Web-Based Business Processes Help Activate Reservists

Appian's business-process-management software helped the U.S. Army communicate with reservists in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.
When the generals commanding the U.S. Army Reserve wanted to get word out to reservists that they would be called up for operations in Afghanistan shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, they were hampered by the lack of access to their usual E-mail system. The crash of the airliner into the Pentagon had destroyed the Pentagon's Microsoft Exchange E-mail servers.

So they turned to a business-process-management system, installed just three months earlier, that gave them access to an alternative set of Exchange servers and advance notice went out to reservists to prepare for a call-up, according to Michael Beckley, co-founder of Appian Corp., the supplier of the Army's BPM system.

Through a portal established by Appian Enterprise Suite, the company's core process-management system, reservists were able to acknowledge receipt of notice of a call-up, receive direction on where to report and when, report the status of their equipment, and see the order in which units around the country were being mobilized. The information was meant for reservists' eyes only and had Secure Sockets Layer encryption and password-protected access.

(Appian does not supply E-mail as part of its BPM system. Rather, its system piggybacks on top of Army E-mail servers. Through E-mail as a Web service, local servers can disappear and users can still access mail by logging on to their Appian business-process accounts.)

In June 2001, the Army had 10,000 business-process users, mainly high-level officers and civilian administrative staff. After its success in communicating with reservists, it now has 1.7 million users, Beckley said.

As military personnel move around the world or mail servers on a specific base go down temporarily, the users of Appian Enterprise Suite can turn to their Web-based accounts to remain in touch. Even family members of servicemen and -women can get accounts through the system and communicate with relatives overseas.

Beckley recounted the reservist mobilization story in an interview at the BPM Conference in San Francisco Tuesday. Appian, a little-known privately held company, also unveiled version 4.0 of Appian Enterprise Suite. Not surprisingly, given the software's U.S. Army experience, the company emphasized its ability to include human communications in business processes, along with its Web-oriented features.

One such addition is its Web-based Process Designer. Business-process builders inside an enterprise often model processes they wish to build using Microsoft's Visio or other modeling program. Appian's Process Modeler produces diagrams and notations in HTML. Unlike a browser window HTML, however, the Process Modeler uses drag-and-drop conventions to build process objects, such as an invoice, and connect them to parties that must approve them or receive them or Web services that must be tied into their processing, said Kevin Spurway, VP of marketing.

Version 4.0 provides improved portal-building capability where information and knowledge related to a particular business process can be stored and tied into business processes. The portal capability, for example, allowed Army reservists to submit information on the state of their equipment to higher-ups as well as provide commanders with a way to notify reservists of a pending call-up of their unit.

Version 4.0 also provides built-in analytic capabilities that can assess changes that affect business processes as they run and spot bottlenecks. Customized dashboards to display the results of the analysis can be built for business-process managers, Spurway said.

The 5-year-old company has no venture-capital backing and is profitable, with revenue of $25 million in 2003, Beckley said.

Appian Enterprise Suite is priced at $1,000 per user for companies with fewer than 100 users. Site licenses and volume pricing is also available.