Kofax Analyst Briefing And Portfolio Update

Following the Kofax Transform day 1 keynotes, we had a separate session for financial and industry analysts to be briefed on the products and financials.

After a brief introduction from Reynolds Bish, we had a detailed briefing on the Kofax product portfolio from Anthony Macciola, the CTO, focusing on the themes of digital transaction management and the first mile of business. The first mile is driven by customer expectations, allowing business transactions to become conversations. Customer demands, however, are exceeding the capabilities of many organizations, in terms of business culture as well as systems of record. Interactions need to be simple, easy, quick and informative, and companies need to be able to reach out and collaborate with a customer as part of the process. This brought him to a discussion of the Softpro and Aia acquisitions, which provide e-signatures and outbound customer communications management, respectively. These both have the ability to be rebranded and can be fully integrated into Kofax TotalAgility (KTA) applications, meaning that they can be used to create touchpoints with customers that are seamless, personalized, and contain closed loop identifiers for efficient processing of paper correspondence.

Outbound customer communications management provides a way to create outbound correspondence to customers by marrying configurable templates with customer-specific data fields — think of it as a super-sophisticated MS-Word mail merge. Macciola showed the Aia designer and how it is used to create reusable library assets such as headers, footers and body text using MS-Word for user familiarity and easy import from existing documents, then assemble those assets into templates. These can include closed loop identifiers such as bar code versions of customer and case IDs for rendering as printed documents that can be auto-rendezvoused with the case on their return, but it’s more interesting to look at the case of publishing as electronic documents with e-signature requirements embedded, including identifying and authenticating reviewers and signers, and orchestrating the “signing ceremony” process. These are pretty important additions to the Kofax portfolio for managing the first mile of customer engagement, where a customer needs to sign and return documents related to an account or transaction: the customer can choose to print and sign the document (or receive a printed document in the first place), then return it for scanning and rendezvous, or they can choose to sign it electronically in a secure environment that creates a PDF file that includes the signature plus audit trail information. Electronic signatures can be done as a written signature using a tablet (with finger or stylus), or with the customer keying in their name or other phrase in place of their signature, once authenticated.

Macciola referred to their platform as BPM — I always have a bit of trouble categorizing it, and tagged my earlier post with both ACM and capture — but also is using the “digital transaction management” terminology that we heard from Bish in this morning’s keynote, which includes inbound content processing (mobile, web, multi-channel, transformation), process orchestration (dynamic case management), process intelligence, information integration, and outbound customer communications management (content creation, e-signature and signature verification).

This was followed by a presentation by Thomas Knapp, SVP/CIO of Waterstone Mortgage, on how they are planning to use Kofax Mortgage Agility integrated with their Ellie Mae mortgage origination system, providing both the branch employee and customer experience. There are a lot of challenges with mortgage origination, in terms of data completeness and quality, customer experience and time sensitivity due to purchase closing deadlines. In the US, due to the involvement of mortgage-based securities in the financial meltdown a few years ago, there are a lot of new compliance rules that Waterstone needs to enforce along the way. They are also dealing with the rise of millennials in the generation of borrowers and their familiarity with technology (although there are many of us who are a lot older who also want an online, paperless experience), and need to have a consistent online experience for the entire mortgage lifecycle, not just origination. They are a “lighthouse” (early/beta) client for Mortgage Agility, and are just launching a beta version of their application this month, with a full rollout later in 2015; they are seeing challenges with the branch employees and their comfort with the technology as well as the technology itself. However, they expect this to be a true game changer for them, increasing operational efficiencies, saving time, boosting productivity, minimizing costs, and identifying opportunities for improvements and increased revenues. He summarized their expected benefits in terms of market, technology, loan process flow and compliance, with a great deal of automation as well as improving the customer experience. Good plans, although it will be critical to see the success of their rollout as it occurs.

We finished up the analyst briefing with a panel of Kofax executives: Reynolds Bish (CEO), Jamie Arnold (CFO), Howard Dratler (EVP sales) and Grant Johnson (CMO). From the Q&A, it’s clear that TotalAgility is still in the early stages of rollout to actual production environments with customers and partners, and their license deal for KTA discussed in this morning’s keynote is a way to nudge customers towards it. This will be a factor in Kofax’s success, since long-term support of the legacy products will eventually become a drag on technology resources and impact revenue and productivity. There was quite a bit of discussion about new sales teams and partner programs to better sell KTA as well as sales of some of the acquired products that are still offered on a standalone basis; as with other vendors, they are always looking to shorten the sales cycle as well as grow the sales pipeline based on the enhanced product portfolio. They are also actively working to expand their customer base beyond financial services, which has been their mainstay, although they continue to focus on banking as a key vertical with lots of opportunities for expansion within current customers with their mobile, e-signature and customer communication management products. Netflix is one of their high-profile customers in a new market segment, although it appears that they are relying primarily on their partner channel for approaching other verticals. In response to a question about cloud strategy, Bish stated that they see limited demand for (public) cloud because of the nature of the data being transmitted, which delayed the first cloud version of KTA to less than a year ago; although they have a bit of cloud exposure through their Kapow acquisition, they’ve been slow to market on this. They are seeing some demand from smaller companies that can’t afford the on-premise infrastructure, plus some incremental (rather than replacement) use cases within their existing large customer base for rolling out solutions more quickly than can be done internally.

