AWD Advance14: The New Face Of Work

I’m spending the last session of the last day at DST’s AWD Advance conference with Arti Deshpande and Karla Floyd as they talk about how their more flexible user experience came to be. They looked at the new case management user experience, which is research-driven and requires very little training to use, and compared it to the processor workspace, which looks kind of like someone strapped the Windows API onto a green screen.

To start on the redesign of the processor workspace, they did quite a bit of usability evaluation, based on a number of different channels, and laid out design principles and specific goals that they were attempting to reach. They focused on 12 key screens and the navigation between them, then expanded to the conceptual redesign of 66 screens. They’re currently continuing to research and conceptualize, and doing iterative usability testing; they actively recruited usability testers from their customers in the audience during the presentation. They’ve worked with about 20 different clients on this, through active evaluations and visits but also through user forums of other sorts.

We saw a demo of the new screens, which started with a demo of the existing screens to highlight some of the problems with their usability, then moved on to the redesigned worklist grid view. The grid column order/presence is configurable by the user, and saved in their profile; the grid can be filtered by a few attributes such as how the work item was assigned to the worklist, and whether it is part of a case. Icons on the work items indicate whether there are comments or attachments, and if they are locked. For a selected work item, you can also display all relationships to that item as a tree structure, such as what cases and folders are associated with it. Reassigning work to another user allows adding a comment in the same action. Actions (such as suspending a work item) can be done from the worklist grid or from the banner of the open work item. The suspend work item action also allows adding a comment and specifying a time to reactivate it back to the worklist – combining actions into a single dialog like this is definitely a time-saver and something that they’ve obviously focused on cleaning up. Suspended items still appear in the worklist and searches but are in a lighter font until their suspense expires – this saves adding another icon or column to indicate suspense.

Comments can be previewed and pinned open by hovering over the work item icon in the worklist, and the comments for a work item can be sorted and filtered. Comments can be nested; this could cause issues for customers who are generating custom reports from the comments table in the database, at least one of whom was in the audience. (For those of you who have never worked with rigid legacy systems, know that generating reports from comment fields is actually quite common, with users being trained to enter some comments in a certain format in order to be picked up in the reports. I *know*.)

The workspace gains a movable vertical divider, allowing the space to be allocated completely to the worklist grid, or completely to the open work item; this is a significant enhancement since it allows the user to personalize their environment to optimize for what they’re working on at the time.

The delivery goal for all of this is Q4 2014, and they have future plans for more personalization and improved search. Some nice improvements here, but I predict that the comments thing is going to be a bit of a barrier for some customers.

That’s it for the conference; we’re all off to the Hard Rock Café for a private concert featuring the Barenaked Ladies, a personal favorite of mine. I’ll be quiet for a few days, then off to bpmNEXT in Monterey next week.

AWD Advance14: Product Strategy

I presented earlier today so I haven’t been doing any blogging, but I didn’t want to miss the repeat of the product strategy session with Roy Brackett, Mike Lovell and John Vaughn.

They’re hitting all the industry hot buzzwords – smart process applications, intelligent business operations, case management – but to be fair, they’re actually doing a lot of it. Although they’re just starting to bring in the dynamic and collaborative capabilities in recent versions, and their customers tend to drag their feet moving to new capabilities, AWD has long been a platform on which you build and deliver integrated business applications.

Their new(ish) case management, although based on the shared process and task engine as their structured processes, is based on research on how knowledge workers work, and they seem to be placing a lot of focus on evidence-based research into what they should be building, and Agile and SCRUM methods for building it.

A minor release (10.7.1) is due soon, and they have included some features that people in the audience were pretty excited about: variable timers (as opposed to having to define the timer duration at design time; multi-recipient outbound communications; AWD widgets, such as worklist and search, that can be deployed within other applications.

The next major release, 10.8, has a number of new features:

  • Processing work space updates, including worklist grid view that can be personalized by the end user, and adding attachments directly from the desktop
  • Communications content migration
  • Creating a case from capture
  • Tracking presentation flow time within monitoring
  • Technical server improvements around session management, batch processing and clustering

In 2015, they are focusing on a number of themes:

  • Dynamic processes for transactions, where process fragments may be assembled at runtime based on the specific conditions for that process instance
  • Milestones and timeline management for cases, allowing predefined process fragments to be easily triggered from case milestones
  • A new responsive user interface design tool that better accommodates what customers are actually doing with mobile apps – it sounds like they originally misunderstood how their customers would actually use presentation flows and mobile apps
  • Improvement to multi-channel servicing
  • Predictive analytics and services
  • Architectural refactoring, including splitting the process and content management capabilities so that they are still tightly integrated, but both are not required – 70% of their deals now do not include imaging, which is pretty amazing considering that AWD started as an imaging and workflow product

Some ambitious targets, and certainly not all to be delivered in 2015, but it gives an idea of how they’re moving forward.

