Appian puts polish into BPM
Appian Enterprise 5.1 bolsters collaborative workflow with flexible features and slick modeling
A highlight was the built-in support for exception handling. Rather than simply throwing an exception for manual processing, Appian enables properly authorized users to manage exceptions directly. They can make necessary changes to data that spawned the error (such as incorrect or missing delivery address) and completely reroute tasks within the process flow on an ad hoc basis.
Appian has laid a strong foundation for analyzing business activity. A full range of ready-made reports is available via the portal. Activity summaries and historic reports can be sifted and filtered quickly, and the capability of incorporating external line-of-business data ensures employees are getting the complete picture.
I liked the capability of modifying report tables dynamically. Using Appian’s expression-based reporting language (think Microsoft Excel-like functions and formulas), built custom definitions and formats into my reports, replete with active drill-down links to underlying data objects.
The process designer in Appian Enterprise is one of the easiest I’ve ever used. The AJAX-powered tool offers a graphical, browser-based approach to composing BPMN-compliant processes. Using the drag-and-drop framework of objects (events, conditions, and actions) as well as predefined Smart Nodes (a sizable collection of preprogrammed, encapsulated functionality), the toolkit hides the complexity of defining the process grid.
Wizard helpers simplify node configuration, speeding up tasks such as mapping form data or building e-mail alerts. The Smart Nodes -- extensible through your own custom Java development -- do a great job at jumpstarting development, with widgets for identity management, working with documents, and spawning ad hoc forums, to name a few.
Compartmentalizing my designs into concise sub-processes streamlined editing and reuse across models. The new lane definitions, which clearly delineate process paths and nodes, made it easy to visualize process ownership across business units.
Other additions to the modeling tool, such as design annotations and labels, further benefit usability and ongoing model management, and extras such as version control and the capability of monitoring live processes directly from within the modeler (with decent visual cues on health and status) put Appian’s process modeler on the express line.
Although manual exception handling is good and custom exceptions can be created to recover wayward or failed transactions, full-fledged transaction compensation would be a welcome enhancement to more comprehensively address exceptions.
I would also like to see an offline development option, as well as enhancements to the simulation and round-tripping capabilities. Forecasting workloads and backtesting alternative process scenarios using historical data are key to tweaking bottlenecks and enhancing performance. Appian has work to do on these fronts.
That said, Appian did allow me to use process nodes to view real-time analytics and feed data back into my process flows, providing a degree of runtime analysis to detect bottlenecks, trigger alerts, or automate anomaly resolution.