Interview: Cynergy Systems' Dave Wolf
When you first type in http://labs.cynergysystems.com you are presented with a matrix style decision. On the left you have the red pill whilst on the right you have the blue pill. This one screen summarises Cynergy Systems really well, as it shows this is a true agnostic company willing to place bets on both sides.
In light of this, I decided it was high time I had a "sit down' with Dave Wolf, Cynergy's VP of Consulting.
Scott: Who are you, and what is it you do?
Dave: Cynergy is an RIA design and development firm. We build RIA software solutions for software companies and lines of businesses worldwide. We’re really one of the few companies around that built themselves from the ground up to design and build these kinds of software experiences. We have not only user experience development, but also back-end enterprise services development and our own design agency so we can really offer a pretty holistic approach to folks. Sometimes people look to us for just UX design, but often times customers outsource whole projects, so we end up being the entire software engineering team.
Scott: Cynergy are quite an agnostic company whom have perfected the art of using both Adobe and Microsoft technology, why?
Dave: We’ve always been focused on RIA development. That has meant a lot of things over the years but really historically our biggest practice had been around the Adobe stack. We’ve been talking about RIA and what actually became Silverlight for quite some time with Microsoft and when Silverlight 1.0 launched at MIX07 we were the first RIA firm to announce we were putting together a Silverlight practice ourselves. Our passion really has been building RIAs and picking out the technologies we think solve the real challenges around building these kinds of apps It has to be rich and engaging, have a really strong designer to developer workflow, and be a seriously productive development environment. Silverlight gave us all of that, but more importantly Silverlight brings along the whole .NET community which meant this incredible pool of talent that understands not only the technology, but they understand building serious enterprise class software. To us this is about solving customers problems, and doing that by tapping the right technology, rather than the one technology.
Scott: You’ve started to make movements in the labs space for Cynergy Developers, why and what is your biggest hope around this space?
Dave: Cynergy Labs is really exciting for us. One thing we’ve always felt really strong about here at Cynergy is that being a leader is about a lot more than just being big. It’s about providing real leadership and investing back into the community. RIAs have really created a world where if we can imagine it we can build it. Where software doesn’t have to be the same grey background and button bar at the top and where the data grid isn’t the only way to see and understand data. Frankly the only limit really is imagination and experience, and so we stepped back and said, “how can we foster imagination and build up real world experience?” and that brought Labs to life. A place where Cynergy folks can put forward ideas that we think provide a real contribution to our customers and the community at large, and we can provide both the place and the funding to make it happen. We also know we have a huge amount of experience in the whole RIA project lifecycle and we decided rather than say carve out some percentage of everyone’s time towards research, lets create Labs in a way where we could take these amazing ideas and build them out just like we’d build out any projects, with dedicated teams using our LookFirst user-centric development process.
Scott: Maestro is taking RIA to the device discussion. What motivated this?
Dave: The device is the next step in this whole user-centric experience revolution. The first steps were to focus on the presentation of the experience. In realizing that just because the data is stored in rows and columns doesn’t mean we have to present it to people in rows and columns. We can create visualizations that present data and information to people in such a way they can really understand it immediately. One powerful way to do that is to present information through broad strokes of reality. To present information in a way we might see it and interact with it in our physical environment, where in a “blink” you can see and understand it. But the next step is in how users interact with that data. That’s where the hardware comes in. The mouse’s addition to our interaction hardware revolutionized the PC by creating a more natural real world productive for users to interact with their software. That is what brought about Project Maestro. Can we now explore new hardware interaction devices that bring in these same broad strokes of reality we can combine with rich experiences.
Scott: When I last spoke to you, you said
“..If you thought RIA was a fad, just look at the hardware guys. Frankly they have proven to predict the future for generations.”
Could you expand on this?