We break for lunch now, and I have some spare time to hit a couple of the regular breakout sessions (or the pool) before a CEO roundtable later this afternoon.

Kicking off KofaxTransform 2015: Day 1 Keynotes

I’m in Vegas for a couple of days for the Kofax Transform conference. Kofax has built their business beyond their original scanning and capture capabilities (although many customers still use them for just that): they have made a play in the past couple of years in the smart process application space to extend that “first mile” capability further into the customer journey, and recently acquired Aia, a customer communications management software company, to help round out their ability to support the entire cycle.

2015-03-09 08.20.47The morning keynote on the first day kicked off with introductions from Howard Dratler, EVP of Field Operations, then on to the CEO, Reynolds Bish, for a company update and vision. He’s been with Kofax since 2007, and led them through getting rid of their hardware business and building a more modern software organization including a number of acquisitions, and a public listing on NASDAQ. A key part of this was repositioning in the smart process application (SPA) area with their TotalAgility platform and the vertical solutions that they and their partners build on that. I suspect that there are still a lot of partners (and customers) with solutions built on the older technology; as other software vendors have found, it’s often difficult to get people to refactor onto a new platform when the old one is currently meeting their needs. Their core capture license revenue is still almost 60% of their revenue, but the new and acquired products have increased from zero in 2011 to over 40% They’ve increased their R&D spending significantly, as well as spending on acquisitions, and sales and marketing activities; given their strong cash position, they’ve been able to fund all of these expenditures using cash generated from operations. Overall, a good financial position and good repositioning from their traditional capture business to a broader part of their customers’ business processes, particularly in the systems of engagement.

Bish talked about the “first mile challenge” of getting from the systems of engagement to the systems of record, and how SPAs created with their TotalAgility platform can fill that gap, providing a range of capabilities including mobility, capture, transformation, collaboration, e-signature (via their recent acquisition of Softpro SignDoc) integration and analytics. Although they present TotalAgility primarily as a platform for partners and customers to build SPAs, they also offer vertical applications where they have experience: Kofax Mortgage Agility and Claims Agility. He went into more detail on how the Softpro SignDoc and Aia customer communications acquisitions provide new capabilities for handling signed digital communications with customers, allowing legally-binding transactions to be completed within applications built on TotalAgility: what he called digital transaction management. He also talked about their new mobile capture platform, available as an off-the-shelf capability as well as an SDK for embedding withing other mobile apps.

They’re really pushing to shift people onto the new TotalAgility platform, offering some good deals for customers to switch their KC/KTM licenses for TotalAgility licenses at a reasonable price point, but the effort required to refactor existing applications will still likely impede these migration efforts. There is no doubt that TotalAgility is a superior platform that offers new functionality, better flexibility, and faster development and deployment: the issue is that many customers find their current KC/KTM functionality to be adequate, and moving onto the new platform is a sufficiently large development project that they may consider looking at competitive solutions. I see this same challenge with other vendors, and it’s going to be a lot slower and less successful than Kofax likely imagines.

He summed up by stating that their short-term growth strategy is incremental rather than transformative. There’s also some sessions later today for the analysts to meet with Bish, so I’ll likely be able to expand on this further in later posts.

2015-03-09 08.58.41Next up was Guy Kawasaki, currently at Canva but well-known for his past gigs as an Apple evangelist and his other high-profile engagement gigs. His presentation was on customer enchantment: like engagement, but better. He laid out 10 rules for enchanting customers:

  1. Achieve likability, by being genuine, accepting and positive
  2. Achieve trustworthiness, by trusting others
  3. Perfect your product, because it is easier to engage people with good stuff than with crap
  4. Launch your product, by telling a story containing salient points, and planting the seeds of that story with many social channels
  5. Overcome resistance, using social proof or data to change people’s minds, and understanding who the true influencers are
  6. Endure, by enabling dedicated supporters and building an ecosystem
  7. Present, and become a great presenter by customizing the introduction to the audience, selling the dream of how your product changes people’s lives, and using the 10 slides/20 minutes/30 point font rule
  8. Use technology, removing the speed bumps to engagement and providing value in the form of information, insights and assistance
  9. Enchant up (that is, enchant the boss), by dropping everything else, prototyping fast and delivering bad news early
  10. Enchant down (that is, the people who work for you), by providing mastery and autonomy towards a higher purpose, and being willing to do the dirty jobs

He wrapped up with the three pillars of enchantment: be likable, trustworthy and competent. Great words to live by.

Kawasaki’s a very engaging and funny speaker, with some funny cracks at Apple and Microsoft alike, and good examples from a number of industries. Great talk.

2015-03-09 09.48.25

There’s an analysts session for the rest of the morning, looking forward to hearing more about Kofax’s plans for the future.

Software AG Analyst Day: The Enterprise Gets Digital

After the DST Advance conference in Phoenix two weeks ago, I headed north for a few days vacation at the Grand Canyon. Yes, there was snow, but it was lovely:

Grand Canyon

Back at work, I spent a day last week in Boston for the first-ever North American Software AG analyst event, attended by a collection of industry and financial analysts. It was a long-ish half day followed by lunch and opportunities for one-on-one meetings with executives: worth the short trip, especially considering that I managed to fly in and out between the snow storms that have been plaguing Boston this year. I didn’t live-blog this since there was a lot of material spread over the day, so had a chance to see some of the other analysts’ coverage published after the event, such as this summary from Peter Krensky of Aberdeen Group.

