Notes from the Field: Solving the Plague of Windows

Application Overload for End Users

I have been seeing a trend in requests from IT and business users to solve a critical issue in most organizations: The Plague of Windows.  We have all seen it, and definitely experienced it.  How many application windows do you need to have open to get your work done during the day?  Are you copying and pasting, flipping back and forth between apps?  Entering data multiple times, in multiple applications?  Referencing data in one app to accomplish a task in another?  So I asked myself, why now?  Why has this started to become a critical issue?  Below are the reasons as I see them:

  • The rise of cloud based Software as a Service (SaaS) – platforms like Salesforce, Workday, Box, Dropbox, Office 365 and others have revolutionized the way we conduct our daily work lives, and given us anywhere access to our information.  Unfortunately, when it comes to integrating them with on premise apps, getting them to talk to each other, and sharing data and UI information is absolutely painful.  In essence, we have complicated the always present application “silo” issue, and required heavy custom development for true integration.  Most organizations avoid the pain, or create difficult to manage one-off apps to solve niche problems.
  • Niche/specialty applications are on the rise – every day, I am involved in discussions with IT management and execs that are pondering the ever-present issue in the IT landscape – Do I buy the specialty app for my problem?  The burgeoning start-up ecosystem has created amazing applications that fix focused issues.  Want to provide field inspectors with an inspection tool?  Need to create and manage CapEx requests?  Looking for expense management?  There are specific apps for all those key areas, but when you buy them, you create another silo, another set of data, and another barrier to dissolve.
  • The plethora of data – Ok, there is my $20 word 😉  We have more data today available to us than ever before.  Organizations are leveraging reports and information from all systems to make informed decisions, create strategy and just get there work done.  Access to this data is usually accomplished through the system of record, or through, yet another, application for reporting.

So how do we fix this?  The first step is to solve the data problem, which requires a data integration bus technology (An example is K2’s smartobject layer) .   This can facilitate the creation of this “data foundation”, providing access to all your systems .   Once we have access to the information, now we need a consolidated, dynamic UI to surface the data to the end-user.  This unified interface provides all the necessary information at-a-glance, eliminating the plague or windows, and improving productivity and adding immense efficiency.

Below is a quick video overview of how K2 “no code” technology can solve these app aggregation issues:

BPA Platform Value: The During (Part II)

BPA ROI and Value

Direct and Indirect Benefits from No/Low-code Platforms

This is part II of a series on the value, benefits and ROI of Business Process Application platforms, and the first post can be found here: BPA Platform Value – The Before.

In the previous post, we discussed the advantages to using a low/no-code platform to deliver apps faster to business users, and reduce the IT backlog.  Once the apps get into production, there is a huge impact on business performance, and this is where typical value is associated with efficiency and productivity.   There are two types of benefits that are provided in this phase, direct and indirect.  Below is a summary of both:

Direct and Measurable Benefits of BPA/BPM

  • IMPROVEMENTS IN EFFICIENCY AND PRODUCTIVITY
  • REDUCTION IN REWORK, ERRORS AND PROCESS FAILURE (QUALITY IMPROVEMENT)
  • REDUCTION IN REQUIRED STAFFING THROUGH AUTOMATION AND PROCESS TUNING
  • RISK MITIGATION
  • INSIGHT FOR CONTINUOUS PROCESS IMPROVEMENT AND ANALYSIS

Indirect Benefits of BPA/BPM

  • CENTRALIZED CONTROL AND MANAGEMENT OF ALL BUSINESS PROCESSES
  • ENHANCED COMPLIANCE
  • SIMPLIFIED AND CENTRALIZED AUDIT CAPABILITIES
  • IMPROVED COLLABORATION
  • GREATER ALIGNMENT OF IT WITH BUSINESS REQUIREMENTS
Return on investment for BPM
Examples of BPM/BPA ROI

In the above image, there are a few examples of some hard numbers on savings through process efficiency.  You can read more here:  BPM/BPA Case Studies.

BPA Platform Value: The Before

No-code Platforms Deliver Rapid Returns

This is the first in a series of posts that will present the benefit and value across 3 distinct phases of the BPA Value chain: before, during and after.  Let’s start with the “before”, or the phase from idea inception to deployment, or really the solution development.

