Kicking off bpmNEXT 2019 with @NathanielPalmer

Except for a hiatus in 2017, I’ve been at every bpmNEXT since its inception in 2013, created and hosted by Bruce Silver and Nathaniel Palmer as a showcase for new ideas in BPM and related technologies. This is not a conference for (potential) customers, but a place for vendors, researchers and analysts to come together to exchange ideas about what’s happening in the marketplace and the technology labs. Most of the agenda is made up of 30-minute demo sessions with a few panels and keynotes sprinkled in.

Nathaniel Palmer started our first day with a look forward at the next five years of BPM by considering the five-year span from 2015 to 2020 and how his predictions are playing out from his first predictions keynote. In 2015, he talked about intelligent automation; today, we’re seeing robots and rules-based automation as an integral part of how business is done. This is pretty crucial, because the average number of systems required to present a complete view of a customer is 13.2 (!), 8 of which are external, with 80% of firms stating that they use more than 10 systems to get that a 360 degree view. He talks about the need for an intelligent automation platform that includes robotic automation, AI and machine learning, decision management, and process management, communicating with events and data via an event gateway/bus. He believes that the role of a BPMS is also to provide the framework for development and to build the user interface – an idea that I’ll be debating somewhat in my keynote tomorrow – but sees always-on, context-driven devices such as smart speakers as the future of how we interact with systems rather than traditional computers and smartphones. That means that conversational interaction will take over from worklist metaphors for common processes for consumers and employees; my interpretation of this is that the task-focused activities are those that will be automated, leaving the more fluid activities for people to deal with.

A consideration of this changing nature of automation is how to model this. Our traditional workflows have a pre-defined path, whereas intelligent automation (with more of a case management/ad hoc paradigm) has more adaptable processes driven by rules and business context. It’s more like using Waze for dynamically-adjusted driving directions rather than a pre-conceived idea of what route to follow. The danger with this – in my experience with Waze and adaptable business processes – is that you could end up on a route that is not generally followed, messes up the people who have to get involved along the route, and definitely isn’t repeatable or scalable: better for that specific instance and its participants, but possibly detrimental to others. The potential gain is, of course, that the process as a whole is more resilient because it responds to events by determining an action that will reach the goal, and you may just find a new and better way of doing something. Respond to events, definitely, but at some point take a step back and consider the impact of the new pathways that you’re carving out.

IMG_3352He spoke about problems with AI/ML and training data biases – robots are only as smart as your training data – and highlighted that BPM platforms are a great source of training data via process mining.and analysis.

Insightful as always, and it will be interesting to see these themes play out in the demos over the next three days.

2019 @Alfresco Day: RBC Capital Markets

Yesterday at the analyst day, Alfresco CEO Bernadette Nixon had a fireside chat with Jim Williams of RBC about their Alfresco journey, and today at the user conference, Williams gave us more of the details of what they’re doing. They had an aging platform (built on Pega) that wasn’t able to support their derivatives business operations adequately, having been designed for a single purpose without the ability to easily change, resulting in many manual processes.

They wanted to have a single BPM and ECM platform that would span all of their business areas for handling regulatory documentation, and they started in 2015 with their equities operations: not because it was easy, low-hanging fruit, but because it was complex and essential to get it right. They now have 14 applications built on the same framework, and 3,500+ users. Williams said that they specifically liked Alfresco because it doesn’t try to be everything but integrates with other products and services to do functions such as reporting or OCR; this is particularly interesting in the face of other vendor platforms that want to be everything to everyone, and don’t do some of the functions very well.

By 2016, they had rolled out applications in tax operations, which was essential to the changing IRS rules that required foreign banks like RBC to withhold tax on US investments unless clients could prove that they met non-resident requirements. This had to integrate with many of their other operational processes that followed. They also implemented content and process applications for HR due to some of their complex job role management in the UK, reducing dependency on spreadsheets and email for what are essentially core processes.

