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

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A: We just published a survey where we interviewed 3,000 individuals across various roles from the C-suite down. It’s amazing that about 57 percent of developers have yet to build a mobile app, which means that a lot of mobile app development is by third parties for enterprises rather than their own folks building for the enterprise. There’s a long way to go. There’s been almost a services approach to this. Part of that is because it hasn’t been very easy. There really hasn’t been a complete and structured environment for them to build on until we released the Telerik platform, which made it really easy for somebody to build a powerful mobile app as if it’s native. We did that by releasing a product called NativeScript and we contributed it to open source. It’s been incredibly successful. NativeScript allows a developer to build a native mobile app using JavaScript. If they’re a JavaScript programmer they don’t have to move away from what they know. We’ve partnered with Google, with AngularJS, and it’s been an incredibly well received piece of software in the open source community.

Q: What do you expect to see over the next couple of years with enterprises and mobile app development? Do you think you’ll see a significant shift toward taking more of that in-house?

A: I think enterprises will take on more and more of the role of building that experience because I don’t like the mobile experience from a lot of enterprises today. You have a very rich browser experience, then the mobile leaves you wanting more. You’re almost forced to go back to your desktop and fire up your browser because either the functionality is not there or the navigation is weak or the experience is poor. Enterprises that want to be noticed have to create a great mobile experience, and I think the way to do that is to build on a platform like the Telerik platform where their developers will have a great experience.

Q: I want to shift and talk about the platform-as-a-service market. I think a lot of IT leaders are learning about this. They’re trying to understand the players and the capabilities. I want to position you in that overall market. Do you see yourself competing with companies like Microsoft Azure here or are you in a more specific niche?

A: The way we’ve positioned ourselves is in the application-platform-as-a-service rather than the pure PaaS market. We’re enabling developers to build an application on our platform, using our tools, then deploy that application using our platform, Microsoft Azure if they want, or on Google or Amazon. I talked earlier about the freedom of choice. This enables developers to build an application on our platform and not have to worry about where they deploy it. That’s the difference.

Q: Why wouldn’t they build in Azure or another platform if they’re planning on hosting there anyway?

A: There is no reason. If they want to take advantage of the Microsoft ecosystem or Salesforce or others that want you to stay in their stack, that’s the choice they make. But if they want to deploy in any of those ecosystems and not limit themselves to one particular vendor, then Progress is a natural choice.

Q: What are the unique things you bring to bear with your APaaS that aren’t available in other offerings?

A: We offer developers the opportunity to develop their application using the Rollbase productivity solution I mentioned earlier. Rollbase enables you to build a sophisticated application using JavaScript and, depending on the sophistication of the application, we will provide approximately 60 percent of the code prebuilt. Basically that code for every application is almost the same thing. Every application requires a certain amount of foundation to be built on. Now the balance of that unwritten code you’re developing specifically to solve whatever the problem is in that vertical [application]. Other platforms do not offer that. They’ve taken the approach that it’s all about control languages, so they will offer Java, they’ll offer pure JavaScript with a blank sheet of paper, or they’ll offer Ruby, PHP, or Python. Developers that prefer to develop with full control obviously will build in that environment. For those developers that would like to get to market more quickly, particularly those enterprises that have a pressing business problem they need to solve and/or if they want to prototype something, they can build it really quickly, test it in the marketplace, then develop from there because they realize it actually works. That’s a huge advantage for building on our APaaS.

Q: We’re seeing a lot of change in the development market and a very different approach to development by emerging companies versus enterprises or older line ISVs. How are you attracting these emerging companies and the next generation of developers to your platform and tools?

A: The amazing thing about today’s environment is its community word of mouth. Developers today are seeking references from other developers. You see it all the time on the community blogs. What are you using for this? How did you do that? That word of mouth spreads to an enormous number of developers really, really quickly. I mentioned that Progress is now part of 1.7 million developers. I’m humbled by the fact that so many of those developers choose Progress because we’re offering them something that is unique and a great experience.

Q: When you look at those 1.7 million developers, how many of them or what percentage of them would you categorize as emerging companies or what we would consider as next-gen companies?

A: I think a substantial portion of them are. There’s a substantial number of those emerging companies that are taking advantage of ideas that translate really well into a mobile environment. The benefit for these folks is that they get access to this incredible computing power for very, very little money. I think that’s why there’s been this incredible proliferation of app development in a very short period of time because the amount of investment needed for relatively few numbers of people in an emerging technology company to change the world is remarkable. We’re constantly monitoring the uses of our solutions. We’re constantly monitoring the demands of those developers to see what would improve their experience, enable them to get their application to market more quickly, take away some of the burdens that they have, like the drudgery of development. One thing I will tell you is that Progress is being driven to provide the environment that creates the simplest way to solve the problem. Creating something that’s simple to use is really complex, and we’ve tried to take that complexity away and help the developer achieve their results as quickly as possible.

