Notes on the growth of ACAEngine

This post was first published as a Linkedin Pulse article by Jon McFarlane. View other Pulse articles here.

Last month William Le from our team relocated from Sydney to Hong Kong to lead our efforts in the Asian market. In this short time we have delivered ACAEngine to a large insurance company for visitor management and building access control, started scoping our first major residential project and established a delivery and hosting partnership with two of the leaders in the Asian market.

Our aim now is to replicate this success in cities all over the world. Right now we have active projects in major cities such as London and New York- but also a few scattered in smaller cities such as Milan, Istanbul and Ho Chi Minh. This is thanks to some of our multinational clients- managing the solution centrally and rolling it out to their global offices.

How do we manage this with a relatively small team? Well there are a few things working in our favour.

Scalable product from day one.

Our software was designed to scale from the get go. Many startups are following the “lean” methodology- basically releasing the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and constantly playing catch up. This means they focus on features that they can sell right away. Our first project was a single system- it would have been easy for us to ignore scale as the client didn’t need it. But we took the time (while living on 2 min noodles) to get it right before releasing. Having the technical co-founder that I do, he would not of had it any other way. Eight years later, scale is still at the heart of what we do. We are a couple of months away from a new version that can scale even further. We even built our own open-source framework so we are not held back by Ruby on Rails limitations. Our current offering is as scalable as our clients need right now, so again we are ignoring the MVP method and releasing something that will be scalable for another eight years- while our competitors are yet to catch up to our day one.


Software has no borders

The building industry has historically been very hardware focused when it comes to technology. As we are 100% software based, international business is pretty straight forward. Even when we work on projects in our own city- we are doing it remotely. From a technical point of view we do not care where the server is located, the process is the same.

Instagram famously had just 13 staff when they were acquired for $1B. We are not running that lean, but it shows how a small team can have big results when all they focus on is software. This is one of the main driving factors behind our internal shift of delivering our projects directly; to working through partners so we can focus on product and not spend half our day in project meetings.

Furthermore, many of our elements and tools are open source. This means we have external developers contributing to some elements of our stack. And any partner or developer can get up to speed very quickly with our documented APIs.

The open source model also allows clients to set up their own demo or Proof of Concept as they can download and setup ACAEngine without us. If you are not using it commercially, you do not need a commercial license. This works really well for us as resourcing POCs is hard even for the largest IT companies. Also, not needing us helps our clients validate the platform so this turns out to be a successful way to run a POC.

Partnerships

Projects require local resources- so we lean on partnerships to enable this. There are two core areas for our delivery partnerships:

  1. Designing, scoping and building UX

  2. IT services and integration.

As an API based platform, ACAEngine UX can be completely customised for the job. Companies that typically sell product can struggle to get their head around this. So we also provide templates for a number typical requirements such as a workplace app, room booking interfaces and visitor kiosk (to name a few).

Creative agencies are best suited to scope and design UX as they already work with and understand platform. Our message is not too far off their typical web projects: “We’re Wordpress and you're engaged to build the website on top” is the simplified analogy. "Wordpress for buildings".   

IT services are simple: we need a VM (maybe a few), client side Auth, a network and domains with SSL. Our challenge is these two areas, UX and IT, might not be covered by the same partner. Personally, I spend a lot of my time travelling and meeting with potential partners to close these gaps so the client can engage one partner and have both areas covered. 

So what next for ACAEngine?

We are going to establish more partnerships- not going to go nuts with it rather be selective and focus on capabilities. We are launching new products Q2 this year (a SaaS offering and our own building Analytics platform) and we are using our existing projects in new markets as a base to grow sales in those regions. It will be a busy year for us- but I guess it has never been quiet. It’s always just a new set of challenges- but we have a motivated team that thrive on it.

It you are interested in my personal experience as we do all this I've started a personal blog here: http://www.jon.sydney/

Jon McFarlane, co-founder ACA



Apps- the new 'box' you don't need.

This post was first published as a Linkedin Pulse article by Jon McFarlane. View other Pulse articles here.

apps image.jpeg

An app can do a set number of things. If you want it to do anything more-  the developers have to build and push a new version and users have to download an update. The company that develops the App is not set up to scope UX specifically for you.  This might be fine for the average consumer but is not suitable for a smart building or smart workplace project.

I feel like we have been here before in the integration industry. It reminds me of the rack full of boxes that have a set number of features and are sold to the client with little consideration for the total solution.  But instead of 5 boxes per room- the industry has switched to 5 Apps. And most of the time, these Apps are to help sell more boxes!