Like all of the very conservative Canadian financial institutions, their Alfresco implementation is all on premise rather than cloud, although they have cloud ambitions. It’s also important to note that although RBC is Canada’s largest bank, Capital Markets is a relatively small part of it; it will be interesting to see if Williams can carry the Alfresco message to other parts of the organization.

2019 @Alfresco Analyst Day: vision for the future with @JohnNewton

We wrapped up the 2019 Analyst Day with founder John Newton talking about Alfresco’s vision for the future.

Most digital transformation efforts today are focused on external experiences, that is, how a company interacts with its customers. However, there’s more to it than that: the external experience has to interact with employee experiences and operational systems; this linkage is what Newton calls digital operations. Looking at the ubiquitous onboarding use case, digital transformation is not just about the nice app that the customer sees to upload their documents: it’s also about the straight-through processing that manages what happens after the customer does that upload, or request a service. He points out that it’s all about the process, and that content follows the process. This, obviously, is music to my ears.

Customers need to think about their digital business platform, which is not the same as any vendor’s digital business platform: it’s more than that, and it may be made up of more than one vendor’s platform. It needs to handle the digital outside (customer-facing) as well as the digital inside (employee-facing), and the end-to-end processes and content repositories that link them. There are a number of disruptive technologies that are driving digital operations — cloud, microservices, edge computing, blockchain — and there will always be a new one to add to this list.

That took us to their strategic themes:

  1. Process-first digital operations, including process, content, search, governance and insight capabilities
  2. Global-scale, multi-cloud digital operations, which removes the enterprise infrastructure concerns such as scalability and global replication
  3. Artificial intelligence powering digital operations, with the modern range of AI services now widely available from the internet giants being applied to content and process
  4. Empowering business users with targeted solutions, and improved user experience
  5. Empowering builders to accelerate solutions, with development and deployment tools
  6. Differentiate open source and enterprise (note that this is the first mention of open source all day), with add-on capabilities to the open source core services and engines

Always an insightful speaker, and I’m particularly interested in how the layers above the API “surface” (such as the Alfresco Digital Framework and Digital Workspace built on the ADF) are adopted in practice versus direct API usage.

That’s it for the analyst day; I’ll be back tomorrow for the regular user conference.

2019 @Alfresco Analyst Day: partner strategy

Darren Yetzer, Alfresco’s VP Channel, took us through their partner strategy, and hosted conversations with Bibhakar Pandey of Cognizant and Matt Yanchyshyn of AWS.

The Alfresco partner ecosystem has three divisions:

  • Global system integrators
  • Local/regional system integrators
  • Technology and ISVs

In the breakout discussions that we had earlier in the afternoon, there were various discussions on the strategy focus on vertical use cases, and how partners will need to fill some big part of that need since Alfresco isn’t in the vertical application business. Obviously, Alfresco needs to have more than just a logo salad of partners: they need partners that can work with customer to develop vertical solutions, make sales and extend functionality.

Pandey sees Alfresco’s platform as a way for them quickly create domain-specific content-centric solutions for their clients that include integration with other platforms and systems. They don’t want to have to build that base level of capabilities before starting with their solution development, so see a platform like Alfresco being table stakes for working effectively as an SI. Cognizant works with a broad scope of customer organizations, but Pandey highlighted insurance as one vertical that is ripe for the content capabilities offered via Alfresco’s platform. He focused on the cloud-native capabilities of Alfresco as essential, as well as the microservices architecture that allows specific functions to be deployed and scaled independently.

The Amazon AWS partnership is much different and even more significant from a platform functionality point of view: we saw this beginning at last year’s Alfresco Day with the significant announcements about native AWS containerization, and continuing now with the integration of their AI/ML services. Yanchyshyn discussed how Amazon is now developing domain-specific intelligence services, such as Comprehend Medical, and how organizations will start to take advantage of this higher-level starting point for mapping their business use cases onto Amazon’s AI/ML services. He sees Alfresco as being an early adopter of these services, and uses them as an example of what can be done to integrate that into larger platforms.

