All posts by Mindfire Solutions

The Transition to a Click-and-Mortar Business

Transition to a Click-and-Mortar Business

Brick and mortar stores are being pushed to make their presence felt in the online space due to falling in-store sales, increased consumer engagement online, and the convenience offered to the buyers in terms of home delivery, product variety and better deals. Such was the case with Company ABC, a prolific retailer of nutraceuticals and essential oils based in Surrey, Canada. Alex, the owner of the store, sensed the need as well as the opportunity. He took the plunge to foray into the eCommerce space. “Perhaps we could adopt Click-and-Mortar strategy and have an online solution – a website to help our customers order online as well, and have their products delivered at their doorsteps. It will increase my profits too!,” he thought. With the help of a local organisation, he created an eCommerce website for his store, and hoped to get more business. He even began stocking his store anticipating high demand. He was very optimistic about his business prospects. But contrary to what he thought would happen; extra business from the website didn’t come. He was concerned and confused wondering what had gone wrong till he received a call from his friend Luis.

Problem Identification:

“Hey Al, I’m trying to find this brain tonic, but I’m getting all sorts of other products in the search results.”

“Hi Luis! Really?! I’ll take a look.”

“Also, the site’s really slow. Yesterday I saw this Biotin supplement on discount, and I had a coupon too, which I applied. But it took forever to checkout. I gave up eventually. They’re probably still there in my cart.”

“I’m sorry to hear that Luis. Although, it’s unusual that it was slow. I’m NOT getting much traffic for it traffic for it to be slow. Also, it’s strange that you mentioned you could apply a discount coupon to an ALREADY discounted product.”

“Yeah I found that strange too. Anyway, I thought I should let you know.”

“Thanks Luis, I appreciate it.”

So, what happened?

The intention of creating a website was noble, but the execution was sub-optimal. It resulted in a glitch-riddled website that put off ABC’s customers. They were faced with a situation wherein they ran the risk of losing market share and becoming irrelevant, unless they took a dramatic decision.

——————————————————————————————————————-

“Like what you are reading? Interested people can download the Full Application Modernization Case Study : No Email ID’s/phone numbers required.

——————————————————————————————————————–

What was needed?

What ABC needed was an intuitive interface which offered provision for searching products effectively, enable faster transaction times, possess the ability to handle high traffic, along with cross/up-sell functionality. Additionally, it needed to maintain efficiency in order and inventory management with provision for automatic updates of product details. Most importantly, the website needed to be glitch-free, with low server downtime.

Upon determining these issues, Alex understood he needed to do something about it quickly. He decided to call his friend again for help.

“Hi Luis! Those problems that you told me about, we’ll need a professional eCommerce website development company with Healthcare and Retail domain knowledge to sort it out.”

“Hey Alex, don’t worry! We know an agency that can help you with this. We have worked with them in the past, we were completely satisfied with the output.

I’ll send you their contact details.”

“Thanks Luis! You’re a lifesaver!”

How did it happen?

Alex roped in an agency that his friend Luis had suggested – us. The next few weeks were spent revamping the eCommerce site. The search function within the site was optimized, and more emphasis was placed on customer experience. Features such as auto-filling of details, improved page listings, and faster load times were introduced.

From ABC’s perspective, the backend system was also improved with multi-channel integration, and efficient inventory management. Analytics tools were put in place to enhance product stocking. Self-designed banners could be uploaded by ABC itself on the site to further their topical business interest.

Upon implementing these solutions, we realized that ABC’s blog was underutilized.

“Mr. Alex, why don’t you integrate the ABC blog on to the site? It’s got great content. A lot of people are reading it. If it’s on the site, you might get more conversions, and it’ll definitely create better engagement with your customers.”

“Sure! That sounds like a great idea!”


Mindfire Solutions is a 18+ years old company specialising in offshore small team software development work. At Mindfire, we have been helping people small startups, Small Business owners and entrepreneurs like Alex to grow. We help our esteemed clients to develop custom applications tailored for their needs and also provide strategies for existing application modernization.

Laravel vs CodeIgniter: A Brief Comparison

laravel vs codeigniter

The features provided by PHP frameworks help developers to create custom web applications rapidly according to varying business needs. The web developers can further use open source PHP frameworks to curtail development time significantly without increasing project overheads. But the choice of web framework differs from one developer to another. The usage statistics posted on several websites depict that both Laravel and CodeIgniter are hugely popular among PHP programmers. Thats why Laravel vs CodeIgniter has been one of the favourite discussion topics for  PHP developers and enthusiasts.