The integration, AV and IoT industry is so hardware focused that their answer to software is mobile Apps- in 2019! A clear example of how far behind the broader IT industry these fields are. And how disconnected from the customers they have become.   

There are countless articles on the App being dead but here are a few:

The software industry is focused on platform, APIs and build your own UX. The UX is not just button presses in an App, although this can be part of it and many of these platforms have their own App. But customers are thinking more broadly and aiming for passive interaction with technology.  The UX might be automatic triggers from user location, predictive actions based on historical data, chat-bot integration into Slack or a new type of interaction we are not thinking of yet. With a platform, you have this flexibility.

Apps and boxes are easier to sell- as it requires less of the sales person. This is how they end up in so many “smart office” projects. Another room booking app- another room booking panel. Not very smart.  This is why I wrote an article on not attending industry events. I learn more from my customers, partners and co-workers than room booking app vendors invited to talk about the future of workplace.

Think about some of the apps in this field; most require their hardware. “Our App tracks people for automatic room check-in. But you have to buy our bluetooth beacons”.  Or“you have to buy our desk sensor”. Or “you have to buy our in room control hardware”. Or “you have to buy our video conference system”. Or “you have to buy our swipe card readers”… etc, etc. And if they even have the ability to integrate outside of their App- you probably have to buy their middleware software or subscribe to their public cloud.

The customers are demanding more. They don’t want all their building technology to be disconnected systems that required multiple apps to operate. The end user certainly does not want an app for the car parking, an app for their visitor management check-in, an app for their elevator, an app for their virtual access card, an app for their locker, an app for the desk finding and an app for their room booking. From the articles links above- you will see that App downloads per month for an average user is almost 0. When was the last time you downloaded an App that you didn't delete a few hours later?

My final thoughts are for system integrators in this field. IT companies and creative agencies have been working with platforms and solution-based sales for a long time. If you don’t step up- they will take over your AV, IoT and integration niche. It’s only a niche because it required special hardware and weird vendor specific software. It doesn’t anymore. You might be a billion dollar system integrator- but your vendors are blinding you to the opportunities and changes in the market. Meanwhile,  companies you have never heard of are taking your market share. Stop selling boxes, stop selling apps and focus on solutions.


Jon McFarlane. Co-Founder, ACA.

Introducing Spider-Gazelle- our open source web framework

By Stephen Von Takach

Since the founding of ACA Projects the I.T. industry has gone through a number of rapid changes. The rise of cloud computing, followed by new ways of deploying and managing applications has meant almost everything  has changed.

  • 1991 First web browser

  • 1996 Ruby released… (NOTE:: it takes a few years before adoption of each technology is widespread)

  • 2004 Network stacks: Linux introduces epoll

  • 2010 Service managers: init is replaced by systemd

  • 2013 Application deployment: packages replaced by containers (such as docker)

  • Server management: Puppet (2005) -> Chef (2009) -> Kubernetes (2015)

One advantage of these changes is that it is now easier than ever to deploy services, making microservices a highly attractive option for implementing new features.

A NEW FRAMEWORK

Since 2012, ACA Projects has been almost entirely a Ruby on Rails house however we’ve been working on a framework that makes it easier for us to rapidly build and deploy new services.

One of the most exciting things is that it is fast, in fact it’s one of the fastest frameworks in the world: 

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For those paying attention, that’s 3 times faster than NodeJS and 32 times faster than Rails.

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NOT ONLY FAST

Coming from Ruby, Crystal lang was the obvious choice for the underlying language of the framework. Effectively “compiled ruby” it is a joy to work with when compared to languages like Go or Rust which are much more akin to modern versions of Java or C++.

If you’re a developer coming from Rails, you’ll instantly feel at home with Spider-Gazelle as one of our major goals was to ensure a seamless mapping of skills. Rails is an extremely feature rich framework, it makes your life as a developer easy and we didn’t want to compromise developer productivity or happiness. As such, we have ported most of the core Rails features to Spider-Gazelle without compromising elegance or speed.

From a deployment standpoint, Spider-Gazelle projects generate deployment images approximately 45MB in size compared to 850MB for Rails, 18 times smaller.

 

PRODUCTION READY

We have a few Spider-Gazelle projects running in production. Meraki Scanner, for example, is running at multiple client sites and processes wireless location data streamed from Meraki wireless access points - tracking people and devices in buildings.

OPEN TO ALL

We believe in the open source movement and as with many of our endeavours, are proud to give back to the community.

For anyone interested in learning more about this exciting new project, please have a look at our documentation: https://spider-gazelle.net/