It’s all about dynamic and collaborative processes these days (so we’re being told) and while many are still entrenched in traditional ways of portraying and designing BPM tools others are swiftly moving with the times or certainly are ahead of the trends. Take Ultimus and their Adaptive BPM Suite. I was fortunate to have a look at v8 courtesy of Chris Adams, VP of Product and Technology, who kindly took me for a spin round the BPM block with it and there are some nice features which differentiate it from some I’ve seen so far.
The design environment is a typical repository styled BPM tool but one which allows for some rapid process development. Many business users can work on one process at the same time and elements that make up a process (data, activities, sub-tasks etc) can individually be checked out and worked on which makes a difference from having to check out the entire process model itself and waiting until it’s checked back in before someone else can work on it. In essence a process can be modelled whilst others can be doing other work on it at the same time using different views within the Ultimus suite. Also, the checking out procedure itself is simplified by dragging it into the design environment from the repository view which is a neat feature. While Ultimus have implemented their own shape template users can switch to a standards based format like BPMN and Chris advised that it will be BPMN 2.0 compliant in a future release soon.
Another interesting feature and which I reckon will appeal to those business users who don’t relish the thought of having to create code is the Visual Rules engine, allowing users to drill into the step itself and build a business rule in a visual format. Forms can be built using either the Ultimus HTML form builder, Excel or Word (natively) and data links can be established by simply clicking on the schema within the defined process and it’s automatically associated. As with other tools you can call into play other services using what Ultimus class as ‘Flobots’, essentially integration steps between Ultimus and existing systems, taking advantage of a large array of connectors to web services, email clients, XML, databases etc. Users can also create custom Flobots for other interfaces and Chris was quick to point out that there’s a complete Enterprise Integration Kit that comes with Ultimus that allows the ability to mashup Ultimus and create something completely custom from their open set of APIs.
Processes are fully verifiable via Ultimus before being deployed as live workflow, so all rules, forms, , data, activities and workflow are read and checked that they are all complete before being published to the live server. Here’s where Ultimus makes a clever play for adaptive BPM. You can correct processes which are running live on the server at any point via Ultimus Director. Say a process is running and encounters a bottleneck, administrators can use Director to log in, replay aspects of the process to find out what is actually occurring the check out the process and, for example, create a new rule on the fly which redirects and clears the bottleneck. Publish it back into the live environment and the problem has been resolved. There is the ability to highlight many processes at the same time and apply the same fix across them all at once too which is really useful for quick firefighting across an enterprise with similar processes running. Director allows a complete historical record to be played back to an admin user, stepping through the process and witnessing the interactions, data attributes captured etc. This is not simulation however. Another great example of rapid and adaptive development is the ability to ‘upgrade’ live processes with a newer version rather than creating a new instance, so for example you add a new step in the process, the upgrade path overlays the new step onto the live process and Ultimus ‘self corrects’ the remaining process model around it.
The Suite also provides other ‘standard’ BPMS features such as an organisational chart module which is useful for creating role relationships within the process repository, as well as BAM dashboards for reporting on process performance. It’s the non-standard features like the way it handles on the fly changes, the design environment that allows multiple parties to work on a process at the same time that makes it stand out a little more. Chris states that BPM fills the ‘whitespace’ of an enterprise (ie, as previously stated by myself, “it’s the glue” between many disciplines and ideals).
Ultimus certainly fills that space with something more dynamic and flexible.