The focus of the event was squarely on the digital enterprise, a trend that I’m seeing at many other vendors but not so many customers yet. Software AG’s CEO, Karl-Heinz Streibich kicked off the day talking about how everywhere you turn, you hear about the digital enterprise: not just using digital technology, but having enough real-time data and devices integrated into our work and lives that they can be said to be truly digital. Streibich feels that companies with a basis in integration middleware – like Software AG with webMethods and other products – are in a good position to enable digital enterprises by integrating data, devices and systems of all types.

Although Software AG is not a household consumer name, its software is in 70% of the Fortune 1000, with a community of over 2M developers; it’s fair to say that you will likely interact with a company that uses Software AG products at least once per day: banks, airports and airlines, manufacturing, telecommunications, energy and more. Their revenues are split fairly evenly between Europe and the Americas, with a small amount in Asia Pacific. License revenues are 32% of the total, with maintenance and consulting splitting the remainder; this relatively low proportion of license revenue is an indicator of a mature software company, and not unexpected from a company more than 40 years old. I found a different representation of their revenues more interesting: they had 66% of their business in the “digital business” segment in 2014, expected to climb to 75% this year, which includes their portfolio minus the legacy ADABAS/NATURAL mainframe development tools. Impressive, considering that it was about a 50:50 split in 2010. 2015-03-04 Boston Analyst Day WJ-WEB.pdf - Adobe Reader 07032015 103114 PM.bmpPart of this increase is likely due to their several acquisitions over that period, but also because they are repositioning their portfolio as the Digital Business Platform, a necessary shift towards the systems of engagement where more of the customer spend is happening. Based on the marketecture diagram, this platform forms a cut-out layer between back office core operational systems and front office customer engagement systems. Middleware, by any other name; but according to Streibich, more business logic is moving to the middleware layer, although this is what middleware vendors have been telling us for decades.

There’s definitely a lot of capable products in the portfolio that form this “development platform for digital business” – webMethods (integration and BPM), ARIS (BPA), Terracotta (in memory big data), Longjump (application PaaS), Metaquark (mobility), Alfabet, Apama, JackBe and more – but the key will be to see how well they can make them all work together to be a true platform rather than just a collection of Software AG-branded tools.

We had an in-depth presentation on their Digital Business Platform from Wolfram Jost, Software AG’s CTO; you can read the long version on their site, so I’ll just hit the high points. He started with some industry quotes, such as “every company will become a software company”, and one analyst firm’s laughable brainstorm for 2014, “Big Change”, but moved on to define digital business as having the following characteristics:

  • Blurring the digital and physical world
  • More influence of customers (on business direction as well as external perceptions)
  • Combining people, business and physical things
  • Agility, speed, scale, responsiveness
  • “Supermaneuverable” business processes
  • Disrupting existing business models

The problem with this shift in business models is that conventional business applications don’t support the way that the new breed of business applications are designed, developed, used and operated. Current applications and development techniques are still valuable, but are being pushed behind the scenes as core operational systems and packaged applications.

Software AG’s Digital Business Platform, then, is based on the premise that few packaged applications are useful in the face of business transformation and the required agility. We need tools to create adaptive applications – built to change, not to last – especially in front office customer engagement applications, replacing or augmenting packaged CRM and other applications. This is not fundamentally different from the message about any agile/adaptive/mashup/model-driven application development environment over the past few years, including BPMS; it’s interesting to see how a large vendor such as Software AG positions their entire portfolio around that message. In fact, one of their slides refers to the adaptive application platform as iBPMS, since the definition of iBPMS has expanded to include everything related to model-driven application development.

2015-03-04 Boston Analyst Day WJ-WEB.pdf - Adobe Reader 07032015 103731 PM.bmpThe core capabilities of their platform include intelligent business operations (webMethods Operational Intelligence, Apama Streaming Analytics); agile processes (webMethods BPM and AgileApps); integration (webMethods Integration and API Management); in-memory data fabric (Terracotta); and business and IT transformation (ARIS BPA and GRC, Alfabet IT Portfolio Management and EA Management). In a detailed slide overlaying their products, they also added a transaction processing capability to allow the inclusion of ADABAS-NATURAL, as well as the cloud offerings that they’ve released over the past year.

Jost dug further in to definitions of business application layers and architectural requirements. They provide the structure and linkages for event routing and event persistence frameworks, using relatively loose event-based coupling between their own products to allow them to be deployed selectively, but also (I imagine) to reduce the amount of refactoring of the products that would be required for tighter coupling. Their cloud IoT offering plays an interesting role by ingesting events from smart devices – developed via co-innovation with device companies such as Bosch and Siemens – for integration with on-premise business applications.

We then heard two shorter presentations, each followed by a panel. First was Eric Duffaut, the Chief Customer Officer, presenting their go-to-market strategy then moderating a panel with two partners, Audi Lucas of Wipro and Chris Brinton of Mosaic Data Science. Their GTM plan was fairly standard for a large enterprise software vendor, although they are improving effectiveness by having a single marketing team across all products as well as improving the sales productivity processes. Their partners are critical for scalability in this plan, and provide the necessary industry experience and solutions; both of the partner panelists talked about co-innovation with Software AG, rather than just providing resources trained on the products.

