Implementing Productivity Platforms:
Forrester’s 8 Questions for Success

 

 

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Presenters      
John Rymer John Rymer
VP, Principal Analyst at Forrester
Fernando Almeida Fernando Almeida
Project Manager at SATA Airlines
       
Mike Jones Mike Jones
Chief Evangelist at OutSystems
   

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Transcription:

Mike: Thank you for joining today's webinar, "Implementing Productivity Platforms: Forrester's Eight Questions for Success." I'm Mike Jones, Chief Evangelist at OutSystems and your host. Over the next 35 or 40 minutes, what we'd like to do is explore some key questions that industry analyst firm Forrester is receiving from their customers who are interested in implementing a new generation of application development platforms which Forrester refers to as the new productivity platforms. Joining me today is Forrester's principal analyst, John Rymer. Welcome John.

John: Thanks Mike, great to be with you.

Mike: My pleasure. So guys, to set the stage what I want to do is kick it off by asking a few questions of John about what sort of prompted Forrester to do the initial research into the new productivity platforms. John?

John: Quite frankly, Mike, it was the recognition. We have lots of conversations with clients every day and so many of those conversations involved big pains in delivering applications. Basically, application development delivery groups, they just could not deliver fast enough. This has always been a problem, because the demand for new software is just insatiable, but it had reached a point where it was so many organizations and so much pain. So we started to look out. We started to look for the range of solutions that existed out there that clients might adopt to solve this problem. To essentially make leaps and gains in their productivity. You've put up a slide that illustrates the kind of pain points we were seeing. This is actually from a survey that we did way back when that helped to fuel this research and it was one data point out of many, many data points that illustrated the problem.

Mike: So John I guess it's fair to say that there are a lot of organizations who struggle to keep up with demand and got growing back logs and they're looking for new ways to deliver application functionality in a nutshell.

John: Yep. Well said.

Mike: From that perspective, obviously it led to the research you guys did where you talked about this new generation of delivery platforms and I thought it'd be a valuable, as part of setting the stage is just to recap from the research what the general findings were. So here's a slide that came straight out of some of your prior content, John.

John: Right and this slide, Mike was meant to define what we meant by new productivity platforms. We began to look at solutions to recommend to clients. We encountered a very large number of what we came to call new productivity platforms. It's pretty remarkable actually, the number of companies that are out there trying to solve this problem. So what we needed to do was to really identify for our clients. What was really different? What set these products apart? There are other proposed solutions to the problem. This is how we netted it out. It's a set of principals and goals that all of these products we have identified share and they absolutely pursue them in different ways, but they share these same goals and this has stood up over the last two years pretty well as a definition.

Mike: This research was probably back in November of 2011, so what's changed in the last 15 or 16 months?

John: A lot has changed. When I first published this research Mike, I was a little worried, because I didn't get a lot of feedback, initially. I think I was a little bit early in identifying this space, but in the intervening months since that report was published. I began to get a steady drum beat of questions from clients about these products and the questions are breaking just about the way I predicted they would. It's all about producing more software more quickly. It's all about responding much more quickly not only to deliver initial products and projects, but to deliver changes. It's become very serious. It's become what I consider to be a hot topic. Some other changes that I have observed that I think are important here, one is that part of what's going on here, part of what's driving interest in these products is the arrival of new buyers and new decision makers in the software development life cycle. Particularly in marketing, but not strictly. Sometimes it's sales, sometimes it's operations. But these are business buyers. I call them buyers because they control the budgets. They are the ones who are drive and demand for these applications and they're operating on ridiculous timelines, just such short timelines. So in order to respond to their needs software professionals really have to rethink the way we're doing our work. These buyers are also driving what I think is a whole new generation of applications. Geoffrey Moore who's well known for his books about software and the computer industry, including "Crossing the Chasm". He characterized these systems very well. He calls them systems of engagement. So systems of engagement use the information that's stored in systems of record to support a conversation with a customer or a call center agent, or maybe gate personnel in the case of an airline. I'm sure Fernando will talk to us about that later. This is a whole new generation of systems. This is a whole new generation of spending and they really move a lot faster. The requirements move a lot faster.

