Appian wants to convert Business Process Management to low-code

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Appian sees itself as a low code platform for enterprise organizations. According to CEO Matt Calkins, this is the best way to describe what Appian does. Appian comes from the business process management corner, where it is very strong. Low-code is another discipline that dominates the company. It’s just a little bit different from what we’re used to. When is Appian an interesting solution for an enterprise organization?

Recently we were a guest at Appian World in San Diego. The American listed company profiles itself as a low code platform. We can more or less say that low-code was invented in the Netherlands, with parties such as Betty Blocks and Mendix that were there at an early stage. Therefore, we were curious to see how Appian relates to these parties.

Whereas until now, we mainly defined low-code as a way to develop applications faster with less trained developers, we now also see a different kind of low-code. At first the focus was mainly on replacing in-house application development. If we compare this with Appian, we have to conclude that the company is active in a completely different category. That doesn’t mean it’s not a low code, but it has a completely different approach.

We cannot say that Appian is a direct competitor to Betty Blocks, Mendix and Outsystems, although there is undoubtedly an overlap, and in practice, they will sometimes all want to bring in the same customer.

Appian started out in Business Process Management

Originally, Appian focused mainly on Business Process Management (BPM). Then it started with case management, which eventually led to Robotic Process Automation (RPA). The focus was to make this as simple as possible. The term low-code did not yet exist. Other low-code parties are more involved in the development process, with the aim of simplifying the development process so that more people without a development background can also work with it.

The difference between low-code and BPM is not important, low-code cannot do without BPM, and BPM ultimately leads to low-code.

That makes a big difference, because what we notice is that the entire process plays an important role in Appian’s complete way of thinking. Calkins also said: “The difference between low-code and BPM is not important, low-code cannot exist without BPM and BPM ultimately leads to low-code”.

Process management makes low code development faster and more efficient

Because Appian has a process management approach to everything, a low code application at Appian consists of different blocks that form a whole. The interface is also separated from the application logic. A separate user interface is built using low-code, but also a separate process with which data can be retrieved, stored or processed. By linking this to each other, an application is created.

Appian prefers the functional side of the app development to the best experience for the user. Appian allows users to build the environment within a browser using web elements. These web elements are eventually converted to React code, which can be used on all different platforms.

Normal applications are all poured by Appian into containers, where there is an active environment that can handle React code and all Appian elements. At the moment, Appian is busy converting everything into Kubernetes containers. This will allow an application to scale more flexibly and to be implemented in more environments. For mobile apps, Appian also uses a kind of container. This is a native mobile app based on React. React is a framework with which applications can be developed for multiple platforms. With React, a browser, Android, iOS or even a Windows application can be developed directly. The Appian customer doesn’t need to be familiar with React, they just use the “simple” web interface to build their application. The whole React-based process is done in the background. Actually, React has simplified the development of multiplatform applications, and Appian has simplified the development of applications based on React.

For both the mobile container and the Kubernetes container, the application can be updated automatically without having to reconstruct or roll out the container via an application store. Updates can be implemented immediately, if changes are made to Appian. Appian simply sends a signal that the environment is outdated, and there is a function within the container that retrieves the most recent version. This means that you don’t have to generate the app first and submit it again in the application stores when you modify a mobile app. Updates are active immediately.

The blocks that ultimately create an Appian app are therefore easy to modify and test. After all, updates are carried out immediately. This also makes the development of apps with Appian a lot more efficient.

With process management, Appian distinguishes itself from the competition

Appian is mainly concerned with the combination of process management and low-code, because that way you can not only build an application quickly, but you can also adapt and manage the application quickly. The latter is becoming increasingly important nowadays. Enterprise organizations are done with all the lock-in applications, the spaghetti code and the lack of clarity about how certain applications are linked together. They want more freedom, efficiency and overview. Appian is very good at that. They take for granted that in some cases this is at the expense of a bit of experience.

At Appian, every application eventually starts with the development of the process. What should the application do or be able to do? Companies can even choose to develop the process into an application purely and solely, without having a real front-end attached to it. This process can also be invoked via an API from another application on a completely different platform.

Aegon makes integrations between systems with Appian

That’s how we talked to insurance company Aegon, among others. This party has chosen to use Appian to build integrations between their enterprise applications, and to centralize this with Appian so that the overview is maintained. Appian talks to the various applications to ensure that functions within those applications are executed correctly. Appian runs almost entirely in the background. For the front-end applications that customers use, different technology is currently being used. The reason for choosing Appian was the simplicity with which processes can be made easier and, above all, clearer.

The best example we received was a mortgage solution within the customer portal. Aegon has an enterprise software solution for mortgages. It contains all the different mortgage products defined, but also which customer purchases which product under which conditions.

In recent years, it has become more popular to pay off extra on your mortgage in order to get a lower monthly charge. Aegon wants to offer this to customers in an effective way. The intention is that customers will soon be able to see directly in the customer portal how much the monthly charges will fall if a certain amount is redeemed. That sounds fairly simple, but that is still quite a complex calculation.

