Mendix World 2014: CEO Says Every Company Is a Software Company

The historic gap between IT and the rest of the business is no longer a mere source of frustration; it’s become a major business issue of our time that will ultimately determine whether an organization will prosper in the coming digital age versus becoming obsolete almost instantly overnight.

Speaking at the Mendix World 2014 conference today, Mendix co-founder and CEO Derek Roos says that no matter what the industry, every company today needs think and act like a software company to succeed.

To accomplish that goal, Roos says organizations need to unleash the creative potential of their workforces by giving them access to visual tools that will enable them to dynamically design and create applications in collaboration with IT. Rather than continuing to view IT as a separate department within the business, Roos says IT needs to become an integral part of the business process.

“Something bigger than all of us is now happening in the market,” says Roos. “We need to turn every IT department into an innovation department.”

To that end, Mendix is launching today the Mendix AppCloud to provide a centralized cloud service through which organizations can collaboratively design, develop, share and even sell applications.

Roos says the end goal of embracing rapid application development (RAD) frameworks built on top of a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) environment should be to create stronger relationships with customers, get to market faster and ultimately provide a better customer experience.

“We need to make application development a combined effort,” says Roos. “In some ways the problem we are trying to solve is 20 to 30 years old.”

Instead of getting caught up in platform debates, Roos says organizations need access to cloud platforms that allow them start with the customer experience they are trying to enable rather than worrying whether to deliver that experience, for example, via the Web or mobile computing device.

It shouldn’t matter where people access data,” says Roos. “We should be able to deliver the custom experience automatically.”

David Norton, an industry analyst for Gartner, says the primary factors driving the need for a more polyglot approach to application development is the simple fact that cloud computing, social networking, easier access to information and mobile computing are combining to create a nexus of forces that transform the way applications need to be developed. Methodologies that rely on “Big Bang delivery” of an application over an extended period of time, says Norton, simply don’t work.

Instead, Norton says organizations need to embrace the “citizen developer” in a way that doesn’t sacrifice order and governance.

“We don’t want the Wild West and we still need governance,” says Norton. “But you can’t stop the gifted amateur.”

Norton says the new reality is that it’s more likely that the application created by those gifted amateurs will wind as a service that differentiates the business, usually because the gifted amateur is closer to the business than the IT department.

“There’s nothing as permanent as a temporary solution,” says Norton. “The combination of PaaS, agile development and these citizen developers is now creating a fantastic opportunity for businesses.”

PierrePierre Hessler, a Capgemini Fellow who also spoke at Mendix World, says that businesses confronted with competition on all sides definitely need to embrace new ways of developing applications or face extinction.

“Today competition comes from everywhere,” says Hessler. “There are no sector borders.”

To cope with that new reality, Hessler says organizations need to quickly evolve into digital businesses that can more flexibly adapt to changing business conditions. Becoming a digital business, however, requires embracing fundamental transformation on a massive scale. While achieving that goal will be difficult, Hessler says the rise of the digital savvy customer means the need for radical change has become a business survival imperative.

The difference between those organizations that succeed and fail will come down to those organizations that can finally bridge the historic divide between IT and the business once and for all time.

“There shouldn’t be this notion there is a business and a technology side,” says Hessler. “Technology has always followed business, sometimes slowly. Technology and business now enable each other.”