Progress Software CEO: We're honored to serve dev community

In an exclusive interview, CEO Philip Pead vows to help Progress' community of 1.7 million developers meet the challenges of a cloud and mobile world

Progress Software CEO: We're honored to serve dev community

Progress Software has been helping developers build better applications since Ronald Reagan was president -- in his first term. Along the way, the company, which boasts a base of more than 1.7 million developers, has evolved to meet the changing needs of the enterprises and software companies that use its products.

In this installment of the IDG Enterprise CEO Interview Series, Progress CEO Philip Pead spoke with Chief Content Officer John Gallant about how the company is helping developers build applications in and for the cloud, as well as modernize core business applications for a mobile, social world. Pead also talked about recent acquisitions that have bolstered Progress’s portfolio and its strategy to become the preferred destination for developers. He discussed Progress’ offerings to unite marketers and IT, its plans for attracting the next generation of savvy app builders, and the ways it empowers traditional enterprises to get up to speed fast in building mobile applications.

CEO Philip Pead of Progress Software

CEO Philip Pead of Progress Software

Q: Progress has been around since the early 1980s. What’s the most important thing that you want an IT executive to know about Progress today?

A: The genesis of the company was really focused on application development. We built a platform called OpenEdge that enabled ISVs to build a product that would solve a problem in a particular vertical industry and enable an enterprise to solve a business problem. The core of the OpenEdge platform was that we should make it as simple as possible to achieve the resolution of the problem. Let’s not make this so difficult that it will take years and years for them to accomplish that. That simple premise and thesis upon which the company was built carried the company through amazing growth, which brings us to today. I’m going to preempt the next question by telling you that nothing has really changed in the app world. There’s still a difference between those platforms that are easy to build applications on and those that are not. Anyone reading this article will recognize that never before in technology has speed been so critical to the success of either the ISV or the corporation.

Q: Your stated strategy, at least as I’ve read, focuses on being the “preferred destination for developers.” What does that mean precisely and how do you measure your success at that?

A: Everyone today, it seems to me, is building an app, whether they’re building it for the browser, whether they’re building it for mobile, whether they’re still building for on premise. The app itself is more focused on systems of engagement versus systems of record so that we’re seeing functionality that wraps around ERP systems, for example, or creating an entirely new industry based on an application that they built for mobile. We have apps now that are connecting machine to machine -- the Internet of things. So when we say we want to be the preferred destination for developers, what I’ve described is an incredibly complex environment, more complex than I think we’ve ever seen in technology. It’s a very exciting thing, but it gives developers an enormous amount of choice. When developers think about how they should approach any platform, they should look at whether or not the platform they’re going to use locks them into any particular technology stack or marketplace. Anyone who wants the freedom to build on the platform for whatever device they choose and/or whatever cloud they want to deploy in, it’s important for them to take a look at Progress because that’s the mantra we have tried to build on since the company began. Make it simple and give developers the freedom of choice.

Q: How do you measure your success at becoming the preferred destination for developers? What is your metric?

A: Today we have over 1.7 million developers in our community, so I guess our measurement is the larger that community is, the more exciting it is for us to be able to serve them. Given that developers have an enormous amount of choice, we’re honored that so many developers have already chosen us. Our metric is to build the largest possible community on this planet that is enjoying the tools we provide developers to improve their lives, to improve the speed with which they can develop that application, the speed with which they can deploy it and the freedom not to be stuck with any particular vendor that prevents them from really marketing their product (if they’re an ISV) to the largest possible ecosystem. They can take advantage of anybody’s marketplace if they choose to build their great products on Progress’ platforms.

Q: How many of your customers fall in the ISV camp versus the enterprise camp, and how is that changing? How do you want it to change?

A: Today, two-thirds of our customers are ISVs versus enterprises or direct users. We see that ratio continuing, but I will say that more and more enterprises are looking at ways that they can engage their customers and prospects in a more digital way. This really comes across when you look at the websites that are being built today by sophisticated enterprises who realize that digitizing the enterprise is actually a critical component of future success. No longer is the website considered a billboard. Those that do consider it a billboard, where they’re just providing information about the company, are not going to be successful in this algorithmic search marketplace that we currently live in. I keep seeing this statistic over and over that 60 percent of the time buyers have already decided on the product that they want to buy before they come to an enterprise’s website. They’ve already done the research and decided that’s the product they want to buy. If that is true, if you’re not part of that research process, if the company isn’t discovered by that prospect, then they’re not going to be the one selected for the final purchase. Websites are becoming the next generation of application development where the level of sophistication that we’re seeing is truly amazing.