According to the annual framework popularity survey conducted by SitePoint, Laravel is more popular than CodeIgniter.  But the popularity and market share of a web framework do not depict its functionality, performance, and usability accurately. The smart web developers always compare the features, functionalities and performance of various PHP frameworks according to precise needs of each project. Hence, the developers need to understand the important points of distinction between Laravel and CodeIgniter.

Understanding Important Differences between Laravel vs CodeIgniter

Support for PHP 7

As a major release of the server-side programming language, PHP 7 comes with several new features and enhancements. The new features enable programmers to enhance the performance of web applications and reduce memory consumption. Both Laravel and CodeIgniter support version 7 of PHP. But many programmers have highlighted the issues faced by them while developing and testing CodeIgniter applications on PHP 7.

Built-in Modules

Most developers divide large and complex web applications into a number of small modules to simplify and speedup development process. Laravel is designed with built-in modularity features. It enables developers to divide a project into small modules through bundle. They can further reuse the modules across multiple projects. But CodeIgniter is not designed with built-in modularity features. It requires CodeIgniter developers to create and maintain modules by using Modular Extension additionally.

Support for Databases

Both PHP frameworks support an array of databases including MySQL, PostgreSQL, Microsoft Bi, and MangoDB. But CodeIgniter, unlike Laravel, additionally supports a number of databases including ORACLE, Microsoft SQL Server, IBM DB2, orientdb, and JDBC compatible. Hence, CodeIgniter supports a higher number of databases that Laravel.

Database Scheme Development

Despite supporting many popular databases, CodeIgniter does not provide any specific features to simplify database schema migration. But the database agnostic migrations feature provided by Laravel makes it easier for programmers to modify and share the database schema of the application without writing complex code. The developer can further develop database schema of the application easily by combining the database agnostic migration with the schema builder provided by Laravel.

Eloquent ORM

Unlike CodeIgniter, Laravel enables developers to take advantage of Eloquent ORM. They can use the object reational mapper (ORM) system to work with a variety of databases more efficiently by ActiveRecord implementation. Eloquent ORM further allows users to interact with databases directly through the specific model of individual database tables. They can even use the model to accomplish common tasks like inserting new records and running database queries.

Built-in Template Engine

Laravel comes with a simple but robust template engine like Blade. Blade template engine enables PHP programmers to optimize the performance of the web application by enhancing and manipulating views. But CodeIgniter does not come with a built-in template engine. The developers need to integrate the framework with robust template engines like Smarty to accomplish common tasks and boost the performance of the website.

REST API Development

The RESTful Controllers provided by Laravel enables Laravel developers to build a variety of REST APIs without putting extra time and effort. They can simply set the $restful property as true in the RESTful Controller to build custom REST APIs without writing additional code. But CodeIgniter does not provide any specific features to simplify development of REST APIs. The users have to write additional code to create custom REST APIs while developing web applications with CodeIgniter.

Routing

The routing options provided by both PHP frameworks work identically. But the features provided by Laravel enable developers to route requests in a simple yet efficient way. The programmers can take advantage of the routing feature of Laravel to define most routes for a web application n a single file. Each basic Laravel route further accepts a single URI and closure. However, the users still have option to register a route with the capability to respond to multiple HTTP verbs simultaneously.

HTTPS Support

Most web developers opt for HTTPS protocol to make the application send and receive sensitive information securely. Laravel enables programmers to define custom HTTPs routes. The developers also have option to create a specific URL for each HTTPS route. Laravel further keeps the data transmission secure by adding https:// protocol before the URL automatically. But CodeIgniter does not support HTTPS fully. The programmers have to use URL helpers to keep the data transmission secure by creating pats.

Authentication

The Authentication Class provided by Laravel makes it easier for developers to implement authentication and authorization. The extensible and customizable class further allows users to keep the web application secure by implementing comprehensive user login and keeping the routes secure with filters. But CodeIgniter does not come with such built-in authentication features. The users are required to authenticate and authorize users by writing custom CodeIgniter extensions.

Unit Testing

Laravel scores over other PHP frameworks in the category of unit testing. It enables programmers to check the application code thoroughly and continuously with PHPUnit. In addition to being a widely used unit testing tool, PHPUnit comes with a variety of out-of-box extensions. However, CodeIgniter does not come with any built-in unit testing tools. Hence, programmers have to use additional unit testing tools to assess the quality of application code during the development process.

Learning Curve

Unlike Laravel, CodeIgniter has a small footprint. But Laravel provides more features and tools than CodeIgniter. The additional features make Laravel complex. Hence, the beginners have to put extra time and effort to learn all aspects of Laravel, and use it efficiently. The beginners find it easier for learn and use CodeIgniter within a short amount of time.

