Process Application Platforms 2017: Bizagi

RESEARCH REPORT // FREE
 
This report assesses the capabilities of Bizagi’s Process Application Platform, and also examines the partners and intellectual property that Bizagi 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.

Summary

With its version 11 releases, Bizagi positions its technology as providing a Digital Business Platform. Together with a new set of cloud-based services, Bizagi’s freemium model, open APIs, support for ‘citizen developers’ (through Live Processes), machine learning tools and flexible user experience options all support this position well. Bizagi’s Experience Designer and Sites capability extend the value of the platform’s already strong support for model-driven organisation and information management, and showcase the flexibility of what’s possible in support of exploratory work patterns (rather than heads-down task work).

Support for different types of work

Automated work: Error-handling, transactional control, rules specification and application integration facilities (with assistance from the platform’s data integration architecture) are all very solid in Bizagi’s platform, and the result is an offering that will support your automated work scenarios well.

Transactional work: Transactional work scenarios are the sweet spot for Bizagi’s platform, without a doubt. Bizagi’s main strong points here – beyond the capabilities also required to support automated work – are strong organisational modeling and model-driven form specification.

Exploratory work: Bizagi delivers all the foundational capabilities you need to support exploratory work scenarios in its platform. As yet it doesn’t promote an explicit ‘Case Management’ framework, but this is something that Bizagi is currently working on.

Rapid prototyping / quick-start

Bizagi doesn’t currently offer any specific application generation tools for rapid prototyping, but it does offer (via Bizagi Cloud) a new Live Processes capability – where a visual process designer is used to create simple process applications and deploy them for use immediately. It also offers clients a range of pre-built process application templates (processes, data, form and rule definitions) that they can use prior to commercial licensing for up to 20 development and test users.

Change management

The Bizagi platform provides a solid change management foundation for both process modelling and process application delivery initiatives, with some standout features. Team working facilities are good; there’s solid versioning and check-in/out functionality, and a simple-to-use change impact analysis tool is something Bizagi provides that’s not often found in today’s Process Application Platform marketplace. Features to aid application deployment are solid, but could be improved.

User experience options

Bizagi has long offered real depth in the user experience options you have at your disposal. Its Experience Designer opens up a more flexible user experience frontier for Bizagi project teams by making it easy to create data application-oriented (rather than task-oriented) interfaces, and the new Sites capability makes it possible to deliver standalone, responsive, role-based web applications that embed Bizagi application UI elements.

Deployment options

For automation projects, Bizagi offers an Azure-based PaaS option alongside on-premise delivery, now available from over 30 data centres worldwide. A set of cloud-based tools to foster collaboration amongst groups of Modeler users is also delivered via Azure.

Inside Bizagi’s platform

Bizagi’s Process Application Platform offering, the Bizagi Digital Business Platform, is at version 11.1. It’s a tightly-integrated, in-house developed suite of tools; Bizagi has not assembled any of its offering from acquisitions. A free standalone Modeler tool – downloaded worldwide more than 2.5m times – is also available as part of the full suite, and complemented by a set of cloud-based modelling collaboration services.

Key tools and capabilities

The Bizagi Digital Business Platform comprises the following principal elements:

  • Bizagi Modeler. This is a Windows-based business process modeling and simulation tool, now on version 3.1 and available as a standalone free product as well as being part of the wider Bizagi Digital Business Platform. It implements the BPMN 2.0 modelling and notation standard faithfully. It’s aimed at business analysts rather than developers.
  • Bizagi Modeler Collaboration Services. This offering provides facilities to help individual Modeler users, or groups of users, manage their process models more effectively. A Personal service tier provides for cloud-based model storage; Workgroup and Enterprise service tiers enhance the management capabilities on offer.
  • Bizagi Studio. This is a Windows-based business process application development toolset. It extends the modelling functionality available in Modeler to also enable developers to specify complete business process applications – based on information models, organisational models, forms and other UI elements, external systems integration definitions and more. Models specified in Modeler can be easily imported into Bizagi Studio for elaboration.
  • Bizagi Engine. This provides the execution environment for your business process application definitions; unusually in the process application platform technology marketplace, it’s available in both Java and .NET versions. Application definitions are stored in a relational database and interpreted by the server at runtime.
  • Bizagi Cloud. This Azure-hosted PaaS provides a cloud-based, fully-managed runtime environment for applications defined in Studio.
  • Work Portal. This is a web-based user environment for process participants and administrators, delivered by the BPM Server. It also provides the front end for Bizagi’s Business Activity Monitoring (BAM) and historical process analytics functionality.

