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The transition to Tablet - is it worth it ?

Published over 3 years ago by Elkie Holland
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Elkie Holland of Prospectus IT Recruitment spoke with Simon Verona, Managing Director of Dealer Management Services Ltd about their decision and journey to take the system, Navigator, onto a tablet.  Dealer Management Services is a leading supplier of software to the UK Automotive sector.  

ELKIE: Did the idea to make your software tablet enabled come from a customer request or because you fancied playing or just to make your product more sexy to sell it ?
SIMON: The desire to tablet-enable our application came from a mixture of sources. The key driving force was that tablet technology was being introduced into our customer and prospective customer-base independently of our application.   This meant that we had additional potential licences that could be installed, if we could leverage this additional workspace. 

New prospects were requesting whether we could support tablets - though as of yet we hadn't specifically lost a sale without this we could see that the time would come when this will be more of an issue.

To maintain our position as a technology leader in our marketplace, it is important that we embrace new technology and show ourselves as leaders in this field.

ELKIE: First off, tell me a bit about your application and the market it's in ?
SIMON: Navigator is an ERP application for Automobile Dealerships in the UK.  The application is fully integrated and runs everything from vehicle inventory, sales order processing, CRM, accounting through to Workshop loading and job processing.

ELKIE: What technology has your software been developed in ?
SIMON: The original application was written in mvBASE and was a traditional character based application.   We started making the migration to a graphical interface in 2002, and decided on Microsoft .Net as a development platform for the front-end client and specifically developed using Windows Forms technology rather than the less well-developed web technology of the time.   In the meantime, we had migrated to jBASE in replacement of mvBASE and built our own middleware between the windows client application and the business software layer within jBASE,

ELKIE: Tell me briefly why you thought it would be great to have on a tablet ?
SIMON: We saw that there were many parts of our application which would work great on a more portable device.  A good example are sales executives who can then be free of a desk when talking to customers, but still be able to use the application.   Technicians in the workshop can use the Navigator job control applications for time-clocking and for recording workshop notes without having to walk across the workshop to a desktop PC.  

ELKIE: How hard was it to do ?
SIMON: Our aim was to provide as extensive a tablet experience as possible - we didn't want to restrict ourselves to a single sector - eg iPAD.   Therefore, we had to deliver the application as a web interface.  We also didn't want to split our development resources by re-writing part or all of the core application at all.  Also, we noted that many of the tablets in the dealership were locked-down in that they were unable to install extra applications easily.  

We decided therefore to deliver full Navigator application using web technology - specifically HTML-5, using a third party HTML-5 Remote Desktop Client.  As we have our own datacentre already - Navigator is cloud based - we delivered the Remote desktops from our own server farm.

ELKIE: How long did it take ?
SIMON: Once we had picked our technology platform for delivering Navigator to the tablet, it was reasonably quick to deliver a working solution.  A matter of weeks.

ELKIE: What was your biggest hurdle ?
SIMON: The biggest hurdle ironically, was building a simple methodology for installing the application on different tablets.  We've now got a simple web page which recognises the tablet in use and provides a custom script which prompts for login credentials, and then saves them on the tablet along with a desktop shortcut.

ELKIE: Any lessons you learnt ?
SIMON: Now that we have the full application available on a tablet, we are now learning the key areas that our customers actually use on a tablet and are now optimising them more for touch use by making the buttons and text boxes bigger. We are now providing alternate tablet-only versions of some key screens (which are automatically displayed in preference to the standard screens).

ELKIE: What's the take up been on the tablet ?  Is this a "revenue add-on" or  "help sell your product"  ?
SIMON: In the short term, the add-on of tablet technology has been more of a marketing win than a financial win.    As a technology company, highlighting that we are the forefront of emerging technology (Cloud solutions, tablet etc) is a big-win.   Over, the longer term we expect that we will gain additional revenue through Navigator licences purchased exclusively for tablet use.  

ELKIE: Overall, bearing in mind the time, cost and heartache ... was this development on a tablet worthwhile emotionally and financially ?
SIMON: Fortunately, our migration to utilising tablets leveraged the investment in our existing application.  We only had a small additional development cost for supporting tablets, and a relatively small third party software cost.    Again, because we have our own datacentre infrastructure, the cost of hosting the tablet application was relatively small.   In addition, most of these costs will rise in line with the number of tablet users so will be absorbed in height revenue. 

This means that our risk was always relatively small, and the marketing wins we have made alone make the development worthwhile. 

ELKIE: Some great insights and tips from Simon Verona, of Dealer Management  who made the decision to tablet-enable their software.  

Credit: Image from Flickr

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