Appian World 2020 – Day 1: good keynotes and too many breakout sessions

Another week, another virtual event! Appian World is happening two days this week, and will be available on-demand after. This has a huge number of sessions on several parallel tracks, which are pre-recorded, with keynotes in advance (not clear if the keynotes are actually live, or pre-recorded). From their site:

Keynote sessions are live from 10:00 AM – 12:00 PM EDT on May 12th and 13th. All breakout sessions will become available on-demand at 12:00 PM EDT on their scheduled day, immediately following the live keynote. Speakers will be available from 12:00 PM – 3:00 PM EDT for live Q&A on their scheduled session day.

They’re using the INXPO platform, and apparently using every possible feature. Here’s a bit of navigation help:

  • There’s a Lobby tab with a video greeting from Appian CMO Kevin Spurway. It has links to the agenda, solutions showcase and lounge, which is a bit superfluous since those are all top-level tabs visible at all times.
  • The Agenda tab lists the sessions for today, including the keynote (for some reason it showed as Live from 8:30am although the keynotes didn’t start until 10am), then all of the breakout sessions for the day, which you can dip into in any order since they are all pre-recorded and are made available at the same time.
  • The Sessions tab is where you can drill down and watch any of the sessions when they are live, but you can also do this directly from the Agenda tab. Sessions has them organized into tracks, such as Full Stack Automation Theater and Low-Code Development Theater.
  • The Solutions Showcase tab is virtual exhibit hall, with booths for partners and a pavilion of Appian product booths. These can have a combination of pre-recorded video, documents to download, and links to chat with them. It’s a bit overwhelming, although I supposed people will go through some of the virtual booths after the sessions, since the sessions run only 10-3 each day. I suppose that many of these partners signed on for Appian World before it moved to a virtual event, so Appian needed to provide a way for them to show their offerings.
  • The Lounge tab is a single-threaded chat for all attendees. Not a great forum for discussion: as I’ve mentioned on all of the other virtual conference coverage in the past couple of weeks, a separate discussion platform like Slack that allows for multi-threaded discussions where audience members can both lead and participate in discussions with each other is much, much better for audience engagement.
  • The Games tab has results for some games that they’re running — this is common at conferences, such as how many people send out tweets with the conference hashtag, or getting your ID scanned by a certain number of booths, but not something that adds value for my conference experience.

The keynote speakers appeared on a stage in Appian’s own auditorium, empty (except supposedly for each other and production staff). CEO Matt Calkins was up first, and talked about how the world has changed in 2020, and how their low-code application development can help with the changes that are being forced on organizations by the pandemic. He talked about the applications that they have built in the past couple of months: a COVID-19 workforce tracking app, a loan coordination app that uses AI and RPA for automation, and a workforce safety & readiness app that manages how businesses reopen to their workforce coming back to work. They have made these free or low-cost for their customers for the near term.

His theme for the keynote is automation: using human and digital workers, including RPA and AI, to get the best results. He mentioned BPM as part of their toolbox, and focused on the idea that the goal is to automate, and the specific tool doesn’t matter. They bought an RPA company and have rebranded it as AppianRPA: it’s cloud-native and Java-based, which is different from many other RPA products, but is more appealing to the CIO-level buyer for organization-wide implementations. They are pushing an open agenda, where they can interact with other RPA products and cloud platforms: certainly as a BPM vendor, interaction with other automation tools is part of the fabric.

They have a few new things that I haven’t seen in briefings (to be fair, I think I’ve dropped off their analyst relations radar). Their “Automation Planner” can make recommendations for what type of automation to use for any particular task. Calkins also spoke about their intelligent document processing (IDP), which addresses what they believe is one of the biggest automation challenges that companies have today.

The Appian platform offers full-stack automation — workflow, case management, RPA, AI, business rules — with a “data anywhere” philosophy of integrating with systems to allow processing data in place, and their low-code development for which they have become known. If you’re a fan of the all-in-one proprietary platform, Appian is definitely one of main contenders. They have a number of vertical solutions now, and are starting to offer standardized all-inclusive subscription pricing for different sizes of installations that removes a lot of uncertainty about total cost of ownership. He also highlighted some of the vertical applications created by partners PWC, Accenture and KPMG.

I always like hearing Calkins talk (or chatting with him in person), because he’s smart and well-spoken, and ties together a lot of complex ideas well. He covered a lot of information about Appian products, direction, customers and partners in a 30-minute keynote, and it’s definitely worth watching the replay.

Darren Blake of Bexley Health Neighbourhood Care

Next up was a “stories from the front line of COVID-19” panel featuring Darin Cline, EVP of Operations of Bank of the West (part of BNP Paribas), and Darren Blake, COO of Bexley Health Neighbourhood Care in the UK National Health Service, moderated by Appian co-founder Mark Wilson. This was done remotely rather than in their studio, with each of the three having an Appian World backdrop: a great branding idea that was similar to what Celonis did with their remote speakers at Celosphere, although each person’s backdrop also had their own company’s logo — nice touch.

Blake talked about how they saw the wave of COVID-19 coming based on data that they were seeing from around the world, and put plans in place to leverage their existing Appian-based staff tracker to implement emergency measures around staff management and redeployment. They support home-based services as well as their patients’ visits to medical facilities, and had to manage staff and patient visits for non-COVID ailments as well as COVID responses and even dedicated COVID testing clinics without risking cross-contamination. Cline talked about how they needed to change their operations to allow people to continue accessing banking services even with lockdowns that happened in their home state of California. He said this disruption has pushed them to become a much more agile organization, both in business and IT departments: this is one of those things that likely is never going back to how it was pre-COVID. He credited their use of Appian for low-code development as part of this, and said that they are now taking advantage of it as never before. Blake echoed that they also have become much more agile, creating and deploying new capabilities in their systems in a matter of a few days: the vision of all low-code, but rarely the reality.

Interesting to hear these customers stories, where they stepped up and started doing agile development in the low-code platform that they were already using, listening to the voice of the customer in cooperation with their business people, executives and implementation partners such as Appian. So many things that companies said were just not possible actually are: fast low-code implementation, work from home, and other changes that are here to stay. These are organizations that are going to hit the ground running as the pandemic recedes — as Blake points out, this is going to be with us for at least two years until a vaccine is created, and will have multiple waves — since they have experienced a digital revolution that has fundamentally changed how they work.

Great customer panel: often these are a bit dry and unfocused, but this one was fascinating since they’ve had a bit of time to track how the pandemic has impacted their business and how they’ve been able to respond to it. In both cases, this is the new normal: Cline explicitly said that they are never going back to having so many people in their offices again, since both their distributed workforce and their customers have embraced online interactions.

Next up was deputy CTO Malcolm Ross (who I fondly remember as providing my first Appian demo in 2006) with a product update. He showed a demo that included integration of RPA, AI, IDP, Salesforce and SAP within the low-code BPM framework that ties it all together. It’s been a while since I’ve had an Appian briefing, and some nice new functionality for how integrations are created and configured with a minimum of coding. They have built-in integrations (i.e., “no code”) to many different other systems. Their AI is powered by Google’s AI services, and includes all of the capabilities that you would find there, bundled into Appian’s environment. This “Appian AI” is at the core of their IDP offering, which does classification and data extraction on unstructured documents, to map into structured data: they have a packaged use case that they provide with their product that includes manual correction when AI classification/extraction doesn’t have a sufficient level of confidence. Because there’s AI/ML behind IDP, it will become smarter as human operators correct the errors.

