AWD Product Madness With @lw927

I finished up my day at AWD ADVANCE in the product roadmap session held by Lisa Williams and Mike Lovell. It’s March Madness here in the US (that’s some college basketball thing) so they kept with that theme with mini basketballs and some yearbook pics of Lisa on the court.

Like any vendor’s product management group, they need to consider (and anticipate) the market for their products, and spend their resources most wisely to add capabilities that will be of most value to their customers while supporting or deprecating existing features. Here’s what’s coming:

  • Dynamic case management in v10.7, expected at the end of May; we heard about this in detail from Judith Morley this morning and will include mobile capabilities in a future version
  • Seamless installation process (this tweet from the hands-on labs here says that’s probably true)
  • Overall usability including people/roles administration in v10.9; they have a lot of new plans for user portals
  • Enhance monitoring capabilities and deprecate the existing BI client
  • Process design and orchestration
  • Communications service for multi-channel correspondence management

There was a laundry list of features coming up, and some audible approval in the room for things that sound small but I know can be huge for reusability, such as variable timers and support for localized business day calendars.

Dates beyond v10.7 are not announced, although likely they will not meet their past targets of two releases per year with some of the major changes in progress now. I think that they’re also challenged somewhat by a customer base that is dragging their feet moving off the legacy platform – still about 1/3 on it – and then start to take advantage of the new functionality once they’re on the new platform. It’s hard to be completely forward-thinking when there are still active instances of your software that are old enough to vote.

Looking to the 3-5 year horizon, it’s about creating products that allow their customers to adapt to changing business environments: primarily, shifting from “imaging and workflow” (which is how many of their customers categorize what AWD does for them) to “customer event management”. They talked about some of the areas where this innovation is likely to happen: capture, moving from paper to direct data entry by the customer, and mobile check capture; predictive analytics and simulation; adaptive case management, as opposed to the production case management that’s launching soon; work allocation to support collaborative/team work; user experience; and more. Nothing specific here, and also nothing that’s groundbreaking from a market perspective, but will likely shake things up for their conservative customer base.

That’s it for me at AWD ADVANCE for 2013, it’s been a great day of presentations following a fun customer advisory board dinner last night that included discussions of my cat on Twitter. I’m on a plane again next week – third week in a row – to the Gartner BPM show in DC.

Crowdsourcing And Microwork With DST

In the afternoon, after my BPM COE presentation, I moved over to the AWD ADVANCE technical track to hear Roy Brackett and Mike Hudgins talk about crowdsourcing and microwork. DST and some of their partners/siblings/subsidiaries are business process outsourcers, and always looking at ways to make that outsourcing more efficient. They use the term crowdsourcing to mean the use of a global, elastic workforce, such as Amazon Mechanical Turk; the concept of microwork is breaking work down into small tasks that can be done with little or no training.

There are some basic requirements for allocating microwork, especially in a financial services environment:

  • Quality, which is typically managed by dual entry (assigning the same piece of work to different workers, then comparing the results) or by validating against another data source (e.g., comparing the values entered independently for name and account number against a customer database).
  • Security, which is typically managed by feeding the tasks in such small tasks that there are few privacy issues since the workers rarely see more than a one or two pieces of data related to any given transaction, and have no way to link the data.
  • Priority, which is typically managed by serving up the tasks to workers only at the point that they are prepared to do the work so that the highest priority task is executed first; also, since the work is divided into tasks, many of those tasks may be executed in parallel.

Looking at common work activities, they typically break down to transcribe (e.g., data entry from scanned form), remediate (e.g., data entry from unstructured content where information may need to be looked up in other systems based on the content), business knowledge, and system knowledge, only the first two of which are appropriate for microwork.

DST is doing some research into microwork, so what they talked about does not represent a product or even, necessarily, a product direction. They started with transcription tasks – not that they want to compete with OCR/ICR vendors, but those tools are not perfect especially on images with subpar capture quality – using dual entry, with a remediation step if the two entries disagreed. This could be used for post-OCR repair, or for older scanned documents where the quality would not support adequate OCR rates. DST did a test using CrowdFlower for transcribing 1,000 dummy forms containing both machine-printed and handwritten content on a structured form: single entry gave 99% accuracy, while dual entry increased that to 99.6%.

