James Taylor of Decision Management Solutions and I are doing some research into the use and integration of BPM (business process management) and DM (decision management) technology into mobile applications, as background for co-authoring a white paper. For this study we are focused on the mobile applications that you use to interact with businesses (as a consumer), government (as a constituent) or your employer (as an employee), NOT games or personal productivity tools.
As part of this research, we are doing a short survey on the use, development and support of mobile applications; please help us out by taking the survey:
The first few questions are about your own use of mobile applications. If you are involved with the development of mobile applications, there are a few additional questions. It should take no more than 5-10 minutes to complete.
Last week BP3 announced the latest addition to their Brazos line of UI tooling for IBM BPM: Brazos Portal. Scott Francis gave me a briefing a few days before the announcement, and he had Ivan Kornienko, their director of UI/UX, along to give a demo.
As a recap, BP3 is a boutique-sized IBM BPM services and ISV partner, made of up a large contingent of ex-Lombardians (Lombardiites?) who know the IBM BPM product as well or better than any other partner out there. In addition to implementation services, they offer a free UI toolkit that allows you to easily build responsible HTML interfaces for IBM BPM applications that can support both mobile and desktop browsers. They sell the services and support around the Brazos UI Toolkit, but give it away to encourage adoption. This seems to be working: as of the end of May, they had more than 400 registered developers who had downloaded the toolkit and about 40 production deployments.
However, like that tendency to start redecorating your whole house once those new curtains make you realize how outdated everything else is, customers using applications built with the Brazos UI Toolkit wanted a more responsive and modern portal interface than the out-of-the-box IBM portal. After all, the portal is where many BPM users start and organize their day, only launching the applications once they’ve identified a specific item that they want to work on. According to BP3, the IBM BPM portal, in addition to not being optimized for modern browsers or mobile devices, has some performance issues due to server-side searching, sorting and filtering; it’s also difficult to customize and can be brittle once customized.
BP3’s answer to this is the Brazos Portal: responsive and mobile-ready, customizable, and with local search, sort, filter and task display for optimal performance. Although Brazos Portal is being positioned as a mobile portal – I suspect that BP3 doesn’t want to explicitly position against IBM’s own desktop portal – it appeared to be completely usable as a desktop portal as well, with the added benefit of a unified experience across all platforms. However, the two portals can coexist peacefully on the same process data, allowing for only certain users or devices to be on Brazos while the others are on IBM.
I’m getting to the part about the ring, really.
We started the demo with a sleek-looking but fairly standard view of an unfiltered user task list, showing a few metadata columns (task name, class, due date), with displays at the top showing aggregate information for work in progress, complete and due/overdue tasks. Clicking on an item in the task list opens the task application screen for processing the task (a Coach, in the IBM BPM terminology); in the demo, this opened an application written using the Brazos UI Toolkit although I’m not sure that’s a requirement [Scott, feel free to chime in here]. Clicking on a column in the task list sorts by that column, as expected; this is fast since it is done locally rather than requiring a re-query of the BPM server as (I think) the IBM portal does. It’s all in monochromatic greys and black, except for thin bars of color on the left of each item in the task list.
It’s also responsive: we were viewing it in a desktop browser, and when the browser was resized to the size of a tablet or mobile phone, the portal responded appropriately.
Then there’s the ring.
At the top right of the portal is a circular graphical element, with the BP3 logo in the center, that I initially just gloss over as window dressing. However, in the same block, there are some small controls to the right of it, a count of the cases and tasks in the current list, and a search field. This ring interface, or “Task Drive”, is actually a metadata filter control, positioned at the top right so that it’s right under where your right thumb would be on a touch-enabled screen, and the search field combines with the filtering selected on the ring. The appearance of the Task Drive changes as you interact with the portal to show you information about what is currently displayed, and how it breaks down by metadata. In our unfiltered list, for example, we had 44 cases and tasks, but hovering over one of the sectors in the ring showed us the corresponding metadata field that would be filtered and the resulting number of cases and tasks. Selecting a segment of the ring filtered the list to just those in the class “Client On-Boarding”, which had 14 cases and tasks. There are actually concentric rings in the Task Drive control, giving us a visual indicator of the potential filters; we had initially filtered based on the work class, and could then filter further by task name. We could also filter via a free-form search on any task metadata by entering text in the search field beside the ring.
