Keith Newman talks to a computer coding company that’s encouraging businesses to close the server room, outsource their software and get on with what they were there for in the first place.
It’s a technology jungle out there, with annual software upgrades, clunky business processes demanding gruntier more expensive servers, and a snake pit of twisting cables and connections that require a gaggle of geeks to keep everything compatible and communicative.
Ahuriri-based Red Jungle is one of a new breed of developers cutting through the complexity of the old school computing model, using the internet to deliver software and services to the desktop, notebook, tablet computer or smartphone.
Like many others letting light in to the new world of ‘cloud computing’, the company is identifying gaps between traditional software and a more efficient and effective approach to business technology, for clients across the country and in Australia, the US, UK, Netherlands and Singapore.
Red Jungle founding director Phil Gale, says software as a service (SaaS) is a natural progression for many companies. Locally-based Xero accounting software has been one of the trailblazers.
“Internet banking was a major hurdle people had to get over, the next one is accounting where a lot of sensitive information is shared. Once we get past the trust aspect and discover the convenience and ease of connecting, it will pave the way for software in general.”
Gale, a self-taught software architect and graphic designer, didn’t really have a clear career direction when he left school. A fascination with computers; initially games on the Sega and then Amiga computers, saw him drifting toward the technical side.
Drawn into the web
Born and raised in Hastings, he ran the Phoenix BBS; one of the first bulletin boards in Hawke’s Bay, for many years. “That was in the early 90s before the web was viable for most people; it ran over Dad’s phone line and it used to drive him mad.”
Gale and his wife moved to Havelock North and then Napier where he was initially employed as a web designer and ‘a one man band’, consulting and eventually taking on larger projects including working on the Hastings District Council intranet.
As web sites moved from brochure-ware to more interactive and functional places, he found himself engaged in writing the code behind the scenes that made things happen.
Around 2006, it became obvious the software market was going through major changes, and as the demand on Gale’s skills grew, he took on a couple of likeminded developers and founded Red Jungle at the dawn of what was becoming the SaaS or cloud computing industry.
The name was whittled down from a list of ‘slightly funky’ options, ultimately chosen through domain name availability; the logo, at first glance a red weta, had to fit the jungle theme. “It’s some kind of bug which is slightly ironic for a software company.”
Questions were being asked. Did companies really need a computer room full of servers and back-up systems humming away in the background connecting a network of desktop computers with their own suite of business software?
Online anywhere software
Growing confidence in fast internet as a robust infrastructure meant information could be accessed from a browser anywhere at anytime. With secure hosting sites looking increasingly bulletproof, why couldn’t they also back-up and remotely deliver business data and applications to any device?
The Microsoft .NET development house with a focus on Microsoft’s Azure online cloud computing platform, quickly found its high end skills in demand creating business to business (B2B) software for clients who identified a need.
“It’s a symbiotic relationship. They see a problem in their industry and then call on us to take what’s in their head and turn it into software,” says Gale.
Havelock North-based Wallace Developments, a property development and management company, with offices in Auckland, Tauranga and Palmerston North, used Red Jungle to completely re-engineer its Re-Leased software package.
The property management software helps people manage their commercial portfolios; the latest cloud-based version launched in January is now being used in four countries.
A similar niche was identified to help assess and manage claims on behalf of the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC). “Companies of a certain size are able to manage their own claims processes and self-insure but it has to be done to an industry standard and meet all the right regulatory requirements.”
After listening to what a client wants, and doing ‘due diligence’ on what they’d like to achieve, Red Jungle presents its take on what software as a service can deliver. “Typically clients say they want to build X but after talking to them it turns out they actually need Y.”
Red Jungle admits it can’t help some clients who are encumbered with legacy software written in older languages unless they consider ‘migrating to the cloud’ as part of their overall software strategy. “That way you’re not dealing with legacy systems or people who are used to developing desktop software; it’s a very different skillset.”
While much of Red Jungle’s work is down at the zeros and ones level where most people’s eyes would glaze over, it’s Phil Gale’s job to use his design skills to transform lines of code and complicated processes into what he hopes is elegant simplicity.
“The user interface experience is really important and the bar has been moving steadily upwards.” He says the gold standard is Xero, which has the tagline ‘beautiful accounting software’ presenting a challenge in a world of ugly competitors.
Gale says the user interface (UI) needs to keep things simple and get things done in the least number of clicks possible. “It’s got to be like a swan which appears graceful on top but underneath its legs are going flat out.”
Red Jungle was one of the first Xero-accredited developers, creating add-ons and integrating the accounting package for on-premise use and connecting online services to each other. “We’re not turning out throwaway code, we’re designing solutions that are robust and fit for purpose for a long time.”
Of course mobility is driving much of the business, creating mobile html (web) interfaces that are accessible on tablets and smartphones. “It’s a big growth area and that’s where things step up. Rather than having to build three or four interfaces for a desktop and mobile devices we develop one set of code for everything.”
A team effort
The founding Red Jungle team, including Gerard van de Ven, a former employee of Royal Philips Electronics in the Netherlands and US software engineer Matthew Hintzen, brought not only top level skills but existing clients.
Napier Port uses van de Ven to maintain and support its main in-house applications, including Port Control, which manages all movements of ships, tug boats and mooring gangs.
Red Jungle is also involved in a number of other systems at the port, including developing an application that runs on mobile scanners over wifi to track the movement of palettes of wood pulp as they come off trains and into the sheds for export.
Hintzen continues to work with North American safety consultancy firm BST, after designing its core Windows desktop system. Red Jungle has now upgraded that software to become cloud-based and is helping it expand internationally with foreign language and IT support.
Singapore-based Mioraki, which has its main software development centre in Hastings, also outsources to Red Jungle for its online content management system for publishers and newspapers.
Taking its own advice
Earlier this year Red Jungle moved into new premises in Waghorne Street, a few hundred metres closer to the centre of Ahuriri, to gain more space and to get ahead of what it believes is boom time for the edgy suburb.
“Everything is outsourced or in the cloud. We put in a half-size rack because we knew we wouldn’t have all that hardware hanging around. I don’t want to spend my time playing around with hardware, I’m a software developer and that’s what I’m good at,” says Gale.
Being freed up from having to manage the technology also means the company can be more focused on doing what it’s there for. In other words Red Jungle is taking its own advice.
He says SaaS has changed the game entirely and for many traditional software development houses presents a window of opportunity. “If you identify a niche where no-one has developed a ‘software as a service’ application you can do that quite quickly without having to manage and migrate existing users.”
Red Jungle now employs nine developers, including interns from EIT, and is always on the look out for skilled coders. “Ahuriri is a vibrant place, the communications infrastructure is fine and while we’re here for the lifestyle, all the young developers seem to take off for Auckland or Wellington.”
Ideally Gale would like to see more opportunities for software careers in Hawke’s Bay. “If you look at the job market in New Zealand for ASP.NET developers versus Linux or PHP or Ruby on Rails web tools or Java developers, people are falling all over themselves to find .NET developers — salaries are skyrocketing and there’s huge demand.”
While Red Jungle can’t keep pace with the current workload, Gale is sure he could “rattle up more work” without too much difficulty, if the right skills were available.