It seems like a lot has happened around the world since our last newsletter, but thankfully it seems that many regions are now starting to emerge from the shadow of COVID19, and that most areas of the Asia-Pacific region, although obviously disrupted, have been relatively lucky. Now there is an opportunity to start to return to normal business activity and recover from the economic impacts.
In this spirit, our featured clients this time are Greg and Barbara Shapland, developers of Carefactor. Initially designed to help families provide care for older relatives, it became obvious that Carefactor offered great opportunities for those caring for family members managing chronic illness as well. Then, when COVID lockdowns became the norm, Carefactor became very relevant to a whole new audience isolated from families. It is a great story of the right product at the right time.
The Work-From-Home model imposed on many for the last few months has really crystalised the challenges that the transition can pose, not least for those involved in software development. Luckily, Mitrais have long been champions of distributed teams, particularly in Agile environments. In our article on Agile Development in Distributed Teams we have some great tips for you to consider that might help clear some of these hurdles.
The freshly signed Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement will come into effect from July 5 this year and is an exciting opportunity for greater business engagement between these two major South-East Asian economies. We discuss some of the background in this issue.
Our Featured Employee article this time welcomes back Rob Mills to the Mitrais family. Many of you will remember Rob from his previous role as Executive Vice President of Mitrais and from his decades of experience in the Australian software industry, and we are very happy to have him back onboard.
We hope that you enjoy this newsletter, and we wish you, your family, friends and staff the best of health and prosperity in the coming year.
Carefactor – Helping Families Care for Older Loved Ones
In the current circumstances, it is obvious to most that the welfare of older community members is of paramount importance, and that all steps must be taken to ensure that proper care strategies are in place to guarantee that. It is great to discover that an Australian company has already developed the perfect tool.
In 2015, Greg Shapland and his wife, Barbara, faced a challenge. Greg’s fiercely independent mother was still living at her home and managing chronic illness requiring significant medications and regular visits to her doctors. Together with Greg’s brother, they were trying to coordinate his mother’s care needs, and make sure everyone was on the same page. Having a software background, Greg put together a shared notebook using OneNote. As Greg says, “Whilst it was adequate, it certainly wasn’t something that was intuitive and helped us manage her care. So, we decided to develop a mobile app that served our needs and others who face similar challenges”.
The idea of Carefactor was born. After initially designing the look and flow of the application and engaging with Mitrais to discuss the best technology base to work with, Barbara was suddenly confronted with her own serious health issues. The project was parked as she and Greg concentrated on that as a priority, but the concept of Carefactor stayed alive in their minds and even gained further relevance for those looking after others like Barbara and even children with chronic conditions. When Barbara thankfully returned to full health some two years later, they were more determined than ever to bring it to fruition.
So it was that Greg and Mitrais reconvened in late 2018 to start Carefactor development in earnest, culminating in its launch on the Apple and Google App Stores in January 2020.
The goal of Carefactor has always been to help others care for those most important to them wherever they may be in the world. It is focused on providing a single place to manage and share the tasks and activities around a loved one, and provides the ability to bring many pieces of the care puzzle into a single place that is simple for everyone involved to use.
Even before Carefactor, Greg and Mitrais had had a long history. “I first began working with Mitrais some 15 years ago, in early 2005” he says. “I was the Project Manager of a project where Mitrais developed a custom web application for managing software licenses. I found Mitrais staff and processes to be very professional, from the reporting of status to the quality of work. I didn’t need to travel to Mitrais offices during the entire process, and only needed to speak with individuals directly 4 or 5 times”.
When it came to the Carefactor development though, Greg was pleased how software development techniques and methodologies had advanced, and how well Mitrais had adapted to those changes. “I regularly speak with Mitrais developers as part of Agile project management using cloud technologies like Atlassian and Zoom. I visited Mitrais’ offices in the early days of Carefactor development and many of the staff I interacted with 15 years ago were still there, albeit now in Senior Management positions” he says.
