I often talk about the concept of developing “apps” versus full-blown “applications.” The idea is that the current mobile space has shown the efficiency of having smaller applications that narrow down to just one feature, or workflow. That doesn’t apply across the board, but it does contrast with more traditional application development that tends to want to do more rather than less.
While I was visiting with RedMonk client WaveMaker last week, their CEO, Chris Keene, and I discussed this concept and how WaveMaker is seeing it play out in their user-base.
As you may recall, we talked with Chris back in 2008 in RIA Weekly episode #11.
(There’s also a PDF of this transcript if you prefer.)
Michael Coté: Well, hello everybody! Here we are in lovely San Francisco, and if you could see, we have got a nice view of the Bay Area here. But nonetheless, we are still in the, as you can see, nice offices of WaveMaker. I have a guest with myself. Would you like to introduce yourself?
Chris Keene: Yeah. So I am Chris Keene. I am the CEO of WaveMaker, and we have been building WaveMaker for three years. Launched the product little over a year ago. WaveMaker is a web app development tool. It makes it easy to build web apps, it makes it fast to build web apps, and you create standard web apps.
It’s also open source, and we have got a very active community, we have got about 15,000 registered developers now building apps with WaveMaker.
Michael Coté: We were talking about – obviously on the infrastructure side, cloud computing is very popular nowadays, because it seems like a kind of a more efficient way of doing things, or it’s not always necessarily the case, but it’s an interesting new way of doing technology. And recently, I guess, I would say over the part six months or so, I have seen a lot more interest in application development on the cloud, which I kind of get excited about, because I think the infrastructure layer is, you know, that’s all good and well, but you are going to reach a certain point where you have tapped out the interesting innovation.
Chris Keene: We have kind of a unique position here, because we made a decision when we started WaveMaker that we were going to build a web development tool that ran in a browser. And we weren’t going to use Eclipse, we weren’t going to base it on kind of a standard heavyweight IDE, and there were some specific reasons for that.
The biggest was, that we thought that people eventually would want to build apps in the cloud, from the cloud, by the cloud, for the cloud, without having to download things onto their laptop. That, if you will, that the future of corporate development is going to look a lot more like Facebook and LinkedIn and kind of self-service than it does today.
Michael Coté: It would be completely hosted.
Chris Keene: Yeah. I mean, today, amazingly enough, building anything within the enterprise is like mounting an expedition to Mount Everest; you have got teams of Sherpas, you have got all sorts of people with different specialized skills, it takes weeks, you have got to have base camps. I mean, it’s a heavy, heavy duty proposition.
But if you want to go into Facebook and you want to tell people about the music you like, or where you are going to have dinner, or do a variety of things that to me seem a lot like customizing, extending it, making it do what I want it to do, well, I don’t need Sherpas for that.
Michael Coté: And to be clear, I mean, WaveMaker is basically a tool for developing applications and there is a lot of back-end integration and UI stuff, but what are the deployment — I mean, you can run it locally if you want to, right?
Chris Keene: Right. So when you download, when you go to WaveMaker.com and you do your download, then what you are actually downloading is a full Tomcat Java stack, and you are actually running a web stack on your computer. And when you launch WaveMaker, it actually launches a WaveMaker application in your browser. So one interesting thing about WaveMaker is, we built the tool with our tool.
Another reason that we thought, having a web-based development tool would be pretty powerful. So we have already got — when we launched WaveMaker, we already had a very, very powerful web application that we had developed with it. So it’s a little, the dog eating the dog food kind of thing.
You can build your application running a stack on your computer or you can go to cloud.wavemaker.com, see the exact same thing running in the cloud; in this case Amazon, and build your application there.
Michael Coté: One of the interesting things that I am kind of hopeful that the cloud will pick up the slack on is, I guess we used to call it, like, Rapid Application Development or RAD or line of business apps, but having a bunch of little smaller applications, that to your point, are not like a huge expedition that you go out there and do.
I wonder if that theory of the cloud enabling that kind of smaller app development, do you see that playing out kind of —
Chris Keene: Yeah. I mean, I think, again, it comes back to the Mount Everest thing. If in order to climb a mountain it’s going to cost me $250,000, no matter the size of the mountain, well, then I am going to tend to do a lot — I am going to tend to do a lot more every time I get that thing together.
