bpmNEXT 2014: Work Management And Smart Processes

Bruce Silver always makes me break the rules, and tonight I’m breaking the “everything is off the record after the bar opens” rule since he scheduled sessions after dinner and with an open bar in the back of the room. Rules, as they say, are made to be broken.

Roger King of TIBCO attempted to start this demo during the earlier session but there were problems with the fancy projector setup. He’s back now to talk about model-driven work management. TIBCO’s core customer base (like mine) is traditional enterprises such as financial services, and they’re seeing a lot of them retiring legacy enterprise apps now in favor of process-centric apps built on platforms such as TIBCO. They see specific problems with work management in very large, branch-network organizations like retail banks; by work management and resource management, they mean the way that work is distributed to and accessed by end users, one of the things that BPMN doesn’t do when you define processes. With tens of thousands of participants, just a small increment in productivity through better work management can cause a significant ROI in absolute terms, but traditionally this has been done through custom user interfaces and distribution/matching. There are a number of resource patterns that have been studied and developed, e.g., separation of duties, round robin; Roger demonstrated how these are being incorporated into TIBCO’s AMX BPM (modeled within their Business Studio product) through organizational models, where you can find the resources in the organization, groups and custom organizational units that you need to bring your business vocabulary to determining how work is distributed within your organization. The idea is that once you have this defined, you can then use very fine-grained rules for determining which person gets which piece of work, or who has access to what. This now becomes something that you can attach to an activity in a process model using simple assignments or with a resource query language that assigns it dynamically, including based on process instance variables – essential when you have 100’s or 1000’s of branches and can’t realistically administer your organizational model and work distribution methods manually. Furthermore, you need to be looking at having people go to the work rather than having work sent to the people. This is the only type of work distribution approach when you’re creating declarative processes, where configuration needs to be much more dynamic than what might be drawn in the process model.

We finished off the short opening day of bpmNEXT with a keynote by Jim Sinur, late of Gartner (but not hesitant to use the materials that he helped to create there) and now an independent analyst, on how his processes are smarter than him. Processes based on machine learning, however, can only go so far: although machines are more accurate and consistent (and never complain when you ask them to work overtime), people are better at unexpected situations. The key is to have computers and people work together within intelligent processes: let the computers work on the parts that they do best, including events, analytics standardized decisions, pre-defined processes and the resulting actions from combining all of these; exploit emerging technologies such as cognitive systems, what-if scenarios via simulation, intelligent business operations, visualization and social analytics. Intelligent agents are a big part of this, but we need to have goal-directed processes to really make this work, or abandon the concept of processes at all except for the footprints that they leave behind.

Rule-breaking done. Back tomorrow for a full day of bpmNEXT 2014.

bpmNEXT 2014 Tuesday Session: It’s All About Mobile

I’ll blog this year the same as last year’s bpmNEXT demos, with each session of multiple demos in a single post. The posts are a bit long, but they are usually grouped into themes so it works better that way.

First up was Brian Reale of Colosa (makers of ProcessMaker open source BPM and ProcessMapper) on self-organizing groups, ad hoc work and expectations of simplicity. This is a topic that I’m really interested in, since I’ve been presenting on worker incentives with collaborative work, which includes some of the same issues as self-organization. One of his keys points is about the effort required to start using a typicial BPMS, and how that differs from design time (where there is typically a large degree of effort required and very little organic adoption) to runtime (where there is much less effort and is the main target of ROI). What they are trying to do is increase adoption by reducing the effort required at design time by providing more ad hoc capabilities, with a resultant lower ROI but also lower cost.  The result is FormSlider, an app environment for ad hoc workflow of structured data with minimal setup, which is what Brian demonstrated (still in alpha). He demoed the tablet interface for a loan application that allows for mobile capture of a client requesting a loan, including pictures and signatures, which then interfaces with ProcessMaker or other back-ends. More interestingly, he showed how an easily-setup app can be used for mobile data capture that hte user can then route to whomever they want (possibly limited to a selection list) with a few other fields such as due date and priority. There’s some informational context, such as seeing how long it is taking each of the possible participants to process cases, and also allows for routing to be round-trip or one-way. The standard user interface is pretty simple: My Cases for things that I’m working on, an Inbox for new things, and a simple forms interface for working on items. There’s an historical view of cases, showing the participants and their responses. He demoed a simple flow going through a round-trip from the initiator through two people and back to the initiator; this can be used for adding a collaborative workflow on top of existing pre-defined processes and systems, taking the place of emailing around for approvals and other simple collaboration. He finished up the demo in ProcessMaker showing us how an app and forms are created and deployed in a few minutes, including how potential users and groups are associated with the forms as they are designed. They have email and forum connectors for ProcessMaker and will be using the same methods with FormSlider for providing people with ways to be notified about work but also to interact with it directly.

