Appian Around The World – Toronto

Appian was recently doing a round of road-show conferences, and when they landed in my backyard, I decided to stop in for the day and see what was new. I missed Appian World this year and was looking forward to a bit of a product update as well as some of the local customer stories.

The day started with Edward Hughes, SVP of sales, giving us a high-level overview of Appian and their BPM platform-as-a-service and case management products (for the non-customers in the audience), as well as their shift to becoming more of a broad application development platform rather than just a BPMS. I’ve been seeing this trend with many BPM vendors over the past few years, and Appian has been repositioning this way for a year or two already. Using Appian as an application development platform allows applications to be developed independently of the deployment platform, both on server side (e.g., develop on the cloud version, deploy on premise) and for client interfaces on desktops or mobile devices. The messaging is that you can use their platform to create customer service applications “beyond CRM” to handle the entire customer journey, with a unified interface plus a consolidated view onto enterprise data using their Records function. He also talked about the Appian App Market, which is an expanded version of their Appian Forum, containing add-in components and complete applications from Appian and third parties.

Since it was a small room, the local customers introduced themselves and talked about their Appian experience and applications: 407 ETR with 10 apps integrated with their customer portals so that online actions (e.g., acquiring a new transponder) become Appian processes assigned to the 125 internal users; Manulife, the first Appian cloud customer back in 2008, now migrating their “legacy” Appian apps to the Tempo UI and serving 900 users for work/time tracking and records management in Marketing; and IESO with apps to register and manage information about energy companies participating in electricity markets. We also heard from some of the partners attending: TCS, Princeton Blue, and boutique contender Bits In Glass with 15+ Appian-trained people in Canada and the US. Bits In Glass used to do mostly code-level (Java) bespoke development, and have reduced their efforts and timelines to 1/3 of that using Appian’s model-driven development.

Next up was Michael Beckley, describing his new role as Chief Customer Officer (as well as CTO) as well as giving us a product update on the 7.11 quarterly release. Appian is seeing corporate IT budgets as 20% innovation and 80% maintenance, but they want to flip that ratio so that maintenance is much less expensive than the original build, freeing up time and energy for innovation. Most large enterprises aren’t going to get rid of custom applications, but they do need to make them faster to build and maintain, while enforcing strict security and providing a user-friendly interface for internal and external users. In theory, an integrated application development such as Appian provides all the pieces:user interface, reports, rules, collaboration, process, on-premise cloud, mobile, social, data, content, security, identity, and integration; in practice, most organizations end up doing something outside the model-driven development environment, although it can definitely improve their custom development efforts. Appian’s focus, as with many of the other BPMS vendors pivoting to become app dev vendors, is on providing a platform to build process-centric applications that get things done via automation, with people injected into the process where required.

Beckley gave us a hint of their growth strategy: they tend to build rather than buy in order to keep their technology pure, and since growth by acquisition inevitably requires a large (and underestimated) effort to integrate the new technology.

Here’s a quick list of the Appian 7.11 updates (some of these likely came before 7.11, but I haven’t had an update for a while):

