Once you support a process with a BPM engine, the challenge becomes how to manage the exceptions and process-halting scenarios. Finding the right balance between control and empowering change has always been a problem with conventional workflow approaches. Appian gets around this by letting authorized users edit each process instance as required rather than assuming that the process model is set in stone.
This is a fundamentally different approach from that taken by most vendors when they talk about "in-flight" changes. Instead of pushing the exception back to the process developer to modify the process template for new cases of work to follow, Appian's approach enables real-time process change. Other vendors tend to assume that the exception item is canceled and then restarted in a new version of the process model--a ham-fisted workaround at best.
Of course, you can't change activities that are complete, but you can add new subprocesses or r> eroute and reassign work. Unfortunately, it's relatively difficult to bind (sub)processes dynamically at run time, something that's useful in case-handling scenarios. And users can't add new process variables to a process instance. These are a couple of oversights in an otherwise flexible approach.
Appian's ad hoc collaboration features also shine in supporting process change, giving users a way to discuss their response to the inevitable exceptions that occur.
The Appian environment makes processes and multiple process variants simple to deploy. The product offers built-in content management, collaboration and BAM functionality, which adds a bit of complexity, but nothing that can't be handled with care in developing and deploying applications. Assuming effective training and IT support around defining variables, business users can master these features.
The analytics functionality is excellent, both in terms of the ease of access to reports and charting capabilities as well as the ability to combine process data from the LOB domain. Add to that the ability to affect change at the process instance level, and it's a product that can master dynamic environments that other BPM suites struggle to support.
* Appian Enterprise 5 starts at $500 per user, $50,000 for quick-start projects and $100,000 for typical deployments.
Derek Miers is an independent business process management analyst and consultant. Write him at [email protected].