Process Application Platforms 2018: Vendor shortlisting guide

RESEARCH REPORT // FREE
 
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.

Note: When we highlight that a given vendor’s offering may or may not be suitable when “you have a modest budget”, this is by necessity an imprecise statement. The technology license costs associated with Process Application Platforms can vary widely; costs can vary based on the number of application users, the complexity of your applications, the number of tool users, the volume of work your applications co-ordinate, and more.
Where we say that a given offering may not be suitable for those with a “modest budget”, it’s because in our experience, a full-featured operational deployment of that platform (not just for development purposes) will typically incur initial license costs significantly higher than USD 100,000 (each year, in the case of subscription licenses).

Each of 15 following sections 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.

Want more?

The overviews in this report are a good starting point, but if you’re serious about making an investment you should explore relevant vendors’ capabilities and suitability in more detail. If you’d like to find out more about how we can help you with a vendor shortlisting project, please don’t hesitate to let us know by emailing sales@mwdadvisors.com.

Alfresco

Originally founded in 2005, for much of its existence Alfresco promoted itself primarily as a packager and supporter of open-source content management (ECM) and process management (BPM) technologies; however, the past few years have seen more of an ‘enterprise-friendly, open-core’ position come to the fore.

Early in 2017 the company repackaged its core capabilities (content management, process management, information governance), together with a new standards-based Javascript framework for web application development, as the Alfresco Digital Business Platform. It’s pitched as a platform that customers can use in flexible ways to digitise business processes and the critical information that flows through them; to support this, Alfresco emphasises its open-standards and open-integration credentials (BPMN, DMN, CMIS, REST, etc) as well as its open-source foundations. The offering can be deployed on-premise, in the cloud (most support is given for self-hosting on AWS), or in a hybrid configuration. Greater support for a greater variety of cloud platforms is planned.

The Process Services element of the Digital Business Platform is based on the Alfresco-led Activiti open-source project. Alfresco differentiates here vis-à-vis other open-source BPM technology players in that it caters to the needs and interests of relatively non-technical business analysts – offering easy-to-use process, form, data model and business rule design – as well as catering to technical developers. It’s also notable in this context for its support for collaborative and ad hoc task management (which are particularly useful in addressing exploratory / non-routine work scenarios).

Lastly, the ability to combine Process Services with Content Services and/or Governance capabilities means customers can augment process operations with automated records management and compliance controls. It’s worth noting that if you want to build custom applications around the core process and content management services on offer, you’ll need technical development resources to complete that work, although Alfresco provides a large library of pre-built, responsive UI components to help.

Alfresco offers its platform across all industries, but has seen particular success in government, banking, insurance and healthcare.

Explore Alfresco when… Alfresco may not be suitable when…
  • You want to build applications that digitise processes involving people and the management of business documents
  • You have a modest budget
  • You want to be able to build applications around a flexible, open process and content platform, and have the developer skills to do so
  • You want an embeddable process platform you can deliver as part of another application
  • You want to work with a completely managed cloud platform
  • You want to a ready-made mobile app framework for interacting with digitised processes

Appian

Appian, founded in 1999, offers a Process Application Platform – the Appian Platform – that has always been about much more than delivering core process application functionality; recent developments that expand the data management and reporting functionality on offer further cement its position. Appian was the first Process Application Platform provider to make a deep commitment to the delivery of cloud services (launching in 2007): the company delivers complete functional parity between cloud-based and on-premise licensing variants, with all tools browser-based; a significant majority of Appian’s new customers choose to use the Appian platform in the cloud.

Today, the Appian Platform provides a unified, mature model-driven (‘low-code’) toolset spanning process modelling, decision definition, responsive UI definition, integration design, data definition, reporting and process analytics. A wide range of application UI choices are on offer (from pre-packaged to roll-your-own) as well as an integrated document management system.  Appian’s Quick Apps facility enables relatively non-technical people to create relatively simple data- and collaboration-based applications very quickly indeed. The output from Quick Apps is standard Appian models and objects, so your work can be further refined using the standard Appian tools.

Appian’s ambition is to deliver a platform for (in its words) agile digital business transformation; to this end, recent releases have seen increased focus on making the platform ‘play more nicely’ with modern application development and management toolchains and practices. New partnerships with Blue Prism (RPA), Mulesoft (integration and API management) and Microsoft (Azure deployment certification), together with improved decision management and integration design capabilities, round out the picture.