One of the products that we market is called Sitefinity, which is a Web content management solution that is really an application development platform as well. You can build on to that platform really sophisticated technology to predict the kind of content that a prospect might be interested in looking at and you engage them. Once you’ve engaged them you obviously want to convert them so that onboarding process is really critical. That is really the next generation of application development, as more and more enterprises choose to build intelligent websites to attract and engage their customers and prospects. We’re really happy that we have such a formidable solution in that space.

Q: I definitely want to talk about your efforts to assist marketing and that intersection of marketing and IT, but first let’s discuss your goals as CEO. You took over, I think, in late 2012.

A: That’s right.

Q: Why were you brought in and what have been your goals since taking the helm?

A: I originally came to Progress as a board member, then became chairman of the board. The [strategy] was already under way, but we were replacing the current CEO at the time. We found a new CEO who left after 10 months, which of course was very disappointing. Having been involved in two other public company transformations, I put my hand up and the board selected me. This was really a matter of executing on the strategy and making sure that we didn’t lose any momentum because the market was receptive to Progress’ solutions and new direction. Employees were excited.

Q: Talk about your acquisition strategy, Phil, particularly around Modulus and Telerik. How are those companies advancing the strategy and how are you using acquisitions?

A: Progress had incredible DNA as it related to application development. The majority of that development was focused on on-premise because that was the model that everybody essentially followed when Progress began. What happened along the way is that cloud computing became a more prevalent way for solutions to be consumed. That became a very compelling value proposition for consumers (consumers being enterprises, individuals, and so on). It also gave ISVs an opportunity, with very little investment, to take advantage of this incredible power of computing from companies like Amazon, Google, Microsoft Azure, and so on. We needed to make sure that the platform we offered developers provided them with the architecture necessary to take advantage of this infrastructure. The first [acquisition we made] was Rollbase, which was a productivity platform for cloud development. By productivity I mean developers being able to develop an application really quickly and deploy it in whatever cloud they desire and on whatever device. That was an incredibly powerful acquisition for us because it positioned us really well in terms of completeness of vision and ability to execute. It enabled us to give our existing ISVs an opportunity to take advantage of cloud computing which they weren’t previously able to do.

We love Modulus. Modulus really started focusing on Node.js., which is the fastest-growing language, faster than Java. We really like that community and wanted to offer Node.js developers an opportunity to deploy their applications on our platform and not have to worry about it. [It offers] incredible scaling and a very powerful dashboard to be able to deploy those applications across the globe. Docker really gave us an opportunity to broaden the capabilities of Modulus to include other languages. Now we were able to attract a far greater number of developers as a result.

These acquisitions build on top of each other. Finally, we’re really excited about Telerik because it gave us an opportunity to attract developers who want to build beautiful applications. Giving them the tools to take an application that they’re building and really create an intuitive experience for their users is something we really wanted to add to the platform. Providing them with all the back-end tooling and deployment capabilities along with the front-end part of that gave us an opportunity to offer a platform with a comprehensive set of capabilities to allow them to build beautiful applications.

Q: Let’s talk about app modernization. How can you help your customers, whether they are ISVs or enterprises, modernize those legacy apps? As perhaps part of that, how can you ease transition to the cloud?

A: That is an area of amazing activity right now because people really do not want to rip and replace the legacy systems that have been in place for a very long period of time. They work great, but they’re not very intuitive. People need to build engaging applications that take advantage of those systems of record. There is this incredible activity going on right now where the market is using Progress’ tools -- through Telerik, through our deployment platforms -- to enable [developers] to access the data inherent in those legacy applications using all our data connectivity tools. You can externalize your business rules using Corticon. You can use the Telerik tools to make that application really intuitive and a great experience for the user. [You can] use all the data that’s built in that legacy system and expose it through these tools that we offer the developer. We are, if not the leader, very close to being the leader in data access with our data connectivity solutions. That’s a very powerful suite of solutions we can offer developers and [users].

Q: What do you see as the biggest obstacle to that modernization effort?

A: For our base of ISVs going through this, the obstacle has always been staffing -- being able to augment their folks with additional help to get through this process. In October of last year we bought a services company called BravePoint, which came with 100 incredible individuals: supertalented, very knowledgeable. We are now able to deploy a large number of people to customers who are looking to modernize and would like help with their framework design. For [enterprises], we are able to do the same thing. We have a significant number of engagements across the globe now where we’re helping our customers and others modernize using our tools.

Q: The other area I wanted to talk to you about, particularly when it comes to the enterprise, is mobile app development. Do you think that finally enterprises are coming to grips with mobile app development or are they still struggling with it?

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