The second presentation and panel was led by John Bates, CMO and head of industry solutions; he was joined by a customer panel including Bryan Zigler of Boeing, Mark DuBrock of Standard&Poor, and Greg James of Outerwall. Bates discussed the role of industry solutions and solution accelerators, built by Software AG and/or partners, that provide a pre-built, customizable and adaptive application for fast deployment. They’re not using the Smart Process Application terminology that other vendors adopted from the Forrester trend from a couple of years ago, but it’s a very similar concept, and Bates announced the solution marketplace that they are launching to allow these to be easily discovered and purchased by customers.

My issue with solution accelerators and industry solutions in general is that many of these solutions are tied to a specific version of the underlying technology, and are templates rather than frameworks in that you change the solution itself during implementation: upgrades to platform may not be easily performed, and upgrades to the actual solution likely requires re-customizing for each deployed instance. I didn’t get a chance to ask Bates how SAG helps partners and customers to create and deploy more upgradable solutions, e.g., recommended technology guardrails; this is a sticky problem that every technology vendor needs to deal with.

AVPageView 07032015 111148 PM.bmpBates also discussed the patterns of digital disruption that can be seen in the marketplace, and how these are manifesting in three specific areas that they can help to address with their Digital Business Platform:

  • Connected customers, providing opportunities for location-based marketing and offers, automated concierge service, customer location tracking, demographic marketing
  • Internet of Things/Machine-to-Machine (IoT/M2M), with real-time monitoring and diagnostics, and predictive maintenance
  • Proactive risk and compliance, including proactive financial trade surveillance for unusual/rogue behavior

After a wrapup by Streibich, we received copies of his latest book, The Digital Enterprise, plus Thingalytics by Bates; ironically, these were paper rather than digital copies. Winking smile

Disclosure: Software AG paid my airfare and hotel to attend this event, plus gave me a nice lunch and two books, but did not otherwise compensate me for my time nor for anything that I have written here.

This week, I’m in Las Vegas for Kofax Transform, although just as an attendee this year rather than a speaker; expect to see a few notes from here over the two days of the conference.

Capital Raising Through Crowdfunding

Nicholas Doyle of DST gave a presentation on crowdfunding: an interesting topic to cover at a conference attended primarily by old-school financial services companies, who are the ones most likely to be radically disrupted by crowdfunding, but likely don’t see it coming. He started with a video from CraftFund — crowdsourced capital investment focused on the craft beer and food industry — then talked about the state of the market, the different business models, and the US securities regulations that apply to private securities that include crowdfunding. He also included a good timeline of crowdfunding from the 1983 startup of Grameen Bank‘s microfinancing operations, plus some of the regulations that govern microlending and microequity in the US:

Crowdfunding Timeline

I covered a bit about crowdfunding at the 2012 Technicity event, including the UK crowdfunding platform CrowdCube and a discussion on the legality of equity crowdfunding in Ontario (where I live). Equity crowdfunding really only started in the US in 2011 with MicroVentures, and the recently passed JOBS Act includes a number of regulations that apply to crowdfunding and other small-scale equity investments, including who can participate and how it can be promoted and sold. In particular, Title III of the JOBS Act applies to crowdfunding; it’s not finalized yet but Doyle was able to give us a review of what is expected there, as well as some of the state regulations that will impact crowdfunding.

The landscape positions the crowdfunding platforms between issuers and investors; that platform needs to include compliance, distribution, reporting and enabling technologies. Crowdfunding is only 0.6% of the world’s capital markets, but that’s still $1.6B and the industry has grown 1000% in the last five years, and will undoubtedly continue to grow. Debt financing is growing at a much higher rate than equity investing, in part due to the limits placed by the applicable titles of the JOBS Act. Donation models are also growing, and the biggest growth is in reward models, which are typical on sites such as Kickstarter. There are obvious challenges to work out with crowdfunding, such as secondary market liquidity and investor accreditation, but it’s safe to say that it’s here to stay and will continue to grow.

Crowdfunding Growth By Model

DST does not currently offer any products in this area, but it’s interesting to see that they are keeping a close eye on it to see how they can fit in the market, whether as a recordkeeper, clearinghouse or other role.

The sun is high and I’m all done with my presentation and videography commitments, so this will be the end of my blogging from DST ADVANCE 2015 as I head out to enjoy a bit of the Phoenix weather.

AXA And The Digital Enterprise

Day 2 at DST ADVANCE 2015, and I’m attending a panel of three people from AXA on how their journey to becoming a digital insurance business. They define digital business as new ways of engaging with their customers: customers that are increasingly more demanding with respect to online and mobile modes of interaction. This is also driven by their need to reduce and simplify paper requirements, internally in their opertions and field sales force, and with their customers. The mandate for their digital enterprise transformation came from top management as an initiative both for better customer engagement and operational efficiencies.

