Mitek Systems had a great idea: the applications developer wanted to design the first mobile banking software that allows customers with camera phones to make payments and deposit checks. "We wanted to turn camera phones into scanning devices," says James DeBello, president and CEO.
Mitek Systems knew the advantage of being first to market. But the San Diego, California, company, which specializes in developing applications to read hand- and machine-printed characters from any document, realized it lacked the internal staff to develop the application to work on four disparate operating systems. The application had to work on the Microsoft Windows Mobile, Symbian, BlackBerry, and iPhone platforms. "With such a variety of platforms, you can't tackle them all yourself," says DeBello.
The concept of the product was to allow customers to key in the deposit amount and then snap a photo of the front and back of the check. Before transmitting data to the bank, the software needed to optimize the check image and confirm that it met banking industry image quality standards. The application would also embody Mitek Systems's existing signature validation technology to allow authentication of the endorsement.
The company, which specializes in applications for financial services, called on outsourcing to help. So it chose an outsourcing provider with core competencies it lacked so it could capture that competitive advantage.
The right fit with the right stuff
Mitek recognized that developing the application, ImageNet Mobile Deposit, was challenging and complex. Mitek sought to use a single provider that had a close geographical presence. In addition, DeBello required a supplier that possessed "a familiarity with mobile devices, a strong branding, and strength in the graphical design element." As cost was a consideration, DeBello desired a supplier that could bring in overseas expertise. "We wanted a Lexus at a Chevy price."
Armando Viteri, president and CEO for Neubloc, explains the challenge Mitek Systems faced. "Their development team was focused on supporting their current products and did not have the personnel to start a new product. They also did not have any mobile application expertise and were looking for a cost-effective way to get the product to market as fast as possible," says the supplier executive.
DeBello had engaged many offshore providers in his career and knew that the right fit for this endeavor was essential. Past issues concerning distance, communication, and project management were keys in the selection process. "Some bids were less expensive but in difficult time zones with more challenge in language and skill sets. We had worked with outsourcing providers in the past to augment our staff and had problems with the work. Often you get it on time with poor quality, or it's late."
In December 2007, Mitek Systems selected Neubloc, a software product development and investment firm headquartered in San Diego, California. Founded in 1999, Neubloc has development centers in the United States, Poland, Macedonia, Ecuador, and Argentina. The engagement would involve Polish centers as the offshore component, a location that pleased DeBello. "The Eastern European countries are highly skilled with a tremendous work ethic."
As a provider with a domestic footprint, DeBello found the additional fit that he needed. "Neubloc is culturally integrated into what is happening here in the United States, our primary market. They brought experience that they had gained through their past clients in product management. They understand how customers use a product as well as the look and feel of the user interface."
Jennifer Daniell BÈlissent, Ph.D., senior analyst, technology product management and marketing for Forrester, sees the wisdom of having the application vendor having a local presence in proximity to the client for project management. "There is extreme advantage in facilitating continuous dialogue. It mitigates ambiguities around specifications and other requirements," she says.
The road to innovation
Neubloc had to do the early heavy lifting, beginning with a proof of concept in the first two months. Following successful trials, the supplier rolled out the first release for the Windows Mobile platform in the summer of 2008. It then ported the application to other platforms at a rate of one per quarter. "We used Windows Mobile to develop the initial mobile application since it offered a quick development environment and a good number of phones to test," explains Viteri.
The Neubloc principal architect served "in an integral capacity in bridging both groups. He was regularly on site," reports the Mitek exec. His presence enhanced communication and project management. "There are advantages in understanding the specifications and alleviating risk. It creates a greater intimacy between the client and the supplier, particularly in this time where there is uncertainty," says BÈlissent.
Onsite management is important in communicating, as it is difficult to do by e-mail or even by phone. "We had daily conference calls with the overseas team. We answered e-mails promptly. The constant communication was critical in the exchange of code that went through the QA process," says the Mitek CEO.
Arriving on target and on time
The project is a success for DeBello. "Neubloc performed on time with high quality. As a result of the combined teams, we were the first to market. We had a real advantage by establishing brand and momentum with targeted customers."
The Mitek Systems president says Neubloc's project management expertise "is their secret weapon in delivering a high-quality product on time. They made the product development more focused and efficient. With their help, we have the capability to produce a much more robust offering."
Lessons from the Outsourcing Journal:
- When you are trying to speed time to market, choosing an outsourcing provider with project management expertise as well as the required skill sets that facilitate successfully achieving that objective.
- Outsourcing enables an application developer to undertake new initiatives without diverting staff from ongoing projects.
- Having a member of the supplier's management at the buyer's site keeps mistakes to a minimum, thus speeding development.