I’m at the IBM Content 2015 road show mini-conference in Toronto today, and sat in on a session with Mike Winter (who I know from my long-ago days at FileNet prior to its acquisition by IBM) discussing ECM in the cloud.
The content at the conference so far has been really lightweight: I think that IBM sees this more as a pre-sales prospecting presentation than an actual informational conference for existing customers. Although there is definitely a place for the former, it should not necessarily be mixed with the latter; it just frustrates knowledgeable customers who were really looking for more product detail and maybe some customer presentations.
ECM in the cloud has a lot of advantages, such as being able to access content on mobile devices and share with external parties, but also has a lot of challenges in terms of security — or, at least, perceived security — when implementing in larger enterprise environments. IBM ECM has a very robust and granular security/auditing model that was already in place for on-premise capabilities; they’re working to bring that same level of security and auditing to hybrid and cloud implementations. They are using the CMIS content management standard as the API into their Navigator service for cloud implementation: their enhanced version of CMIS provides cloud access to their repositories. The typical use case is for a cloud application to access an ECM repository that is either on premise or in IBM’s SoftLayer managed hosting in a sync-and-share scenario; arguably, this is not self-provisioned ECM in the cloud as you would see from cloud ECM vendors such as Box, although they are getting closer to it with per-user subscription pricing. This is being rolled out under the Navigator brand, which is a bit confusing since Navigator is also the term used for the desktop UI. There was a good discussion on user authentication for hybrid scenarios: basically, IBM replicates the customers’ LDAP on a regular basis, and is moving to do the same via a SAML service in the future.
Winter gave us a quick demo of the cloud (hosted) Navigator running against a repository in Amsterdam: adding a document, adding tags (metadata) and comments, viewing via an HTML5 viewer that includes annotations, and more. Basically, a nice web-based UI on an IBM ECM repository, with most of the rich functionality exposed. It’s quick to create a shared teamspace and add documents for collaboration, and create simple review workflows. He’s a tech guy, so didn’t know the SLA or the pricing, although he did know that the pricing is tiered.
We’re finishing up this full day of demos with a mixed bag of BPM application development topics, from integration and customization that aims to have no code, to embracing and measuring code complexity, to cloud BPM services.
BP-3: Sleep at Night Again: Automated Code Analysis
Oracle: Rapid Process Excellence with BPM in the Public Cloud
Linus Chow presented Oracle’s public cloud BPM service for developing both processes and rules, deployable in a web workspace or via mobile apps. He demonstrated an approval workflow, showing the portal interface, a monitoring view overlaid on the process model, and a mobile view that can include offline mode. The process designer is fully web-based, including forms and rules design; there are also web-based administration and deployment capabilities. This is Oracle’s first cloud BPM release and looks pretty full-featured in terms of human workflow; it’s a lightweight, public cloud refactoring of their existing Oracle BPM on-premise solution, but doesn’t include the business architecture or SOA functionality at this time.
Great day of demos, and lots of amazing conversations at the breaks. We’re all off to enjoy a free night in Santa Barbara before returning for a final morning of five more demos tomorrow.
I’m not going to say anything about last night, but it’s a bit of a subdued crowed here this morning at bpmNEXT.
We started the day with Tom Baeyens of Effektif talking about cloud workflow simplified. I reviewed Effektif in January at the time of launch and liked the simple and accessible capabilities that it offers; Tom’s premise is that BPM is just as useful as email, and it needs to be just as simple to use as email so that we are not reliant on a handful of power users inside an organization to make them work. To do this, we need to strip out features rather than add features, and reduce the barriers to trying it out by offering it in the cloud. Inspired by Trello (simple task management) and IFTTT (simple cloud integration, which basically boils down every process to a trigger and an action), Effektif brings personal DIY workflow to the enterprise that also provides a bridge to enterprise process management through layers of functionality. Individual users can get started building their own simple workflows to automate their day-to-day tasks, then more technical resources can add functionality to turn these into fully-integrated business processes. Tom gave a demo of Effektif, starting with creating a checklist of items to be completed, with the ability to add comments, include participants and add attachments to the case. There have been a few changes since my review: you can use Markdown to format comments (I think that understanding of Markdown is very uncommon in business and may not be well-adopted as, for example, a TinyMCE formatted text field); cases can now to started by a form as well as manually or via email; and Google Drive support is emerging to support usage patterns such as storing an email attachment when the email is used to instantiate the case. He also talked about some roadmap items, such as migrating case instances from one version of a process definition to another.