2019 @Alfresco Day: Go To Market Strategy

Jennifer Smith, Alfresco’s CMO, gave us an expansion of the GTM strategy that Bernadette Nixon spoke about earlier today.

Their platform is based on a single cloud-native platform combining content, process and governance services, on which they identify three pillars of their horizontal platform approach:

  • Modernization and migration, providing tools for migrating to Alfresco quickly and with minimal risk
  • Coexistence and integration, allowing for easy integration with third-party services and legacy systems
  • Cloud-native and AWS-first, with deep integration and support for AWS cloud platform, storage and AI/ML services

Their vertical use case approach is based on a typical land-and-expand strategy: they take an existing implementation with a customer and find other use cases within that organization to leverage the platform benefits, then work with a large enterprise or partner to develop managed vertical solutions.

We saw a demo of a citizen services scenario: to paraphrase, a government agency has old, siloed systems and bad processes, but citizens want to interact with that agency in the same way that they interact with other services such as their bank. In a modernized passport application example, the process would include document upload directly by the citizen, intelligent classification and extraction from the documents, fraud detection by integration with other data sources, natural language translation to communicate with foreign agencies, and tasks for manual review. Although the process and content bits are handled natively by Alfresco, much of the intelligence is based on Amazon services such as Comprehend and Textract — Alfresco’s partnership with Amazon and AWS-native platform make this a natural fit.

We’re off to some breakouts now then partner strategy this afternoon, so it might be quiet here until tomorrow.

2019 @Alfresco Analyst Day: use case with RBC Capital Markets

Jim Williams, Head of Operations and Shared Services Technology for RBC Capital Markets had an on-stage fireside chat with Bernadette Nixon about what they’ve been doing with Alfresco over the past five years.

The focus of their implementation is back office operations, including trade confirmations, settlement and other transactions, especially with all of the regulatory implications and changes. They started looking at this in 2015 for a specific use case (equity trade confirmations) when they had no cohesive platform and many manual processes, and now have several different applications on Alfresco technology. Their transactions tend to be more complex, not just simple financial transactions, so have specific concerns with integrating multiple sources of information, and multiple business rules regarding regulations and compliance. They were an early customer for the Application Development Framework (ADF), and it has allowed them to build apps more quickly due to shared components such as single signon. They’re now replacing some of their 10-year-old legacy processes that were initially on Pega, providing more agility in the deployed processes.

He shared some great feedback from the actual users of the applications on their experience and the benefits that they’re seeing, which included the usual operational hot buttons of simplification, cost reduction, productivity increase, reduced risk and scalability, plus innovation and transformation. He joked that they’ve reduced their organizational dependency on Excel, but that’s a very real measure: when I work with enterprise customers on improving processes, I always look for the “spreadsheet and email” processes that we need to replace.

They explored RPA technology but came to the inevitable conclusion that it was just a stopgap: it can make a bad process work a bit faster or better, but it doesn’t fundamentally make it a good process. This was an interesting comment following on a side conversation that I had with Nixon at the break about how Lean Six Sigma initiatives — still all the rage in many financial organizations — are more about incremental improvement than transformation.

Happy to see a process-centric use case taking top billing here: I may need to reassess my earlier statement that Alfresco sometimes forgets about process. 🙂

2019 @Alfresco Analyst Day: update and strategy with @bvnixon

Bernadette Nixon, who assumed the role of CEO after Alfresco’s acquisition last year, opened the analyst day with the company strategy. They seem to be taking a shot at several of their competitors by pushing the idea that they’re one platform, built from the ground up as a single integrated platform rather than being a “Frankenplatform” pieced together from acquisitions. Arguably, Activiti grew up inside Alfresco as quite a separate project from the content side and I’m not sure it’s really as integrated as the other bits, but Alfresco sometimes forgets that content isn’t everything.