User experience options

With Bizagi’s Process Application Platform you have six different options available to you regarding the creation of user experiences for your applications:

  • The HTML5-based, responsive Work Portal – this is the default environment that user interfaces you create with Bizagi’s tools will be delivered within. The new Theme Designer allows you very quickly customise the ‘skin’ of the Work Portal to add your own fonts, colours, icons and logos, and so on.
  • Delivery of key Bizagi user interface widgets (such as the default task inbox) as SharePoint Web Parts.
  • Delivery of those same key Bizagi user interface widgets as HTML-based web parts, for embedding into custom websites or third-party web frameworks or portals.
  • Sites – currently available with Bizagi Cloud only. Here you can design standalone, responsive, role-based web applications that embed process application form elements, controls and reports that can be dynamically configured and presented using rules.
  • A rich set of APIs that enable you to create completely custom user interfaces for your applications and pull Bizagi data and functionality into those.
  • Native mobile applications for iOS and Android smartphones and tablets.

Deployment options

Bizagi Cloud, the company’s PaaS offering, sees Bizagi hosting its Engine on Microsoft’s Azure platform, and available from over 30 data centres across North America, South America, Europe, Asia and Australia. This is a fully managed service, and each customer is provided a private, isolated instance that can host as many environments (for example, development, test, staging and production) as desired. There’s a usage-based annual subscription license configured to your choice of Basic, Standard and Premium performance levels (pricing scaled accordingly).

As well as hosting its core platform, Bizagi also provides a set of Modeler Collaboration Services on Azure (see Mapping, modelling and application design below for more detail).

The process applications you create using Bizagi Studio are 100% portable between instances of Bizagi’s on-premises Engine and its Bizagi Cloud PaaS offering. However, Bizagi is currently debuting new platform capabilities (Machine Learning, Sites, Datasets, Live Processes) on its Cloud PaaS only – which means that applications you create and deploy specifically for Bizagi Cloud may not run on-premises.

Using the products: core capabilities

Rapid prototyping / quick-start

Bizagi doesn’t currently offer any specific application generation tools for rapid prototyping, but it does offer (via Bizagi Cloud) a new Live Processes capability within Work Portal. Here, authorised application users can use the provided visual process designer to create simple business process models (compliant to a stripped-down BPMN), specify work performers, simple data models and simple form layouts, then deploy them for use immediately without having to use Studio.

Separately, Bizagi also offers clients a range of pre-built process templates on the Bizagi Process eXchange (see http://www.bizagi.com/en/community/process-xchange). Furthermore it allows clients to use its tools as well as these templates for development and test purposes, for up to 20 users, at no charge.

Mapping, modeling and application design

In your work with Bizagi’s Process Application Platform you’ll likely use two different tools for different aspects of mapping, implementation modeling and design: Bizagi Modeler (optionally sharing and managing models via Modeler Collaboration Services) and Bizagi Studio.

Processes

Both Modeler and Studio enable you to define processes using all the standard BPMN 2.0 constructs (swimlanes, activities, gateways, timers, events, exceptions, and so on); however Modeler is primarily used by teams for documenting requirements, which are then elaborated into full process application definitions in Studio. Modeler also includes solid process simulation capabilities (by embedding specialised technology from Lanner Group).

When it comes to defining KPIs and thresholds for processes, you use specify durations for specific activities or entire processes; or you define timers that embrace sequences of activities. Both Process Modeler and Studio provide a helpful BPMN validation function to help ensure you create logically consistent and complete process models.