The public Appian App Market, launched in October 2015, is designed to complement Appian deployments in the cloud. Customers using Appian can easily search for, select, download and deploy Appian or partner-built application components and can discover application frameworks offered by Appian partners.

Appian has specialised sales and engineering teams providing services and content to US Federal Government agencies, as well as financial services and insurance, healthcare and pharmaceuticals industries.

Explore Appian when… Appian may not be suitable when…
  • You want to build and deploy standalone, full-featured process and case management applications in the cloud
  • You want to be able to design and build multi-channel applications quickly and iteratively, in collaboration with users and other stakeholders
  • You want to work with a platform that implements BPMN
  • You have a modest budget

Bizagi

Bizagi, founded in 1989, has a long heritage of providing tools for BPM initiatives. Its Process Application Platform offering, now known as the Bizagi Digital Business Platform, is a tightly-integrated, in-house developed suite of tools; Bizagi has not assembled any of its offering from acquisitions. A free standalone BPMN Modeler tool – downloaded worldwide more than 2.5m times – is also available as part of the full suite.

In tune with its Digital Business Platform tag, recent platform releases have seen Bizagi deliver a new set of cloud-based (paid-for) collaboration and management services that complement the free Modeler, as well as enhancing the platform’s open APIs; providing a Live Processes feature that enables ‘citizen developers’ to quickly specify simple workflow behaviours themselves; introducing home-grown machine learning tools that developers can use to drive predictive decisions in applications; and broadening the process application UI options on offer. New Experience Designer and Sites capabilities 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).

Bizagi 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.

For automation projects, Bizagi offers an Azure-based PaaS option alongside on-premise delivery, now available from over 30 data centres worldwide. The cloud-based Modeler collaboration tools Bizagi offers are also delivered via Azure.

Bizagi has specialised sales and engineering teams providing services and content to financial services, healthcare, manufacturing and retail industries.

Explore Bizagi when… Bizagi may not be suitable when…
  • You want to build and deploy full-featured process applications in the cloud or on-premise
  • You want to be able to design and build applications quickly and iteratively, in collaboration with users and other stakeholders
  • You want to work with a platform that implements BPMN
  • You want a platform that enables you to just automate workflows with forms
  • You want a lightweight, embeddable process platform
  • You have a modest budget

Bonitasoft

The foundation of Bonitasoft’s current offering was created in an open-source BPM technology project carried out at French institute INRIA in 2001, and then incubated within French IT vendor Bull. In 2008 Bonitasoft was spun out, funded by a French VC firm, and rebuilt the Bonita technology.

Bonitasoft’s Process Application Platform, Bonita, is now broader than the core open-source project from which it sprung, but it remains at the heart of what Bonitasoft offers. It provides a range of design-time and runtime capabilities for creating and deploying process applications flexibly, particularly where user experience customisation is important.

In common with a number of other Process Application Platform vendors, Bonitasoft has recently introduced a Business Data Model capability and a sophisticated UI Designer – supporting a shift beyond BPM to offering a broad process application development platform. UX flexibility is one of Bonita’s strongest points: there’s a simple out-of-the-box process application UI, but the ability to create sophisticated custom application user experiences stands out. An extensive set of REST APIs means going further (and potentially even creating your own domain-specific development tools) is also an option.

Unlike many of its competitors, Bonitasoft has resisted the temptation to try and embrace ‘citizen developers’ wanting to build simple things quickly; and instead is building and releasing platform features that help multi-disciplinary design and development teams with ‘classic’ development skills to address more complicated use cases.

Bonitasoft doesn’t currently offer Bonita BPM as a managed cloud-based service, but Bonitasoft does support customers who choose to deploy and manage it themselves on the AWS cloud platform (and there are new features now available to help customers deploy rapidly to AWS).

Financial services, insurance, government, education, telecoms, manufacturing and retail are the industries where Bonitasoft finds most traction.

Explore Bonitasoft when… Bonitasoft may not be suitable when…
  • You want to be able to design and build applications quickly and iteratively, in collaboration with users and other stakeholders
  • You want to work with technology built on an open-source core (enabling you to explore the platform for free)
  • You want to work with a platform that implements BPMN
  • You want an embeddable process platform you can deliver as part of another application
  • You have a modest budget
  • You want a fully-managed PaaS

BP Logix

BP Logix was originally founded in 1995 as an enterprise application development company. In 2009, following a divestment of many of its products (and their purchase by CA) BP Logix began to focus exclusively on its workflow technology platform Process Director.

