Journey Platform To Build Data Gathering Mobile Apps | Co-founder Interview Conrad Hofmeyr

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Journey is a platform to build data gathering mobile apps much faster than would traditionally have been possible. Journey is especially useful for companies that want to streamline their internal business processes.

According to Embark Mobile Co-founder and Director Conrad Hofmeyr, businesses continue to rely on paper forms and manual work to capture data and execute business processes despite the inefficiencies, but mobile apps can solve these challenges, however businesses are reluctant to use them because developing mobile apps is time consuming and requires specialist skills. That is the problem Embark Mobile is set to solve across the world beginning in Africa.

Why the name?

Journey was created by our company, Embark Mobile (or “Embark” for short). The names “Embark” and “Journey” relate to how our products are used by companies who have distributed workforces that go out to all sorts of places “in the field” where they provide services. These include field service technicians, delivery agents, community health workers, paramedics, and other field workers who use information extensively.

 How does it work?

The whole Journey app building experience takes place inside your web browser, so there’s no software to install. You define the data structures that your app requires, and then the layout and logic of its various screens. Journey allows for powerful logic through high-level JavaScript, which is a language that millions of people are already familiar with. Deploying your app to make it available to users is a one-click process. Users can then scan a barcode to link themselves to your app. We also provide data management tools to browse and manipulate the data accessed or collected by your users.

Who is your target user?

We are targeting businesses that can use Journey in-house for their industry-specific needs, as well as technology vendors who can use Journey as an enabler to deliver mobile solutions rapidly. In its current form, Journey has a bit of a technical learning curve, so it is aimed at those with basic programming skills. Learning simple JavaScript in order to build apps on Journey is however quite feasible. Journey’s vision is to enable people with domain knowledge of various industries to solve real-world problems, and to get solutions into the hands of people who need it, quickly. In the light of this, our product development efforts are focused on making it increasingly easier and faster to build apps.

When was it launched?

While Journey has launched now in mid-2012, it is the result of technology that we have been building and deploying in production since 2009, when Embark Mobile was founded.

What inspired you to come up with it?

Journey has its roots in the mobile health industry. We noticed that most organizations are using paper-based data collection and manual processing methods, and those organizations that are able to employ technology to optimize these approaches were building very complex and costly bespoke systems, often involving dedicated hardware. The revolution in the prevalence of powerful and inexpensive consumer mobile devices provided an opportunity to streamline business processes in a very cost effective and fast way.

 Who are the founders and their backgrounds?

The founders all hail from the University of Stellenbosch where we studied engineering together, and include Conrad Hofmeyr, Ralf Kistner, Malan Joubert (who is also a founder of FireID, a mobile security company) and Philip Joubert. We draw on a wealth of experience in mobile technology, digital security and web development, and have a solid technical grounding in electronic engineering, computer science and applied mathematics.

What has Embark Mobile done before this?

Embark Mobile has been building and delivering mobile implementations to businesses since 2009. We have projects actively running in the field each day, some with in excess of a 1000 users and hundreds of thousands of data objects in a single app instance. With Journey, we aim to put the technological breakthroughs that Embark Mobile has made into the hands of technology vendors and business domain experts alike.

Who are your clients?

We have customers in a number of industries such as field service, mobile health, financial services, market research, asset management, energy / utilities and logistics. As an example, Banking Machine Services is a company that maintains thousands of ATMs across Southern Africa. Using our technology, they replaced their traditional paper-based job cards and manual data processing, billing and reporting with an automated system using mobile devices and web portals. They now have a paperless service process and have real-time visibility into all the activities of their field service agents.

Any competition? How unique are you from it?

Products such as IBM Worklight, Tiggzi, Appcelerator Titanium, Sencha, Sybase Mobile and Oomnitza operate in the same broad space as us. For the most part, our competitors offer fairly generic technology platforms that allow professional software developers to build a huge variety of mobile apps. Journey has a laser-like focus on data gathering mobile apps which allows us to provide a much better experience for building and running those types of apps. As part of this approach, we aim to fill a gap between simple mobile form builders and fully-fledged mobile development frameworks. In contrast to our competitors, Journey’s value proposition is in the user experience and not merely in the underlying technology.

What is the future of Journey?

We want more and more people who may lack specialised mobile development skills to be able to focus on applying their domain knowledge to solve real-world problems using our technology.

We want to see Journey apps everywhere in our daily lives. When we complete the national census – Journey. Opening a new bank account – Journey. Answering survey questions at the mall – Journey.

Our vision includes streamlining the app building experience even further, making it as visual as possible and providing real-time feedback to developers in order to build apps in a “what you see is what you get” fashion.

Sam Wakoba

Sam Wakoba travels around the world's technology hubs and events writing about startups, VC’ s and ventures. Spends nights reviewing trending gadgets, ICT initiatives, and disrupting technology.

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