He went through a demo of their RPA, including how the bots can interact with other Appian automation components such as IDP. There is, as expected, another orchestration (process) model within RPA that shows the screen/task flow: it would be good if they could look at converging this modeling format with their BPM modeling, even though it would be a simple subset. Regardless, a lot of interesting capabilities here for management of robotic resources. If you’re an existing Appian customer, you’re probably already looking at their RPA. Even if you’re already using another RPA product, Appian’s Robotic Workforce Manager allows you to manage Blue Prism, Automation Anywhere and UiPath bots as well as AppianRPA bots.

The last part of the morning keynotes was a panel featuring Austan Goolsbee, Former Chairman of President Obama’s White House Council of Economic Advisers, and Arthur Laffer, Economist and Member of President Reagan’s Economic Policy Advisory Board, moderated by Matt Calkins. This was billed as a “left versus right” economists’ discussion on how to reopen the (US) economy, and quickly lost my interest: it’s not that I’m not interested in the topic, but prefer to find a much wider set of opinions than these two Americans who turned it into a political debate, flinging around phrases such as “Libertarian ideal”. Not really a good fit as part of a keynote at a tech vendor conference. I think this really highlights some of the differences between in-person and virtual conferences: the virtual tech conferences should stick to their products and customers, and drop the “thought leaders” from unrelated areas. The celebrity speakers have a slight appeal to some attendees in person, but not so much in the virtual forum even if they are live conversations. IBM Think had a couple of high profile speakers that I skipped, since I can just go and watch their TED Talk or YouTube channel, and they didn’t really fit into the flow of the conference.

The remaining three hours of day 1 were (pre-recorded) breakout sessions available simultaneously on demand, with live Q&A with the speakers for the entire period. This allows them to have a large number of sessions — an overwhelming 30+ of them — but I expect that engagement for each specific session will be relatively low. It’s not clear if the Q&A with the speaker is private or if you would share the same Q&A with other people who happened to be looking at that session at the same time; even if they were, the session starts when you pop in, so everyone would be at a different point in the presentation and probably asking different questions. It looks like a similar lineup of breakout sessions will be available tomorrow for the afternoon portion, following another keynote.

I poked into a couple of the breakout sessions, but they’re just a video that starts playing from the beginning when you enter, no way to engage with other audience members, and no motivation to watch at a particular time. I sent a question for one speaker off into the void, but never saw a response. Some of them are really short (I saw one that was 8 minutes) and others are longer (Neil Ward-Dutton‘s session was 36 minutes) but there’s no way to know how long each one is without starting it. This is a good way to push out a lot of content simultaneously, but there’s extremely low audience engagement. I was also invited to a “Canada Drop-In Centre” via Google Meet; I’m not that interested in any sort of Canadian-specific experience, a broader based engagement (like Slack) would have been a better choice, possibly with separate channels for regions but also session discussions and Q&A. They also don’t seem to be providing slide decks for any of the presentations, which I like to have to remind me of what was said (or to skip back if I missed something).

This was originally planned as an in-person conference, and Appian had to pivot on relatively short notice. They did a great job with the keynotes, including a few of the Appian speakers appearing (appropriately distanced) in their own auditorium. The breakout sessions didn’t really grab me: too many, all pre-recorded, and you’re basically an audience of one when you’re in any of them, with little or no interactivity. Better as a set of on-demand training/content videos rather than true breakout sessions, and I’m sure there’s a lot of good content here for Appian customers or prospects to dig deeper into product capabilities but these could be packaged as a permanent library of content rather than a “conference”. The key for virtual conferences seems to be keeping it a bit simpler, with more timely and live sessions from one or two tracks only.

I’ll be back for tomorrow’s keynotes, and will have a look through the breakout sessions to see if there’s anything that I want to watch right now as opposed to just looking it up later.

IBM #Think2020 Day 2: Smarter Business is apparently only about AI

This is now my third day attending IBM’s online Think 2020 conference: I attended the analyst preview on Monday, then the first day of the conference yesterday. We started the day with Mark Foster, SVP of IBM Services, giving a keynote on building resilient and smarter businesses. He pointed out that we are in uncertain times, and many companies are still figuring out whether to freeze new initiatives, or take advantage of this disruption to build smarter businesses that will be more competitive as we emerge from the pandemic. This message coming from a large software/services vendor is a bit self-serving, since they are probably seeing this quarter’s sales swirling down the drain, but I happen to agree with him: this is the time to be bold with digital transformation. He referred to what can be done with new technologies as “business process re-engineering on steroids”, and said that it’s more important than ever to build more intelligent processes to run our organizations. Resistance to change is at a particular low point, except (in my experience) at the executive level: workers and managers are embracing the new ways of doing things, from virtual experiences to bots, although they may be hampered somewhat by skittish executives that think that change at a time of disruption is too risky, while holding the purse strings of that change.

He had a discussion with Svein Tore Holsether, CEO of Yara, a chemical company with a primary business in nitrogen crop fertilizers. They also building informational platforms for sustainable farming, and providing apps such as a hyper-local farm weather app in India, since factors such as temperature and rainfall can vary greatly due to microclimates. The current pandemic means that they can no longer have their usual meetings with farmers — apparently a million visits per year — but they are moving to virtual meetings to ensure that the farmers still have what the need to maximize their crop yields.

Foster was then joined by Carol Chen, VP of Global Lubricants Marketing at Shell. She talked about the specific needs of the mining industry for one of their new initiatives, leveraging the ability to aggregate data from multiple sources — many of them IoT — to make better decisions, such as predictive maintenance on equipment fleets. This allows the decisions about a mining operation to be made from a digital twin in the home office, rather than just by on-site operators who may not have the broader context: this improves decision quality and local safety.

He then talked to Michael Lindsey, Chief Transformation and Strategy Officer at PepsiCo North America, with a focus on their Frito-Lay operations. This operation has a huge fleet, controlling the supply chain from the potato farms to the store. Competition has driven them to have a much broader range of products, in terms of content and flavors, to maintain their 90%+ penetration into the American household market. Previously, any change would have been driven from their head office, moving out to the fringes in a waterfall model. They now have several agile teams based on IBM’s Garage Methodology that are more distributed, taking input from field associates to know what it needed at each point in the supply chain, driving need from the store shelves back to the production chain. The pandemic crisis means that they have had to move their daily/weekly team meetings online, but that has actually made them more inclusive by not requiring everyone to be in the same place. They have also had to adjust the delivery end of their supply chains in order to keep up the need for their products: based on my Facebook feed, there are a lot of people out there eating snacks at home, fueling a Frito-Lay boom.

Rob Thomas, SVP of IBM Cloud & Data Platform, gave a keynote on how AI and automation is changing how companies work. Some of this was a repeat from what we saw in the analyst preview, plus some interviews with customers including Mirco Bharpalania, Head of Data & Analytics at Lufthansa, and Mallory Freeman, Director of Data Science and Machine Learning in the Advanced Analytics Group at UPS. In both cases, they are using the huge amount of data that they collect — about airplanes and packages, respectively — to provide better insights into their operations, and perform optimization to improve scheduling and logistics.

He was then joined by Melissa Molstad, Director of Common Platforms, Stata Strategy & Vendor Relations at PayPal. She spoke primarily about their AI-driven chatbots, with the virtual assistants handling 1.4M conversations per month. This relieves the load on customer service agents, especially for simple and common queries, which is especially helpful now that they have moved their customer service to distributed home-based work.