They then did a pilot using one of their own business processes and real-world data from an outsourcing customer, transcribing fund and account information from inbound paper correspondence. Since only 25% of the documents were forms, they used fingerprinting and other recognition technologies to identify where these two fields might be on the page, then provide image slices for data entry. With the automated fingerprinting that they have developed, they were getting 98% classification, with zero misclassifications (the remainder were rejected as unclassified rather that being misclassified). For the microwork participants, they used new offshore hires and US-based part-time employees, so still used DST employees but with almost no training and relatively low skill levels; using single entry, they reduced data entry errors by 50% from their old-style “one-and-done” data entry technique (and presumably reduced the costs). They then rolled this out to handle all transaction types for that customer in a production environment.

They’re piloting other data entry processes for other customers now based on that success, starting with one that is driven purely by standard forms and has highly variable volumes, which is a perfect match for crowdsourced microwork because of the ease of segmenting forms for data entry and the elasticy of the workforce. There are optimizations on the basic methods, such as sending one person only (for example) tax ID fields to transcribe, since it’s faster to do data entry on a single field type due to no context switching.

The result: quality is improved, with more errors caught earlier; and better productivity (and hence cost) using less-skilled workers and a workforce that can increase and decrease in size to match the volume. There was a great question from the audience about what employees feel about this; the responses included both “we’re using this on the training path for higher-skilled workers” and “this separates out transcription and remediation as services (presumably done by someone whose careers are not of concern to the organization, either outsourced or offshore employees) and leaves the high-value knowledge work”: it’s fair to say that most companies don’t expect to be doing low level data entry in a very few number of years, but will have their customers do it for them on the web.

DST Case Management Indoctrination Day Continues! With @JMo1113

Judith Morley, product manager for DST’s case management, presented at a business breakout at AWD ADVANCE on the need for case management (which was pretty much already covered in John Vaughn’s keynote and Neil Ward-Dutton’s breakout session), and stressed the need for allowing context and collaboration, as well as individual decision-making. She made the distinction between adaptive case management and production case management, and maintained that AWD provides both, although might lean more toward the PCM end of the spectrum.

They’ve added capabilities to their traditional structured BPM to provide case management functionality on the same platform, not a different tool or application: it manifests through a user workspace that can be enabled for specific users, but also introduces concepts of case ownership, tasks within cases (same as existing AWD tasks), task due date forecasts and prioritization, and team stats to aid with collaboration. As with the remainder of the AWD10 platform, these are all available as RESTful services and widgets, so are easily integrated with other web-based platforms. There’s an activity stream view of everything related to a case and its tasks; note that this is a view of activity on a single case, not an activity stream of everything going on that we see in other social BPM/case management products: effectively, this is a history log of the case, although it also allows commenting on any of the activity entries.

Since AWD customers have a lot of proven processes in production already, cases can invoke these existing processes, often in order to kick off tasks done by someone else other than the knowledge worker who owns the case, such as sending an item for data entry after approval. There’s a case template that’s created within their design studio where the tasks within the case are listed, and can either be linked to an existing process or to a generic case model that is just a user task. Tasks can have dependencies, as well as their own due dates based on case creation or predecessor task dates. It appears, although I’m not completely sure, that all tasks in a case have to be defined at design time, not added on the fly by knowledge workers. Update: as Judith added in her comment to this post, you can add tasks at runtime, too.

Coming up in future releases: mobile support (although it already works on a full-size tablet); task groups that are instantiated on milestones rather than at case creation; automation, particularly in the area of work assignment, integrated comments to move the existing comment styles into the new activity stream style; custom skinning/branding of the user interface; enhanced view for managers that shows aggregate information for their teams; and monitoring for knowledge work to show true progress indicators.

btw, my post title came from the presenter herself. Smile

A Case For Change With @neilwd

Neil Ward-Dutton spoke at the first business-themed breakout session here at AWD ADVANCE on the topic of case management: how it represents a shift in thinking from our old rigid processes that don’t serve customers all that well in today’s environment. We are truly in the age of the consumer, with so much choice in online purchasing (15% of which is being done from mobile devices), but also through showrooming, which forces bricks-and-mortar retailers to price competitively with online alternatives. Customer expectations for service and experience have changed – I talk about this a lot in my presentations on social BPM – and if you don’t meet those expectations, they’ll not only pick another supplier, but influence their friends to do so, too.

