BPM Futures


Where are the Process Apps?

Recently reading that 2011 is to be the Year of the App Store,  I visited some App Stores to look for BPM Apps. The results start by unearthing some real BPM Apps and conclude with a vision of the App Store as a whole new paradigm for BPM.

You’ll be amazed to read that there are currently 134 BPM Apps for the iPhone alone, and equally disappointed to learn that nearly all of these relate to music (beats per minute). One of the features of today’s App Stores* is that their search and filter features are remarkably limited considering that a successful search is intended – presumably – to conclude with a sale.  Is there ever going to be a better business case for additional features? Anyway, I digress…

As the table below shows, the type of BPM App best represented in the App Stores I visited could be described as a ‘BPM Participation App’, that is, an App that acts as a client to a remote BPM server allowing the user to start and track cases, and complete work items from an Inbox. Note that the table is simply the result of myself as a ‘mystery shopper’ visiting these stores (which included an Australian filter in some cases) – there may be other BPM vendors with an iPad story (for example), but they just weren’t in evidence in the store on the week that I looked.

BPM Apps Table

(click to enlarge)

 

Leaving aside the final two (which I’ll come back to), the list is interesting in that it includes few BPM household names.  Metastorm is the obvious exception, with an iPad/iPhone client provided by partner BTI’s Nymbul product. Software AG is also there via IDS Scheer, whose APG product is an iPad/iPhone front end to the ARIS Business Server/Process Governance framework (albeit a ‘Preview’ release).

Of the others, Activiti deserves a special mention because it is advertised as being entirely free of charge, including the open source BPM server. Also SPM Workflow, a Taiwanese product that not only has a wonderfully original graphical audit trail, with each step apparently a gatehouse on the Great Wall of China, but also has the first new original and useful native feature I’ve seen for a while (maybe I don’t get out enough) – a manual reminder function. So if you look at the audit trail and see the case is stuck with Jim, you just select the ‘Reminder’ button and a message is shot off telling him to get a move on!

Most importantly all of these require that you host a BPM server before you’ll get any business benefit from the App.

The final two on the list, Cordys and RunMyProcess are different. Each of these is a complete BPM system, cloud-based and accessed through a web browser. They may not be Apps in a technical sense (no download required) but they certainly are in the sense of this article – they are distributed (amongst other channels, no doubt) through the Google Apps Marketplace site, where access can be purchased immediately, on a per user basis.

Cordys is relatively well-known to BPMers and, like Metastorm, features in the Gartner 2010 BPM Magic Quadrant Report. RunMyProcess doesn’t, though its web site states that it was designated a Gartner ‘Cool Vendor’ in 2009, and it certainly looks intriguing. These two are quite clearly not the only cloud-based BPM products out there (Blueworks Live and Tibco Silver come to mind). But if you go shopping at your local App Store, Cordys and RunMyProcess are what you’ll find.

As I understand it, their target market is any organisation, big or small, private or public sector, that wants to build and manage its own processes without actually investing in their own BPM platform. This is essentially the traditional BPM market, expanded down towards SMEs that could not previously afford the upfront investment that BPM has tended to require.

Moving on from this list, what interested me most were the first hints of ‘Process Apps’. Process Apps (my term, as far as I know, but hopefully useful) being self-contained Apps that provide a service to the consumer, with the service actually – or at least potentially – fulfilled through a BPM platform.

For example, a PR professional or copywriter could define and offer a process that combined the manual task of writing a press release with automated updates of the PR (or variants on it) into a range of social networking media. This Process App could be published through an App Store as ‘One Hour PR’, priced at, say, $99.  The potential for adding human tasks to this type of process will expand significantly as service marketplaces, such as eLance, start to provide BPM-compatible services and plug-ins.

So far I’ve found just two examples of Process Apps, both for Insurance Claims (in the iPhones store, search ‘insurance’) – ‘Just Car Insurance iClaim’, and ‘nib Health Insurance’ each support insurance claims through their App. Now I have no way of knowing whether these particular Apps pass off the claim to a claims process in a BPMS or to a dedicated Claims system, or to a hive of busy worker bees using pencils and paper. However, the principle is clearly there – the App, which is provided free of charge, provides the entry point to a remote process with great potential for value-adds (Just Car iClaims provides info on local tow truck services, for example, and case tracking would be an obvious add-on).

Of course ‘insurance claim’ is a classic example of an ‘enterprise’ process, in the sense of scale – if you can afford to underwrite insurance policies, you can probably afford your own BPM system, cloud-based or otherwise.

The individual or small company offering the ‘PR Process’ mentioned earlier would most certainly not have these resources, though. For such an organisation cloud-based BPM is a necessity. And, importantly, it is not sufficient.

The gap in the market today appears to be for a BPM App (provided by a SaaS BPM Platform Provider, perhaps like Cordys or RunMyProcess) that encourages small developers to sign up with a view to developing and reselling their own ‘Process Apps’. Such ‘Process App Developers’  won’t be integrating with an Insurance Policy or ERP system, but they will join simple human services with existing consumer SaaS applications to deliver new, better and above all cheaper business processes, particularly for SMEs.

The benefits from this will flow mainly to the end consumer. In the same way that much software that would previously have been boxed and sold for, say, $20-$50 is now available in App Stores for $4.99, there is no reason why business processes should not provide similar economies of scale. And the profits of the successful Process Apps will be shared by the App Store, the BPM Platform Provider and the Process App Developer.

To support this, App Store owners and BPM Platform Providers will need to combine forces to allow the Process App Developer to

  • Easily publish his or her Process App in one or many App Stores where it may be accessed by individual consumers. This means the BPM Platform Provider developing a ‘Process App Publication’ BPM App for iOS4 (for example) that supports such publication functionality, underpinned by an appropriate commercial agreement with the App Store owner (eg  Apple), if necessary.
  • Easily invoke, and where necessary pay for, third party services called from the Process App. This is means not only providing uniform and very easily used technical interfaces, but also a marketplace in which to buy them, including on a per use basis. In the ‘Web Services Department’ of the App Store, perhaps?
  • Easily publish the Process App as a service that may itself be called by other Process App Developers, in the same ‘Web Services Department’.

Combining the traditional BPM virtues of ease of process build** with new App Store publication and subscription functionality will encourage and support a whole new world of competing micro-processes, benefiting all involved parties.

If 2011 is to be the Year of the App Store, will 2012 be the Year of the Process App?

* In researching this article I used iTunes to search the Apple App Store for iPhone and iPad; Zune for the Windows Phone; Ovi Store for Nokia Apps; Chrome App Store and Google Apps Marketplace for the web. I was unable to access many Android Apps via the Android Market site because this requires an Android handset. If anyone can suggest any other Tier 1 app stores, I’d be interested to hear about them.

** I repeated the word ‘Easily’ four times in the previous bullets deliberately – I believe that the platforms that will really succeed in this new mass market in Process App Development will probably re-think process definition usability. A great example of making the complex easy that is completely unrelated to BPM – have you ever wanted to create animated films? Too hard? Well first check out this fun animation on the topic of Quantitative Easing, and then the site that allows you to build one like it. If you have 30 minutes to spare, that’s how long it will take you to create your first film. XtraNormal has an interesting approach to monetising the service for developers, with a contractual solution for commercial film makers apparently in the pipeline.