Kofax sponsored a webinar this week (replay here) featuring Andy Bartels of Forrester Research speaking about Smart Process Applications (SPA): a term introduced by Forrester to describe collaborative, process-based packaged applications for human-centric work. In their terms: “a new generation of applications to help make human-centric, collaborative business activities be more effective”, with the goal to “help people be smarter in executing critical business activities”. You can check out their report on this from last year; the name is still struggling to gain acceptance, but vendors such as Kofax and OpenText (for whom I did a webinar and white paper on this topic last month) are helping to push it as a slice of the ECM/BPM/CM market where they have product offerings [by CM, I mean case management, including advanced CM (ACM), adaptive CM (also ACM), production CM (PCM) and dynamic CM (DCM), the latter term preferred by Forrester].
Forrester makes the distinction between transactional process apps and SPAs: transactional process apps tend to have standardized processes and little collaboration, whereas SPAs have a greater degree of collaboration as well as decision-making by the participants. If that was all, then this would just fall into the case management category – probably production case management – but an important focus of SPAs is that they are packaged applications for a specific activity: contract lifecycle management, customer support, procurement and the like. Bartels described them as filling in the gaps between the transactional apps, rather than using email and spreadsheets to bridge those gaps. He kept referring to these apps as “making people smarter”, which I think is a slightly awkward way of saying that they provide informational context for human decision-making, providing the right information to people at the right time to do their work.
He pointed out that BPM/DCM platforms provide an application development environment for companies to build their own SPAs, and that companies can then keep that app to themselves as a competitive differentiator, give it back to the vendor to incorporate into the base product, or sell it themselves (possibly in conjunction with the vendor). I think that a lot of these apps will come from the vendors directly, possibly via code developed for customer projects.
Martyn Christian of Kofax took the second part of the webinar to talk about Kofax solutions that fit into the Smart Process Apps envelope: capture of content as it moves from systems to engagement to systems of record is definitely their sweet spot. He overlaid their technology portfolio on Forrester’s “jigsaw” graphic to show that they offer something in all five pieces, although they are really pushing a platform for building SPAs, not the fully packaged SPAs that we’re seeing from some other vendors that are starting from a more comprehensive platform. That being said, Kofax is offering a customer onboarding SPA for capturing information at the point of origination, automating NIGO (not in good order) resolution and integrating with line of business and ECM systems; this sort of capture-focused SPA, or what they call “First Mile Solutions” is what we’re likely to see from Kofax in the future, especially as they continue to integrate the functionality of the Singularity (BPM/CM) and Altasoft (BI/analytics) acquisitions.
Forrester has a brand new Wave for SPAs; you can get this from the Kofax site here (registration required), plus a copy of a Forrester market analysis of multichannel capture, BPM and SPA, commissioned by Kofax. I’m sure that many of the other vendors in the Wave will have the report available as well, and it’s an interesting group of vendors: some horizontal BPM/ECM vendors, Salesforce, and a supply chain software vendor. This category is still such a mixed bag, and it does have the feeling of Forrester running a clustering algorithm on characteristics of existing solutions to see what they had in common, then “creating” the SPA category to describe them. Whether this is a true market category or just a speed bump on the way to a new age of applications and their development platforms remains to be seen.