Next up was Stefan Andreasen of Kapow (now part of Kofax) on automation of manual processes with synthetic APIs – I’m happy for the opportunity to see this because I missed seeing anything about Kapow during my too-short trip to the Kofax Transform conference a couple of weeks ago. He walked through a scenario of a Ferrari sales dealership who looks up SEC filings to see who sold their stock options lately (hence has some ready cash to spend on a Ferrari), and narrow that down with Bloomberg data on age, salary and region to find some pre-qualified sales leads, then load them into Salesforce. Manually, this would be an overwhelming task, but Kapow can create synthetic APIs on top of each of these sites/apps to allow for data extraction and manipulation, then run those on a pre-set schedule. He started with a “Kapplet” (applications for business analysts) that extracts the SEC filing data, allows easy manual filtering by criteria such as filing amount and age, then select records for committal to Salesforce. The idea is that there are data sources out there that people don’t think of as data sources, and many web applications that don’t easily integrated with each other, so people end up manually copying and pasting (or re-keying) information from one screen to another; Kapow provides the modern-day equivalent to screen-scraping that taps into the presentation logic and data (not the physical layout or style, hence less likely to break when the website changes) of any web app to add an API using a graphical visual flow/rules editor. Building by example, elements on a web page are visually tagged as being list items (requiring a loop), data elements to extract, and much more. It can automate a number of other things as well: Stefan showed how a local directory of cryptically-named files can be renamed to the actual titles based on table of contents HTML document; this is very common for conference proceedings, and I have hundreds of file sets like this that I would love to rename. The synthetic APIs are exposed as REST services, and can be bundled into Kapplets so that the functionality is exposed through an application that is useable by non-technical users. Just as Tom Baeyens talked about lowering the barriers for BPM inside enterprises in the previous demo, Kapow is lowering the bar for application integration to service the unmet needs.
It would be great if Tom and Stefan put their heads together and lunch and whipped up an Effektif-Kapow demo, it seems like a natural fit.
Next was Scott Menter of BP Logix on a successor to flowcharts, namely their Process Director GANTT chart-style process interface – he said that he felt like he was talking about German Shepherds to a conference of cat-lovers – as a different way to represent processes that is less complex to build and modify than a flow diagram, and also provides better information on the temporal aspects and dependencies such as when a process will complete and the impacts of delays. Rather than a “successor” model such as a flow chart, that models what comes after what, a GANTT chart is a “predecessor” model, that models the preconditions for each task. A subtle but important difference when the temporal dependencies are critical. Although you could map between the two model types on some level, BP Logix has a completely different model designer and execution engine, optimized for a process timeline. One cool thing about it is that it incorporates past experience: the time required to do a task in the past is overlaid on the process timeline, and predictions made for how well this process is doing based on current instance performance and past performance, including tasks that are far in the future. In other words, predictive analytics are baked right into each process since it is a temporal model, not an add-on such as you would have in a process based on a flow model.
For the last demo of this session, Jean-Loup Comeliau of W4 on their BPMN+ product, which provides model-driven development using BPMN 2, UML 2, CMIS and other standards to generate web-based process applications without generating code: the engine interprets and executes the models directly. The BPMN modeling is pretty standard compared to other process modeling tools, but they also allow UML modeling of the data objects within the process model; I see this in more complete stack tools such as TIBCO’s, but this is less common from the smaller BPM vendors. Resources can be assigned to user tasks using various rules, and user interface forms are generated based on the activities and data models, and can be modified if required. The entire application is deployed as a web application. The data-centricity is key, since if the models change, the interface and application will automatically update to match. There is definitely a strong message here on the role of standards, and how we need more than just BPMN if we’re going to have fully model-driven application development.
