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Award-winning design applies to more than bridges at FIGG

Engineering firm builds its websites on a solid OpenBase SQL foundation

"With OpenBase, we can focus on development not on the database."

Figg Engineering Group (FIGG) is a family of firms specializing in design, management, construction engineering, and financing services for bridges and bridge projects. It prides itself on both the art and science of its "signature" concrete bridges and its pioneering work in actively involving the community a bridge's design.

Three of the five Presidential Awards for aesthetic achievement for bridges awarded through the National Endowment for the Arts have gone to FIGG bridges: the Sunshine Skyway in Florida; the Linn Cove Viaduct in North Carolina; and the Natchez Trace Parkway Arches in Tennessee.

FIGG was recognized for a different kind of design and engineering excellence when Nielsen Norman Group named it, alongside corporate giants such as ChevronTexaco, Fujitsu Siemens Computers and Wachovia, for having one of the "Top 10 Intranets of 2003."

Built on WebObjects and OpenBase

FIGG built the award-winning site using an Apple WebObjects application server and OpenBase SQL database platform.

"We do all of our development with WebObjects and OpenBase," says Brad Ruffkess, who manages development of the employee-facing intranet, as well as FIGG's externally facing web sites. "It works. It's quick. It lets us focus on what we want to do."

The same WebObjects and OpenBase platform, source code, feature sets and interface design underlies the public websites FIGG creates for public information and comment and the project-specific websites that it provides as part of its bridge engineering services. Project sites provide everyone working on a particular bridge project clients, designers, engineers, construction companies with a common and convenient way to collaborate, report and track the project online.

Designed and engineered in-house

"We looked at third-party applications for collaboration and project tracking," says Ruffkess. "But we needed very specific parts, aspects and fields. The properties associated with an arch bridge, for example, are totally different from properties associated with a cable stay bridge. By writing applications ourselves, we can provide exactly what's needed. Plus, if there's a bug in the application, we can fix it ourselves."

Reliable, fault-tolerant performance

With all of the information accessed and created in FIGG's intranet, extranet, public and project sites, reliability and fault tolerant data redundancy are critical.

"We can't afford to lose data or access to information," says Ruffkess. "Our database has to be extremely reliable, which is what we found OpenBase to be. We simply don't have problems with OpenBase."

Performance is another requirement for supporting web applications and Ruffkess says, "OpenBase SQL is very fast and able to handle the load."

Selecting the right database

OpenBase, however, was not the first database FIGG considered. After selecting WebObjects as its application server, it turned initially to Oracle for database software.

"We spent quite a bit of time looking at other databases," says Ruffkess. But FIGG needed unlimited licenses and found many solutions both too expensive and too complex.

"Traditional databases didn't make sense for us," says Ruffkess. "We didn't need features designed in for other application servers because we were using the Enterprise Objects Framework of WebObjects."

Why OpenBase

Ruffkess noticed that Apple used an OpenBase SQL database in the demos it shipped with its WebObjects tutorials. He had heard of OpenBase earlier in his career, when consultants recommended it for another project, although he himself had never used it.

After further investigation, FIGG decided to build its applications on the OpenBase SQL database platform.

"OpenBase offered all the functionality and features that we needed. It was considerably less expensive and more economical than other database solutions," says Ruffkess.

Almost transparent

Since delivering the initial web applications to manage its image library and track project information, FIGG has used WebObjects and OpenBase to continue to build new functionality into its sites. Online collaboration, document management, contact management, mailing list, feedback, bulletin boards the applications take FIGG's web sites far beyond a static repository to provide dynamic services to both internal and external users. For example, people in different locations now use the image catalog to interactively build presentations online.

"With OpenBase we can focus on the tools we're developing instead of on the database," says Ruffkess. "99.9% of the time, if there's a problem with the database, it's in our code and not because of a database communication issue. OpenBase SQL works so well, it's almost transparent."

The other 0.1% of the time, Ruffkess depends on the tech support from OpenBase, which he says "has been fantastic."

"Everything we read about OpenBase mentioned how great their tech support was. After two and a half years as a customer, I can definitely say: OpenBase tech support is as good as or even better than what they say."

"Does it work? Does it do what we need it to do? How is the support? Those are the questions we asked when selecting a database," says Ruffkess. "OpenBase offers us usability that just does not exist in other database products."

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