Things start to get colorful with groups, which are pre-defined filters: you define a view of up to three columns with filter criteria, using any metadata including custom fields defined on a work class as well as standard fields like due date and priority. This creates a new group in the task list, which is assigned a unique color, showing those tasks that meet the filtering criteria. Those that don’t meet the filter criteria are still in the black and grey “Unfiltered” list. Presumably, items can appear in more than one group if they meet the criteria, so the counts of the items in each group may be more than the overall count; only those that do not meet any of the groups’ criteria remain in the Unfiltered list.
Once you define groups, the Task Drive becomes equally colorful: the ring is now in sectors by color, with concentric rings indicating the metadata filtering/drilldowns for each group. We looked at an example that had four groups defined: High Priority Claims, Client On-Boarding, Other Claims, and New Coverage Branch, appearing as orange, red, green and purple (actually more like lavender). Each group’s list could be collapsed into a single title bar showing only the group name and item count, or expanded to show all items within it. Hovering over the green ring segment showed us that that corresponded to Other Claims, and had 6 cases and tasks. Clicking on the purple segment drilled into the New Coverage Branch group directly, then hovering over segments of the now-purple ring showed us the breakdown of items by task name.
The graph displays in the upper left of the portal actually contain live controls as well: the center one is a date control that cycles between today, days, weeks and months for filtering the other content in this navigation header including the Task Drive. Checking the “show complete” control to the right of the Task Drive also makes the Complete graph at the top left interactive.
After the briefing with a live demo, I played around with the online demo version; one interesting feature (bug?) is that on my touch-screen Lenovo Yoga Windows 8 laptop, I could only get the ring to respond to the touch screen, not to the mouse control, although everything else worked fine with either.
The ring – sorry, Task Drive – is an extremely clever and beautiful piece of UI. However, I’m concerned about its usability by more traditional users, since it may not be as intuitive as the designers hope. Having the ability to pre-define groups for users (which is planned for the paid versions) will help sort out some of the confusion for users, but many may ignore the ring as if it were a graphical element, and just scroll through the lists in the groups rather than using the metadata filtering. BP3 reported that they had had very good reception of this as a filtering control, but their test group is likely skewed towards mobile users and the inherent selection bias; if they expect this to be used on the desktop as well, or by more traditional remote workers whose paper clipboard is replaced with a tablet, then they need to understand the learning curve behind that control.
Brazos Portal supports IBM BPM 8.0.1 and forward. It does not yet expose the new case management features in the 8.5 release, but that will probably show up in a future release. They have a fairly ambitious list of potential future features, and will likely develop these according to demand, so if you try out Brazos Portal and find something missing, be sure to give your feedback to BP3.
Brazos Portal is available in both free and paid versions, with the free version having launched last week. The free version has no active support, but BP3 will likely help out if they can in order to spur adoption, and would probably be happy to sell you some services to get you up and running. The premium version will include standard support and SLAs, plus features for pre-defined/shared user groups, custom branding and API incorporation; the enterprise version will include a support agreement customized to the organization, plus custom integration and cross-platform federation to allow multiple BPM servers to be integrated into a single portal.
I recently wrote a paper on BPM in healthcare for Siemens Medical Systems: it was interesting to see the uses of both structured processes and case management in this context. You can download it from their website (registration required) here.
I gave a webinar today sponsored by camunda on developer-friendly BPM, discussing the myth of zero-code BPM. I covered the different paradigms of BPM development, that is, fully model-driven versus process models and code, with some pointers for how to evaluate the different approaches within your organization – it’s not a simple one-size-fits-all decision for most large companies with complex application development needs.
I also wrote a white paper on the topic, it will be posted on the camunda site soon, as well as a link to a replay of the webinar.
Update: the webinar replay is here and the white paper is here. Registration on the camunda site required for both.