We have therefore analysed this process in greater depth with Aegon to see what is really involved. Aegon argues that different systems are needed to achieve this. For starters, there is the customer portal. Through this portal, an action is called for to pass on a repayment, for example 20,000 euros. For this purpose, an Appian process is started that then communicates with the system that contains all mortgages and policies. Next, it is examined how many loan parts a mortgage consists of, for example an annuity part and a redemption-free part, both with a (different) interest percentage. Then there may be clauses that are redeeming, how much can be redeemed per year, or that a fine must be paid, etc.

These are all figures that have to be calculated in order to arrive at a new result: what the new monthly amount is for the repayment. This can all be done in a few milliseconds so that the customer can quickly see what a redemption brings him or her.

If the customer chooses to make a repayment, contact is made with the payment system, and the customer can make a payment via iDeal. Once the payment has been made, it will also activate an Appian process to process the mortgage redemption. Subsequently, all mortgage policies are updated, and the customer is immediately shown in his customer portal how much the outstanding mortgage debt is, minus the redemption. The new monthly amount will also be immediately visible. Once again, all of this is done in the background at lightning speed, so that the customer can immediately see that the mortgage debt has been reduced.

Building blocks are the deciding factor

All these processes are built in blocks, with each step being a separate block. If something changes at the bank, a certain block can easily be replaced. Suppose, for example, that the bank starts using a new mortgage system or that iDeal is replaced by a different payment method. In that case, it is simply replacing the specific block with a new block and everything will continue to work as usual. Customers define this via low-code, Appian has a drag-and-drop interface for this.

What does this yield?

What exactly are the benefits that Aegon has achieved by using Appian? Firstly, there is a complex process, which normally requires you to come by or hang on the phone for a few minutes with an employee who is fully automated via a self-service portal. In this case, the customer can reduce his mortgage burden with an additional payment without the intervention of an Aegon employee. This means lower costs for Aegon. It is also a clear process for both parties. Aegon can neatly display all details and calculations on the customer’s screen. The customer can immediately see and understand everything better and, if desired, also take action, without having to wait for an employee. For Aegon, the chance of an employee making mistakes is also much smaller, because the process is automated. Aegon also stated that this has led to a significant increase in customer satisfaction (net promoter score), with 36 points to be precise.

This would not have been possible without Appian’s technology because the mortgage system does not offer a standard solution for this. The system can keep track of all the data and deliver it when requested, but it has never been designed to pass it on in real-time on demand. Or to accept payments to lower the mortgage. Appian makes this possible by linking different applications and making them work together.

In the meantime, Aegon has automated and improved various applications and processes with Appian.

Appian takes Robotic Process Automation to the next level

One of the other things Appian is good at is improving Robotic Process Automation. Appian has partnerships with Automation Anywhere, UiPath and Blue Prism for RPA. With these RPA solutions, you can create robots that can perform a single task very often and quickly. This works very well to a certain extent. These robots are not very good at error handling. If something deviates from what they know, an error will occur. In many cases, the robots can’t do anything with it. Appian then comes to look around the corner. With Appian, you can get an overview of all the bots that have been created in an RPA solution. In addition, if the output of the process is not successful, you can automatically take action on it. In case of common errors for which a simple solution is available, this can be automated to a solution via process management. In case of errors or problems that are not common, a case or ticket can be created and assigned to an employee. He or she can then check what went wrong and, if necessary, realise a solution. The most important thing is that errors in an RPA solution are not lost in an unprecedented way.

Appian is especially suitable for building business process management in a low-code way

Although the CEO of Appian mainly positions the company as a low code solution, we do not entirely agree with that. We are not yet convinced of Appian as a pure low code solution, but as a business process management solution. We do see that you can easily create processes and use a drag and drop interface to shape them in a low-code/no-code way. It is also possible to build applications with Appian, but the freedom you have in terms of layout and design is a bit too limited for us. The standard layout method of Appian, columns and tiles, must just fit the solution or the company. This is fine for standard enterprise overviews and solutions, but for a more creative solution towards the customer it is a bit too limited. This is better arranged with the real low-code developers.

The way in which Aegon currently deploys Appian is probably the most effective, purely for automating processes in the background. Although, we can see that more companies are active in that area. For example, there is fierce competition from ServiceNow.

Ultimately, it is a balancing of advantages and disadvantages for different purposes. The advantages are that you can immediately update applications by adapting them in the web editor of Appian. There is no need for a new deployment. You can also, by means of all separate blocks, easily modify the process afterwards or replace blocks. If you switch from Adyen to Stripe, then it’s just a matter of replacing a block. If you have developed a new layout, then it’s just a matter of replacing a block. We can go on like this for a while.

Appian has based its platform largely on React, which is a smart choice. This allows them to scale quickly on different platforms. At Appian, however, they also realize that their way of designing apps is a bit restrictive. Perhaps we will see more development in this area in the coming years, since the CEO really sees Appian as a low-code company.