He discussed AIOps, which was already announced yesterday by Arvind Krishna; I posted a bit about that in yesterday’s post including some screenshots from a demo that we saw at the analyst preview on Monday. They inserted the video of Jessica Rockwood, VP of Development for Hybrid Multicloud Management, giving the same demo that we saw on Monday, worthwhile watching if you want to hear the entire narrative behind the screenshots.

Thomas’ last interview segment was with Aaron Levie, CEO of Box, and Stewart Butterfield, CEO of Slack, both ecosystem partners of IBM. Interesting that they chose to interview Slack rather than use it as an engagement channel for the conference attendees. ¯_(ツ)_/¯  They both had interesting things to add on how work is changing with the push to remote cloud-based work, and the pressures on their companies for helping a lot of customers to move to cloud-based collaboration all at once. There seems to be a general agreement (I also agree) that work is never going back to exactly how it was before, even when there is no longer a threat from the pandemic. We are learning new ways of working, and also learning that things that companies thought could not be done effectively — like work from home — actually work pretty well. Companies that embrace the changes and take advantage of the disruption can jump ahead on their digital transformation timeline by a couple of years. One of them quoted Roy Amara’s adage that “we tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run”; as distributed work methods, automation and the supporting technology get a foothold now, they will have profound changes on how work will be done in the future. This is not going to be about which organizations have the most money to spend: it will hinge on the ability and will to embrace AI and automation to remake intelligent end-to-end processes. Software vendors will need to accept the fact that customers want to do best-of-breed assembly of services from different vendors, meaning that the vendors that integrate into a standard fabric are going to do much better in the long run.

I switched over to the industry/customer channel to hear a conversation between Donovan Roos, VP of Enterprise Automation at US Bank, and Monique Ouellette, VP of Global Digital Workplace Solutions at IBM. She invited us at the beginning to submit questions, so this may have been one of the few sessions that has not been prerecorded, although they never seemed to take any audience questions so I’m not sure. Certainly much lower audio and video quality than most of the prerecorded sessions. US Bank has implemented Watson AI-driven chatbots for internal and external service requests, and has greatly reduced wait times for requests where a chatbot can assist with self-service rather than waiting for a live agent. Roos mentioned that they really make use of the IBM-curated content that comes as part of the Watson platform, and many of the issues are resolved without even hitting internal knowledge bases. Like many other banks during the current crisis, they have had to scale up their ability to process small business loans; although he had some interesting things to mention about how they scaled up their customer service operations using AI chatbots, I would also be interested to hear how they have scaled up the back-end processes. He did mention that you need to clean up your business processes first before starting to apply AI, but no specifics.

I stayed on the industry channel for a presentation on AI in insurance by Sandeep Bajaj, CIO of Everest Re Group. I do quite a bit of work with insurance companies as a technical strategist/architect so have some good insights into how their business works, and Bajaj started with the very accurate statement that insurance is an information-driven industry, both in the sense of standard business information, but also IoT and telematics especially for vehicle and P&C coverage. This provides great opportunities for better insights and decisions based on AI that leverages that data. He believes that AI is no longer optional in insurance because of the many factors and data sources involved in decisions. He did discuss the necessity to review and improve your business processes to find opportunities for AI: it’s not a silver bullet, but needs to have relatively clean processes to start with — same message that we heard from US Bank in the previous presentation. Everest reviewed some of their underwriting processes and split the automation opportunities between robotic process automation and AI, although I would have thought that using them together, as well as other automation technologies, could provide a better solution. They used an incremental approach, which let them see results sooner and feed back initial results into ongoing development. One side benefit is that they now capture much more of the unstructured information from each submission, whereas previously they would only capture the information entered for those submissions that led to business; this allows them to target their marketing and pricing accordingly. They’re starting to use AI-driven processes for claims first notice of loss (FNOL is a classic claims problem) in addition to underwriting, and are seeing operational efficiency improvements as well as better accuracy and time to market. Looking ahead, he sees that AI is here to stay in their organization since it’s providing proven value. Really good case study; worth watching if you’re in the insurance business and want to see how AI can be applied effectively.

That’s it for me at IBM Think 2020, and I’ve really noticed a laser focus on AI and cloud at this event. I was hoping to see more of the automation portfolio, such as process modeling, process management, robotic process automation, decision management and even content management, but it’s as if they don’t exist.

IBM had to pivot to a virtual format relatively quickly since they already had a huge in-person conference scheduled for this time, but they could have done better both for content and format given the resources that they have available to pour into this event. Everyone is learning from this experience of being forced to move events online, and the smaller companies are (not surprisingly) much more agile in adapting to this new normal. I’ll be at the virtual Appian World next week, then will write an initial post on virtual conference best — and worst — practices that I’ve seen over the five events that I’ve attended recently. In the weeks following that, I’ll be attending Signavio Live, PegaWorld iNspire and DecisionCAMP, so will have a chance to add on any new things that I see in those events.

IBM #Think2020 Day 1: needs improvement

The first day of IBM’s online conference Think 2020 kicked off with a keynote by CEO Arvind Krishna on enterprise technology for digital transformation. He’s new to the position of CEO, but has decades of history at IBM, including heading IBM Research and, most recently, the Cloud and Cognitive Computing group. He sees hybrid cloud and AI as the key technologies for enterprises to move forward, and was joined by Rajeev Ronanki, Chief Digital Officer at Anthem, a US healthcare provider, discussing what they’re doing with AI to harness data and provide better insights. Anthem is using Red Hat OpenShift containerization that allows them to manage their AI “supply chain” effectively, working with technology partners to integrate capabilities.

Krishna announced AIOps, which infuses Watson AI into mission-critical IT operations, providing predictions, recommendations and automation to allow IT to get ahead of problems, and resolve them quickly. We had a quick demo of this yesterday during the analyst preview, and it looks pretty interesting: integrating trouble notifications into a Slack channel, then providing recommendations on actions based on previous similar incidents:

He finished up with an announcement about their new cloud satellite, and edge and telco solutions for cloud platforms. This enables development of future 5G/edge applications that will change how enterprises work internally and with their customers. As our last several weeks of work-from-home has taught us, better public cloud connectivity can make a huge difference in how well a company can continue to do business in times of disruption; in the future, we won’t require a disruption to push us to a distributed workforce.

There was a brief interview with Michelle Peluso, CMO, on how IBM has pivoted to focus on what their customers need: managing during the crisis, preparing for recovery, and enabling transformation along the way. Cloud and AI play a big part of this, with hybrid cloud providing supply chain resiliency, and AI to better adapt to changing circumstances and handle customer engagement. I completely agree with one of her key points: things are not just going back to normal after this crisis, but this is forcing a re-think of how we do business and how things work. Smart companies are accelerating their digital transformation right now, using this disruption as a trigger. I wrote a bit more about this on a guest post on the Trisotech blog recently, and included many of my comments in a webinar that I did for Signavio.

The next session was on scaling innovation at speed with hybrid cloud, featuring IBM President Jim Whitehurst, with a focus on how this can provide the level of agility and resiliency needed at any time, but especially now. Their OpenShift-based hybrid cloud platform will run across any of the major cloud providers, as well as on premise. He announced a technology preview of a cloud marketplace for Red Hat OpenShift-based applications, and had a discussion with Vishant Vora, CTO at Vodafone Idea, India’s largest telecom provider, on how they are building infrastructure for low-latency applications. The session finished up with Hillery Hunter, CTO of IBM Cloud, talking about their public cloud infrastructure: although their cloud platform will run on any vendor’s cloud infrastructure, they believe that their own cloud architecture has some advantages for mission-critical applications. She gave us a few more details about the IBM Cloud Satellite that Arvind Krishna had mentioned in his keynote: a distributed cloud that allows you to run workloads where it makes sense, with simplified and consolidated deployment and monitoring options. They have security and privacy controls built in for different industries, and currently have offerings such as a financial services-ready public cloud environment.

