Progress Software for developers: A Q&A with CEO Phil Pead

Any company can get blindsided by shifts in tech – but for a company with 30 years’ experience helping other companies build applications, getting its partners to avoid that fate is vital.

Progress Software Corp. held its partner conference this week, and in Tuesday’s keynote, the Bedford, Mass.-based company urged its partners to try to update their systems to keep up with changes in tech.

Phil Pead, president and CEO of Progress Software Corp. (Image: Progress Software).
Phil Pead, president and CEO of Progress Software Corp. (Image: Progress Software).

Phil Pead, president and CEO of Progress, spoke to about the company’s strategy and direction, explaining why he feels the company is well-placed in getting its partners interested in getting up to date – and in attracting new developers to its platform.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity. We heard a lot today about modernization and why that’s important for companies in tech. Why do you think it’s so hard for companies to do that?

Phil Pead: I don’t know that it’s hard. It depends on where they are in the time scale of their application, and it depends what competition they’re facing in their particular markets. If you look at the profile of our customers, they’ve built fantastic transaction systems in manufacturing, distribution, insurance, healthcare.

And these systems of record have been built on the OpenEdge platform. Now, of course we’ve moved from there to these systems of engagement where people want to interact with the data that’s in these systems of record, and enabling our partners and direct end users to take advantage of the systems of engagement – they have to really modernize their applications.

So it’s not that they’re reluctant to do it, it’s that there are different aspects of it. For example, for a direct end user to upgrade to the latest versions of OpenEdge is a relatively minor matter. They’ve basically got to accept the new versions of software and then they begin their process of building whatever it is they want to build on the new version.

For our partners, remember, they built a product and they then resold that product to their direct customers and therefore, if they upgrade their software, they have to get all their users to upgrade their software too. So they have to be sensitive to the situations of all their customers … It’s not reluctance, it just takes time.


ITB: What do you mean by modernization, exactly? How do you define it?

Pead: Yeah, a variety of things. Probably the biggest one is to take an application that looks very text-based and use a much more modern user interface, so essentially taking the text-based system and creating a web front end. So the extraction of the data remains the same, but the way you present the data layer in a new user interface is key. So you’d take a browser and use that as your platform to display on a laptop, and expose the data that’s in your systems of record using a much more intuitive user experience.

Also, then, going one step further and saying, let’s take that data that’s stored in our in-house systems and display it on a mobile device … Those two, creating a browser-based user experience and a mobile-based user experience, is what we’re referring to as modernization.

And the cool thing is, if you think about it for a second, for developers to develop an application that runs both in a browser and on a mobile device, they have to do it twice because both of those form factors are different. With [Progress product] Rollbase Mobile, they can actually build it once and deploy it in either environment … and it saves an enormous amount of time and effort.


ITB: The main language for OpenEdge is Advanced Business Language, or ABL, but it’s not super common. How are you convincing developers this is a language they should be using?

Pead: So we thought about that a lot. How do we get more and more people to use ABL? One of the ways we believe that is becoming the most productive way to do it right now is when you come to the Pacific or Modulus platforms, you have the opportunity to code in Javascript. And while you’re coding in Javascript – so let’s say you’re using Rollbase, which is based on Javascript – you can actually generate ABL code.

So now you’ve got a Javascript programmer and a Java programmer, looking at the ABL code. And they get interested in ABL because they see it as a very elegant, highly efficient language that adds to their control so they can build even more complex applications using ABL.
But if I went to them and said, I want you to learn ABL, they’d say listen, I’m already a Javascript guy, I’m a Java guy, I’m a PHP, I’m whatever. I really don’t need to learn another language. But when you expose it to them … that’s when they get interested and say, this is a pretty cool language.

We’re pretty excited they’re coming to us for a different reason, but they’re learning about our other assets once they get to our platform.

ITB: I’m glad you mentioned Rollbase … I was chatting with an analyst and a customer, and they were saying what they wanted to see was an integration of what OpenEdge is doing, with all of its different acquisitions and pieces. How do you put them together?

Pead: If you just take the traditional OpenEdge application partner, who built their application using the OpenEdge platform, and they’ve been selling it in the marketplace for a long time. Now they want to take that systems of record and build a systems of engagement with customers using a mobile device.

So they’ll go onto [our] Pacific platform. Pacific uses OpenEdge as a backend database, so they’ve already got that data. They would then build an extension for their database using Rollbase or Rollbase Mobile. They would drag and drop their data connectivity using DataDirect Cloud. If they wanted to do data integration, they could do that using Easyl. So you can see that these components that sit on top of the platform definitely allow you to combine your systems between OpenEdge, Rollbase, DataDirect Cloud, and Easyl.

What we care about is making this a great experience for developers. Ultimately our goal is to become the preferred destination for the developers and architects … If we give them a great user experience, they’ll come to our platform.

We’re trying to be in the centre of developer activity … so when they come to us, they go, you know, I don’t really need to go anywhere else, because these guys have got everything that I need. Now, we’re not at that point … but that’s really the trajectory and the strategic direction that we’re taking.

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Candice So
Candice So
Candice is a graduate of Carleton University and has worked in several newsrooms as a freelance reporter and intern, including the Edmonton Journal, the Ottawa Citizen, the Globe and Mail, and the Windsor Star. Candice is a dog lover and a coffee drinker.

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