Dave: There’s been a lot of pundits making noise that there is no need for RIAs and they are a fad. We have everything we need in HTML, CSS and the browser. I would counter that if you believe RIA is a fad, look around at the hardware guys who are right now building hardware meant to run RIAs. Whether it is the Microsoft Surface on one extreme, or the iPod on the other, or things like the Compaq touch screen PC’s right in the middle of the ramp, the hardware vendors are building RIA devices. Hardware is a harbinger of what’s going to stick because of the very high capital expenses around designing and deploying hardware especially compared to software. So seeing all of this investment by the hardware vendors is a huge sign that not only do they believe RIAs are real, they’re heavily invested enough to make sure they stay that way. This leads right into having Maestro be the first project made public out of labs. We think the combination of RIA and Hardware is where things are going next.
Scott: I blogged recently about RIA on Devices, what’s your thoughts on should we evolve the concept onto a device or not?
Dave: As I was saying before, there are two sides to enterprise software. There is displaying data and there is interacting with data. WPF and Silverlight and other RIA technologies are providing us with the canvas to solve the first problem of how do we present data. Although interactive design and development is a part of the data manipulation challenge, hardware is going to play a huge role moving forward. Bringing these tailored RIA experiences together with tailed interactive hardware we think is going to be really exciting. The question is what is the right form factor, and that’s what Project Maestro coming out of Labs was about. Let’s invest into research into this exact question.
Scott: What’s the biggest stumbling block for RIA today?
Dave: It’s really two things. People and Process. The people challenge is both having enough people, and the right kinds of people. RIA development can be more complicated because it takes all kinds of roles. It’s not just a developer for the front end, but a back-end services developer and a designer. One of the reasons folks choose us is that we have all of those folks and can put a total development team together made up of all of the right people. The challenge though is that when you have all of these people trying to work together, you need a really good process to keep them moving forward and working as a real team. This is why you hear so much about the “developer to designer workflow.’ Tools like Expression and Blend help a ton by having been built to work within these workflows, but you have to have the process down and your people indoctrinated into it. We’ve worked really hard for years to get our LookFirst process down and it’s incredible the difference it makes. We’re knocking out these incredible apps in a fraction of the time it used to take us to develop even primitive web apps.
Scott: What inspires your team to do stuff like Maestro or adopt WPF/Silverlight before it’s even released?
Dave: Passion! Our people are so passionate about the whole RIA space. A lot of this comes from seeing what’s possible with things like WPF and Silverlight. Once you see what some of these apps can be like, it’s hard not to be excited. We’ve designed and developed over 60 RIAs and everyone feels more innovative then the last. It makes you realize we’ve only scratched the surface of the kinds of visualizations and interactions we’re going to see, and that makes these Labs projects all the more exciting.
Scott: What is Microsoft doing right in the RIA space? – feel free to elaborate on what we are doing wrong as well.
Dave: Microsoft is doing a lot right. First off they really get the designer to developer workflow idea and have been working hard to get it folded into the stack in places like Expression and Blend. Secondly they also really get that this needs to be about building a real community inside the vast .NET development community. These projects take lots of people all interacting and collaborating. That means building out communities and putting collaboration tools out there to make this all fundamentally easier.
Scott: You’ve opened up more branches around the world, is RIA really paying that well? How is big business embracing RIA?
Dave: It really is. We’re privately held, profitable and expanding at hundreds of percent growth. We have been opening offices all over and we do that by finding great talent and putting walls around them. We reached the coolest milestone the other day. With the announcement of London the sun never sets on Cynergy <wink>. What has been honestly the most surprising to me has been the amount of traction from big business. It’s not just the start-ups and bleeding edge types. Its Banks and Manufacturers and Fortune 50 software companies that are really engaging with RIAs. You combine that sign with the hardware vendors and our growth and it paints a pretty incredible picture.
Scott: In a Sydney bar we had blast telling people Carson is really Damian Lewis, How many times since you have done that?
Carson is the one on the left, President of Cynergy Systems. I also would like to note that Anthony Michael Hall once played Bill Gates.. so Carson and opening up companies around the world? hmmm...