Q: Phil, I want to talk about products for marketers. Could you clarify what you bring to the table that’s unique for marketers and how those tools help bridge the marketing and the IT departments together so they work in sync more effectively?

A: That has been a frustration across enterprises. IT has moved to becoming more of an enabler of technologies that are being purchased by others within the enterprise as opposed to providing what they historically provided, which was either building applications specifically for a use case within the enterprise or enabling and searching for solutions that would provide some level of differentiation for the enterprise. It’s now gotten to the point where the business user is choosing the solution for themselves and asking IT to deploy it. We believe that that doesn’t create an optimal environment for the enterprise because IT feels like they’re not providing a level of service based on their capabilities, and marketing is getting involved in judging solutions which may or may not be suitable for their needs.

That brings us to Progress and Sitefinity. Sitefinity, as I mentioned, is a Web content management solution. It bridges the gap between IT and marketing so that the developer in the enterprise can customize Sitefinity to meet the needs of the marketers. Sitefinity is incredibly powerful in and of itself, but when you add the extensibility of the platform to that power, it creates a new dimension for enterprises that they cannot get from any other solution. It’s very exciting to see this. The majority of the business that we’re getting in that space is coming from the developers in the enterprise, not from marketing, because marketing doesn’t necessarily look at Progress as a solution that they would normally adopt. It’s very exciting that those developers within the organization are recommending to marketers that before they make a decision on a solution that’s as important now as an intelligent website or, as I believe, the next generation of application development, they should really look at Sitefinity.

Q: Talk about the BI and analytics space. What are you doing to help people not only build the applications but glean more intelligence out of the applications and the associated data?

A: A BI tool is only as good as your access to data. When you get access to data there are a whole host of things necessary to give the subsequent reports the validity they need in order for people to make decisions. The biggest part of that for us is data connectivity. We’re really focused on having the widest possible number of data sources that the BI tools can get access to. We are partners with Tableau and Qlik and a large number of other BI players, as well as being able to offer significant access to Salesforce, IBM, SAP, and Microsoft and with [access to] unstructured data, with mobile data. Everybody is looking for a way to connect to each of these data sources, so whether it’s a BI tool or whether it’s a mobile app or whether it’s an on-premise app trying to get access to a cloud app, we’re really in the middle of that data connectivity.

Q: Do you provide any analytics tools?

A: We do for our OpenEdge base because a lot of ISVs wanted an embedded tool for their OpenEdge applications. We partnered with Logi Analytics to do that. The BI space is well served by some great companies and Logi Analytics is one of those and so we partnered with them to embed their analytics capabilities within our OpenEdge Platform to make it a really seamless offering for our OpenEdge ISVs and our direct end-users.

Q: With all the different products that you bring together, who do you view as your core competitors in winning over the hearts and minds of developers?

A: For the developer that wants the freedom to be able to deploy their application on any device and in any cloud, we’re competing with everybody that does not offer that. If they prefer to be in someone else’s ecosystem and be tied to that, then clearly they make that decision. For competition across the suite of solutions, it depends on the market as to who the competitor is. Today it’s not just a question of whether we’re competing with this vendor or that vendor, we’re also partnering with them too. It’s become a very collaborative environment as well as a competitive environment. Depending on what market we’re playing in there will be a completely different set of competitors in those markets.

Q: What’s on the road map for Progress? Over the next year or two, what are some of the key pieces you want to fill in?

A: I think about the area of Web design and the complexities associated with building out predictive analytics and the incredible number of data sources that wrap around that kind of platform. This digital transformation of enterprises is fascinating for us because so many of the components of that digital transformation we have as part of our solution suite. We’ll take advantage of this incredible movement in that area because it takes advantage of so many of our tools and suite of solutions. Mobile is going to continue to grow exponentially, and I think a lot more enterprises are now going to seek a platform like ours to build mobile apps on. Lastly, I think we’re beginning to see this incredible connectivity of everything out there. The fact that you will get into your car now and it will sync up with your phone and give you everything that is on your smartphone as part of your vehicle, just shows the power today of a connected universe. We want to be not only the destination of choice for developers building apps in this connected universe; we also want to be the vendor that is helping them connect. Those two aspects: the data aspect and the application development aspect, are key areas for Progress for the future.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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