AuraPortal: A quiet but comprehensive process application platform contender

Process Application Platform vendor AuraPortal may not have the market presence of many of its competitors, but it has a significant customer base, particularly in Latin America. Its technology offers organisations with Microsoft-centric environments a very high degree of configurability, over a very broad range of functionality.

Top takeaways

Under the radar, but an established platform

AuraPortal may not have the market visibility of many of its process application platform competitors, but a 15+ year heritage and around 300 active customers means it knows how to deliver sustainable customer value.

Configuration over coding – to the max

AuraPortal’s platform is uncommon in the degree to which you use metadata- and wizard-driven configuration to specify applications. Even sophisticated, dynamic application behaviours can be implemented without resorting to scripting or coding.

Even when taking advantage of the optional add-on modules available – which extend the core platform to provide business rules, deeper analytics and more – you’ll use the same integrated Dictionary metadata-driven approach to design your applications.

To embrace AuraPortal you’ll need to be comfortable with a .NET environment and AuraPortal’s architecture, which uses relational databases to store application specifications as well as runtime application state.

Introducing AuraPortal

AuraPortal was founded in 2001 in Valencia, Spain. The company has around 300 active customers in 40 countries, and has around 200 staff working in offices in the USA, Colombia, Spain, the UK and Dubai. It’s a private company, but does claim to be consistently profitable. It claims to have around 3.5 million users of its platform worldwide.

AuraPortal has been most successful to date selling its product across Latin American countries, in a variety of sectors – seeing particular success in financial services, retail and government sectors. It also has some customer clusters across Spain and other parts of Europe (including UK).

AuraPortal’s product is the AuraPortal Platform – a comprehensive application platform based around a core of BPM functionality. The company’s business model is focused primarily on selling licenses to the AuraPortal Platform; it works primarily through a network of partners to implement the platform for customers. The current version, AuraPortal Helium, was released in 2014. As well as its broad platform, the company also offers a free BPMN modelling tool, AuraPortal Modeler, on PC and Mac platforms.

There’s a lot of flexibility in the available AuraPortal Platform licensing options. There are named-user and concurrent-user licensing schemes; a choice of perpetual licensing or annual renewable rental; and a number of cloud options. AuraPortal is offered as a hosted, managed service on both AWS and Microsoft Azure, with each customer receiving their own private instance; or customers can use existing product licenses to run AuraPortal in the cloud, if they have them – the company estimates that around 50% of its customers use AuraPortal technology hosted on a cloud platform.

Inside the AuraPortal offering

The AuraPortal platform brings together a very broad range of functionality to help organisations co-ordinate their work and share their knowledge. ‘Classic’ BPM platform functionality is a big part of what the platform offers – namely graphical process design and related modelling tools, a process runtime engine, a set of integration connectors, a process portal used by process participants and administrators within which to manage work, and a performance reporting and analytics environment.

What sets AuraPortal apart is the degree to which your process applications are created through configuration, not coding – almost every functional aspect of the platform is enlisted through the use of wizards and configuration tables and forms. Moreover, AuraPortal also offers a number of complementary capabilities that you can license alongside the core platform if you want – and these extensions are also highly configuration-driven, built off the same metadata repository.

Core BPM modules

Looking a bit more deeply, the ‘Core BPM’ version of the AuraPortal platform, which is built using Microsoft’s .NET platform technologies, has nine main modules that you use to build, deploy and manage your process applications:

  • Processes, responsible for business process application definition, process simulation and process application execution. Business processes that you define in BPMN are executed by the ‘Process Motor’ engine – which is also responsible for allocating human tasks to users.
  • Intranet / Extranet – a process application access and presentation layer that supports interactions with employees, external partners and anonymous guests (through web portals).
  • Document management. AuraPortal allows you to use Microsoft SharePoint for storing and managing documents; or its own AuraPortal File System; or a combination of both. The Document Management module supports document versioning, change control, searching, digital signatures, template-based document generation and more.
  • Data management and Analysis. Under the covers, AuraPortal uses Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS); so if you want, you can use any compatible third-party reporting and analysis tools to explore operational AuraPortal process and application data.
  • Connectivity. This module bundles together a variety of application and data integration technology options. There’s an ODBC-based data importer service; an Adapter Server for managing ODBC-based data connections and presenting Web Services interfaces for data operations; support for SOAP Web Services connectivity to external resources from your AuraPortal applications; support for the execution of SQL Server Stored Procedures; and (for inbound connectivity) a comprehensive Web Services-based AuraPortal server API.
  • Content Management and Online Commerce. This module provides a web content management (WCM) system that can be used to drive public-facing websites and intranets. Just as for the Document Management system, there are rich facilities for managing the lifecycles of every piece of web content you create. If you wish, you can extend the Content Management capability with online shopping cart and payment gateway functionality.
  • Multi-language. This module enables an AuraPortal installation, which is available in 10 languages, to be used to design, manage and deliver your process applications in multiple languages at once (so, for example, some of your users can see their applications in French, some in Spanish, and some in English).
  • Twin installations. With this module, customers can run parallel testing and production installations of AuraPortal. It’s designed to make it easy for customers to test new operating system and AuraPortal platform updates, and their potential impacts on the functioning of the AuraPortal platform.
  • UGAC (User Gateway for the Addition of Code). This module allows customers to write add-ons to the AuraPortal platform and integrate them safely.

