Ultimus: Aiming to “industrialise” process digitisation

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From its initial focus on workflow, Ultimus broadened out to offer a broad process automation suite, the Ultimus Adaptive BPM Suite – and in 2016, Ultimus introduced its Composed Process Solutions (CPS) offering. The CPS platform is an application generator framework that sits atop other Ultimus products and enables trained “composers” to very rapidly build collections of workflow applications using a ‘mass customisation’ approach.

Top takeaways

Ultimus: shifting from tools provider to “factory operator”

Ultimus, Inc. was formed in 1994. Today, the company has more than 2,000 customers, and around 300 employees based in 6 continents.

From its initial focus on workflow, Ultimus broadened out to offer a broad process automation suite, the Ultimus Adaptive BPM Suite. In 2016, Ultimus introduced its Composed Process Solutions (CPS) offering: this sits atop Ultimus’ Adaptive BPM Suite and Advanced Task Service and enables trained “composers” to very rapidly build collections of workflow applications using a ‘mass customisation’ approach.

The introduction of CPS has also driven an important shift in Ultimus’ sales approach. Now, rather than selling a generic process automation platform to IT personnel, Ultimus and its partners sell targeted application propositions to business teams leaders and to CIOs charged with digital transformation. And unusually, it sells by working one-to-one with prospects to create working prototypes (‘custom demos’) based on their requirements – at no charge, within a one-week window.

Investigate Ultimus if you have varied ‘long tail’ digitisation needs

Ultimus doesn’t have the big marketing budgets associated with some of its larger competitors, but it does have over 20 years’ market experience. In that period, it has focused particularly on building a global footprint, and its multi-lingual tools make it an attractive proposition for multinational organisations and organisations outside North America and Western Europe that don’t want to compromise on localisation. Its foundation Adaptive BPM Suite has some real strengths, and lives up to the ‘Adaptive’ label.

Now, with CPS, Ultimus has an offering that should appeal to any organisation that wants to rapidly digitise families of ‘long-tail’ business processes. If you want to build such applications yourself with citizen technologists, CPS might not be a good fit; but if you are interested in having a technology-based ‘process factory’ deliver you completed applications very quickly, CPS is a compelling proposition.

Ultimus: from process automation tools provider to “factory operator”

Ultimus, Inc. was formed in 1994 as a vendor of workflow technology for the Microsoft platform (it’s a Microsoft Gold certified partner). Today, the company has more than 2,000 customers, and around 300 employees based in 6 continents. It has four major sales offices: in Europe its principal presence is near Munich, Germany.

In 2011, the company’s management bought out its venture backer and since then the company has been employee-owned. Ultimus is cash-positive and debt-free, but does not disclose revenue figures.

From its initial focus on workflow, Ultimus broadened out to offer a broad process automation suite, the Ultimus Adaptive BPM Suite. In 2016, Ultimus introduced its Composed Process Solutions (CPS) offering. The CPS platform is an application generator framework that sits atop other Ultimus products and enables trained “composers” to very rapidly build collections of workflow applications using a ‘mass customisation’ approach.

The introduction of CPS has also driven an important shift in Ultimus’ sales approach. Now, rather than selling a generic process automation platform to IT personnel, Ultimus and its partners sell targeted application propositions to business teams. And unusually, they work one-to-one with prospects to create working prototypes (‘custom demos’) based on their requirements – at no charge, within a one-week window.

Ultimus has an unusually broad and evenly-spread customer footprint: only 15% of its revenues come from each of North America and Europe, whereas 20% comes from South & Central America, and Middle East/Africa and China each contribute around 25%. The company’s strategy has always been to grow its business in relatively undeveloped territories where other process automation vendors have less presence and customers have fewer legacy technologies. One of its principal weapons here is the uncommon degree of localisation in its products: its tools are currently available in 19 languages (including Chinese and right-to-left languages like Arabic).

Inside Ultimus’ offering

Ultimus calls its overall offering its Digital Automation Platform. This has three main components:

  • Composed Process Solutions (CPS) Platform.
  • Adaptive BPM Suite.
  • Ultimus Advanced Task Service/Web Client (UATS).

