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In this episode of the Zinnov Podcast – Hyper Intelligent Automation series, Pari Natarajan, CEO, Zinnov, talks to Patrick Jean, Chief Technology Officer at OutSystems about how Low Code technology is proving to be a core enabler of app software development. The conversation explores how the role of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) has changed, and how it can’t always solve for APIs in the same way that Low Code does. Low Code platforms tend to make software development accessible to any company – whatever vertical they work in.
Delving into multiple themes about the role of Low Code technology today, including the time constraints that it can address, Patrick and Pari chat about citizen developers and their ability to influence how platforms are made. Right from understanding, learning, and adapting from a community of developers, how should a platform company incorporate feedback? How does Low Code save time, and build apps without needing anyone to be a software developer? Listen to this episode to find out.
Pari: Hello everyone and welcome back to another power-packed episode of the Zinnov Podcast, the Intelligent Automation Series. I’m Pari Natarajan, CEO at Zinnov and I will be your host for this episode. We have entered an interesting phase of automation. We have started with automation of analog data, digitization, be it voice or written content. We then moved into automating the inference of the data and now we are moving into a new phase where we are automating content and workflow creation, as well as the resolution of any issues which come through the workflow. The accelerated innovation and cloud and AI has made automation a core of Enterprise Digital Transformation Strategy.
Automation would not only play a role in increasing productivity and quality, but also accelerate innovation and create an integrated experience for employees, customers, and partners. Today I’m in conversation with Patrick Jean or PJ as he is known, who is the Chief Technology Officer at OutSystems. OutSystems is a Low Code platform company in the business of developing and enabling new age citizen developers.
Patrick is an engineering evangelist and has led multiple high-stake cloud transformation initiatives at SaaS providers blending customer-focus inspired development teams on the latest technology stacks. He has previously held senior engineering roles at Citrix and Microsoft and also holds a BS in physics.
When not talking engineering culture he can be found getting beat by his kids in a video game. Welcome Patrick. It’s wonderful to have you with us today.
PJ: Pari, thank you for having me. Look forward to the conversation.
Pari: Can you tell us a bit about OutSystems and how your Low Code platform is helping companies?
PJ: We are a Low Code development platform provider, so we’re bringing the power of software innovation to basically any company that wants to use it and where software today is the common innovation mechanism for all companies, it’s difficult for a lot of companies to achieve it through traditional software development mechanisms. With Low Code and the development platform that we provide, we make it accessible to any company, all shapes, all sizes, wherever they’re at on the digital transformation timeline Low Code is accessible to them. So we look at it as basically we’re making software development accessible to the entire world.
Pari: You talked really making it available to enter a world. It’s a technology here to increase productivity of professional developers or it empowers business users to evolve into citizen developers. If it caters to both, what are some of the specific use cases that it serves for these two personas?
PJ: In many ways it does. We look at software development as an activity that anyone should be able to participate in. The term Citizen Developer is loaded, so maybe I’ll dig into that one just a little bit more.
Our position is that not everybody in the world wants to actually write software, in the sense of writing software. There’re about 30 million, what you’d consider professional developers in the world today. Basically, people that you’d go to LinkedIn, they’re a software developer in their profile. All of these could utilize our platform to be more productive. There’s no doubt about it. There are many, many other people involved in the process of software development all the way up to the user status that could also benefit from Low Code.
We think most users will participate in feedback, companies call that Citizen Developer, that’s not what we target. We target people kind of between that user that want to actually get in, do some development work. They generally have a technical leaning, all the way up through career developers who’s been doing it for 20 years.
If you think about your question, what does it benefit those different groups, a career developer, let’s just say an example of the kind of the unicorn of developers is the full stack cloud native developer. You know, they can build beautiful front-ends, they can build back-ends, they understand cloud native technologies. They have it all under control. There are very, very few of those in the world. You know, that is a difficult task.
For us, we give the power of a developer that may be, say, great at the front-end, the ability to build out a back-end, database, APIs, everything quickly, or maybe it’s a back-end developer and want to create beautiful front-ends, you know, our platform will create that front-end.
And then maybe it’s someone who really just is not a developer. Once again, they want to go create an app and in a few minutes get something in the hands of themselves, their friends whoever needs to use the application. They can do it with our platform in minutes.
That’s from a blank canvas, an idea for an app, drawing out what they want from a workflow standpoint, from what type of data they want to store as well as what the screens will look like, the input screens for the app and the visualization and then having it hosted in the cloud in minutes. And that’s extremely powerful for the users and the business.
Pari: Interesting. And every company, like you said, is becoming a software company. However, for every company to hire software engineers it’s very, very hard. The software engineers tend to work in Silicon Valley companies or they’re becoming increasingly expensive for smaller and even larger companies, more traditional companies to afford software engineers.
