EPI-USE CAB and Mendix Hackathon

By Nolan Ramsey – Senior Manager, RAD Solutions.

This past week I had the pleasure of sponsoring some of our Mendix clients at our annual Client Advisory Board (CAB) in Scottsdale, AZ. We bring key members of our client teams to this event as a “Thank You” for the opportunity to service them over the previous year, allow them a chance to relax and unwind a bit in the beautiful venue at Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain, and attend some general and breakout sessions geared at equipping them with information we have gathered that we think might benefit them. This was the first year where we really explained how we use the Mendix platform to help solve business problems as well as how we have learned to establish and equip our teams for success, as well as a Hackathon competition between two small groups made up of our US Mendix practice.

When I initially arrived (after another disastrous travel experience!), I went to our venue and met up with our clients present. We had dinner outside on the patios surrounding the pool looking out to the mountains as the sunset and night fell; The views were spectacular as the air chilled comfortably! We passed the time with great networking and conversation and were even serenaded by an attendee at one point with a rendition of “Hotel California”. 🙂

cabview.png
Our view, Sanctuary at Camelback Mountain

The next morning our EPI-USE Group President, Jonathan Tager, delivered an opening welcome to our attendees explaining a bit more about GroupElephant.com, in which our non-profit organization is based and the work being done. If you read my blog at all and haven’t heard or read about our “Beyond Corporate” initiative, I encourage you to visit the website to learn more about what we are doing there as we are quite proud of that effort we all support with 1% of our revenue (not profit, revenue). Jonathan also spoke to us about being a non-fragile organization and how that frames and drives EPI-USE to focus on the people first and foremost. Having lived it for years now I must say I don’t disagree and consider that in my hiring decisions as well.

Gary Averbook of LeapGen then delivered a keynote on the future of work. My take away from that address was to a) differentiate between “automation vs digitization” and b) stop treating employees as if they are technological illiterates and not “customers” themselves. This message really resonated with the clients I was hosting there as some of them had been looking at some of their Mendix projects as “automation” projects only, meaning that they would take a paper process and turn it into a digital process and call that a success, but didn’t really deliver a better experience. You might make it more convenient for the processor but you haven’t really addressed the pain that the customer or end-user feels with the current paper process. Instead, you should be focused on “digitization” which means to rethink your processes from the end-user value perspective and deliver on that. How many projects have been done in corporate IT where they have replaced a bad process built on one technology with a newer technology only to end up with a process that is still viewed as “bad”? If you aren’t trying to get to the root of the business problem and address that when building a new technical solution, you are missing the goal of “digitization”, and that lesson resonates extremely well for app candidates built on the Mendix platform. We try to engineer a new way of processing rather than recreating a legacy applications process to a “t”.

The fun really began for us after that keynote. My leader, Rowan Hinton, one of the Partners in EPI-USE, gave a brief presentation on the Mendix platform to our attendees and EPI-USE personnel, describing the focus of using a Platform-as-a-Service technology and then brought my two leaders in my division up to setup the Hackathon we planned for the event. They had each been given an Oral-B 5000 ‘smart’ toothbrush when I promoted them, and now they would be given 24 hours to connect to the cloud information for their respective toothbrush records and develop a Mendix application with one or two of their respective team members! Off they went to spend those hours in their hotel rooms and build whatever they came up with using the limited data stored, such as brush duration, pressure, dates and times, etc.

While they were off developing their apps, I met with numerous colleagues and clients discussing the what’s and how’s of our US practice, how it compares with SAP’s Fiori/UI5 offering (we are primarily a SAP consulting firm) and how we choose to use Mendix or Fiori where the client has a choice of either, and networking. After lunch I held my breakout session where I interviewed Olu Brown, Director of Platform Engagement at MIT where we have a team of three developers and a technical manager supporting 15 applications and growing by 1 app per quarter, and Marina Mijatovic, Sr. Director of Product Management in ADP Ventures, where we have 2 full-time developers, a part-time UI/UX designer and researcher, and a part-time ScrumMaster and QA tester working on a potential B2C mobile app taken from concept to final beta in a year-and-a-half, with only 6 of those months being actual product development and iterative design. We discussed a range of topics from project team design to trusting the Mendix Cloud security with such high-profile companies vested deeply in security, to the differing strategies of B2B and B2C internal-facing apps at MIT, to direct-to-consumer apps at ADP. We plan to get them in front of a professional video crew in the near future to respond to those questions again, so we can capture their answers and get it out to all of you to hear first-hand how and why they are partnering with EPI-USE and Mendix to build solutions to their business problems.

After that session, it was a whirlwind of meeting with clients and other EPI-USEr’s explaining everything I could about our team’s structure and training, service offerings, and the platform Mendix. Thankfully I had the help of Tony Meyer from Mendix to help me field questions and respond to inquiries about pricing models, their customer success focus, and anything and everything in between. To be clear, CAB is not a sales or marketing event and we don’t have the intention at the event to get too deep in the weeds in the particulars of contract negotiations or anything, but we do and did want to raise awareness to our customers about the kinds of projects, services, and technologies we are using to help their peers solve business problems. To that end I certainly feel we achieved this goal.

Today was my last day as this afternoon was all about gathering feedback from our customers (this is a Client Advisory Board, after all) but before heading out and writing this on the planes home, we had the matter of the Hackathon to attend to. After an extremely long night, my two leaders, Danny Hansen and Matt Daniels, presented their apps to the audience. I was legitimately surprised at just how good their apps were!

Danny’s team (of three) focused on an app that parents (mums!) could use to track the statistics of their family member’s brushing habits to ensure quality lessons have been learned, as well as submit those statistics to their dentist and hygienist for consulting and comparing against dental issues to find causality with proof such as tooth decay, bad breath, etc. It was an adaptive-responsive built app that was really something to behold.

Matt’s team (of two) developed a mobile-focused app that dentists could use to track their patients usages from the onset. Whereas Danny’s app required the family member to register and link their family toothbrushes based on the unique key that needed to be generated at the Oral-b website separate from the app and then entered into the app itself, Matt developed a way to sign-up and register with one-click behind the scenes. While that might not have been obvious to all that attended it was picked up by all of the developers in the audience. The dentist could then set goals for the patient, track their compliance of achieving the goals such as brush durations or pressure, and adjust as needed over time.

I emceed the voting process by having the audience raise their hands for one or the other. The voting was as close as could be and no one could eyeball it. I then asked for an audience member to bravely stand up and speak out for Danny’s group and then another for Matt’s group and took another vote. The arguments were so compelling that while some flipped, it was still a dead heat. I then asked for a noise vote and the loudest would win, and that also was a raucously loud vote that was impossible to break the tie! Finally with no app to take a vote (I will definitely have that next time) we had to decide, and Rowan broke the tie and gave the win to Danny. I presented him with the trophy and took their photo. You might see the bleariness in their eyes from being up all night, but they did an amazing job and I couldn’t have been more proud of their team’s efforts and the audience’s enthusiasm!

2017CABHackathon

We had an amazing couple of days and definitely made an impression with our support panel and hackathon this year. I’m sad to leave the amazing venue and a place where many of the folks I work with around the US are all in one place, but all good things come to an end. I can’t wait to get back out there and continue this great work with our great partner Mendix!

For more information on the EPI-USE CAB, please visit https://cab.epiuse.com/

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