There was a big cultural and change management component here to encourage their field agents and advisor channel to take advantage of the new digital tools, which in turn improves back office effectiveness by, for example, reducing NIGO rates because of rules-driven application forms. In their operations center, this resulted in shifts in resources, and changes to the type of people that they needed to hire and train: less heads-down data entry, and more tech-savvy knowledge workers. They also needed to effect internal cultural changes to become more flexible, and to have closer collaboration between business and IT.

Becoming a digital insurance business has changed a lot in how AXA’s products are created and rolled out, and also in their IT operations: they introduced the role of chief data scientist, and shifted from a waterfall software development methodology to Agile development and integrated business-technical SCRUM teams. Like many insurance and financial services, they have a lot of legacy systems that run their business, and a big challenge ahead of them is to upgrade those to more agile platforms such as their upcoming migration to AWD 10. They’re using Salesforce in some areas, and want to be able to leverage that further in order to reduce the reliance on internal legacy CRM, as well as introducing emerging technologies such as speech analytics that are piloted successfully in a regional center before being rolled out across the broader enterprise. Within IT, they are changing their methods to more of a DevOps model, with a particular focus on quality engineering. They have created some entirely new teams, such as mobile testing, to accommodate emerging technologies, and be proactive with external forces such as mobile OS upgrades.

One area where they have seen success is in offering incentives to drive adoption by the advisors, such as competitions between regions on adoption levels; some of the incentives for adoption and suggesting new digital enterprise ideas include financial and travel benefits. New advisors are required to use the digital services, and existing advisors are becoming sold on the benefits of using the new tools; in the future, they are considering a negative financial incentive for continuing to use paper in order to further drive adoption. In rolling out a new version of an advisor portal, they included a feedback option, then gave priority to implementing the feedback suggested by the advisors; when the advisors realized that they were directly impacting the development of their day-to-day tools, their participation increased even more.

Audience members in the insurance industry also talked about a shift to digital enterprise causing an increase in top-line revenue by expanding markets, not just retaining existing customers and reducing costs. The AXA team echoed this, and the need to envision and evangelize completely new business models rather than just working on incremental improvement.

Key success factors that AXA identified include the merging of business and IT, and engaging the field sales force in defining and developing the digital services in order to create the right things at the right time. It took about a year from the point of their first rollout to widespread adoption, but now the new capabilities and tools are adopted more quickly since the advisors know that this is going to help them sell more and reduce problems in the sales and policy issue cycle.

Innovations In AWD User Experience

To finish off the first morning at DST ADVANCE 2015, I attended the session on customer and work experience, which was presented as a case study of background investigations on a security-sensitive hiring process, such as for a government immigration and border control agency. This is a relatively straightforward case management scenario: create a case, uploading and indexing the initiating documents using a form; then case management from a case worker’s viewpoint, including tasks assigned to them or other people on the team, and an activity stream view of all case activity. They demonstrated a number of the new widget capabilities, including grid views of case tasks and investigation team members, and Google Maps integration with case data overlaid on the map. We also saw a field investigator’s portal view that limits the view to that user’s active case progress and the details of their assignments. The data entry forms regarding the person being investigated are reused from other parts of the process, plus forms specific to the investigator such as travel expenses.

This shows quite different interfaces depending on the user persona: the simple forms-based view for the case initiator; the full case management interface for the knowledge worker; a worklist-oriented case portal view for the field investigator; and a traditional internal worklist view for internal workers who are assigned specific tasks without visibility onto the entire case.

We didn’t see anything on how these interfaces are built, although there was some discussion of that; I think that there’s a more technical session on building interfaces using the widgets tomorrow.

Unfortunately, this session was in conflict with the Solutions for Tomorrow’s Workforce presentation about goal-driven design and some of the customer research that they’ve done; difficult to get to all of the sessions of interest here.

AWD 2015 Product Strategy

Roy Brackett and Mike Lovell from DST’s BPS (Business Process Solutions) product management gave us a review of what happened in 2014 and an update on their 2015 product strategy, following on from the bits that we heard from John Vaughn in the opening session.

DST has a ton of experience with the back office, since they run a huge outsourcing operation, but their current push is to also improve front office and customer-facing functionality. They are accelerating their release cycles, and providing detailed information via web conferences and technical briefings with customers. They’ve also mapped out a value journey for their customers for complex implementations: from defining outcomes and performance metrics to a solution design, proof of concept and production implementation.

With a large portfolio of products, including quite a bit of legacy still running at client locations, they have some product management challenges both in refactoring and modernizing platforms, and implementing newer technologies to keep up with the competition. Over three releases from June 2014 to January 2015, they added a number of capabilities:

  • UI widgets that use their RESTful services, including messaging between the widgets and with other applications
  • Advanced comments that allow threading and an activity feed view, bringing a more collaborative, social feel to authenticated comments within AWD
  • Variable timers that can be set at runtime
  • Multiple recipients on outbound letters, such as sending a broker or advisor a copy of a letter sent to a client
  • RESTful authentication
  • Security upgrades, including enforcing trusted sources for server data, and prohibiting JavaScript in comments
  • Separating out batch actions to improve performance

With their next releases, scheduled for April and beyond, they are adding or enhancing the following functionality:

  • Consume SAML-based web services
  • Communications editor for creating outbound correspondence
  • Updated platform support for WebSphere, Jbox, WebLogic, Oracle, WinSQL and IE 11
  • Updates to case management functionality including date functions, such as basing a date on the completion of dependencies, and adding case end dates
  • Early release of their Processing Workspace, which will mark the beginning of the end of their current portal UI; this improves real estate and navigation, and adds personalization for the primary workspace, worklists, search and attachment handling
  • Process analytics
  • Advanced workgroup management, rather than just a simple supervisor-worker hierarchy
  • Quality metrics and related analytics
  • Enhanced data transfer from AWD to the BI warehouse — there will be a session following this on the entire BI roadmap

There’s also some work being done on creating robust data centers under their Project Rainforest, which will be covered in sessions later today.

