I have been working with IBM BPM for the past 10 years and recently started looking at Pega and Appian. In this blog, I’ll share my impression, and comparison, of IBM BPM, Pega 7, and the Appian platform.
My Impression of IBM BPM
I have been working with IBM BPM for past 10 years – first five years with WPS (WebSphere Process Server), and recently with IBM BPM Standard (i.e. Lombardi). IBM BPM has all the core capabilities needed to build and run BPM solutions (workflow as well as straight-through-processing). I find IBM BPM to be technically very powerful and flexible. But that is its strength as well as weakness, because the same power and flexibility also leads to complexity, increasing the learning curve and the development cost (good/experienced resources are expensive).
From governance and administrative perspective, I really like IBM’s approach of using a central repository. The richness of its APIs makes it easy to integrate with other products and to automate the deployment lifecycle.
IBM BPM has a very process-centric view, which is not surprising for a BPM product, but because a typical business solution also requires a data-centric view, it becomes difficult to meet business requirements with IBM BPM alone. As a result, the business generally doesn’t have a very positive first experience unless the process-centric views provided by IBM BPM (e.g. task list or dashboards) are well integrated with the data-centric views using an external portal/web front-end.
Nowadays, lines of business are also looking for ways to reduce the time to market, and (as much as possible) make the changes themselves (e.g. changes to business logic without involving IT resources). While IBM BPM includes (limited) business rules capabilities, these rules cannot be changed without IT involvement.
[IBM offers a complementary product – IBM Operation Decision Manager (ODM) that allows the business to manage the changes to business rules. IBM ODM provides a dedicated web interface that enables business users with no technology background to manage releases from Dev to Production with a built-in governance framework for managing these releases].
Overall, I feel that IBM BPM is a great fit for organizations with complex IT structure and/or complex IT requirements.
My Impression of the Pega 7 Platform
Before I looked at Pega 7 platform, I believed that it would be similar to any other BPM platform (i.e. it will have a process modeler, a way to define the business objects, create interfaces, define rules, something similar to process portal etc.), and only reason Pega is different because it has pre-built frameworks/applications for different verticals. But when I started looking into Pega 7 platform, I realized that it is much more complex – not only because it provides more BPM capabilities but because it also provides a platform to both build and manage business processes and also to build and extend business frameworks/applications. No wonder it is hard to find good Pega system architects!
The Pega 7 platform leverages an inheritance structure to reuse and extend structural as well as behavioral elements of an application (i.e. elements that describe when or how things work e.g. a case, a process, an interface, a data transformation, a business rule, a when pre-condition etc.). This not only allows Pega to deliver frameworks and applications that can be extended by customers but also allows the customers to build their own frameworks that can be reused across the organization or divisions.
[Pega has a number of industry-specific offerings (frameworks/applications) that are built on top of Pega 7 platform]
Business rules in Pega can be delegated to business for change (using the same interface that is available to IT). But the change still needs to go through the IT change management process i.e. there is no business-specific interface to manage the change.
[Pega has a complementary decision management offering – Pega Decision Management which includes Predictive and Adaptive decision management capabilities, and integrates well with the Pega 7 platform]
Case (i.e. a business transaction like a service request, a purchase order etc.) is a center piece of Pega’s BPM capabilities, and it is used to define the primary and alternate stages a business transaction goes through, and the optional steps that can be taken within each stage. Pega uses processes to describe a step within a stage. Technically, the same thing can be achieved by just using the concept of processes and ad-hoc tasks, but Pega’s approach definitely enforces the process decomposition best practices.
Apart from the typical BPM capabilities, the Pega 7 platform also includes data integration, mapping, and caching capabilities which makes it easy to use data with cases/processes and in reports. While these capabilities are impressive, I won’t recommend using them for high-volume ETL processing (because of cost, scalability, and performance concerns).
There are other complementary things that make Pega 7 complete. For example, the platform includes the requirements management capabilities (requirements, specifications, and technical artifacts can be tied to each other – providing traceability), and Pega has built an implementation methodology called Direct Capture of Objectives (DCO) around it. The platform also includes the capability to enforce best practices called Guardrails.
Overall, I am pretty impressed by the Pega 7 platform from the development perspective. While one can use the platform to build one-off applications/processes, I can’t imagine someone buying this platform for that. The value of the platform is in building business-critical applications that would need to be changed/enhanced for years.
My Impression of Appian
I started looking at Appian and Pega 7 around the same time, and the two products can’t be more different and impressive at the same time. While Pega’s focus is on development platform, Appian’s focus is business users. No wonder business users love the Appian product.
Appian is built to improve how organizations make business decisions. Appian follows a philosophy they call Business Decision Cycle which consists of Awareness, Knowledge, and Action.
Appian includes the news/social collaboration capabilities. These capabilities are not unique to Appian (IBM BPM also includes the social collaboration capabilities) but how Appian has made this a central pillar of its product is pretty unique. News and posts can be tagged with records. Records provide a complete view of a business entity (such as a customer, product, or a service request) across different systems in the organization. Users can start processes in the context of these records using related actions – completing the cycle of Awareness, Knowledge, and Action.
Since actions can also be taken without a context of a record (e.g. to create a record), or might be in the context of a process, Appian business user portal, called Tempo, (apart from tabs for News, Records, and Reports) also have tabs for Actions and Tasks.
In Appian, it is very easy to create custom portals for targeted users, using what is called Sites.
From the development perspective, Appian’s focus seems to be rapid development. Appian includes pre-built connectors for external systems like SAP, SFDC etc., and provides tools to quickly create Records and Reports.
Appian doesn’t have a separate concept of a Case but concepts of News, Records, Processes and Quick Tasks seems more than sufficient to handle any case management-related requirements.
[And to prove the point, Appian has a sample application called Case Management Framework. There are other case management applications, built by Appian partners, which are available from the Appian Appmarket.]
Couple of things that I found lacking in Appian are – business rules, and pre-defined application folder structure. Appian supports expression rules but no business rules (e.g. Decision Tables or Decision Trees). Appian recommends an application folder structure to capture expression rules and constants but does not create that structure automatically.
Despite the above mentioned short-comings, Appian is great fit for those organizations that lack visibility to complete information, and/or are looking for quick solution to specific workflow problems.
Overall, all three of these products are impressive and lead Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Intelligent Business Process Management Suites for good reason. Any are excellent tools for organizations looking to implement BPM solutions to increase operational efficiency, but they do have different strengths depending on a business’s focus.