This is an integrated platform combining design tools and a runtime environment that delivers workflow, rules, form and task management, content management and reporting and dashboarding functionality.

The core feature of interest in Process Director is the Process Timeline, which is almost unique in the business process automation technology universe. Process Timeline is, to simplify, a way of modelling and then managing automated task and process flows through a Gantt-chart metaphor. Rather than specifying a sequence of activities by explicitly linking them together in a flow diagram (whatever the flow notation), using the Process Timeline you don’t explicitly represent activity sequences at all; instead, you specify activity preconditions. As a trivial example, you might specify: ‘this activity B cannot start until activity A completes’).

The Process Timeline means Process Director can support business processes that need to exhibit significant dynamic flexibility, particularly in time-sensitive situations. Process Timeline provides a way for organisations to make truly informed decisions about process optimisation in-flight, and also for processes to be optimised processes dynamically to minimise cycle time; and in addition, through the ability for anyone with appropriate permissions to create, assign and execute ad hoc tasks.

The platform is also unusual in the depth of its ability to surface process application features to external actors and communities. This comes primarily through a combination of the platform’s open approach to user authentication; the ability for your process applications to host ‘anonymous’ users and make resources available to them; and your ability to define very sophisticated role-based access control schemes that secure access to application functionality and data down to a fine-grained level of detail.

For these reasons, Process Director is likely to be particularly interesting to organisations looking to improve service delivery to customers, partners, and/or suppliers; or, in very large corporations or governments, within shared-service delivery outfits. BP Logix focuses particularly on helping clients in government, higher education, and utilities.

Explore BP Logix when… BP Logix may not be suitable when…
  • You want to quickly build workflow applications that centre around forms processing and associated documentation
  • Individual cases are unpredictable, and need to be effectively managed and monitored as things change
  • You want to allow anonymous users (outside your organisation) to participate in processes
  • You want to work with a platform that implements BPMN

Camunda

Camunda, founded in 2008, offers commercial consulting and support services, as well as product extensions, for an open-source BPM technology platform, also called Camunda – originally created as a fork of Alfresco’s open-source Activiti project. The commercial enterprise version of the platform is called (unsurprisingly) the Camunda Enterprise Platform.

Camunda is a BPM platform that’s principally focused on the capabilities of its runtime engine, with a range of relatively stripped-down design and administrative tools provided alongside. Camunda focuses most of its development effort on the engine itself, and the result is a single, unified, model-execution engine that can interpret CMMN 1.0 (the OMG’s case management model notation) as well as BPMN 2.0 specifications and DMN (decision management) specifications.

Aside from the core engine, Camunda BPM ships with an Eclipse plugin for BPMN model specification called Camunda Modeler, together with a small set of web applications to help customers build and administer process applications running on the Camunda engine. There’s a Javascript-based Tasklist web application that builds on the engine’s REST API to present human tasks to process participants (however most Camunda BPM customers build their own HTML/Javascript application user interfaces); and there’s Cockpit, which is a relatively simple Javascript-based web application that allows administrators to start, stop, fix and monitor running process instances and explore the details of completed instances. A web-based process analysis tool, Optimize, was added to the Camunda Enterprise Platform in 2017.

Camunda stands firmly against the ‘low-code’ approaches pursued by vendors developing more and more business-friendly tools for designers, developers and administrators. Camunda’s view is that although this kind of approach can reduce time-to-deliver in simple projects, in the real-world situations it encounters, developers always have to ‘break out’ of the canned tools provided to carry out custom coding. Its approach, therefore, is to provide lightweight tools that customers can use to get started, and also that developers can use to train themselves to build more sophisticated applications using the Camunda BPM platform.

Camunda focuses its sales efforts for the Camunda Enterprise Platform on five specific industries: financial services/insurance, government/public sector, telecoms, software (where Camunda technology is embedded into other products) and e-commerce.