Mike: So John, let me just ping on that a little bit. There's this wave of new applications which you're referring to as systems of engagement or I guess Geoffrey Moore coined the term and the reality is that they change and evolve at a much more rapid pace than a traditional what we call system of record.

John: Exactly and we've been in conversations with clients where we were advising them that in this world they need two life cycles. There's a life cycle for system of record that's all about integrity and you actually try to slow down change, because change is the enemy of integrity. It challenges integrity. The systems of engagement, you need a different life cycle that's optimized for speed of delivery and rapid management of change. We call it a second life cycle.

Mike: Okay.

John: They're really different, but you need both.

Mike: Do you position this concept in new productivity platforms as supporting the faster changing life cycle or does it really matter?

John: Usually when these products are adopted, it is for the fast changing life cycle, but one of the questions that I think people need to ask is, can they actually start to use these products for their systems of record as well? In many cases in fact they can.

Mike: So John, that is a good set up to the real gist of the conversation today and that is to take the primary questions that you've been getting asked by people interested in these productivity platforms and then let's bounce them off one of OutSystems customer's who's gone through the process. Before we go there, I thought it'd be interesting to have you talk a little bit about this slide and what you think is driving this general set of questions.

John: This slide is apropos to your last point, Mike, which is if you're a software development delivery organization and you're going to adopt any platform. You need to use that platform very intensively to get the full economic benefit from it. You're going to be investing in talent to use the platform. You're going to be investing in conventions and frameworks around that platform. A platform is a long-term investment. So what you want to do is select a platform that's going to allow you to do as many projects as possible. Platforms that are limited to one type of project, the payoff is not great over a long period of time. That's what I try to convey in this slide is when you go looking at new productivity platforms, look for a product that's going to allow you to do a whole range of products and obviously convey here the importance of change management and life cycle management, because so much of the pain in software delivery is managing very rapid change management processes and life cycles that are very, very short. The upgrades and the changes are so rapid.

Mike: All right. Let me shift gears a little bit and let me introduce Fernando Almeida. Fernando is a project manager with SATA Airlines. Fernando, are you on the line now?

Fernando: Yes, I am Mike.

Mike: All right. Welcome. So Fernando, I thought it'd be appropriate for the audience for you just to quickly give a little background into SATA and your IT organization there. I know we got a couple of slides here.

Fernando: First of all let me just thank you both for the invitation. It's a pleasure to be with you sharing your experience. SATA Airlines is the original company from Azores. We fly currently a fleet with 14 planes and we do have regular operations both to Europe and North America. We face the challenge of any airline. Our first competitor is ten times bigger than us. And to address that, one of the decisions of our board was to incorporate innovation as a corporate value. To put these in reality, in our days is mandatory to create in a very innovative solution and information systems ability is a must. A few samples of that that we can share with you are our current website. It's using OutSystems platforms for defining all the rules that are managing the booking process. Which routes are available in each period with the blackout period. So all the configuration that allows the website to offer the travel options is using a solution in OutSystems Platform. Another good sample you can see in the next slide, being a rational company, we also have the responsibility to manage some of the regional airport. The Azores is nine islands and in five of them we are managing the airport and we had the challenge to create our own solution to manage our airport. A good sample of how we innovate, was the recreation of our own on board sales application for the management and control of what is sold. These are only three samples of how innovation is helping.

Mike: With that said, what I want to do is turn the floor over to John and Fernando and let's go through the questions, John that are the most prevalent ones you've been getting asked and you'd like to have insight into. So John it's over to you.

John: Thanks Mike and Fernando, thank you for sharing your experiences with us from the outside. That's very generous of you.

Fernando: You're welcome.

John: So the first question is always why. You're considering a new platform. It's not conventional coding. So why would you adopt this product? You've mentioned innovation. I suspect that probably has something to do with why you selected a product like OutSystems.