Carefactor continues to evolve though. “The world is a small place, and we are so interconnected as recent events have highlighted” he says. “The app was designed and built from a very early stage to support internationalisation. It made complete sense for Indonesian to be the first non-English language supported, and we are now finalising development to launch Carefactor in new markets”.
“The journey was far from straightforward and has taken 5 years from idea to launch” says Greg. “Mitrais provided the flexibility to size the team to the stage of development which I found beneficial pre and post launch whilst maintaining continuity of staff”.
Now, more than ever, Carefactor provides a great tool to help families provide the care and attention that older family members need to stay independent and healthy, and Mitrais is excited to be a part of developing such necessary and helpful solutions for families around the world. Congratulations to Greg and Barbara on a great product, and we at Mitrais look forward to working with them on the next steps on the journey.
Many software development organizations today have recognized the need for globalization, and have already implemented it in their companies or with the help of service vendors. Often several development locations worldwide are networked with each other. For the associated development teams, this means that they must work together globally - usually across several time zones.
Distributed vs Dispersed Teams
A common scenario is that such global teams organize themselves based on relatively clearly defined areas of responsibility. For example, a team in location A can be entrusted with the overall integration of certain components, while other teams in locations B and C are responsible for the development and provision of these largely independent components. The different teams communicate with each other mostly through the respective managers, project managers or senior IT architects. In such a case, the teams tend to work together internally and are mostly siloed. Occasionally, especially in the case of integration points of the applications, the teams collaborate across location boundaries.
Distributed cross-functional teams with members in several different locations which collaborate closely are still the exception due to the challenges related to team integration, global collaboration, cultural differences and communication.
However, the trend is increasingly towards globally distributed teams (or Dispersed teams) with people in multiple locations across the world. Agile development processes provide for a balanced mix of skills (called cross-functionality) within the team. In addition, the Agile Manifesto maintains that individuals and communication/collaboration are more important than the underlying processes.
Figure 1 - Example of a global team distribution
This article provides tips on how to establish Distributed and/or Dispersed teams based on Agile development processes, with individuals who work across time, space and organisational boundaries.
Set Up the Team
Distributed teams do not suddenly emerge. They arise because an innovative management team has determined that the necessary know-how is not gathered in one place, can be obtained more economically at another location, or provide the freedom for the right people to work from home.
The first important attribute for a distributed team is having highly motivated team members. This is because they are going to have to work harder to communicate, to stay focused and be productive compared to co-located team. The work should never be assigned; the team will need to select and assign the work for themselves. This is a crucial first step which later will lead to a self-organising team. Everyone needs to commit to achieve this goal.
Another important thing to consider in a building a distributed team is to try to avoid doing so with members scattered across too many different time zones. For example, if one of the team members is in California, some spread around Europe and others in Mumbai, this will make it more difficult for them to have effective communication with each other. Time zones can increase wait times. Not only that, but cultural influences and language barriers may add extra overhead for the team. Asking some team members to work unsociable hours is unsustainable. Would you like to get up 5 am in the morning to attend a daily meeting? Or when a developer at one location must wait for another developer to start the day to resolve a blocking issue, the rest of the day can be lost. At some stage this is likely to erode morale.
Even if the team needs to be spread across time zones, the gap between time zones should not be too far (small time zone overlaps) so they can maximize “golden hours”. These golden hours for distributed teams are when the local and remote teams are both in their respective offices at the same time.
Start with Co-location and Continue with Regular Meetups
According to Bruce Tuckman, there are 4 necessary and investable phases in order for the team to grow, face up to challenges, tackle problems, find solutions, plan work, and deliver results - the phases are:
For an Agile distributed team, it is recommended that you set up the team to be co-located in the early stages of the project, at least for teams in the same country or near shore location. This is to let the teams form, storm and norm. Forming a team usually takes at least a couple of Agile Iterations (or Sprints in Scrum). It takes some time and experience to work together as a team.