So IT doesn’t build “apps,” IT builds applications, and the reason for that is, it costs so much for them to get out of bed in the morning, that it’s not worthwhile to get out of the bed to move around a few thing, I have got to do something really big and really meaningful in order to justify the cost, just for them to do anything.
And so what we are really trying to get towards, and you were actually giving this example earlier, is mobile apps. We have the notion now that I have got a mobile app to figure out where the nearest gas station is, and I have got a different mobile app to tell me how to get to my friends’ houses, and a different mobile app — we might have ten different mobile apps that have to do with location.
Well, the way enterprise IT works is, they are going to get together all the requirements, they are going to put together a very heavyweight project and team, and really solve this location issue once and for all. And it costs so much that nobody can afford to go back and revisit that for another five or ten years.
Whereas realistically, the first month this thing is in production people are saying, you know, this actually isn’t the way I want it to work, I need a button over here, I need to do it a little bit different. But of course nobody can do that, because the Sherpas are all gone, they have gone home, and we have got our trophies standing on our bookshelf and whatnot.
Michael Coté: You can sort of have quick and dirty apps if you want, and you can have the more long running ones, but that is like one of the unfortunate things that perfecting IT has kind of evolved into is, it’s very concreted in there. It seems like change is not always the ideal thing, the feature that you want to offer.
Chris Keene: Well, it’s weird too, there is kind of two types of IT; there is the infrastructure IT, which has been focused on doing Service Oriented Infrastructures and really getting the databases cleaned and whatnot, and that part of IT fits perfectly with this idea of apps. The basic services are there.
The problem is, there is no easy development tool sitting on the other side to consume those services. So it turns out, IT built all of this great infrastructure, but then it was so complicated to access it, that the only people that could access it and build apps on it was IT themselves, and so they were never really able to get the benefits of it.
Michael Coté: That’s something you were discussing earlier that reminded me of a funny cartoon of — I think it was a 4-panel cartoon where there was this dead horse that had SOA on it. And I don’t know if you have seen that one. And there’s these few people discussing whether you are going to put it, and then of course the joke is, “well, hide it in the cloud.”
But I think that’s a very cynical way [to think of it]. I think that the more optimistic thing is — I mean, it’s true, what you are saying is, is we did spend, we as the industry, spent a lot of time servicizing everything.
Chris Keene: To me, the killer app for cloud is ecosystem. So the cloud doesn’t — everything you can do in the cloud, you can do in other places. So VMware will tell you the cloud is just virtualization, you have been doing that for years.
I mean, that was kind of the Larry Ellison joke, that everything has been renamed cloud including, as you said, SOA. I think what’s interesting though is, putting individual things in the cloud is not much different than putting individual things anywhere, what’s different though is when you have multiple things there.
If my database is in the cloud and accessible there and my reporting is in the cloud and accessible there, and my Salesforce automation is in the cloud and accessible there, and it now becomes very easy, just a matter of service calls, to call all three of them and put something together between them. Now, that’s something you couldn’t get any place else.
So in the data center world, my SFA [Sales Force Automation] was in one silo, my ERP [Enterprise Resource Planning] was in another silo, my database was at another place, and it was a very big typical undertaking to just get those three to talk together. But in the cloud that’s trivial.
So let me give you an example. KANA is one of our biggest ISV customers. They do call centers. They are deploying the call center software for the U.S. Postal Service this year, 20,000, 30,000 employees. They initially built this application as something that was going to run just in the enterprise data center, but because they built it based on WaveMaker, they realized, oh, we could put this in the cloud too.
How many days do you think it took for them to get this application, like 10 or 12 servers, databases, WebSphere, DB2, Enterprise Service Buses; how many days do you think it took them to get onto the cloud, Amazon?
Michael Coté: I think four weeks or so.
Chris Keene: It took them two days.
Michael Coté: What is it the tool does that fits in this kind of development?
Chris Keene: Well, so what’s really great in the case of a KANA and ISV, is they have built this very complicated call center operation application. It’s a set of workflows connected by a set of screens.
Michael Coté: Right.
