Appian Anywhere SaaS Case Study

April 19, 2009

As many of you know, I have been pressing the metal to the floor on BPM in the cloud. So, I was interested to see the Appian Webinar last week (available on demand here). Some of you will remember that I developed a good chunk of process training for them to support users on the Appian Anywhere platform.

The session opened with the usual intro (not from me for once), pointing to all the usual reasons for doing BPM – efficiency, retain customers, compliance, etc. However, I was impatient to get to the SaaS opportunity, as I believe BPM delivered in the cloud enables a whole range of new possibilities.

Following the vendor neutral intro from Information Week, Samir Gulati Appian’s VP of Marketing, talked about their offering. Appian Anywhere has the same code based as the Appian Enterprise product, but deployed in the cloud and available on demand. AA has been out there for nearly 18 months or so (although I think it was only officially released earlier this year). It’s available in the Premium Edition where you get your dedicated server, SAS-70 type 2 application, etc., and the Standard Edition where you get shared (multi-tenant) access to an Amazon EC2-based service. From a pricing point of view, the Standard Edition is $35 per user per month. And while you are in evaluation mode, Appian provide a “Process Coach” to help get you up and running.

Samir talked about a few example customers of Appian Anywhere: ManuLife, who are using it to support their marketing function, driving better resource usage, managing interfaces to their third party suppliers, etc. The second example was Starbucks who are using AA to manage and track localised promotions, enabling visibility into what is going on.

The main part of the webinar was a case study delivered by John Cowles, Director of Operational Efficiency at Clayton Holdings. They are primarily involved in Credit Risk and Due Diligence work for the Mortgage industry (they don’t own assets, just provide services to others). Their customers are the Banks and Mortgage issuers. They could see the financial industry going in a downward spiral, and felt that things would get tighter. They realized that they needed to get better control of their own processes, and start monitoring/managing process performance. They also felt it was taking too long to get people up and running effectively.

Being a smaller company, they were a little nervous about getting into the BPM space, so thought they would try out the SaaS option. For them, it was a low risk; a low cost way to get started (John’s estimate was that it was only about 10-20% of the cost associated with buying a BPMS and installing in-house). And with limited IT availability, they felt the SaaS option represented the best way forward. They started zeroing in on Appian because they had the SaaS capability (at the time they were the only one out there with an On Demand offering). He liked their tenacity and the flexibility of the tool.

Once their instance was set up, it took just 6 weeks to get their first process up and running. He started developing a baseline of their current operation (always a sensible move). In his words, “you can’t improve anything unless you know where you are started. You could be wasting your time focusing on the wrong things.” Overall, he was looking for a 30% improvement in efficiency, while also seeking to reduce the variability in the way work was carried out. They followed a DMAIC approach, but it was a BPM project (not 6Σ). They were lucky in that they had the active involvement of a lot of senior business people (Executive Steering Group). Yet, their development and implementation team was small (2 people).

They have been doing a new release every month once they got their initial processes up and going. And ever since that first release, the business people themselves have developed more and more ideas on what they want to do. Initially, they actively avoided doing any integration at all. So it has only been very recently that they needed to involve IT.

I am not sure, but I think they are now addressing two areas of the business. John talked of having over 30 processes, with a lot of interdependencies between those processes; so I am guessing he was referring to the various sub-processes and chained processes that support the domain. 

From a results point of view – they are now doing more with less. He cited a new operation in a remote city where they had thought they would need 14 people to do a particular role, now they get by with just three.

For a case study, I thought it was a good one. It was good to hear someone really getting into the lessons learnt.

  • John quite rightly pointed to the need to “Focus on Change Management and Process Management early on … We had to prioritize, needed to step back and look at the bigger picture.” I found myself thinking that we could have had some interesting discussion over the Process Portfolio Management techniques that we have been working on with a Center for BPM Partner.
  • His second point was I think a good one “Limited or no system integration in the first release” … indeed, they left the integration till nearly 6 months before they got into that.
  • “Prototype everything” … sit down, work with them in design mode, and see what that looks like, prototyping all the time.

There were others, but those were the things that stood out for me. John also talked to the need for Process Visibility … “Need to step back and look at the metrics at a high level and then focus down on the critical areas … treat it like a compass.” I liked that last phrase as it gives a sense of what Process Visibility should really mean to managers.

As a BPM Case Study, I thought the session was a good one. However, I think it would have been even better if he had covered the game-changing capabilities of a SaaS delivered BPM solution in support of the process across the wider value chain. I think many managers are still stuck in the mode of optimizing their own processes rather than looking for the opportunities to support the wider problem. It’s a bit like stove pipes inside an organisation … but here, I am getting at the opportunities to radically improve the value chain, through the comprehensive integration of all the actors involved. Having said that, I am sure John is already thinking about the opportunities to deliver this sort innovation.


