Software and services specialist DVT has partnered with Stellenbosch-based mobile business software company Embark Mobile to significantly accelerate the development and delivery of smartphone and tablet applications in South Africa.

Through Embark’s technology platform Journey, DVT and Embark are able to deliver powerful mobile business applications up to ten times faster than using traditional development methods, saving customers time and money, and better aligning their applications with core business processes.

DVT Chief Technology Officer Craig Neill says the timing of the partnership couldn’t be better.

“Smartphones and their applications have changed the way most organisations do business globally, and that’s no different in South Africa,” says Neill. “Whereas smartphone penetration may not be as high in this country as in other parts of the world, knowledge industries like banking, finance, law, logistics and retail are increasingly relying on custom applications that empower their mobile workforces. Streamlining the development of these applications has therefore become a key differentiator for gaining competitive advantage in these industries.”

Conrad Hofmeyr, co-founder and director of Embark, says the unique features of the Journey platform will change the way many businesses approach smartphone application development.

“The main benefit of building applications with Journey is speed – not just development speed, but more importantly deployment speed,” says Hofmeyr. “Using Journey, we can help organisations go from the drawing board to a working proof-of-concept in days rather than weeks or months, and then continually develop and refine the resulting application in real-time. In this way we eliminate any disconnect between technology and the business, overcoming the limitations of traditional application development and cutting straight to the customer’s business objectives for the application.”

Hofmeyr uses the example of a business process that requires capturing customer information in a specific order and format.

“Journey is a fully cloud-based platform, so instead of requiring the installation of a complicated integrated development environment (IDE) and configuration of a mobile device that is physically connected to a computer, users can simply log on to Journey from a web browser, scan a barcode to link a mobile device to their profile, and immediately start building their application,” he explains.

“In this way, a large bank, for example, can quickly build an application that gives its agents one-click access to loan application forms that can be filled in and lodged from any customer location. Users needn’t be online to use a Journey application – data is automatically stored and synchronised to the cloud as soon as connectivity is available. This is an important consideration given the limitations of mobile data connectivity in South Africa,”

Johan Pieters, business unit manager for enterprise mobile solutions at DVT, believes the benefits of working so closely with another local technology company will quickly filter through to DVT’s customer base.

“Make no mistake, Journey is a world-class development platform, and I fully expect that many global organisations working in South Africa will take a keen interest in the work we’ll be doing with Embark over the coming months and years,” says Pieters.

“South Africa has its own unique challenges, however, one of which is the relatively high cost of developing applications for the major smartphone platforms like Android and iOS, and Journey gives us the means of addressing that challenge head-on. Connectivity is another challenge, and the seamless design of the platform – from the way it’s deployed and updated automatically on mobile devices without any user intervention, to the way it synchronises data from applications to and from the Cloud – is certainly rare if not unique in this market.”

Embark CEO Gerdus Byleveld concurs: “Traditional development cycles can be very time consuming, from specifying wireframes, to prototyping and deployment. Journey allows us to put a product in a customer’s hand in a short space of time and refine it from there. It doesn’t bypass the complex technology that’s involved in delivering advanced smartphone applications, but instead takes care of the intricate coding in the background while giving users more time to focus on actually configuring the solution to match the business need.

“In DVT we now have a partner with the market presence and brand awareness to take this platform and greatly expand the market for it,” he adds. “Not only does DVT have the right people and skills to ensure Journey is a best-fit for the customers that need it, they also provide the deployment and ongoing service maintenance that’s part and parcel of custom application development.”

Neill suggests that most organisations lack the in-house skills and expertise to develop their own smartphone applications, and while off-the-shelf solutions are available from some of the larger ERP and consulting houses, they are often too expensive and don’t offer the level of customisation needed to match the customer’s specific and often unique business processes.

“The bottom line is that yes, there are many different platforms – some even freely available – for developers to use to code their own apps, but I’m yet to find one that so quickly and effectively maps out a business process and translates it into a working smartphone app as efficiently and cost-effectively as Journey,” he says.

“Working with Embark gives us an important tool to build real value for the customers that need the applications we can build with it, and looking to the future, I’d say that will be most of our customers in a very short space of time.”