Category Archives: BPM

business process management

ABBYY partnerships in ECM, BPM, RPA and ERP

It’s the first session of the last morning of the ABBYY Technology Summit 2017, and the crowd is a bit sparse — a lot of people must have had fun at the evening event last night — and I’m in a presentation by another ex-FileNet colleague of mine, Carl Hillier.

He discussed how capture isn’t just a discrete operation any more, where you just capture, index and store in a content management repository, but is now the front end to business processes that have the potential for digital transformation. To that end, since ABBYY has no plans to expand their side of the business, they have made strategic partnerships with a number of vendors that push into downstream processes: M-Files and Laserfiche for content management, Appian and Pega (still in the works) for BPM, and Acumatica for ERP. As with many technology partnerships, there can be overlap in capabilities but that usually sorts out in favor of the specialist vendor: for example, with Laserfiche, ABBYY is being used to replace Laserfiche’s simpler OCR capabilities for customers with more complex capture capabilities. Both BPM vendors have RPA capabilities — Appian through a partnership with Blue Prism, Pega through their OpenSpan acquisition — and there’s a session following by RPA vendor UiPath on using ABBYY for RPA that likely has broader implications for working with these other partners.

For the solution builders who use ABBYY’s FlexiCapture, the connectors to these other products gives them fast path to implementation, although they can also use the ABBYY SDK directly to create solutions that include competing products. We saw a bit about each of the ABBYY connectors to the five strategic partners, and how they take advantage of those platforms’ capabilities: with Appian, for example, a capture operator uses FlexiCapture to scan/import and verify documents, then the connector maps the structured data directly into Appian’s data objects (records), whereas for one of the content management platforms, they may transfer a smaller subset of document indexing data. The Acumatica integration is a bit different, in that FlexiCapture isn’t seen as a separate application for the capture front end, but it’s embedded within the Acumatica interface as an invoice capture service.

ABBYY’s plan is to create more of these connectors, making it easier for their VARs and solution partners (who are the primary attendees at this conference) to quickly build solutions with ABBYY and a variety of platforms.

Citizen development with @FlowForma and @JohnRRymer

I attended a webinar today sponsored by FlowForma and featuring John Rymer of Forrester talking about low-code platforms and citizen developers. Rymer made a distinction between three classes of citizen developers, or rather, people who can benefit from rapid application development using low-code tools: line-of-business developers, business developers, and power users. I would argue that LOB developers are not really citizen developers even though they can benefit greatly from using low-code tools, since they are typically professional developers who use a variety of technical platforms: as Rymer later stated, there are low-code platforms for professional developers, and ones for business developers. I like Gartner’s definition of citizen developer instead, which highlights the non-professional developer aspect:

A citizen developer is a user who creates new business applications for consumption by others using development and runtime environments sanctioned by corporate IT. In the past, end-user application development has typically been limited to single-user or workgroup solutions built with tools like Microsoft Excel and Access. However, today, end users can build departmental, enterprise and even public applications using shared services, fourth-generation language (4GL)-style development platforms and cloud computing services.

That being said, things are a bit murky still in the low-code market, and Rymer does well to distinguish between the two types of low-code platforms:

  • Those for professional developers who are looking for rapid application development platforms to speed their delivery cycle: although they could create the applications using traditional coding techniques, it just takes too long. Low-code BPM products in this segment, according to Rymer, include Appian, Bizagi and PNMSoft, and marry fast visual development with flexibility and deployment control.
  • Those for business developers and power users – what I consider to be the true citizen developers – who are not capable of developing applications using more technical tools, and possibly would end up a bit confused even with the low-code platforms that are targeted at professional developers. The business developer low-code platforms are visual tools but have less flexibility and many fewer options to provide a simpler “no-code” experience. In the BPM space, Rymer includes FlowForma, KiSSFLOW and Nintex in this category: these products also tend to self-identify as “workflow” rather than full BPM suites.

Regardless of the platform, the key is that all of these types of developers need to be moved off unmanaged tools such as Microsoft Excel, and onto low-code platforms where their work can be properly supported, managed and reused.

FlowFormaNeil Young, FlowForma’s CEO (no, not THAT Neil Young Winking smile ) took over to talk about how their product approaches the business developer/power user market, and some of their customer success stories. Their tool, based on Microsoft Office 365, combines forms, simple workflows, document generation and collaboration in a platform that allows people to get up to speed in day or two and start creating their own applications.