BPM Technology Showcase and Awards – An Opportunity to Save Hundreds of Hours and Thousands Of Dollars

February 12, 2008

Well after a lot of hard work the event is now fully fleshed out. Of course there are a million and one things to get done to organize a major event – and I am still getting through them.

But we have a full program of really interesting vendors (IMNSHO). They cover a range of different themes that regular readers will recognize. This is a real opportunity for people involved in BPM projects to save hundreds of hours and many thousands of dollars by assessing all the best vendors in one place, picking up on the best practices, pitfalls and other implementation wrinkles.

In no particular order they are:

BPM and SaaS – Appian, Integrify, Itensil, Lombardi (Blueprint) … I am not sure whether I should put Cordys, and Fujitsu in that category (since apparently they can do this combination but haven’t made a big noise about it).

Case Handling – Cordys, Graham Technology, Itensil, Pallas Athena, Pega

Complex Customer Interaction – Graham Technology, Pega

Knowledge Workers – Appian, HandySoft and Itensil

Microsoft and .NET – Ascentn, Bluespring Software and BizAgi

BPM-SOA Stack – BEA, Fujitsu and TIBCO

Unified Data Model – BizAgi, Pega

They all have something special about them – they are all becoming more and more “model driven” (some are better than others), they all feature mechanisms to monitor and track work. Here is the complete list along with links to their web sites.

AppianAscentnBEABizAgiBluespring SoftwareCordysGraham TechnologyHandySoftIntegrify ItensilFujitsuLombardiPallas AthenaPegaTIBCO

That’s 15 vendors, each delivering 4 sessions – one in the morning and one in the afternoon on each of the core showcase days (Tuesday and Wednesday). The Showcase itself is capped off with a simulated product bake-off where each vendor demonstrates how they have built out one or other of the two core scenarios we will provide them with.

I intend to create short 5-minute videos of each vendor, featuring their best points and place them on YouTube with links to their product profile – which I will endeavor to get up on the BPMF site within a few weeks of the event (but I am traveling for the month of March so it might not be till mid-April before that happens.

Oh – and lets not forget the Monday when you will hear a keynote from Connie Moore (of Forrester), followed by three new case studies (the best submissions from the Awards program – Wells Fargo, Geisinger Health and Louisiana Supreme Court), the three inclusive ½ day training courses:

  • Ensuring BPM Project Success – from me
  • Modeling in BPMN – from Stephen White of IBM (the main author of the BPMN specification)
  • BPM Overview from the WfMC

And all of this is available for the killer price of just $395 (up until close of business this Friday … after that it reverts to $595). Just to put that price in perspective, that’s less than you would pay a traditional conference for their pre-conference workshop !! We have deliberately kept the prices low so that you can bring the team – to form a shared understanding of the issues and the way ahead (and it’s impossible to get around all 15 vendors in the 12 sessions that you will have time to attend).
You can get directly to the registration page here

Download the brochure here


BPM Awards and Technology Showcase

January 16, 2008

The BPM Awards and Technology Showcase is taking shape and it’s promising to be quite an interesting affair. Located at the Sheraton in Downtown Nashville, it is easy (and cheap) for the whole US to get there, it will take place in late February – 25th through the 27th.

In my opinion, participation by any organisation with a BPM project(s) on its plate (current or planned), will save hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars – through the stunning case studies, through exploration of what the vendors have to offer in one concentrated educational program; and through the all inclusive workshops focusing on implementation best practices. Although it has run successfully in Europe over several years, this format is relatively new for the BPM market in the US.

In the contrast to the traditional conference+trade show model – where you will find a mix of hypothetical talks and vendor marketing – this is event is focus on providing pragmatic and actionable information specifically about BPM technology and its implementation. Rather than trying to glean scraps of insight in the chaos of an exhibition showroom floor, this event is primarily based around structured sessions that focus on how products are used and deployed (and the best practices, challenges and pitfalls along the way).

Of course it is much more than that:

On the Monday (Feb 25th) we have a “BPM in Practice” day where you’ll get the big picture in a Keynote from Connie Moore of Forrester. We then segue immediately into a selection of the top North American case studies from the 2007 Global Excellence Awards in BPM and Workflow (I think the best ones). This is where we have the real 24 Carat Gold – three brand new case studies from Wells Fargo, Louisiana Supreme Court and Geisinger Health – all focused on the reality of modern BPM implementation. These case studies are delivered by the business and IT people themselves talking about their experiences – setting the scene for what is to follow over the next 2 days.

Then, over a Gala lunch, we have the Awards Ceremony itself (where the shiny stuff get handed out to the winners). This is quickly followed by a joint presentation from Nathaniel Palmer and I – where we discuss the Technology Assessment Framework (everybody will have copies of all the product reports by this time).