Fernando: So just resuming the context and providing the answer. As I told you, even though we are a small airline, we have to compete with the bigger. The airline environment is very dynamic, demanding for constant innovation and putting pressure on us. Our challenge like most IT organizations is that we have people from different backgrounds and we also have a limit of number of resources available. So we chose OutSystems, because we found that it provide us with ability to build new applications faster and use people that arrived from different skills to create a team that can work in new solutions. That's the major reason.

John: So building new applications was very important Fernando. You mentioned that you built a custom airport management application. I want to check that, because this is one of the characteristics that I've seen in organizations that are adopting new productivity platforms is they have a need to build a lot of software in a hurry and it sounds like you were in that same situation.

Fernando: We were in that scenario because by the time our provider just decided to change our solution and they gave us just a few weeks to make a decision and our decision after studying the challenges and studying the platform was we can do a much better solution as we know the business rules and we know the systems that need to be integrated. If we have a good supporting tool and that's what it takes for that project.

John: When you proposed to adopt OutSystems, did you encounter any skepticism? By that I mean we oftentimes see people who will come forward and say well it looks great. It will probably good for simple applications, but it probably won't be good for the complex applications. We've seen this before. This is just fourth generation languages all over again and I'm very skeptical about this. I wonder if you encountered any of that and if you did how did you respond?

Fernando: We had a few comments like that. Not that much. What we did and I can get back on that later, the choosing of the platform was the final step of the strategic process for us. So we started a recruitment process where we looked at several options and several providers. With OutSystems we made some serious questions and asked them to show if these concerns could be addressed and they were. We didn't face major resistance, but we work to address that resistance since the beginning.

John: It sounds like you did proofs of concepts and you actually looked very deeply at the product and how it would function.

Fernando: That's correct. John: So we go to the next questions, Mike?

Mike: Okay.

John: I wonder if you have other application development platforms? Many organizations do. They have legacy applications that they might have in COBOL or maybe they're using Java. Did you have other platforms that you were using that you had to accommodate in your overall strategy without OutSystems?

Fernando: Yes, we did. We also faced that challenge. We have COBOL legacy applications. We have some Java- based applications. We have some PHP applications, but we look at the Agile Platform as a compliment with the other developmental in our portfolio. We use it to create new applications and a lot to integrate between applications. We have a good case study on that like integrating SAP with SharePoint using OutSystems. But to answer: it is not allowed. It's a compliment to the other tools in our environment.

John: It sounds like OutSystems plays a certain role in your strategy. You mentioned new applications and each one of the examples I suppose would be the airport management application. Then integration. You're pulling information out of your COBOL application or you mentioned SAP and presenting it through a website. Is that what you mean?

Fernando: Yes. We have a huge employee portal. Airlines have the challenge of having the work force everywhere that need to get in contact with the company for several reasons. We have used OutSystems published to update information that is in our SAP environment, but that is exposed in our employee portal that is the share point based portal.

John: I wonder if there are limits that you've discovered with OutSystems. One of the questions I always get is, is the product only good for certain kinds of applications, but not good for others? And is the product only good for small scale applications or can it actually support very large applications. What have you found, Fernando?

Fernando: Until now, we have been able to use it in very different scenarios. Both back end applications, front end solutions like the sales management on board, integrating solutions like the one with SAP and SharePoint. We do use it for really small applications? For department applications like ten people using a new front end to collect from legacy systems. We also use it for all the company. Send applications like a performance review, applications that are used company wide. Until now we are able to address the challenge of both back office and front office and to scale. It's not a problem.

John: One other question, Fernando. I think the point about integration is very interesting. Why is it that you find OutSystems so useful for integration applications? What is it about OutSystems that makes it useful for those kinds of applications? Is it the work flow component? The process component?

Fernando: Without going into many details, we find it very useful in the process management situations, workflow situations, but in a technical approach, we also found that is a good option as an orchestration to connect service that are exposed from several applications. It was easier for us to look at the platform and okay, this is the tools that we can use to create an app that will allow us to put several applications communicating with each other.