The discussion at the end had an interesting bit on the changing role of business analysts, who typically fall into the power user category from Rymer’s earlier categorization, although I see a lot of these who have transferred from IT groups are are really business developers. In the past, BAs work has been focused on creating written requirements, whereas low-code platforms allow them to create a working prototype as part of the requirements. There was a question from an attendee on how to identify citizen developers within your business: Rymer said to look for people who are now solving problems with spreadsheets or databases, who are probably operational managers. When I do a walkthrough at an enterprise client, I always look for the spreadsheets being used in the general workflow: these identify areas for process/system improvement, and also pinpoint the problem-solvers who are creating these tools and could easily become citizen developers.

If you’re interested in listening to a replay, FlowForma will likely have that up on their site within a day or so. Check the original registration link for more details.

Young gave me a full Flowforma product briefing several months ago, showing how forms and workflows are created, what their in-process collaboration looks like, and document generation. I’m not a Sharepoint or Office 365 expert, so not sure how much of this is native functionality versus their additions. At that time, and again in this webinar, he discussed the three categories of problems that they solve: everyday processes, “dark” processes, and collaborative decisions. There’s definitely an overlap with many of the low-code case management tools, in part due to the strong content management capabilities. I’ve attached my snaps from the briefing below; although they’re a few months out of date, they give an idea of the platform capabilities. You can sign up with them for a 30-day trial if you want to try it out.

<a href="https://flic.kr/s/aHsm6Ks35S" target="_blank">Click to View</a>

International BPM conference 2018 headed down under

The international BPM conference for academics and researchers is headed back to Australia next year, September 9-14 in Sydney, hosted by the University of New South Wales. I’ve attended the conference a few times, and always come away at least a little bit smarter, and having met more great BPM enthusiasts. I was even invited to give a keynote one year, which was a great honour.

This year, the conference has a new program structure with three tracks:

  • Foundations
  • Engineering
  • Management

You can read more about the tracks here, particularly that each track invites papers based on different research methods. Although many of us who work in industry or as analysts don’t do the type of research that would allow participation in the Foundations or Engineering tracks, the Management track welcomes papers based on empirical observation. The call for papers for all tracks is open now until March.

Citrix Productivity Panel – the future of work

I had a random request from Citrix to come out to a panel event that they were holding in downtown Toronto — not sure what media lists I’m on, but fun to check out to events I wouldn’t normally attend.

The premise is that it was a panel of one millennial, one gen X and one boomer discussing how their attitudes towards work and technology:

  • Anna Fitzpatrick, Senior Millennial Correspondent
  • Dr. Mary Donohue, Founder & CEO Donohue Learning Technologies
  • Charles Harnick, Mediator & Arbitrator

This was moderated by Michael Murphy, VP & Country Manager, Citrix Canada.

Donohue is a social scientist, and she started with the definitions of these age divisions (I fall on the cusp of boomer and gen X, although I act like a millennial).

The focus is really on how technology enables different business models (Citrix is, after all, a technology company), and we heard from the panelists about how Twitter, mobile phones and other technologies have levelled the playing field for small businesses regardless of age, gender, race, location and other factors: it’s now possible for your services to compete with bigger companies.

Harnick (a former Ontario Attorney General and politician) commented on how it’s necessary to invest in the education of the workforce: training people to be able to do the work required, mentoring, and taking advantage of the different skills that a non-traditional degree can bring to a traditional workplace.

Donohue talked about the necessity for developing soft skills, since “everything else can be replaced by AI”, which might be a somewhat naive view of AI capabilities. Harnick agreed that although STEM education is critical, there has to be more than just the technological skills for success — entry-level jobs are disappearing in the face of automation in many different industries.

Fitzpatrick talked about the gig lifestyle for work, and admitted that although it’s more easily enabled by technology, a lot of millennials don’t really want to be working several precarious gigs, but would prefer to have full-time regular employment.

Donohue had some really interesting comments on how you have to understand someone’s generation and their abilities with different communication media in order to really understand how to communicate with them and what they are getting out of things that you communicate with them. I don’t agree with her characterization purely along generational lines, since in my experience, older generations who are disrupted from their status quo will adapt quickly to newer communication modes.

