ArisAlign (formerly AlignSpace) from Software AG was announced last year at CeBit and was one of the first vendors to develop a collaborative BPM (or “Social BPM” as they like to call it) environment to promote community based process discovery projects all hosted in the Cloud. 2009 saw a surge in vendors moving towards the same page with Lombardi adding similar functionality to BluePrint and IBM launching the BlueWorks community, which Sandy Kemsley has recently discussed across at Column2 this week also.
The ArisAlign Beta sign up was launched shortly after CeBit but since then there’s been little activity save for a few blog posts and Twitter messages now and then. A gentle reminder from myself recently stirred a bit more action (the “Yes, we are still alive” post from Thomas Stoesser) and as CeBit 2010 fast approaches there has been some further movement on the comms front, not least of which the recent name change to reflect the recent alliance with IDS Scheer and product direction.
I received an early talkthrough of the features in ArisAlign last year and since then I’ve kept close tabs on the project so was pleased to be invited to get a closer look at the beta release yesterday. Now is a good time to talk about what you’re likely to see coming up soon at CeBit in March which includes:
- Web-based Whiteboard and Process modeling capabilities
- Project, Group and Discussion based collaboration spaces
- Professional (Social) networking and messaging tools
- Integration with ARIS Express
ArisAlign is based on the existing Software AG WebMethods platform and is completely hosted in the Cloud. The focus is all on collaborative process discovery and the ‘business’ end of BPM so the main project toolset, the Whiteboard and Process Editor, are aimed squarely at the non-technical user. This is fine for the most part but as the demo continued I got the sense the team had missed a trick by not catering for a slightly wider audience (more on this later). The main view on entering the beta is taken up by the users personal ‘Home’ page, or Profile, much like many existing network sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn although Thomas Stoesser, Product Manager for ArisAlign, states that they are more aligned to the latter as this is a professional solution. Projects, Groups and Discussions which you are involved in display recent activity and there’s an interesting feature called Recommendations in which ArisAlign employs an algorithm to recommend to the user others which they may find of interest based on their profile and activity. As the beta trial gets underway this will be a feature to look out for as content and user activity increases.
Creating a Project is simple enough, entering a few criteria to set up the initial space. Projects are listed and searchable via ArisAlign depending on how they are set up initially. You are given the option of making the Project ‘Open’, ‘Restricted’ or ‘Hidden’, explained below. It’ll be interesting to see whether you can switch between these status’ mid-flight should the need arise.
- Open, as it suggests, allows other users to browse through content and the Project space in general in a read-only capacity. You are allowed to make comments against what is there but only if you’re a member of that project.
- Restricted allows the Project administrator to restrict access to certain content and joining the Project requires to be approved before you can browse through.
- Hidden means the Project is not listed, cannot be searched for and access is on an ‘invite only’ basis.
Personally, whilst I understand the need for it, I don’t like the idea of a Project being set up as hidden as it defeats the purpose of a transparent and collaborative environment, it remains to be seen how much this is used once the beta is live and its effect on how active the community appears as well as making use of the Recommendations feature.
Inviting people to join the Project is again simple enough, entering the person’s email address and setting up a role profile accordingly. Although the roles are fairly generic it would be nice to see some more tighter controls in place (they weren’t demo’d so unknown if they’re already in place) which correspond to the Restricted status you can set for the Project itself.
On entering the Project you’re presented with the Whiteboard, a cloud solution of the trusty “brown paper and sticky note” approach we all seem to love and follows the same ethos; a quick and simple way to jot down process notes and ideas to get things started using ‘Stickies’. Stickies have two types; Stages (which are the higher level qualifier) and Stickies. They also have properties/ attributes to allow the user or another within the project to capture comments or richer information. There is the ability to record Inputs and Outputs at a simple level here to satisfy more process oriented professionals but I felt this wasn’t enough.
Once you’re done with Stickies or in mid-flight you can transfer any time to the Process Editor pane, this is where the process map/ model is created. ArisAlign have taken a different approach to the likes of BluePrint or Process Master in that what’s already been documented on a textual level does not automatically generate a process map using the information, rather allowing the users to create the process freeform using the appropriate symbols. How long this stands up in practice before the community ask for it will be an interesting test given how spoilt we’ve become. You can drag across a Sticky from the Whiteboard to the Process Editor and it will create an activity/ step for you however. Drawing a process appears pretty painless and not complex at all. You can create multiple process maps per Whiteboard so in effect prototyping instances of the same process.