John: Interesting. There certainly is a lot of demand for that kind of function. Mike, why don't we go to the next question? I'm going to put you on the spot here, Fernando. You've adopted this product. As we say, you've used it in anger and you're getting good value out of it. Why is this platform successful for you? You've mentioned some of these things like ease of use and orchestration. Net it out for the people on the phone. What are the real big advantages, here?

Fernando: I'll share with you three that we considered very important for SATA case. One is the ability to increase service level over to the business. So this platform aligns with our approach with the IT application development way of working into the organization. We believe in short development cycles. We believe in the ability for the customer to change their minds about what they are requesting. The platform really helps on this approach. We can see that this capability is increasing the service level over to the business. It was an increasing in our ability to change application. In all the environments we used our IT landscape, no doubt OutSystems is the one where changing an application and maintaining it over the time. It's easier. The third one, we have a team that is composed of people with backgrounds. Some .NET programmers, some Java programmers and legacy programmers and using OutSystems allows us to reduce the risk related to team sharing or things like vacations because now we have several applications that can be maintained, can be addressed when we request the rights for more than two or three people. These three are those that we consider most important.

John: The first one on service levels and the way that you're working to deliver systems, it sounds like you are implying that business people play a role in delivering these applications. That you communicate with them very effectively. Am I hearing that? I'm guessing that's the case.

Fernando: You are completely correct. In 2009 we moved from a classical waterfall approach to application development to an agile approach for the kind of strategic decision on the organization. And we started involving stakeholders and business users much more in our application creation.

John: When you say the last point about the talent that you're working with, it sounded like in the past it might have been that you had a developer who knew a certain language, but they couldn't work on all of your systems. They could only work on the systems that were built in that language and now your people are able to work on a whole variety of systems, because the OutSystems has become the common environment for them all to learn and to work in. Am I reading that right?

Fernando: You are reading that right. Therefore the very specific point for us making this decision because we consider that these reduce our operational risks.

John: Thank you. Mike why don't we go to the next question? I get this question a lot, Fernando from folks. They're concerned they've got existing environments as you've described you do; COBOL and .Net and Java and so forth. They're considering bringing in a new productivity platform like an OutSystems. They're concerned that their governance will become much more complex. I wonder what the situation was for you? Did you have to change your application governance at all to bring in and be successful with this new product?

Fernando: Well, John, explaining it from the beginning, it was not really OutSystems that made a change in the governance process. In 2009, we decided that we need to create even more alignment between IT and business and we decided that and we took three major steps. These were strategic decisions and we took three major steps. One of them was preparing our board of directors to look at the IT portfolio in an agile manner. So we introduced a job portfolio management practicing the organization. With that we also made a huge investment to understand the concept of [agile] project management so we could use it in SATA and take the benefits from that. The last of the two steps was not we need to look for a tool that helps us supporting this process. We were acting on a process and now we need the tool that aligns with this process. That's how we arrived to OutSystems. The concerns were changing the application governance and the portfolio approaches and the project manager approaches were already  in the organization.

John: That was step one wasn't it?

Fernando: That's correct.

John: You changed the governance first. It sounds like the changes you made were all in this service of the need to innovate and the need to create a lot of new software in a hurry and so you found your way to agile methods. That all makes sense. Then the question was how you're bringing in the new tool or which tool you bring in to support that method, right?

Fernando: That's it- perfect comprehension of the situation, that's it.

John: So let me just ask you another question about how you operate, because I think people are very curious about this. So you mentioned that you've used OutSystems to do integration projects. So as long as you got services exposed, you can orchestrate those and create new value. Do you coordinate the creation of those services against your back ends with the work that's going on to create the new systems in OutSystems? Is there a link there where, say the project team working in OutSystems says to the SAP team, I need these five services, please create them for me by next Tuesday. How does that work Fernando?

