Now this will annoy the puritans. BPM for IT ? Never. Heathens. Outrage.
Actually no, it’s OutSystems and it works pretty well. And when a company quotes a large well known client like ATOS Origin who gained 23% productivity gains from the first project using self-trained developers on the system then it’s worth putting bias aside and listening to what they have (http://adi.atosoriginblog.nl/2009/07/15/outsystems-business-case-outsystems-highly-productive/)
From an agile development background initially, OutSystems started to receive feedback from clients who were requesting more integrated process capabilities and so Version 5.0 was born. In fact marrying process with application development gives an organisation a bit of an advantage; both stay in synch with each other, so when a process is improved so is the business application, version control can be applied to one or both at the same time.
The Agile Platform is unique because it’s driven initially by building web business applications via the development studio. It’s fair to compare it against the Casewise Synergy solution in the sense that it’s the opposite end of the scale. Where Synergy gave web forms and workflow in the hands of the business user here OutSystems initially pursue an IT driven platform.
I say initially because they’ve allowed IT to develop the applications that the business community will use on a regular basis which makes sense but here they’ve also overlaid a business process layer which allows the business to get involved in the development of the application by determining how the process and workflow should work. It still needs IT involvement but OutSystems has addressed this by adhering to the Agile methodology which I’ll touch on later.
Creating the web applications is done via the Service Studio which is a self contained development environment. Service Studio can integrate with legacy infrastructure so you have complete access to existing database, applications and workflow systems via the interface. This will need IT effort and I’d say it’s outwith a normal business user’s skillset to be able to create the applications from the outset.
Now the clever bit comes into play. Ordinarily what OutSystems would have given you was a business application fresh from development to use immediately, but now with version 5.0 they’ve added the process layer which allows the business to dictate how the application behaves in a process context. Integrated in the Service Studio is embedded process automation where the process model can be created and the workflow element designed around it at the same time. OutSystems employ a native workflow code generated by the system itself so there’s no need for a separate execution engine. Users of the business application are then prompted to complete tasks, taken to further business applications developed on OutSystems or via legacy interface where appropriate, all called from the same place.
You may think this puts far too much control in IT’s hands, where is the business control or input ? Well, I’d expect the business to be heavily involved in designing the process as usual, there’s no difference here using OutSystems, it’s just that both process and application are more closely integrated. Furthermore, the Agile Platform is just that; built utilising the Agile methodology which is more iterative and engaging.
When a business application is developed and deployed the business can at any stage feedback to IT any changes at any stage on any screen (using what OutSystems calls “Embedded Change Technology”). This is passed back via the Project View and the developer can pick up on the change request which will take them directly to where the change needs to be performed. The application and process are then changed and redeployed (which is literally done with one-click) and fully audited (not implemented yet but is coming soon).
There are more features worth mentioning with the Agile Platform;
- Project View provides different views per role assigned
- Business Activity Monitoring which is flexible, extendable and scalable
- Fully drag and drop design environments
- Integration with SAP, Salesforce.com, Outlook, Sharepoint
- Export/ Import to XPDL (coming soon)
- Service Centre which allows monitoring of the application via error logs
There’s been a lot of thought into how this package is executed which is testament to the OutSystems team in listening to client feedback and not just dumping a process modelling tool on top of an existing development platform. The agile nature really suits what they’ve built and I think engages the business community a little more than you think.
Yes, it may not be a pure ‘business’ oriented tool but what you have to remember here is that technology is not the driver, the BPM methodology is and IT can enable rapid deployment of a business application which follows the process more closely using OutSystems.
You can read my interview with Mike Jones of Outsystems over in my ‘An Audience With….’ section