December 26, 2006

SIMchronise keeps in syncing Funambol

Author: Tina Gasperson

SIMchronise is a mobile synchronization provider based in Dublin, Ireland. Users of the company's products can synchronize contacts, calendars, appointments, tasks, and notes across a wide range of devices, including mobile phones, PCs, Palm PDAs, and even iPods. After using proprietary software and finding it lacking, all of its products are now based on Funambol's open source data synchronization software.

"Funambol provides us with the core synchronization engine that we use to offer mobile data backup services," says SIMchronise founder and CEO Philippe Joly. SIMchronise takes Funambol's technology and extends
it, creating products like the In-Store Phone
, and Phone Backup,
which lets users upload phone data to a secure online account.

Before it found Funambol, SIMchronise experienced some challenges with proprietary synchronization engines. "We used rather small companies or startups with proprietary software, and were confronted with various issues, like poor QA process, poor commitment to deadlines, poor communication ... and most importantly, poor flexibility." Joly says that, from the start, SIMchronise had a vision for the flexibility and scalability in its products. "So our experiences were not exactly in line with what we wanted our company to stand for."

One of the deciding moments for Joly was a problem with localization. "We were using a software company in the UK. It had a good product, so we decided to use it in Ireland." SIMchronise needed the software modified to adapt it to Irish monetary differences. "A localization from the UK market to the Irish market is an easy one. The only real changes were the currency and payment methods." The software provider took four months to come back with changes that didn't work. "The delays started having very serious consequences," Joly says. "So we had to pull the plug."

SIMchronise then made a strategic decision that changed the course of the company. "We decided to go for an open source model. This of course involved us starting from scratch with a new provider, a new technology, and more delays. But ultimately it resulted in a very successful relationship."

Joly says that when they decided to try the open source route, the only real player in the mobile data synchronization field was Funambol. Joly and his team liked the community drive quality assurance process and the positive attitude and professionalism they saw in the Funambol staff. Combine that with the software's robustness, flexibility, and scalability, and the fact that it is based on Java, and there was no need for SIMchronise to look any further.

Joly says the transition went smoothly, with a few technical challenges due to some of the customization requirements for operational, billing, and marketing processes. "We modified some of the core to suit our needs," he says. The only beef Joly has had in the process is with the mindset of some of the community developers. "Open source developers are very talented technical people, but sometimes they are not business or marketing people," he says. "So the result is a great product technically, but one which might not have been built thinking of particular trends, user behavior, business opportunities, localization, and revenue models.

"But overall, I have to say that all our challenges have been solved efficiently and both our company and Funambol have benefited from those modifications and new processes."

Funambol does everything proprietary software did, with added benefits. For SIMchronise, the biggest benefit of using open source software has been the significant cost reduction in quality assurance expenditures. "Also, because of the nature of the open source community itself, we have an increased reach to customers, which in turn affects our bottom line positively," Joly says.

SIMchronise's experience with open source has been so good that the company is exploring more ways to use it. "Open source has the great advantage of being very dynamic, especially in the mobile and wireless industry," Joly says. "There are more new products and opportunities than any entrepreneur could dream of. We plan to use more Funambol products, like Push email."

Joly recommends other small companies considering the use of open source "go and meet the people. That's what we did -- we jumped on a plane and met them, which started our relationship very positively and eased our communication. We now had put a face on a name."

Also very important, in Joly's opinion, is to "provide a clear requirement of what is needed. Very rarely can you just take software and use it straight away. There are always some modifications. I recommend strongly to prepare, plan, and discuss in detail all the changes needed so that both sides are completely in tune with what needs to be done and why. It makes everyone's work easier.

"Obviously, there is a gap in knowledge between the developers and the small or medium company. And the worst thing is to have something in mind, communicate it poorly, and get something back that cannot do what you had in mind, simply because the developer and the customer were not in tune. So, diagrams, process flow, conference calls, etc., build a clear picture. Once the entrepreneur's vision and the developer's vision are tuned correctly, it works wonderfully."


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