Explore Camunda when… Camunda may not be suitable when…
  • You want to give technical Java developers the ability to design and build high-scale process applications quickly
  • You want to work with open-source technology
  • You want to work with a platform that implements BPMN
  • You want an embeddable process platform you can deliver as part of another application
  • You want a fully-managed PaaS
  • You want to involve less technical staff directly in process application design and development

IBM

IBM has a long heritage in BPM technology: initially through inhouse-built middleware and workflow products, and then through acquisitions (FileNet in 2006 and BPM technology specialist Lombardi Software in 2010). The Lombardi acquisition in particular catalysed a new wave of IBM interest and investment in the Process Application Platform space – with IBM extending beyond its integration-centric heritage to produce flexible tools that can cope with different kinds of work scenario, and are easy to use. With recent releases IBM has focused particularly on enriching the exploratory work capabilities of IBM Business Process Manager – the core of its Process Application Platform – providing targeted support for case management applications at design time and runtime.

The ability to manage process application change at scale has been a key design point for IBM ever since it acquired Lombardi, and it’s continued to strengthen the Process Center capability that delivers this in subsequent releases. Its capabilities are now at the point where the requirements that come from having to manage change across large, complex BPM programs comprising multiple parallel projects, deployment environments and development teams are supported very well.

IBM’s platform is rounded out by Blueworks Live (a collaborative process and decision discovery and high-level design environment, coupled with simple tools for quickly creating simple process automation applications), IBM Operational Decision Manager (a mature business decision management platform, leveraging the same change management capabilities as Business Process Manager), and a new partnership with Robotic Process Automation (RPA) vendor Automation Anywhere.

Blueworks Live, initially available only as a multi-tenant SaaS offering, is now also available in a single-tenant hosted configuration. Business Process Manager and Operational Decision Manager, initially only available as on-premise products, are now also available as a managed offering on the IBM Cloud.

IBM pays particular attention to developing specialised capabilities for five industries:  banking, insurance, government, healthcare and retail.

Explore IBM when… IBM may not be suitable when…
  • You want to build and deploy standalone process applications in the cloud or on-premise
  • You want to be able to discover, design and prototype business processes quickly and collaboratively
  • You will be running large process automation programmes and need to be able to manage change at scale
  • You want a platform that also includes sophisticated application integration and automation facilities
  • You want to work with a platform that implements BPMN
  • You have a modest budget – not all platform features are available in the entry-level products

Oracle

Oracle’s presence in the Process Application Platform market started (as it did with IBM and others) with offering technology for process-focused application integration; but it was properly kickstarted with the acquisition of major independent middleware player BEA Systems in 2008. BEA had itself acquired one of the key pure-play BPMS vendors, Fuego, creating BEA AquaLogic BPM – and that technology formed the core of Oracle’s Process Application Platform.

The breadth of applicability of Oracle’s Process Application Platform has increased significantly since then – and recently, the company has substantially shifted the focus of its development efforts away from its on-premise BPM Suite offering and towards a cloud-based platform (at its core, based on the same technology). In late 2017, the specialised Oracle Process Cloud Service was folded into a broader application platform offering called Oracle Integration Cloud – providing not only process automation capabilities, but also cloud-based application integration, together with web and mobile application development tools.

Looking specifically at the Process Application Platform portion of this offering, recent months have seen Oracle round out its platform with increased support for exploratory work (with the introduction of targeted case management application modelling capabilities), DMN-compliant decision management, increased design-time simplicity, and the ability to have predictive analytics drive ‘best-next-action’ recommendations within tasks. There’s also a rapid prototyping/quick start capability called QuickStart Apps, which enables developer teams to build and manage libraries of ‘master’ applications that can be very quickly customised to suit particular process needs.

Oracle Integration Cloud is delivered via the Oracle Cloud Platform, which today is available in 22 regions across North America, Europe, Asia, Latin America and Asia-Pacific. To date, Oracle has been seeing most industry momentum for its platform within financial services, insurance, healthcare, government and telecoms.

Explore Oracle when… Oracle may not be suitable when…
  • You want to build and deploy standalone process or case management applications in the cloud
  • You will be running large process automation programmes and need to be able to manage change at scale
  • You want a platform that also includes sophisticated application integration and automation facilities
  • You want to work with a platform that implements BPMN
  • You have a modest budget – not all platform features are available in the entry-level product
  • You want to run a platform on-premise – Oracle’s strategic focus is in the cloud

OpenText

OpenText’s Process Application Platform offering has evolved many times over the past ten years, as acquisitions of BPM specialists Metastorm and Global 360 (both in 2011) – and latterly Cordys (2013) – have brought new capabilities and customer bases to the table.