I tuned in briefly to an IDC analyst talking about the new CEO agenda, although targeted at IBM business partners; then a few minutes with the chat between IBM’s past CEO Ginny Rometty and will.i.am. I skipped Amal Clooney‘s talk — she’s brilliant, but there are hours of online video of other presentations that she has made that are likely very similar. If I had been in the audience at a live event, I wouldn’t have walked out of these, but they did not hold my interest enough to watch the virtual versions. Definitely virtual conferences need to be more engaging and offer more targeted content: I attend tech vendor conferences for information about their technology and how their customers are using it, not to hear philanthropic rap singers and international human rights lawyers.

The last session that I attended was on reducing operational cost and ensuring supply chain resiliency, introduced by Kareen Yusuf, General Manager of AI applications. He spoke about the importance of building intelligence into systems using AI, both for managing work in flight through end-to-end visibility, and providing insights on transactions and data. The remainder of the session was a panel hosted by Amber Armstrong, CMO of AI applications, featuring Jonathan Wright who heads up cognitive process re-engineering in supply chains for IBM Global Business Services, Jon Young of Telstra, and Joe Harvey of Southern Company. Telstra (a telecom company) and Southern Company (an energy company) have both seen supply chain disruptions due to the pandemic crisis, but have intelligent supply chain and asset management solutions in place that have allowed them to adapt quickly. IBM Maximo, a long-time asset management product, has been supercharged with IoT data and AI to help reduce downtime and increase asset utilization. This was an interesting panel, but really was just three five-minute interviews with no interaction between the panelists, and no audience questions. If you want to see an example of a much more engaging panel in a virtual conference, check out the one that I covered two weeks ago at CamundaCon Live.

The sessions ran from 11am-3pm in my time zone, with replays starting at 7pm (well, they’re all technically replays because everything was pre-recorded). That’s a much smaller number of sessions than I expected, with many IBM products not really covered, such as the automation products that I normally focus on. I even took a lengthy break in the middle when I didn’t see any sessions that interested me, so only watched about 90 minutes of content. Today was really all cloud and AI, interspersed with some IBM promotional videos, although a few of the sessions tomorrow look more promising.

As I’ve mentioned over the past few weeks of virtual conferences, I don’t like pre-recorded sessions: they just don’t have the same feel as live presentations. To IBM’s credit, they used the fact that they were all pre-recorded to add captions in five or six different languages, making the sessions (which were all presented in English) more accessible to those who speak other languages or who have hearing impairments. The platform is pretty glitchy on mobile: I was trying to watch the video on my tablet while using my computer for blogging and looking up references, but there were a number of problems with changing streams that forced me to move back to desktop video for periods of time. The single-threaded chat stream was completely unusable, with 4,500 people simultaneously typing “Hi from Tulsa” or “you are amazing” (directed to the speaker, presumably).

My upcoming webinar sponsored by Signavio – How to Thrive During Times of Rapid Change

This will be the fourth in a series of webinars that I’m doing for Signavio, this time focused on the high-tech industry but with lessons that span other industries. From the description:

High-Tech businesses are renowned disruptors. But what happens when the disruptors become the disrupted? For example, let’s say a global pandemic surfaces and suddenly changes your market dynamics and your business model.

Can your business handle an instant slowdown or a hyper-growth spurt? What about your operating systems? Are they nimble enough for you to scale? Can you onboard new customers en masse or handle a high volume of service tickets overnight? What about your supply chain; how agile are your systems and supplier relationships?

The first two webinars were discussing banking in February and insurance in March, and the role that intelligent processes play in improving business, with a brief mention in the March webinar about addressing business disruption caused by the pandemic. By the time we hit the third webinar on financial services in April, we had pivoted to look at the necessity of process improvement technologies and methodologies in times of business disruption such as the current crisis. Unlike a lot of industries, many high-tech sectors have been booming during the pandemic: their problems are around being able to scale up operations to meet demand without sacrificing customer service. Although they share some of the same issues as I looked at in the earlier webinars, they have some unique issues where process intelligence and automation can help them.

Tune in on May 20th at 11am Eastern; if you can’t make it then, sign up anyway and you’ll get a link to the on-demand version.

IBM #Think2020 analyst preview

I had an early look at IBM’s virtual Think conference by attending the analyst preview today, although I will need to embargo the announcements until they are officially released at the main event tomorrow. The day kicked off with a welcome from Harriet Fryman, VP of Analyst Relations, followed by a welcome from IBM President Jim Whitehurst before the first presentation from Mark Foster, SVP of Services, on building resilient and smarter businesses. Foster led with the need for innovative and intelligent workflow automation, and a view of end-to-end processes, and how work patterns are changing and will continuing to change as we emerge from the current pandemic crisis.

Whitehurst returned to discuss their offerings in hybrid cloud environments, including both the platforms and the applications that run on those platforms. There’s no doubt that every company right now is laser-focused on the need for cloud environments, with many workforces being distributed to a work-from-home model. IBM offers Cloud Paks, containerized software solutions to get organizations up and running quickly. Red Hat OpenShift is a big part of their strategy for cloud.

Hillery Hunter, CTO and VP of Cloud Infrastructure, followed on with more details on the IBM cloud. She doubled down on their commitment to open source, and to how they have hardened open source cloud tools for enterprise readiness. If enterprises want to be flexible, scalable and resilient, they need to move their core business operations to the public cloud, and IBM hopes to provide the platform for them to do that. This should not just be lift-and-shift from on-premise systems, but this is an opportunity to modernize systems and operations. The impacts of COVID-19 have shown the cracks in many companies’ mission-critical capabilities and infrastructure, and the smart ones will already be finding ways to push towards more modern cloud platforms to allow them to weather business disruptions and gain a competitive edge in the future.

Rob Thomas, SVP of IBM Cloud and Data Platform, gave a presentation on AI and automation, and how they are changing the way that organizations work. By infusing AI into workflows, companies can outperform their competitors by 165% in terms of revenue growth and productivity, plus improve their ability to innovate and manage change. For example, in a very short time, they’ve deployed Watson Assistant to field questions about COVID-19 using information published by the CDC and other sources. Watson Anywhere combines with their Cloud Pak for Data to allow Watson AI to be applied to any of your data sources. He finished with a reminder of the “AI Ladder” which is basically a roadmap for adding operationalized AI.

The final session was with Dario Gil, Director of IBM Research. IBM has been an incredible source of computing research over 75 years, and employs 3,000 researchers in 19 locations. Some of this research is around the systems for high-performance computing, including their support for the open source Linux community. Other research is around AI, having moved from narrow AI to broader multi-domain AI, with more general AI with improved learning and autonomy in the future. They are also investing in quantum computing research, and he discussed this convergence of bits, neurons and qubits for things such as AI-assisted programming and accelerated discovery.

This was all pre-recorded presentations, which is not as compelling as live video, and there was no true discussion platform or even live Q&A; these are the two common complaints that I am having with many of the virtual conferences. I’m expecting that the next two days of the main IBM Think event will be more of the same format. I’ll be tuning in for some of the sessions of the main event, starting with CEO Arvind Krishna tomorrow morning.