  • Three UI styles for Appian apps: the Tempo social interface, Sites limited-function workspace/worklist for heads-down workers, and Embedded SAIL to embed Appian functionality within an existing portal for internal or external users. Sites have Action Forms for fit-for-purpose apps when a social feed UI isn’t appropriate, and Embedded SAIL has Action Forms for customer-facing apps within a third-party web portal. These latter two are critical for real-world enterprise applications: although I like the Tempo interface, many of my enterprise clients need a different sort of view for heads-down workers, which can be provided by Sites or using Embedded SAIL.
  • A number of improvements to the Tempo news feed and UI, including the Tempo Kudos view to promote collaboration and provide awareness of accomplishments, dynamically-updating filters to better link and manage record data and underlying data sources
  • Improvements to SAIL, including positioning it as a device-independent UI that provides shared model experience (rather than an HTML5 gateway into an existing app as seen in some other mobile-enablement technology) that is natively rendered on each device. The rendering engine can be updated independently of the applications, making it easier to adapt to new OS versions and devices. Appian uses SAIL to build their own components and apps that become part of the product. From a developer functionality standpoint, SAIL has added placeholder text and tooltips on forms, auto first field focus to reduce clicks and improve efficiency, additional image sizes that are auto-scaled to the device, initially-collapsed form sections, “submit” links that can be placed on a graphic element instead of standard buttons, links in milestones and pickers, grid enhancements, and continuing speed improvements. There’s also a new barcode component, although on iOS only and requiring a Verifone device for capture.
  • Mobile offline actions use native encrypted data containers rather than HTML5 storage (some of this is iOS only although Android is planned for later this quarter), with the developer deciding which actions and data are available offline. Changes to the definition of a form while a user is offline will prompt the user to review and resubmit the form with the new/updated form field definitions, so application changes can continue even if there are active offline users. This does not (yet) allow existing records to be locked for offline updates, although tasks can be locked to user before going offline.
  • For designers, the developer portal is being migrated to SAIL and enhanced with build processes; there’s a UI designer navigation tree to allow view/select/edit within a hierarchical tree view of an action form; the expression rule designer (“for those of you who are still writing expressions”, namely power developers) auto-suggests rule inputs and there is some level of expression rule testing; a process report designer can be used to create performance reports; impact analysis reports show where rules are invoked and other object relationships; bulk security updates can be made across objects.
  • For administrators, a big new thing is LDAP/SAML authentication with multiple LDAP servers and complex configurations.

They have frequent product update webinars , free introductory courses and tips & tricks sessions online; in fact, there is a product update webinar tomorrow if you want to hear more about what I’ve listed above.

We heard from Rew Dickinson, a solutions consultant, on what makes a great app — complete with a live demo to show us how it’s done. There were a lot of best practices here that I won’t repeat, better for you to check out one of their webinars, but a few key pointers:

  • Design applications to be omni-channel and easily adaptable.
  • Use Records to organize and model corporate data, regardless of source, for use in an application; bidirectional links between Records and process instances allow for a full view whether you’re coming from the process or data side of things.
  • Use Sites for fit-for-purpose applications, e.g., a worklist for heads-down task execution, as an alternative to full Tempo environment. Effectively, this is a report that can be sorted and filtered, with links to tasks that takes the user to the task form; it can include work management analytics for a manager/dispatcher user to monitor and reallocate task assignments. This made me think that Appian has just reinvented their per-application portal mode with Sites, albeit with better underlying technology, but that’s a discussion for another day.
  • Use Embedded SAIL for customer-facing portal environments, e.g., create service request from a customer order page.

Michael Beckley came back to talk to us about Appian Cloud, that is, their public cloud offering. It uses Amazon AWS/EC2/S3 in a single-tenant architecture, which allows each environment to be upgraded independently — more of a managed hosting model. The web tier is shared and handled by Appian, who also manages servers, load balancing, high availability and upgrades. There can be a VPN tunnel to on-premise data, and in fact the AWS instance does not have to be available on the public internet, but can be restricted to access only through the VPN from a corporate location. This configuration provides the elasticity and availability of the Amazon cloud, but allows private data to remain on premise — something that goes a long ways to resolving geographic data location issues. They’ve obviously been working on the optics of US-owned data centers by listing their privacy chops, but it would have been even more reassuring to see a mention of any Canadian standards such as PIPEDA for this purely Canadian audience. There are tiers for development, medium, large and extra-large deployments, with a redeployment to move between tiers (so not that elastic…) but it supposedly only takes a few minutes if planned. Uptime this year is mostly 5 9’s, with customer credits for missed uptime SLAs. You can also self-host Appian in other environments, e.g., Azure, although the Appian Cloud SaaS offering is currently Amazon only.

We finished up with Mike Cichy, an Appian consultant, discussing their center of excellence offerings and how customers can plug into the vast wealth of information, from checklists to migration guides to training in order to embody best practices. There are a number of tools available such as the Appian Health Check and Deployment Automation in addition to these practices, with an overall goal to help achieve a large improvement in developer speed and quality within customer/partner organizations.

Altogether an informative day, and great catch up with some old friends.