Next up was Romeo Elias of Interneer on extending enterprise software using mobile apps by using BPM, addressing the issue that many companies have of not having skilled mobile app developers, but there being no commercial apps available for their needs. Their Intellect BPMS has mobile app capabilities, and allows custom mobile apps to be built quickly that can connect directly to the back-end processes. Since BPMS’ are often being used as full application development platforms, this is not that much of a stretch: the BPM platform already has a lot of the integration and other capabilities, and Interneer’s platform is intended to be used mostly in a drag-and-drop model-driven development environment. Romeo demonstrated creating a new application template that consisted of laying out a UI form for the mobile app using the full web interface (there could also have been a process attached, but the point of his demo was to show the mobile UI), then using it as an app on a tablet interface. The design interface on the web provides the ability to specify sidebar content as well as multiple pages (shown as tabs in the designer). The resultant app – immediately available as soon as it is created in the designer – is a native mobile app, not viewed through a mobile browser, so can take advantage of device-specific features as well as cache data offline. The app was a mobile data capture/reporting application that connected to a database; he demonstrated adding records to the table that include text (free text and restricted using a selection list) and a photo field, with any new records stored locally if connectivity is lost.

Scott Francis and Greg Harley of BP3 presented on bringing process to the people using their  Brazos mobile BPM responsive UI toolkit; at the time of last year’s bpmNEXT, they were focused on hybrid mobile apps, but now are directed towards responsible UI, that is, applications that run in a browser but behave appropriately regardless of the form factor of the device. Native apps can cause a lot of problems because of lack of mobile development and deployment skills within enterprises, but also the hurdles that many companies have to go through to deploy a mobile app that connects to their enterprise apps. Conversely, many enterprise applications already have web interfaces, so adding a new web UI that happens to be responsive and hence appropriate for mobile devices may have a much shorter adoption path, and less effort required since there’s a single application to design and deploy for any platform: no specialized mobile browser apps versus desktop browser apps. Plus, they’re giving it away for free, with plans to open source it in the future. Greg demoed a UI for an IBM BPM process in the full desktop browser version, then the same form on a phone (simulator). The same features in the full form are available in the mobile version, just resized and reformatted for the smaller screen in either orientation. He showed a bit of the form designer, although I had the sense that this would take a bit more effort than what we saw in the previous two demos but would offer quite a bit more capability. They support IBM BPM and Activiti BPM (which are the two platforms that BP3 supports in its consulting practice) and can be made to work with pretty much any BPMS that has a REST API since those APIs turn out to be surprisingly similar between different BPMS vendors. If you want to try out the Brazos UI toolkit, they have a sandbox where you can try it out running against an Activiti instance. This is quite the opposite in technology strategy from Interneer: I can understand BP3’s motivation for going with responsive UI, as well as the rapid uptake, but can also understand the challenges of a browser-based app when you have spotty connectivity (as I often do when I’m travelling), and they admittedly give up some of the device-specific capabilities.

We’re heading off to dinner, then back with a last demo (which was aborted from this session due to projector difficulties) and a keynote by Jim Sinur before we get down to the serious business of the evening drinks reception.

bpmNEXT 2014 Begins!

We’re at the lovely oceanside Asilomar conference grounds a couple of hours drive south of San Francisco for this year’s bpmNEXT conference. Last year’s inaugural conference was a great experience – I wrote 7,000+ words in two days, if that’s any indication – and this year’s lineup looks like a winner.

This conference is about what’s happening next in BPM (as you might guess by the  name): no sales pitches or death by PowerPoint, but a look at the technology directions as seen through demos. It’s also a great opportunity for networking, with a lot of the well-known names in BPM here in person meeting each other face-to-face for a change.