CelosphereLive 2020 — Day 3: extending process mining with multi-event logs and task mining

Traditionally, process mining is fed from history logs from a single system. However, most businesses aren’t run on a single system, and Celonis Product Lead for Discovery Sabeth Steiner discussed how they are allowing multi-event log process mining, where logs from multiple systems are ingested and correlated to do a more comprehensive analysis. This can be useful to find friction between parallel (inbound) procurement and (outbound) sales processes, or customer service requests that span multiple process silos. Different parallel processes appear in Celonis process discovery in different colors, and the crossover points between them highlighted.

Each of the processes can be analyzed independently, but the power comes when they are analyzed in tandem: optimizing the delivery time within an order-to-cash process while seeing the points that it interacts with the procure-to-pay process of the vendors providing materials for that order. Jessica Kaufmann, Senior Software Developer, joined Steiner to show the integrated data model that exists behind the integrated analysis of multiple processes, and how to set this up for multiple event logs. She discussed the different types of visualization: whether to visualize the different processes as a single process (by merging the event logs), or as multiple interacting processes. KPIs can also be combined, so that overall KPIs of multiple interacting processes can be tracked. Great Q&A at the end where they addressed a number of audience questions on the mechanics of using multi-event logs, and they confirmed that this will be available in the free Celonis Snap offering.

Another analysis capability not traditionally covered by process mining is task mining: what are the users doing on the desktop to interact between multiple systems? Andreas Plieninger, Product Manager, talked about how they capture user interaction data with their new Celonis Task Mining. I’ve been seeing user interaction capture being done by a few different vendors, both process mining/analysis and RPA vendors, and this really is the missing link in understanding processes: lack of this type of data capture is the reason that I spend a lot of time job-shadowing when I’m looking at an enterprise customer’s processes.

Task Mining is installed on the user’s desktop (Windows only for now), and when certain white-listed applications are used, the interaction information is captured as well as data from the desktop files, such as Excel spreadsheets. AI/ML helps to group the activities together and match them to other system processes, providing context for analysis. “Spyware” that tracks user actions on the desktop is not uncommon in productivity monitoring, but Celonis Task Mining this is a much more secure and restricted version of that, capturing just the data required for analyzing processes, and respecting the privacy of both the user and data on their screen.

Once the user interaction data is captured, it can be analyzed in the same way as process event log: it can discover the process and its variants, and trigger alerts if process compliance rules are violated. It’s in the same data later as process mining data, so can analyzed and exposed using the same AI, boards and apps structure as process data. Task Miner also captures screen snapshots to show what was actually happening as the user clicked around and entered data, and can be used to check what the user was seeing while they were working. This can be used to determine root causes for the longer-running variants, find opportunities for task automation, and check compliance.

He showed a use case for finding automation opportunities in a procure-to-pay process, similar to the concept of multi-event logs where one of those logs is the user interaction data. The user interaction data is treated a bit differently, however, since it represents manual activities where you may want to apply automation. A Celonis automation could then be used to address some of the problem areas identified by the task mining, where some of the cases are completely automated, while others require human intervention. This ability to triage cases, sending only those that really need human input for someone to process, while automatically pushing actions back to the core systems to complete the others automatically, can result in significant cost savings and shortened cycle time.

Celonis Task Mining is still in an early adopter program, but is expected to be in beta by August 2020 and generally available in November. I’m predicting a big uptake in this capability, since remote work is removing the ability to use techniques such as job shadowing to understand what steps workers are taking to complete tasks. Adding Task Mining data to Process Mining data creates the complete picture of how work is actually getting done.

That’s it for me at CelosphereLive 2020; you can see replays of the presentation videos on the conference site, with the last of them likely to be published by tomorrow. Good work by Celonis on a marathon event: this ran for several hours per day over three days, although the individual presentations were pre-recorded then followed by live Q&A. Lots of logistics and good production quality, but it could have had better audience engagement through a more interactive platform such as Slack.

Alfresco Modernize 2020

I’ve been attending the online Celonis conference for the past couple of days, but taking a break for Alfresco‘s short event, Alfresco Modernize. We started with an insightful keynote from CTO John Newton on patterns of digital transformation. As we likely enter a recession triggered by the global pandemic, he pointed out that most companies fail to execute properly through a recession, and showed some Harvard Business Review research on what actually works. This includes investing in digital transformation, decentralizing decision making, and being sure to retain knowledge and experience. The responses of digital leaders to disruptions such as what we’re now seeing focus on improving business processes, modernizing infrastructure, and making it easier to connect with customers and suppliers.

He discussed the concept of digital transformation patterns that can be derived from successful journeys, such as customer onboarding or improving manufacturing operations. He addressed the different layers of patterns shown in the chart at the left, and how they interact. We’ve used patterns in software development for a long time, and Newton shows us that it’s time to start documenting, understanding and applying digital transformation patterns. Alfresco wants to start documenting these in a very open source manner, and create solutions to address the common patterns.

Up next was a presentation by Dinesh Selvakumar, Global Head of Enterprise Content Management at Invesco, a global investment management firm. They are a relatively new Alfresco ECM customer, implementing in their own AWS instance during 2018-2019, and migrated content from other systems. They still have a lot of content silos, plus ad hoc routing and approval workflows, and have created an ECM CoE to improve standardization and governance. They want to integrate their systems to provide a unified user experience, and moved from an ECM mindset to that of Enterprise Content Services (ECS) that provides unified capabilities across the disparate platforms. They realize that there are some content and collaboration platforms that they’re never going to get rid of, but still need to have them integrated into the big picture connected by Alfresco. Eventually, enterprise content may be created in other applications, but then sent to Alfresco for enterprise-level management. They are quantifying the benefits of the move to an ECS, although some of the benefits are difficult to measure, such as decreased time searching for content. He shared some of the lessons that they learned and their key success factors, several of which are based on having a global focus and deployment.

Tony Grout, Alfresco Chief Product Officer, provided a product roadmap for their digital business platform. I found the slide on content and process interesting, in that it mentioned “processes relating to a document”: it seems like they have really trimmed off any of the pure process management messaging that they had previously, although Alfresco Process Server (Activiti) is still alive and well. Part of their core value proposition is the ability to start with open source and transition to the fully-supported (and more functional) enterprise version: this is true of any commercial open source vendor, but it’s front and center with Alfresco.

There are a number of new features on the roadmap: Federation Services (launching today) to federate different repositories, managing content in place instead of having to migrate everything to Alfresco; regulatory compliance in AWS; and the Enterprise Viewer that we saw demoed a bit later. Some of these capabilities likely came from their acquisition of Technology Services Group, a former Alfresco partner that built out a lot of value-added functionality.

Mark Stevens, General Manager for the Alfresco Cloud, introduced how they are rolling out the Alfresco Digital Business Platform as a service, and why cloud provides such great benefits for content management: resiliency, availability, and lower costs. Their platform is cloud-native, not just a containerized version of an on-premised platform, which provides better scalability and extensibility. Removing most of the overhead from managing an ECM platform means that you have more time (and money) for more innovation and digital transformation. He walked us through their overall architecture, and what a typical implementation would look like, in terms of what’s managed by the customer and what’s managed by Alfresco. They’ve had some pretty high-profile wins over other ECM vendors, such as OpenText Documentum and IBM FileNet, with transitioned customers seeing a lot of hard benefits from Alfresco Cloud.

Last up in this short event were Paul Hampton, Senior Director of Product Marketing, and Ben Allen, Technical Architect, talking about the new Federation Services and Enterprise Viewer products that were announced earlier by Tony Grout. These are both pretty significant new capabilities: Federation Services allows all content repositories to be federated through Alfresco, so that users have a single user experience, and all of the sources can be managed directly by policies set in Alfresco. Content is managed in place rather than all migrated into Alfresco, although in some cases this will likely be a first step on the way to a migration.

