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Progress Exchange 2013 Part One: What's the Current State of Progress?

Written By: TEC Staff
Published On: October 18 2013

By P.J. Jakovljevic (see bio) and Bob Eastman (see bio)

As it has been excruciatingly painful for die-hard Boston Red Sox fans to watch their moribund baseball team’s previous two seasons, it has been puzzling and perhaps also painful for enterprise software market observers to watch the coinciding self-implosion of sorts of the New England software vendor Progress Software Corporation. For those who are not sure what I am referring to, 2012 and 2013 were the years in which Progress divested many of its once well-known IT assets, such as the Sonic enterprise service bus (ESB)/messaging, Actional service-oriented architecture (SOA) governance, DataXtend semantic integrator, and Savvion business process management (BPM) suites, which now constitute Aurea Software (a new company formed by Trilogy Enterprises in late 2012). Even Progress’ once fierce competitors bought—perhaps in a “fire sale” manner—some of its renowned pieces, such as the FuseSource open source middleware framework, which recently went to Red Hat, and the Apama complex event processing (CEP) platform, which was sold in June to Software AG.

Now, the Red Sox might have already redeemed themselves with the (unexpectedly) stellar regular 2013 MLB season (and also with a great start to the MLB 2013 post-season), but only time will tell whether Progress can do a similar feat in its arena. After the aforementioned severe pruning, many have asked what might have remained at Progress other than its original OpenEdge application development platform. After all, all of those acquisitions from about 10 years ago were Progress’ attempt to diversify from its maturing OpenEdge business in light of formidable competition from Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, SAP, and others. So the question many in the business would like to have answered is how does Progress plan to grow by returning back to its roots, and will this “back to the future” manner really work? A number of well-known enterprise resource planning (ERP) vendors have already either jumped ship (switched from OpenEdge to, say, Microsoft .NET) or significantly reduced their dependence on OpenEdge (as have Plex Systems, Epicor, and Infor).

New Old OpenEdge Foundation
Progress OpenEdge’s attractiveness has always been its openness and portability (running on multiple database and OS platforms, including its own OpenEdge, formerly Progress, database), rapid development capabilities, reliability, backward version compatibility, and affordability. The vendor’s knowledgeable and congenial people, global coverage, vertical industry focus, and treatment of independent software vendor (ISV) partners have long been the company’s strengths. On the down side, OpenEdge and its esoteric proprietary ABL (advanced business language) programming have been becoming less mainstream in comparison to the Microsoft .NET and Java-based development platforms, and it doesn’t help that the platform has always relied on someone else’s user interface (UI) and business intelligence (BI) technology. The onslaught of cloud-based platform as a service (PaaS) options such as the Salesforce Platform (Force.com and Heroku), Zoho, and Google AppEngine have made the veteran platform even less attractive.

However, while Progress’ offloading of assets may have some scratching their heads, there was likely a method to their madness—while Sonic, Actional, Savvion, etc. were decent enterprise class IT tools with large enterprise deals, they demanded a direct sales force at Progress and/or large consulting partners, which clashed with the company’s traditional OpenEdge sale in the mid-market via ISV partners. Progress does have strategic account managers, say, for selling OpenEdge to end customers (retailers, airlines, banks, etc.) that want to do in-house apps development, but the bulk of revenues come from the channel and don’t require the sales force might that previous assets did.

Progress – Still More Than OpenEdge
Readers might be wondering if, other than OpenEdge, what other assets did Progress keep? For one, the DataDirect data connectivity and integration offering, acquired in 2003. DataDirect is possibly the fastest and most scalable data middleware in the market. During his keynote address at the recent Progress Exchange 2013 partner conference in Boston, Progress CEO Phil Pead emphasized the importance of data for modern businesses with some examples of how data about your customers can make a difference: for example, companies like Home Depot might be interested to know that the five weeks before and after a relocation constitute 85 percent of home improvement companies’ revenues. Also, in order to gain new and keep existing customers, large big-box retail companies pay services to companies that maintain data for address changes in the U.S. And we need to look no further than popular social networking giants to see another example of how data can turn into dollars—Facebook and Twitter do not offer any software per se, but they are doing quite well with selling advertising based on our data and the insights that they can glean from it.

Access to data is critical for Progress, even more than software itself, and sensors of all kinds (from RFID tags to manufacturing process specs measuring devices) are today producing more data than any other source (which is both a challenge and an opportunity). To that end, DataDirect has meanwhile evolved to support access to software as a service (SaaS) data, relational databases, NoSQL databases, social data sources, customer relationship management (CRM), ERP, and other enterprise systems and their data sources. In other words, DataDirect is Progress’ critical “big data” play. The recent hiring of former Dataflux CEO and SAS executive Tony Fisher to lead the data integration business speaks to that goal as well.