We look at each of these in detail below.

Composed Process Solutions (CPS) Platform

Since its launch in 2016, the CPS Platform has become Ultimus’ principal vehicle for business development.

Importantly, the company doesn’t really sell the CPS Platform itself; rather, it sells customers applications that its professional services people (or its partners’) build for them using the platform. Applications are sold to business leaders and CIOs charged with digital transformation, rather than IT professionals and, although the company has customers with over 100,000 users, its sweet spot is generally midsized organisations.

CPS was born from the observation that a great many business processes – ranging from bank account openings to credit approvals and customer support and complaints processes – have commonalities that can be organized into a single “domain model”. This allows Ultimus to generate “families” of executable process automation applications from high-level business specifications; reducing the time, effort, and cost required to automate large numbers of processes.

Figure 1: An example SRUI layout in a CPS application

Source: Ultimus

The CPS Platform brings together five main concepts and components:

  • A Standardised Request and User Interface Service (SRUIS) framework. This is a responsive HTML5/CSS based web application framework that standardises the presentation of transactional processes. The SRUIS can render applications in all popular browsers (Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Edge) and in any one of Ultimus’ 19 supported languages (including right-to-left languages)
  • A specification language called U# and an associated CPS Editor. In line with Ultimus’ business model around CPS – where it sells applications that it (or a business partner) creates for clients, rather than selling the tools to clients for client personnel to use themselves – the design and construction approach in the CPS platform is deliberately aimed at experienced technical professionals rather than non-specialist business teams. U# is a proprietary scripting language that designers use to specify the data and behaviour associated with ‘articles’ (entities such as customer, order etc), the states that these entities can have, and the details of how transitions between states can occur. Ultimus provides “packages” of commonly used industry-, functional-, process-, and customer-specific digital assets that can be utilized by trained customers to further accelerate implementations and process change as well as control interfaces that allow business owners to modify important or frequently changing process variables.
  • An application interpreter that takes U# solution specifications and the SRUIS framework to generate responsive mobile-ready web applications on the fly and serve it to users.
  • The Ultimus Adaptive BPM Suite (see below) which provides the process definition and execution services used in the specification and operation of the workflows that operate ‘behind the scenes’ in a CPS application.
  • The Ultimus Adaptive Task Service/Web Client (see below).

Adaptive BPM Suite

The Ultimus Adaptive BPM Suite, currently on version 2017 (the fifth release of its V8 architecture), offers most of the broad categories of capability that are commonly associated with BPM Suites – namely graphical process design tools, a process runtime engine, a set of integration connectors, and a performance reporting environment. In addition, there’s some good simulation functionality.

Customers can model processes using Ultimus’ own Process Designer, or alternatively can use Microsoft Visio and import models via XML. Ultimus uses its own notation and model for process design, arguing that there are good reasons for this: firstly, it aims to make process design as simple and intuitive as possible for customers; secondly, BPMN is too complex and lacks the level of exception handling needed in real life business cases; and lastly, Ultimus’ runtime architecture allows for some dynamic and adaptive behaviours that BPMN doesn’t support (these are explained below).

There are some important features of the Adaptive BPM Suite that particularly stand out:

  • ‘Real-time Optimisation’. It’s straightforward to extract historical operational data from the BAM (Business Activity Monitoring) data warehouse and use it within the Process Designer environment as a source for ‘what-if’ performance analysis and simulation.
  • ‘Open BAM’. Ultimus has made it easy to use third-party BI and data visualisation tools to report on process performance data, via an open data provider. In addition, the platform provides a .NET interface for external event collection, that makes it quite straightforward to pull operational performance data from external systems into the Ultimus process performance data warehouse that underpins the BAM component of the Adaptive BPM Suite – so you can use the BAM component to analyse not only process elements ‘under management’ within the Ultimus environment, but also elements of related processes.
  • One-click deployment with versioning. Processes developed in the Process Designer can be published to a runtime host very easily; you just choose the destination server from a list. All related artefacts are packaged and deployed seamlessly. On publication, if the process you’re deploying is a changed version of a prior deployed process, you can decide whether you want to upgrade the existing process (which changes all existing process instances in-flight); or deploy a new version (in which case existing instances are left unchanged, but new instances use the new version). What’s more, all previous process versions are by default stored in a process repository; it’s straightforward to re-deploy older versions if required.