We pulled back from the details to look at the business problems that are front of mind for organizations: enhanced customer experience, process efficiency, targeted marketing (via analytics) and cost reduction top the list. Broken down by industry, DST’s big three customer verticals of banking/investments, insurance and healthcare are definitely focused on enhanced customer experience, but also concerned with risk and compliance more than the overall average. To address this, DST is doing significant product development in the vertical application solutions and accelerators that can help their target customers achieve value sooner.

DST has never been seen as an innovator in the BPMS market in terms of features, and their current roadmap isn’t going to change that view. However, what they do provide is a deep pool of domain expertise in their core markets, and solid products that solve the real business problems for those customers. This has allowed them to create extremely strong relationships with their customers, who rely on them to support existing practices while modernizing their technology.

Kicking Off #DSTAdvance15 – DST Update From @JCV816

Conference season always brings some decisions and conflicts, and this year’s first one (for me) came down to a decision between DST‘s ADVANCE in Phoenix, and IBM InterConnect in Las Vegas. DST had booked me to speak at this year’s conference right after last year, and when IBM combined Impact into InterConnect, the date moved from their usual March or April event to February, directly in conflict with DST. Also: Phoenix over Vegas? No competition.

DST has combined some of their smaller financial services events into ADVANCE this year, giving this a stronger than ever focus on financial services especially in the area of asset/fund management. This is a big chunk of their customer base, along with insurance, although many of the solutions that they offer — including their BPMS — cn apply to other verticals. I’ll be presenting later today about the challenges of onboarding, and how BPM, case management, smart process applications and other technologies can be applied to solve some of the business problems associated with these unpredictable, complex and risk-laden processes.

There were hands-on labs for customers yesterday, but the main conference started this morning with an opening session hosted by John Vaughn and featuring three of the senior management team, focused on the four key things that DST has been focusing on in the past year in order to help their customers with business growth and retention: transforming the customer experience, optimizing distribution, staying ahead of compliance risks, and providing smarter business process solutions. We heard a quick overview about their advances in customer experience; advanced analytics applied to distribution solutions leveraged by their acquisition of kasina; GRC solutions that extend into the distribution chain; and business process solutions including their onboarding, claims processing and AML/KYC frameworks, plus their upcoming AltServe offering for managing alternative investments.

Since DST has an outsourcing operation that processes a huge portion of the mutual fund and similar transactions in the US, and they are their own first and best customer, they know what they’re doing in creating technology solutions for managing the tough problems in financial services. As Vaughn pointed out during the keynote, a lot of the “easy” transactions are now being done outside your back office, either further up in the distribution channel or through customer self-service, meaning that the work being done internally includes more of the difficult, unpredictable business problems; their frameworks and solution accelerators are focused on many of those.

Lots of great sessions on the agenda today; I’m going to head to the BPM product strategy breakout to see what’s coming up

BPM Cyber Monday: Camunda 7.2 Adds Tasklist And CMMN

I caught up with Jakob Freund and Daniel Meyer of camunda last week in advance of their 7.2 release; with 1,700 person-days of work invested in this April-November release cycle, this includes a new tasklist application, an initial implementation of the Case Management Model and Notation (CMMN) standard, developer accelerators particularly for non-Java developers, and performance and stability improvements. You can hear more about the new release and see a demo in their webinar on Wednesday this week, and read their blog post about it. [Update: you can see the webinar replay here and the slides here, no registration required.]

It’s been interesting to track the progress of camunda and Activiti after camunda forked from the Activiti project in early 2013, since they are targeting slightly different markets but still offer competitive solutions in the open source BPM space. Last week, I wrote about Activiti’s recent release of their BPM Suite, which includes end-user task list and forms interfaces and tools for for “citizen developers” (read: non-hard-core-Java developers); we are seeing some similar themes in the new camunda release, although camunda sticks closer to a true open source model by releasing pretty much all of the code as part of the open source project, while Activiti is making everything except the core engine part of their commercial product.

Camunda Tasklist - 3-panel UIThe biggest news of this release is the tasklist app, since this marks a completely new foray by camunda into end-user interfaces that remain part of the open source project. Developed in conjunction with their customer DAB bank, it’s a single-page JavaScript application that is usable out of the box but intended to be developer-friendly for customization. The 3-panel UI (inspired by MS Outlook, although I thought that might not be considered very inspiring by some) shows filters, the task list resulting from the selected filter, and the details of the selected task. Any of the three columns can be collapsed or expanded by the user: you might want to maximize the active task form while completing a task, for example, or collapse the form to see just the filters and task list for quickly sorting or triaging work.