Gartner iBPMS MQ Published

After something of a delay, and a great deal of consternation in the industry about this “new” BPMS magic quadrant, Gartner has finally published their magic quadrant for Intelligent Business Process Management Suites (iBPMS).

Having had my fingers slapped in the past for publishing excerpts (which should be considered fair use), I won’t ruin the surprise, although you can draw your own conclusions from these vendor press releases yesterday:

Appian Positioned in the Leaders Quadrant in New Intelligent Business Process Management Software Magic Quadrant Report


Pegasystems Positioned As A Leader In Independent Analyst Firm’s 2012 Magic Quadrant For Intelligent Business Process Management Suites

Both of these companies are offering a free reprint of the report (registration required).

Appian Forum: Archstone

The next presentation was from David Carpenter, Director of BPM at Archstone, a residential apartment investor and operator with about 2,600 employees. One of their main challenges was a high employee turnover rate, and the necessity to reduce the learning curve for new people. They wanted to move away from paper-based forms and manual workflow to a more automated workflow with dynamic online forms, with the goal of processes becoming more consistent and coordinated. At the same time, they needed people to be able to use the system with little or no formal training.

They selected Appian because it is a completely web-based solution, has dynamic forms, and requires a minimum of IT resources since there was more configuration than coding involved in the implementation. Their first focus was a broad but shallow implementation that supported their 2,200 field associates, and have settled into 90-day development cycles with the goal of delivering 3-6 new processes in that time. They have done this with a team of three non-IT staff, supported by in-house IT resources and Appian’s professional services.

They rolled this out to the field by going on a country-wide road show to present what they were doing and collect feedback, then rolled that feedback into the implementation — he sees this constant communication and integration of the users’ ideas as a key part of the end-user acceptance of the system. They signed a contract in November of 2006, and rolled out 3 critical processes to their 2,200 field associates by the end of April 2007. As of the end of July 2008, they’ve implemented 25 processes, representing 2,000 process instances per month, plus a customized portal for each community, and a central forms repository containing 300 standardized forms.

They’ve just delivered phase 4 of the project, targeted at both community and corporate users, and are planning for phase 5 and beyond: truly a continuous improvement model of change.

Carpenter sees Appian becoming one of their core applications: just like users login to their email first thing in the morning, they login to Appian as well, since that drives their work processes each day.

Like Nokia Siemens, they’re using a non-IT group since IT just doesn’t deliver fast enough (that’s my assessment, he didn’t say that): in my experience, this is a very common problem when BPM projects are run by IT, and a product like Appian that can be selected and implemented by non-IT resources has a huge advantage as long as the corporate culture supports business-led technology implementations (most don’t).

Appian Forum: Product Update from Malcolm Ross

Malcolm Ross, Director of Product Management and someone who I once referred to as an über demo god, gave us an update on the Appian product. He started with their product development philosophy:

  • flexibility
  • ease of use
  • comprehensive
  • build for the future, which is how they position their web-based AJAX process modeler, in contrast with most of the competitions’ Eclipse-based desktop process modelers
  • listen to customers

He reviewed the enhancements in their latest version, Appian Enterprise 5.7:

  • improved web services handling
  • custom data types, allowing for complex data sets based on XML structures
  • WSRP portlet consumption for creating mashups directly within an Appian dashboard (which, of course, he illustrated by showing my RSS feed integrated into a dashboard)
  • improved security for outside-the-firewall applications
  • a number of smaller enhancements, mostly around usability for designers

They’ve also released Appian for SharePoint, providing single sign-on and the ability to snap a number of different Appian views into a SharePoint page, and access SharePoint content from the Appian environment.

He gave a bit more detail on the Appian-MEGA integration, although I think that it’s still early days on this, and he didn’t comment on round-tripping, although he implied that it was possible. He described being able to discover Appian processes from MEGA — the opposite of what is usually done with BPA-BPM tools integration — and I’m waiting for the (I hope) more in-depth details in this afternoon’s session. Their overall goal is to integrate process models into a larger enterprise architecture picture, allowing for risk analysis and other corporate performance analysis and management.

Appian Anywhere, their software as a service solution, is based on the same core code base as Appian Enterprise, so these enhancements will be available there as well.