AuraPortal’s design tools (with the exception of one of the Modeler variants available, which is based on Microsoft Visio) are all browser-based, and work across modern browsers. As mentioned above the Modeler supports BPMN (with some extensions, most notably in the definition of ‘control points’, which are used to specify monitoring intervals where KPIs are sampled); it includes model validation functionality, too. There are also two process simulation modes offered: statistical (in which you define statistical approximations to drive simulation data) and ‘real’ (in which you import real operational data from your process applications to use in new simulations).

By default, the application user interfaces you create with the AuraPortal Platform revolve around the familiar combination of task inboxes and task forms. The form editor provided enables you to design dynamic task forms that respond to data entered and/or business rule calculation results – showing or hiding form sections, pages, and field groups. There’s also the ability to completely tailor the ways that task forms, inboxes and other UI elements will be presented based on individuals’ roles and identities. Dynamic forms are rendered using HTML and Javascript.

If your application user interface needs are more nuanced, then you can use the AuraPortal API to build your own custom application front-ends if you wish. The majority of AuraPortal customers choose this route, building their own customised UIs rather than using the out-of-the-box web-based UIs.

The ‘Process Motor’ engine is a stateless server application that interprets your application definitions from a comprehensive ‘Dictionary’ of application metadata that’s created from your use of the AuraPortal design tools, and stored in a SQL Server database; application state is also stored here. By clustering database servers and replicating IIS-based Process Motor servers, it’s possible to support large application concurrent-user populations. Process versioning is supported in the runtime environment.

When it comes to monitoring and optimisation, a combination of tools are part of the Core BPM product. Naturally there’s a Business Activity Monitoring (BAM) facility, presenting near real-time activity overviews via a web-based dashboard. What’s particularly valuable here is an in-depth, interactive audit trail that can show administrators every detailed action that was taken at every step of a particular process instance – for example it’s possible to see graphically the individual forms and data fields that were accessed and modified, and by whom, in the execution of any given activity.

There’s also a broader BI facility, which enables you to quickly build graphs and dashboards that historically report on more business-focused metrics gathered through your process applications (for example average contract value as it varies over time). Any of the metadata stored in an AuraPortal Dictionary can be used as dimensions in reports and graphs; meaning that you have a very high degree of flexibility in the analyses you can perform. The same role-based access control mechanism that can be used to drive ‘operational’ application user interface personalisation is also used to control access to reporting and analytics functionality, and individuals can create their own ‘private’ reports and queries if they want.

The AuraPortal tools and platform are available in 10 languages: English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Dutch, Romanian, Italian, Arabic, Chinese, Catalan and Basque.

Optional platform modules

In addition, customers can license as needed from a set of four optional platform capabilities:

  • Business rules. In the AuraPortal platform, business rules can be applied across and between multiple applications – you’re not constrained to referencing them in workflow decision gateways. Indeed there are two types of rules you can define: textual rules are akin to operating procedure descriptions and are used to present guidance to users as they work on tasks; mechanical rules are automated, and are defined through decision tables or simple calculation expressions.
  • Three synchronised environments. This optional module enables you to use AuraPortal across sophisticated staged operating environments – where you want to provide distinct environments for development, testing and production.
  • External Users Workflow. This module allows external application users to send tasks to each other, rather than having to pass process control and data via an employee account.
  • Deep Business Intelligence. This add-on provides more interactive analytics options for non-technical users, as well as making it easy for customers to use Microsoft Power BI against an AuraPortal platform installation. There’s also a more sophisticated BAM capability called TAO Universal Watcher that allows supervisors to explore operational business as well as system data across a set of running AuraPortal process instances in real-time.

Recommendation: consider AuraPortal, particularly if your needs go beyond core BPM and your budget is modest

The AuraPortal offering stands apart from competitive offerings in four specific ways:

  • Firstly, the extent to which you create process applications using a metadata- and wizard-based approach – rather than scripting or coding – is highly unusual, and affords extraordinary levels of functionality customisation.
  • Secondly, the breadth of the platform’s functionality – particularly when you consider the scope of the optional modules available – stands out, particularly when you also consider its support for multi-language application installations.
  • Underpinning both of these things is the platform’s underlying architecture, which is based on the notion of a single, multi-faceted ‘Dictionary’ of metadata definitions that govern every aspect of how your applications will operate – from processes and rules to organisational models, data definitions, form definitions, role-based access control, language definitions, and more.
  • Lastly there’s the matter of licensing flexibility and pricing, which we understand makes AuraPortal’s technology affordable for businesses that may otherwise not be able to afford a sophisticated business process application platform.

AuraPortal’s approach might not be for everyone, though. The richness of the wizards and tools on offer does make for a significant learning curve, and will require you to develop or enlist proprietary skills that will not be transferable to other systems or platforms. What’s more, AuraPortal’s design tools themselves lack some of the modern user experience sophistication some other vendors have pursued strongly.

AuraPortal’s offering is definitely worthy of consideration if your business scenario dictates that you go beyond common ‘core BPM’ functionality, and will be particularly interesting if your organisation size or budget makes it difficult for you to make the case for other sophisticated process application platform options.

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