Modeler users now have the option to store, share and manage process models in the cloud via Modeler Collaboration Services. Bizagi offers three service tiers here:

  • The Personal service tier allows an individual Modeler user to save models online.
  • The Workgroup service tier creates a shared repository of models and associated documents, and provides for permissioned access to edit (by downloading to Modeler) or comment on diagrams in a cloud-based viewer (where an activity stream shows a summary of all comments on a given diagram). There’s check-in/out at the diagram level to prevent editing collisions, too.
  • The Enterprise service tier enables teams to use an enterprise single sign-on method to integrate with corporate identity management services. There’s the ability to store diagrams in draft or published states, and also the ability to define actors (individually or by role) for individual process activities, together with the ability for individual users to see and explore the process models that they’re directly involved in (a “my processes” view). Lastly, there’s a web-based visual Value Chain Diagram editor that enables teams to provide high-level business architecture context to their process models, with drill-down links to process model groupings.

Data

Data modeling plays a prominent role in design work in the Bizagi approach – and in recent technology releases, a ‘stakeholder’ user experience concept and Experience Designer bring this data-centric application design approach to the fore (see below).

Relational data models describing entities and relationships of various kinds are central to your process applications. They provide a distinct, separate place where you define the information that your applications will use. There are four kinds of entities you can define:

  • Master entities define state data that may be managed by your application itself
  • Parameter entities define application-managed reference data
  • Virtual entities define state data that is managed externally by other databases or applications
  • Replicated entities define reference data that’s managed extermally.

Rules, expressions, forms, reports and dashboards in your applications all store and reference their data through this layer; this has the significant advantage of keeping a lot of data management logic detail out of your process models, forms and so on. What’s more, when it comes to defining business logic that is context-sensitive based on the state of running process instances, you use rules and expressions that query the runtime state of your process application and its environment through this same data management layer.

A new Datasets capability (currently available in Bizagi Cloud only) gives you the ability to create denormalised datasets from process data models, and use these to drive third-party BI tools (see Monitoring and Improvement below) and/or Machine Learning models (see Rules below).

Rules

With Bizagi, definition of prescriptive business rules is carried out through a tool integrated into the overall Studio. Rules can be defined using expressions, written in a Javascript-like language and making extensive use of Xpath; or you can define them using decision tables or decision trees. Rules are defines and stored as standalone artefacts in your repository; they can be stored at the level of applications, rather than being tightly coupled to individual process or task definitions, which makes them easily reusable. The expression editor allows expressions to reference not only process variables, but also environmental information and configuration metadata surfaced by the Bizagi runtime platform.

A new Machine Learning capability, currently available only on Bizagi Cloud, gives you a web-based, graphical Machine Learning model design tool you can use to create predictive models that you can reuse within your applications. You design processing pipelines (‘experiments’), wiring together and configuring data sources (that can include Bizagi Datasets containing process data, as described above, and/or externally sourced training data); data preparation steps (including data cleaning and joining Datasets); analytics algorithms (including decision trees, linear classifier, multiple linear regression and logistic regression) and model training and evaluation steps. The design tool also enables you to test your models without integrating them into Bizagi applications. Models you create, validate and publish are then accessed via RESTful services, and can be referenced anywhere within a Bizagi application via a simple AI Experiment Connector.

Integration

Integration of your process applications with external systems, applications and data sources can be accomplished in two ways:

  • Firstly, where you have relational data-level access to external systems or where you can make the case for building custom data providers, you can define interactions with external systems via Bizagi’s virtual and replicated entities.
  • Secondly, you can easily connect to existing SOAP or REST based external APIs (Studio provides a web-services definition wizard and a generic Web Services connector); and have external systems invoke Bizagi runtime services through its own APIs (every Bizagi application surfaces its own workflow behaviours and data queries through published SOAP interfaces). Bizagi now provides a pre-built SAP Certified connector that enables you to connect to exposed BAPIs and invoke the associated SAP system methods. There’s also a public Connector eXchange online marketplace (see http://www.bizagi.com/en/community/connectors-xchange) where Bizagi and its partners publish other connectors; and you can also use the cloud-based Connector Editor to build on Bizagi’s new Node.js based connector framework to create your own REST-based connectors where necessary.