Structured BPM, where all processes are defined in advance, just doesn’t work for many customer-facing processes; rather than quality and efficiency, the key is flexibility and support for knowledge workers to make decisions about what to do next. That doesn’t mean that things won’t be efficient and of high quality; if you let a knowledge worker “do the right thing” to achieve a goal, then it will more likely be faster and better than having them try to work around the system when it doesn’t allow them to handle exceptions properly. As Neil pointed out, if you’re modeling your processes and find that you’re spending a lot of time modeling exceptions, then maybe you should be looking at a less structured approach. Structured processes do work in some situations – manufacturing, straight-through processing and the like – but you have to consider which of your processes would be better served by defining less up front, allowing for exception handling and fast-changing processes to provide a better customer experience.

He introduced the concept of case management as a goal-oriented environment for knowledge work, guided by best practices and rules/constraints, but where the knowledge worker creates the process on the fly. There may be predefined tasks and process fragments that can be selected by the worker, or they may define their own. The case is a persistent artifact – representing a customer, a complaint, or whatever is defined as a case – containing both content (documents) and a record of the actions taken, so that analytics can be used to determine how similar situations were handled in the past.

He left the audience with a great question: how do you build your work around your customer? Clearly, in many cases, the answer includes case management.

Everything’s New At DST

John Vaughn opened AWD ADVANCE 2013 talking about a new focus for DST: a new CEO (following the retirement of their very first one), a new organizational structure (bringing together product and hosting groups into a single business process solutions group), 66% of customers either on or moving to the new platform, new case management functionality, new visibility with analysts and in the market (woo hoo! I’m listed on the slide with the “big guys”), new social media engagement (Vaughn’s activity on Twitter has probably moved that along), and new ways of dealing with customers. Great vision for moving forward, although those comfortable with DST’s conservative pace in the past may be a bit nervous, especially when he used the term “sunsetting” about their legacy platform.

He highlighted a number of sessions that will be going on here today and tomorrow, and challenged the companies in the room to start thinking differently since AWD now supports new ways of working. As he put it, “a lot of your workflows are older than my kids”; he pointed out that the business world is changing and customer expectations are changing. Social and mobile are not going away, and they are driving customer channels and interactions. Crowdsourcing and microwork (outsourcing on a task level) are changing how work gets done inside organizations. The old way of doing things is just too expensive, and doesn’t meet customer needs; change or die (the last being my words, but his implication). On the big data front – every vendor keynote has to hit all the hot industry topics – Vaughn noted that since most of their customers don’t ever delete their scanned images, it’s time to start mining those for better informational context about customers. This is potentially a huge deal: I have many customers with millions of images, and if some recognition could be applied (even at relatively poor recognition rates), the benefits for big data and analytics would be incredible. Or scary, if you prefer.

On a slight tangent, next month DST will be releasing TreeSwing: a completely mobile investment platform for those with less than $10k to invest, providing a link from the investor’s checking account to a curated set of mutual fund investments for micro-investments (DST is a registered financial broker/dealer, so can do this legally as well as having the industry knowledge to do so). It includes a number of social features, including location aware coupons (e.g., save $1 at Starbucks and invest it instead), gamification  and more. Interestingly, DST launched it at SXSW, which is not how most large software companies roll. Certainly gives them some street cred in the mobile and social markets.


Last year, I think that I was the first industry analyst to ever be invited by DST to the somewhat secret society that is their AWD ADVANCE conference. That must have worked out for them, because this year I’m back to speak, as well as Neil Ward-Dutton and Clay Richardson. That’s not the only change: instead of DST’s home town of Kansas City, we’re at the Omni at ChampionsGate in Orlando, where golf trumps Disney as the main pastime.

I won’t be blogging as much as last year, and definitely not as much as last week’s 6,800 word marathon at bpmNEXT: I’m only here for today, headed home tomorrow before the sessions start, since I’m in the middle of three weeks of conference travel. If you check out this week’s agenda, you’ll see a lot of case management, highlighting some of DST’s recent push in this direction, and I’ll be interested to see how that’s covered in the opening keynote as well as the product roadmap session.