Today, OpenText’s Process Application Platform draws heavily from underlying technology acquired from Cordys, but provides a significantly business-friendlier experience than the highly-technical, but very sophisticated and broad, Cordys platform historically presented. The big contributor here is what OpenText calls the Simplified Application Development experience: this hides much of the complexity exposed in the core design and development tools, offers an unique composition-based approach to application design, based around entity modelling that enables you to create simple applications quickly, and evolve them iteratively by adding highly configurable ‘building blocks’.

Under the covers the platform also ships with an Enterprise Service Bus (ESB), a Master Data Management (MDM) capability, sophisticated Business Activity Monitoring (BAM) functionality and sophisticated integration with the OpenText Extended ECM Platform. OpenText also provides a set of three complete application frameworks designed to accelerate the delivery of incident management, service management or investigative case management applications. Each framework bundles together a set of prebuilt design elements that provide a fully-functioning but generic application, which you can quickly customise with high-level visual configuration tools.

OpenText offers its Process Suite as an on-premise licensed product, but also offers hosting in the OpenText Cloud – and there’s the option to add Managed Services on top to create more of a fully-managed PaaS proposition. Great support for application multi-tenancy is a particularly strong point in deployment.

OpenText has focused industry programs for energy, engineering, construction, financial services, insurance, healthcare, legal, life sciences, manufacturing, media and entertainment, utilities and public sectors.

Explore OpenText when… OpenText may not be suitable when…
  • You want to build and deploy process or case management applications in the cloud or on-premise
  • You want to build applications that digitise processes involving people and the management of business documents
  • You want to work with a platform that implements BPMN
  • You want to be able to build applications around a flexible, open process and content platform, and have the developer skills to do so
  • You have a modest budget – not all platform features are available in the entry-level product
  • You want a platform that enables you to just automate workflows with forms

OutSystems

Founded in 2001 in Portugal by current CEO Paulo Rosado, OutSystems offers a ‘low-code’ application development platform for enterprise applications (also called OutSystems).

The company pitches OutSystems principally as a vehicle for digital transformation – a way for organisations to rapidly build ‘systems of engagement’ that support digital customer journeys across mobile and web channels, and that link new online experiences to existing enterprise systems. It’s built its tools in a way that allows technical developers to create sophisticated and specialised application functionality, but that also allows relatively non-technical ‘citizen developers’ to quickly build moderately sophisticated applications, while also making use of components built and managed by more technical teams.

Although OutSystems is not pitched specifically as a workflow or process application platform, there’s a fully-formed workflow capability present.

With OutSystems, you define applications by specifying behaviours using graphical tools within a four-layered logical model: in the data layer, you define business entities and relationships for storing business information; in the interface layer, you define user interface elements (screens, forms, and so on); in the logic layer you define custom application logic using a structured graphical flow language; and in the process layer, you define workflow models that can blend the co-ordination of human and system (automatic) tasks.

Support for the development and management of native mobile apps is unusually strong. You can use OutSystems to build mobile apps as well as responsive web apps; and indeed, you can build collections of apps that share a common set of backend components hosting core application and workflow logic, data management and integration services.

Initially offered purely as an on-premises product, OutSystems introduced cloud hosting for its platform in 2013 and now offers its platform as a managed service (OutSystems Cloud), and via customer self-service on Microsoft Azure.

OutSystems works widely across industries – from banking and insurance to retail, telecoms, education, utilities, media, transport & logistics and more.

Explore OutSystems when… OutSystems may not be suitable when…
  • You want to build and deploy full-featured process applications in the cloud or on-premise
  • You want to be able to design and build applications quickly and iteratively, in collaboration with users and other stakeholders
  • You want to deliver advanced mobile application functionality as well as delivering web-based user interfaces
  • You have a modest budget
  • You want a platform that enables you to just automate workflows with forms
  • You want to work with a platform that implements BPMN

Pegasystems

Pegasystems was founded in 1983 as a specialist business rule automation technology provider; in the years since, it’s broadened its technology platform massively and introduced a range of packaged CRM-focused applications, but the underlying technology foundation remains the same.

The Pega Platform is very sophisticated in a couple of key ways that will be particularly important if you’re pursuing process automation in a demanding business context. Firstly, it allows you to create sophisticated, dynamic process applications with advanced case management, predictive analytics and AI-driven features; and secondly it enables you to deal with complex and demanding change and variation requirements across large programs of work.

The company is working to appeal to a wider range of client needs (leading with Pega Express and the Pega Cloud), and through these it’s now possible to get started on a project quickly (and at increasingly modest cost). Nevertheless the Pega Platform remains most compelling when used to address big challenges.

