BPM Futures

Pegasystems Sydney Symposium

I’m running behind with my blogging. It’s now several weeks since the Pegasystems Business Process Symposium took place here in Sydney, however whilst not quite ‘hot off the press’ the event is easily worth reporting on, even now, for its excellence at three levels – case studies, product and philosophy.

Pega’s philosophy – or at least my understanding of it – puts top priority on ease of use for both developers and end users. This means plenty of functionality that is easy to put together into processes, and thereafter just as easy to maintain. This is a big ask – business processes tend to be complex, and the technology set required to support them is fairly broad – and can only be achieved through a pretty stubborn focus by the vendor.

This philosophy came across quite graphically in a Q&A session towards the end of the day. Alan Trefler, CEO and founder of the company, was asked why Pega wasn’t providing more extended support for custom Java user interface development. Now 9 out of 10 company representatives put in this position would have (a) spoken at length about the support that was already in place and (b) at least implied that further and even more exciting developments were on their way. Not Mr Trefler. He told the questioner that custom Java code was far too slow to develop to be useful in BPM deployments – instead, it was the responsibility of BPM vendors to provide a UI builder, fully integrated with the core product, that was fit for purpose. The Pega roadmap? It would continue to improve the built-in Pega UI builder …. and if any customer or prospect felt that there was functionality lacking in it, he would be delighted to make the investment necessary to develop the product further.

Now that’s focus. I have been responsible as a manager – and, going back a few years, as a developer – for BPM implementations with both flavours of UI, native and custom built (ie Java/.Net). From a productivity point of view the native (BPM) UI wins hands-down, both because it is simpler to use and because a single developer can define both the process flow and the accompanying screens together. There is no need for an interface, two sets of data definitions and, worst of all, two different developers each with a slightly different skillset and understanding of the requirements. The native UI has only one catch – without real commitment from the vendor, the UI builder tends to have significant functional gaps. Close those gaps and you have a winner.

On a different topic, he was asked about the rationale for the Chordiant takeover. The answer was interesting in that it emphasised Chordiant’s core differentiator, its predictive and adaptive capabilities, which support more intelligent management of (eg) customer retention, cross-selling and fraud processes. Applying this technology to end-to-end processes, rather than simply the CRM front end, has the potential for significant value-add.

It is perhaps this combination of a practical, experience-based development focus with innovation where it can really make a business impact – rather than simply following the latest technology trend – that explains why Pega tends to have rather interesting case studies. On this occasion it was Mike Efron, eBusiness Manager from Wesfarmers Insurance who spoke about using Pega to provide a rules- and process-based consumer portal through which Kmart Tyre & Auto Service is selling white-labelled personal lines insurance products. The key here was ‘building for change’ – Pega’s slogan, which this project realised through defining specifically those aspects of the solution that were not required to change – and then leaving it to the system’s designers and the system itself to ensure that everything else could change. He told the audience that once Kmart Tyres was safely live, it took the team just two weeks to change the system sufficiently to support a second ‘white label’ customer.

A second case study that was mentioned at the event was British Airports Authority. This is the sort of innovative case study that refreshes one’s interest in BPM. How many BPM solutions have as their primary input channel not email, not scanned mail … but radar? Rather than my re-writing it, check out Gartner’s take on it here.

The final topic is of course the latest product news. This is well-documented on the Pega site, and the highlights for me were:
– A new Case Management version of the product with a slick user interface and a process architecture that includes effectively unlimited nesting of cases. So a motor claim can include separate sub-processes for vehicle repair and personal injury; the personal injury claims can include separate processes for the several individuals involved, each with multiple different types of injury, and so on. All neatly tied together into the Case Manager’s desktop.
– Other Case Management features include ad hoc tasks, delegation, support for multiple parties and related cases, correspondence management and reporting.
– New Process Designer features that are used for Process Discovery. These are similar to those introduced by a number of other vendors in recent years with the important addition of requirements traceability. I understand this is made available as a cloud service to the Pega Developer Network.
– Project management tools (eg for task, risk and issue management, and including wiki and twitter-like functionality) that use Pega core technology and can be configured to fit the desired SDLC approach (waterfall, agile etc). This looks well-developed enough to use, though the overlap with third party systems is obvious. It’ll be interesting to see how this area develops.

Overall this was an excellent event, showcasing a product that is increasingly differentiating itself from its peers, and was much enhanced by the presence of the CEO himself in Sydney.