Bruce Silver and Nathaniel Palmer, our hosts and organizers, kicked off the conference and laid out the rules: each session (except for the keynote and a multi-company interoperability demo) is strictly 30 minutes long, with 20 minutes for the demo and 10 for Q&A. Last year, Nathaniel would start to look a bit threatening when the speaker reached their deadline, and everything ran on time.

We have sessions this afternoon and into the evening focused on mobile apps and interfaces, then all day tomorrow and until early afternoon on Thursday on a variety of other BPM topics, so get ready for the firehose.

AWD Advance14: The New Face Of Work

I’m spending the last session of the last day at DST’s AWD Advance conference with Arti Deshpande and Karla Floyd as they talk about how their more flexible user experience came to be. They looked at the new case management user experience, which is research-driven and requires very little training to use, and compared it to the processor workspace, which looks kind of like someone strapped the Windows API onto a green screen.

To start on the redesign of the processor workspace, they did quite a bit of usability evaluation, based on a number of different channels, and laid out design principles and specific goals that they were attempting to reach. They focused on 12 key screens and the navigation between them, then expanded to the conceptual redesign of 66 screens. They’re currently continuing to research and conceptualize, and doing iterative usability testing; they actively recruited usability testers from their customers in the audience during the presentation. They’ve worked with about 20 different clients on this, through active evaluations and visits but also through user forums of other sorts.

We saw a demo of the new screens, which started with a demo of the existing screens to highlight some of the problems with their usability, then moved on to the redesigned worklist grid view. The grid column order/presence is configurable by the user, and saved in their profile; the grid can be filtered by a few attributes such as how the work item was assigned to the worklist, and whether it is part of a case. Icons on the work items indicate whether there are comments or attachments, and if they are locked. For a selected work item, you can also display all relationships to that item as a tree structure, such as what cases and folders are associated with it. Reassigning work to another user allows adding a comment in the same action. Actions (such as suspending a work item) can be done from the worklist grid or from the banner of the open work item. The suspend work item action also allows adding a comment and specifying a time to reactivate it back to the worklist – combining actions into a single dialog like this is definitely a time-saver and something that they’ve obviously focused on cleaning up. Suspended items still appear in the worklist and searches but are in a lighter font until their suspense expires – this saves adding another icon or column to indicate suspense.

Comments can be previewed and pinned open by hovering over the work item icon in the worklist, and the comments for a work item can be sorted and filtered. Comments can be nested; this could cause issues for customers who are generating custom reports from the comments table in the database, at least one of whom was in the audience. (For those of you who have never worked with rigid legacy systems, know that generating reports from comment fields is actually quite common, with users being trained to enter some comments in a certain format in order to be picked up in the reports. I *know*.)

The workspace gains a movable vertical divider, allowing the space to be allocated completely to the worklist grid, or completely to the open work item; this is a significant enhancement since it allows the user to personalize their environment to optimize for what they’re working on at the time.

The delivery goal for all of this is Q4 2014, and they have future plans for more personalization and improved search. Some nice improvements here, but I predict that the comments thing is going to be a bit of a barrier for some customers.

That’s it for the conference; we’re all off to the Hard Rock Café for a private concert featuring the Barenaked Ladies, a personal favorite of mine. I’ll be quiet for a few days, then off to bpmNEXT in Monterey next week.

AWD Advance14: Product Strategy

I presented earlier today so I haven’t been doing any blogging, but I didn’t want to miss the repeat of the product strategy session with Roy Brackett, Mike Lovell and John Vaughn.

They’re hitting all the industry hot buzzwords – smart process applications, intelligent business operations, case management – but to be fair, they’re actually doing a lot of it. Although they’re just starting to bring in the dynamic and collaborative capabilities in recent versions, and their customers tend to drag their feet moving to new capabilities, AWD has long been a platform on which you build and deliver integrated business applications.

Their new(ish) case management, although based on the shared process and task engine as their structured processes, is based on research on how knowledge workers work, and they seem to be placing a lot of focus on evidence-based research into what they should be building, and Agile and SCRUM methods for building it.

A minor release (10.7.1) is due soon, and they have included some features that people in the audience were pretty excited about: variable timers (as opposed to having to define the timer duration at design time; multi-recipient outbound communications; AWD widgets, such as worklist and search, that can be deployed within other applications.

