Blaine: Those watching the video can see we are doing another live episode after finishing our attendance at Supply Chain Insights Live Europe 2019 in Dusseldorf, Germany where leaders from around Europe were learning how to drive a true digital transformation of their supply chain operations. Joining me today is Johannes Schmitz-Lenders, CEO and Co-founder of parcs IT-Consulting in Germany. Johannes, thank you so much for joining us today!
Johannes: Thank you for joining us here. It’s nice to have you here!
Blaine: Absolutely. It’s fantastic to be here. So, obviously, Johannes, we’ve spoken a lot over the last few days, especially being part of the supply chain event. I’ve heard a little bit about your story.Why don’t you tell our listeners the story of yourself and how you founded parcs IT?
Johannes: I was in IT for a very long time. I’ve been doing software development, computer science, and software architecture for many, many years. Even at school I started. We did a little program on an Apple II computer.
Blaine: Ah yes! I also started my career the on the Apple II computer. So, I think we are probably the same age. [Laughter]
Johannes: That was actually a real-time forecast for a local election. So that was really fun. And in the end, it was not really successful. The forecast was good, but we could not get the results because the printer was too slow. [laughter] So, we had to distribute that through print outs and the printer was a metrics printer: very, very slow.
Blaine: Oh my goodness! Yeah.
Johannes: So, that’s the early days. And after university, I started with two colleagues our company, parcs IT Consulting. We wanted to do IT projects and so we started this consultancy and got the initial contract and the company then started and grew.
Blaine: What kind of technology were you using back when you started parcs IT?
Johannes: It was software from the same people who are developing VANTIQ today which was a development environment, Forte Software. I used it at university and later on, we started projects in industry very close together with Forte Software in Germany. We did some mutual fund management system, then early on, some customer database for an airline.
So, pretty big systems. It was also a distributed environment based on 4GL. Even at that time, you had some proprietary technologies. It was very interesting times.
Blaine: And what was the secret of 4GL? Was it the ability to more rapidly build applications versus writing in very low-level languages, for listeners that maybe don’t remember the advent of 4GL?
Johannes: There was a time when you had these object-oriented languages, C++ and Java coming up, but it was still very difficult to do full-fledged applications with front end and back end and make it stable and scalable. You had all this in this platform. It was rapid application development. It was the right tools at this time. Companies were sometimes using 4GL tools. There were a number of products at this time in the market. We ended up with Forte and did a couple of projects with it.
Blaine: What do you recall Forte as being good at? What was the platform especially good at?
Johannes: So I would think when you were developing, an integrated environment. You could test quickly. You had very short cycles.
Blaine: You didn’t have to wait to compile the application and come back two hours later?
Johannes: What is interesting is that it had a compiler mode. So, you could compile or code to C++. I think nobody used it [Laughter] because the virtual machine was already fast enough for most things. You didn’t need to compile it all to C++.
Blaine: Interesting. I think Forte was also quite famous for enabling distributed computing back in the early days. Is that true?
Johannes: Yeah. They had something called Service Objects I remember which was some automation which you today have similarities with micro services.
In the end, many applications are not as distributed as today. You need to have a cluster in your data center which needs to be safe for failover situations and scalable. So, you have distribution, but inside a cluster usually, but not distribution in the field which has come more and more these days.
Blaine: Right. So fundamentally, many of the elements of application development and deployment that began with Forte have been incorporated into what we see with VANTIQ now?
Blaine: Interesting. Really interesting. So, what excites you about what’s going on in the intersection of business and technology these days? What keeps you interested in being part of this industry?
Johannes: I thought at sometime companies must be ready with all this IT stuff. I thought 10 years ago, so people create very interesting systems like managing the signs on meeting rooms. So, you think, “Now, they must be done.” But still, it’s going on. You’ll get new technologies, new ideas. It never stops. It’s really impressive. You’ll always get exciting, new stuff. It’s always getting easier.
If you take environments like dev ops like Kubernetes, for example. Everybody’s using Kubernetes these days which makes it much easier to run scalable, distributed systems in the cloud or datacenter. You always get interesting, new progress in the field.
Blaine: Yeah. Is there anything specific about the German market as far as implementing technology or implementing solutions for digital transformation? Do the German business executives think about it maybe a little differently?
Johannes: I don’t see big differences. Maybe companies are looking at technologies a little bit more carefully than doing instantly what is interesting. They have longer cycles to decide for technology, which is very difficult these days because you have all these open-source softwares, more and more platforms (not only cloud platforms for infrastructure, but also application platforms). It’s very difficult to understand which will survive, will be easy to use, the right one for my purpose. People gain experience, but I think they slow it down a little bit because the risks are high if you choose the wrong platforms for your project.
Blaine: Do your clients pay close attention to what platform you’re developing your solutions on as a systems integrator or do they just want the solution? Do they just want the answer to the problem and they’re not too concerned about what is behind the solution?
