win business?” Immediately you start thinking “Yeah! I’d like some of that” and in your head it goes like this “if I add one of these over here, bend that just a little and fill this full of water, the prize will be mine”. I don’t know why I still fall for this old siren song, in my, now, many years I think it’s worked for me only the once. However being too dumb to learn from experience is a very human failing. So off we go, diving into the fruity vortex, chasing something that is very real but way too elusive to ever catch, it’s only on the other side of the wormhole that we realize how far off course we now are and what the journey has cost the overall progress, in this case most of the summer. There’s a song “Sorry seems to be the hardest word” but for me, the whole of my life, “No” is the one, if I ever learn one lesson that is the one to crack.

So after the summer’s lost in time and space experience, it’s time to get back on track, getting back to business and working through the long list of outstanding issues. The now focused small team has all of them polished off in time to make Adept a live service by the close of the year. Go team go, shame about the summer.

So now at a summit of sorts, it’s time to really engage with as many people as we can entice (our siren song is very croaky, we’ll have to work on it). Have you looked at Adept yet? Come and join us at www.donnamobile.com and let us know what you think good or bad. There is a 30 day fully functional free trial and I will be more than happy to extend this for anyone who asks.

Looking for the next mountain to climb…

Adept (Mobile Apps Take 4) arrives at base camp.

For a just over a year now, I’ve been getting up, eating breakfast, taking the dogs out for 30 minutes, and then trudging the stairs to the office in the bedroom. I sit in front of my computer and stay there (except for trips to the fridge) doing whatever I’ve planned when lying awake in the middle of the night. On most days this nocturnal cogitation results in a clear plan for the day and productivity, but some days are spent swapping tasks (either I slept too well, or the midnight ramblings were fruitless) – I do have a list. This task swapping (or thrashing) is the male version of multi-tasking!

I am not an organised person – my opinion is that this is a “man” thing in the main. If you give a woman a list of 10 tasks to complete, most women will start at the top of the list and work through it until all tasks are complete. Give a man the same list and he’ll scan the list for something interesting to do (anything that involves engines, fire or squirting water) and do that. Now some diligent males will eventually work through the remainder of the list, most males will look for a new list. I wouldn’t class myself amongst the diligent. This can be summed up as “If men did the ironing we all be wearing wrinkled clothes”.

With trips to answer the door, various visits to the fridge, natural breaks I probably climb the stairs at least 7 times a day, the stairs are about 10ft. So that is 70ft of climbing per day, if I multiply that by the number of days I’ve been doing this (7 days a week a couple of weeks holiday) I get something like 27,000 ft. I think I can call that base camp.

So having laboured for that year plus, Donna Mobile has arrived at the first base camp. On the journey I’ve delighted in the absence of external pressures, being able to set my own goals for each day makes each day a success. The journey has been lonely, but I’m pleased that I’ve had company since March this year. Having travelling companions has made things much more enjoyable. I believe that the progress multiplier is greater than the number of companions. It’s great to be part of a team again.

Base Camp 1 – closed beta.

Adept is now available as an invitation based free closed beta program. We are controlling the number of users we have to ensure that our bird can fly before we release it into the wild. The beta is now closed, but you can sign up for the service at www.donnamobile.com. Please leave a comment if you want to disagree or enhance my theories on gender difference and the capabilities of each.

Mobile Apps Take 4 - standing on the shoulders of small people

What are the design goals?

There are some words that I really like, sometimes it the sound, sometimes it’s the meaning. One of the words that I like for the meaning is subsidiarity. I learned this word from the then Prime Minister of the UK, John Major. He was banging on about his success in the EU negotiations at Maastricht. Most of what he said was washed away by time, but subsidiarity stuck. From Wikipedia: Subsidiarity is an organising principle of decentralisation, stating that a matter ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest, or least centralised authority capable of addressing that matter effectively.

An application development system that can be used by anyone who has a problem that is worth solving or a process that need improving. No need to make submissions to third parties, engage with consultants or do any of those things that often feel like organizational necrosis. In the main, the people doing the job understand the job, they know how to sharpen the pencils. Let’s try and put the right tool in their hands. Mobility has a big role to play in improving effectiveness and productivity.

Embody subsidiarity.

After a lifetime, I’m now finally fed up with computers and software. The first hour of each day seems to be given over to software updates. But I do like the SaaS stuff, no software to install, just log on and go. We use Jira on Demand, Google Apps, Desk.com and others. So lets go for no software. Again this stays true to the principle of subsidiarity – no software to install, no holes to poke in firewalls, doing nothing is easily handled locally.

No software.

It’s so easy to make simplify the easy steps in a process and either make the difficult impossible or make it significantly harder. We need to make everything simpler even the complicated bits, but not by throwing out the more complex and sometimes necessary features.

Let’s make it simple.

In order to be fit for purpose, we need an enterprise grade solution, one that ticks all of the boxes for the guardians. Secure, available, reliable, scalable and secure – yes secure is in the list twice on purpose, because that is how people feel about it.

Fit for purpose.

