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Application Development

OutSystems Dev Platform Promises Karma for IT and Business

It’s often said that every relationship needs trust, commitment and open channels of communication. But let’s face it, the relationship between IT and the business has often been one of mistrust, opportunism, mutual misunderstanding and general dysfunction.

OutSystems is a Portuguese company that is trying to bring harmony from that world of strife via a visual platform for building enterprise web and mobile apps. It provides a choice of stacks and languages together with model-driven code generation, reusable components and tools that track dependencies and impact analysis. Buyers pay annual subscriptions based on criteria such as volume of objects or number of logged-in users.

“It’s not that IT is full of dumb people, it’s the fundamental nature of software development [that causes fissures between IT and the rest of the business],” says CEO Paulo Rosado when we meet in his company’s London offices.

Projects are agreed on but they creep and “the next change becomes more difficult” because of the knock-on dependencies and rethinking needed.

Rosado describes OutSystems as providing “a platform for fast, robust change, leading to disruption in the way IT answers to business.” The business is never going to stop going back to IT with new requests once a project has commenced, he argues, and that back-and-forth process can only be supported with a platform that supports iterative development rather than fighting against it.

But, I ask, isn’t this approach a head-in-the-sand approach that bows down before bad processes? Rosado thinks not because, even in an organisation that has a strong IT-business relationship, change occurs.

“An executive is asked to create a scope document that’s very difficult for any human being: you’re asking them to predict the future. When the business changes its mind it’s because there’s a trial-and-error process. But now you have the technology for more iterative processes. Whenever you have a situation where IT can come back and say ‘yes, we can do it’ instead of just saying ‘no’, there’s a shift in trust level. In user testing you can get the user experience right ahead of the projected cycle so if an app has a high rate of adoption there’s a lot of positive karma. It’s an amazing discovery.”

But won’t the cloud automatically address a lot of the problems here by providing limited configurability? For Rosado, software as a service is “now best practice” but he insists that customisation of, say, SAP systems will go on for years and decades. Also, cloud is fostering a new issue: Shadow IT, where business departments do their own thing by purchasing without involving IT, leading to potential trouble further down the road.

Rosado see OutSystems as a way to clean up the backlog of change requests and create a better modus operandi. The platform cuts time and number of people needed and Rosado reckons that 20 months projects can be reduced to 5 months and a team of 30 reduced to 10. It’s a proposition that has seen the company pick up 300 customers in 22 countries with momentum building in Brazil, APAC and the US. R&D is centred in Lisbon.

He says his case is helped by the general trend towards Agile development.

“With Agile processes you suddenly get the business being more reasonable and 90 per cent of all projects we see today are agile and iterative.”

Customers are becoming evangelists for the company.

Chris Platt, systems development manager at broadband service provider Zen Internet, is a supporter.

“Our awareness of OutSystems came from one of our senior developers at a time when we were looking at alternative ways to solve complex business problems. We had grown rapidly on a bespoke base of software that was Microsoft-based and we had to keep up with the needs of the business. I was sceptical because I had come across these types of systems in the past and a lot of the time they don’t do what they say but OutSystems has disproved some of my thoughts.”

Zen now uses OutSystems across its development processes and although the platform is no panacea (he’d like better integration with web services, for example) Platt is impressed.

“We’re still learning one year in, but there’s a good feel about the company. They’re exciting, friendly, open … there’s no hard sell or anything bureaucratic. It’s a partnership.”

What next? Rosado says that at some point the platform will be available on Amazon Web Services and/or Windows Azure.

“We’re ramping up and there’s real demand.  It’s a great ride, there’s nothing compelling us to change the plans of the company and we’re generating great cash.”

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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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