Johannes: They always want to know how it works. Usually, they have a settled strategy. So, maybe they have their own open source strategy or very often you have the IT departments, business departments. The business department chooses some technologies they like, often from looking at it from outside. The IT department wants to draw up safe operations.
Blaine: Do you find yourself in the middle of the business and the IT side sometimes?
Johannes: Sometimes. For sure, yes. We are working a lot on requirements engineering as well: writing specifications for what should be done. Many people of us are not in implementation anymore because that’s probably a task which needs a lot of experience. We have some very experienced consultants who understand the technology side and the business side. Specifically, if you are in industries like telecommunications, it’s very specific knowledge you need to have for that.
Blaine: Yes. Interesting. So, everybody is talking about digital transformation constantly. Given your experience working with clients, what does digital transformation mean to you?
Johannes: It’s nothing new. It’s just a word. I don’t know why people have chosen this terminology because it has existed for all my career. People are transforming their business using digital technologies. Of course you have new technologies. Those technologies are becoming more mainstream. And then, you have mobile phones, devices, the IoT stuff.
Blaine: Now, Germany is known as being at the leading edge of industrial IoT and Industry 4.0, many of these things that have almost become buzzwords again around the world. Germany is seen as the leader.
Johannes: Yes specifically in industry/Industry 4.0, we have some strong communities here in the industry and the government is, of course, helping the companies to get to strengths, to put the strengths of these industries forward. The automotive market is changing, so the big manufacturers in Germany have to look or they can’t move on in this market.
Blaine: Are these initiatives being driven more by the IT side or more from the business side would you say?The reason I ask is in many countries and many organizations, the business side wants to push for transformation, push to change the business in a fundamental way, and the IT side is more, “Woa. Slow down. We are uncertain about security.”
But I wonder if maybe, with these government-led pushes toward industry 4.0 and the internet of things, IT is moving more quickly here than in some other countries. What do you think?
Johannes: I think it’s a very busy place to be in IT. Of course, business wants to move forward. They all know about IT and what you can do with it, including all these new technologies like artificial intelligence, IoT. They all read about it. It’s mainstream information you get from the press as well.
But, the IT departments of course also want to do it. So, there is sometimes a little bit of competition inside the companies. Who is the driver of it because of course, IT doesn’t want to leave it to the business. So, what I see is, for example, you see digital centers or digital hubs inside companies. You have them in IT and in business. So very interesting.
Blaine: Do you find your entry into most of your customers is through the IT side or through the business side?
Johannes: Usually through IT.
Johannes: Yes so far because we are IT consultants. It’s in our company name as well. Usually, we work with the IT departments. What we see now is changing a little bit as well. We’ve become better to provide solutions and not just help them in their projects to make them successful.
Blaine: Yeah. Very interesting.
A lot of the discussion about digital transformation revolves around not just technology, but about the agility of the business: how fast they can move, maybe how fast they can implement technology. But, we were discussing yesterday, you feel it’s not just about how quickly you can build applications, but also about the delivery and management. Can you talk about that a little bit more?
Johannes: Yes. So what I see with all these dev ops technologies, I think people like to have these technologies: play around with, build solutions themselves. But that is for enterprises. That’s a lot of work. So, you have these def ops engineers and the tools are really complex.
Very often, you do not have only one tool. You have a tool chain. The complexity much, much higher and unique. You need many, many expert people for building such tool chains, automated processes, and software production. I think that maybe people in enterprises went away more and more to the cloud, away from data centers because it’s not a core business to have a data center.
I think that shouldn’t be the core business, of many companies, to build integration or software development to chains because that is something the product providers can give you as a product, the platform.
Johannes: So, I would call it low dev ops, what you need.
Blaine: Hmm. Low dev ops – sort of a companion to low code development: low code development and then low dev ops.
Johannes: Exactly. So, there is this low code term which expresses that you are more efficient in development, but you should also be more efficient in dev ops, operations, build management, environment management. With that, our processes can be automated and sooner or later, you will be able to buy it as a commodity. It’s not something which is specific for let’s say a telecommunications company or a train or airline company or anything like that.
Blaine: And then dev ops won’t have to be run by a team of specialized gurus who understand all these pieces of the dev ops chain. You have one system that’s easier for people.
Johannes: Yes it is. Yeah for sure.
Blaine: And more agile. That’s interesting. Well after this interview, I’m going to do a google search for low dev ops to see if you did invent that term because I think it’s a great idea actually. Very powerful idea because there’s no use having low-code, rapid application development on the one hand, but then very complex deployment and management on the other hand.
Johannes: Yes I think that is part of these PaaS, Platform as a Service, companies. The trend is going from infrastructure as a service to platform as a service. That covers a whole lifecycle of the application: from development, even sometimes from requirements engineering through deployment through operations. So, you get a whole lifecycle as a platform.
Johannes: And you would not need to move your stuff to AWS or Google cloud or whatever because they have virtual machines.