Bizagi recommends that when you’re creating integration points for the purposes of querying external data sources, you create data providers that will slot into Bizagi’s entity virtualisation architecture. Through this approach, your application designers will be able to reference externally-managed data just as if it were being managed directly by Bizagi. Where you’re creating integration points to instigate actions and changing state in external systems (perhaps creating a purchase order or submitting a trouble ticket, for example) Bizagi recommends that you create standard functional service APIs.

Work assignment and distribution

In Studio you can define user groups, roles and organisational structures, as well as skills, authority levels and other custom properties you define; the platform also knows about management relationships and allows you to query these, enabling you to specify declarative task assignment logic that’s quite sophisticated. Your organisational model is referenceable from any rule or script you write, so you can use it to define not only how work is assigned and distributed but also how it might be reassigned or escalated. You can also define multiple calendars, and assign different roles, tasks and participants with different calendars for the purposes of defining timer and event behaviour. The result is a very rich and flexible work assignment model.

User interfaces

Bizagi’s very firmly metadata-driven approach to specification extends to the business of defining user interfaces for your process applications, using Studio’s Form Builder (for designing task forms), Theme Builder (for configuring application colour schemes, fonts, icons etc) and Experience Designer (for designing data-oriented, rather than task-oriented application interfaces).

With Form Builder, by default you’re encouraged to design forms based on entities you define in your process application’s information model; you drag fields from entity definitions onto a form canvas and, based on type metadata and your preferences, the form designer suggests formats for your data. You can specify quite sophisticated forms in this way; because the information model understands the semantics associated with entity relationships, you can nest subforms and tabs that present master-detail data relationships that behave automatically in terms of data navigation. You specify data validation by declaring ‘validations’ using an abstract scripting language that’s automatically aware of constraints and types you manage in your information model. The same scripting language is also used to control the visibility and editability of fields and field groups within forms. Forms that you lay out in the Form Builder are automatically compatible with smartphone and tablet layouts.

There’s also the concept of ‘stakeholder interfaces’, which you define within the Experience Designer. Bizagi defines stakeholders as individuals who gain value from using a process application, but who are not ‘heads down’ process workers. Stakeholder interfaces are designed more for ‘knowledge worker’ personas – and consequently, a primary data type (perhaps client, investigation, claim, or similar) is at the centre of the Experience Designer approach, rather than processes and tasks. You define actions on this data that will be available to users, and you can make the availability of actions contextual (perhaps based on the details of an insurance policy, a customer tier, a complaint type, or similar). You can define each action as starting a process, invoking a rule or opening a form to read / create / update data. A new Sites capability (available in Bizagi Cloud only, currently) provides a web-based graphical design environment you can use to quickly create rich, responsive standalone web applications that host these stakeholder interfaces.

All user interfaces you create with Bizagi’s tools are widget-based – leveraging HTML5 and Javascript. A Bizagi-powered online Widget eXchange enables customers to quickly download new widgets, for free, and integrate them into their projects. Widgets can easily be reused across projects, and you can also create your own custom widgets (using a cloud-based Widget Editor tool).

Operation and execution

The Bizagi Engine is responsible for executing your process applications and very unusually, it’s available in both Java and .NET versions (for Bizagi Cloud, the .NET version is deployed to Azure). There’s no compilation process involved in deploying your applications to an Engine instance; application definitions are stored in Oracle or SQLServer databases, and the server interprets these definitions at runtime. Engine instances can be replicated and load balanced across the copies; or they can be clustered. With Bizagi Cloud, an easy-to-use Management Portal makes it simple to scale your own private runtime environment up/down.

The Bizagi runtime enables you to trace and debug errors in your process applications; this functionality works across business rules, validations, interface invocations and form control behaviours, as well as business processes. The runtime systems responsible for driving behaviour from all these artefact definitions can provide an unusually high level of detail in their error tracing.

In the .NET version of the Bizagi platform there’s a one-click deployment wizard; in the JEE version, however, you have to use Bizagi’s more sophisticated – but more complicated – Advanced Deployment Tool.

The Bizagi Work Portal provides the central ‘home’ for administrators with appropriate permissions to easily start, stop and adjust running process cases in your process applications, whether you’re using Engine on-premise or Bizagi Cloud.

