We had the opportunity to speak with Raymond Allo, Principal Consultant at APEXIA, and got to know more about his business and about how his team uses FOEX to meet customer requirements and deliver complex business applications with significant time and cost savings.
Q: Hi Raymond! Can you tell us a bit about APEXIA?
Absolutely! APEXIA is an Australian-based IT company with over 25 years of Oracle experience. We specialise in developing business solutions using Oracle APEX and offer a broad range of other services in the areas of Oracle Database, Middleware, eBusiness Suite and Hosting.
Q: You are using FOEX for some years now. How did it all start?
Let me start by giving you a bit of background: our customers have been traditionally larger organisations who have used Oracle Forms / Reports over the years. As these companies began their transition to the Web, things started to change and since Oracle Forms was not suited for creating web applications many of them started to look for alternatives and began developing new applications with Java or .NET .
From our perspective, we felt that building applications with Java or .NET was not playing to our strengths, nor did it make sense since Oracle was providing us with an already great tool: Oracle Application Express (APEX), previously known as HTMLDB.
We used it on a number of projects with great success, including one where we replaced an Oracle Portal project. But realistically HTMLDB/APEX was not very well suited to replace the more complex applications what could be built in Oracle Forms.
We had a good tool to cover our basic development needs, all that was missing were the plugins that would add the custom functionality requested by our customers.
In our research we stumbled across the FOEX Plugin Framework. The functionality you offered was just what we were looking for but at that time the licensing model wasn’t the right one for us, so we went with another tool which was pretty much PL/SQL based and gave us the ability to write complex transactional applications. Similar to FOEX, it was also using Ext JS in its framework.
Q: What made you re-evaluate the FOEX Plugin Framework?
Our productivity wasn’t as good as we’d initially hoped for with this PL/SQL based tool, even after using it for more than 1 year. Furthermore, we noticed that the vendor had no plans to upgrade the Ext JS version used by their product, so we ran the risk of missing on the functionality that later versions of Ext JS would introduce.
Fast forward 15 months later, we touched base with FOEX again and found out that the licensing model had changed. It made an interesting proposition, since we liked the product and could see how much time & money we could save for our customers.
We reached out to the FOEX team and after a detailed discussion I decided to give myself one week to evaluate FOEX and make a decision. At the end of the evaluation I was hooked.
I could go back to using APEX, and with FOEX I could build the complex transactional applications required by ourselves and our clients.
Still we were facing the daunting task or rewriting the application we began building with the previous development tool. It took us 12 months to develop it and now we had to redo all of that – it was not an ideal situation for us. Surprisingly, it took us about 5 months to rewrite the whole application by using APEX and FOEX.
It was the best decision we could have made!
Q: What about your customers? Weren’t they expecting to use the app already?
Of course they did. On our side the decision was easy, but before switching technologies we also had to discuss and get the OK from our customers.
I presented them with a POC of the application that we built with FOEX and told them they could keep on using the already developed application until we caught up, and only then switch over to the new APEX / FOEX app. They liked our POC and agreed with making the change once the functionality was built.
We managed to rewrite 80% of the application in about 3 months’ time.
The added benefit of going with FOEX was that it gave us a much richer UI and had the flexibility to redesign parts of the application in order to take full advantage of that.
Q: Tell us a bit about the app you have developed?
Well, there are actually two applications which we developed. A multi-level marketing application that integrates with a web shop, accounting software, has apps for web sign-ups, sales consultants and for the head office. It integrates with MySQL, SQL Server and Oracle.
The other app, the one that I’ll talk about in a bit more detail, is a SaaS application that will be publicly available in the near future. Currently it is still being developed using FOEX 2.x, but we plan to upgrade to FOEX 4.0 soon. This also allows us to implement a number of nice new features which are on our to-do list.
To describe it: this SaaS application is focused on small/medium businesses which handle repairs. The concept was born out of the requirement of a computer repair company specialising in repairing and refurbishing Apple equipment. We found that we could make the application more generic so that it can be used by other repair and service companies.
APEXIA’s SaaS application built with Oracle APEX and the FOEX Plugin Framework
Since switching to APEX and FOEX we created pre-built templates for a number of different vertical markets, like computer repair, bike shops and small manufacturing. We also developed a special module which is optimised for the car service industry where more specific details for service and repair management are required.
It also handles all sides of a repair and service business: scheduling, inventory, purchasing, sales, invoicing, job and time management. The app has interfaces to a number of cloud based accounting software solutions (XERO, MYOB, SAGE) and to desktop versions of Quick Books and MYOB through simple CSV files.
The system also has interfaces to a number of spare parts supply companies for the car industry for ordering part on business accounts.
At the moment we are still in a closed beta trial with several dozen companies across different industries as our early adopters. One of these companies is a large franchise with 180+ shops across Australia.
Q: What FOEX components were most helpful for building these apps?
The FOEX Form and FOEX Grid were among the most heavily used components, but the FOEX Content Loader was the plugin which provided the most value to our applications.
We found that one of the most loved features of our application is that a user can open up multiple sales orders at the time. This is such an incredible time saver in sales and invoicing.
Let me give you an example: a sales consultant is working on a sales order and gets a phone inquiry from a customer about other order. In most web applications you will have to save the order you were working on, open the sales order that the customer inquires about and when finished, bring back the initial sales order to continue to work on it.
With FOEX we can open multiple sales orders in tabs and work individually on them.
Q: How did you get up to speed with how to build apps using FOEX?
We certainly had some challenges to overcome initially, but the FOEX forum provided us with incredible support during our development – and, of course, it still is one of our first points of contact with the FOEX development team.
Q: What advice would you give to anyone new to FOEX?
In the beginning we needed some help getting our head around some of the FOEX components and how they work in combination with APEX.
What helped us the most was the demo application / cookbook that FOEX made available in their documentation app. It allowed us to look in detail at how things worked and taught us some good development practises.
We also found that some of the apps that we need to develop now with FOEX require less coding, as more and more can be handled declaratively by the FOEX Plugin Framework.
Q: What about results? How do you measure the success of your projects?
There are many moving parts in each of our projects, so obviously you cannot point the finger and say ‘that one thing alone made me more productive’.
What I can say though is that FOEX allowed us to build applications with a main focus on increased flexibility and a user interface that provides measurable time savings for our customers. One of our customers told us that the average time to service a client has decreased from 10 minutes to 5 minutes since working with the app we developed with APEX and FOEX.
That is a great time reduction for their business as it takes the pressure off the sales consultant and customers waiting in a queue get the support they need much quicker.
FOEX allows us to actually focus on the business solution instead of having to spend time on the technical side of things.
In addition to this SaaS solution we have used this tool to develop a number of applications for external organisations. One of the things that our clients like is that the FOEX Plugin Framework is a commercial product.
For a number of large clients this is extremely important.
We’d like to thank Raymond for taking the time to speak with us and share an insider’s view of how to successfully develop business applications with Forms-like functionality using the combination of APEX and FOEX.
This is yet another example of the flexibility and additional functionality that the FOEX Plugin Framework brings to Oracle APEX, transforming it into a powerful tool with results comparable to other, better established development frameworks.
We are thrilled to know that APEXIA considers FOEX a vital cog of their booming business and encourage anyone who is currently developing, or takes into consideration to develop complex business applications with Oracle APEX, to sign up for a FOEX free trial and take it for a spin.
For a more detailed overview of APEXIA’s SaaS application, please check out the FOEX Showcase Applications page.