As mentioned above, the company doesn’t just sell its platform; it continues to make market-leading investments in applications – hardening what it previously called ‘industry frameworks’ into a portfolio of ready-to-use applications for industries that span scenarios around marketing, sales, service and operations. Currently around 25% of Pegasystems’ R&D expenditure is given over to developing and maintaining this application portfolio.

Pegasystems runs specialised engineering, support and sales teams focused on financial services, insurance, communications, healthcare, the public sector, and manufacturing, life sciences, energy and oil and gas sectors. It offers sophisticated ‘industry apps’ for financial services, insurance, communications and healthcare sectors with a particularly rich set of capabilities for financial services around case management, new business, investigations, and dispute resolution.

Explore Pegasystems when… Pegasystems may not be suitable when…
  • You want to transform your organisation’s front-office processes and customer relationships, and want an end-to-end process and case management platform to enable that
  • You want to take advantage of a platform that can drive work and decisions based on predictive technologies
  • You need to drive change across a complicated operating environment – perhaps where processes and decisions need to vary across channels, product lines, geographies, etc
  • You want a platform that also includes sophisticated application integration and automation facilities
  • You have a modest budget
  • You want to work with a platform that implements BPMN
  • You have modest ‘tactical’ automation needs that are unlikely to lead to a bigger transformation requirement

Red Hat

Red Hat is the principal contributor to maintaining the open-source jBPM project – the project that initially kickstarted the burgeoning open-source BPM technology movement in 2003 – thanks to its 2006 acquisition of open-source software provider JBoss. However the commercially-offered JBoss BPM Suite is about much more than the jBPM project.

The technologies that underpin Red Hat’s JBoss BPM Suite today combine the assets of the jBPM project with the assets of the Drools open-source business rules technology project, the Drools Fusion event processing technology project, and the OptaPlanner optimisation technology project (all also maintained by Red Hat), together with technology acquired from commercial BPM technology specialist Polymita in 2012. The resulting platform combines the ability to define and execute three core concepts using model-driven application definition and execution capabilities: workflow models, business rule models, and event models.

Today, in the BPM technology space Red Hat positions itself competitively against the largest, most established enterprise platform vendors – IBM, Oracle, Pegasystems and FICO (the latter specifically in relation to business rules management). A significant part of Red Hat’s proposition is that, like IBM and Oracle, Red Hat’s larger offering ‘covers the whole middleware stack’ – with business process management and business rules management technologies forming just one part of the larger story. In relation to Pegasystems and FICO, Red Hat’s message is primarily about cost, standards-compliance and flexibility.

Certainly, it’s possible to get started with the Red Hat JBoss BPM Suite for free, and then get started with a modest annual commitment that undercuts the price of the enterprise-level offerings from IBM, Oracle and the like. It’s not alone in this respect, however.

Thanks to its developer-friendliness and support for open standard Java technologies and frameworks, the jBPM project has long been popular with experienced Java development teams looking to embed workflow technologies in larger custom applications; the platform’s success in financial services settings and software product development scenarios is a testament to this.

Explore Red Hat when… Red Hat may not be suitable when…
  • You want to work with technology built on an open-source core (enabling you to explore the platform for free)
  • You want to work with a platform that implements BPMN
  • You want an embeddable process platform you can deliver as part of another application
  • You want a fully-managed PaaS
  • You want to be able to design and build applications quickly and iteratively, in collaboration with users and other stakeholders

Software AG

Software AG has acquired an extensive BPM technology capability: with its acquisition of webMethods (2007) it gained a well-established, integration-centred process automation platform; and with its acquisition of IDS-Scheer (2009) it gained a market-leading business process analysis and Enterprise Architecture toolset (ARIS).

Software AG’s Process Application Platform – the Dynamic Apps Platform – is a combination of the webMethods BPMS and webMethods AgileApps (brought into the portfolio through the acquisition of LongJump in 2013). webMethods BPMS is aimed principally at IT teams needing to deliver high-scalability, large-scale process automation; whereas webMethods AgileApps is aimed more at subject matter experts and business analysts, and positioned for the quick delivery of more lightweight, dynamic process and case management applications. Software AG is prioritising development work to increase product integration.