There was a discussion on internet security and privacy, and different views that different generations have about the issues and practices. Again, I don’t think that security practices are necessarily generational, but much more about an individual’s experience; privacy is a different story, with a bigger intentional digital footprint being left (in general) by younger generations, although the unintentional footprint of everyone who uses social media is fast catching up. An audience member commented on how security and privacy education needs to start in high school or earlier; I suspect that while the younger generation needs some lessons on privacy, the older needs to hone their security skills.

This was pretty lightweight on both the social science and technology, although Donohue had some points worth considering and I’ll be checking out her TEDx talk.

OpenText Process Suite Roadmap

Usually I live-blog sessions at conferences, publishing my notes at the end of each, but here at OpenText Enterprise World 2017, I realized that I haven’t taken a look at OpenText Process Suite (formerly Cordys, from the 2013 acquisition) for a while, and needed to chew over a couple of sessions to get the whole picture. There’s some significant repositioning happening with Process Suite becoming rebranded as part of their low-code development environment AppWorks, or possibly it’s better to say that Process Suite is becoming the AppWorks developer platform: something that follows naturally from the Cordys history.

Cordys has been on my radar since 2006 when I linked to a post that Bruce Silver wrote about them, then a couple of months later I had a chance to get a more in-depth briefing. At that time, I commented on how they had a pretty complete process application development environment for creating what we were still calling mashups; now this just falls under low-code app dev. By 2008, Forrester had them classified as integration-centric BPM, although many saw that their strong human-centric capabilities defied this categorization. I had another look at Cordys in 2010 at a conference in Oslo, at which time it was positioned as a SaaS-only offering that was tightly integrated with the Google Apps Marketplace; this was possibly due to the injection of the Process Factory DNA when Jon Pyke (formerly of Staffware) joined Cordys after his time starting up Process Factory. By 2013, when OpenText acquired Cordys, it was positioned as a cloud-based platform for creating process-centric applications, although at the time I raised the issue (as did others) of having multiple competing BPM platforms within OpenText. It appears that OpenText would really like their customers to move off the old Metastorm and Global 360 implementations and onto Process Suite, but like most large enterprise vendors with a broad portfolio, they are not sunsetting any of these other products, just not spending a lot of time enhancing them.

OpenText is now using the term Process Automation rather than BPM, with the message shifting to process innovation as part of digital transformation. Process automation needs to be easier (low/no-code, templates, reusability, pre-built apps), smarter (data-driven, IoT, social, sentiment, RPA, AI) and engaging (integrate as part of ecosystem, focus on customer experience). And, as I mentioned earlier, they are repositioning BPM as just part of the larger low-code application development platform, a move that we’ve been seeing from most other BPM vendors over the past few years. This is a move seen as essential for citizen developers and long-tail applications, but is often the bane of more technical developers who want to just write code that can call BPM functionality, not have a monolithic and opaque proprietary development environment. OpenText is providing both options, allowing citizen developers to use low-code methods, while technical developers can use more traditional coding techniques as required.

This week at Enterprise Week, I had the chance to sit in on a few sessions, including the BPM roadmap, low-code application development, the process automation customer market landscape, and integrating analytics with process; I also had the chance to get a couple of excellent demos on People Center (an HR app built on Process Suite) as well as using Process Suite to create other case management applications.

The release later in 2017 will expand the use cases of AppWorks from simple, isolated applications to more comprehensive apps that take advantage of the newly-integrated case and process platform. More advanced analytics will be integrated, with better dashboards and reports, and the foundations laid for IoT and predicitive analytics. By next year, there will be more pre-built applications (similar to People Center) and an applications marketplace, plus more intelligence such as sentiment analysis, cognitive input and RPA. They will also have rolled out support for the complete set of developer personas, from novice citizen developer to technical ninja. Content services are already integrated using Extended ECM for Process Server, the same type of connector that they used to add content to external applications such as SAP.

They’re working at a development style that allows for pre-built applications to be configured and extended by customers while maintaining upgradability; this is pretty critical for applications such as People Center, where you want the customers to create their own checklists and integrate to their own HRIS, but still be able to install the latest version of People Center without breaking that, and requires that guardrails be established and followed. They are also creating templates such as the current dynamic case management, which is really just sample/starter code that can be used by a partner or developer as a starting point but is not intended to be maintained by OpenText.