And this is where some kind of modularisation would be effective per audience. It would be good to perhaps set up Project templates which the user could pick from that suit a particular problem or issue and attributes are then carried across to the St
ickies and associa
ted elements in the Process Editor. I felt that whilst the focus was on ease of use some areas were too simplistic and cut down as a result. Given the collaborative nature of the tool basic data modeling, system notation or requirements gathering scenarios could easily be catered for with further development.
From the Process Editor you can export/ import from ArisAlign to and from WebMethods natively, XPDL to any other BPM tool which can take the format (if you’re using another tool in your organisation) or recently implemented given the recent acquisition, integration with ARIS Express (unfortunately I couldn’t see this during the demo due to a technical issue). This allows the user to refine and enhance the process model using their own BPM modeling tool for offline work. Importing back is a bit of a strange one however, it creates a copy instance of the process you’ve just changes in the Editor. Whilst it may not override the original there doesn’t appear to be a robust check in/ out or version control framework implemented so again one to look out for during beta trials as to how unweildy having multiple variants of the same process becomes under the one Project. This is a slightly different scenario to creating multiple process maps from the one Whiteboard in my mind.
Because of the collaborative nature of ArisAlign I asked Thomas about potential user conflicts as you can have many users hitting the same Whiteboard and Process Editor at the same time. With Whiteboard the conflicts aren’t so much an issue as it’s a space for people to create thoughts and ideas, so control over changes are treated as a ‘first come first served’ basis. Process Editor is a little different in that the model is ‘locked down’ for use if a user is changing it and this is displayed as well as who the editor current is to anyone else in the Project at the same time looking at it. Once the change has been saved the Process Editor is released for use again. There isn’t a theoretical limit to the number of users hitting a Project at the same time so would be an interesting test once the community gets their hands on it.
Before leaving this topic it’s worth noting the Library feature, which is a basic document management/ Sharepoint-style implementation. You can store files accordingly against the Project here which helps build up a Project based repository. Unfortunately there’s no way to export what’s been stored here externally so it’s a limitation which may create an issue for some. Also, there’s no way currently to collaborate across Project domains and share information. Same limitations may apply with Stickies in terms of cross-referencing what’s available in the Library but needs to be tested to confirm this.
What I thought about afterwards was the ability to create sub-projects in the Project space. If you consider the scenario of using ArisAlign as a Programme collaborative space with several small process projects running it may be a much needed feature rather than create several Projects which cannot connect together.
We are all aware that these tools offer community environments and networking capabilities so ArisAlign has the former down to a T somewhat. In this area, as already touched upon, it’s pitched more as a professional networking tool than a social one which is right. Standard messaging capabilities are present and Thomas hinted on moving towards a Google Wave type approach for later functionality. If you’re familiar with LinkedIn then the networking side will be familiar; personal profiles, search for contacts, invitations, groups and discussion forums. Nothing really jumping out that shouts I’m different here which isn’t a bad thing, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
What might set ArisAlign apart from competitors is the idea of the Marketplace for consultants and practitioners to list themselves and help out on projects. How this is finally implemented, controlled and what kind of (revenue) model is applied will be interesting to watch out for but this could kick start a nice community revolution. If you can imagine collaborating with a number of colleagues in the industry across the globe on a single project it presents clients with an interesting option to pool knowledge and expertise without requiring everyone to be on site.
Thinking back there’s something missing and I can’t quite put my finger on it. I was a bit underwhelmed by the lack of apparent overall strategy, the tool very much built on single use case scenarios but nothing on the wider question of potential enterprise-wide adoption. It’s early days yet but as talked about in my blog tool like this can very much expose the real influencers, process owners and hidden communuty in an organisation outside of the traditional hierarchy. I got the feeling Software AG have created something they don’t fully understand themselves yet and have yet to grasp how game changing this can be if driven the right way. Other aspects around data security and user privacy still seemed a bit vague. Thomas touched on this concern briefly but really Software AG should have had this wrapped up by now in the 12 months they’ve been developing the tool. If Salesforce.com can sort it out and convince large enterprises there are no issues then I’m pretty sure ArisAlign can overcome the same.
This is just my opinion and review after seeing the demo, I think the real test is when the BPM community at large finally get their hands on ArisAlign when the doors open at CeBit.
Form an orderly queue please……
You can sign up for the beta trial at www.arisalign.com