The next major release, 10.8, has a number of new features:

  • Processing work space updates, including worklist grid view that can be personalized by the end user, and adding attachments directly from the desktop
  • Communications content migration
  • Creating a case from capture
  • Tracking presentation flow time within monitoring
  • Technical server improvements around session management, batch processing and clustering

In 2015, they are focusing on a number of themes:

  • Dynamic processes for transactions, where process fragments may be assembled at runtime based on the specific conditions for that process instance
  • Milestones and timeline management for cases, allowing predefined process fragments to be easily triggered from case milestones
  • A new responsive user interface design tool that better accommodates what customers are actually doing with mobile apps – it sounds like they originally misunderstood how their customers would actually use presentation flows and mobile apps
  • Improvement to multi-channel servicing
  • Predictive analytics and services
  • Architectural refactoring, including splitting the process and content management capabilities so that they are still tightly integrated, but both are not required – 70% of their deals now do not include imaging, which is pretty amazing considering that AWD started as an imaging and workflow product

Some ambitious targets, and certainly not all to be delivered in 2015, but it gives an idea of how they’re moving forward.

AWD Advance14: Case Management And Unpredictability

I finished off the first day at DST’s AWD Advance conference with Judith Morley’s presentation on case management, which dealt with knowledge work and the unpredictable processes that they deal with every day. She presented last year about their case management, which was pretty new and a strong theme throughout last year’s conference. As I wrote back then, AWD case management is a set of capabilities built on top of their structured BPM, not a separate tool, that manifests through a user workspace that can be enabled for specific users. These capabilities include concepts of case ownership (including team ownership), tasks within cases, task and case prioritization, and collaboration. Their roadmap for case management includes some new mobile case views, more sophisticated case templates, more automation and better reporting.

They don’t have any customers live on case management yet, but some are pretty close. The applications that they are seeing being developed (or considered) at their clients include:

  • New retirement plan onboarding
  • Mutual fund corporate actions, e.g., new fund setup, mergers
  • Transfer of assets
  • Complaints, which involve both structured process and unstructured cases
  • Securitized debt
  • Health insurance appeals and grievances at their BPO operation
  • Immigration services

The key thing for them is to get some of these customers up and running on case management to prove their capabilities and the expected benefits; without that, it’s all a bit academic.

There’s probably not really anything groundbreaking compared to any other case management products, but the fact that it’s built on the standard AWD platform means that it’s completely integrated with their structured process applications, allowing for a mix of transactional workers and knowledge workers on the same piece of work, sharing the security layer and other underlying models. For the huge amount of work that lies in the middle of the structured to unstructured process spectrum, this is essential.

That’s it for day 1 of AWD Advance 2014 – I’m off to enjoy a bit of that Florida sunshine, but I’ll be back tomorrow. Blogging may be a bit light since I’m presenting in the afternoon.

AWD Advance14: From Workflow To Process Flow

You can tell that a lot of DST’s customers are dragging their feet moving to new technology when there has to be a session on moving from the old-style table-driven workflows to the newer portal and graphical process design. Stephanie Brown and Elaine Garcia of DST presented the possible implementation approaches, the training and consulting services that they offer to help with this, the benefit of bringing in new team members (possibly subject matter experts from the business side) for working with the graphical design tools, and how to build the internal vision and ROI to support the journey.

They discussed a number of strategies for refactoring, some of which require moving from the table-based workflows to processes, others that can be built around existing workflows:

  • Redo the UI forms using the new forms tool, which provides both a nicer UI and some improved functionality, even against an older workflow.
  • Replace custom code with functionality that is now part of the baseline product, such as QC sampling and complex date functions.
  • Automating communications, such as sending an email to a client based on data values.
  • Managing inbound email to initiate or merge with processes.
  • Monitoring using the newer dashboards rather than the older BI application.

They wrapped up with a brief mention of Project Alloy, an initiative that they have for mutual fund clients to connect AWD with their TA2000 recordkeeping system. Basically, it’s a set of processes (I assume that this includes UI and other aspects, not just process flows) that embodies best practices for integrating these systems, greatly reducing time to implement.

Since the AWD10 server platform supports both old and new applications, there’s much less urgency behind moving to the new tools (which can be bad) but it also allows a more gradual – and possibly less painful – migration.

While I’m thinking of it, the DST conference organizers have put some thought into the conference logistics: generous lunch and break times, hands-on labs, and an “in case you missed it” breakout track that repeats some of the DST-delivered sessions. Plus, a higher percentage of women on stage than I have seen at any other vendor conference.