We saw a demo of the Enterprise Viewer, which has a lot of interesting capabilities for both internal and external participants. It’s fast to browse and load large document sets, and to individual large documents since they’re caching across the network by page. Documents can be redacted for external participants, for example, removing personal information from an insurance claim when sending to an external party for a repair quote. Video can be annotated to add comments at specific points to highlight certain things in the video, with the ability to jump directly to the point of the comment. Annotations are collaborative, so that a user can reply to an existing annotation.

I didn’t stick around for the live Q&A since I wanted to get back to CelosphereLive for a session starting at the same time. Alfresco Modernize didn’t have much of a “live” feel to it: the sessions were all pre-recorded which, as I’ve mentioned in my coverage of other online conferences, just doesn’t have the same feel. Also, without a full attendee discussion capability, this was more like a broadcast of multiple webinars than an interactive event, with a short Q&A session at the end as the only point of interaction. To their credit, each speaker was in their own home, practicing social distancing; although I liked the Celonis studio environment, I did feel that it’s a bit too early to have people in the same location for an event, no matter how controlled.

CelosphereLive 2020 — Day 3: Process AI for automation

I started my day early to see Dr.Steffen Schenk, Celonis Head of Product Management, talk about the Celonis Action Engine and process automation. In short, they are seeing that because they integrate directly with core systems (especially ERP systems, that have their own processes built in), they can do things that RPA and BPM systems can’t do: namely, data-driven sense and act capabilities. However, these processes are only as timely as the data connection from the core systems into Celonis, so there can be latency.

He walked through an example of an order management process where he filtered SAP order data to show those with on-time delivery problems, due to order approval or credit check required, and created a query to detect those conditions in the future. Then, he created a process automation made up of system connectors that would be triggered based on a signal from that query in the future. In addition to system connectors (including webhooks), the automation can also directly call Celonis actions that might prompts a user to take an action. The automation can do branching based on data values: in his example, a customer credit block was automatically removed if they have a history of on-time payment, and that data was pushed back to SAP. That, in turn, would cause SAP to move the invoice along: it’s effectively a collaborative process automation between SAP and Celonis. The non-automated path sends a task to an order manager to approve or deny the credit, which in turn will trigger other automated actions. This process automation is now a “Skill” in Celonis, and can be set to execute for all future SAP order data that flows through Celonis.

Once this automation has been set up, the before and after processes can be compared: we see a higher degree of automation that has led to improving the on-time delivery KPI without increasing risk. It’s data-driven, so that only customers that continue to have an on-time payment record will be automatically approved for credit on a specific order. This is an interesting approach to automation that provides more comprehensive task automation than RPA, and a better fit than BPM when processes primarily exist in a line-of-business or legacy system. If you have an end-to-end process to orchestrate and need a comprehensive model, then BPM may be a better choice, but there’s a lot of interesting applications for the Celonis model of automating the parts of an existing process that the core system would have “delegated” to human action. I can definitely see applications for this in insurance claims, where most of the claim process lives in a third-party claims management system, but there are many decisions and ancillary processes that need to happen around that system.

This level of automation can be set up by a trained Celonis analyst: if you’re already creating analysis and dashboards, then you have the level of skill required to create these automations. This is also available both for cloud and on-premise deployments. There was an interesting discussion in the Q&A about credentials for updating the connected systems: this could be done with the credentials of the person who approves a task to execute (attended automation) or with generic system credentials for fully-automated tasks.

This was a really fascinating talk and a vision of the future for this type of process automation, where the core process lives within an off-the-shelf or legacy system, and there’s a need to do additional automation (or recommendations) of supporting decisions and actions. Very glad that I got up early for the 7:15am start.

I listened in on the following talk on machine learning and intelligent automation by Nicolas Ilmberger, Celonis Senior Product Manager of Platform and Technology, where he showed some of their pre-built ML tools such as duplicate checkers (for duplicate invoices, for example), root cause analysis and intelligent audit sampling. These are used to detect specific scenarios in the data that is flowing into Celonis, then either raising an action to a user, or automating an action in the background. They have a number of pre-configured connectors and filters, for example, to find a duplicate vendor invoice in an SAP system; these will usually need some customization since many organizations have modified their SAP systems.

He showed a demonstration of using some of these tools, and also discussed a case study of a manufacturing customer that had significant cost savings due to duplicate invoice checking: their ERP system only found exact matches, but slight differences in spelling or other typographical errors could result in true duplicates that needed more intelligent comparison. A second case study was for on-time delivery by an automotive supplier, where customer orders at risk were detected and signals sent to customer service with recommendations for the agent for resolution.

It’s important to note that both for these ML tools and the process automation that we saw in the previous session, these are only as timely as the data connection from the core processing system to Celonis: if you’re only doing daily data feeds from SAP to Celonis, for example, that’s how often these decisions and automations will be triggered. For orders of physical goods that may take several days to fulfill, this is not a problem, but this is not a truly real-time process due to that latency. If an order has already moved on to the next stage in SAP before Celonis can act, for example, there will need to be checks to ensure that any updates pushed back to SAP will not negatively impact the order status.

There was a studio discussion following with Hala Zeine and Sebastian Walter. Zeine said that customers are saying “we’re done with discovery, what’s next?”, and have the desire to leverage machine learning and automation for day-to-day operations. This drove home the point that Celonis is repositioning from being an analysis tool to an operational tool, which gives them a much broader potential in terms of number of users and applications. Procure-to-pay and order-to-cash processes are a focus for them, and every mid-sized and large enterprise has problems with these processes.

The next session was with Stefan Maurer, Vice President of Enterprise Effectiveness for AVNET, a distributor of electronic components. He spoke about how they are using Celonis in their procure-to-pay process to react to supplier delivery date changes due to the impact of COVID-19 on global supply chains. He started with a number of good points on organizational readiness and how to take on process mining and transformation projects. He walked us through their process improvement maturity lifecycle, showing what they achieved with fundamental efforts such as LEAN Six Sigma, then where they started adding Celonis to the mix to boost the maturity level. He said that they could have benefited from adding Celonis a bit earlier in their journey, but feels that people need a basic understanding of process improvement before adding new tools and methodologies. In response to an audience question later, he clarified that this could be done earlier in an organization that is ready for process improvement, but the results of process mining could be overwhelming if you’re not already in that mindset.

Their enterprise effectiveness efforts focus on the activities of a different team members in a cycle of success that get the business ideas and needs through analysis stages and into implementation within tools and procedures. At several points in that cycle, Celonis is used for process mining but not automation; they are using Kofax and UIPath for RPA as their general task automation strategy.

Maurer showed a case study for early supplier deliveries: although early deliveries might seem like a good thing, if you don’t have an immediate use for the goods and the supplier invoices on delivery, this can have a working capital impact. They used Celonis to investigate details of the deliveries to determine the impact, and identify the target suppliers to work with on resolving the discrepancies. They also use Celonis to monitor procure-to-pay process effectiveness, using a throughput time KPI based over time windows a year apart: in this case, they are using the analytical capabilities to show the impact of their overall process improvement efforts. By studying the process variants, they can see what factors are impacting their effectiveness. They are starting to use the Celonis Action Engine for some delivery alerts, and hope to use more Celonis alerts and recommendations in the future.