Defining the team norm and overlap hours are also things that can and should be done during this initial co-location period. A few things that are important to be defined are:
how the team will communicate with each other,
when are they going to do the team meetings (or events in Scrum) to enable real time interaction,
development environment across the team,
a clear standard on the definition of “done”. This is to help manage expectations and build rapport across the team. If “done” is not clearly defined, transparency will be lost and ambiguity introduced,
clear guidelines for bug reporting and troubleshooting.
Once everything is set and the team distributed, investment needs to be made to bring the team together on a regular basis to foster team cohesion. For team building, a workshop should be organized early in the project. Remember though, that no tool can replace being together in the same room.
Invest in Collaboration Tools
There are many tools available nowadays to make distributed teams more effective and productive.
Use face-to-face collaboration tools to ensure the team really “presents”. Using video conference facilities for all important events (i.e. scrum events) is highly recommended. Minimize communicating using emails or meeting minutes, as they are very passive and non-interactive forms of communication. Recording meetings tends to encourage team members to skip the meeting as every meeting is important; all key meetings (or events in Scrum) need to be attended by all team members. At Mitrais we use Skype for Business or Zoom for the daily video conference, and it is supported by Slack and Microsoft Teams for group chats.
Use online Agile project management tools to manage the work or tasks of the team. It is important that every team member is well informed on the progress of other team members. Using these tools also promotes transparency for other stakeholders outside the development team, which is also the key for Agile development. The simplest tool used at Mitrais is Trello. It is not only used by developers but also other departments like Marketing, Recruitment and even Sales. JIRA and Microsoft Azure DevOps (formally known as Microsoft Team Foundation Server) are commonly used by the development teams.
Use online version control systems to allow developers to manage changes to source code over time. Version control tracks individual changes by each developer and helps prevent concurrent work from conflicting. GitHub, BitBucket and Microsoft Azure DevOps are the top tool choices at Mitrais.
Setup continuous integration and continuous delivery tools. Automate as much as possible that can be.
There are many other tools available in the market that will make collaboration between teams more effective. The tools above are items that need to be implemented as a minimum when the project is started.
Nail it Before you Scale It
Scaling is a popular strategy these days, but do not scale while the team is still adapting to new ways of working. Smaller teams can operate more nimbly compared to larger groups. Before considering scaling, integrate as much continuous improvement as possible within the existing size constraints, either through improved practices, new technology, or the placing of the right people and skillsets in the right place. Once scaling mode is on, so is responsibility. Nail it before you scale it. Understand the team weaknesses and strengths, and do not assume that adding people will solve a problem.
In the end, for global organisations, every team is distributed. All teams need to learn and adapt to how we can share work between locations, communicate effectively and embrace a “we” rather than an “us vs them” culture. For the successful operation of a Distributed Agile Team, every team member must feel and work like one team.
Indonesian-Australian Free Trade Agreement from July 5, 2020
Following extensive negotiations over several years, Indonesia and Australia have ratified the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (IA-CEPA) which will come into effect from July 5, 2020.
The IA-CEPA seeks to create a framework for Australia and Indonesia that will enable both to fully leverage the potential of the bilateral economic partnership, allowing the growth of economic cooperation between businesses, communities, and individuals.
Indonesia has been a growing market for Australian goods and services exporters, with 2018-19 total two-way trade in goods and services worth A$17.8 billion. This makes Indonesia Australia’s 13th largest trading partner, and the IA-CEPA is designed to provide Australian and Indonesian businesses the opportunity to expand and diversify this economic partnership further.
As one of the fastest growing economies in the Indo-Pacific, Indonesia presents a significant opportunity for Australian businesses. By some estimates, Indonesia will be the world's fifth-largest economy by 2030, and with the IA-CEPA Australia is well-placed to deepen economic cooperation and share in Indonesia's growth. The two strategic partners and largest economies in Southeast Asia now share an agreement that also complements and supports our shared interest in fostering a secure and prosperous region.