Blaine: That’s right. And then you’re also not locked into any one of those infrastructure platforms: AWS, Azure, Orange Cloud. It doesn’t really matter because you can move your application platform anywhere theoretically.
Johannes: For sure. That is true.
For many companies, it’s important to choose which cloud because of data regulations and all these laws and policies inside companies, so you need some flexibility here, but of course you have to be careful to choose which provider for the platform you want to take because maybe there you get some lockin.
Blaine: Now, are you truly seeing clients or maybe how quickly are you seeing clients moving toward the public cloud platforms?In many parts of the world, we’re still seeing many clients still wanting to implement private clouds or on premise implementations, especially for mission-critical applications. What are you seeing in terms of companies embracing the public clouds like AWS, Azure, and others?
Johannes: I think the big enterprises, also in Germany, for them it’s now decided they go to the cloud. Whatever they can do, they move their infrastructure to the cloud because it’s more cost effective in the end and it’s not the core business, as I said. And all other smaller companies, they already follow or they will follow.
Blaine: Interesting. Well, that’s good. I agree with you and I’d like to see that continue to move even faster. So, the name of this blog, podcast, and video series is called The Real-Time Enterprise. Are you seeing or feeling that companies are starting to embrace more business models that require real-time technology?
Johannes: Of course, in many enterprises, you have planning. But, of course, you can do some real-time planning as well, involve people to contribute to the planning. That could be an example of real time. It’s not hard, real time. It’s something that should be as instant as possible.
From my opinion, it’s a very important aspect that you involve people in real time and whatever you do in your content because it makes processes faster. This is something which is now very easy because everybody has a mobile phone. So, you can contribute to a business process in real time as fast as possible.
I think real time is a lot about communication between people. Of course, you have real-time data from machines, systems, and interfaces, but the most real-time aspect is involve people. It lets people collaborate. What you could imagine is maybe a system for real-time decision making. If you need to make a decision in your company, you would have some software, some system which could support you in this. Maybe some decisions just work quicker in your company which helps the business as such.
Blaine: Yeah absolutely. The topic of planning was obviously discussed a lot at the supply chain conference we were at. Supply chain and logistics used to be all about having the best plans, the most well-organized plans, but of course, the best plan in the world immediately starts to change in the real world. So, once you’re in the real world and the truck breaks down or the goods spoil or whatever, then all of a sudden, the best laid plans don’t work and you need to begin to respond in real time.
Johannes: If you can, yes. Sometimes, you can repair your supply chain or maybe you need to change the plan. So, it depends what possibilities you have. For many participants in supply chains, this was also in Dusseldorf, it’s very important to have insight. You want to know, even in real time, what is happening, and it is very important for you to know the arrival time. Logistics is all about estimated time of arrival, ETA. That requires a lot of free time information.
If you receive a package at home, you want to know when you have to be at home. You don’t want to have a time span of seven hours. You would have to be there all the time. It’s an important topic.
Blaine: That’s right. It’s about having that insight and then being able to take an action while it’s happening. Mike Tyson, the famous boxer, used to say, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” Then, they have the real-time data of being punched and then, of course, they need to be able to take an action based on that that real time data. Very cool.
Johannes: You only can take action if you can get good feedback in real time and if somebody else can work with this feedback. So, it’s about real-time collaboration very much.
Blaine: And do you think businesses are understanding the possibilities of this new kind of real-time insight and real-time action? Where are they in terms of being able to understand the new the new things they could do?
Johannes: It depends very much. So, if you have a very much real-time oriented business, like operating trains or some traffic systems, that’s inherently varied real time. Everybody knows you want to know when the train is leaving. Will it be on time? This is inherently real time, but it depends very much on the company. And supply chain, as we said, people will tell you maybe it’s most about planning, but in the end, you have to deliver in time. You have to produce in time.
So, I think at least it opens new possibilities to be able to build real-time systems today with new technologies and people to start thinking what they could do with it.
Blaine: Yep absolutely. Very interesting insight. So, getting close to wrapping it up. One of the favorite parts of my conversations with guests is to ask them if there’s an area of conventional wisdom that they generally disagree with where everybody is thinking X but maybe you think Y. Is there an area like that for you?
Well I’ve been in IT for more than 20 years. People tend to say everything has to go fast, but of course, you have to think what you are going to do and then act fast. I think people should mix that when they talk about agility or high productivity. You have to really think about what helps your business. But if you have decided, move on it very fast. That’s what technology allows you to do. Agility does not mean do anything without having thought it through. You should prepare well and then act quickly. I think many people do not understand that agility is not only about speed in itself. It must be for something which gives you value in the longer term.
Blaine: That’s actually great bucking of conventional wisdom and also great advice I think for business leaders and others that are looking to help drive digital transformation. So, thank you for that. Well, Johannes, I think that wraps it up. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Johannes: Yes thank you.
Blaine: It was a real pleasure to talk to you. It was fantastic. Those interested in learning more about Johannes’ work at parcs IT, you should check out his web site at parcs.de. You can reach out to me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org.