Process Application Platforms 2016: Appian
This report assesses the capabilities of Appian’s Process Application Platform, and also examines the partners and intellectual property that Appian can offer customers exploring associated technology implementations. This assessment report forms part of a series of reports from MWD Advisors which assesses business process application technology offerings – technology-related capabilities which support organisations wanting to design, develop, deploy, monitor and optimise partially- or wholly-automated business processes.
We strongly encourage you to read this report in conjunction with our accompanying Assessment Framework report at https://www.mwdadvisors.com/2016/10/25/process-application-platforms/
Appian continues to innovate with its Appian Platform. The Appian Platform has always been about much more than delivering core process application functionality (with bundled collaboration, content and document management tools and portal technology); this trend continues with the ongoing enrichment of Records and associated reporting functionality that bring business data into the platform as a first-class concern. Appian’s ambition is to deliver a platform for (in its words) agile digital business transformation; it’s certainly able to demonstrate impressive customer cases to support this. The continuing growth of the Appian App Market further supports this ambition, as does its cloud credentials: the vast majority of new customers work in the cloud not only for development, but also for application deployment.
Support for different types of work
Automated work: All the key capabilities required to support automated work scenarios well are provided by the Appian platform. The ability to chain tasks is particularly helpful in certain situations, and the breadth of Smart Services for integration is also good.
Transactional work: The ability to define and take advantage of sophisticated organisational models is at the heart of Appian’s strong support for transactional work scenarios. An innovative approach to specifying dynamic user interfaces that ensures cross-platform compatibility is another really strong point.
Exploratory work: With its Records and collaboration functionality Appian has all the foundational capabilities needed for supporting exploratory work scenarios in its platform. A Case Management Framework available through the App Market further improves the offering here.
Rapid prototyping / quick-start
Appian’s recently-introduced Quick Apps facility enables relatively non-technical people create relatively simple Records- and collaboration-based applications very quickly indeed. The output from Quick Apps is standard Appian models and objects, so your work can be further refined using the standard Appian tools.
The Appian Platform helps you deliver change quickly, with control. All design artefacts are managed under version control provided within the Appian environment, rather than being scattered around as individual source files. In operation there’s real flexibility and control in how process revisions are managed and deployed, and a common repository is a key element supporting operational change management. There’s direct support for large multi-project programs too, and support for automated testing is a key strength.
User experience options
Appian has focused significant development effort on increasing choice for customers in how they deliver user experiences for Appian applications; there are now two options (server APIs and Embedded SAIL) for those wanting to build their own interfaces, as well as high-productivity, cross-platform options (Tempo and Sites) for those happy to use Appian’s own UI frameworks.
There’s no doubt that for Appian, its cloud platform is the strategic focus. It makes significant ongoing investment in maintaining security and regulatory compliance certifications and now has much experience in running a true cloud service. Appian still offers on-premise licensing, but promotes this less and less.
Inside Appian’s platform
Appian’s offering provides a functionally broad, well-integrated suite going well beyond the typical capabilities provided in support of BPM projects, together with the ability to complement its products with short-term implementation assistance to customers and partners. At the time of publication the Appian platform is on version 16.3 (Appian names its releases after calendar years and quarters).
Appian was the first Process Application Platform provider to make a deep commitment to the delivery of cloud services, launching in 2007. The company delivers complete functional parity between cloud-based and on-premise licensing variants, with all tools browser-based; a significant majority of Appian’s new customers choose to use the Appian platform in the cloud.
The public Appian App Market, launched in October 2015, is designed to complement Appian deployments in the cloud. Customers using Appian can easily search for, select, download and deploy Appian or partner-built application components and can discover application frameworks offered by Appian partners.
Key tools and capabilities
The main elements of the Appian Platform are as follows:
- Process Modeler. The main design environment within Appian’s offering, which you use to specify process models, organisational models, events, rules, data integrations and other process application artefacts and package them into process applications.
- Application Designer. A tool that helps designers quickly assemble and package Appian process applications from Appian’s repository, with traceability of component and application change dependencies. The Application Designer also handles the migration of applications from one environment to another via an Import/Export utility.
- SAIL Interface Designer. A drag-and-drop design tool for creating and optimising responsive, cross-platform, highly dynamic user interfaces using Appian’s SAIL technology (which ensures cross-platform and form factor consistency with HTML-based interfaces).
- Records and Reporting. A structured data management layer, with associated tools, that enables applications to read, write, manage and report on enterprise data from multiple disparate sources.
- BAM. A process monitoring console that allows users and administrators to track low-level performance of activities, and view process status and performance at the level of individual process instances.
- Process Analytics. A separate analytics engine that aggregates performance information across process instances and presents performance trending information that can be summarised according to processes, users, groups, and so on.
- Document Manager. A secure, web-based document repository with good search, classification and management facilities. Appian Document Manager is a full document management environment, with documents being able to be managed either outside or inside of Appian processes.
- Social Collaboration. Appian’s Tempo social interface extends process visibility and combines real-time collaboration, filtered views of key business events and reports, and tasks and actions into a single interface. Comments, questions, status updates and ‘kudos’ can be shared securely with role-based permissions.
- App Market. A growing marketplace offering a range of prebuilt scenario- and industry-focused components and frameworks.
User experience options
The set of features that maximises the scope and scale of involvement in process applications are one of Appian’s strongest points. Appian now offers five main options for you to employ:
- Tempo, a web-based social interface that’s organised around the now-familiar ‘activity stream’ concept. Tempo integrates events from Appian applications, dashboards and external applications together with conversations between work participants – and also weaves in actionable alerts for targeted individuals who need to perform tasks.
- Sites, a responsive HTML5-based UI framework for presenting custom role-based web user experiences for Appian applications.
- Embedded SAIL, which makes it straightforward to embed Appian forms and other UI elements in externally developed or third-party web-based user experiences.
- Native apps for iOS and Android devices.
- REST-based web APIs, that enable application designers to create custom APIs that external applications and user experiences can call to get and set data relating to business process, rule and report execution, and read and write Records data.
Appian has offered a hosted version of its platform since 2007, and for the last few years its cloud platform has led the way in popularity. In 2016 the vast majority of new licenses for Appian are for the cloud version of the platform. Today Appian licenses for both cloud-based and on-premises deployment in exactly the same fashion – via term licensing, based on per-user-per-month pricing.
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