Web design tools distributor Firmware Design has hosted the first of a series of five conferences organised to keep its clients up to scratch on the latest tools and technologies on the market.
While in previous years Firmware has run an exhaustive three-day multi-streamed conference for its developer and reseller partners, this year the distributor has organised five special-interest, one-day courses to be held in both Sydney and Melbourne.
The first of these conferences was focused on Web application development and, considering Firmware is the primary Australian distributor of Allaire/Macromedia tools, the keynotes and tutorials were centred on Java-based development.
Marius Coomans, managing director of Firmware Design, said educating the market is key to the company's continued success in distributing Web design tools.
"The business we're in is distributing quite technical products," he said. "Together with our vendors, we feel we have an educational role. The conference is just one weapon in the arsenal; we also run training courses and marketing seminars."
Coomans said considering the current market climate, it is becoming tough to get a large turnout of developers at such events. But he was confident the first of the conferences ran smoothly enough and proved a good enough resource to its audience to result in increasing numbers at the next four.
The two keynotes
on Web application development were delivered by Judy Schnabolk, chief Java evangelist for Macromedia, and Robert Ward, founder of Melbourne-based development house Interact Pacific. While Schnabolk's presentation highlighted the impact of the J2EE (Java Enterprise Edition) on application development, Ward delivered a presentation on business issues related to Web development, encouraging the most technically-minded of developers to look closer at how they run their business.
Titled "Structural Development", Ward's keynote looked at some of the business politics involved with the tendering, planning, development and implementation of Web application projects.
According to Ward, understanding the politics of information is key to completing a successful project and being recommended for future business ventures. The politics are a result of the traditional corporate IT department of the early 1990s, where only a handful of employees would have access to the company's mainframe. "There were islands of information, bottlenecks everywhere," said Ward. "Information was feet away but miles apart. And the larger the organisation, the less likely a salesperson could access the systems."
Information was closely guarded in what Ward terms "binary security" - you either had access to the technology or you didn't, and there was no room for grey areas.
"It's important to understand your client's business," he said. "You have to recognise where the data is in an organisation and make it available to customers. You have to find out who uses each system, the financials, manufacturing and production systems, the human resources systems and CRM."
Ward recommends developers should always try and add value to a project by opening up opportunities for other departments to access the data. "If you build for the finance department, build an interface that makes it available to sales or other units," he said. "Build something that is extensible."
Ward's tops for developers
According to Robert Ward, founder of Interact Pacific, one old cliché is unavoidable in Web development: "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail."
For some of Interact's projects, Ward's team didn't touch any code for the first two months, but concentrated on understanding the client's business and formulating a plan. "If you fail to plan, it will cost you time and money, and cause you anguish and grief," he said. "Gone are the days when this could be done on the fly." Ward recommends the following:
- Create milestones
Milestones give your customers a success point. You can tell them "this is where we are and this is where we're going." Then they can satisfy their seniors with the same information.
- Test code before releasing it
It is important to make the customers buy into the planning process. In fact, you have to make sure they test it, or they will deploy it to their customers to find the mistakes. You should also create documents where the customer can sign off functionality as they test it.
- Agree on a single point of contact and sign-offA single point of sign-off ensures you are immune to the internal politics of the client's business. As Ward suggested, "It is not your business to run theirs".
- Write commented code
It is a good strategy to keep all development well documented because anything could happen over the duration of a project. If it is well documented, you can bounce back from any interruption, even with new developers.Photograph: Marius Coomans, Firmware Design MD