He gave us a brief summary of what’s coming up in Appian Enterprise 6.0 in the first half of 2009, including new end-user and application designer interfaces, and support for managing distinct process-based applications within their environment.

Appian Forum: Connie Moore keynote

Three days ago, I was in Rome — original home of the Roman Forum and the Appian Way — and now I’m at Appian Forum: Appian‘s first user conference. Samir Gulati, VP of Marketing, delivered some short opening remarks including the “Sandy Kemsley Conference Checklist”, showing how they measured up on my basic requirements for conferences: wifi, online agenda, good content, frequent networking breaks, and other good stuff. They missed on the power plugs at the tables, but other than that, I have to give them full marks.

They had about 150 people sign up for the conference, although I don’t think that were are that many in the room this morning; this was not a paid conference, which tends to result in a higher number of no-shows, but there’s a good cross-section of Appian’s customers and partners, as well as analysts.

After Samir’s short introduction, he turned it over to Connie Moore of Forrester for a keynote on Design for People, Build for Change (wait, this sounds familiar…). She had a great graphic that expand on some of the things that I’ve heard Forrester people talk about in the past, highlighting the “design for people” part of the equation through social networking and other techniques, whereas we’ve often focused (maybe too much) on the “build for change” part of business innovation.

She discussed four factors creating the “perfect storm” that’s led to the current situation:

  • Design evolution, where more products are being designed for optimal use and customer experience, rather than the conveniences of the manufacturer or based on the preconceived notions of the designer. There are many consumer products that illustrate this, but it holds equally true with business computer systems.
  • Process evolution, where we do more continuous improvement than big bang reengineering for both technical and cultural reasons. The current range of BPM products, with monitoring and optimization built in, allow for this sort of continuous improvement in ways that were not previously possible, which has helped to facilitate this shift.
  • Workforce evolution, with the boomers — along with their knowledge of business processes — starting to retire, and the systems developed for those boomers not really suitable for the millenials who grew up digital. This forces the move to different computing paradigms, particularly social networking, as well as different corporate culture in order to attract and retain the talent.
  • Software evolution, moving from a traditional model to software as a service, Web 2.0, open source and free software in both consumer and enterprise environments.

All of this means that we need to bridge between structured human activities and system-intensive processes that we’ve dealt with in traditional enterprise systems, and the ad hoc, messy, chaotic human activities that we see in the new generation of dynamic business applications. Earning her keep, she highlighted how Appian brings content and collaboration to the usual BPM functionality seen with other vendors, then walked through an example of a dynamic business application.

She discussed the need to forge partnerships between stakeholders, preferably by collocating the business and IT people on a project team so that they create a more seamless project. I’ve seen a lot of projects where there is a serious disconnect between the business and IT participants, and having them sit and work together could only help that situation.

Forrester went out to a number of enterprises to see how they build for change, and saw a few different models:

  • An IT-focused model where the technical team always makes changes to the process (hopefully based on conversations with the business)
  • A blended model where the business owners meet with the project team on a regular basis, and the process changes are made by business analysts or technical team members, depending on the requriement

There needs to be a change model that allows for both continuous change — every 1-2 weeks for process tuning — and for new process versions — every 2-6 months for new processes and major changes. This change model needs to be incorporated from the beginning in any process project to allow for continuous improvement, or you’ll end up with inflexible processes; at the very least, plan on a minimum of 3 iterations shortly after implementation before the process is even remotely correct. At the same time, you need to consider forming a process center of excellence to help with overall process improvement, and consider the link to SOA in order to provide a technical framework for dynamic business applications.

When Forrester asked enterprise architects about the primary benefit of BPM, the largest response (24%) was increased productivity, with process visibility (18%) and agility (15%) following. Other benefits included the ability to model processes, consistent processes across business units/geographies, and reduced reliance on IT for process improvement. By looking at the perceived degree of success and the existence of a BPM center of excellence, they found a clear correlation: about half of those who said that BPM was a rousing success had a COE, whereas less than 5% of the failing efforts had a COE.