Nixon walked through what’s happened in the past year, starting with some of their customer success stories — wins against mainstream competitors, fast implementations and happy customers — and how they’ve added 126 new customer logos in the past year while maintaining a high customer renewal rate. They’ve maintained a good growth rate, and moved to profitability in order to invest back into the company for customer success, developing their teams, brand refresh, engineering and more. They’ve added many of the big SIs as new partners and are obviously working with the partner channel for success, since they’ve doubled their partner win rate. They’ve added five new products, including their Application Development Framework which is the core for some of the other products as well as the cornerstone of partner and customer success for fast implementation.

They commissioned a study that showed that most organizations want to be deployed in the cloud, have better control over their processes, and be able to create applications faster (wait…they paid for that advice?); more interestingly, they found that 35% of enterprises want to switch out their BPM and ECM platforms in the next few years, providing a huge opportunity for Alfresco and other disruptive vendors.

Alfresco is addressing the basic strategy of a horizontal platform approach versus a use case vertical approach: are they a platform vendor or an application vendor? Their product strategy is betting on their Alfresco Digital Business Platform targeted at the technical buyer, but also developing a go-to-market approach that highlights use cases primarily in government and insurance for the business/operational buyer. They don’t have off-the-shelf apps — that’s for their partners or their customers to develop — but will continue to present use cases that resonate with their target market of financial services, insurance, government and manufacturing.

A good start to the day — I’ll be here all day at the analyst conference, then staying on tomorrow for the user conference.

Shifting (back) from buy to build for digital automation

One of the advantages of being in the software industry for a long time is that I can watch trends come and go. Some of them many times. Take the buy versus build argument: is it better for an organization to build a system (for its own use) using best-of-breed components, or buy a best-in-class monolithic system from a single vendor? As with all things software, the answer is “it depends”: it depends on how well the company’s needs are accommodated by a single-vendor solution, and how much the company’s needs are expected to change on an ongoing basis.

Almost every end-customer organization that I talk to now, either in my consulting practice or through industry contacts, is deploying an in-house digital automation platform that allows them to quickly assemble capabilities into new business applications. Since business applications tend to be process- and case-centric, organizations have often ended up with a BPMS (or what Gartner might call an iBPMS) as a single-vendor solution for the core of their digital automation platform, although ERP and CRM platforms such as SAP and Salesforce are also making a play in this space.

BPMS — once (more or less) single-purpose systems for modeling and managing processes — have, Borg-like, assimilated so many other technologies and capabilities that they have become the monolith. If you sign up for their process management capabilities, you may also get decision management, analytics, event handling, user experience, social media and many other capabilities in the same box. This is what allows BPMS vendors to market their products as complete digital automation platforms, requiring only a bit of wiring to connect up with line-of-business systems and data.

If there’s one constant in how organizations work, it’s that they will outgrow their systems as their business environment (constantly) changes. And that’s exactly the problem with any monolithic system: there will certain capabilities that no longer meet your changing needs, or a disruptive new vendor or product that could replace specific capabilities with something transformative. Without the ability to decouple the components of the monolith, you may be stuck using the unwanted capabilities; at the very least, you’ll still be paying maintenance and upgrades for the entire suite rather than just the parts that you’re using.

The result of all this is that I’m seeing organizations starting to build their digital automation platforms with much more granular components, and BPMS vendors offering their products in a granularity to match that. It’s this pattern that I’ll be talking about in my bpmNEXT keynote in Santa Barbara on April 16, “Best of Breed: Rolling Your Own Digital Automation Platform using BPMS and Microservices”. Hope to see you there.

Show me the money: Financials, sales and support at @OpenText Analyst Summit 2019

We started the second day of the OpenText Analyst Summit 2019 with their CFO, Madhu Ranganathan, talking about their growth via acquisitions and organic growth. She claimed that their history of acquisitions shows that M&A does work — a point with which some industry specialists may not agree, given the still overlapping collection of products in their portfolio — but there’s no doubt that they’re growing well based on their six-year financials, across a broad range of industries and geographies. She sees this as a position for continuing to scale to $1B in operating cash flow by June 2021, an ambitious but achievable target, on their existing 25-year run.