Community Support

Both Laravel and CodeIgniter are open source PHP framework. Each framework is also supported by a large community. But many web developers have stated that members of the Laravel community are more active than members of CodeIgniter community. The developers often find it easier to avail online help and prompt solutions while developing web applications with Laravel.

On the whole, the PHP developers can avail a number of additional features by opting for Laravel. But the beginners have to put extra time and effort to learn and use Laravel effectively. The developers still need to evaluate the features of Laravel vs CodeIgniter according to the specific needs of each project to pick the right PHP framework.

What do Android App Developers need to know about Alexa Skills?

What Do Android App Developers need to know about Alexa Skills

Amazon has developed Alexa as an intelligent personal assistant for a variety of devices. Alexa enables users to accomplish a number of tasks – play music, get information, access news, manage shopping lists and operate smart home devices – simply using their voice. At present, Alexa supports several mobile platforms including Android. The users have option to download Alexa app for Android from both Google Play Store and Amazon Appstore. They can even use the Alexa App to manage their devices more efficiently with voice commands.

The latest version of the mobile app further enables users to communicate with their Echo devices by making calls or sending text messages. Amazon currently allows users to choose from over 15000 skills or voice experiences. The users even have option to install specific skills to interact with specific smart appliances or access specific apps, websites, or services. Amazon further allows developers to create and upload new Alexa skills using Alexa Skills Kit (ASK).

The tools, APIs, code snippets, and documentation provided by ASK help programmers to simplify and accelerate Alexa skill development. The Android app developers also have option to develop a variety of skills for Alexa. However, it is important for the Android App Developers to understand various aspects of Alexa skill development.

Understanding Important Aspects of Alexa Skill Development

Types of Alexa Skills

An Android app developer has option to develop a variety of skills for Alexa – custom skills, smart home skills, flash briefing skills and video skills. A custom skill must have the capability to handle any user request, whereas a smart home skill must enable users to operate/control cloud-enabled smart-home devices. A flash briefing skill needs to provide original content for a user’s flash briefings, while a video skill must enable users to find and access video content without invoking any specific skill.

Specific APIs

Alexa Skills Kit allows developers to choose from a wide range of self-service APIs. The Android app developer needs to use specific APIs according to the type of Alexa skill he wants to develop. For instance, while developing a smart home skill, the developer must use the Smart Home Skill API. The Smart Home Skill API defines the requests to be handled by the skill and the voice commands required to invoke the skills. The Android app developer must use the Video Skill API to develop video skills and the Flash Briefing Skill API to create flash briefing skills.

Voice User Interface

Amazon requires developers to focus extensively on voice user interface (VUI) while developing a new Alexa skill. The VUI creates custom voice experiences and enables users to interact with devices through voice input. While developing a new Alexa skill, the Android app developer must keep in mind the latest trends in VUI development – natural language understanding (NLU), automatic speech recognition (ASR), text to speech (TTS), machine learning, and Internet of Things (IoT). Also, he must refer to the Amazon Alexa Voice Design Guide to create skills that deliver voice experience based on human conversation.

Interaction Model

While developing an Alexa skill, the Android app developers must keep in mind the differences between voice user interface (VUIs) and conventional graphical user interfaces (GUIs). Unlike Android apps, the Alexa skill will require users to make requests using their voice and respond to the user requests by voice. Hence, the Android app developers have to learn how to make the Alexa skill interactive without including buttons, display boxes, and select options. They can use specific APIs to make the skills avail built-in interaction models. But the developers have to define their own interaction models while developing custom skills.

Steps to Create a New Alexa Skill

The Android app developers also need to learn and remember the steps in Alexa skill development. The steps may vary according to the type of Alexa skill. But the developer must follow the steps exactly to accelerate Alexa skill development. For instance, while developing a custom skill, the developers has to follow six important steps – design a VUI, set up the skill in developer portal, build interaction model using the voice design, write and test the source code of the skill, beta test the skill, and submit the skill for certification. The Android app developer must take advantage of the Alexa Skills Kit to follow the most appropriate skill building process.

Recently, Amazon announced its plan to reward skill developers based on the customer usage. It has already started rewarding game skill developers. Hence, the Android app developers can earn money by developing new Alexa skills. They can even measure the customer usage of a skill based on a number of parameters – number of new customers and average minutes of usage.

 

The Ever Changing Landscape of Outsourced Product Development

Outsourced Product Development

 

The users nowadays access software applications on many devices and platforms. A software application needs to deliver optimal user experience across different browsers, platforms, and devices to remain relevant, popular, and profitable in the lone run. Most enterprises lack the in-house infrastructure and talented IT professionals required to build, test, and deploy complex software applications. Most enterprises opt for outsourced product development to build custom software applications in a fast, flexible, and convenient way.