Fernando: Okay. I'm going to describe you a typical situation in SATA. The old board of sales application, it just arrived from the necessity to increase the control on the sales and what was being lost and what was being sold. We get this information from our commercial department and we sit together identifying what would be the minimal set of features that we need to deliver to have an application helping on this control. Then we start the team with people from the commercial, with people from the front end application and a person from SAP. What we did was, we have a story approach to planning. So we describe these three and then we plan the sequence and then we identify who needs to do what for each story. So, the approach is a little bit different, because when we need to create the team, it might not be full time in the project, but we have the presence from the people from the different areas since the beginning. So the guys that were programming the SAP interfaces, they know which stories were dependent on them and when they should make their work available. I don't tell anyone you must have this in two weeks. We just sit business people, developer and IT people in the room and then we decide who's going to do what. We share the ownership of everything.

John: You really adopted agile methods very, very intensively it sounds like. Let's go through the next set of questions quickly Fernando, because I think they're pretty straight forward and then we want to make sure that we get questions from the audience. So, again I'm going to put you on the spot. Has adopting this new environment, OutSystems actually saved your organization any money? Where has it saved the money if it has?

Fernando: Without going into too much of the details, the application that we mentioned before, the airport management application, it has a really strong business case financially supported. I cannot share with you the numbers, but in most of applications we can say there is an economic benefit that we cannot measure. It's difficult to measure, but this one we really have created an economic business case and the numbers were really good and we did save a lot of money. That's what I can tell you.

John: Great. So it sounds like you had to create a lot of software and if it took a long time it would have cost a lot more. It sounds like the time saving probably was the major reason.

Fernando: The time saving was the reason and also the ability to control what we called the minimum marketing feature for the problems. It allows us to create the problems fitting our necessities in a short time and we don't have to spend money buying something that we weren't even going to use.

John: I'm curious how you got started with OutSystems. Any product like this, there's usually some set up time. There's some training. You want to put in place some programming conventions or development conventions and frameworks. You may even need to do some training or talent development. What was that like Fernando? What did you have to do to be successful here to get started?

Fernando: John, in our experience, after we made the decision to leverage OutSystems as a development platform, we identified three actions. We identified three actions that we strongly believe were very important for the notion of this. The first one we started with a one week dedicated training for software development team. We have a very senior guy from OutSystems. A good consultant with our development team working here in SATA and we did the kind of training with real experience on the platform. It allowed us in five days, being able to create something that was useful. This is the connection to point 2. Instead of just training and later creating something, by the end of the training, we must have an application. It could be a simple one, but completely finished in the OutSystems to be delivered to the organization. The last thing we believe was important is as soon as we have something, we address the core application. That core application was the rules engine for the website. We were lucky because we have the support from the south manager that is managing our website and it was receptive to the innovation and the risk and he believed that would be possible in the future and fortunately it was. So resuming, a serious dedicated training to make the thing comfortable. Be sure you create something useful even if it is small, as soon as possible, and then just prove to the organization that these work with something that is relevant. That was our approach.

John: So it doesn't sound like there was a lot of training required, Fernando. Was the training pretty straight forward?

Fernando: What we have done is we prepared very well for the training. OutSystems provided us some recommendations. They have some online training available on the site and by that time Vasco, the person supporting us, told us: we'll get the most of my time there if first you do the online training. So we did that alone first and then we did the offsite training.

John: Let's go to the next question, Mike.

Mike: Hey guys, before we go on we have a couple different questions from the audience and one of them is specifically aligned with the learning curve. So, Fernando I know one week classroom training and pre work, taking the online training classes on outsystems.com, but I think what the guy from the audience really wants to understand is were your people really productive coming out of that one week class where you also did the little mini project or did it take some more time before they came fully autonomous? Do you have a feel for that?

Fernando: They were productive. Not as much as six months later of course, but by the end of the training they were able to create applications using the platform. What we have done to consolidate the knowledge, was for the first three or four applications I don't remember, I believe it was for the first four applications we delivered, we always have in the end of the application, as soon as you have the cutover, we asked OutSystems to come and review what they have done with us for one day. That also helps the team to consolidate what was going well and what needs to be changed, but we were able to work, creating the real solutions after the first week. Six months later, we were much better.

Mike: Last question, guys.

John: So there's lots of folks out there, Fernando, who are looking at these environments. They're figuring out how to become more innovative and so forth. What single piece of advice would you give to these folks when they're considering this kind of a platform? What's the most important thing they need to have on their minds about these platforms in order to be successful?