The day 2 keynotes at PegaWORLD 2014 wrapped up with Vik Sohoni of McKinsey, who talked about becoming a digital enterprise, and the seven habits that they observe in successful digital enterprises:
Be unreasonably aspirational
Acquire new capabilities
Ring fence and cultivate talent
Be quick & data driven
Follow the money
Be obsessed with the customer
Some good points, but what is also interesting is the presence of McKinsey on the stage at all: Pega is increasingly attempting to align themselves with management consulting firms further up the customer food chain rather than just technical implementation. Pega’s role is becoming more of a consultant than an implementation partner to customers, leaving implementation to the partner network so as to not limit their growth. However, my sense from what I’ve seen and conversations that I’ve had with partners and customers here is that Pega implementations are still non-trivial technical efforts, and the partner channel has a wide variability in capabilities, meaning that Pega is unlikely to step completely out of implementation consulting if they want to guarantee success.
Jeffrey Kuhn, EVP of client service delivery at BNY Mellon, spoke in the morning keynote at PegaWORLD about the journey over the 230-year history of the bank towards improved customer focus. They’ve done this through a Lean/Six Sigma type of continuous process improvement (CPI) initiative: improving their processes to impact quality and efficiency, while reducing risk and improving the customer experience. But they didn’t want to just take orders and process orders faster: instead, they automate the routine work, and enable their workers to manage exceptions effectively. They’re not a retail bank, so their customers are not consumers: the customers are institutional and government investors, meaning that each customer is very high-value.
BNY Mellon has weathered recessions, depressions and financial melt-downs over the decades, but Kuhn sees the current climate as being particularly difficult: low interest rates, higher regulatory complexity and costs, and foreign investment markets that have not rebounded as much as expected. He doesn’t see this as a temporary state, however, but the new normal; they have been working to lower costs by consolidating, streamlining and automating operations in order to remain competitive, and are using Pega for much of that continuous process improvement.
Automating the routine work is only part of it, however: they also need to deal with the exceptions and the inbound customer inquiries that can’t be automated, but can be made more digital so that they can be tracked and shared. They are implementing a single inquiry platform with the goal of improving service levels, service quality and client satisfaction, which requires capturing all of the inquiries as they arrive — by paper, email and other forms — and routing them to the right team for resolution. There’s certainly a strong element of old-school imaging and workflow in this solution (begging the question why they haven’t done this decades ago), but appears to also have more modern elements of user experience, decisioning and analytics.
At the heart of this, it’s not an amazing technology story — they’ve automated straight-through processes, then implemented the less predictable processes in a BPM/case management environment — but it’s a good process improvement and change management story for how a very old organization can transform itself by embracing continuous process improvement and developing best practices. They have a two-tier model for their CPI teams that allow the best practices to flow through a centralized team to more distributed teams, allowing the distributed teams to adapt the best practices for their particular areas. More importantly, they have a company-wide shift in focus to continuous improvement: in Kuhn’s words, delighting their customers by doing what they’re good at.
The second half of today’s keynote started with a customer panel of C-level executives: Bruce Mitchell, CTO at Lloyds Banking Group, Jessica Kral, CIO for Medicare & Retirement at UnitedHealthcare, and Richard Haley, CFO at FBI, moderated by Rafe Brown, CFO at Pega. Some interesting comments there about how their organizations are transforming: a shift to customer focus while improving efficiency by reducing handoffs on inbound calls; how incremental development and faster release cycles reduce risk and improve business-IT alignment; and how big data can be used to improve context for everything from customer journeys to police investigations.
We finished the morning with new product highlights from Kerim Akgonul, Pega’s SVP of product management. Their case interface is the cornerstone of the new look of Pega: business processes are described at a high level by simple linear stage view, with processes that might happen at each stage listed below: very reminiscent of the simplified phase views that I’ve seen in a number of other products, both design-time and runtime. I still maintain that there are many processes that don’t lend themselves to a simple stage/phase representation, since activities from multiple phases may be happening simultaneously, but this seems to be a popular representation.