We then all go to a choice of 3 workshops – I will be running a concentrated form of our “Developing A Structured Approach for BPM Project Success” course, and if Steve White gets the permission to come from his masters at IBM, he will run a shortened version of the BPM Process Modeling Fundamentals (focused on BPMN). In parallel the leading lights at the WfMC will run their own session, taking a more general view of BPM (I expect they will also talk about the role of XPDL). Its worth noting that these workshops are usually delivered as conference add-ons – the difference with this event is that they are all included in the very cheap price of attendance ($295 if you get in quickly).

On Tuesday and Wednesday (26th and 27th) we have the Showcase itself. On each day we start with a short plenary (who’s on when, showing what); then we immediately split into 5 tracks. On each track there are six sessions during the day (three different vendors giving two sessions each on each track). The delegates self select the sessions that or interest to them. Each session is 40-45 minutes, with a 5 minute break to get to the next session (we do let you have breaks for coffee and lunch).

But the real difference here is that there is no exhibition, just concentrated truth telling from the vendors as they explain and demonstrate how their products are used for real. These are up close and personal sessions where the 25-30 people in the audience can pop any question they like.

And as you’ll discover (assuming you come), the whole thing quickly becomes very interactive.  Everyone realizes it is OK to ask questions and very soon we are all learning from each other. This opportunity to interact is further bolstered by the birds of a feather lunch tables and Round Table discussions on the Tuesday (where each table will explore a particular area).

Moreover, the format ensures it is a level playing field for all (rather than who can afford the biggest stand). Vendors range from the relatively small innovation leaders such as Ascent, BizAgi and Itensil, through the established pure-play BPM vendors (such as Lombardi and Appian) then into the big guys like TIBCO, and we anticipate BEA/Oracle will also have a presence.

To cap it all – we end on the Tuesday with two different vendor shoot-out scenarios, where participating vendors show how their tool was used to build out a specific example. We will have two different flavors here – one aimed at the more traditional transactional example (human & system centric), the other describing a knowledge worker scenario (human collaboration oriented).

So if you are interested – check out the Event Brochure here. The early-bird registration ends on Friday (currently at just $295) and can be accessed directly here. We still have a couple of slots left open for vendors to participate, so if you are interested, contact me directly.


BPM and SaaS

December 18, 2007

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”).


Case Handling Discussion

December 16, 2007

Mea Culpa – yes, like others in this space, the challenge is keeping the blog going. Usual story of not managing to keep the clones working properly while I am sleeping. Lots of things to start sharing here … and now that I am out from under the endless train of deliverables and trainign courses, I should be able to find the odd bit of time.

The reason for this long awaited posting … I felt I wanted to pick up on discussions emerging in the BPM space – driven by Henk de Man’s presentation at the OMG meeting last week. He was talking to the need for better modeling approaches to support Case Handling (or Case Management depending on your perspective).

Like James Taylor (name now corrected),  I thought Henk’s presentation was also interesting. And as I pointed out during the session, a great many processes should be viewed in the Case Handling context. Readers might also be interested in the papers I produced that discuss these sorts of issues. But really getting at it from the pov of the Customer and Processes – “Business Processes and Customers – Difficult Domains to Integrate” available in the White Papers section of the BPM Focus web site.

The core of Henk’s presentation was that BPMN style modeling is not much help when trying to capture the essence of Case Handling. His own product has a strong Case Handling orientation and uses “States” and “Events” to enable some of the flexibility that Case Handling apps demand. In my experience, the key differentiating factor (between a tranditional workflow/BPMS app and Case Handling) is that the emphasis is with Case – it may have many processes and documents associated with it.

I suggested to him that he investigate Role Activity Diagrams (a way of modeling at how the Roles involved change state as a result of the actions and interactions that occur). This is perhaps much more appropriate for the state based view he was hankering after. The best reference on this is Martyn Ould’s book “Business Process Management – A Rigorous Approach”

But all should understand that Case Handling approaches have been around for a very long time. They are everywhere you look once you get it in your head. Think of these:

  • Government – State and local government, NGOs, Police, Justice (investigations), Land mgt …
  • Financial Services
  • Insurance – Every claim is an exception
  • Banking – Trade exception handling, premium account management
  • Healthcare – From clinical provision to administrative management and payment
  • Oil & Gas Exploration- Knowledge workers spread thinlyaround the world
  • Pharmaceuticals – Clinical trials, compound development, marketing campaign management
  • Virtually all “professions
  • Wide range of Small to Medium sized contexts
  • All sort of Procurement situations
  • Customer Contact Centers – across virtually all industries, where they validate, identify work items and then resolve … here 80% of all calls are WISMO (What Is the Status of My Order)
  • Even the weekly Staff Meeting is a kind of case handling situation if you look at it from a process point of view.

