Smart Process Apps

So I missed the document last year from Forrester titled “Smart Process Applications Fill A Big Business Gap” but I have just read the Forrester Wave for Smart Process Apps. My overriding impression is one of the creation of another solution paradigm to confuse an already crowded marketplace. It is not that long ago that I blogged about the difference between ACM and DCM, just over two years to be precise, and the interesting thing is that the technology world in this space has evolved a little during that time but there certainly has not been change enough to warrant the creation of yet another term. I will go back to the document from August 2012 which passed me by but some of the content is reproduced in the Wave and I want to focus on the Key Attributes of a Smart Process App:

1. Imported or embedded awareness of data relevant to the business activity. So what we are saying here is that there must be data associated with the business activity which is captured at some stage of the business process, right? Anything new here?

2. Document capture, document output, and document management. So these are the basic capture, manage and output stages of Document Management.

3. Embedded analytical tools designed for the business activity. So this will provide the reporting and data analytics on the specific business activity which has been created.

4. A collaboration platform for people to create content needed for the activity. An interesting pattern here as it deviates a little from the first three which are slightly more prescriptive. This is much less predictable and much more aligned with the Adaptive Case Management pattern which I have previously described. A good example of a solution incorporating a collaboration platform could be Grants Management where the Grant application would be subjected to a number of reviews where the reviewers provide a number of comments and share opinions on the Grant application.

5. BPM tools for executing the steps involved in the activity. This would involve classic BPM including workflow, tasking and potentially a rules engine.

I look back at the posts on ACM and DCM, which were already addressing a confused market and review the features above and there is very little difference. In fact some of the products which address the DCM or ACM market will be the same for the Smart Process Apps, typically the likes of EMC, OpenText, Kofax and IBM.

One of the comments in a previous post was:

My advice, don’t implement based on the label. Understand what you’re trying to achieve and assess the solutions and options which are available to you. Its not rocket science!

I don’t see any difference here. You need to understand the core business and technical capabilities which you need to address and evaluate the products which can help you achieve those. It is true that it is not rocket science but the sheer number of players in this space means it is getting harder as there is convergence. Two years ago we would not have been comparing Salesforce.com and EMC as players in this space but the products are moving closer. The one thing I would recommend, and it is something I will comment on more, is the growth of already built applications or accelerators within the products. Companies such as IBM and EMC are adding an increasing number of solutions to their portfolio, addressing problem domains in multiple industries such as Life Sciences and Energy and Utilities. These solutions provide much more predictable results for customers and the solution providers themselves.

So while there is a lot in the report which is confusing and repeated from previous reports there is an underlying message which is important and which is driving change in this area of technology. Solutions and Solution Accelerators are increasing, call them Case Management or Smart Process Apps, and there is an increasing amount of choice in the market. Ultimately this can only be a good thing for consumers and we should see an increase in successful projects based on these technologies as a result.

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So Who Buys Case Management Anyway?

If there is one term which is creating a buzz in the ECM world, not to mention the BPM world as well, it is Case Management. Lots of different flavours of it, Adaptive Case Management, Advanced Case Management etc…. EMC and IBM are putting their weight behind it as their strategy for the next few years as well as other organisations such as Nuxeo.

So lets go sell and implement Case Management. Who wants to buy one?

Try and get some time with someone from a Financial Services organisation or a Utility company to discuss Case Management and you’re likely to get short shrift. You’ve got an inkling of a chance in places like Legal Firms or in Public Sector, but still the conversation will be short if you’re not willing to talk specifics.

Case Management is not a solution, they tend to be frameworks or platforms upon which solutions can be built. The accelerators (xCelerators in EMC world) tend to lift the platform nearer to business solutions but they still tend to fall short of being the final business solution. So the questions is who will buy one of these frameworks? I cannot see the majority of end users buying such a framework, there is little in the way of ROI which can be identified to justify such a purchase, unless they have the in house capability, and appetite, to take on the establishment and exploitation of such a platform.

Therefore it suggests that the target market for the sale is in fact the implementers, those companies that can build the business solutions on top of these platforms and then sell these on to the end customers. One could argue that this is not too different from previous models for ECM and BPM but I would argue that the increased focus on delivering value in these times of austerity has meant a further move in this direction. The days of selling the platform and then building the solutions are gone; we are now in a time when the first solution to be built on the platform is the one which needs to drive ROI, further exploitation is a nice to have and will no doubt be considered as a factor but if you can deliver a solution and deliver that ROI then you are in pole position.

This is an interesting movement though as it does place more emphasis on the implementers to invest in business solutions, perhaps more so than before. I know of a number of organisations who are going through with this, would be interested to hear if there is an evidence of this model being adopted? Alternatively are you an end user who is looking at evaluating the Case Management platforms which exist? How much time do you spend looking at the platform or is it the solution you buy?

Another interesting consideration from this is the ability of organisations to exploit that platform once the first solution has been deployed. It is possible that the first solution to be deployed on that platform could be architected in such a way which makes it difficult for future solutions to cohabit. Now that may not be good practice but if the customer is buying a solution and not a platform then it should only be expected.

I have said before that it must be easier for ECM solutions to demonstrate business value and this move to solutions will achieve that but it will require some consideration from those involved in the implementation as to whether this is a one off solution or whether this is step 1 in a longer journey.