AWD Advance14: Case Management And Unpredictability

I finished off the first day at DST’s AWD Advance conference with Judith Morley’s presentation on case management, which dealt with knowledge work and the unpredictable processes that they deal with every day. She presented last year about their case management, which was pretty new and a strong theme throughout last year’s conference. As I wrote back then, AWD case management is a set of capabilities built on top of their structured BPM, not a separate tool, that manifests through a user workspace that can be enabled for specific users. These capabilities include concepts of case ownership (including team ownership), tasks within cases, task and case prioritization, and collaboration. Their roadmap for case management includes some new mobile case views, more sophisticated case templates, more automation and better reporting.

They don’t have any customers live on case management yet, but some are pretty close. The applications that they are seeing being developed (or considered) at their clients include:

  • New retirement plan onboarding
  • Mutual fund corporate actions, e.g., new fund setup, mergers
  • Transfer of assets
  • Complaints, which involve both structured process and unstructured cases
  • Securitized debt
  • Health insurance appeals and grievances at their BPO operation
  • Immigration services

The key thing for them is to get some of these customers up and running on case management to prove their capabilities and the expected benefits; without that, it’s all a bit academic.

There’s probably not really anything groundbreaking compared to any other case management products, but the fact that it’s built on the standard AWD platform means that it’s completely integrated with their structured process applications, allowing for a mix of transactional workers and knowledge workers on the same piece of work, sharing the security layer and other underlying models. For the huge amount of work that lies in the middle of the structured to unstructured process spectrum, this is essential.

That’s it for day 1 of AWD Advance 2014 – I’m off to enjoy a bit of that Florida sunshine, but I’ll be back tomorrow. Blogging may be a bit light since I’m presenting in the afternoon.

AWD Advance14: From Workflow To Process Flow

You can tell that a lot of DST’s customers are dragging their feet moving to new technology when there has to be a session on moving from the old-style table-driven workflows to the newer portal and graphical process design. Stephanie Brown and Elaine Garcia of DST presented the possible implementation approaches, the training and consulting services that they offer to help with this, the benefit of bringing in new team members (possibly subject matter experts from the business side) for working with the graphical design tools, and how to build the internal vision and ROI to support the journey.

They discussed a number of strategies for refactoring, some of which require moving from the table-based workflows to processes, others that can be built around existing workflows:

  • Redo the UI forms using the new forms tool, which provides both a nicer UI and some improved functionality, even against an older workflow.
  • Replace custom code with functionality that is now part of the baseline product, such as QC sampling and complex date functions.
  • Automating communications, such as sending an email to a client based on data values.
  • Managing inbound email to initiate or merge with processes.
  • Monitoring using the newer dashboards rather than the older BI application.

They wrapped up with a brief mention of Project Alloy, an initiative that they have for mutual fund clients to connect AWD with their TA2000 recordkeeping system. Basically, it’s a set of processes (I assume that this includes UI and other aspects, not just process flows) that embodies best practices for integrating these systems, greatly reducing time to implement.

Since the AWD10 server platform supports both old and new applications, there’s much less urgency behind moving to the new tools (which can be bad) but it also allows a more gradual – and possibly less painful – migration.

While I’m thinking of it, the DST conference organizers have put some thought into the conference logistics: generous lunch and break times, hands-on labs, and an “in case you missed it” breakout track that repeats some of the DST-delivered sessions. Plus, a higher percentage of women on stage than I have seen at any other vendor conference.

AWD Advance 2014: A Morning Of Strategy, Architecture And Customer Experience

I still think that DST is BPM’s best kept secret outside of their own customer base and the mutual fund industry in which they specialize: if I mention DST to most people, even other BPMS vendors, they’ve never heard of them. However, they have the most fiercely loyal customers that I’ve ever seen, in part because Midwest friendliness and generosity permeates their corporate culture and is reflected in how they care about their customers. In 2012, I think I was the first industry analyst ever to attend their annual user conference, and now they invite a few of us to speak alongside their customers and their own team here at AWD Advance. They also have a lot of fun at the conference: last night they hosted a St. Patrick’s Day bash, and tomorrow is John Vaughn’s special treat for the customers: a concert where the band is masked in mystery (even to other senior management) until the event, although he apparently dropped a hint during the keynote and the conference hashtag lit up with guesses.