All of them have continually unfolding, evolving scenarios. That is where BPM needs to concentrate its efforts. The transactional space that has characterised efforts to date is really pretty straight forward. Case Handling involves synchronous interaction with users, long running case resolution situations, multiple process fragments, knowledge work, …

Interesting vendors in this space are few and far between. At one level it is big systems implementations such as Cordys, Pega and Graham Technology. But there is a simpler more accessible level that is best characterised by folks like Itensil (in my mind one of the most itneresting I have come across). I am sure, that with care you could implement TIBCO, Appian and Lombardi to build effective Case Handling situations, but it is really a quesiton of adopting the right style of design thinking. And with more and more of these vendors offering SaaS delivery mechanisms, I think we are going to see an ever increasing level of innovation in this area.


BPM SaaS breaks out …

February 19, 2007

Not news to some of you I am sure, but as you are all starting to realise the BPM industry is heading, hell for leather, toward a SaaS On Demand model. There are a number of vendors I have been engaging with who have development efforts underway (NDAs in place so no point in asking).

Indeed, I would guess this begs a question that most vendors are asking themselves right now. What is the future of their shrink wrapped software market? Is it going to be swallowed (or overtaken) by those who are able to deliver a sublimely easy to use interface and a service that is similarly easy to consume.

In the last week or so we have seen announcements from Lombardi with Blueprint (see the review here), and Appian (but more of that later). I have also tripped over another small player that is busy coming at it from a different direction (Itensil) … effectively designing the whole thing to be so easy to use and flexible that end-user knowledge workers can develop and drive their own work without reference to an IT staff. No doubt we will see more of this sort of thing (SaaS BPM platforms) unveiled at the Gartner BPM Summit next week (where I am delivering the Pre-Conference Tutorial “Ensuring BPM Success” on the Sunday evening).

Coming back to the Appian announcement, that is their aim and objective too. Their core AJAX modeling and deployment platform (Version 5.5) is being built on to provide the basis for their On Demand BPM utility. Amongst other areas being reworked are enhancements needed to deliver a secure and shareable front end (where multiple users will share a common process platform on a single box without being aware of each other). Of course, new functionality is required in the admin area to handle this sort of On Demand capability. I am also due to have a private demo of other new areas of functionality while at the Gartner show.

Right now the service is in alpha mode testing, with selected partners and existing customers using it. In Q2, Appian intend to deliver an infrastructure that partners (and even customers) can use to create their own process templates … that other customers can then use or license (and pay for). The General Availability release is due for Q3.

Pricing sounds as though it will present some challenges (to competitors). Starting at about $15 per user per month for access to a shared virtual server. Dedicated virtual server costs at about double that (with a minimum number of users). Who knows, I might even use it to support BPM Focus (right now I am considering another vendor’s product to drive the processes of BPM Focus). More on that later.


And the competition respond …

February 14, 2007

I received a couple of follow up emails from Lombardi competitors following my review of Lombardi and their new Blueprint offering in Intelligent Enterprise.

First Appian pointing me to their Appian Anywhere press release:

“Appian, the leading provider of Business Process Management (BPM) technology, today announced Appian Anywhere the first full-featured Business Process Management Suite available via an on-demand, software as a service (SaaS) model. The entire award-winning Appian BPM Suite is now available through the Internet browser – there are no downloads required for modeling or running automated processes. This subscription service provides all the functionality of the Appian Enterprise BPM Suite plus additional features to provide organizations and departments with effortless site branding, administration and application deployment …”

And then Savvion SVP Patrick Morrissey, who offers the “following food for thought, on the record”:

“Yesterday’s announcements are a beautiful snapshot of on-demand’s reality and hype in practice. Appian’s solution is a good Web-only application – and we applaud their effort to focus on BPM for the small and medium market (SMBs). Lombardi, however, is trying to use SaaS as a way to divert attention from the fact that they now have a beta modeling tool with PowerPoint export – it’s not on-demand; it’s BPM modeler ‘light’. Savvion has offered a full-featured process modeler as a free download on our website to help business and IT users get started with BPM for more than two years. 75,000 users have downloaded our modeler and we welcome Lombardi’s move to adopting our market leading strategy.”

Clearly Lombardi have their immediate competition rattled. I was aware of Appian’s plans but as Sandy Kemsley points out it seems like a somewhat hurried response. OTOH, Patrick Morrissey clearly hasn’t seen Blueprint (no surprise there), so it I can forgive him for misleading. It is quite a different thing to have a stand alone proprietary modeling tool as against a collaborative modeling environment that is delivered via a SaaS model.

Edit – Feb 15th – Savvion enters the brawl – Column 2 – ebizQ … Sandy’s comment on the same email.