Appian embraces work automation for Digital Transformation Platform play

For some time Appian has pitched itself as much more than a pure ‘BPM platform provider’. Its recent announcements, focused on various work automation technologies, signal that it’s now pushing further, faster.

Of course, since its inception Appian has been doing more than ‘just’ BPM. Right from the start, its platform included content and document management and enterprise collaboration tools alongside core process design and automation functionality.

Ever since, the company has marked itself out by its willingness to bring new technology options to the table. For example, it launched its cloud platform (now responsible for the lion’s share of its revenue) ten years ago. It introduced a social activity stream UI concept (Tempo) in 2012 to provide an alternative application experience for people not working ‘heads down’ on process tasks. Since then, on the UX front, it’s worked hard to support more options for customers – and it stands out in that regard. The current focus on providing better support for headless platform use cases (where the platform is essentially embedded in a broader platform or application proposition) is a continuation of this.

Now Appian is pushing to position itself as a provider of a full Digital Transformation Platform, and announcements at this week’s Appian World conference show three areas where it’s pushing to enable more automation for clients:

  • Beyond scripting for decision logic. There’s a new graphical Decision Designer, based around Decision Tables as specified in the OMG’s Decision Model and Notation (DMN) standard. Decision rules you create with the Decision Designer can be used to implement decision logic anywhere in your application designs – not just in conjunction with gateways in process models. There’s the ability to validate decision table logic, impact analysis functionality, and – as is the case with Appian’s SAIL user interface specification language – a decision performance logging and monitoring capability too.
  • Re-tooling integration to fit with data-first design. There’s a new Integration Designer that makes it much easier to connect to external systems’ data sources, introspect their structures and represent those structures within the platform. Decision rules (above) can be used as part of integration tasks, too.
  • Prediction rules. Building on AWS’ sophisticated Machine Learning service, a new optional add-on (available through the Appian App Market) provides a wizard that enables application designers to rapidly create prediction models from operational data sets, and package those as ‘prediction rules’ that can be used alongside decision rules in your applications.

These new capabilities come hot on the heels of partnership announcements with Blue Prism (RPA) and MuleSoft (hybrid integration, also recently announced a partnership with Pegasystems). These partnerships are notable because apart from Appian’s deep partnership with AWS, its historical partnering strategy has been to focus almost exclusively on building relationships with consultants and integrators that offer implementation services. They’re also both about using automation to simplify the digitisation of business processes – supporting back-office business operations as well as front-office customer interactions.

Of course, as Appian continues to promote itself as a general-purpose application platform provider rather than a process platform specifically, its competitive landscape changes.

The behemoth here is Salesforce. Appian’s new platform additions start to enable it to compete head-to-head with Salesforce, at least on a pure functionality tick-box basis – but going forward, it will need to be careful not to collide with too many others in the rush to claim Digital Transformation Platform territory.