There are no native document and content management features in the platform, but solid CMIS integration means it’s straightforward to store, retrieve and alter externally-managed documents within your process applications. New in the current version, there are also prebuilt document generation and configuration functions that you can invoke in your applications to generate custom documents from templates you specify and application data.

Also part of the runtime environment is the concept of ‘plans’ – ad hoc personal to-do lists that any authorised individual involved in a process can create at any point to assist with activity completion. Plans aren’t modeled at design time, but created in operation. Each plan comprises one or more tasks, each of which you can further structure using a checklist. Each task can optionally be assigned to an individual, and given a due date. What’s more, if at a later point it’s realised that a plan is a structure that would be useful to reuse, you can create a template from an existing plan.

Monitoring and improvement

Monitoring and managing operational process instances is carried out by administrators through the Bizagi Work Portal. Administrators can quickly gain an overview of process health and performance, perform housekeeping and remediation actions, and analyse and report on business and process activity at a more detailed level. Source data can come from the main operational Engine; or, in high-performance scenarios, you can set up a separate Operational Data Store (ODS) to act as the source for both BAM (real-time monitoring) and Analytics (historical exploration) activities. It’s straightforward to drill down from overall views of process performance information to explore individual instances, their flow paths, their participants, and more.

Administrators have a lot of flexibility in the business context they can bring into their historical performance analyses. You can create performance reports that present in the context of sytem-defined dimensions available to all Bizagi applications (e.g. business area, location, position, role, user); and administrators can additionally create their own dimensions for reporting. These dimensions can be specified at design-time, in Studio; or you can also create them in a more ad hoc fashion in the Work Portal. Dimensions can be defined based on any attribute in your application’s information model.

If you specify task and process durations in your process models in Studio, these will be used to highlight conformance (or otherwise) of individual process instances to your expectations in the Work Portal. In addition you can configure alarms, which will generate and send notification emails to specified people when tasks are about to expire, or have expired. However currently, there’s no out-of-the-box capability in the Bizagi platform that enables administrators to reconfigure or restructure running process instances in response to alarms.

The ability to report on performance from an organisational perspective is a particularly strong point in the Bizagi offering. Any aspect of your organisational model can be used as a lens through which you can analyse real-time or historical performance. In the BAM reporting area of the Work Portal it’s also straightforward to highlight process performance problems graphically in the context of models.

At the moment in the Bizagi offering there’s no out-of-the-box ability for analytics to guide human process participants through visual cues in forms by suggesting likely choices, based on historic evidence – but with the new Machine Learning capability in Bizagi Cloud, a specialist could create predictive ‘next best action’ models without too much difficulty, given enough historical data to train models.

Lastly: if you prefer to use third-party BI tools to analyse process, team or business performance then Bizagi Cloud’s new Datasets capability makes it much easier to do that. You can elect to publish Datasets, automatically created from Bizagi data models, using OData format REST APIs – and any third-party tool supporting OData (such as Tableau or TIBCO Spotfire) will be able to use that data as an analysis source.

Change management

The Bizagi platform provides a solid change management foundation for your BPM initiatives, with some standout features.

Team working facilities are good, and further enhanced for Modeler users with the addition of Modeler Collaboration Services. In Bizagi Studio, design and development work is organised into Projects. Each Project can encompass multiple Processes, and corresponds to one application upon deployment. In the Studio design environment processes, entities, rules, organisation models, external systems definitions and other configuration information are all stored in a multi-user repository, and a singe repository in turn can manage all the artefacts for multiple Projects.

As an administrator it’s straightforward to configure the authorisations that different people will have to see and work with particular artefacts in a repository. Check-in/check-out and versioning of design and development work within a repository works across processes, business rules and forms.

A particularly noteworthy capability in the Bizagi platform is its ability to quickly highlight to a designer or developer the dependencies that exist between any given artefact and all other artefacts within a repository. When you need to make a change to a particular form, or rule, or process, or data definition, you can quickly see which other parts of your process application (or indeed other applications, if multiple applications share a database) will be affected by the change.

The strong authorisation control you have means you can restrict deployment permissions to certain people without difficulty. It’s also straightforward to define multiple target environments and deploy process applications seamlessly regardless of the target. However there’s currently no ability to control the deployment of new or changed processes through workflows.

