Insight Into Using Progress Software's Project Garage Incubator

Posted 3/24/2016 12:04:08 PM by RICHARD HARRIS, Executive Editor

Insight Into Using Progress Software
We recently visited with Richard (Rich) J. Rosenthal Co-founder of PICS to discuss how his company used the development incubator “Project Garage” to create a new mobile app in an intensive sprint. Project Garage provides a hands-on learning approach to mobile application development that has become an increasingly popular choice for companies that need to launch a new mobile app but lack the necessary skills and resources to create one from the ground up.

To jumpstart its new mobile app, systems integration and managed services firm PICS embarked on a week-long, on-site experience with Progress Software’s Project Garage, which offers an intensive app development incubator that small and medium Progress business partners can utilize to tap into the company’s resources to infuse innovation into their mobile app projects while saving time and money. 

In this Q&A, Rosenthal shares his company’s experience with Project Garage.
ADM: Please provide a quick overview of what PICS does.

Rosenthal: Founded in 1995, PICS is a 20-year-old technology company with two major divisions. Our enterprise software division develops and supports our own software solutions, which are deployed by our customers worldwide. Currently our solutions are deployed in 11 countries. 

Our ITech division is a technology consulting, systems integration and managed services firm focusing on business systems for small to medium size businesses. Our ITech division was recently added to the Nine Lives Media’s MS Mentor 200 list (North America Edition) which identifies the region’s top 200 managed service providers (MSPs).

ADM: Why did PICS choose the Progress Project Garage initiative to jumpstart its new mobile app? 

Rosenthal: Early in 2015, during our development planning for the year, we had decided to create an expense reporting automation module for our business automation process solution, DocLib. Many of our customers have deployed DocLib to automate their account payable departments, and we identified mobile expense reports processing as a functionality that needed to be added.

Fundamentally, we wanted to change the way PICS innovates, and a key part of this was enhancing DocLib with a mobile app component. Our development staff at the time had either limited or no mobile app development experience, so we were looking at either expanding and hiring the talent or outsourcing to complete the project. 

We attended the annual Progress partner conference where Project Garage was presented. It was a perfect fit and the right time for us. We applied and were accepted into the program quickly. 
Rich Rosenthal

ADM: What exactly is Project Garage?

Rosenthal: Project Garage is a program to help Progress partners jumpstart their development efforts using some of the company’s latest technology. To be eligible for the Project Garage program, which is free to partners, the project must be clearly defined, and it must be possible to produce a working prototype at the end of the week-long program. 

We spent a good deal of time getting familiar with the back end components and laying out the design of our product before going on-site to Progress headquarters. Upon arrival, we were able to immediately dive in and start laying out the pieces and rapidly absorbing the latest and greatest in app development tricks and techniques. Having the “hands-on” experience and access to all of the Progress expertise on-site made this a much more effective learning environment, and at the end we had a prototype to take back to the office with us. 

ADM: What mobile app did PICS create with Project Garage? 

Rosenthal: We created a brand new mobile expense reporting app for our DocLib application, appropriately named “DocLib Expense.” With DocLib Expense, the user is able to create a new expense report by entering in information about the expense at a header level, and then the app will navigate to each line item on the expense (e.g. airfare, meals, supplies, etc.) where the user enters relevant information (e.g. accounts, amount, notes, etc.) and takes a picture of the receipt. 

All of these inputs are configurable on the expense screen based on company and user needs. When the user is finished with the expense report they submit it for review, at which point our DocLib back end application routes the report based on the customer’s process and obtains approvals. DocLib can interface with the company's ERP system to create the voucher/supplier invoice transaction or provide a report complete with images supporting the transactions, or even drop into a csv or XML file for manual processing.

ADM: How did Project Garage’s hands-on model help PICS’ team learn new skills as the app was developed? 

Rosenthal: This experience was much more valuable because we were developing something with the help of expertise from Progress that was familiar to us, as opposed to doing canned “sample apps” to familiarize ourselves with the process. We were able to work together with the Progress developers to get the JSON data to line up with the mobile app interface and solve problems quickly and efficiently.

Phil Magnay and Thomas Hubbard of Progress worked with us and were both very open in helping us learn while they did the heavy lifting of the development. Progress also made sure to bring in other experts to discuss various technologies, which allowed us to ask additional questions about our product as well as a variety of other subjects.

ADM: How long did it take to build this new app with Project Garage? 

Rosenthal: We had a functioning prototype at the end of just one week with Project Garage. One of our largest tradeshows (the QAD Explore Conference) was fast approaching, and we had set an internal goal to be able to show a preliminary version of the app to customers there. 

The development timeline was very tight, which was incredibly daunting, and there was a great deal of pressure on the team to deliver. Project Garage helped us to rapidly accelerate the development time, saving us months of man-power. We were also able to build an impressive prototype that was show-ready.

Next, we brought the app in-house for continued development, and we had the first version of the app live on the Apple App Store and Google Play about two months after our initial engagement with Project Garage. Moving forward, we continued to learn and enhance the app based on our customers’ needs and requirements.

ADM: What was the ROI for PICS (financial, customer interest)?

Rosenthal: With Project Garage, we saved at least six months of development time. We saved thousands of dollars by quickly training our existing developers as opposed to having to outsource the project or hire new employees. Now our staff has the fundamentals in place, and we’re well equipped to handle future projects. We’re not concerned about creating applications with a mobile component in the future, and – as it should be – mobile is now an integral part of our development projects.

Our on-site experience with Project Garage took place in late April, and that critical tradeshow took place in May. The initial version of the app was a huge hit at the tradeshow, and as a result we landed our first customer for DocLib Expense. Additionally, we fostered two major interactions at the tradeshow and vetted an additional 55 prospects for the prototype. The first sale of the app was closed six months after we wrapped at Project Garage, which significantly exceeded our initial timeframe expectations.

ADM: What aspects of the app development process with Project Garage were the most helpful to PICS? 

Rosenthal: The fact that the expectations were very clearly defined before going on-site enabled us to dive right in upon arrival. And following the experience, Progress developers have still been available to us to answer any of our questions. 

It seems only natural that you are going to learn more if you are building upon a foundation that you already conceptually understand with specific goals in mind. Based on this and with the jumpstart that Project Garage provided us, we were able to save the significant time, energy and money it would require to start from scratch and still do it on our own. 

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About the author: RICHARD HARRIS, Executive Editor

As the Publisher and Editor for App Developer Magazine, Richard has several industry recognitions and endorsements from tech companies such as Microsoft, Apple and Google for accomplishments in the mobile market. He was part of the early Google AFMA program, and also involved in the foundation of Google TV. He has been developing for mobile since 2003 and serves as CEO of Moonbeam Development, a mobile app company with 200 published titles in various markets throughout the world. Richard is also the founder of LunarAds, a mobile cross-promotion and self-serv mediation network for developers. He has been a featured presenter at trade-shows and conferences, and stays active with new projects relating to mobile development.

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