Ultimus: Industrialising 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 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.  Ultimus technologies have been unified under single umbrella, the Ultimus Digital Process Automation Suite, targeting organisations with large-scale process digitisation needs.

Top takeaways

Ultimus: ‘factory’ provider… and 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 process applications using a ‘mass customisation’ approach.

The Ultimus tools portfolio is now marketed under a single umbrella: the Ultimus Digital Process Automation Suite. It’s sold as a platform direct to IT personnel, but also delivered by Ultimus and its partners as targeted application propositions to business team leaders and to CIOs charged with digital transformation. And unusually, Ultimus 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 large-scale process 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 standout strengths, and truly lives up to the ‘Adaptive’ label.
Now, with its Composed Process Solutions (CPS) platform, Ultimus has an offering that should appeal to any organisation that wants to rapidly digitise families of business processes to power digital operations. With an CPS updated offering now available direct to enterprises, Ultimus now gives you the ability to set up your own ‘process factory’ that you can use to create families of digital process applications very quickly.

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

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.

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 Process Automation Suite. 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.

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 organised 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, or to satisfy business requirements to implement variation in business operations (for example, relating to unique regional, product-related or business segment requirements). These are complete applications, including reports and dashboards, data views, user activity and audit reports, as well as ‘business-user control UIs’ that enable non-specialists to make high-level configuration changes to applications (for example changing escalation thresholds or work routing schemes).

Crucially, the domain model can also be extended, enabling the generation of custom features within applications – Ultimus has already demonstrated the generation of blockchain-enabled applications, applications that leverage RPA-based integration, the incorporation of machine-learning (ML) services, and more.

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. 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. For those not wanting to work with U# directly, Ultimus now offers an Excel interface that allows you to specify solution requirements in a spreadsheet format (identifying data entities, fields, labels and other associated metadata), then generate the U# from that.
  • 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.

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.

A set of prebuilt automated service task types – called ‘Flobots’ – is provided to quickly automate clerical tasks (e.g. sending email, scraping data from web pages, invoking .NET code, reading and creating Excel and Word documents, interacting with Microsoft Exchange and Sharepoint); and this has recently been extended to provide integration with leading RPA platforms.

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.
  • Rich organisational modelling. You can define sophisticated Organisation Charts graphically – where charts define job functions, user groups and dynamic assignment rules, significantly extending functionality found in external directories (which you can also leverage as a starting point). The result is a highly flexible and dynamic task routing, task escalation and exception handling capability.
  • 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 executioncapabilities. 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 Directorto 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 offers a per-application licensing model based around custom-built client solutions, but also offers its Digital Process Automation Suite as a platform direct to clients. Both options are available with a perpetual license, or on a subscription basis.

Pricing of course varies depending on a number of factors. The price range of perpetual license is very wide, making it difficult to provide a meaningful rule-of-thumb.

In the case of the more popular subscription model, annual platform pricing ranges from $50K to $300K+ annually, while annual per-application (including related sub-processes) pricing is typically in the $10K to $50K range (up to as much as $300K annually for the most complex scenarios). Platform clients might expect to additionally pay in the region of $50-75k for initial product training, co-development and mentoring services.

Ultimus also offers standalone automation mentoring, priced based on the number of hours contracted.

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 standout strengths, and truly lives up to its ‘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 to drive operations transformation. With an CPS updated offering now available direct to enterprises, Ultimus now gives you the ability to set up your own ‘process factory’ that you can use to create families of digital process applications very quickly.

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