It might seem to be quite obvious the value and benefits no-code business app platforms , obviously no-code implies speed to production.

That’s true, but I think its necessary to take a deeper look at how BPA can transform solution delivery.  IT departments today are becoming custom dev shops, and when you look at any of the top business platforms today (Salesforce, SAP, Oracle, SharePoint) they meet a decent percentage of an organizations needs, but there is always customization required.  Those projects can be complex, and require substantial investments in both dollars and time.

No code Business Application
The IT Project Logjam

So, how can no-code App Platforms help?

With core components that can be leveraged by dev and IT all together, or as separate building blocks for specific purposes.  These building blocks are:

  • Integration (smartobjects)
  • UI (forms)
  • Workflow
  • Reports
Business Process Application Components
BPA Building blocks: Forms, Workflow, Data and Reports

An example would be K2’s data integration layer, or smartobjects, which allow configuration-based integration to all your line of business systems.  That layer can be configured once, and then reused over and over, and can be surfaced as a web service for other apps in your organization.  Robust BPA platforms provide separate design canvases for all types of personas.   You can enable your “citizen” developers with a simple designer, or perhaps leverage an embedded SharePoint capability to take some load off and push apps to the business, but you can still leverage advanced, deep designers for complex and advanced work.

Beyond reuse, and broad design capabilities, here are some core benefits:

  • Shorten time to “market”
  • Reduction in backlog
  • Simplified, rapid integration
  • Extension of delivery capability
  • IT automation
  • Agility (change management)
  • Platform for the future

Just a quick overview of some of the key values.  Did I miss any?

Just What Does Mobile Application Development Cost?

Flexible Mobile App Development

It’s Not The Initial Costs That Hurt

It’s no wonder organizations are moving to no-code mobile application development.   Just a quick posts on some graphics I found.

Mobile Application Costs
Initial Cost Range for Mobile App Dev

A Forrester Survey found that the average amount spent on a typical mobile app ($50,000 to $150,000) turns out to be just 35% of the true two-year cost.

See some great mobile development stats here:

Computer World: Chief Mobile Officer Article

Great Fortune Article: Business is Slowing Down

Business process management and agility

Regulations, Technology Overuse and Over-process Lead to Slow Downs

Great article from Fortune:

The Hard Evidence: Business is Slowing Down

Mobile App Platforms: It’s All About the Real Estate

Mobile App Dev Features

4 Core Requirements in Your Rapid Mobile App Dev Platform

 

In working with several customer on mobile application initiatives, I am finding the most important concept is managing the “Real Estate” of the device screen.   How do you give users an efficient and seamless experience without having to scroll, and minimizing “taps to completion”?  Likewise, how do you manage the transition from one form factor to another?  Here are four core features every mobile platform must support to optimize UI usage and forms development:

1.  Responsive Themes –  Business Process App and Mobile Development Platforms must support mobile responsive design principles.  Many platforms provide “design once” functionality where you can build forms/UI that will automatically span any type of device through auto-adjustment.  One example is K2’s smartforms, digital forms technology that are HTML 5 and completely responsive.  This can be a massive time saver for IT staff and developers, and eliminate the need for building digital forms for every mobile platform (iOS, Android, Windows and Blackberry).  K2 Mobile provides a great responsive foundation.  Details here:  K2 Mobile App Dev

mobile responsiveness
Responsive Adjustment of UI

2.   Collapsible Views/Sections – Usability in mobile applications becomes challenging, especially when you have long forms with data entry requirements.  Giving the user the ability to collapse UI sections, or even better, providing this dynamically can provide a more manageable experience.  Being able to do this without code can speed up app dev, and drive productivity in the field.

3.  Tabs – How do you display 3 screens in one?  Having built-in tab functionality can allow users to easily switch back and forth between screens, and provide a seamless way to manage limited space on a mobile phone/tablet.  Limiting long scrolls and the opening of forms can reduce time and limit the complexity of tasks.

4.  Form Automation – Just what is forms automation?  Once again we go back to the theme of “minimizing taps to completion.”  Having a “no-code” rules engine that helps to drive dynamic automation based on forms interaction is absolutely required.  Examples?  See below:

  •  A drop-down list that when selected, auto-populates other fields.
  •  The ability to drive data interaction between multiple Line of Business systems through a single form with no code.
  • Hiding elements of forms, or sections based on choices.

