BPM and SaaS

I know I have been remiss in keeping this blog thing going. As I have alluded to before, the reality is that there are just not enough hours in the day. So as a next step, I thought I would start writing a bit about some of the work I have been involved in lately, drawing attention to the growing interest in BPM-SaaS oriented plays. As (if/when) I get permission to talk about these services more openly, I will post links and invitations, etc.

The first one I can start to talk about is Appian Anywhere (A2) – the Appian Enterprise (AE) product delivered on demand over the Web. It has been in private beta for a while now. I have been building the online training and video help for A2 which is due to launch sometime soon … probably early next year.

It has been very instructive for me – firstly, to have to get down into the innards of the BPMS and build actual applications … and secondly to appreciate just how much effort is required. That last point is at the level of developing effective applications and also building effective online training. Along the way, I have also discovered a few things about process modeling and what BPMN really enables (A2 is one of the stronger BPMN implementations), and also what is not in the process model but you need to be wary of.

I have had to grapple with application implementation issues that are really not part of the “process” model. I am really pointing at issues that the user has to deal with in getting their BPM system to present the related data and docs of the application (all deemed to be neatly outside of the scope of the BPMN specification). A2 (and AE) have one of the sexiest (Ajax) forms environments I have seen (I’ll see if I can put a clip up on YouTube). But even that forms environment relies on a robust set of process variables being defined for the process … which of course must be accurately mapped to all related processes and to the data sources themselves.

In A2 you declare the related variables at the outset (in the Process Properties), with a wide selection of types from the Boolean Yes/No through users, people, files, numbers, text, date-time, etc. Even discussion forums, folders, groups and messages can be defined as variables. Alternatively, you can just start process modeling and declare your variables as you need to, right in the middle of defining the process. Whenever, a new variable is needed, there is always an option to create one. The data itself is automatically persisted (although you do get the option of mapping the data to MySQL, Oracle and SQL Server).

Manipulating these variables is pretty straight forward – whenever you need to make a decision, place them on a form, or use the embedded Expression Editor – the context of the variable is automatically carried forward. For example, inserting a text data field into an external database, will automatically provide the text variables to choose from. If the field were of a type Date-Time then the declared Date-Time variables are presented to choose from.

The point that I am trying to make here is that defining useful processes is a lot more than merely the order of activities and the assignment of tasks to individuals. You need ways of dealing with the process relevant data … and that is where the complexity really comes in.

Which in turn points to one of the challenges in BPM modeling for SaaS – who really is the target market, and how much complexity can they handle? There is always the temptation to just keep adding functionality to the process model (as you think of yet another wrinkle in the usage scenario). But the same is also true of the BPM Suite vendors. The problem becomes more “what you want to do/support”, and inevitably the development environment for a BPMS becomes ever more “complex.”

If your target market are really business users without Business Analyst training, then this sort of development environment (in A2) is probably just a bit too complex. But dont get me wrong, if your target market are those people who would have otherwise defined a robust process model to support the build out of a workflow or Java app, then A2 is a doddle.

As a final thought, on this BPM-SaaS thang, I am seeing a lot of interest. I recently recorded a Webinar for Search-CIO which will probably air in early January (when I get links I will post here). Point is that all sorts of folks are now engaging in the promise of BPM at all sorts of levels. My perception is that if we can fix the usability angle (getting people to do it for themselves), then we will finally start to see this BPM market start to explode and be taken more mainstream. In my last posting, I mentioned Itensil who I believe have made some big strides in this area – but they have done that by deciding not to support the transactional process (which is the core of most BPM Suites). They are focused solely on the needs of knowledge workers in their collaborative processes (what I describe as “roughly repeatable practices” rather than “rigorous procedures”).

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9 Responses to BPM and SaaS

  1. barlowg says:

    A nice post, Derek. As we have talked about before, all of the BPM vendors need to work on the trade-off between ease-of-use and power. Appian Anywhere’s “Marketplace” model will help with this by providing pre-built processes typically created by trained folks with some IT knowledge. I believe that with those applications as starting points and guidelines, many business users will be able to modify or copy existing processes to tailor applications to their individual needs without nearly as much experience and know how as folks who create complex processes from scratch.

  2. I also though your readers might be interested to know that the mix of beta users for A2 today is about 40% enterprise IT, 30% departmental or sub-enterprise groups and 30% A2 partners developing applications for the Marketplace. Our predictions for 2008 based on existing pipeline and feedback from the field suggest a big shift in those statistics by the end of next year. By the end of 2008 we expect the mix to be about 30% enterprise IT, 55% departmental and smaller businesses with little or no IT resource and 15% application providers (includes ISVs creating pre-built applications and partners hosting application sites.)

  3. […] BPM and SaaS Derek Miers, BPM Focus […]

  4. mdepi says:

    Hi Derek,

    Nice article and it captures the most significant aspect of BPM – definition and design of process. I have two thoughts: Why most of the BPM products focus on form building and process building instead of collaboration and customer support? why there is not a single product which provides a way to augment transaction processing efficiency the way it is carried out by a third party shop which does back office operations in an outsourcing world. I think the BPM products today are more single entity focused and not multi entity models and that is the key difference why BPM with SaaS model have not been successful.

    We are building something which is simple and intutive to use as you mentioned by the business user without IT or analyst training and yet powerful enough to provide efficiency and BI capabilities in SaaS model. I would write more on this in my blog and post it here.

    Thanks,
    Milan.

  5. Derek Miers says:

    Milan – good thought. I also agree that most BPM Suites are still focused on the processes that go on within the firewall – developing support for pan-organizational processes is a different ball game. Indeed, I might expand on that thought a little in the near future. In the meantime, you might be interested to come to the BPM Technology Showcase in Nashville at the end of February where several of the current best-in-class BPM-SaaS plays will be on show. See http://www.bpmfocus.org/events/Nashville.aspx

  6. mdepi says:

    Hi Derek,

    Check my post at http://ondemandbackoffice.blogspot.com/2008/01/solution-approach-in-back-office.html about the new approach to a BPMS solution for back office transaction processing.

    Milan.

  7. dwillsintegrify says:

    As a provider of a hosted process management application (our Integrify OnDemand service) we have seen a tremendous amount of interest and new customers with the SaaS model. While core features/functionality are the same for customers that want (or required) to install the software, the biggest hesitation for companies that consider the SaaS model has been the ability to integrate with existing systems (HR, Finance, AD, etc.). Because of this, many OnDemand customers (Wyndham, BP) have been using the service only at the department level without the ambition to move it enterprise-wide. For us, that changed last year with the introduction of our web services module (http://www.integrify.com/products/integrify/features/plugin_web_services.asp) and our AD Sync Service.

    By providing the ability to use web services (ours or theirs) to integrate and specifically maintain user management in Active Directory in a SaaS model, existing OnDemand customers are moving into processes in other areas across their organization and even some installed customers are considering a switch to the SaaS model.

    For us, the SaaS model makes our lives much easier when providing services and support to our customers. Ease of use and activation has OnDemand customers getting to the point of going live much quicker vs. the OnPremise scenario. Couple that with the ability to utilize web services, and I believe we’ll see continued adoption of SaaS offerings.

  8. neoscythe says:

    the popularity of cloud computing made most companies use saas accounting software nowadays.

  9. play hunting games…

    […]BPM and SaaS « BPM Focus[…]…

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