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.


The Elephant In The Room

April 11, 2009

On Thursday, I was chatting with Jim Sinur over the big issues affecting our industry. I suggested that what we need at the next Summit was to get people to start seeing these big issues … the ones that BPM is only tangentially starting to address. So the ides was to have a combative session where we bounce around the big things that seem to go largely unmentioned. The idea is that we discuss the major trends and big problems associated with long-term success of BPM. So here are a few that I proffered on the call (you’ll notice these ideas are sort of related).

  1. Organizations are struggling to drive wider adoption of process management? The average number of Processes under Management in a typical BPM site is probably 5 or less; I think we would all agree that more than 10 is unusual. While there may be some cases of organization with over 20 or even 50, the reality is that there is little widespread adoption inside your average large organization (although some are starting to grapple with that problem). Why is that? Because the effort required to standardize the processes and deal with all the data and artifacts is just too great. Yet at the same time, the number of spreadsheets used to coordinate work in those same organizations is numbered in the thousands (or at least hundreds). Every one of those spreadsheets represents and opportunity to manage and improve organizational performance. There are lots of issues that are associated with the broad base adoption I am suggesting here … education and training are key.
  2. The emergence of Case Handling as a dominant design approach in the BPM. Today, too much emphasis is placed on the purely transactional, procedural end of the process spectrum. Not enough on the needs of workers. If you like, we need the same rigor that was applied to ERP implementation now to be applied to all the other stuff in the firm.
  3. Value chain optimization trumps behind the firewall efficiency! Some organizations are experimenting with processes that span organizational boundaries (i.e. outside the corporate firewall). This is driving innovation as firms come to grips that they are part of a wider value chain. Suppliers and partners need to collaborate, as they coordinate their efforts they are using processes to work with each other. In turn, I believe that this trend is going to drive adoption of SaaS-oriented BPM solutions.
  4. Innovation is occurring in both thinking, and technology to support the needs of knowledge workers (like you and I). Not only do we need more accessible products (who wants to rely on the IT department to hold your hand), but we need new ways of thinking about process and collaboration.

And then there are a few Problems we all need to deal with if we are to get success.

  1. Deal with the Politics First – it’s an absolute waste of time trying to move forward with a BPM initiative if you haven’t got your ducks in a row. I would posit that one of the reasons why a CoE approach tends to be more successful than one-off BPM projects is precisely because of the organizational buy-in required to create that sort of entity. However, the fact remains that a CoE is major overhead on your first BPM project; establishing a CoE is an evolutionary step on the path toward BPM Nirvana. Managers should address this issue early on to avoid disappointment. This is as much about ensuring that the process is rooted in the organization appropriately.
  2. It is people, not computers that drive innovation (contentious issue I know). BPM Vendors need to get off their soap-box; they need to avoid the “add water and stir” flavor in their marketing.
  3. Resource management – I mentioned it earlier, but there are just not enough good people with knowledge and expertise available. Where are the skills going to come from? I would suggest it is much better to train your own (growing your own capabilities) rather than assuming that some outsource provider will give you the resources at the right time. I bet you were thinking abotu your project team resources … I am talking about within the business itself. As an industry, we have spent so long conspiring to keep the business professional in the dark, yet now they need to grapple with how things get done around here (one of the best definitions of a Business Process I have heard was from Howard Rheingold … “The Way Things Get done Around Here”). Point is, you cannot outsource change.

Do some of these themes resonate. I am sure there are  other “Elephants In The Room” that the industry needs to grapple with. What do you think?


BPM and Knowledge Work – Looking for Proof of Concept Partners

June 24, 2008

I am looking to prove that Business Process Management technology can really change team productivity, especially for teams that span diverse organizations. We will choose a half a dozen knowledge-centric organizations, and then build out a proof of concept or initial application for each of them that they can then take forward, deriving long term value and changing the rules of competition in their industry.

This will appeal to organizations in the following situations:

  • A consulting group looking to package and deliver their expertise via a robust, service-based model that creates a leave-behind environment and an extended client engagement.
  • Start-ups developing a knowledge-based product offering, seeking a comprehensive Proof of Concept to close the first round of customers.
  • Corporate teams focused on Project delivery or Product Launch, needing to capture their project/product artifacts and support evolving business practices.

A Short History

Business Process Management has been taking great strides—moving from the highly structured transactional procedures into the realms of ever more human-centric, evolving and adapting processes. Instead of limiting processes to the confines of IT (as the BPEL guys are trying to do), some vendors have been exploring providing better support for the roughly repeatable business practices—rather than always following a standard pattern, processes unfold and many fragments of process might come together to support an evolving business scenario.

But achieving a balance between the explicit world of processes with an effective collaboration and knowledge capture environment is no easy feat either. And all the while, ensuring the user interface is accessible to the average goal-focused knowledge worker.

Now, I believe I have found such an environment, one that can enable efficiency and effectiveness in knowledge work – all delivered as a service online (i.e., no hardware or software charges).

What You’ll Get

The organizations I select will receive a ready to deploy (internally or for resale), process-based web application. You will need to have your own IP (method) and some of the supporting documentation. I will personally lead the development, working with your organization to really capture and make explicit the processes and areas for evolution. I will build out the initial data structures and a set of processes that support a reasonable application. This should take just a few weeks (30 days at most) and it will include a full year of hosted service with a generous number of seats—and all of this for what you would pay for typical BPM product evaluation.

In the short term, please respond to me directly (miers at bpmfocus.org). Tell me a little bit about your company and what you are looking to achieve and we can start a dialogue as to whether you fit into my research initiative. Following up our work, I will expect to develop a set of short case studies, so please be prepared for a bit of blatant promotion of your concept going afterward.


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.


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.