According to their customers and partners, it’s 6.4 times faster to deliver on Pega 7 than direct Java development (assuming, of course, that Pega becomes your captive application development environment, which is not an option for many organizations), and there are definitely many capabilities in the platform and solutions built on that platform, such as next best action marketing, sales force automation and customer process manager. Predictive analytics is definitely assuming a higher profile as a competitive differentiator in sales, marketing, CRM and other customer-facing applications, since it can help provide better customer service as well as improve sales goals. A recent acquisition is also giving them robust mobile support, allowing mobile and remote workers to participate fully in case management activities, while other acquisitions are providing interactive customer support and social media engagement.
Don Schuerman, CTO at Pega, joined Kerim on stage to show how all of these things can come together, with a (fictional) insurance company responding to a tweet about motorcycles with an offer for motorcycle insurance, tied directly in to their back office systems for quotes as well as their call center and CRM system. They demonstrated a seamless integration between the insurance app and the call center agent’s screen, allowing the CSR to push application documents to the customer’s phone in real time. Fun demo of omni channel for integrated communication, next best action with product recommendations, and business processes for fulfillment, complete with drone delivery and helmet-mounted crash detectors.
That’s it for the day 1 keynotes at PegaWORLD 2014; we’re off to a breakout session before lunch and a tour around the technology pavilion, then an afternoon of breakouts and some roundtables with executives.
My attendance at PegaWORLD has been spotty the past few years because of conflicts with other conferences during June, so it was a bit of a surprise to show up in DC this week to a crowd of more than 3,000 attendees — definitely now the biggest BPM conference around. The opening keynote started with Alan Trefler (Pega’s founder and CEO) talking about change, and how organizations need to become digital enterprises with the power to engage, the power to simplify and the power to change. Interestingly, SAP used the same “simplicity” message at SAPPHIRE last week: typically, this translates to a combination of hiding complexity from the business (which is not really simplification, just better window dressing) and platform rationalization (which is actually technological simplification).
As Trefler described it, Pega sees three major contributors to becoming digital enterprises: case lifecycle management as an alternative to a pure process view for the complexity of real-world business operations; next best action to predict what a customer might do based on their engagement history; and omni channel to provide a consistent customer experience on multiple channels simultaneously in an integrated fashion. These three capabilities provide a digital context based on a unified architecture, bridging (internal) work and (external) customer.
Pega has reached a size now — 3,000 employees and over a half billion in revenue — where they are fueling some of their growth through acquisitions; this is likely to challenge their ability to avoid a “Frankenstack” of technologies weirdly bolted together. They’re hitting all the buzzwords: social, mobile, analytics, cloud and internet of things, with a story of how they’re addressing each. Incidentally, I found it interesting that they still have less than 100 cloud-based production customers, although many times more are using it for development and test systems; that’s going to have to step up if they’re going to really engage with increasingly diverse organizations.
Anette Bronder from Vodaphone’s enterprise delivery group took the stage to talk about their ongoing business transformation program: working to achieve simplification, standardization, digitization and globalization. They are improving their enterprise operations and infrastructure, with the goal of a set of standard products that can be delivered across all segments. Enterprise customers, making up almost 30% of their business, include big names including Amazon and Bosch; these include the communications required for logistics, manufacturing, fulfillment, the internet of things and much more, with the ultimate goal of putting a SIM card in pretty much everything. Transformation of their enterprise delivery processes is based on several factors: sourcing the right people both internally and externally; standardized processes with a common methodology leveraging best practices; governance with a single operating and delivery model across all markets with a consistent set of metrics; and common technology for order management, project management and product catalog. They are moving from manual to automated operations, and from local siloed approaches to globally standardized products and processes. They want to improve customer engagement through a case management approach, where all customer information is available for decision-making and pro-active problem resolution, while improving operational efficiency and business agility. Pega is one of their technology partners, but obviously there’s a lot more involved here, including significant change management. They’re two years into their journey; it will be interesting to see this again in a year or two when they’re starting to see some real results.
I’m giving a webinar on Wednesday this week (June 11) on developer-friendly BPM and the myth of zero-code BPM when it comes to many complex integrated core business processes. It’s sponsored by camunda, along with a white paper that will be available following the webinar, and co-hosted by BPM.com.
As of last week, about 300 people had already registered for the webinar, should be a good turnout. It starts at 2pm Eastern time, and you can sign up here.