Flash Back at the Ramp of a New Era in App Development
For this blog, I think an introduction is in order, as you will definitely see more contributions from me on the Mendix blog.
My name is Hans de Visser and I recently joined Mendix in the marketing team for Product Marketing. I am based in The Netherlands and as you may know we have our office in the center of Rotterdam, with a superb view on the river De Maas.
Here’s where the title of this blog comes to play. Exactly 20 years ago, my career started at a company now called Atos, who had an office less than 1 kilometer away from the Mendix office.
- I was about to graduate from university when I was hired to become an SAP consultant. The timing was perfect. SAP had just launched R/3, the client-server based version of its flagship ERP product and the market was booming. Youngsters like me got assignments to familiarize with the SAP platform before we were put on billable projects. I was tasked with managing the internal SAP system for development, test and training purposes. In order to perform my job, I needed a crash course in Linux and database administration. I trained myself on a couple of ERP modules, as I would be covering Finance and Controlling as well as Materials Management.
My manager was wise enough to still send me to the formal SAP training so that I could get first hand advice from the experts on how to configure the “beast.” I became ERP literate and actually quite proficient rapidly in configuring all the parameters and the master data to get to a properly working “vanilla” SAP system.
In my innocence, I believed that we could implement ERP pretty rapidly. The customer just had to adopt their business processes to follow ERP’s best practices. Not true.
The brutal reality was that I could only get commodity processes to work at reasonable speed and there it stopped. I have been deeply involved in some character-building fixed-time and fixed-price ERP implementations, and I only survived because I developed another skill: writing proper functional designs to cater for change requests. We worked shoulder to shoulder with a team of ABAP developers to make ERP behave like how the business really worked.
I won’t forget the cynic comment from one of my customer’s IT manager who was disillusioned that he could only get custom built reports(!) for the price of a “nice Mercedes Benz.”
- As part of the onboarding process at Mendix, I got access to the Mendix Launchpad, a mobile style portal to access applications built on our platform. We use Mendix Apps ourselves for a variety of business functions in HR, Finance, IT, Sales, Marketing, R&D and Support.
What’s interesting is that Launchpad is connected to the Mendix App Store that runs in the cloud, where I can see what Apps may be relevant and interesting for me as well, both from the (internal) corporate and public sections of the store.
What really intrigued me though was another App called Dev Portal. It leads me to the development environment of Mendix, where people from the business and IT collaborate to build apps blazingly fast.
The essence of the experience that the Mendix App Platform offers for business analysts, developers, and administrators is that the underlying technologies to build and deploy apps are completely abstracted. The focus is on building app by means of graphical modeling.
I don’t need to bother about infrastructure and availability of resources. I don’t need to configure a database to store my application data. I don’t need to code to express logic or craft UIs. I don’t even need to think about how an app gets deployed and staged to production.
I am just modeling. In Mendix, the model is the application. Deployment is literally built in.
A Springboard into the Enterprise App Era.
So, how is this relevant in the world of ERP that I originally came from?
During my “first” 20 years in IT, the technology landscape has dramatically changed. And not just technology. The ubiquitous presence of the Internet, the rapid proliferation of smartphones and tablets, the massive adoption of social media and the myriad of apps and services offered in the cloud fundamentally changed consumer behavior and expectations.
This impacts the way in which companies should engage with customers and partners. It impacts the way in which companies empower their workforce to respond to rapidly changing business needs. It forces enterprises to transform their business operations.
We’re at the ramp of a new era in IT to fuel the Digital Enterprise.
Companies need to re-think their application strategies. Obviously, the backbones haven’t disappeared. They’re still there and for good reasons. We simply need transaction engines to administer what’s going in the enterprise and across the supply chain. So they serve their purpose. No one would argue though that they’re giving any competitive edge.
Competitive advantage comes from processes and practices supported by applications that are designed to engage customers and empower the workforce. Applications that live on mobile devices and leverage all sorts of services to create a unique user experience. And yes, they need to be seamlessly connected to the transaction backbones, often multiple ones at the same time.
We need a platform as a springboard into the Enterprise App era.
Gartner nicely describes the challenges associated with this new style of “systems of differentiation and innovation” by introducing the concept of pace-layering. Different styles of applications should be going through different paces of accommodating change.
High productivity platforms, provided as a service in the cloud, like Mendix are essential enablers of a pace-layered application strategy.
What excites me in the Mendix proposition is that the platform fosters true collaboration between business and IT. The ease of development in the model driven paradigm and single-click deployment allows for highly iterative “test & release” app delivery cycles.
Today, I can build a full-blown application that is tailored to the needs of the business in the same amount of time it took me earlier to configure some commodity processes in ERP.
Good to see this type of innovation coming from my former hometown!
I’ll be writing more about this new style of applications and use examples from our customer base that hopefully will inspire you.