Introduction This is the third in a series of articles evaluating tools used by process professionals. As with previous reviews, I approach the subject as a business professional with a need to document, analyze, and improve processes, not as an IT professional or a BPMS industry expert – I am neither. My most critical criteria are once again ease of use, a short learning curve, and good collaboration features.
Appian’s integrated Business Process Management Suite is a full featured tool that offers two delivery models: Appian Enterprise, a customer managed installation, and Appian Anywhere, a SaaS based hosted platform. Appian claims that Appian Anywhere is the first and only full-featured BPMS available on-demand using a SaaS model. In today’s focus on cutting spending, the ability to avoid installation and maintenance costs is a welcome option.
This product consists of several integrated functions, including a process modeler, process server, knowledge management system, forms designer, rules manager, configurable portals, and an analytics engine.
Full Microsoft integration makes this system easy for users of SharePoint 2007 and MS Office products. Appian is web based, accessible from any browser, and uses the familiar drag and drop method to design processes graphically. The rules engine makes it simple to ensure compliance to policies and thresholds across multiple process streams. Designers describe individual properties for each element. An easy to use WYSIWYG forms designer drops elements onto the page to create forms used in a workflow. Modelers attach documents to any step or process level, using the knowledge management module as an independent document management system, and allowing users to reference or attach supporting information.
Models created and simulated in Process Modeler are immediately executable using the Process Server module.
Appian bases their process modeler on Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN), the OMG standard. Business users unfamiliar with this graphical standard will find it easy to learn, and it is an effective method of communicating complex interactions with IT for web services, messaging, and reusable objects known as Smart Services. While there is dependence on IT to build and integrate the initial objects, once built business users can access a wide array of existing platforms, applications, and databases within the enterprise.
This tool has many levels of functionality suitable for basic or power users; as such, I advise users that taking full advantage of Appian’s comprehensive features will require some diligence. However, enterprises willing to train a handful of power-users of the application will reap the benefits of this full-featured suite.
A configurable task inbox allows for the portals to be targeted to each user’s role and preferences. It includes charts that show relationships between tasks, and the standard due-date driven reminders and alerts.
Attaching a discussion area to processes, tasks, or folders makes collaboration on a specific element simple, or users can establish free-form areas for discussion on specific or general topics. Dynamic workspaces and message boards offer true collaboration at all levels.
Appian’s BPMS integrates process visualization, documentation, analytics, optimization, and document management components. It uses a BPMN palette and canvas in its modeling environment. An out of the box multi-language feature allows translation of any process or step into 5 languages, with additional languages available. Smart services, referenced above, allow for reusable objects from existing IT assets. A process history enables audit at the field level. Appian also provides designers to set up performance targets for each process, sub-process, or process step and measure actual execution against objectives. A robust, self-configurable, real-time report function allows users to establish dynamic performance targets while designing reports.
Appian “Smart Services” requires IT to design and expose templates for common reusable web services using an Eclipse SDK toolkit. The product can be deployed on all major J2EE platforms, and utilizes the full J2EE architecture to provide scalability, redundancy, and high availability. A high-speed, in-memory listener configuration allows almost instant availability to database objects with negligible performance impact.
Appian is considered a “leader” in Gartner’s 2/2009 Magic Quadrant, and Forrester considered it one of “the most powerful products in the market” based on it’s reporting capabilities in 2007. Its modules integrate to deliver a powerful tool for companies ready to make the commitment to a BPMS, and the SaaS option allows for a streamlined implementation model for those wanting to begin immediately, or for those unwilling to make a long-term investment in infrastructure for the product.