Citizen Developers Build Mobile Apps for Field Studies Data Capture with OutSystems

A world-leading agricultural research and development company with over 20,000 employees across the globe, has several thousand research scientists that spend half their time in the field, monitoring crops, and crop protection experiments.

The company’s IT team was unable to keep up with the massive demand for mobile apps, needed for field-based data collection. By adopting OutSystems, the company has empowered research scientists to become “citizen developers” that build mobile applications for use by their teams, typically for data capture on field studies.

Eighteen applications are already in productive use, some of which have hundreds of users. These apps are making a massive difference to efficiency. The citizen development effort is contributing to the company's mission to become a data-driven, cloud-first business.


 60 Citizen Developers Trained in Less Than a Year

60 Citizen Developers Trained in Less Than a Year

 Massive Increase in Efficiency

Massive Increase in Efficiency

 18 Apps live. Growing at one per Month

18 Apps live. Growing at one per Month

 Mobile and Offline Apps Critical for Field Studies

Mobile and Offline Apps Critical for Field Studies

"Before OutSystems, IT could not meet 80 percent of our research scientists requirements. In just one year, we’ve empowered sixty ingenious scientists to build enterprise-grade mobile and cloud applications. The uptake has been tremendous, and we couldn’t be happier with the impact this is having on multiple research streams."

Data Capture From Remote Agricultural Field Studies Needed Bringing Into The Digital Age

Challenge - This global agriculture company employs around five thousand research scientists that spend half their time in the field monitoring crop, and crop protection experiments. Each experiment can have unique data capture requirements, and increasingly, these scientists have been using mobile devices and drones to make their work more efficient. In fact, the company has the largest fleet of drones in the agriculture industry.

With so many scientists with unique, urgent, and often short-lived data capture requirements, the company’s IT team was unable to keep up with the demand for mobile application development. In around 80 percent of cases, scientists had to fend for themselves.

In several cases, scientists built their own lab and field data collection applications. However, this build-it-yourself approach resulted in support and compliance risks that the company needed to address. To better support the needs of these non-professional developers, the IT team decided to standardize on a best-of-breed low-code platform, together with governance, support, and guidance that IT would provide to users.

Turning Research Scientists Into an Army of Citizen Developers

Solution - Management was determined to make the company a data-driven company, using the latest cloud and mobile technologies. They started to look for a low-code platform that they could standardize on, to professionalize the efforts of their fledgling citizen developer community.

OutSystems was an obvious contender, as the company had been using the platform for several years. However, the company needed to satisfy itself that OutSystems would be the best fit for these citizen developers.

As part of their detailed evaluation, one of the team spent three weeks learning the platform and building a mobile data capture app that included upload and download of datasets, offline storage, GPS, barcode and camera integration. The results gave the team a great deal of confidence regarding the speed and ease of use. What they had built in three weeks was far more flexible than an off-the-shelf app that they had been using.

Next, the IT team advertised for volunteers amongst the research scientists, to take part in a five-day OutSystems training bootcamp. Ten volunteers stepped forward, and immediately following their training; they were able to launch three different applications that are still in productive use today. The feedback and enthusiasm of the scientists gave the company the confidence that OutSystems and citizen development was going to be a great success.

Citizen Developer Apps Deliver Massive Increase in Efficiency

Results - Less than a year after that first OutSystems bootcamp, the company has a team of sixty citizen developers, spread across four sites in the USA, and locations in Puerto Rico, Chile, Brazil, and India. These volunteers are all research scientists, so application development is just a fraction of their work. They build mobile apps for use by their teams, typically for data capture on field studies. Eighteen applications are already in productive use, some of which have hundreds of users.

The company has succeeded in its aim to make research scientists self-sufficient, so that they can build and deploy mobile apps for high-speed experiments, without clogging-up the central IT development team.

The approach is making a massive improvement to efficiency. For example, one image capture app is saving 1,000 research scientists around one hour each per day.

Another mobile app helps research scientists set-up crop surveys using drones. Extensive use of barcoding—on the drone, the camera, the plot site—minimizes the time necessary to ensure every picture taken on a drone flight is automatically tagged with the right metadata, and GPS coordinates.

Meanwhile, the efficiency of app development is rising as well. The team has built several template apps that users can take, adapt, and make their own. So, for example, now when scientists need a field data capture app, they are not starting from a blank canvas.

Every app the company launches eliminates the risk of a dysfunctional spreadsheet or similar kludge. So, their citizen development effort is contributing to the company’s mission to be a data-driven, cloud-first business.

Looking ahead

OutSystems is now firmly embedded as the preferred platform for citizen development. The number of citizen developers is expected to double in the next year, with one or more developers in every research group. The IT team plans to expand the OutSystems center of excellence to help maximize the return from these efforts.

The company is investing in remote monitoring sensors, which will automatically return data from fields and greenhouses. They are also experimenting with proximity signaling and sensing technologies to track products, assets, and people across their facilities and supply chain. They expect these diverse IoT initiatives to create an increasing demand for data collection and monitoring apps, built on the OutSystems platform.

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