We’re taking a break, and will be back for the Model Interchange Working Group demonstration with participants from around the world.
Ten months ago, Tom Baeyens (creator of jBPM and Activiti) briefed me on a new project that he was working on: Effektif, a cloud-based BPM service that seeks to bridge the gap between simple collaborative task lists and complex IT-driven BPMS. In October, he gave me a demo on the private beta version, with some discussion of what was coming up, and last week he demonstrated the public version that was launched today. With Caberet-inspired graphics on the landing page and a name spelling that could only have been dreamed up by a Belgian influenced by Germans 😉 the site has a minimalistic classiness but packs a lot of functionality in this first version.
We talked about his design inspirations: IFTTT and zapier, which handle data mappings transparently and perform the simplest form of integration workflow; Box and Dropbox, which provide easy content sharing; Trello and Asana, which enable micro-collaboration around individual tasks; and Wufoo, which allows anyone to build online forms. As IFTT has demonstrated, smaller-grained services and APIs are available from a number of cloud services to more easily enable integration. If you bring together ideas about workflow, ad hoc tasks, collaboration, content, forms and integration, you have the core of a BPMS; if you’re inspired by innovative startups that specialize in each of those, you have the foundation for a new generation of cloud BPM. All of this with a relatively small seed investment by Signavio and a very lean development team.
One design goal of Effektif is based on a 5-minute promise: users should be able to have a successful experience within 5 minutes. This is achievable, considering that the simplest thing that you can do in Effektif is create a shared task list, which is no more complex than typing in the steps and (optionally) adding participants to the list or individual tasks. However, rather than competing with popular shared task list services such as Trello and Asana, Effektif allows you to take that task list and grow it into something much more powerful: a reusable process template with BPMN flow control, multiple start event types, and automated script tasks that allow integration with common cloud services. Non-technical users that want to just create and reuse task lists never need to go beyond that paradigm or see a single BPMN diagram, since the functionality is revealed as you move from tasks to processes, but technical people can create more complex flows and add automated tasks.
Within the Effektif interface, there are two main tabs: Tasks and Processes. Tasks is for one-off collaborative task lists, whereas Processes allows you to create a process, which may be a reusable task list or a full BPMN model.
The Tasks interface is a simple list of tasks, with a default filter of “Assigned to me”. The user can also select “I’m a candidate”, “Unassigned” or “Assigned to others” as task filters.
Each task is assigned to the creator by default, but can be assigned to another user or have other users added as participants, which will cause the task to appear on their task lists.
Each task can have a description, and can have documents attached to it at any point by any participant, either through uploading or via URL. Since any URL can be added, this doesn’t have to be a “document” per se, but any link or reference. Eventually, there will be direct integration with Google Drive and Box for attachments, but for the next month or two, you have to copy and paste the URL. Although you can upload documents as attachments, this really isn’t meant as a document repository, and the intention is that most documents will reside in an external ECM (cloud or on-premise).
Each task can have subtasks, created by any participants; each of those subtasks is the same as a task, that is, it can have a description, documents and subtasks, but is nested as part of the parent task.
Any participant can add comments to a task or subtask, which appear in the activity stream alongside the task list but only in context: that is, a comment added to a subtask will only appear when that subtask is selected. Other actions, such as task creation and completion, are also shown in the activity stream.
When the subtask assignee checks Done to complete the subtask, they are prompted with the remaining subtasks in that task that are assigned to them. This does not happen when completing a top-level task, which seemed a bit inconsistent, but I probably need to play around with this functionality a bit more. In looking at how processes instances are handled, likely a task is executed as a process instance with its subtasks as activities within that instance, but that distinction probably isn’t clear to (or cared about by) a non-technical user.
Within Processes, the basic process creation looks very much like creating a task list in Tasks, except that you’re creating a reusable process template rather than a one-off task list. In its simplest form, a process is defined as a set of tasks, and a process instance is executed in the same way as a task with the process activities as subtasks. When defining a new process:
Each process has a name. By default, instances of this process will use the same name followed by a unique number.