Easy to integrate – apps made with Mobile Apps Take 4 might be the start of new system or they might extend or integrate with existing systems. In both cases the data stored in our cloud based systems needs to be readily and securely available as simply as possible.

Easily integrated.

Cross platform – nothing is nicer than a custom built finely polished native app. But each one can only be built by an expert and reflects the skill, dedication and imagination of its author. Repeating this process over and over to support multiple platforms can be costly and slow. Not all apps need to be honed to perfection!

Apps need to be easy to understand and use. They must have an intuitive UI and do the job easily and well – that’s it. Mobile Apps Take 4 – must build apps like this, they must work and be easy to use. But the one app must work on many platforms, iOS, Android, Windows Phone 8, Desktops and all Laptops variants. Apps must have chameleon like characteristics looking and behaving like a native app for the platform that is running on.

Runs on today’s platforms.

So that is the shopping list for Mobile Apps Take 4.

We have been busy since starting the company on creating this product it’s called Adept. I’ll let you be the judge as to whether the design goals are met or whether the product just adds to the list of “Valuable lessons learned”.

Its never too late to start again…

I started Donna Mobile in the summer of 2012 after deciding to have one more go at a start-up. I really like start-ups, I love that empty road stretching out over the horizon. It always disappoints me how quickly you end up hauling in traffic.

So I’m not one who believes in “better the devil you know”; bring on the new guy – I might like him! I’ve never understood fear of the unknown, it’s just unknown that’s all! I suppose that I’m some kind of crazy optimist!

What to do with my new found freedom? Well I had some ideas, some of them new, some of them re-treads. There was one idea that seemed to be worth a shot as I felt that I could offer a fresh perspective on something that had already old hat. Cross Platform mobile apps.

I’m steeped in mobile apps, having been involved since the mid-eighties. I was working for Wang UK in their field service engineering team and we were looking for ways to be become more efficient, improving the process for both the engineers and call despatch. So we decided to use some newly available hand held devices (keyboards, a couple of lines of display and acoustic couplers) to automate the field service operation. There were a couple of hundred engineers in the field service team at that time. The sponsor of the project, my friend Mike Callaghan, was able to circumvent all internal processes and constraints to get the budget, my job was to implement the solution. Well it did get implemented, but I wouldn’t classify the project as a success. Valuable lessons were learned:

  • If there is a weakness in the solution and it is not welcomed with open arms, the weaknesses will exploited to achieve the user’s objectives (kill the project).
  • Your foundation technology had better be ready for prime time.
  • Your implementation had better be rock solid.
  • The social aspects of the mainly male engineering force talking to the mainly female call despatch staff were not to be trifled with. Life in the eighties was so much simpler in some ways. That was Mobile Applications take 1.

Skipping forward to the late nineties having been involved in various things in between. I loved Lotus Notes – a great product for business transformation. Decent mobile devices were starting to appear, things that has some built in communications capabilities that almost work. How about make a Lotus Notes like business transformation product that runs on mobile devices?

I was leading the company now, so no need to get anything signed off, let’s do it. Valuable lessons were learned:

  • Your foundation technology had better be ready for prime time.
  • Your implementation had better be rock solid.
  • The customers wanted mobile email – no one was ready for Mobile apps. The time for Blackberry to shine was at hand.

That was Mobile Applications take 2.

Again fast forward to the late noughties, the iPhone is changing everything. Mobile email is everywhere and Apps are what people want. Is it time to try again?

I’m no longer leading the company – perhaps because of take 2, but I am in a senior technical role for this one. Off we go again. This time the emphasis is on cross platform, build once, deploy on any. Valuable lessons were learned:

  • The foundation technology is ready for prime time.
  • Your implementation had better be rock solid.
  • The customers love the idea of building one application that runs on any platform.
  • The time is at hand.

That was Mobile Applications take 3.

This one works. My old company is committed to this product and is honing, polishing and making sales as you read this.

Having established that I’ve thought long and hard about mobile apps across 3 decades, what was my big idea for Donna Mobile’s first product?

What else but Mobile Applications take 4? I look forward to trying to convince you that I’m not crazy in my next post.

Visit us at www.donnamobile.com to see what progress we’ve made.

What is in a Name – why Donna Mobile?

Power to the people, or some of them!

One of my more airy fairy notions was to look at software design from a different perspective, that being how a woman would do a task (Obviously I need help in this…). I would argue that the lion’s share of software is designed and developed by blokes and consequently embodies “bloke think”. I think that if you were really targeting the important half of humankind you would need some different thinking. This was one of the things that I wanted to tackle with Donna Mobile before I was seduced by the familiar slopes of mount Mobile App.

My eldest daughter came up with the suggestion for the company name, and as you all know, it come from the song La donna è mobile in the opera Rigoletto. So the sound of the company name Italian as in the words from the song and not the name Donna and the English word mobile.

It’s great to have a company name that has an associated and well known tune. I can hear it now…

There is also weak pun in the name for which I make no apologies. So even though I set off in a different direction, we have stuck with the name as it is still our intention to get back on course with the airy fairy notion at some stage.

Come and see what we are doing at www.donnamobile.com.