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Rising Sun Energy Center: Developing a Custom App for a Silicon Valley NGO

Rising Sun Energy Center is a non-profit organization based in Berkeley, California that runs programs addressing climate change and reducing unemployment. The company were looking for a Ruby on Rails development company to help them update and improve an application managing one of their key programs: the Green HouseCall service.

Introduction

Rising Sun Energy Center focuses on programs that are at the intersection of addressing climate change and helping to reduce unemployment. Their mission is to work with individuals who experience barriers to employment and can benefit most from the workforce programs for both youth and adults. 

Rising Sun started in 1994 as a renewable energy education center, and in 2000, they launched our California Youth Energy Services (CYES) program. High School students were not learning enough about climate change, and they wanted to do something about it. This is how the Green HouseCall service was born.

Local residents can call the center and arrange an appointment. Two young people arrive and check the house for efficiency, install energy and water-saving equipment, and provide personalized recommendations for further resource savings. The youth install equipment on a needs basis, e.g. energy-efficient light bulbs, high-efficiency faucet aerators for the bath and the kitchen, shower heads, and more – all at no cost to the resident.

Challenges

In early 2016, Rising Sun Energy Center faced a substantial challenge. The custom online application developed to track and manage the work of Green HouseCalls has become outdated. It had been written by a local development contractor several years before. They designed a great system, but time had come for a change. One of the main problems was the lack of ongoing support. As a result, the Ruby on Rails version had not been updated for as long as seven years.

"We wanted to build an Android version of the app, but it turned out that it wouldn't be possible without a major update of the whole application", says Julia Hatton, Director of Youth Programs at Rising Sun Energy Center.

Rising Sun Energy Center needed to find a team of efficient Ruby on Rails developers in order to regain control over a tool crucial for running Green HouseCalls. The application was responsible for managing the appointments with residents, tracking inventory, storing data, calculating energy savings, and running reports and invoices.

Finding such a team locally in Northern California proved to be virtually impossible. "The other thing is the cost. As a non-profit, we couldn't afford the price of local tech talent. We had to look outside of Silicon Valley", recalls Julia Hatton. Fortunately, they came across Netguru through a word-of-mouth recommendation.

These are some challenges Netguru faced when starting the project.

  1. Meeting a tight deadline due on a limited non-profit budget. Netguru engineers had a limited amount of time to understand and rewrite the code of a complex application.
  2. Updating code that has not been supported for several years.There were about 10 new releases of Ruby on Rails since the application was built.
  3. co-ordinating three teams. "The Netguru team had to co-ordinate the work of another remote team responsible for the mobile app. It seemed challenging to me, but Netguru PMs had no problem with arranging the workflow of the three parties, and the co-operation was smooth", recalls Julia Hatton.

Solution

With only 13 weeks for a complex app reorganization and development, Netguru had no time to lose. Weekly budgeting, project updates, and real-time Slack communication helped the team meet the deadline.

  1. Immediate testing on Netguru staging infrastructure saved a lot of valuable time. From the very beginning of the project, the Netguru engineers received feedback on their work and the code quality.
  2. Integrating battle-tested software development processes made it possible to run the project efficiently. Each member of the Netguru team knew their role and tasks.
  3. Proactive development that empowers each team member. Netguru developers always have their say on the project design. This helped choosing the simplest solution with the best use of the technology and Ruby on Rails.
  4. Smooth flow of communications and full transparency of the development process was essential for co-ordinating the three teams: Netguru, Rising Sun Energy Center and an external mobile app developer. "I was concerned about the time difference, but it was not an issue whatsoever. I think Netguru has so many systems and tools in place that they can embrace complex projects", says Julia Hatton

Key Benefits

Green HouseCall used to operate in 10 cities. More recently, the organisation provided no-cost services to thousands of residents in 20 cities. In the summer of 2016, 180 young people visited over 4,000 homes. It was also the first time the Green HouseCall service was supported by an application upgraded and managed by Netguru.

Only a few months after Netguru took over the app development, the Green HouseCall service was supported by a brand new Ruby on Rails app. The application tracks scheduling, identifies clients, collects data on the appliances installed in households (which are tens of thousands of items), calculates the energy savings, tracks inventory, and supports invoice processing and project progress.

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