Each process has a trigger, either manually in Effektif using the Start Process button, or by email to a unique email address generated for that process template.
The activities in the process are initially defined as a task list, where each is either a User Task or Script Task.
Each user task can have a description and be assigned to a user, similar to in the Tasks tab, but can also have a form created for that activity that includes text fields, checkboxes and drop-down selection lists. A key functionality with forms is that defining the form fields at any activity within a process creates process instance variables that can be reused at other activities in the process, including within scripts. In other words, you create the process data model implicitly by designing the UI form.
Optionally, the activities can be viewed as a BPMN process flow using an embedded, simplified version of the Signavio modeler: the list of tasks is just converted to process activities, and you can then draw connectors between them to define serial logic. XOR gateways can also be added, which automatically adds buttons to the previous activity to select the outbound pathway from the gateway. You can switch between the Activities (task list) and Process Flow (BPMN) views, creating tasks in either view, although I was able to cause some weird behaviors by doing that – my Secret Superpower is breaking other people’s code.
The process is published in order to allow process instances to be started from it.
To create a simple reusable task list template, you just give it a name, enter the activities as a list, and publish. If you want to enhance it later with triggers, forms and script tasks, you can come back and edit it later, and republish.
When running a process instance:
The process is started either by an email or manual trigger, which then creates a task in the assigned user’s task list for the process instance, containing the activities as subtasks. If no process flow was defined, then all activities appear as subtasks; if a flow was defined, then only the next available one is visible.
As with the ad hoc tasks, participants can create new subtasks for this process instance or its activities at execution time.
If gateways were added, then buttons will appear at the step prior to the gateway prompting which path to follow out of the gateway. I’m not sure what happens if the step prior is a script task, e.g., a call to a rules engine to provide the flow logic.
As I played around with Effektif, the similarities and differences between tasks, processes (templates) and process instances started to become more clear, but that’s definitely not part of the 5-minute promise.
I’m not sure of the roadmap for tenanting within the cloud environment and sharing of information; currently they are using a NoSQL database with shards by tenant to avoid bottlenecks, but it’s not clear how a “tenant” is defined or the scope of shared process templates and instances.
Other things on the roadmap:
Importing and exporting process models from the full Signavio modeler, or from other BPMN 2.0-compliant modelers, although only a small subset of activity types are supported: start, end, user task, script task, XOR gateway, plus an implied AND gateway by defining multiple paths out of a task.
Additional start event types, e.g., embeddable form, triggers from ECM systems such as triggering a workflow when a document is added to a folder.
Google Drive/Box integration for content.
Salesforce integration for content and triggers.
Common process patterns built in as wizards/templates, allowing users to deploy with simple parameterization (and learn BPMN at the same time).
Effektif is not targeting any particular industry verticals, but are positioned as a company-wide BPM platform for small companies, or as a departmental/team solution for support processes within larger companies. A good example of this is software development: both the Effektif and Signavio teams are using it for managing some aspects of their software development, release and support processes.
There will be three product editions, available directly on the website or (for the Enterprise version) through the Signavio sales force:
Collaborate, providing shared task list functionality and document sharing. Free for all users.
Team Workflow, adding process flows (BPMN modeling) and connectors to Salesforce.com, Google Drive and a few other common cloud services. The first five users are free, then paid for more than five.
Enterprise Process Management, adding advanced integration including with on-premise systems such as SAP and Oracle, plus analytics. That will be a paid offering for all users, and likely significantly more than the Team Workflow edition due to the increased functionality.
I don’t know the final pricing, since the full functionality isn’t there yet: Box, Google Drive and Salesforce integration will be released in the next month or two (currently, you still need to copy and paste the URL of a document or reference into Effektiv, and those systems can’t yet automatically trigger a workflow), and the enterprise integration and analytics will be coming later this year.
Go ahead and sign up: it only takes a minute and doesn’t require any information except your name and email address. If you want to hear more about Effektif, they are holding webinars on February 3rd (English) and 6th (German).
Have seen “HANA effect” over past 2.5 years, and see HANA is being not just a commercial success for SAP but a change in the landscape for enterprise customers. A key technology to help people do more.