Using the products: support for different kinds of work

Facilities to support automated work

It’s straightforward to define process applications that are completely automated using the Bizagi platform – where processes have no end-user interaction steps. This is the foundation capability you need when implementing automated work scenarios.

The ability to handle errors comprehensively without resorting to low-level coding is also crucially important in these scenarios. Bizagi does well here: within process models you can identify multiple exceptions with activities/exception flows assigned to them, and can define (dynamic) groups of individuals who will receive alerts when exceptions occur. For more complicated situations, where you need to compensate or ‘back out’ the effects of activities because of a problem or a cancellation, Bizagi also enables you to do this.

Managing the coordination of activities with transactions is also important. Bizagi supports this through the concept of ‘scopes’. By creating a ‘scope’ around a set of activities you can direct them to be controlled by a single transaction.

The Bizagi BPM Server runtime implements BPMN’s event processing concepts, so running processes can not only be started by events; independent process instances can synchronise information and state with each other through sending and receiving intermediate events.

You can set up processes with subprocesses where subproceses are dynamically selected at runtime based on intermediate events received and rules. Changes can be driven not only by the firing of BPMN events within your applications, but also by the results of queries that rules and scripts can make to the server’s runtime state, or by direct invocations of the server API from external services or applications.

From a scalability perspective, there’s good support for load balancing across multiple process servers and for clustered server environments.

Facilities to support transactional work

For work scenarios where task completion can require the input and agreement of multiple people, Bizagi provides the ability for process instances (cases) to have comment streams attached to them. In the operational environment, process participants can add comments to individual cases as they work on them, providing instructions or advice or requesting answers or input from others. Comments can be categorised to help teams filter and prioritise comments. There’s more that Bizagi could do to support operational collaboration between participants: for example by making comments more ‘active’ (for example allowing individual people to be addressed directly, and providing notifications to people when comments relevant to them are posted) but this is a good first step.

As mentioned in above, the ability to report on performance from an organisational perspective is a particularly strong point in the Bizagi offering. Any aspect of your organisational model can be used as a lens through which you can analyse real-time or historical performance. In the BAM reporting area of the Work Portal it’s also straightforward to highlight process performance problems graphically in the context of models.

Facilities to support exploratory work

Bizagi doesn’t specifically promote its platform as addressing Case Management styles of application. However – particularly with the addition of stakeholder interfaces and the Experience Designer – key design concepts and runtime functionality that help you co-ordinate work in exploratory, unstructured work scenarios are all present.

The presence of an information model – and the attendant ability to manage relational data – that can operate independently of individual business process executions is at the heart of Bizagi’s capability here, and the Experience Design makes it quite straightforward to create applications that bring together families of related processes and activities around one core shared information model. With the addition of the ‘plans’ concept, application users can easily shape their work around events as they unfold rather than following a strict set of pre-defined procedures.

Your ability to monitor performance through the lens of attributes defined in an process application’s information model means that if you design an application that stores overall case state in the information model layer, you’ll be able to carry out BAM and analytics tasks that examine performance state from the perspective of ‘cases’ that operate over multiple related processes and process instances.

There’s currently no out-of-the-box method of archiving such cases (which operate over multiple related processes and process instances) on completion in Bizagi but, again with work, you have the potential to configure and extend your application’s information model to make it possible to capture the unfolding of cases (including the use of their documents) and archive this information.

Reference information

Regional capabilities

Bizagi has local presences in the UK, Germany, Spain, USA, Colombia and Brazil. It works through partners to provide local presences across Latin America and South Africa. The company provides 24×7 support and service to customers in any country around the world.

Industry capabilities

Bizagi has specialised sales and engineering teams providing services and content to financial services, healthcare, manufacturing and retail industries. It’s developed vertical and function-oriented application templates for these sectors that it claims will give customers 60-80% of what they need to solve particular problems. In financial services Bizagi provides a template for mortgage application processing; in healthcare, for patient registration; and for manufacturing and retail, vendor onboarding.

Partners

Bizagi has consulting and systems integrator relationships with EY, PWC and Infosys. It doesn’t currently have any OEM customers that embed its technology in their solutions.

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