CXO

Case Study: Taking the Smartpath with Flex

Sometimes it's worth taking a risk on a beta. For Smartpath, taking that risk has led to the creation of a robust and industry-tested asset, help desk and facilities management tool based on Flex.

Sometimes it's worth taking a risk on a beta. For Smartpath, taking that risk has led to the creation of a robust and industry-tested asset, help desk and facilities management tool.

But it has also meant the company is now regarded as one of the leading lights for the Adobe Flex developer community in the region, while also being named in Deloitte's Technology Fast 50 2007 Awards.

The co-founder and technical director at Smartpath, Owen Batt, said he had first investigated building the company's Lob8 application when Flex was at its version 1 release, but was dissuaded by the cost.

The first code for Loc8 was written as an asset management solution only, in HTML and JavaScript. Batt said even that limited effort meant pushing the limits on what was possible.

"We always wanted to use Flex since 1.0 but it was just too prohibitive cost-wise for us to really consider and use," he said.

The arrival of the Flex 2 alpha code however allowed Smartpath to shift its front end into a very dynamic environment that is much faster to develop within.

"We pretty much then and there made the decision that, despite it being alpha, we should start diving into the technology and wear the pain of pushing our product into it," Batt said. "That was the best move by far because we've come out way ahead of the game as a very mature Flex development house."

In May of last year Smartpath did not have a helpdesk application, but through using Flex 2 it had designed and implemented the entire application by July of that year.

He has no qualms about having developed the application using beta software.

"It is a bit a painful, but it was a decision that we made for a speed-to-market thing," Batt said. "By the time that we actually went live with a product Adobe were actually in beta 2. When beta 3 came out we had to do some quick porting, because a new player was released as well.

"We've evolved as we've understood their product and we have taken advantage of a lot of the features in Flex 2 that were opened up through this beta process. It really did allow us to test the water as well.

"We've all just started to cut over to Flex 3 now from the development perspective. And that's a major change, in terms of what end users are going to see."

Now the program is built entirely in Flex and delivered through a Web browser as a rich media application. Loc8 is now at release 2.7, with a 3.0 release in the works for release in April or May of next year. Smartpath has subsequently developed its software to be hosted on a software-as-a-service basis, and is now investing in rebuilding its framework to make it more akin to a full enterprise resource planning application.

"It's quite a large piece of software, and is definitely one of the bigger Flex projects around full stop," Batt said. "Now it's time to really leverage Flex. It can do some visually fantastic things, which allow us to do some fantastic work flows and really put some smarts in. We've got some great designs and things that we've always wanted to implement but never really had the time."

Batt said the application itself is frequently used by managed service providers, such as companies who are managing buildings and equipment on behalf of third parties, as it has the ability to manage multiple business units, geographic locations and contracts.

For example, the software is used by Hutchison's mobile phone network in Vietnam, along with the company's network operation centre.

"Every event that occurs on that network gets logged in that help desk and used in our asset management and that's all delivered through Flex," Batt said.

Batt said he owes the strong relationship with Adobe to the efforts of that company's technical director, Mark Blair.

"He has been fantastic, because we get a lot of insight to what's going on inside Adobe, what they are planning, and what they are releasing," Batt said. "It is a real good sneak peek to what they are doing with Flash Player and it's handy for us so that we know we can invest before the rest of the market is going to be able to. Just getting in and looking at the Flex 2 Alpha — that completely changed our business."

Blair said for him it has been exciting and rewarding to see Smartpath succeed over the past few years as it has adopted Flex.

"They have really leveraged Flex throughout their asset management platform, and it's provided them a rich application experience and more familiar to desktop applications than Web applications and that's helped them win business," Blair said.

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