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Comparethemarket.com optimises HMTL5 mobile site for iOS and Android, not Blackberry

CIO James Lomas hails IT team transformation to Agile

Comparethemarket.com has recently launched a HTML5 mobile site for users searching for car insurance quotes on iOS and Android devices, but has decided against investing in optimising for Blackberry handsets.

James Lomas, CIO at comparethemarket.com, told Computerworld UK that the company constantly monitors which devices and browsers mobile traffic is coming from, and Blackberry isn't featuring high enough on the list to justify the modifications required.

He said that comparethemarket.com is experiencing a sharp growth in mobile traffic, which led to the decision to invest in HTML5.

"We have noticed for a period now that mobile traffic is increasing by about a percentage point per month. We started by launching a tablet site for our travel insurance comparison product, which was very successful," said Lomas.

"We then also recently released a mobile site for our car insurance comparison product. We went through the process of considering whether it should be a downloadable app or a mobile site, but we ultimately went for a mobile site in HTML5."

He added: "We went down this route because we thought it would be easier for a customer to compare when they want to compare, rather than having to go through an extra process i.e. having to go to the app store and download a new application."

The mobile site launched in January and Lomas hopes to expand the service to other comparethemarket.com products in the near future. However, he said that the main challenge with developing HTML5 mobile sites is the variation in code required for it to be optimised on multiple Android devices.

"It's available on any iOS or Android device - but at a micro level, the challenge is making sure that we can support the different manufacturer variants of Android. We found that we had to use physical devices to test, rather than emulation, to make sure we are delivering a first class experience on all of the devices," said Lomas.

"The main problems were drop down boxes and custom controls - they can behave quite differently, depending on the device. We use a lot of automated testing techniques, but it just increases the extra lengths you need to go to for the variants of Android."

However, Lomas said that he isn't yet willing to go to the same effort for Blackberry.

"To be honest we don't see a large amount of traffic from Blackberry. On a weekly basis we monitor traffic from different mobile devices and browsers, and at the moment it's predominantly iOS and Android," he said.

Blackberry last week launched its latest range of smartphones operating on its newly developed Blackberry 10 platform. It is hoping that its latest products will win back some of the market share it has lost in recent years to the likes of Apple and manufacturers supporting Android devices.

Lomas also told Computerworld UK how since joining comparethemarket.com two years ago, with the help of consultants ThoughtWorks, he has transformed it into an agile organisation.

"When I first walked into comparethemarket.com it was like a traditional IT department. It was very difficult to work out who was working on what, whether it was the right priority, when it would go live etc. Since then we have moved to product-based teams, and these have really been fundamental to our success," said Lomas.

"They are small groups, where we give the teams the opportunity to develop strong working relationships, optimise their processes and have a joint mission to continuously improve their product."

He added: "I know Amazon have a saying that if a team can eat more than two pizzas, it's too large. To be frank, we have subscribed to that view."

Lomas said that this approach has given comparethemarket.com clear accountability and allows the teams to 'self-organise'. There are eight product teams in total. However, he did warn that the agile approach can create challenges for the departments need to work across teams.

"This has been incredibly successful, but I guess the challenge is how do you get cross product consistency? We might be talking about a UI framework that has been developed by Team A - how do we make sure that is spread and disseminated to Teams B, C, D and E too?" he said.

"It is also a challenge to change the 'IT mind set' that change equals instability. Our primary objective is to have a stable system for people to compare and buy products, but stability and change don't have to be enemies."

He added: "If you recognise that with the right rigour and process you can actually change frequently in a repeatable manner, you can deliver working pieces of software to an incredibly high degree of quality."

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