I ended Wednesday at a session on connecting analytics to process, which rounds out the capabilities. The OpenText Analytics Suite (from the Actuate acquisition, and including the new Magellan offering/branding) is separate from the Process Suite, but there are obvious connections between analytics and process in general: extracting insights from process data, and automating processes based on the results of analytics. The Analytics Suite includes business intelligence services (iHub) that provide enterprise-level analytics and visualization, with the optional addition of data discovery (Big Data Analytics) and text analysis (InfoFusion). The robust API capabilities in iHub allow analytics to be tied in directly to Process Suite or any other application; like process, analytics are ubiquitous and need to be easily integrated across other products and applications. Magellan, as we heard, is a pre-wired set of capabilities from the Analytics Suite that is focused around machine learning, combining data discovery, reporting and dashboarding, text analysis, large-scale data processing, and predictive analytics. This is built on Apache Spark, leveraging Hadoop, and is packaged and supported by OpenText.

We saw a demo of the general capabilities of the Analytics Suite — looked pretty nice, although I’m not the analytics geek in the family — then saw some examples of how process can be integrated with analytics. In one scenario, a low rating provided by a customer on a taxi app causes a customer service process to be kicked off to follow up on the problem with the customer, which is amazingly similar (although much more automated) as a Zipcar experience that I still talk about as an example of customer experience.

I’ll be back at Enterprise World for the last day tomorrow to see a few of the remaining BPM sessions. There’s still a lot that isn’t completely clear about high-level strategy for the complete portfolio of OpenText process-related products — such as how the document-centric workflow in Documentum are going to fit into the mix — but at least I feel like I’m starting to scratch the surface.

Twelve years – and a million words – of Column 2

In January, I read Paul Harmon’s post at BPTrends on predictions for 2017, and he mentioned that it was the 15th anniversary of BPTrends. This site hasn’t been around quite that long, but today marks 12 years of blogging here on Column 2. Coincidentally, my first post was on the BP Trends 2005 report on BPM suites!

In that time, I’ve written more than a million words in about 2,600 posts – haven’t quite got around to writing that book yet – documenting many conferences and products, as well as emerging trends and standards in BPM. I’ve collected over 3,000 comments from many of you, which I consider a measure of success: I write here to engage people and discuss ideas. Many of you have become clients, colleagues and friends over the years, and it’s always a thrill to meet someone for the first time and hear them say “I read your blog”. I know that I’ve inspired others to pick up that keyboard and start blogging, and my RSS reader is still the first place that I go for news about the industry (hint: I’m more likely to read your site if you publish a full RSS feed; I only get to the partial ones every week or so).

In the early days, I blogged more frequently, every couple of days; now I seem to be caught up in projects that consume a lot of my time and have less hours to spend focused on writing. Also, I’ve cut back on my business conference travel in the past year or so, attending only the ones where I’m presenting or where I feel that there is value for me, which gives me far fewer opportunities to blog about conference sessions. I’m not going to make any predictions about whether I’ll blog more or less in the next 12 years; I’m just happy to have a soapbox to stand on.

BPM skills in 2017–ask the experts!

Zbigniew Misiak over at BPM Tips decided to herd the cats, and asked a number of BPM experts on the skills that are required – and not relevant any more – as we move into 2017 and beyond. I was happy to be included in that group, and my contribution is here.

In a nutshell, I had advice for both the process improvement/engineering groups, and the IT groups that are involved in BPM implementations. Basically, the former needs to learn more about the potential power of automation as a process improvement tool and how BPMS can help with that; while the latter needs to stop using agile low-code BPMS tools to do monolithic, waterfall-driven implementations. I also addressed the need for citizen developers – usually semi-technical business analysts that build “end user computing” solutions directly within business units – to start using low-code BPMS tools to do this instead of spreadsheets.

On the side of skills that are no longer relevant, I’m seeing less need for Lean/Six Sigma efforts that focus on incremental process improvements rather than innovation. There are definitely industries with material assets and processes that benefit greatly from LSS methodologies, but its use in knowledge-based service organizations in waning.

Check out the entire post at the link above for the views of several others in the industry.

BPM books for your reading list

I noticed that Zbigniew’s reading list of BPM books for 2017 included both of the books where I have author credit on Amazon: Social BPM, and Best Practices for Knowledge Workers.

