No, that’s not a typo in the title: Effektif is the newest cloud BPM offering, and it has some pretty impressive BPM credentials: the newly formed company is led by Tom Baeyens, who created not one, but two open source BPM projects: jBPM (now part of Red Hat/JBoss) and Activiti (now part of Alfresco). It’s funded (and partially staffed) by Signavio, creators of a popular process modeling tool; Signavio is headed up by Gero Decker, who has a strong process modeling background including participation in the BPMN standards. I had a chance to chat last week with Tom and Gero about the market needs that led them to start Effektif, and what it’s going to look like. On Monday this week they launched an information-only Effektif website, and expect to have initial rollout of the prototype product launch by early summer.
The aim of Effektif is to provide a simpler cloud BPM platform than what is currently available, with a lower cost point to reduce the barriers to smaller organizations and non-technical users. It will be completely tooled for the cloud, as simple and streamlined as possible but with more complex functionality available. We talked a lot about that aspect – having a less technical, yet still complete, set of functionality for business people to create their own processes, and more technical perspectives for other personas and uses – and agreed that many existing products don’t do a good job of segmenting into usable layers by complexity or technical ability: typically, there are some required functions that are just too technical for business users, even if the product is billed as such.
They also want to include checklist paradigms for simple task management and case management, some of which can be created and configured on the fly, plus collaboration around the content on checklist forms. I haven’t seen a demo yet, but they described three levels of functionality:
- The first level will provide a non-technical way to coordinate people using forms-based processes for tasks with email notification. The idea is to allow these to be implemented in five minutes by a non-technical user, but provide a bit more functionality than simple online task lists like Do or Asana since they will have processes built into them, even if the user doesn’t think of them as processes. Tom compared this level with IFTTT, in that it will have simple business paradigms that create operational processes; I’m looking forward to seeing what this looks like, since this is key to adoption in the consumer cloud.
- The second level will provide integration to pre-built services such as Google Apps and Salesforce, with likely Salesforce as a first target for integration since those users already have the right mindset about cloud services. This will be a bit more technical, but still require no coding.
- The third level will allow custom code to be developed and run inside a process step, more like the functionality that we see in the process portion of most full BPMS.
The target market is not the same as the heavyweight BPMS being used to create enterprise applications; rather, this is aimed at “end-user computing” that is currently the domain of Excel spreadsheets and Access databases. However, with the planned administration capabilities, this is not just a platform for the business to develop and provision their own applications, but also to allow for IT support and governance. That’s a delicate balance to strike, and one that is often not done very well (think of the rampant SharePoint virus in many organizations), but it is essential to provide some degree of governance before anyone would allow Effektif to be used for anything beyond simple processes, namely, the second and third levels discussed above.
Key to this transition between levels is that even the simple first level task management will be based on processes, even if hidden to the user, which provides the potential to expand to more complex functionality without changing products: a continuum of functionality from a simple to-do list to a full business process. Although some BPMS vendors cover the range of functionality, they often split this up between two or more products, or expose too much of the technical underpinnings at the simplest level.
We spent quite a bit of time discussing the process modeling paradigm throughout the levels:
- Starts as simple sequential modeling
- Value chain visualization for steps
- Bullet list of items within steps
- Model individual tasks as (presumably sequential) BPMN activities
- Checklist within tasks for to do items: modeled as form data
- Guide towards BPMN for more complex implementations, since that is what’s underneath the simpler model view
- For less-rigid ACM functionality/flexibility:
- Allow adding new items to task list on the fly; switch to form editing view
- Allow deviation from downstream process steps in current instance or all new instances
- Activity feed shows what is happening, allows social interaction/collaboration
- Can deactivate flexibility for more rigid steps/processes, but available by default
As expected, everything is logged in the audit trail, regardless of whether pre-defined or on the fly.
One interesting feature for runtime collaboration will be the ability to allow simultaneous access for multiple users to form-based checklists, so that a single form could be filled out and checked off by multiple participants. I’m not sure what the controls will be for ensuring that these collaborating users don’t overwrite each others changes, but presumably there will be some mechanism.
Pricing, although likely to based on the number of activity (process) instances, is still to be determined. There may be a free option, although the idea is that the cost is low enough cost that there is no financial barrier to adoption. Hosting will likely be in both central Europe and the US, and you can be sure that I reminded them about issues with data stored on US servers, particularly that owned by non-US companies, and how that would be a complete non-starter for most non-US companies.
I’ve had a lot of interest in what Tom and Gero have been doing separately over the past years; now, I’m very interested to see what they can do together. Looking forward to my first demo of Effektif.