I’m not even sure what this means, but a cute corporate valentine from my friends at Outsystems 🙂
— Rachel Brennan (@RBrennanBPM) February 14, 2018
I recently had the chance to catch up with some of my former FileNet colleagues, David Lewis and Brian Gour, who are now at Vega Solutions and walked me through their Unity 7 product release. Having founded and run a boutique ECM and BPM services firm in the past, I have a soft spot for the small companies who add value to commercial products by building integration layers and vertical solutions to do the things that those products don’t do (or don’t do very well).
Vega focuses on enterprise content and process automation, primarily for financial and government clients. They have some international offices – likely development shops, based on the locations – and about 150 consultants working on customer projects. They are partners with both IBM and Alfresco for ECM and BPM products for use in their consulting engagements. Like many boutique services firms, Vega has developed products in the course of their consulting engagements that can be used independently by customers, built on the underlying partner technology plus their own integration software:
Unity 7 is an integration and application development tool that links third-party content and process systems, adding a consistent user experience layer and consolidated analytics. Vega doesn’t provide any of the back-end systems, although they partner with a couple of the vendors, but provide tools to take that heterogeneous desktop environment and turn it into a single user interface. This has a significant value in simplifying the user environment, since they only need to learn one system and some of the inter-system integration is automated behind the scenes, but it’s also of benefit for replacing one or more of the underlying technologies due to legacy modernization or technology consolidation due to corporate acquisition. This is what systems integrators have been doing for a long time, but Unity makes it into a product that also leverages the deep system knowledge that they have from their Interchange product. Vega can add Unity to simplify an existing environment, or come in on a net-new ECM/BPM implementation that uses one of their partner technologies plus their application development/integration layer. The primary use cases are federated enterprise content search (where content is indexed in Unity Intelligence engine, including semantic searches), case management applications, and creating legacy modernization by creating a new front end on legacy systems to allow these to be swapped out without changing the user environment.
Unity is all about rapid development that includes case-based applications, content management, data and analytics. As we walked through the product and sample applications, there was definitely a strong whiff of FileNet P8 in here (a system that I used to be very familiar with) since the sample was built with IBM Case Manager under the covers, but some nice additions in terms of unified interface and analytics.
Their claim is that the Unity Case Manager would look the same regardless of the underlying technology, which would definitely make it easier to swap out or federate content, case and process management systems behind the scenes. In the sample shown, since IBM Case Manager was primary, the case view was derived directly from IBM CM case data with the main document list from IBM FileNet P8, while the “Other Documents” tab showed related documents from Alfresco. Dynamic foldering can combine content from different systems into common folders to reduce this visual dichotomy. There are role-based views based on the user profile that provide access to data from multiple systems – including CRM and others in addition to ECM and BPM – and federate it into business objects than can include records, virtual folder structures and related objects such as people or claims. Individual user credentials can be passed to the underlying systems, or shared credentials can be used in connectors for retrieving unrestricted information. Search templates, system connectors and a variety of properties are set in a configuration console, making it straightforward to set up and modify standard operations; since this is an XML-based declarative environment, these configuration changes deploy immediately. The ability to make different types of configuration changes is role-based, meaning that some business users can be permitted to make changes to the shared user interface if desired.
Unity Intelligence adds a layer of visual analytics that aggregates data from the underlying systems and other sources; however, this isn’t just visualization, but can be used to filter work and take action on cases directly via action popup menus or opening cases directly from the analytics interface. They’re using open source tools such as SOLR (search), Lucene (information retrieval) and D3 visualization with good effect: I saw a demo of a Sankey diagram representing the workflow through cases based on realtime data that provided a sort of process mining view of work in progress, and allowed selecting dates for past views of work including completed cases. For case management, in which processes are semi-structured (at best), this won’t necessarily show process anomalies, but can show service interruptions and opportunities for process improvement and standardization.
The paper that I wrote on low code and case management has just been published – consider it a Christmas gift! It’s sponsored by TIBCO, and you can find it here (registration required).
This is an accompaniment to the webinar that I did recently with Roger King and Nicolas Marzin, which is available for replay on demand.
The term “business process management” (BPM) has always been a bit problematic because it means two things: the operations management practice of discovering, modeling and improving business processes, which may have no technology involved whatsoever; and the suite of technologies associated with automating processes. I’ve often heard – and sometimes participated in – arguments on the distinction between BPM-the-discipline and BPM-the-technology. Many people use “BPMS” (BPM system or suite) to define the technology while reserving “BPM” for the discipline, but that’s not sufficiently universal to avoid confusion.
To compound the confusion, the components of a BPMS have grown from completely process-focused modeling and execution to more complete application development suites that may include decision management, analytics, content management and much more. Gartner relabelled this market “iBPMS” starting around 2011 when they realized that BPM suites were doing much more than just BPM:
The intelligent business process management suite (iBPMS) market is the natural evolution of the earlier BPMS market, adding more capabilities for greater intelligence within business processes. Capabilities such as validation (process simulation, including “what if”) and verification (logical compliance), optimization, and the ability to gain insight into process performance have been included in many BPMS offerings for several years. iBPMSs have added enhanced support for human collaboration such as integration with social media, mobile-enabled process tasks, streaming analytics and real-time decision management.
The term iBPMS makes it sound like what we were doing before wasn’t intelligent, which clearly is not the case, but it also made it obvious that we needed a different name to describe these technologies that we’re using to automate our business functions.
