Appian Forum: Connie Moore keynote

Three days ago, I was in Rome — original home of the Roman Forum and the Appian Way — and now I’m at Appian Forum: Appian‘s first user conference. Samir Gulati, VP of Marketing, delivered some short opening remarks including the “Sandy Kemsley Conference Checklist”, showing how they measured up on my basic requirements for conferences: wifi, online agenda, good content, frequent networking breaks, and other good stuff. They missed on the power plugs at the tables, but other than that, I have to give them full marks.

They had about 150 people sign up for the conference, although I don’t think that were are that many in the room this morning; this was not a paid conference, which tends to result in a higher number of no-shows, but there’s a good cross-section of Appian’s customers and partners, as well as analysts.

After Samir’s short introduction, he turned it over to Connie Moore of Forrester for a keynote on Design for People, Build for Change (wait, this sounds familiar…). She had a great graphic that expand on some of the things that I’ve heard Forrester people talk about in the past, highlighting the “design for people” part of the equation through social networking and other techniques, whereas we’ve often focused (maybe too much) on the “build for change” part of business innovation.

She discussed four factors creating the “perfect storm” that’s led to the current situation:

  • Design evolution, where more products are being designed for optimal use and customer experience, rather than the conveniences of the manufacturer or based on the preconceived notions of the designer. There are many consumer products that illustrate this, but it holds equally true with business computer systems.
  • Process evolution, where we do more continuous improvement than big bang reengineering for both technical and cultural reasons. The current range of BPM products, with monitoring and optimization built in, allow for this sort of continuous improvement in ways that were not previously possible, which has helped to facilitate this shift.
  • Workforce evolution, with the boomers — along with their knowledge of business processes — starting to retire, and the systems developed for those boomers not really suitable for the millenials who grew up digital. This forces the move to different computing paradigms, particularly social networking, as well as different corporate culture in order to attract and retain the talent.
  • Software evolution, moving from a traditional model to software as a service, Web 2.0, open source and free software in both consumer and enterprise environments.

All of this means that we need to bridge between structured human activities and system-intensive processes that we’ve dealt with in traditional enterprise systems, and the ad hoc, messy, chaotic human activities that we see in the new generation of dynamic business applications. Earning her keep, she highlighted how Appian brings content and collaboration to the usual BPM functionality seen with other vendors, then walked through an example of a dynamic business application.

She discussed the need to forge partnerships between stakeholders, preferably by collocating the business and IT people on a project team so that they create a more seamless project. I’ve seen a lot of projects where there is a serious disconnect between the business and IT participants, and having them sit and work together could only help that situation.

Forrester went out to a number of enterprises to see how they build for change, and saw a few different models:

  • An IT-focused model where the technical team always makes changes to the process (hopefully based on conversations with the business)
  • A blended model where the business owners meet with the project team on a regular basis, and the process changes are made by business analysts or technical team members, depending on the requriement

There needs to be a change model that allows for both continuous change — every 1-2 weeks for process tuning — and for new process versions — every 2-6 months for new processes and major changes. This change model needs to be incorporated from the beginning in any process project to allow for continuous improvement, or you’ll end up with inflexible processes; at the very least, plan on a minimum of 3 iterations shortly after implementation before the process is even remotely correct. At the same time, you need to consider forming a process center of excellence to help with overall process improvement, and consider the link to SOA in order to provide a technical framework for dynamic business applications.

When Forrester asked enterprise architects about the primary benefit of BPM, the largest response (24%) was increased productivity, with process visibility (18%) and agility (15%) following. Other benefits included the ability to model processes, consistent processes across business units/geographies, and reduced reliance on IT for process improvement. By looking at the perceived degree of success and the existence of a BPM center of excellence, they found a clear correlation: about half of those who said that BPM was a rousing success had a COE, whereas less than 5% of the failing efforts had a COE.

Her experience — which matches mine — shows that going with a large systems integrator is not a good way to build the necessary skills within an enterprise to achieve ongoing process improvement, and sees direct skills transfer from the BPM vendor has a greater degree of success. Business analysts need to become process analysts, and developers need to become assemblers of dynamic applications. She finished up with several suggestions on how to get started, for business people, IT and executives.

Although there was a lot of repetition from earlier versions of this message that I’ve heard her deliver, I do see some evolution and refinement of the message. Some of the stats and ideas go by pretty fast, however; the audience might benefit from a bit less of a PowerPoint karaoke feeling.

There was an audience question about how Web 2.0 concepts and products — mostly being developed by tiny companies — will be integrated with traditional BPM products from larger companies; Moore didn’t really answer the question, but discussed how the BPM platform vendors are building their own Web 2.0 functionality, and many other BPM vendors are partnering with SharePoint or other collaborative tools. I think that there’s a lot of room for the Enterprise 2.0 vendors and the non-platform BPM vendors to get together to create social networking-enabled processes that are far beyond what’s available from any of the platform vendors (although IBM is doing some pretty innovative stuff), or through SharePoint integration.

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