Chris Keene: And what they have done is, rather than just shipping this whole thing to you as a black box, they have basically shipped it as a series of WaveMaker applications, that you can pick up and edit in the WaveMaker Studio.
So if you decide, at the U.S. Postal Service, if you decide, we want to route things here and not there, that’s a matter of a few minutes. If you decide you want to have a button on this side and not that side, or if you want it to be green and not red, that’s a matter of 30 seconds.
So you suddenly have the ability for the people who are using the application to change the application, just like they would say a Facebook application. Why? Because they don’t have to be Eclipse developers, they don’t have to have anything deployed under the desktop, they just have to have the right permissions to get in and open up the applications, change the workflows, change —
Michael Coté: They can get it online and everything and deploy it online.
Chris Keene: Exactly! So this is where you start seeing a really, really different approach to development. Now, of course this is for doing fairly minor changes. I think if people want to change fundamental things about their business logic, yes, they will still need your Java coders and all of those other things. But those kinds of changes happen much less frequently than the, gees, I need a new field on this form.
Michael Coté: So like you said, it’s about — was it about a year ago that you launched it? Yeah, right. So you were saying, you launched about a little — around a year ago, and like what’s the most recent version that you guys have come out with? Can you kind of bring us up to date on what you have at the moment?
Chris Keene: Yeah. So this one works, the first one didn’t work [smiles & chuckles]. So we are at WaveMaker 6.1 now, and what we have really been focused on is just making it incredibly, incredibly easy to go out and grab services, grab existing Java code, grab data structures, and databases, and turn those into applications.
And the developer community is about 15,000 developers, we have built that in about a year. Just for reference, the Salesforce developer community, they have got 34,000 registered developers that they have created over four, five years.
So we have gotten to about half of our Salesforces in one year, and of course we had a secret weapon, which is, we are open source. So we have got a lot more community involved and we have got a lot more activity, and that’s really kind of what’s driving the momentum.
Michael Coté: And like you are saying, you basically — there is various data sources that you guys can suck — it sucks data from and started using it, and you can build the layers or components or widgets or screens on top of that, and have various workflow attached to it. I mean, what are those data sources that you guys are pulling from at the moment?
Michael Coté: Well, right now we talk to any relational database. We talk to all of the crazy CouchDBs and Cassandras and whatnot. We talk to any kind of a web service, both the kind of formal WSDL, SOAP type web services. But more importantly, we do REST services, RESTful services. Basically what we do is we kind of create a hub, an ecosystem, for just pulling all of these different services, existing code, existing data, and building them into applications. Where we are going is to apply that same capability to SaaS applications.
So for example, imagine that you could kind of point a web development environment at your Salesforce, with your custom fields, all your custom capabilities, and just suck out of it all the data that you needed and change it and then put it back. So treat Salesforce, treat any SaaS application as a database, and imagine again this notion of apps creating small enhancements, small piece of functionality that take Salesforce, which is pretty generic, and tweak it for your business to really make it do what you need for your business. Now, suddenly, Salesforce becomes a competitive weapon.
And any application that you are building, you are taking advantage of all of the Salesforce validation and rules and everything, so you literally can’t write about application against the Salesforce database, it won’t let you.
Michael Coté: Right, right. I mean, it gets back to, like we were saying earlier, that there was a lot of time and effort spent perfecting a service based architecture or an SOA sort of thing, which without that kind of nice layer at the infrastructure, it would be a lot messier when you are actually trying to apply it. So maybe that dead horse actually had some benefit.
Chris Keene: Well, of course the missing link is, so if you take that horse metaphor, there was no saddle for it, there’s no way for people to get up on the horse and go some place. You had to be a master bareback horse rider to be able to do something with it. So WaveMaker is really providing that easy interface that you can stick on top of your Salesforce, on top of your NetSuite, on top of your Oracle Financials, and go some place, do something useful.
Michael Coté: Well, I think we have finally determined the WaveMaker tag line: WaveMaker is the saddle for the cloud. And I think on that Western note, we are going to go get some San Francisco barbecue, which I am looking forward to.
So great! Well, I appreciate you taking the time to talk to us about that.
Chris Keene: Well, thanks a lot Michael.
Michael Coté: That was good stuff.
Disclosure: WaveMaker is a client and sponsored this video.