Process Application Platforms 2018: Vendor shortlisting guide

Despite what you might think from looking at some analysts’ market reports, there’s no overall ‘best vendor’ or ‘best product’ – at least when it comes to Process Application Platforms. What makes sense for you depends completely on your context. This report shows how certain kinds of customer context suit certain technology vendors, and will help you get started in building a vendor shortlist.

Top takeaways

There is no ‘best vendor’ or ‘best platform’

In our work helping clients with vendor technology selection and shortlisting, we commonly find that their starting point is a group of vendors they’ve seen represented at the top-right of some kind of matrix chart. In our 10+ years of experience of this kind of work, however, we’ve found that there is no overall ‘best vendor’ or ‘best platform’. What’s ‘best’ for you depends very much on your strategies and goals, your skills and capabilities, and your existing technical and business environment.  Suitability is scenario-specific.

Helping you understand 15 key vendors’ offerings

The core of this report is a set of 15 vendor profiles. Each profile provides a one-page overview of a Process Application Platform vendor. With each overview, we include a table that highlights the situations in which that vendor’s offering is likely to be a good fit; and also, the situations in which that vendor’s offering may not be suitable.

We cover Alfresco, Appian, Bizagi, Bonitasoft, BP Logix, Camunda, IBM, Oracle, OpenText, OutSystems, Pegasystems, Red Hat, Software AG, TIBCO and Ultimus.

So… you want a Process Application Platform?

Digitally managing and coordinating work

There are plenty of tools that claim to enable you to quickly build, deploy and business software solutions. There are also plenty of tools that claim to enable non-technologists in business to build software. The promise of Process Application Platforms may on the surface appear similar to both of these ideas, but there’s more to it than that.

Good Process Application Platforms give you the ability to digitally manage and coordinate work through software, at scale. These are transformational tools for businesses.

To maximise the value of business process application delivery initiatives, processes have to be able to drive and co-ordinate activity across many teams, departments, and automated systems throughout your organisation – it’s simply not enough for them to be limited to working within one department. Process Application Platforms should be able to bake analysis, monitoring and measurement of business activity right into the act of automating work co-ordination. And they have to actively promote the involvement of business specialists in the whole lifecycle of initiatives – from discovery, through process application design, to administration, monitoring and optimisation. All these characteristics are just ‘table stakes’ for Process Application Platforms.

A new wave of interest

Although what we now call Process Application Platforms have been in existence (initially as BPM platforms) for around 20 years, the digitisation of business processes continue to be really important, for at least two reasons.

Firstly, any organisation with a digital transformation initiative needs to pursue process digitisation: most of these initiatives start by exploring how to improve customer experiences, but strategic wins only come when those initiatives ‘reach back’ to connect digitised customer experiences to existing business functions (and connect across business silos). Secondly, specifically in 2018, the introduction of the GDPR legislation is creating demand within large organisations in particular, which need automated support to deal with regulatory implementation (dealing effectively with Subject Access Requests, for example).

How the products are changing

Over the past 20 years Process Application Platforms’ capabilities and packaging have changed hugely – though the core proposition of managing and co-ordinating work remains the same.

Over the past two years in particular, we’ve seen five significant Process Application Platform technology and product packaging developments:

  • An accelerated shift to the cloud. Appian first launched a cloud-hosted platform in 2007 and has led the pack ever since in this respect, but it’s only relatively recently that the market has truly tipped. Almost all other vendors have now made decisive moves in the same direction.
  • More focus on enabling standalone, process applications. Most BPM technology platforms were previously designed with the assumption that new digital processes would primarily ‘fit around’ pre-existing applications (CRM, ERP, financials and so on). Now, though, vendors are refocusing their platforms so they can be used to create new standalone applications that manage their own data, as well as being able to co-ordinate and manage work. This is partly in recognition of the fact that many of today’s use cases revolve around solving targeted problems quickly, rather than attempting to re-engineer end-to-end business. 
  • Low-cost ways to get started. Organisations are agitating for cloud-based platforms and tools because they enable them to get started quickly, deliver quickly and increase their agility. The standard expectation is that vendors should offer limited-time free trials at the very least, and in many cases an entry-level ‘free forever’ product tier.
  • Integration into modern IT practices and processes. Along with the shift to position products as mainstream application development tools comes the realisation that such tools need to be acceptable to mainstream application development teams that have their own established delivery processes and toolchains. This means opening up platforms to established testing frameworks and practices; making their actions automatable as part of continuous integration / continuous deployment processes; and so on.
  • Alliances and expansions to play more broadly in automation architecture. The past 12 months in particular has seen some Process Application Platform vendors (those with broader portfolios and ambitions) establish strategic alliances with vendors offering complementary technologies in the automation and integration space.

Helping you build a vendor shortlist

In our 10+ years of experience of assisting customers with vendor shortlisting projects, we’ve found that there is no overall ‘best vendor’ or ‘best platform’ in the Process Application Platform space.

What’s ‘best’ for you depends very much on your strategies and goals, your skills and capabilities, and your existing technical and business environment.  Suitability is scenario-specific.

With that in mind, in this report we take a scenario-sensitive approach to analysing the capabilities of Process Application Platform vendors’ offerings, as they stand at the start of 2018.

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