Partnerships with SAS, Amazon, Intel, Cisco, Cloud Foundry.
Enterprise cloud and cloud applications.
SuccessFactors Learning products.
1000 startup companies developing products on HANA.
Team of 3 teenagers using HANA Cloud and Lego to build shelf-stacking robots.
Q&A with audience (in person and online):
SAP has always had an excellent technology platform for building applications, used to build their core enterprise applications. HANA is the latest incarnation of that platform, and one that they are now choosing to monetize directly as an application development platform rather than only through the applications. HANA Enterprise Cloud and HANA Cloud Platform are enterprise-strength managed cloud versions of HANA, and HANA One uses AWS for a lower entry point; they’re the same platform as on-premise HANA for cloud or hybrid delivery models. I had a briefing yesterday with Steve Lucas and others from the Platform Solution Group, which covers all of the software tools that can be used to build applications, but not the applications themselves: mobile, analytics, database and technology (middleware), big data, and partners and customers. PSG now generates about half of SAP revenue through a specialist sales force that augments the standard sales force; although obviously selling platforms is more of an IT sell, they are pushing to talk more about the business benefits and verticals that can be built on the platform. In some cases, HANA is being used purely as an application development platform, with little or no data storage.
SAP is all about innovation and looking forward, not just consolidating their acquisitions.
Examples of how SAP is helping their partners to move into their newer innovation solutions: Accenture has a large SuccessFactors practice, for example. I think that the many midrange SIs who have SAP ERP customization as their bread and butter may find it a bit more of a challenge.
Mobile has become a de facto part of their work, hence has a lower profile in the keynotes: it is just assumed to be there. I, for one, welcome this: mobile is a platform that needs to be supported, but let’s just get to the point where we don’t need to talk about it any more. Fiori provides mobile and desktop support for the new UI paradigms.
As with the keynote, too much information to capture live. This session was recorded, and will be available online.
Vishal Sikka – head technology geek at SAP – started us off at TechEd with a keynote on the theme of how great technology always serves to augment and amplify us. He discussed examples such as the printing press, Nordic skis and the Rosetta Stone, and ends up with HANA (of course) and how a massively parallel, in-memory columnar database with built-in application services provides a platform for empowering people. All of SAP’s business applications – ERP, CRM, procurement, HR and others – are available on or moving to HANA, stripping out the complexity of the underlying databases and infrastructure without changing the business system functionality. The “HANA effect” also allows for new applications to be built on the platform with much less infrastructure work through the use of the application services built into HANA.
He also discussed their Fiori user interface paradigm and platform which can be used to create better UX on top of the existing ERP, CRM, procurement, HR and other business applications that have formed the core of their business. Sikka drew the architecture as he went along, which was a bit of fun:
He was joined live from Germany by Franz Faerber, who heads up HANA development, who discussed some of the advances in HANA and what is coming next month in version SP7, then Sam Yen joined on stage to demonstrate the HANA developer experience, the Operational Intelligence dashboard that was shown at SAPPHIRE earlier this year as in use at DHL for tracking KPIs in real time, and the HANA Cloud platform developer tools for SuccessFactors. We heard about SAS running on HANA for serious data scientists, HANA on AWS, HANA and Hadoop, and much more.
There’s a lot of information pushing out in the keynote: even if you’re not here, you can watch the keynotes live (and probably watch it recorded after that fact), and there will be some new information coming out at TechEd in Bangalore in six weeks. The Twitter stream is going by too fast to read, with lots of good insights in there, too.
Bernd Leukert came to the stage to highlight how SAP is running their own systems on HANA, and to talk more about building applications, focusing on Fiori for mobile and desktop user interfaces: not just a beautification of the existing screens, but new UX paradigms. Some of the examples that we saw are very tile-based (think Windows 8), but also things like fact sheets for business objects within SAP enterprise systems. He summed up by stating that HANA is for all types of businesses due to a range of platform offerings; my comments on Hasso Plattner’s keynote from SAPPHIRE earlier this year called it the new mainframe (in a good way). We also heard from Dmitri Krakovsky from the SuccessFactors team, and from Nayaki Nayyar about iFlows for connecting cloud solutions.