Ted Harrison, EVP of Worldwide Sales, was up next with an update on their customer base: 85 of the 100 largest companies in the world, 17 of the top 20 financial services companies, 20 of the top 20 life sciences companies, etc. He walked through the composition of the 1,600 sales professionals in their teams, from the account executives and sales reps to the solution consultants and other support roles. They also have an extensive partner channel bringing domain expertise and customer relationships. He highlighted a few customers in some of the key product areas — GM for digital identity management, Nestle for supply chain management, Malaysia Airports for AI and analytics,and British American Tobacco for SuccessFactors-OT2 integration — with a focus on customers that are using OpenText in ways that span their business operations in a significant way.

James McGourlay, EVP of Customer Operations, covered how their global technical support and professional services organization has aligned with the customer journey from deployment to adoption to expansion of their OpenText products. With 1,400 professional services people, they have 3,000 engagements going on at any given time across 30 countries. As with most large vendors’ PS groups, they have a toolbox of solution accelerators, best practices, and expert resources to help with initial implementation and ongoing operations. This is also where they partner with systems integrators such as CGI, Accenture and Deloitte, and platform partners like Microsoft and Oracle. He addressed the work of their 1,500 technical support professionals across four major centers of excellence for round-the-clock support, co-located with engineering teams to provide a more direct link to technical solutions. They have a strong focus on customer satisfaction in PS and technical support because they realize that happy customers tend to buy more stuff; this is particularly important when you have a lot of different products to sell to those customers to expand your footprint within their organizations.

Good to hear more about the corporate and operations side than I normally cover, but looking forward to this afternoon’s deeper dives into product technology.

Product Innovation session at @OpenText Analyst Summit 2019

Muhi Majzoub, EVP of Engineering, continued the first day of the analyst summit with a deeper look at their technology progress in the past year as well as future direction. I only cover a fraction of OpenText products; even in the ECM and BPM space, they have a long history of acquisitions and it’s hard to keep on top of all of them.

Their Content Services provides information integration into a variety of key business applications, including Salesforce and SAP; this allows users to work in those applications and see relevant content in that context without having to worry where or how it’s stored and secured. Majzoub covered a number of the new features of their content platforms (alas, there are still at least two content platforms, and let’s not even talk about process platforms) as well as user experience, digital asset management, AI-powered content analytics and eDiscovery. He talked about their solutions for LegalTech and digital forensics (not areas that I follow closely), then moved on to the much broader areas of AI, machine learning and analytics as they apply to capture, content and process, as well as their business network transactions.

He talked about AppWorks, which is their low-code development environment but also includes their BPM platform capabilities since they have a focus on process- and content-centric applications such as case management. They have a big push on vertical application development, both in terms of enabling it for their customers and also for building their own vertical offerings. Interestingly, they are also allowing for citizen development of micro-apps in their Core cloud content management platform that includes document workflows.

The product session was followed by a showcase and demos hosted by Stephen Ludlow, VP of Product Marketing. He emphasized that they are a platform company, but since line-of-business buyers want to buy solutions rather than platforms, they need to be able to demonstrate applications that bring together many of their capabilities. We had five quick demos:

  • AI-augmented capture using Captive capture and Magellan AI/analytics: creating an insurance claim first notice of loss from an unstructured email, while gathering aggregate analytics for fraud detection and identifying vehicle accident hotspots.
  • Unsupervised machine learning for eDiscovery to identify concepts in large sets of documents in legal investigations, then using supervised learning/classification to further refine search results and prioritize review of specific documents.
  • Integrated dashboard and analytics for supply chain visibility and management, including integrating, harmonizing and cleansing data and transactions from multiple internal and external sources, and drilling down into details of failed transactions.
  • HR application integrating SAP SuccessFactors with content management to store and access documents that make up an employee HR file, including identifying missing documents and generating customized documents.
  • Dashboard for logging and handling non-conformance and corrective/preventative actions for Life Sciences manufacturing, including quality metrics and root cause analysis, and linking to reference documentation.

Good set of business use cases to finish off our first (half) day of the analyst summit.