Mobile Composer Transforms Products, People, and Processes with Xamarin Apps
Our customers use the power of .NET to deliver amazing consumer, business, and partner-facing apps for thousands of organizations across the world. Mobile Composer was an early Xamarin adopter, building their first app with Xamarin.iOS and Azure in 2013, and has helped make enterprise mobility a reality for businesses everywhere. Orchestrate, their flagship product, allows users to share knowledge across the enterprise, customize dynamic presentations in minutes, and capture robust analytics. Orchestrate visualizes data, creating actionable dashboards that help teams improve sales effectiveness, onboarding, and more.
Today, we’ve invited Mobile Composer CEO Loren Horsager to talk about how Mobile Composer uses C# and mobile DevOps to simplify development, allowing the team to focus on listening to customer feedback and continuously improving their apps.
Tell us a little bit about Mobile Composer and your background.
As Mobile Composer’s CEO, I lead our product development and sales efforts, but I got into software development years ago. I was working as a commodity trader, and my firm needed to automate our accounting processes. After the project, I spent a year reading development books (before the internet!) and learning everything I could. I began working as a consultant, focusing on data analytics, websites, and mobile apps. Over the last eight years, I’ve helped organizations of all sizes create over 65 mobile apps, and my experiences with client projects led me to co-found Mobile Composer.
I saw the same challenges over and over. Non-technical teams were driving and managing mobile projects – often with the same features and functions, just in a different organization or business unit. We were seeing healthcare organizations build apps and deploy iPads to staff, but then ask: “What’s next? What does enterprise mobility look like long-term?”
In 2013, we founded Mobile Composer to solve this problem and simplify development processes for organizations of all sizes. Our platform gives businesses access to mobile frameworks that include enterprise mobile architecture best practices, the things I noticed I was creating again and again as a consultant—like authentication, on/offline data access, security controls, and integration with systems of record.
As we evolved, we realized there were a few core scenarios where mobile has huge business impacts, primarily (1) improving field sales and marketing teams’ presentations and customer interactions and (2) increasing field service staff efficiency. We created Orchestrate, our flagship product, to give our customers a concrete, out-of-the box example of what mobile makes possible.
Tell us about your app. What problems does it solve?
Orchestrate allows teams to prepare, share, and present the best-quality content anytime, anywhere. Instead of spending hours preparing presentations, sales reps can easily create, share, and present the best-performing, most recent content from across the organization, track what’s most effective, and continuously improve.
We help our customers better engage prospects, increase brand consistency, and ensure knowledge and best practices are shared throughout the organization, not stored in pockets or lost as people move on.
Why did you choose Xamarin?
I’ve worked on many mobile apps, and I’ve tried a lot of different approaches. When Xamarin was released, it seemed like a no-brainer way to simplify development and quickly deliver mobile apps. With Xamarin.iOS, we got Orchestrate 1.0 to market in six months – including the time we spent working through our customers’ feature requests. We’ve since migrated to Xamarin.Forms and added UWP support—sharing 95% across platforms!
We also use Azure, so we develop the front end and backend in the same language. Reusing models and logic makes initial development and ongoing maintenance much easier.
Since I have a .NET background and have previous experience with mobile development, it was easy to get up to speed. A few key things are critical to building an enterprise solution, like working with files, syncing offline data, and connecting to REST APIs. Once you understand them, developing business apps is much easier. I’m also heavily involved in the Xamarin community, including our local Minneapolis Xamarin meetup. I’ve found it’s the best forum to hear how other developers solve issues and to learn about new things they’re trying.
What is the most compelling or exciting aspect of your app? Why?
Orchestrate has four core features, but “Present,” is my favorite, since it allows users to adapt to moment-in-time scenarios and needs. While traditional, linear presentations may work in a group setting, one-on-one walking meetings require a different approach.
Within Present, users can:
- Select different story lines and alter materials in real time, based on what they learn over the course of the conversation.
- Use embedded calculators to customize presentations as they learn about the customers’ business, including ROI models, cost comparisons, and more.
- Generate and seamlessly email branded PDFs, complete with the information they’ve just presented, including any on-the-fly adjustments.
At an enterprise level, organizations can lock down presentation content to specific roles or geographies, audit users’ activity, and learn what’s working best in the field. This level of security is critical in regulated industries, like healthcare and financial services. Our platform includes robust analytics that measure content, process, and individual effectiveness, but we can also correlate to financial impacts, including time saved, increased productivity, and much more. For example, we’re tracking service call center metrics for one of our customers, and their cost savings are staggering.
What do you think about when you hear “native app”? How did Xamarin help you accomplish your definition of “native”?
For me, performance is key. In all the apps I’ve developed and the technologies I’ve used, there are pros and cons. When I chose Xamarin, I knew we would have to build out some controls to get the effects we wanted—but I also knew that we’d get the most flexibility. We’re able to build native, but also to get to platform-specific code when necessary (namely for our video playback, tracking, and management).
How are you using Microsoft Azure?
We use Azure SQL Server for our database backend and App Services for our content management system and API. In conjunction with Azure Storage Queues and Blobs, we also use Azure App Services and WebJobs for a lot of backend processing, such as converting videos and processing files and images. This is my favorite feature of Azure, and, because it’s so easy to add new ones, we continue to expand on jobs, especially for our video processing scripts and enabling offline access.
Describe your development process.
Mobile DevOps is a big priority for us, and we’ve started exploring Mobile Center. We’re just getting started, but we’re excited about the possibilities – especially around simplifying our deployment process.
We currently use Visual Studio Team Services to host our projects, and we run basic Xamarin Test Cloud smoke tests on every build, as well as more in-depth tests to better validate a build across multiple platforms and devices. We have bigger plans to better utilize Xamarin Test Cloud, but so far the best part of using it has been seeing screenshots of different devices while designing so that we can get layouts right up front. We then tend to use it as a system test to validate that everything has been built correctly.
We have crash reporting with Xamarin Insights and are moving this to Hockey App. Our team does a lot of unique deployments to different environments, and we’ve scripted all of these processes: when a new build is ready, it creates many instances of the app and pushes them to the public app stores or our customers’ internal app stores for enterprise deployments.
What have your users said about your app?
Our users love the ability to share knowledge across the enterprise anytime, anywhere. In particular, Present, since it dramatically reduces the time it takes to create new presentations and frees them to focus on high value activities that drive revenue.
Enterprise leaders value the ability to approve and audit content, as well as set up enterprise controls. They also love the extremely detailed reporting, including which slides customers viewed, how long users watched individual videos, really every aspect of every piece of content, as it helps continuously improve their internal and external business processes.
What’s your team planning to build next?
We have big plans, including creating mobile apps for field service training, activity tracking, and task execution.
What advice do you have for mobile developers who are just starting out?
I’m constantly recommending Xamarin; the ability to leverage existing .NET skills, build for all platforms, and use your existing infrastructure makes the jump from other development to mobile straight-forward.
Xamarin University is fantastic; it takes a developer from start to a solid expertise level in a short amount of time. Community groups, like our local Xamarin Meetup, are also great ways to talk to people and get ideas from other developers on how to approach or solve a problem.
And, if you really want to learn something fast, commit to presenting on it! Every week our interns, who are working on our content management system, present what they’ve learned and completed, and it’s really pushed them to learn and better understand things. Visit xamarin.com/download to get started, and explore xamarin.com/customers to get inspired.