TechEd is inherently less sales and more education than their SAPPHIRE conference, but there’s a strong sense of selling the concepts of the new technologies to their existing customer and partner base here. At the heart of it, HANA (including HANA cloud) and Fiori are major technology platform refreshes, and the big question is how difficult – and expensive – it will be for an existing SAP customer to migrate to the new platforms. Many SAP implementations, especially the core business suite ERP, are highly customized; this is not a simple matter of upgrading a product and retraining users on new features: it’s a serious refactoring effort. However, it’s more than just a platform upgrade: having vastly faster business systems can radically change how businesses work, since “reporting” is replaced by near-realtime analytics that provide transparency and responsiveness; it also simplifies life for IT due to footprint reduction, new development paradigms and cloud support.
We finished up 30 minutes late and with my brain exploding from all the information. It will definitely take the next two days to absorb all of this and drill down into my points of interest.
Disclosure: SAP is a customer, and they paid my travel expenses to be at this conference. However, what I write here is my own opinion and I have not been financially compensated for it.
The irrepressible Joerg Klueckmann, Director of Product Marketing for ARIS, hosted the ARIS World session, third in the sub-conferences that I’ve attended here at Innovation World.
Georg Simon, SVP of Product Marketing, discussed some of the drivers for ARIS 9: involving occasional users in processes through social collaboration, shortening the learning curve with a redesigned UI, modernizing the look and feel of the UI with new colors and shapes, lowering the TCO with centralized user and license management, and speeding content retrieval with visual and ad hoc search capabilities. There are new role-specific UI perspectives, allowing users to decide what capabilities that they want to see on their interface (based on what they have been allocated by an administrator). There’s a new flexible metamodel, allowing you to create new object types beyond what is provided in the standard metamodel.
He also briefly mentioned Process Live, which moves this newly re-architected ARIS into the public cloud, and went live yesterday, and discussed their plans to release a mobile ARIS framework, allowing some functionality to be exposed on mobile devices: consuming, collaborating and designing on tablets, and approvals on smartphones as well.
Their recent acquisition, Alfabet, is being integrated with ARIS so that its repository of IT systems can be synchronized with the ARIS process repository for a more complete enterprise architecture view. This allows for handoffs in the UI between activities in an ARIS process model and systems in an Alfabet object model, with direct navigation between them.
Klueckmann gave us a demo of Process Live and how it provides social process improvement in the cloud. This is hardly a market leader – cloud-based process discovery/modeling collaboration started with Lombardi Blueprint (now IBM’s Blueworks Live) around 2007 – but it is definitely significant that a leading BPA player like ARIS is moving into the cloud. They’re also offering a reasonable price point: about $140/month for designers, and less than $6/month for viewers, which you can buy directly on their site with a credit card – and there’s a one-month free trial available. Contrast this with Blueworks Live, where an editor is $50/month, a contributor (who can comment) is $10/month, and a viewer is $2/month (but has to be purchased in multiples of 1,000): considerably more expensive for the designer, but likely much more functionality since it brings much of the ARIS functionality to the cloud.
Process Live offers three templates for create new project databases, ranging from a simple one with four model types, to the full-on professional one with 74 model types. Process Live doesn’t provide the full functionality of ARIS 9: it lacks direct support from Software AG, instead relying on community support; it is missing a number of advanced modeling and analysis features; and can’t be customized since it’s multi-tenanted cloud. You can check out some of their video tutorials for more information on how it works. Data is stored on the Amazon public cloud, which might offer challenges for those who don’t want to include the NSA as a collaborator.
We heard from Fabian Erbach of Litmus Group, a large consulting organization using Process Live with their customers. For them, the cloud aspect is key since it reduces the setup time by eliminating installation and providing pre-defined templates for initiating projects; furthermore, the social aspects promote engagement with business users, especially occasional ones. Since it’s accessible on mobile (although not officially supported), it is becoming ubiquitous rather than just a tool for BPM specialists. The price point and self-provisioning makes it attractive for companies to try it out without having to go through a software purchasing cycle.