Business Council of Australia chief executive, Jennifer Westacott, said "This agreement locks in bilateral trade and investment so that as Indonesia’s economy grows, Australia prospers".
While much of the attention has been focused on the greater opportunities for Australian farmers and other agricultural exports under the deal, universities may also be one of the big winners. Melbourne’s Monash University has recently announced plans to open a campus in Indonesia, which would be the first majority-owned foreign university in the country – something the IA-CEPA deal has made possible.
The IA-CEPA also offers the opportunity to further strengthen relationships between Indonesian IT providers and Australian clients. Mitrais has partnered with a wide range of Australian organisations for more than 2 decades, during which it has established itself as a premier provider of outsourced software development teams for Australian businesses. So much so, that Forrester Research has rated Mitrais as Indonesia’s leading provider of offshore software development services. Mitrais has also promoted and resold a range of great Australian software products such as Precision’s Spry Scheduler and ABB’s Ellipse and LinkOne offerings into the Asia-Pacific region for years.
Founded by Australian David Magson in 2000, Mitrais grew out of Mincom Indoservices, a joint venture with Australian software giant Mincom in the early 1990s. David has been a committed advocate for Indonesian-Australian business engagement throughout, and sees the consolidation of the IA-CEPA agreement as vindication of its importance. And it seems the world agrees. Leading analysts, AT Kearney, rated Indonesia as one of the world’s top 4 locations for the delivery of services on its 2019 Global Services Location Index based on financial attractiveness, people skills and availability, business environment and digital resonance.
Part of the global CAC Holdings Group from 2019, Mitrais continues to focus on creating and maintaining long-term high-trust relationships with Australian businesses by augmenting their Australian software development teams with the additional capacity and capability that they require and continuing to add value to their organisations.
Sometimes, once is just not enough, and that must be the case for Mitrais’ new General Manager, Rob Mills.
Rob, a native of Melbourne, moved to Sydney 25 years ago after already making a name for himself in the Victorian Software Development community for over a decade. He continued that career arc up to today, mainly in enterprise software working in a variety of executive leadership roles.
Some long-time Mitrais clients and staff remember Rob from his time as the Bali-based Executive Vice President of Mitrais in the mid-2010s, and he has remained a committed supporter of Mitrais’ services after his return to Australia. Now Rob has returned to the Mitrais fold in the General Manager role, based out of his Greenwich Park home situated 170km south of Sydney and 30km from the regional centre of Goulburn.
With his 35 years of experience in the industry and his extensive network, Rob is ideally placed to add value by identifying potential Mitrais clients, particularly in New South Wales and Victoria. His familiarity with Mitrais’ value propositions and track record with Australian clients makes him the perfect choice to determine the needs and pain points of enterprise organisations, and to discuss with them how Mitrais could help add value.
Living in such a picturesque area, Rob and Rikki, his wife of 35 years needed to quarantine themselves after a recent trip to Bali, but life in COVID19 lock-down does not seem to be too arduous for them. Sharing his quiet life with a variety of Australian wildlife including kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, echidnas, and goannas, Rob says life is pretty good, and he has plenty of bandwidth to catch up with his friends and acquaintances remotely and identify any opportunities. Like everyone, the only downside is their inability to see their sons Steve, Lewis and Jacob of course. They are particularly missing their first granddaughter, Skylar, who was recently born to Steve and his wife, Chloe. But we can expect Skylar to get a huge helping of grandparenting treats as soon circumstances return to normal.
It is great to have Rob back in the Mitrais fold, and everyone here is looking forward to working with him again to form long-term relationships with a whole new group of Australian businesses. And we are confident that those business will enjoy the benefits of Rob’s decades of experience as well! Welcome back, Rob.