Looking specifically at the webMethods BPMS, there’s strong support for both structured work scenarios, and some support for exploratory work (case management). A new process runtime engine, Dynamic Business Orchestrator, offers major performance and scalability advantages and also brings improved BPMN 2.0 support and dynamic process support. There’s out-of-the-box integration with Software AG’s Zementis Predictive Analytics, and RPA technology from Kryon Systems provides new automation and integration options.

AgileApps is a comprehensive toolset that enables all elements of standalone modern applications to be designed, developed and deployed in one place – you use models to specify data structures, processes, rules, task models, forms and other UI elements, reports and dashboards, and more. There’s a built-in knowledge base and community forum facilities for service desk use cases; file-sharing and document preview features; automated document creation and assembly features; and multi-channel customer communication features.

By default webMethods AgileApps is offered as a cloud-based platform that’s hosted by Software AG on AWS in datacenters in North America and EU. It’s also available on-premises for customers to host themselves, though. The webMethods BPMS is currently only available for on-premise deployment.

In the webMethods business, Software AG has a specialised initiative focused on government; and also specialised sales and delivery teams for banking, insurance, manufacturing, retail, utilities, and telecoms.

Explore Software AG when… Software AG may not be suitable when…
  • You want to rapidly build and deploy standalone process applications in the cloudYou want to be able to link upstream business process analysis and enterprise architecture efforts to on-premise process automation projects (linking strategy to execution)
  • You will be running large process automation programmes and need to be able to manage change at scale
  • You want an on-premise platform that also includes sophisticated application integration facilities
  • You want to work with a platform that implements BPMN
  • You want application portability between on-premise and cloud-based platforms
  • You have a modest budget

 

TIBCO

TIBCO Software was originally founded in 1987 as Teknekron Software Systems; its first product was TIB (the Teknekron Information Bus) – a publish-subscribe messaging middleware platform. For well over a decade, the company was primarily focused on solving integration-related problems for its customers; it entered the BPM technology marketplace by acquiring specialist Staffware in 2004. Many of the core Staffware team remained at TIBCO to build a new-generation BPM technology product.

Today, TIBCO’s Process Application Platform offering revolves around three principal products: ActiveMatrix BPM, a mature and sophisticated product designed for the automation of core business processes in high-volume business operations; TIBCO Cloud Live Apps, which is designed for building case-centric, low-code applications quickly, where simple processes are invoked as cases progress between stages; and Nimbus (acquired in 2011), which is principally used where the goal is to drive process knowledge, governance and operational consistency, but without automating workflows – though ‘how-to guide’ content from Nimbus can also be integrated into ActiveMatrix BPM applications.

TIBCO certifies ActiveMatrix BPM for deployment to public cloud infrastructure (AWS today), but its primary cloud push for low-code application platforms is TIBCO Cloud Live Apps. The team responsible for ActiveMatrix BPM development is the same team that’s behind the development of TIBCO Cloud Live Apps, but as noted above TIBCO Cloud Live Apps’ design is principally oriented around ease-of-use and immediacy (whereas ActiveMatrix BPM is an extremely rich and capable platform that takes much longer to master).

TIBCO Cloud Live Apps is delivered via the TIBCO Cloud, which itself is hosted on AWS. It’s available today in the US, EU and Australia regions – meaning customers choose their location to minimise latency and/or opt for their preferred regulatory framework.

TIBCO develops specialised industry-specific capabilities and content for financial Services and healthcare industries, and also runs a group dedicated to supporting companies wanting to license and embed its platform.

Explore TIBCO when… TIBCO may not be suitable when…
  • You want to rapidly build and deploy standalone process or case management applications in the cloudYou will be running large process automation programmes and need to be able to manage change at scale
  • You want an on-premise platform that also includes sophisticated application integration facilities
  • You want to work with a platform that implements BPMN
  • You want application portability between on-premise and cloud-based platforms
  • You have a modest budget

Ultimus

Ultimus, Inc. was formed in 1994 as a vendor of workflow technology for the Microsoft platform (it’s a Microsoft Gold certified partner).

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.

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.

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%. 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).

Explore Ultimus when… Ultimus may not be suitable when…
  • You want to quickly deliver families of relatively simple process applications that manage work relating to particular administrative business areas (e.g. customer support, invoicing)
  • You want a partner to do the ‘heavy lifting’ of building applications for you in a ‘factory’ environment, rather than building the applications yourself
  • You have a multi-lingual working environment and want to easily build and deploy applications that work in multiple languages
  • You want to work with a platform that implements BPMN
  • You want to deliver your applications in the cloud
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