Fernando: Two advices and words of caution. The first advice is look at OutSystems as a strategic tool and not an end in itself. We decided to move forward, prepare the team to get most of the platform, but you make this type to support a strategic decision of being more agile. Creating capacity to address the dynamic of business uses, because it's getting higher. Another one, is try to adopt practices that are aligned with OutSystems capability. We can use OutSystems in the classical waterfall approach, but from our experience we really get lots of benefits of using the tools,short cycle approach, the find and inspect approach. We firmly believe that the process and the tools should be aligned. The words of caution are: be attentive. The good tool used the wrong way can give you lots of trouble. OutSystems does not make good software engineering practices less important.

John: So attention to design, attention to performance and so forth is that what you mean?

Fernando: Yes. The platform does not give you the free to make bad option in software design. No platform can do that for you.

John: We've all been at this for many, many years and we haven't seen a platform that can magically make those kinds of concerns go away.

Fernando: That would be wonderful.

John: No such thing. That's great advice, Fernando. Thank you.

Mike: Guys, let me interject again. There was a good follow along question to this. Some great advice, Fernando, but the follow along question was can you boil down a handful of challenges that you faced when you started adopting OutSystems? Do you have those on the top of your head?

Fernando: So Mike would you repeat, please?

Mike: What are some of the key challenges that you faced that you started to adopt the Agile Platform?

Fernando: I think the challenge was not related to the platform. To be completely honest. We were well prepared for that. Really in the beginning we decide that we were going to look for a platform, we had some comments from some of our development team questioning is this really true? Is this really a platform that can do this and that? During the procurement process all that was clarified. I believe organizations can have different challenges, in our case it was not that difficult to introduce the platform.

John: Mike I would just highlight that Fernando has described a situation that we often don't see and that the company decided early on that they were going to change their methods for delivering software and created a delivery strategy and then selected a tool. Usually it's the other way around where people are looking for a tool and then they will start to adopt practices and I know you've seen this too, Mike where then they start to evolve their practices and their governance after the fact and I think that's harder. They both involve change, which is hard. They're sort of backing into it can be difficult at times.

Fernando: John, just to share with you, both the approach, both the decision to move to the agile approach and later also the decision to use the platform. We always have first line manager support. I believe that also helped us, because we had only not our CIO supporting group, but also all the first line managers; marketing manager, commercial manager believing that this would be a good step for the company and that I believe also helped a lot.

Mike: So guys just before we wrap up I have a handful of questions that are really more specific to the platform, for example what infrastructure is needed to run this? The platform supports either a .net or a Java stack. The IDE portion is really a type of windows environment, but all this information is available on our website. I know there was a question about the different Java platforms that we support. Once again available on our website. Probably the only thing that's not there, it's been announced in press releases, but we are planning to support Oracle's WebLogic Fusion Middleware. That'll happen in May. We've already got some customers running software doing that. So that's going forward. There's other questions around disaster recovery, etc. Fernando I don't know if you have any background in what your organization from an operations perspective's doing around DR type of activities.

Fernando: I'm sorry, but I cannot help you that much.

Mike: I think it's fair to say that we've got organizations from the U.S. Army to SATA Airlines all running systems built with the product and it's working within their DR processes. If you want to learn more about that, feel free to contact us and we can certainly get someone who could talk to you in more detail. So guys, with that said that's really the extent of the questions I got from the audience. Fernando, thank you very much for sharing the SATA airlines, we really do appreciate it.

Fernando: You are welcome. It was a pleasure.

Mike: Mr. Rymer, as always thank you very much. For those of you guys listening the new productivity platform paper that John originally produced 16 months ago is available from our website. It lists about 11 or 12 different tools that fit the kits criteria. Of course the Agile Platform from OutSystems happens to be one of them. It's a very insightful document and it can give you a set of good requirements as you go look for these types of technologies. With that said, John thank you very much for your participation today as well.

John: It's a pleasure, Mike thanks for inviting me.

Mike: Thank you for joining us everyone. Have a good day.

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