ARIS World ended with a panel of three ARIS customers plus audience participation, mostly discussing future features that customers would like to have in ARIS as well as Process Live. This took on the feel of a user group meeting, which offered a great forum for feedback from actual users, although I missed a lot of the nuances since I’m not a regular ARIS user. Key topics included the redesigned ARIS 9 UI, and the distinction between ARIS and Process Live capabilities.
A robust cloud platform. Although OpenText Cloud existed, it wasn’t what you’d call industrial strength and it was more of an infrastructure platform: it wasn’t fully multi-tenant, and it’s not clear that they had the skills internally to build out the functionality into a competitive solution-oriented platform as a service (PaaS). Cordys, in spite of being a relative unknown, has a strong cloud and PaaS heritage. They also bring other parts of the infrastructure that are missing or deficient in OpenText – including a rapid application development framework, ESB, rules, analytics and MDM – which should accelerate their time to market for a full cloud offering, as well as benefit the on-premise platform.
A “Smart Process Application factory” for creating vertical process-centric applications. OpenText first announced Assure almost a year ago as a development platform, plus their initial Assure HR application built on the platform, and have since released (or at least announced on their product pages) customer service, ITSM and insurance client management apps on Assure as well. Now, presumably, they own all of the underlying intellectual property so are free to port it to other platforms.
They have immediate plans (for release near the beginning of 2014) for bringing things together, at least on the surface: they are porting Assure to Cordys so that the same development platform and vertical applications are available there as on MBPM, which gives them greatly improved cloud functionality, and will create additional smart process applications along the way. Effectively, they are using Assure as a technology abstraction layer: not only will the user experience be the same regardless of the underlying BPM platform, the Assure application developer experience will also be the same across platforms, although obviously there’s completely different technology under the covers.
There are some obvious issues with this. In spite of OpenText CEO’s claim that this is a “single platform”, it’s not. OpenText was still working out the Metastorm/Global360 picture from earlier acquisitions, and now have the Cordys platform thrown into the mix. In 2011, when IBM pulled Lombardi, WPS and a few other bits and pieces into IBM BPM, some of us called them out for the fact that although it was presented as a single platform, there were still multiple engines with some degree of overlapping functionality. IBM’s response, and I’m sure OpenText would line up behind this, is that it doesn’t matter as long as it’s integrated “at the glass”, that is, there’s a common user interface for business users and potentially some more technical functions. As someone who has designed and written a lot of code in the past, I see a fundamental flaw with that logic: in general, more engines means more code, which means more maintenance, which means less innovation. Hence, I consider refactoring redundant engines into a single back-end as well as a common UI to be critical for growth. Getting Assure in place quickly as a technology abstraction layer will definitely help OpenText along this route, although primarily for existing Assure customers and new customers for whom Assure will be the primary OpenText application development environment; existing MBPM and OpenText customers will likely need to consider porting their applications to the Assure platform at some point in order to get on the main upgrade bandwagon.
Following the Cordys announcement, Gartner released their analysis that casts doubts on whether OpenText can bring together the acquisitions into a coherently unified strategy. Aside from the stunningly obvious point in the summary, “If OpenText’s BPM suites do not fully meet your needs, evaluate other providers” (when is that not true for any vendor/product?), they see that this just makes the OpenText landscape more complex, and goes so far as to wave off prospective customers. As one person who passed on this link said: ouch.
Disclosure: OpenText has been a customer in the past for which I have created white papers, the most recent of which was “Thinking Beyond Traditional BPM” (and a related webinar). I was not compensated in any way for my recent briefing nor for writing this blog post.
Vishal Sikka, who leads technology and innovation at SAP, followed Hasso Platner onto the keynote stage; I decided to break the post and publish just Plattner’s portion since my commentary was getting bit long.
