TenFold aims to make sluggish projects a thing of the past

For a company that has been around for more than a decade, South Jordan, Utah-based TenFold Corp. isn’t particularly well known — suprising, given the claims of its chief technology officer, Jeff Walker.

During a recent visit to Toronto, Walker — also TenFold’s chairman — explained how the industry’s solution for building enterprise-level software applications is tremendously antiquated. “I blame IBM, I think IBM set the tone. It gave us the tools and processes,” he said. He likened the process to building a skyscraper with a hammer. “I don’t care how hard you work, you’ll fail.”

A typical process starts with users setting requirements, IT building an application, users then changing their requirements after realizing the original requirements were not what they needed or wanted, and sending IT trundling back to the drawing board, Walker said. The problem is, users “don’t know what they what until you show then what you have.”

TenFold’s technology, EnterpriseTenFold, although admittedly not designed to change the process, allows small teams of users, with the help of a few people from IT, to build quickly a variety of applications. An existing database is needed to populate the new application, and EnterpriseTenFold can seamlessly pull data from almost all databases.

Though the existence of the production loop between users and developers will not change, using TenFold’s application builder, the loop will shrink, Walker said. He also said the end result will be a more agile, more scalable, more stable application with better performance — one that can be created in a fraction of the time. In fact, the name TenFold is a play on the idea it will take a tenth the time to build an application using its technology than the time needed to build one using Microsoft’s .Net or Sun Microsystems Inc.s’ J2EE.

At one point Walker asked the audience if there was anyone in the room who believed him. Not a hand was raised. So he and an associate set forth to build a simple sales force application as he spoke.

What makes Walker’s claims possible is a rendering engine similar in process to Microsoft’s Excel. In its code base, Excel allows users to build any spreadsheet, even those as of yet uncontemplated. TenFold’s technology, though more powerful, essentially does the same thing, Walker said. The combinations and permutations you would want to pull from a database are already there.

Another key feature is the speed in which changes can be made. Design features, such as what information is being pulled from a database and how it is presented, can be changed in minutes — not days.

Mike Porter, senior vice-president for North America with Vertex Data Science Ltd., a U.K.-based customer management outsourcing company, is a firm believer in the TenFold claims. Vertex built a generic, though highly complex, billing system for the utilities industry in a matter of months. What made the solution unusual is its ability to be adapted to any utility — from water to hydro to gas — and from one country to another, even accounting for the highly specific regulatory requirements found in each country. Utilities can outsource their billing to Vertex. Porter said Vertex’s ability to adopt its application to specific customer needs with limited hassle is a key to its business proposition.

In fact, Walker agreed that TenFold will sell its solution mostly in industry verticals.

(More information on TenFold will be included in an upcoming issue of ComputerWorld Canada)

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