Although DST has made their mark in back-office transaction processing with origins in imaging and workflow, the functionality in the current AWD10 platform is more like what Forrester calls a Smart Process Application platform: dynamic and collaborative capabilities, analytics-driven recommendations and actions, integration with transactional systems including their TA2000 shareholder recordkeeping system, correspondence management, and more. For many of their existing customers, however, AWD is part of their “business as usual”, and they’re more concerned with keeping thing running smoothly than looking at new functionality; this is starting to change as the consumer market drives toward a more mobile and social experience, but it feels like the uptake for the new functionality is much slower than DST wished it were. One advantage that they have is their huge business process outsourcing business – back in the 90s when I first visited their operation, they processed about 1/3 of all mutual fund transactions in the US, and now they handle health insurance and other verticals – which is a ready recipient for field-testing new features. I had a brief chat with Mike Hudgins, who I heard present last year on microwork, on how they’re rolling that out in the BPO.

The opening keynote for the conference featured Steve Hooley (CEO), John Vaughn (VP Business Process Solutions) and Kyle Mallot (VP Global Insights/Analytics), with a focus on insight, action and results by using big data and analytics to inform processes. They pointed out that we’ve already squeezed out a lot of the inefficiencies in the back office, and that we now need to change the game by offering better customer experiences and deepening customer relationships.

After the keynote, I attended the AWD architecture session where Richard Clark outlined their technology updates: UI standards including jQuery, CSS3 and HTML5; portal functionality and widgets, including mobile support; server updates to allow for a more cloud-like elasticity; additions to REST services; and web services for check processing functions to replace some of their eStub capabilities. A lot of technical detail intended for current system administrators and developers, with a few glimpses of the continuing refactoring of their platform.

I moved over to the product track to see Kari Moeller, Joel Koehler (who provided the screen shots below – thanks Joel!), Brian Simpson and Laura Lawrence show off some use cases for the new(er) capabilities of AWD10. They’re doing a quarterly webinar on this as well, in part to address the issue that I mention above: a lot of current customers just aren’t using the features yet, even though they’ve moved to the new platform. We saw a self-service solution developed by the DST solution consultants based on their experiences with customers, driven by those customers’ customers’ needs: 55% of customers now prefer self-service over calling into a call center (myself included), and 85% will use online functionality to manage their account or relationship. The solution that they demonstrated allows customers to directly manage certain things in their accounts by linking that customer-facing portal directly to AWD: an action on the website such as an address change or account opening kicks off an AWD process to trigger back-office actions, set a timer event for future-dated updates, generate outbound correspondence, or hold for rendezvous with inbound paper documents that require a signature. In addition to allowing customers to initiate transactions, they can also track the transaction – much like courier package delivery tracking – which can significantly reduce calls to the call center. Customers are offered recommendations of other things that they can do, based on what they’ve done in the past and what similar customers have done, bringing analytics into play. The result: a customer online experience that improves customer retention and reduces the load on the back office and call center. Win-win.

DST customer-facing demo

Disclosure: DST is my client, and they have paid my travel expenses to be here as well as a speaking fee for my presentation tomorrow. They have not paid me to blog (or tweet), and they have no editorial control over what I write here.

My Spring 2014 BPM Conference Schedule

Last night, a friend asked me about where I’m travelling next, and when I responded “Newark, Philadelphia, San Diego, Orlando and San Francisco”, she assumed that was everything up to the end of May. Alas, that only gets me to the end of March. Here’s the conferences that I’ll be attending or presenting at over the next couple of months:

  • Kofax Transform, San Diego, March 9-11: I am making a joint presentation with Craig LeClair of Forrester on Planning, Designing and Implementing a Smart Process Application. I was also asked to judge their customer and partner awards, although I won’t be sticking around for the awards ceremony.
  • DST AWD Advance, Orlando, March 17-19: I’m presenting The Technical Side of Process Excellence, particularly around the use of configurable process-based applications for quick solution delivery.
  • bpmNEXT, Monterey, March 25-27: I’m attending and blogging, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post. I’ll be in San Francisco for the beginning of that week, and possibly stopping in the South Bay area at the end of the week to visit the Computer History Museum.
  • IBM Impact, Las Vegas, April 27-30: I’m attending the analyst event at Impact and as much of the show that I can cram in in the short time, because after almost a month without conferences, I’ll be doing two in one week.
  • Appian World, DC, April 30-May 2: I’m attending after a year away (recently, this always conflicts with IBM Impact).
  • BPM Portugal, Lisbon, May 8: I’m presenting on incentives for social enterprise, including social BPM. This will be an updated version of the presentation that I gave at the APQC conference last fall, and if you have any case studies to contribute to this, I would love to hear about them.
  • PegaWorld, DC, June 8-10: Again, one that I’ve missed a few times since it was conflicting with the IRM BPM conference in London, but this year they are a week apart and I’ll be there.
  • BPM Europe, London, June 16-18: I haven’t yet been added to the agenda for IRM’s annual BPM conference, but I’ve been there the past several years so it’s likely that I’ll be there again.

Hopefully, that’s it for the next four months, although there are always last-minute changes. Let me know if you’ll be nearby or at any of these and want to meet up. It’s a fair bet that I’ll be blogging from each of these as well.