Best Buy Slashes App Development Time and Resources with Google App Engine

Best Buy® Co. Inc. is a multinational retailer of consumer electronics, home office products, entertainment software, appliances and related services, with 180,000 employees and 1,095 stores in the United States, Canada, Europe, China and Mexico.

Challenge

In 2008, a team of Best Buy developers launched Giftag, a social application that lets users make online wish lists to share with friends through email, Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites. The app was promising, but the development effort was substantial – it took eight developers more than a year to create the app. Once it was developed, adding new features and scaling it for heavy use was onerous.

“The development platform we’d selected just wasn’t cutting it,” says Curtis Thompson, technical director at Best Buy. “Because of the platform design, an application administrator had to make changes manually, which was time-consuming and prone to errors.”

“ Our experience transferring Giftag onto Google App Engine really changed how we do things. We can use far fewer developers, and we don’t have to spend any time doing system administration or setting up servers, which allows us to focus on the development and testing new ideas.”

Gary Koellingdirector of emerging platforms, Best Buy

Solution

To ease the maintenance and performance bottleneck, Best Buy began looking for a new development platform. “We had a week or two of really intense discussions before we convinced everyone that we had to switch,” says Gary Koelling, director of emerging platforms at Best Buy. “One of the things that can doom these projects is that people attach themselves to a particular technology, which holds you back from finding something better.”

Once the Best Buy team switched to Google App Engine, the payoff was immediate. Best Buy developers rewrote the Giftag application from scratch – improving on the original code – while only having to do an extract, transform and load on the existing data. The entire process took four and a half developers just 11 weeks – or roughly half the original development team, in 25% of the original time. The time savings enabled Best Buy to relaunch the app just in time for the 2008 holiday shopping season.

Results

The Giftag app now runs smoothly with no maintenance requirements. But the most important outcome of switching to Google App Engine, according to Koelling, is that it transformed the Best Buy team’s mindset about how to build apps. This shift opened the door for much more app development and a glimpse of what is possible in the cloud.

“Based on our success using Google App Engine for Giftag, the development group could go to other business units at Best Buy and demonstrate that they have a method, platform and process for building applications cheaply, quickly and at a high scale,” says Koelling. “The success from all this is still being calculated.”

Since Best Buy discovered that it can launch new apps in a matter of weeks with only one or two developers, the development team has launched more than ten other web applications on Google App Engine, including:

  • BBY Scan: A QR-code generator that allows users to manage QR codes through various URLs, and routes the requests accordingly.
  • BBY Offer: A real-time app that captures offer data from other systems and manages and uploads offers. It works with various web and mobile apps.
  • Universal View: An app that recognizes the site visitor’s device format (mobile, laptop, tablet, etc.) and adjusts the site view accordingly, with no lag time.

It gives Best Buy flexibility of views without creating separate sites.

“Developing apps on Google App Engine takes one-fourth to one-tenth of the resources and one-fourth of the time compared to building something ourselves,” says Koelling. “We can use far fewer developers, and we don’t have to spend any time doing system administration or setting up servers, which allows us to focus on the development and testing new ideas.”

Thompson says he would recommend Google App Engine to other businesses because, in addition to being powerful, it is easy to adopt. “I’m extremely happy with how fast we were able to change over to Google App Engine,” he says. “From every technical vantage point, it’s been a great success for us.”