Sikka also started his part of the keynote with HANA, and highlighted some customer case studies from their “10,000 Club”, where operations are more than 10,000 times faster when moved to HANA, plus one customer with an operation that runs 1 million times faster on HANA. He talked about how imperatives for innovation are equal parts math and design: it has to be fast, but it also has to solve business problems. HANA provides the speed and some amount of the problem-solving, but really good user experience design has to be part of the equation. To that end, SAP is launching Fiori, a collection of 25 easy-to-use applications for the most common SAP ERP and data warehouse functions, supported on phone, tablet and desktop platforms with a single code base. Although this doesn’t replace the 1000’s of existing screens, it can likely replace the old screens for many user personas. As part of the development of Fiori, they partnered with Google and optimized the applications for Chrome, which is a pretty bold move. They’ve also introduced a lot of new forms of data visualization, replacing mundane list-style reports with more fluid forms that are more common on specialized data visualization platforms such as Spotfire.
Fiori doesn’t depend on HANA (although you can imagine the potential for HANA analytics with Fiori visualization), but can be purchased directly from the HANA Marketplace. You can find out more about SAP’s UX development, including Fiori, on their user experience community site.
Returning to HANA, and to highlight that HANA is also a platform for non-SAP applications, Sikka showed some of the third-party analytics applications developed by other companies on the HANA platform, including eBay and Adobe. There are over 300 companies developing applications on HANA, many addressing specific vertical industries.
That’s it for me from SAPPHIRE NOW 2013 — there’s a press Q&A with Plattner and Sikka coming up, but I need to head for the airport so I will catch it online. As a reminder, you can see all of the recorded video (as well as some remaining live streams today) from the conference here.
It’s the last day of SAP’s enormous SAPPHIRE NOW 2013 conference here in Orlando, and the day opens with Hasso Plattner, one of the founders of SAP who still holds a role in defining technology strategy. As expected, he starts with HANA and cloud. He got a good laugh from the audience when saying that HANA is there to radically speed some of the very slow bits in SAP’s ERP software, such as overnight process, he stated apologetically “I had no idea that we had software that took longer than 24 hours to run. You should have sent me an email.” He also discussed cloud architectures, specifically multi-tenancy versus dedicated instances, and said that although many large businesses didn’t want to share instances with anyone else for privacy and competitive reasons, multi-tenancy becomes less important when everything is in memory. They have three different cloud architectures to deal with all scenarios: HANA One on Amazon AWS, which is fully public multi-tenant cloud currently used by about 600 companies; their own managed cloud using virtualization to provide a private instance for medium to large companies, and dedicated servers without virtualization in their managed cloud (really a hosted server configuration) for huge companies where the size warrants it.
Much of his keynote rebutting myths about HANA — obviously, SAP has been a bit stung by the press and competitors calling their baby ugly — including the compression factor between how much data is on disk versus in memory at any given time, the relative efficiency of HANA columnar storage over classic relational record storage, support on non-proprietary hardware, continued support of other database platforms for their Business Suite, HANA stability and use of HANA for non-SAP applications. I’m not sure that was the right message: it seemed very defensive rather than talking about the future of SAP technology, although maybe the standard SAP user sitting the audience needed to hear this directly from Plattner. He did end up with some words on how customers can move forward: even if they don’t want to change database or platform, moving to the current version of the suite will provide some performance and functionality improvements, while putting them in the position to move to Business Suite on HANA (either on-premise or on the Enterprise Cloud) in the future for a much bigger performance boost.
HANA is more than just database: it’s database, application server, analytics and portals bundled together for greater performance. It’s like the new mainframe, except running on industry-standard x86-based hardware, and in-memory so lacking the lengthy batch operations that we associate with old-school mainframe applications. It’s OLTP and OLAP all in one, so there’s no separation between operational data stores and data warehouses. As long as all of the platform components are (relatively) innovative, this is great, for the same reason that mainframes were great in their day. HANA provides a great degree of openness, allowing for code written in Java and a number of other common languages to be deployed in a JVM environment and use HANA as just a database and application server, but the real differentiating benefits will come with using the HANA-specific analytics and other functionality. Therein lies the risk: if SAP can keep HANA innovative, then it will be a great platform for application development; if they harken to their somewhat conservative roots and the innovations are slow to roll out, HANA developers will become frustrated, and less likely to create applications that fully exploit (and therefore depend upon) the HANA platform.