But with your technology coming in, will that reduce the cost of developers, you know, the salary because everybody could become a developer. How do you see that in terms of impacting the organization’s ability to hire, retain, and build great applications.
PJ: Yeah, it’s an interesting question. We definitely don’t look at it as a means to decrease the salaries of developers. However, if you flip it around and say, can you do more with the people that you have? Absolutely. So, there are different ways to be efficient. One is to reduce spend and still get the same outcome of what you have.
The other is not necessarily decrease spend, but become more productive, get more and more. And once again, for us, that’s our focus. Our focus is to let CIOs produce applications either with career developers or with technical users within business units. We have it all across the board. It can be partner driven. Partners can use it. Partners love our tool as well because they can produce applications so fast for customers. So it’s really anything and all of the above. I mean, I really look at it as the ability to generate more with what you have.
That is our focus. And that’s a drive we’ve had for many, many years. We are this interesting 20 year old startup that’s been around for a long time in this space. We really define this Low Code space. Six years ago you never heard of this concept of Low Code. I’m actually not a huge fan of the term Low Code. Because I think it doesn’t represent all the benefits of what our platform does. Especially for us, we look at it as a high performance Low Code. The ability to do really serious apps that businesses need to run on, that’s what we focus on.
Pari: Got it. You mentioned the company started 20 years ago and at that time, even recently, most companies had on-prem software, maybe some off-the-shelf ERP systems, some custom built local system which you all are running in the data centers and now you know, you have a more complex environment. Some of the products they use are SaaS. Some other existing on-prem solutions are now signing on the vendor data centers. Then you have several of the applications running in a hybrid scenario in terms of the workload spikes. In this more complex enterprise technology stack, how does Low Code fit and how is your technology OutSystems integrating with this complex back-end infrastructure?
PJ: That sounds all very complicated, doesn’t it? And it is. I mean, that’s the challenge of the CIO and basically everyone involved in bringing software in. I mean, really it’s not that hard to write. I mean, this is the interesting aspect. There are so many great tools out there, even in traditional development space.
The challenge is writing the software that business and users need and getting it in the hands of the users and doing it in a compliant way, doing it in a cost effective way, doing it in a relatively low risk way, and doing it rather, I mean, you know, those of us that have been in the industry of software development, we’ve all had failed projects where you work on it for months, quarters, sometimes years, and then it just absolutely fails to get through.
You know, that’s the absolute worst scenario, and that’s what’s given software development such a bad name. What the real focus is on is getting it into the hands of those users quickly. You know, doing it Low Code, that is really what Low Code does. It takes the risk and the complexity out of that.
And so some of the scenarios that you talk about there, which makes it even more difficult is yes, now we have to integrate with an API that’s hosted in a data center. How do I do that? I got to integrate with an API that’s hosted as far as in the cloud as well. I got to connect to a database, a specific type of database.
These are all things that we do as far as with our platform, which we call high performance, Low Code. It’s getting into our customers ecosystems and being a kind of a first class citizen in there as an app. There are many different Low Code, no-code tools out there today. Some really good companies, really good technology.
A large amount of this industry, especially on the no-code side, they simply kind of hit that wall when you deal with complexity of integrating in with the customers and environments. We do it at the API layer, we do it at the data layer, we do it at the component layer. We’ll even let you inject high code, what we call as far as traditional code within the stack if you need to do more than what we offer out of the box, you know, and so that for us is a differentiator.
Pari: Got it. One use cases where they’re building the user experience and then automating the overall workflow for customers and some of the other platforms are really a back-end platforms which integrate APIs to, it’s part of the overall automation strategy of the company when they’re looking at RPA to just digitize the initial part to translate the data. Then they’re using more tools to automate some of the workflow and then they’re building Low Code system on top of it, versus some of them are building more full application. So you see OutSystems used on both, or in certain areas is more than.
PJ: Take RPA. RPA is a good example. It really started out as the ability to automate the front-end when you couldn’t do the API automation. If you have access to robust rich APIs that you can automate systems on the back-end, without much human interaction needed, that’s extremely efficient.
The problem is not all systems have robust rich APIs that you can automate. Many times you need user interaction in those workflows. RPA basically came in and said, ‘Hey look, we don’t need to go in and update your systems. You know, build out all these APIs. As long as a human has an interface that they can connect to, we’ll take the place of that. We’ll learn, we’ll do that.’
And so significant success over the last few years in that. Where you see RPA starts to falter is then when you need to inject a beautiful experience in that automation that the user still needs to get involved with, add a new value, a new piece of data, something into that.