Last, but certainly not least, it’s important to highlight Ultimus’ adaptive, dynamic process execution capabilities. In Ultimus’ case, the presence of the word ‘adaptive’ in the name of its chief product isn’t marketing flannel. Unusually, with the Adaptive BPM Suite, it’s possible to specify process models that are incomplete – i.e. they include definitions of tasks that have no inputs and/or outputs specified – and deploy them to the runtime platform. When instances of these processes reach a point in their execution where there’s an undefined action, an alert is sent to an appropriate individual (usually an analyst or manager) with a link to a tool called the Rules Director.

That individual will use the Rules Director to specify a rule ‘on the fly’ that resolves the next action for the process instance in question, and from that point, the instance proceeds according to the rule just set. When other instances of that process execute, if the conditions of that rule apply, then the rule is used to specify the next action; otherwise, the Rules Director is used again to specify a new appropriate rule – and so on and so on. The Rules Director can also be used at any time to add, modify, or delete existing rules; administrators don’t have to wait to be prompted to make changes. What this all means is that using Rules Director, segments of a process that can’t easily be defined at design time can be ‘discovered’ as the process unfolds in real-world scenarios – the process adapts in an evolutionary manner as the people executing it uncover different kinds of requirement.

Web Client / UATS

For clients with high transaction volume, multiple processes, and large user populations, Ultimus offers its Ultimus Advanced Task Service/Web Client (UATS).

The Ultimus WebClient is a straightforward web application server tightly integrated with CPS forms to provide a portal workspace and unified task list/inbox functionality for end users.

The UATS also acts as an intermediary between one or more runtime BPM Server instances and one or more WebClient server instances. By caching application data from BPM Server instances and streaming it to one or more WebClient servers, and by supporting Network Load Balancing (NLB) schemes, UATS enables applications to scale to tens or hundreds of thousands of users. The technology is particularly useful in situations where customers want to open up process applications to large external user populations.

Deployment options

Ultimus offers a range of deployment options ranging from traditional on-premise to cloud-hosted (AWS, Microsoft Azure, and IBM/Softlayer) and fully outsourced, hosted deployments. Similar options are offered by Ultimus partners.

Packaging and pricing

Ultimus charges customers on by-the-application basis, rather than charging for its three platform technologies (CPS, Adaptive Suite, UATS) plus implementation services. This enables customers to install and work with a significant technical infrastructure without incurring a prohibitive upfront cost; charges are only applied when applications are deployed.

Ultimus offers both perpetual solution licenses (with various technology and solution support options) as well as monthly subscription-based licenses that are with bundled with technology support and defined solution support services. Pricing varies depending on a number of factors but the typical cost per process (including related sub-processes) ranges, in the case of a perpetual license, from $20K to $500K plus 20%-30% annually for support to, in the subscription scenario, $5K to $300K annually.

Recommendation

Ultimus doesn’t have the big marketing budgets associated with some of its larger competitors, but it does have over 20 years’ market experience. In that period, it has focused particularly on building a global footprint, and its multi-lingual tools make it an attractive proposition for organisations operating in multiple regions as well as those outside North America and Western Europe that don’t want to compromise on localisation. Its foundation Adaptive BPM Suite has some real strengths, and lives up to the ‘Adaptive’ label.

Now, with CPS, Ultimus has an offering that should appeal to any organisation that wants to rapidly digitise families of ‘long-tail’ business processes. If you want to build such applications yourself CPS might not be a good fit; but if you are interested in having a ‘process factory’ deliver you completed applications very quickly, CPS is a compelling proposition.

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