Mendix CTO on a friendlier IT department in transition

Johan den Haan, CTO Mendix discusses the future of the IT department, IoT and machine learning

“What I’m really proud about,” says Johan den Haan, CTO of Mendix, when I meet him in the London office, “is feedback I get from clients” that ‘the business’ can no longer keep up with their IT department. This turns the whole idea that the IT department is a stumbling block for development right on its head.

Mendix takes a model driven approach to application development – this means it makes it much quicker and easier to build enterprise applications – and as a result aims to bridge the disconnect between the business and the IT department. To facilitate this in its latest release [version 7] it allows less tech savvy professionals to pop into the system via a mobile app and experiment with visual changes in a semi-live environment which can then be properly integrated later.

It’s strange, says den Haan, that people talk about ‘IT and the business’ as if they’re totally separate entities. “People don’t talk about ‘HR and the business’ or ‘Sales and the business’ they just talk about HR and Sales.”

den Haan has been with Mendix for 11 years, he joined about two months after the company was founded. Back then “the market wasn’t ready,” he says. In the interim the company has progressed rapidly and at the end of the US financial year announced a 124% year-over-year North American growth and “surge in adoption by enterprises”.

The people who use the platform are a blend of tech savvy business people and professional developers, explains den Haan. Yet he is keen to stress “we want professional developers to feel at home”. The aim isn’t to do coders out of a job. The idea is to enable business focused individuals and more technical professionals to work together, instead of holding each other back.

den Haan believes this can particularly come into its own in the Internet of Things. Everything is getting an API, he says. “I don’t see it [IoT] as hype” it has been brewing for some time. Now the tech is there to make it happen. Many of his clients are aware about it, are looking into it, but still don’t quite know how to make it happen. This seems to be a common problem everywhere.

Around 2% of Mendix customers [about 10 in 500] are actually doing something with IoT, den Haan clarifies, while somewhere in the region of 50% are actively looking into it.

Ultimately den Haan wants people to think about IoT differently: “It is not about the connections, sensors or even the data – it is about the experience you can deliver.”

In other words companies need to be able to easily experiment with creating experiences around connected devices rather than getting bogged down in the technical details. This means they need to be able to build something quickly, which might translate to either a consumer benefit or a new company product. Then scrap it quickly if it doesn’t work and move onto the next idea.

So, do organisations need a Chief IoT Officer to help make this happen? “No,” says den Haan quite categorically. “This makes it [IoT] a specific function. I would have an innovations function that has the budget to try things. Otherwise the Chief IoT Officer becomes legacy very quickly.”

But what will all these changes mean for the future of IT department? “It will cease to exist [as a separate entity],” he says. In the new startups you already start to see this. There is no 'IT and the business' in the latest wave of cloud companies.  

Yet naturally enough the roles within IT are clearly due to change. With the rise of IoT enabled smart apps – which are intelligent, context aware and proactive based on machine learning techniques – there will be a further shift in technical skill sets.

“In five years the computer scientists will not be programming anymore,” he says They will be using machine learning instead.


Also read:
Do organisations really need a ‘Chief IoT Officer’?
Mendix seeks fix for business/IT development disconnect
OutSystems dev platform promises karma for IT and business
AWS’s Vogels offers IT pain relief with Everything Platform