I meet Paulo Rosado, the founder and CEO of OutSystems, in his office at the penthouse level of Suntec City Tower 3. Outside the window lies an arresting view of the Singapore Bay. As you span your eyes, the impressive skyline is dotted with the skyscrapers of the financial district, terminating in the swanky Marina Bay Sands building. The red-tiled roofs of low-lying colonial buildings on the right, with the turquoise blue of the ocean on the left, make the palette colorful.
Rosado wears a dark grey suit over a white shirt. His head is practically bereft of any hair yet he cuts a dapper figure with his large eyes which seem to be smiling.
Rosado is from Portugal where he founded OutSystems in 2001 in Lisbon. Today, his is one of the top tech companies in his country. "We have carpet bombed the contact centres of Portugal with our product," he says, easing into a leather-bound chair.
He has a degree in computer science from Universidade Nova, Lisbon. In the early 1990s, he went to the USA to work on a doctorate programme. Once there, he decided to abort the PhD programme. He finished his Masters in computer science from Stanford University and joined one of the valley companies (Oracle) and worked for about 4 years between 1994 and 1997, holding multiple positions in R&D and product management.
In 1997, he started his first company in Europe, Intervento, an e-business software infrastructure company. In 1999, he sold his company and joined as an executive VP of Global Marketing at Altitude Software, a CRM company present in 32 countries. Worked with the company for 18 months and then he exited and assembled a team to start OutSystems in 2001. The first version of the OutSystems platform was launched in 2002. He has led the company from initial startup to an international leader in cutting-edge approaches to the delivery of enterprise web and mobile applications. As CEO, he is responsible for OutSystems' day-to-day operations, as well as leading the company's product development and technology strategy.
Today, as the company website describes it, OutSystems provides the only open, high-productivity application platform (PaaS) that makes it easy to create, deploy and manage enterprise mobile and web applications - helping IT deliver innovative business solutions fast. It is available as a public cloud, private cloud and on-premises solution. Hundreds of companies in 24 countries across 22 industries use OutSystems Platform.
How did he hit upon the idea of OutSystems, I ask him.
"The idea of OutSystems came from my first company," he says, referring to Intervento. "We had software (infrastructure software) for the Internet to help deploy very large extranets and intranets-these were the terms of the times-in very large organizations such as large retailers and large telcos. It was an interesting journey and we had a very good team but we could not finish a single project on time and in budget. So tried to improve our requirement analysis and we continuously failed. We failed on almost ten mega projects.
That led us to look at one of the fundamental inefficiencies of IT: the cost of software change. The cost of software change increases almost exponentially as the system progresses until a time when the system is so difficult to change that it needs to be expired and replaced with a new system. If the system is fairly used, this cycle takes about 5-7 years."
"So we looked into the problem of software change and thought what if we had a platform where we could build things that would decrease the cost by one or two orders of magnitude the cost of change. This would mean that we would build a system with our best intentions and then correct it quickly, so that the system always remained fresh and efficient, eliminating the need to sunset it. That was the fundamental idea behind OutSystems," he says.
This company was so innovative and ahead of its time that they introduced the basic functionalities of DevOps more than ten years ago. "Our idea was to partner with application service providers (ASPs), telcos at that time, to give us the infrastructure where we would deploy our platform and our customers would use that platform outside of the data centres," he says. "And hence the name OutSystems, which means build your own custom systems very very quickly outside of your data centres."
Cloud before there was cloud
Rosado's team ended up building a high productivity platform as a service on the cloud without knowing it. "The term cloud did not even exist then," he says. "We thought this thing was going to take off in 2003 and 2004. We were eleven years ahead of the market. It was terrible. It was so ahead of its time that we almost bankrupted ourselves. We, however, managed to close some partnership deals with some ASPs, but a lot of it did not work out. Then we took the platform and started selling it almost as a private platform. That's how we entered the enterprise market and that's how we took off. Finally, we realized our full vision when we launched our public cloud offer, 350 customers later".
Rosado says that some large customers as well as SMEs are using their platform now. In Singapore, for example, NCS, an IT services provider, uses their platform. "They are doing fantastic things with it," he says enthusiastically. "They have revamped their IT system with Outsystems and they can do things now with great capability and speed."
IT's need to deliver values much faster
"The company's growth has taken off in the last 18 months," says Rasado. "The compression of cycles, now that most organisations need to deliver projects in three months or even less time, and the deluge of change requests, has created a need to find some other ways of delivering this type of system, so a lot of customers are looking for platforms like this. Sometimes it is for a subset of the organisation but sometimes it is as a strategic platform."
Mobility and cloud are other factors that are playing a role in the success of OutSystems. "A lot of this is propelled by mobile and cloud that's why our platform is so strong in mobile," he says. "Mobile applications are very difficult to implement and the cloud is providing people the notion that things can be done in two weeks. Hence the compression of time for projects. But it is creating a silo problem in terms of data. Earlier, you used to buy a suite (like a SAP suite) and you could hammer it and change it and customize it, but now with cloud offerings, you buy an isolated vertical-you rent a vertical while the cloud solution attends to a subset of you data. Then you rent from another one and another one. So, in the end, an organisation might be using 15 different types of cloud offerings. That creates an integration problem. So, you need something on top of it, something that unifies it all-for example, the user interfaces, the workflows, and containers to fit in data. And the dynamics of delivery don't change-you want everything fast. This has created a perfect space to put a platform like ours."
"It is a very horizontal play," says Rasado about the market for his company's product. They are serving 24 verticals. "We tend to have a very large cluster in insurance," he says. "Banks are coming (on board). They are changing specially because of the mobile. Their outsourcers are not able to help. A typical midsize bank will have more than 100 applications in the backlog. Then we have a lot of one-offs-players in the niche markets, like toll road companies, airport operation companies, and airlines. We are in retail too. A US grocer, for instance, has implemented a call centre on OutSystems. They use it to handle complaints (like someone says, the fisheries are smelly in your supermarket at such and such location) and they are driven by analytics."
As a result, the company is seeing growth in all geographies. They are growing massively in Japan, which surprises Rosado. "We are relatively recent in Asia Pacific," he says. "In the next two years, we expect huge growth. Demand for our product is high in Singapore and Malaysia."
OutSystems is headquartered in Atlanta but its R&D headquarters is Lisbon, Portugal.