Some enterprises opt for outsourced product development to reduce development cost, whereas others outsource software development to launch a high quality software application. But the landscape of outsourced product development also has been changing consistently. The landscape is also shaped by the existing as well as emerging trends in outsourced product development keep changing from time to time. Many enterprises nowadays look for a reliable outsourcing partner who will develop, test, deploy, maintain, and update the software efficiently. Also, the enterprises emphasises on a number of factors to accelerate outsourced product development.

Trends that Shape the Current Landscape of Outsourced Product Development

Emphasis on Outcome instead of Cost

In the initial years of globalization, many enterprises were opting for offshore software product development to save money. But most enterprises nowadays focus on a number of factors other than development cost while comparing outsourced product developers. The outsourcing strategy of many enterprises focus on improving quality of the software, availing superior scalability, deploy skilled professionals, and enhancing business flexibility. Most enterprises nowadays look for an outsourcing partner who will help them to build, maintain, and update the custom software over a period of time.

New Software Development and Delivery Processes

Many enterprises opt for outsourced product development to keep the software development process fast, flexible, and scalable. Many enterprises nowadays prefer IT companies that implement robust software development and delivery processes like agile and DevOps. While outsourcing software development, many enterprises want to take advantage of agile methodologies to get custom software applications tested throughout the development process. Also, many companies opt for IT companies implementing DevOps to build, test, and deploy the custom software application more efficiently.

Mobile Optimization

As highlighted by several studies, consumers nowadays spend most of their digital time on mobile devices. Hence, most enterprises nowadays opt for outsourced mobile app development to impress and engage modern customers. At the same time, many enterprises also hire offshore IT companies to optimize their existing software applications for varying mobile devices and platforms. Certain enterprises even opt for outsourced software development to extend their existing enterprise application and solutions to mobile devices. But each enterprise requires its outsourcing partner to test the software applications across various browsers, platforms, and devices.

Cloud Computing

The cloud platforms enable enterprises to carry on business activities and trading without creating and maintaining in-house infrastructure. A steady increase is being noted in the number of enterprises switching to cloud computing to reduce cost and improve scalability. Many enterprises even explore ways to build, test, and deploy custom software applications in the cloud. Most enterprises nowadays opt for outsourced software development to take advantage of cloud technologies. In addition to developing, testing, and deploying the software in the cloud, the outsourcing partner also needs to deliver custom cloud applications and solutions according precise needs of each client.

Data Analysis

Each enterprise nowadays explores ways to boost sales by improving and personalizing customer experience. It needs to collect customer data consistently from various sources, and analyze the data to identify the choices and preferences of individual customers. Businesses nowadays require software applications and solution with the capability to collect and analyze large amount of data. Many enterprises opt for outsourced software developers with expertise in creating big data solutions. Also, many businesses want their outsourcing partners to embed data analytics and business intelligence tools into various enterprise solutions to accelerate customer data collection and analysis.

Security

The disruptive cyber attacks recently compelled many large enterprises to take their websites and mobile app temporarily offline. Several studies even show that each web application and mobile is vulnerable to targeted malware attacks. Hence, most enterprises nowadays focus extensively on security while opting for outsourced software development. While evaluating the outsourced software developers, they check how the company is planning to keep the business and customer data secure. The enterprises even require their outsourcing partners to perform elaborate security and penetration testing to identify and eliminate all vulnerabilities in the software during the development process.

Multi Sourcing Technologies

The modern software applications need to interact with various third-party applications and services to deliver rich and personalized user experience. Hence, en enterprise has to integrate a variety of third-party applications and services with its software. The multi-sourcing of technologies make it difficult for enterprises to run and maintain their software. Many enterprises nowadays look for outsourcing partners who will handle emerging issues and challenges related to multi-sourcing technologies promptly. They also require the outsourced software developer to integrate the right services and applications in the software, and test each third-party solution thoroughly. Hence, outsourced product developers nowadays have to support and manage multiple sourcing technologies in addition to developing custom software applications.

Long Term Partnership

A steady increase is being noted in the number of large IT companies renewing their outsourcing contracts. The figure also depict that most enterprises nowadays prefer long-term outsourcing partnerships. Most enterprises want to select an outsourcing partner who will help them to maintain, manage, and update the software in the long run. While renewing outsourcing contracts, many enterprises switch from fixed price models to outcome-based models. The enterprises even expect the outsourcing partner to support and manage the software by deploying dedicated professionals.
However, the trends in outsourced product development keep changing frequently. Each enterprise nowadays looks for companies who build customer software with latest technologies. Also, the businesses perform initial research to choose a company who will build, maintain, and manage the software in the long run. Hence, the emerging technologies and trends will keep changing the landscape of outsourced product development in both short and long runs.