Since then, we’ve moved through a number of different names and acronyms in an attempt to describe these systems: for the more case-oriented (with little or no predefined processes), we have “case management” (confused with the non-technical term used in social sciences and healthcare) which is sometimes abbreviated as CM (confused with the abbreviation for content management, which is also abbreviated as ECM but has now be rebranded as content services) plus the variations of advanced or adaptive case management (ACM), and dynamic case management (DCM). Although there are differences between case management and BPM, there are also a lot of similarities and the distinction in products is sometimes a bit fuzzy. However, using the term “process” causes a certain amount of angst amongst the case managementerati.
This year, Forrester started using the term “digital process automation” (DPA), which is pretty much what Gartner is calling iBPMS. Forrester’s use of DPA seems to have been slightly preceded by the term “digital business automation”. Although “digital” and “automation” are a bit redundant in this context – we’re not going to do analog mechanical automation of most businesses – I think that the use of “business” rather than “process” is a much better fit. However, due to Forrester’s recent DPA wave report, vendors are leaping onto the DPA bandwagon, so we might be stuck there for a while.
From their report in February 2017, “Traditional BPM Gives Way To Digital Process Automation”, Forester describes why this shift is necessary without actually describing the differences between [i]BPM[S] and DPA; instead, this seems to be coming about because organizations took what should have been model-driven development (aka low-code) BPMS and used it in waterfall development environments, thereby turning what should have been agile into legacy. In other words, they seem to be hoping that changing the name of the class of tools will change how organizations use the tools. Call me a cynic, but I’m not completely hopeful about that.
I’m not arguing that the current low code, process/case-centric platforms that combine a full suite of business automation tools aren’t a step forward from yesterday’s BPM platforms in terms of enabling automation as a part of digital transformation. But what is going to change within customer organizations to prevent them from undermining the inherent rapid application development capabilities by enforcing antiquated software development lifecycle methods?
Bonus reading: check back on my review of a Gartner presentation from 2006 on the future of BPM, which looked forward as far as 2017! They were correct that the primary value of BPM moved from productivity to visibility to innovation, and I correctly predicted that their predictions would happen much faster than they expected.
I’ll be on stage for a couple of speaking slots at the OPEX Week Business Transformation Summit 2018 in Orlando the week of January 22nd:
I was last at OPEX Week in 2012, when it was still called PEX Week (for Process Excellence Network) – I was on a BPM blogger panel that time around – and it will be interesting to see how it’s changed since then. Looks like a lot more automation technology in the current version, with the expectation that digital transformation isn’t going to come about just by modeling your business.
If you’re going to be there, look me up at one of my sessions or around the conference on Tuesday and Wednesday.
I recently held a webinar on low code and case management, along with Roger King and Nicolas Marzin of TIBCO (TIBCO sponsored the webinar). We tossed aside the usual webinar presentation style and had a free-ranging conversation over 45 minutes, with Nicolas giving a quick demo of TIBCO’s Live Apps in the middle.
Although preparing for a webinar like this takes just as long as a standard presentation, it’s a lot more fun to participate. I also think it’s more engaging for the audience, even though there’s not as much visual material; I created some slides with a few points on the topics that we planned to cover, including some fun graphics. I couldn’t resist including a visual pun about long tail applications.
You can find the playback here if you missed it, or want to watch again. If you watched it live, there was a problem with the audio for the first couple of slides. Since it was mostly me giving some introductory remarks and a quick overview of case management and low code, we just re-recorded that few minutes and fixed the on-demand version.
I’m finishing up a white paper for TIBCO on case management and low code, stressing that not only is low code the way to go for building case management applications, but that a case management paradigm is the best fit for low code applications. We should have that in publication shortly, so stay tuned. If you attended the webinar, you should receive a link to the paper when it’s published.
I’m speaking on a webinar sponsored by TIBCO on November 9th, along with Roger King (TIBCO’s senior director of product management and strategy, and Austin Powers impressionist extraordinaire) and Nicolas Marzon (TIBCO’s director of strategic enablement group). From their registration page:
Supercharge your digital transformation – When low code meets case management
While digital transformation is likely on your company’s agenda, the demand for ever more enterprise apps is not slowing down. How can you both transform and meet this development need?
Process-centric applications that run your business involve content, events, decisions, and automation. Knowledge workers benefit from environments that integrate all of these capabilities in a case management paradigm, which combines automation with human reasoning. And new low-code development platforms will let your business users configure their own case management apps to meet their situational or strategic needs.
This is not a structured presentation or TIBCO demo: instead, I’ll kick off with a couple of level-setting slides on case management and low code platforms, then lead a discussion with Roger and Nicolas on a variety of issues facing us with low code and case management. Some of the things on my list of potential topics:
If you have some other topics that you’d like to hear us discuss, please add them as comments below and I’ll try to work them in. Sign up for the webinar at the registration link above and join in on November 9th.
I’m also working on a couple of white papers for them on case management and low code, which is coming up in pretty much every business and technical discussion that I have these days. At least one of those papers will be available by the time of the webinar, with the other available shortly after.
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:
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.
Neil Young, FlowForma’s CEO (no, not THAT Neil Young ) 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. Update: unfortunately, the original registration link disappeared from their site, and they don’t seem to have a replay video published..
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.