In addition, Progress kept its late 2011 acquisition of Corticon, a business rules management system (BRMS) that enables rules creation in a visual manner rather than via coding. Progress has kept the rights to the Savvion process visualization, modeling, and execution code in OpenEdge, now called OpenEdge BPM, but has opted to keep Corticon as a much simpler rules and decision management tool aimed at business users.

Last but not least, in mid-2013, Progress acquired Rollbase, a cloud platform as a service (PaaS) for development of cloud apps and app stores. The platform, which has over 10,000 users in 10 languages, offers a rapid model-driven development using drag-and-drop and point-and-click tools. Rollbase leverages JavaScript (which is neither proprietary nor an esoteric language like ABL) for minimal coding, as the development is metadata-driven. Companies can run it anywhere, in the cloud or in-house (on-premise).

Rollbase offers a number of cloud app templates and jumpstarts for developers (e.g., a CRM or storefront template), while its available browsers can help with OpenEdge’s aforementioned lack of a compelling UI. Business users can build data-driven apps without coding and build integrations between Rollbase apps, also without coding. In addition, they can work with developers to ensure that the right solution is built. Logically, developers can go much further with JavaScript on both the client-side and server-side and with Rollbase application programing interfaces (APIs) that are REST, SOAP, AJAX, SQL, and JDBC compliant. They can also develop custom JavaServer Pages (JSPs) and Java-based business logic and integrate with third-party libraries and products.

Progress Exchange 2013 – The Spark of Innovation
Progress refers to itself as a “global software company that simplifies the development, deployment, and management of business applications on-premise or in the cloud, on any platform or device, to any data source, with enhanced performance, minimal IT complexity, and low total cost of ownership (TCO).” The company has recently changed its corporate logo to resemble a spark, and its recently held Progress Exchange 2013 partner conference had the tagline “Beyond all Imagination—The Spark of Innovation.” Also, the “software” word is gone from the company’s name in the marketing collateral, making the branding “Progress”-only. It is tough to overlook the almost certain internal effect that this transition has had on Progress. The employee count has dropped more than 30 percent since the diversification announcement in mid-2012. So Progress Exchange 2013 (the first partner conference in two years, as the formerly called Progress Revolution was last held in 2011) also served to rev up its employees, as a “coming out” party for the “new” Progress.

CEO and president Phil Pead did not have many flashy slides to show in his keynote presentation, but instead talked about what Progress is today: a company with a singular focus on what it is good at, a mission which started 30 years ago. From its beginnings, Progress has helped many business professionals build powerful applications with purpose.

Pead discussed the unique requirements of business professionals today: simplicity without having to rely on deep technical skills, connections to critical data, the capability to see before they build, and the ability to show results right away, all without a long and expensive IT project.

He admitted that along that way Progress lost the focus on its core competencies, and under a siege of activism under its shareholders, the company almost drifted into obscurity. Progress was fortunate in the regard that Phil Pead agreed to take the reins again (being the chairman of the board at the time), sparing Progress from another possible abrupt strategic change in direction. The company’s focus now and into the near future should be in these areas:

  • Innovation—It isn’t entirely unlikely that Progress will be able to regain its position in the market. Someone somewhere is always building something to disrupt someone else. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the U.S. led the world in the mechanical watch-making market. In the 1970s, however, Swiss manufacturers owned 90 percent of the watch market, but now the U.S. is beginning to take the lead again. Recently, Ford celebrated the 100-year anniversary of its production line, a major disruptive technology at the time. And not that long ago, Blackberry had 40 percent of the mobile market, but the company is now for sale.

  • SimplicityBluetooth was invented by Ericsson in 1994, but is today managed by a consortium. Progress OpenEdge will be a Bluetooth of sorts in the enterprise software platform market when it comes to openness and portability.

  • Productivity—The challenge for Progress will be how to easily bring the product to market, given that taking years to design, write, and test code is no longer tenable in the software world.

  • Data—Progress will focus on a platform where the complexities of not only application development but also data access are removed, enabling developers and businesses to simply focus on solving their market and business problems. In addition, Pead revealed that Progress is beginning to develop its own BI and analytics solutions.

  • The Future—Another focus for Progress will be ensuring a highly scalable productivity platform that is future-proof in light of how quickly new developments make existing products and features obsolete.


In the second part of a blog series on Progress next week, we will discuss Progress' Pacific PaaS, Pacific's new features, and Progress' new vision, along with a look into the future and more commentary from Progress execs. Some Progress Exchange 2013 keynote presentations can be seen on the company’s YouTube channel.
 
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