Camunda Tasklist - Create new filterFilters can be created using expressions based on drop-down lists of instance properties, and can be shared for use by other users or groups. Filters can also specify process variables so that those variables are visible in the task list and can be used for searching and sorting, which makes it easier to locate a specific task without having to click on each task to see the details. If permissions allow, other user’s tasks can be included in the task list. During our demo, they pointed out the ability to use keyboard controls to navigate through the task list, something that was suggested by the users: having seen many keyboard-centric users slowed down by having to use a mouse for controlling their screens, this was not a surprise to me, but I think that many software developers don’t think about the needs of the old-school keyboarding users.

They have had to improve their APIs to expose more information and functionality to support the tasklist app, which helps developers even if they are not using the tasklist. For the forms interface of an active task, they created the camunda JavaScript Forms SDK to simplify the connection to their REST APIs, allowing HTML form controls to be bound directly to process variables so that the SDK handles the interactions with the process engine as well as type conversions. This can be used for the forms interface even if you replace the tasklist app with your own HTML5 UI, and the SDK optionally integrates with AngularJS for additional features such as form validation. There are some nice page/process-flow control features for tasks: the option to use a Save button as well as Complete, which saves the task in place (with any instance data updates) but does not move it through the process flow; and the ability for a user completing a task to directly access the following task for this instance if it is assigned to them.

Camunda Tasklist - Task within BPMN processThe task detail pane of the UI contains more than just the task form: it also has a history tab showing events, due dates and comments; a diagram tab highlighting the current task within the BPMN diagram; and a description tab that I didn’t see, but I assume can contain task instructions.

The other new major user-facing functionality is support for CMMN; 2015 is definitely going to be the year when we see the BPM vendors pile on here, and camunda is out in front with this. Like many other BPM vendors, camunda’s BPMN implementation does not support ad hoc activities – arguably, support for events and ad hoc activities provides most of what is required for case management – so they are using the Trisotech CMMN modeler instead of their own modeler, but executing on the same core camunda engine which exposes standard engine features such as REST APIs and scripting. Cases can be instantiated through the API directly by a web form or other event, or can be instantiated using a call from a structured process. In turn, cases can instantiate structured processes through a call from an activity. This covers all of the use cases along the structured/unstructured spectrum: completely pre-defined processes, pre-defined with ad hoc exceptions, ad hoc with pre-defined fragments, and completely ad hoc. Calls from BPMN that instantiate a CMMN case can be synchronous (i.e., wait for completion), or asynchronous.

Camunda CMMNCase tasks, once instantiated, will appear in the tasklist along with those from BPMN processes; however, note that ad hoc tasks will require some sort of custom UI to allow a user to instantiate them if they are not triggered automatically by events or other tasks. They have nothing on the out of the box tasklist app to do this, although I can envision that they might extend this in the future to allow a case owner or participant to see and trigger ad hoc case tasks.

CMMN is still pretty new, although the concepts of case management have been around for a long time; camunda has some customers testing and providing feedback on their CMMN implementation, and they are expecting requirements and capabilities to emerge as they get more practical experience with it. By providing an open source engine that supports CMMN, they also hope to contribute to the CMMN standard and its use cases in general since others can use their engine to test the standard.

Moving on to some of the developer and non-functional features in the new release, they are positioning their developer-friendly methods against “death by property panel” in zero-code BPM suites. The subject of many conversations amongst BPM practitioners, fully model-driven development BPM suites may not require Java coding but often are suitably complex that they require developer skills to use them; this can frustrate developers who are saddled with inefficient (to them) environments for creating applications. However, not every developer is a hard-core Java coder, and many organizations have access to a middle ground of people with development skills but who want to use lighter-weight languages, often regional IT resources embedded within business units. Where Activiti’s new citizen developer tools leans more to the less-technical, model-driven developer, camunda focuses on developers using scripting languages such as JavaScript, Groovy, Jython and JRuby by allowing these languages to be used in place of the expression language or custom Java code within their implementation of BPMN models, including listeners, script tasks and sequence flow conditions. Wrappers for templates, e.g., XSLT, allow these to be added for composing or mapping data. There’s a new API for implementing connectors, with SOAP and REST connectors included out of the box with 7.2. Finally, Java objects are now serialized in XML/JSON rather than byte streams, allowing other languages – and BPMN processes, via APIs – to introspect and consume them directly without converting to Java objects, and making it possible to easily combine Java with other languages within an implementation.

Camunda performanceOn the execution performance side, camunda likes to distinguish their product within the open source BPM field as being for high-load straight-through processing rather than just manual activities, where they define “high-load” as 10 process instances per second: they’ve been steadily  improving execution engine performance since the split and are even working on implementing with alternative storage/computing strategies such as in-memory grids (I jokingly asked if we would see camunda on HANA any time soon). In tests on an earlier 7.x release, they were already 10-30x (that’s times, not percent) faster than Red Hat’s jBPM; 7.2 improves the caching and load balancing, and enhances the asynchronous history logging to allow the level of data logged to be configured by process class and activity. This helps provides the level of scalability that they need for their highest-volume customers, such as telcos, that may be executing more than 1,000 process instances per second.

The camunda open source community edition is available for download and they will be pushing out updates to their Enterprise subscription customers. Check out their upcoming webinar, or sign up for the webinar and watch the recording later.