You can find the ebooks on Amazon for about $10 each:

 

I’ve also been published in a couple of academic books and journals, but somehow it’s a more exciting to see my name on Amazon, since I don’t really think of myself as an author. After writing almost a million words on this blog (968,978 prior to this post), maybe I should reconsider!

RPA just wants to be free: @WorkFusion RPA Express

Last week, WorkFusion announced that their robotic process automation product, RPA Express, will be released in 2017 as a free product; they published a blog post as well as the press release, and today they hosted a webinar to talk more about it. They are taking requests to join the beta program now, with a plan to launch publicly at the end of Q1 2017.

WorkFusion has a lot of interesting features in their RPA Express and Smart Process Automation (SPA) products, but today’s webinar was really about their business model for RPA Express. This is not a limited-time trial, it’s a free enterprise-ready product that can generate business benefit. Free to purchase and no annual maintenance fees, although you obviously have infrastructure costs for the servers/desktops on which RPA Express runs. Their goal in making it free is to bypass the whole RFP-POC-ROI dance that goes on in most organizations, where a decision to implement RPA – which typically can show a pretty good ROI within a matter of weeks – can take months. With a free product, one major barrier to implementation has been removed.

So what’s the catch? WorkFusion has a more intelligent automation tool, SPA, and they’re hoping that by seeing the benefits of using RPA Express, organizations will want to try out SPA on their more complex automation needs. RPA Express uses deterministic, rules-based automation, which requires explicit training or specification of each action to be taken; SPA uses machine learning to learn from user actions in order to perform automation of tasks that would typically require human intervention, such as handling unstructured and dynamic data. WorkFusion envisions a “stairway to digital operations” that starts with RPA, then steps up the intelligence with cognitive processing, chatbots and crowdsourcing to a full set of cognitive services in SPA.

This doesn’t mean that RPA Express is just a “starter edition” for SPA: there are entire classes of processes that can be handled with deterministic automation, such as synchronizing data between systems that may not talk to each other, such as SAP and Salesforce. This replaces having a worker copy and paste information between screens, or (horrors!) re-type the information in two or more systems; it can result in a huge reduction in cost and time, and remove the tedious work from people to free them up for more complex decision-making or direct customer interaction.

RPA Express bots can also be called from other orchestration and automation tools, including a BPMS, and can run on a server or on individual desktops. We didn’t get a rundown of the technology, so more to come on that as they get closer to the release. We did see one or two screens, and it’s based on modeling processes using a subset of BPMN (start and end events, activities, XOR gateways) that can be easily handled by a business user/analyst to create the automation flows, plus using recorder bots to capture actions while users are running through the processes to be automated. There was a mention of coding on the platform as well, although it was clear that this was not required in many cases, hence development skills are not essential.

Removing the cost of software changes the game, allowing more organizations to get started with this technology without having to do an internal cost justification for the licensing costs. There’s still training and implementation costs, but WorkFusion plans to provide some of this through online video courses, as well as having the large SIs and other partners trained to have this in their toolkit when they are working with organizations. More daunting is the architectural review that most new software needs to go through before being installed within a larger organization: this can still block the implementation even if the software is free.

I’m looking forward to seeing a more complete technical when the product is closer to launch date. I’m also looking forward to see how this changes the price point of RPA from other vendors.

What’s on your agenda for 2017? Some BPM conferences to consider

I just saw a call for papers for a conference for next October, and went through to do a quick update of my BPM Event Calendar. I certainly don’t attend all of these events, but like to keep track of who’s doing what, when and where. Here’s what I have in there so far; if you have others, send me a note or add them as a comment to this post and I’ll add to the calendar. I’m posting just the major conferences here, not every regional seminar.

Many vendors are eschewing a single large annual conference in favor of several regional conferences, easing the travel concerns of attendees; since these are usually just one day long, they aren’t announced this far in advance. It will be interesting to see if more vendors decide to go this way, or do more livestreaming to allow people to participate in more of the conference content remotely.

At this point, I don’t have confirmed attendance or speaking spots at any of these, although I will almost certainly be attending bpmNEXT and a few of the vendor conferences, either as a speaker or as an analyst/blogger. If you’re interested in having me attend your conference, let me know; I require that my travel expenses are covered (otherwise they come out of my own pocket in addition to the billable days that I’m giving up to attend), and a speaking fee if you want me to do a keynote or other presentation.