February 28, 2013

Lowcountry Tech Firms See Growing Demand for Mobile Applications -

Matt Tomsic  /  Charleston Regional Business Journal

At Sparc, an iPad and mobile app has replaced the visitor sign-in sheet. "There's no pen and paper anymore," said Dayel Ostraco, mobile evangelist for Sparc. "We wanted some way to make it easy for people to check in and get badges."

The program, called Tukawaka, is one of Sparc's mobile offerings as it and other Lowcountry tech companies adapt and create products for the increasing amount of people who are using gadgets instead of desktops to work and play.

"Where we see it going, we went from the mobile device being a personal device to an at-work device," Ostraco said. "Most software development efforts, a good majority of engineering efforts, are going to be on the mobile devices."

Ownership has increased for cell phones, laptops and tablets during the last six years, while ownership of desktops has declined, according to the Pew Internet project at the Pew Research Center.

In December, 87% of American adults owned a cell phone –- up from 73% in April 2006 –- and 45% of adults owned a smartphone. Tablets have also seen a 22% increase in ownership during the last two years, according to Pew; and laptop ownership has doubled. Meanwhile, desktop computer ownership has declined from 68% in 2006 to 58% last year.

"The emerging trend is for everyone to move to a mobile offering of some sort," said Erik Rothwell, senior developer and architect at Life Cycle Engineering. "That's where everything is moving."

**Complementing, creating
**Life Cycle Engineering has bolstered its mobile offerings and has a business unit dedicated to custom mobile enterprise services. "It's fairly new, but it's definitely a ramped up effort," Rothwell said. "We have several opportunities that we're pursuing. It's becoming one of our pillars." One of the business unit's products is a mobile application that is customized to a customer's software system.

"It allows them to reuse their existing infrastructure while still allowing them to extend their enterprise applications to a mobile offering," Rothwell said. "Instead of having to do a complete (software) rewrite, they'll be able to reuse the functionality they already have and extend that." The application works for both small and large private companies and government agencies.

Rothwell said consumers are pushing toward mobile, in part, because it's easier to carry a smartphone or tablet versus a laptop."That's really what's driving this," Rothwell said.

At Blackbaud, engineers have introduced a mobile app for its Raiser's Edge software. About 1,600 organizations and 8,000 users downloaded the app.

"This is the year that nonprofits go from testing the mobile experience to delivering the mobile experience," said Larry Mishkin, vice president of engineering at Blackbaud. "The bottom line is this is where our clients are going. It's pretty obvious that the people that support them are already there. It's exciting to us to be able to take advantage of this technology."

Ostraco became mobile evangelist at Sparc about 16 months ago, and the company knew mobile technology was becoming ubiquitous with daily life. Since then, the company has developed different mobile applications, but like Life Cycle Engineering, Ostraco can't go into details because of agreements with customers and the government. But, he said, one product that is public is an app that plans submarine missions.

"Essentially, it's designed for cadets, but the larger vision was to have this onboard a ship," he said. The app allows captains to plan a mission, track places and points on a map, set submerged depths, plan drone launches and missile launches, though Ostraco hopes the latter functionality won't ever be needed.

Sparc also has adapted its marketing strategy to capture mobile growth, said Chad Norman, a spokesman for the company. Sparc participates in the Charleston Digital Corridor's CODEcamp, Dig South and hosts hackathons for the community. In November, it helped organize a codeathon during a defense summit hosted by the Charleston Defense Contractors Association.

"It behooves us as a company to build that," Ostraco said. "We know if we raise that tide outside the company, we raise it inside as well."

**Blackbaud officials said the mobile push could change the way people work, and Ostraco's seen mobile development bleed into programming for websites viewed on laptops or desktops.

"If they're in the office, they're not raising money," said Melanie Mathos, a spokeswoman for Blackbaud. "Being able to access data and program information out in the field is really where mobile is going."

Mathos and Mishkin cited feedback they received from one customer, who was able to work while mechanics changed her car's oil because of a Blackbaud app. "This is extending that system of record out through the mobile device," Mishkin said.

Ostraco referred to Tukawaka as an example of a mobile app that's changing the workplace. With it, Sparc and any other business can track who visited the building, which visitors are still in the building, if they're American citizens –- information needed by defense contractors –- and how long they visited.

The app also generates reports from the data, allowing the company to compile those reports for their counterparts at the Department of Defense, which oversees some of the company's operations related with defense contracts. The functionality makes the app valuable for Sparc and could make it valuable for other defense contractors while streamlining a process that used to depend on paper and pen.

Ostraco also said mobile engineering is changing web engineering, and many websites are streamlining usability and a website's operations and functionality. "It's doing that one thing really, really well, which is required for mobile," Ostraco said. "I'm seeing that impact on pretty much every stage of software development."

He thinks mobile devices will continue to evolve into wearable technology, though he said he doesn't want to prognosticate about when the next generation of devices will be released. Companies like Google, Microsoft and Apple are exploring the technology though.

Ostraco said, "It only makes sense that it be something we attach to ourselves."