Disclosure: camunda has been my customer during 2014 for services including a webinar, white paper and the keynote at their user conference. However, I have not been compensated in any way for researching and writing this review.

Activiti BPM Suite – Sweet!

There are definitely changes afoot in the open source BPM market, with both Alfresco’s Activiti and camunda releasing out-of-the-box end-user interfaces and model-driven development tools to augment their usual [Java] developer-friendly approach. In both cases, they are targeting “citizen developers”: people who have technical skills and do some amount of development, but in languages lighter weight than Java. There are a lot of people who fall into this category, including those (like me) who used to be hard-core developers but fell out of practice, and those who have little formal training in software development but have some other form of scientific or technical background.

Prior to this year, Activiti BPM was not available as a standalone commercial product from Alfresco, only bundled with Alfresco or as the community open source edition; as I discussed last year, their main push was to position Activiti as the human-centric workflow within their ECM platform. However, Activiti sports a solid BPMN engine that can be used for more than just document routing and lifecycle management, and in May Alfresco released a commercially-supported Alfresco Activiti product, although focused on the human-centric BPM market. This provides them with opportunities to monetize the existing Activiti community, as well as evolving the BPM platform independently of their ECM platform, such as providing cloud and hybrid services; however, it may have some impact on their partners who were relying on support revenue for the community version.

The open source community engine remains the core of the commercial product – in fact, the enterprise release of the engine lags behind the community release, as it should – but the commercial offering adds all of the UI tools for design, administration and end-user interface, plus cluster configuration for the execution engine.

Activiti Administrator cluster monitoringThe Activiti Administrator is an on-premise web application for managing clusters, deploying process models from local packages or the Activiti Editor, and technical monitoring and administration of in-flight processes. There’s a nice setup wizard for new clusters – the open source version requires manual configuration of each node – and allows nodes within the cluster to be auto-discovered and monitored. The monitoring of process instances allows drilling into processes to see variables, the in-flight process model, and more. Not a business monitoring tool, but seems like a solid technical monitoring tool for on-premise Activiti Enterprise servers.

The Activiti Editor is a web-based BPMN process modeling environment that is a reimplementation of other open-source tools, refactored with JavaScript libraries for better performance. The palette can be configured based on the user profile in order to restrict the environment, which would typically be used to limit the number of BPMN objects available for modeling in order to reduce complexity for certain business users to create simple models; a nice feature for companies that want to OEM this into a larger environment. Models can be shared for comments (in a history stream format), versioned, then accessed from the Eclipse plug-in to create more technical executable models. Although I saw this as a standalone web app back in April, it is now integrated as the Visual Editor portion of Kickstart within the Activiti Suite.

Activiti SuiteThe Activiti Suite is a web application that brings together several applications into a single portal:

  • Kickstart is their citizen development environment, providing a simple step editor that generates BPMN 2.0 – which can then be refined further using the full BPMN Visual Editor or imported into the Eclipse-based Activiti Designer – plus a reusable forms library and the ability to bundles processes into a single process application for publishing within the Suite. In the SaaS version, it will integrate with cloud services including Google Drive, Alfresco, Salesforce, Dropbox and Box.
  • Tasks is the end-user interface for starting, tracking and participating in processes. It provides an inbox and other task lists, and provides for task collaboration by allowing a task recipient to add others who can then view and comment on the task. Written in Angular JS.
  • Profile Management to , for user profile and administration
  • Analytics, for process statistics and reports.

The Suite is not fully responsive and doesn’t have a mobile version, although apparently there are mobile solutions on the way. Since BP3 is an Activiti partner, some of the Brazos tooling is available already, and I suspect that more mobile support may be on the way from BP3 or Alfresco directly.

They have also partnered with Fluxicon to integrate process mining, allowing for introspection of the Activiti BPM history logs; I think that this is still a bit ahead of the market for most process analysts but will make it easy when they are ready to start doing process discovery for bottlenecks and outliers.

I played around with the cloud version, and it was pretty easy to use (I even found a few bugs Smile ) and it would be usable by someone with some process modeling and lightweight development skills to build apps. The Step Editor provides a non-BPMN flowcharting style that includes a limited number of functions, but certainly enough to build functional human-centric apps: implicit process instance data definition via graphical forms design; step types for human, email, “choice” (gateway), sub-process and publishing to Alfresco Cloud; a large variety of form field types; and timeouts on human tasks (although timers based on business days, rather than calendar days, are not there yet). The BPMN Editor has a pretty complete palette of BPMN objects if you want to do a more technical model that includes service tasks and a large variety of events.

Although initially launched in a public cloud version, everything is also available on premise as of the end of November. They have pricing for departmental (single-server up to four cores with a limit on active processes) and enterprise (eight cores over any number of servers, with additional core licensing available) configurations, and subscription licensing for the on-premise versions of Kickstart and Administrator. The cloud version is all subscription pricing. It seems that the target is really for hybrid BPM usage, with processes living on premise or in the cloud depending on the access and security requirements. Also, with the focus on integration with content and human-centric processes, they are well-positioned to make a play in the content-centric case management space.

Instead of just being an accelerator for adding process management to Java development projects, we’re now seeing open source BPM tools like Activiti being positioned as accelerators for lighter-weight development of situational applications. This is going to open up an entire new market for them: an opportunity, but also some serious new competition.