Her experience — which matches mine — shows that going with a large systems integrator is not a good way to build the necessary skills within an enterprise to achieve ongoing process improvement, and sees direct skills transfer from the BPM vendor has a greater degree of success. Business analysts need to become process analysts, and developers need to become assemblers of dynamic applications. She finished up with several suggestions on how to get started, for business people, IT and executives.

Although there was a lot of repetition from earlier versions of this message that I’ve heard her deliver, I do see some evolution and refinement of the message. Some of the stats and ideas go by pretty fast, however; the audience might benefit from a bit less of a PowerPoint karaoke feeling.

There was an audience question about how Web 2.0 concepts and products — mostly being developed by tiny companies — will be integrated with traditional BPM products from larger companies; Moore didn’t really answer the question, but discussed how the BPM platform vendors are building their own Web 2.0 functionality, and many other BPM vendors are partnering with SharePoint or other collaborative tools. I think that there’s a lot of room for the Enterprise 2.0 vendors and the non-platform BPM vendors to get together to create social networking-enabled processes that are far beyond what’s available from any of the platform vendors (although IBM is doing some pretty innovative stuff), or through SharePoint integration.

Upcoming conferences

I’ve been sticking close to home for the summer, but my fall lineup is about to begin. So far, I’m definitely attending the following:

  • Business Objects Influencer Summit and SAP SME Day, August 12-13, Boston. This is an analyst/press event, not a public conference, but I’ll be blogging from there.
  • International Conference on BPM, September 1-4, Milan. I’m very excited to be attending this conference since it represents a lot of the academic research going on in BPM, not just what the vendors and analysts have to show. There are some great workshops lined up, such as BPM and social software; interesting sessions; and demos from some of the universities and research labs. You can find last year’s proceedings here.
  • The Appian user conference, September 8-10, Washington DC. This is the first time that I’ve attended an Appian conference, and I’m looking forward to seeing what all those new marketing dollars are buying.
  • The Gartner BPM summit, September 10-12, Washington DC. I’ve been to enough of these lately that I don’t need to attend the whole summit, but since I’m in DC that week for Appian’s conference, I’m adding one more day for Gartner. I think that it’s pretty clever for Appian to schedule like this: it should drive up attendance at their conference, since Appian customers/partners flying in for Gartner will figure that it’s only a couple of extra days to do both.
  • OMG BPM Think Tank, October 6-7, Chicago. I’m on the program committee, and will be leading a roundtable on achieving collaboration between business and IT in BPM on the first day.
  • Business Rules Forum, October 26-30, Orlando. I’ll be giving a presentation on mixing rules and process.
  • SAP BPM, November 17-19, Las Vegas. I’m giving a Jumpstart pre-conference session, an introduction to BPM, on the 16th.

Given that I fly everywhere on Star Alliance, this will bump me over the 35,000 miles for the year that gives me Aeroplan Elite status for 2009, without which I really don’t want to fly.

From a disclosure standpoint, my expenses are being paid for the Appian conference, the Business Rules Forum, and two SAP events; for the latter SAP event, I’m also being paid to deliver the half-day training session.

Do BPM vendors eat their own dogfood?

I really dislike that expression, but it’s commonly recognized to mean that a company is using its own products to run its own business. I believe that a lot of BPM vendors do use their own products in some way, but how much? Are they just playing around with expense approvals, or have they drunk the process Kool-Aid and embedded BPM within their critical business processes?

One company that does appear to be taking their own sales pitch to heart is Appian, who just published a case study about themselves (you can find it linked at the bottom of their About Us page, but it requires registration – tsk, tsk). They use it for departmental and enterprise-wide applications, and have 40-50,000 process instances running at any given time across Finance, HR, Sales, Support, Marketing, Product Management, IT and Employee Development. Furthermore, all of the business applications are developed by business people, not IT, and can be changed in flight by business people using the rules capability within Appian Enterprise.

By implementing BPM internally, which included moving some functionality out of Peoplesoft and into Appian, they’re saving about $500k in hard costs each year, primarily through reduced licensing and support costs for packaged applications. I’m sure that there’s also soft cost savings in terms of improved efficiency and productivity, although they haven’t stated those.

I’m curious to hear from other BPM vendors about their own internal case studies — add your comments with your experiences.