Almost accidentally, Celonis also provided an early warning to the changes in the supply chain due to COVID-19. Using the same type of data set as they used for their early delivery analysis, they were able to find which suppliers and materials had a significant delay to their expected deliveries. They could then prioritize the needs of their medical and healthcare customers, manually interfering in their system logic to shift their supply chain to guarantee those customers while delaying others. He thinks that additional insights into materials acquisition supply chains will help them through the crisis.

I’m taking a break from Celosphere to attend the online Alfresco Modernize event, but I plan to return for a couple of the afternoon sessions.

CelosphereLive 2020 – Day 2: From process mining to intelligent operations

I’m back for the Celonis online conference, CelosphereLive, for a second day. They started much earlier since they using a European time zone, but I started in time to catch the Q&A portion of Ritu Nibber’s presentation (VP of Global Process and Controls at Reckitt Benckiser) and may go back to watch the rest of it since there were a lot of interesting questions that came up.

There was a 15-minute session back in their studio with Celonis co-CEO Bastian Nominacher and VP of Professional Services Sebastian Walter, then on to a presentation by Peter Tasev, SVP of Procure to Pay at Deutsche Telekom Services Europe. DTSE is a shared services organization providing process and service automation across many of their regional organizations, and they are now using Celonis to provide three key capabilities to their “process bionics”:

  1. Monitor the end-to-end operation and efficiency of their large, heterogeneous processes such as procure-to-pay. They went through the process of identifying the end-to-end KPIs to include into an operational monitoring view, then use the dashboard and reports to support data-driven decisions.
  2. Use of process mining to “x-ray” their actual processes, allowing for process discovery, conformance checking and process enhancement.
  3. Track real-time breaches of rules in the process, and alert the appropriate people or trigger automated activities.

Interesting to see their architecture and roadmap, but also how they have structured their center of excellence with business analysts being the key “translator” between business needs and the data analysts/scientists, crossing the boundary between the business areas and the CoE.

He went through their financial savings, which were significant, and also mentioned the ability of process mining to identify activities that were not necessary or could be automated, thereby freeing up the workforce to do more value-added activities such as negotiating prices. Definitely worth watch the replay of this presentation to understand the journey from process mining to real-time operational monitoring and alerting.

It’s clear that Celonis is repositioning from just process mining — a tool for a small number of business analysts in an organization — into operational process intelligence that would be a daily dashboard tool for a much large portion of the workforce. Many other process mining products are attempting an equivalent pivot, although Celonis seems to be a bit farther along than most.

Martin Klenk, Celonis CTO, gave an update on their technology strategy, with an initial focus on how the Celonis architecture enables the creation of these real-time operational apps: real-time connectors feed into a data layer, which is analyzed by the Process AI Engine, and then exposed through Boards that integrate data and other capabilities for visualization. Operational and analytical apps are then created based on Boards. Although Celonis has just released two initial Accounts Payable and Supply Chain operational apps, this is something that customers and partners can build in order to address their particular needs.

He showed how a custom operational app can be created for a CFO to show how this works, using a real-time connectors to Salesforce for order data and Jira for support tickets. He showed their multi-event log analytical capability, which makes it much easier to bring together data sources from different systems and automatically correlate them without a lot of manual data cleansing — the links between processes in different systems are identified without human intervention. This allows detection of anomalies that occur on boundaries between systems, rather than just within systems.

Signals can be created based on pre-defined patterns or from scratch, allowing a real-time data-driven alert to be issued when required, or an automation push to another system be triggered. This automation capability is a critical differentiator, allowing for a simple workflow based on connector steps, and can replace the need for some amount of other process automation technologies such as RPA in cases where those are not a good fit.

He was joined by Martin Rowlson, Global Head of Process Excellence at Uber; they are consolidating data from all of their operational arms (drive, eats, etc.) to analyze their end-to-end processes, and using process mining and task mining to identify areas for process improvement. They are analyzing some critical processes, such as driver onboarding and customer support, to reduce friction and improve the process for both Uber and the driver or customer.

Klenk’s next guest as Philipp Grindemann, head of Business Development at Lufthansa CityLine, discussing how they are using Celonis to optimize their core operations. They track maintenance events on their aircraft, plus all ground operations activities. Ground operations are particularly complex due to the high degree of parallelism: an aircraft may be refueled at the same time that cargo is being loaded. I have to guess that their operations are changing radically right now and they are having to re-structure their processes, although that wasn’t discussed.

His last guest was Dr. Lars Reinkemeyer, author of Process Mining in Action — his book has collected and documented many real-world use cases for process mining — to discuss some of the expected directions of process mining beyond just analytics.

They then returned to a studio session for a bit more interactive Q&A; the previous technology roadmap keynote was pre-recorded and didn’t allow for any audience questions, although I think that the customers that he interviewed will have full presentations later in the conference.

#CelosphereLive lunch break

As we saw in at CamundaCon Live last week, there is no break time in the schedule: if you want to catch all of the presentations and discussions in real time, be prepared to carry your laptop with you everywhere during the day. The “Live from the Studio” sessions in between presentations are actually really interesting, and I don’t want to miss those. Today, I’m using their mobile app on my tablet just for the streaming video, which lets me take screenshots as well as carry it around with me, then using my computer for blogging, Twitter, screen snap editing and general research. This means that I can’t use their chat or Q&A functions since the app does not let you stream the video and use the chat at the same time, and the chat wasn’t very interesting yesterday anyway.

The next presentation was by Zalando, a European online fashion retailer, with Laura Henkel, their Process Mining Lead, and Alejandro Basterrechea, Head of Procurement Operations. They have moved beyond just process mining, and are using Celonis to create machine learning recommendations to optimize procurement workflows: the example that we saw provided Amazon-like recommendations for internal buyers. They also use the process automation capabilities to write information back to the source systems, showing how Celonis can be used for automating multi-system integration where you don’t already have process automation technology in place to handle this. Their key benefits in adding Celonis to their procurement processes have been efficiency, quality and value creation. Good interactive audience Q&A at the end where they discuss their journey and what they have planned next with the ML/AI capabilities. It worked well with two co-presenters, since one could be identifying a question for their area while the other was responding to a different question, leaving few gaps in the conversation.

We broke into two tracks, and I attended the session with Michael Götz, Engineering Operations Officer at Celonis, providing a product roadmap. He highlighted their new operational apps, and how they collaborated with customers to create them from real use cases. There is a strong theme of moving from just analytical apps to operational apps that sense and act. He walked through a broad set of the new and upcoming features, starting with data and connectivity, through the process AI engine, and on to boards and the operational apps. I’ve shown some of his slides that I captured below, but if you’re a Celonis customer, you’ll want to watch this presentation and hear what he has to say about specific features. Pretty exciting stuff.

I skipped the full-length Uber customer presentation to see the strategies for how to leverage Celonis when migrating legacy systems such as CRM or ERP, presented by Celonis Data Scientist Christoph Hakes. As he pointed out, moving between systems isn’t just about migrating the data, but it also requires changing (and improving) processes . One of the biggest areas of risk in these large-scale migrations is around understanding and documenting the existing and future-state processes: if you’re not sure what you’re doing now, then likely anything that you design for the new system is going to be wrong. 60% of migrations fail to meet the needs of the business, in part due to that lack of understanding, and 70% fail to achieve their goals due to resistance from employees and management. Using process mining to explore the actual current process and — more importantly — understand the variants means that at least you’re starting from an accurate view of the current state. They’ve created a Process Repository for storing process models, including additional data and attachments

Hakes moved on to talk about their redesign tools, such as process conformance checking to align the existing processes to the designed future state. After rollout, their real-time dashboards can monitor adoption to locate the trouble spots, and send out alerts to attempt remediation. All in all, they’ve put together a good set of tools and best practices: their customer Schlumberger saved $40M in migration costs by controlling the migration costs, driving user adoption and performing ongoing optimization using Celonis. Large-scale ERP system migration is a great use case for process mining in the pre-migration and redesign areas, and Celonis’ monitoring capabilities also make it valuable for post-migration conformance monitoring.

