IBM Haifa’s Gal Shachor: This new application development tool will let users with no software development expertise skill create online forms with ease that complete routine tasks,”If you’re a small business owner and drowning under a sea of information with no idea how to use the relevant computer applications, the IBM research team in Israel has just invented a lifejacket for you.

They’ve just announced their Development Engagement Service (DevEngage), a free Web application development tool with a simple user-interface to allow people without technical skills in small businesses and other organizations to create applications that solve daily tasks. By giving users easy tools to create simple applications themselves, the DevEngage eliminates wait time required when a typical employee issues an application development request through an IT department.

Unlike other solutions which require technology-savvy users, the software is designed to appeal to the average business user. By giving small businesses tools that had once only been available for large businesses with large programming budgets, IBM has given the power back to the people.

“This new application development tool will let users with no software development expertise skill create online forms with ease that complete routine tasks,” said Gal Shachor, project lead for this technology at the IBM Research Lab in Haifa. “IBM wants to ensure that users at small and medium-sized businesses are able to capitalize on modern Web 2.0 technologies in a simple, user-friendly way.”

IBM Israel is the umbrella organization for all IBM activities in Israel and was established in 1950. It employs about 2,000 people, with its main headquarters in Haifa.

Looking to simplify business collaboration and eliminate the need to send small projects to programmers, IBM Haifa’s team saw that most small businesses were operating inefficiently.

“When we look at how small businesses organize the way they work or how business scenarios happen today, we see that people are using spreadsheets and inputting it into another application or database,” Shachor told ISRAEL21c. “When people try to collaborate around a solution that was built around a spreadsheet, it’s very hard to keep the data in synch.”

The DevEngage has a variety of potential uses. For example, in a small business where lunch is ordered every day from a local restaurant and the office manager collects orders and subtracts lunch costs from an employee’s weekly salary, the application can be used to build a web-based form where each employee fills in his lunch order. The program can then track the weekly or monthly costs and keep everything orderly, freeing up the office manager for more essential tasks. This can also allow the restaurant owner to prepare the right food on time, leading to better service.

If any of the above sounds complicated or relevant only for businesses, it’s not. In fact, its inspiration was a simple home repair project.

Shachor, one of IBM’s senior technical employees, needed a way to work with his wife during a recent home renovation, managing quotes and contracts. Looking at how IBM works in a large setting, he realized that the process could be simplified to allow for individuals and small businesses to create customized systems to collaborate and organize their needs.

“I felt that this could be done by someone who’s not a developer if only we had the proper user interface,” he said.

With the DevEngage, interactive forms can be developed over the Internet, using a regular browser. The user runs through a series of “wizard” pages that allow for the customization of details such as an application name, behavior, look and feel. Once the application is designed, it is submitted to the tool’s Java-based server-side back-end where the application is built. At this point the back-end uses templates to generate the application and returns a website address where the form is accessible via the Internet.

In addition to capitalizing on the Web 2.0 trend of increasing participation and collaboration at the user-end, the DevEngage has great potential to save time and money, by avoiding needs for businesses to wait for programmers to develop software to suit their needs. And by basing the system over the Internet, it avoids the need to purchase multiple expensive software programs and is more secure.

“If you’re using something over the web, there’s no hardware installation, no risk,” said Shachor.

This brand-new software – available here – fills an important need for workers in small businesses, according to Glen Gould, Director of Small-to-Mid-Size Business at the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce.

“As more business activities move online, there are more occasions to ask the IT Department for help. But if you have to wait a lengthy period for support, or you don’t have an IT dept, you can save either time or money – and a lot of aggravation – by quickly creating your own online forms for just about anything.”

As Shachor neatly sums up the advantage of the DevEngage, “Basically just open the browser, point to a URL, and you see your data.”