You’ll see RPA almost building out Low Code type solutions in there. For us, we look at it as a really a human user-centric view of automation. You know, many of our customers do that. We don’t really set automation per se, that drives us. It’s innovation. Much of that, obviously automation comes into it, but it’s very much where there’s a beautiful rich user experience that pulls that together.
Pari: Another dimension of this, especially as we are going into recession and we speak to CIOs, they’re not thinking about ROI in a very short time. And how every digital transformation initiative should give them ROI in the next three months, six months. They’re not willing to wait for one or two years. And more and more, their expectation from software vendors is, do they understand the vertical of the company? Do they speak their language? Are you starting to see variations of how your platform is more verticalized? Do you see that linkage with certain APIs which is relevant to insurance or relevant to merchandising and retail? How do you see it evolving?
PJ: Number one, CIOs should not have to wait two years to get the project done, much less to get some type of positive feedback on whether it’s going be successful or not.
That’s just wrong. So that is where Low Code really helps solve that problem. Sometimes you can start getting validated in minutes, get it out in hours. Definitely get it out the hands of end users in days. We’re not vertically driven.
So we definitely offer a platform that applies to modern business across the board. I’d say 95 plus percent of all application needs that businesses have, we can solve those needs. It would be very… there’d be some niche areas where you’d say that, Low Code doesn’t play, but it’s extremely niche areas.
An example that we have from a customer that solved the problem, say from a B2C standpoint, is Western Union. Now they’ve digitized how their customers manage their accounts and they’ve been able to use it. And we see interesting adoption in some of these industries that have been highly compliant, highly regulated. They’ve been slower to digitize just because it’s costly, it’s risky with traditional software development. They can get very quick results with our high performance, Low Code platform to go produce software fast.
Pari: Interesting. Because you mentioned you are a platform, do you also see developers or ISVs building on top of your platform and is there an opportunity to be like a marketplace for applications which could be vertical centric or a function, it could be audit to cash or customer experience, customer support function. Do you see that evolving?
PJ: Absolutely. And there’s a couple of angles to this. One is we have partners that have built into our businesses around our platform and around verticals. The other thing is we have an offering called Forge, where it’s a community-driven offering. Partners also participate in this and it can be everything from individual small components, all the way up to basically full application templates. And as a partner or even as an independent, you can go develop the solution on OutSystems on our platform, publish it up through the Forge. Basically transact that way as far as how you engage with your customers. So we generally leave that to our partners, is to go into the vertical space. We see that very successful for us.
Pari: Also you mentioned about 630,000 developers in your community. How does that community play a role in adoption of OutSystems more broadly across customers?
PJ: Yeah, I mean, we have a very strong developer community that’s very devoted to what we do. I mean, we get feedback from the developer community. We have MVPs that we listen to very closely. Partners drive a significant amount of input to what we do. So that developer community in Forge that I mentioned has a very good interaction there as far as driving content on top of our platform itself. We are absolutely a developer focused company. We listen to developers and get a lot of great feedback from them.
Pari: How far are we when pretty much everyone can code?
PJ: I don’t think everybody needs to code. See, that’s the difference where if you, if you kind of go deep and think about this, software development is like you’re layering these paradigms.
So if you’re a developer, you have to think about what you’re trying to solve or the opportunity, and then you translate that to an application. That’s a paradigm. You’re creating a model of what that would be. Instead of just saying, I want to solve this problem… I’m a worker in a factory and I have a logistics issue and I need to solve this. That’s where natural language, frankly, I think when you can describe the opportunity, describe the problem, and then generate an application. Because I don’t think you need to be a developer. You actually want to solve a problem. And we’ve only created developers because of the complexity around technology where we force people to do it.
A little bit of an analogy. Do we think every automobile owner needs to be a mechanic? No, we don’t. If you even think about automobiles, realistically automobiles is just a means to an end to transport me from A to B.
That’s what I want to do with an automobile. Now you could add in that I love to drive and maybe the experience of driving, which is actually a good analogy for software development as well. But I think that what we’re solving, is bringing innovation to companies. Now you do that with software development, but you don’t all have to be, quote unquote, the old school developer to do it. So I really think that’s the key difference, and that’s the journey that we’re on.
Pari: Interesting. So business users should be able to describe what they need to get solved and like… in the future, in a self-driving car, you can enter the address and it’s going to magically take you there. Similarly, you’re able to describe what you need and then it’s going to develop that role for you.
PJ: That’s the trajectory I think everything is really on to that point. And if we go down that path, I think there’s going to be good success.
Pari: Thanks, PJ. It was great having the conversation. Thank you all the audience. Until next time, goodbye.