The last session of the day was also a dual track, and I selected the best practices presentation on how to get your organization ready for process mining, featuring Celonis Director of Customer Success Ankur Patel. The concurrent session was Erin Ndrio on getting started with Celonis Snap, and I covered that based on a webinar last month. Patel’s session was mostly for existing customers, although he had some good general points on creating a center of excellence, and how to foster adoption and governance for process mining practices throughout the organization. Some of this was about how a customer can work with Celonis, including professional services, training courses, the partner network and their app store, to move their initiatives along. He finished with a message about internal promotion: you need to make people want to use Celonis because they see benefits to their own part of the business. This is no different than the internal evangelism that needs to be done for any new product and methodology, but Patel actually laid out methods for how some of their customers are doing this, such as road shows, hackathons and discussion groups, and how the Celonis customer marketing team can help.

He wrapped up with thoughts on a Celonis CoE. I’m not a big fan of product-specific CoEs, instead believing that there should be a more general “business automation” or “process optimization” CoE that covers a range of process improvement and automation tools. Otherwise, you tend to end up with pockets of overlapping technologies cropping up all over a large organization, and no guidance on how best to combine them. I wrote about this in a guest post on the Trisotech blog last month. I do think that Patel had some good thoughts on a centralized CoE in general to support governance and adoption for a range of personas.

I will check back in for a few sessions tomorrow, but have a previous commitment to attend Alfresco Modernize for a couple of hours. Next week is IBM Think Digital, the following week is Appian World, then Signavio Live near the end of May, so it’s going to be a busy few weeks. This would normally be the time when I am flying all over to attend these events in person, and it’s nice to be able to do it from home although some of the events are more engaging than others. I’m gathering a list of best practices for online conferences, including the things that work and those that don’t, and I’ll publish that after this round of virtual events. So far, I think that Camunda and Celonis have both done a great job, but for very different reasons: Camunda had much better audience engagement and more of a “live” feel, while Celonis showed how to incorporate higher production quality and studio interviews to good effect, even though I think it’s a bit early to be having in-person interviews.

CelosphereLive 2020 – Day 1

I expect to be participating in a lot of virtual vendor conferences over the next months, and today I tuned in to the Celonis CelosphereLive. They are running on European time, with today’s half day starting at a reasonable 9am Eastern North American time, but the next two days will be starting at 4am my time– I may be catching some of the sessions on demand.

We had a keynote from co-CEO Alexander Rinke that included a short discussion with the godfather of process mining, Wil van der Aalst. I liked Rinke’s characterization that every process in every company is waiting to be improved: this is what process mining (aka process intelligence, depending on which vendor is talking) is all about in terms of discovering processes. Miguel Milano, Celonis Chief Revenue Officer, joined him to talk about their new Celonis Value Architects certification program. The fact that this announcement takes such a prominent place in the keynote highlights that there’s still a certain amount of expertise required to do process mining effectively, even though the tools have become much easier to use.

There were also some new product announcements, first around the availablity of their real-time data connectors. This is a direction that many of the process mining vendors are taking, moving from just an analytical process discovery role to more of an operational monitoring process intelligence role. Chief Product Officer Hala Zeine joined Rinke to talk about their connectivity — out of the box, the product connects to 80 different data sources — and their process AI engine that fits the data to a set of desired outcomes and makes recommendations. Their visualization boards then let you view the analysis and explore root causes of problem areas.

Their process AI engine does some amount of automation, and they have just released operational apps that help to automate some activities of of the workflow. These operational apps are an overlay on business processes that monitor work in progress, and display analysis of the state of (long-running) processes that it is monitoring. The example shown is an Accounts Payable operational app that looks at invoices that are scheduled for payment, and allows a financial person to change parameters (such as date of payment) in bulk, which would then push that update back to the underlying A/P system. Think of these operational apps as smart dashboards, where you can do some complex analysis for monitoring work in progress, and also push some updates and actions back to the underlying operational system. These first two apps are already available to Celonis customers in their app store, and tomorrow there will be a session with the CTO showing how to build your own operational app.

To finish off the day we had two product demos/discussions. First was JP Thomsen, Celonis’ VP Business Models, giving a more in-depth demo of their Accounts Payable operational applications. He was joined by Jan Fuhr, Process Mining Lead at global healthcare company Fresenius Kabi, which collaborated on the creation of the A/P operational application; Fuhr discussed their process mining journey and how they are now able to better support their A/P function and manage cash flow. The sweet spot for these operational apps appears to be when you don’t have end-to-end management on your process with another system such as a BPMS: the operational app monitors what’s happening in any core systems (such as SAP) and replaces ad hoc “management by spreadsheet” with AI and rules that highlight problem areas and make suggestions for remediation. They’ve had some great cost savings, through taking advantage of paying within a specified time frame to receive a discount, and optimizing their payment terms.

Last up was Trevor Miles, Celonis’ head of Supply Chain and Manufacturing Solutions, talking about the supply chain operational application: obviously these operational apps are a big deal for Celonis and their customers, since they’ve been the focus of most of these first half-day. Process mining can provide significant value in supply chain management since it typically involves a number of different systems without an explicit end-to-end process orchestration, and can have a lot of exceptions or variants. Understanding those variants and being able to analyze and reroute things on the fly is critical to maintaining a resilient suppy chain. This has been highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic, where supply chains have been disrupted, overloaded or underused, depending on the commodity and the route.

Process mining is used to generate a digital twin for the supply chain, which can then be used to analyze past performance and use as a point of comparison with current activities. The Celonis operational app for supply chain is about closing the gap between sensing and actions, so that process mining and simulation isn’t just an analytical tool, but a tool for guiding actions to improve processes. It’s also a tool for bridging across multiple systems of the same time: many large organizations have, for example, multiple instances of SAP for different parts of their processes, and need to knit together all of that information to make better decisions.

Not quite social distancing…

They finished up with a discussion in the studio between Hala Zeine, co-CEO Bastian Nominacher and CTO Martin Klenk, covering some of the new announcements and what’s coming up in the next two days. I’ll be back for some of the sessions tomorrow, although likely not before 8am Eastern.

A few notes on the virtual conference format. Last week’s CamundaCon Live had sessions broadcast directly from each speaker’s home plus a multi-channel Slack workspace for discussion: casual and engaging. Celonis has made it more like an in-person conference by live-broadcasting the “main stage” from a studio with multiple camera angles; this actually worked quite well, and the moderator was able to inject live audience questions. Some of the sessions appeared to be pre-recorded, and there’s definitely not the same level of audience engagement without a proper discussion channel like Slack — at an in-person event, we would have informal discussions in the hallways between sessions that just can’t happen in this environment. Unfortunately, the only live chat is via their own conference app, which is mobile-only and has a single chat channel, plus a separate Q&A channel (via in-app Slido) for speakers that is separated by session and is really more of a webinar-style Q&A than a discussion. I abandoned the mobile app early and took to Twitter. I think the Celosphere model is probably what we’re going to see from larger companies in their online conferences, where they want to (attempt to) tightly control the discussion and demonstrate the sort of high-end production quality that you’d have at a large in-person conference. However, I think there’s an opportunity to combine that level of production quality with an open discussion platform like Slack to really improve the audience experience.