All of this facilitates rapid data collection, and enables field workers to complete their tasks efficiently.  Want more info on Mobile App Dev?  Take a peek at my previous post on Mobile Apps and Rapid Development.

 

Notes From the Field: Mobile Applications and Rapid Development

Enterprise Mobile Strategy

CIOs Looking for Enterprise Mobile Platforms

As I look back at 2015, I am definitely seeing some trends in my day-to-day interactions with IT teams and CIOs: Mobile is driving many conversations.   It is no wonder if you look at some of the surprising statistics (from Kinvey):

  • Only 11% of end users access business apps from the corporate office 100% of the time.
  • 75% of Fortune 500 companies are taking steps to deploy HTML 5 mobile apps
  • Mobile CRM apps will grow by 500% over the next few years

Organizations are looking at alternatives to custom dev when examining their mobile strategy, and need agile, rapid development tools.

Below are two examples of customer use cases for deals that closed last quarter:

  • A large, global textile services organization looking to enable their mobile sales team on their tablets and phones.  This organization wanted a mobile app that could house all their sales forms and marketing materials, and give field reps the ability to access deal process information and get automated status notifications.
  • A mid-range construction company that needed a mobile safety app for field inspections from an iPhone.  Safety inspections can be a complicated business process, and often require notifications, follow ups and follow on process.  Most of the standalone apps on the market do well on the forms side, but fall short in the back-end process and reporting realm.  This organization needed a flexible, rapid dev platform to meet complex needs.

So, as I examine the mobile opportunities in the pipe, I see some commonality when it comes to what CIOs are looking for in a mobile business process app platform:

  1. The Ability to Build and Refine Quickly – Kinvey has a great report on the State of Enterprise Mobility, and there were several key findings in this survey of CIOs:
  • Over half said the time required to build a single mobile app is 7-12 months.
  • 50% say the process takes way too long
  • Mobile app dev is deemed as costly, slow and frustrating

More and more IT departments are looking for platforms to speed up development, and ease resource requirements.  Beyond the initial build, flexibility and agility for change is also a key requirement.

2.  Integration with Existing Systems – For any enterprise application, integration is often the biggest pain point, and typically reflects the largest time investment, and mobile applications are no exception.  Having an integration layer that can reduce or eliminate custom code and complex integration can not only speed up development, but also be a catalyst for opening enterprise systems to external, field workers.  An example of an accelerator in the data and integration space would be the K2 smartobject layer, which provides line of business integration through configuration with no code.   This layered approach is in line with Gartner’s Bimodal IT framework.

3.  Form Driven Workflow/Process – using mobile devices to collect data using forms is just the tip of the iceberg.  The IT departments I work with are looking for deep process after the data is entered.  This process contains not only basic notifications, but also several other components:

  • Business Logic and Rules – leveraging a process engine to make decisions and route work and information to the appropriate department or individual.
  • Integration with LOBs – writing the collected information, or portion, to an appropriate back-end system.
  • Form Archival – this provides the ability to take a “snapshot” of the form, and digitally archive it to an existing document repository through the integration layer.
  • Interaction with other systems – the ability to “check” with other systems during a process, and dynamically make decisions based on data.

So, what do these have in common?  They are typically steps within a manual process that are performed by humans, and consume time.  Efficiency is a core driver for the CIO looking to make an impact when using mobile devices to initiate processes.

4.  Reporting and Insight – Taking real-time data from field-based workers and providing insight to management is a key requirement in Enterprise Mobility.  Information that might not be accessible for days or weeks is now provided instantly to management.  Issues and bottlenecks can be resolved, and real-time, business impacting decisions can be initiated in an instant.

Just some thoughts and experiences ;).  Any feedback?  Also, if you want to see a video demo, you can see my latest post here:

Enterprise Mobility App Demo

 

 

The 5 Benefits of CapEx Process Automation

Capital Expenditure Processing

Solving Capital Expenditure Workflow Challenges

All too often accounting and finance work is accomplished either through the movement of paper through the organization, or the sharing of spreadsheets and files through email.  Add a complex, business rule-based process like Capital Expenditure workflow, and now you have an error prone process with reduced efficiency, a lack of transparency and one plagued with constant delays.  The traditional CapEx process has a number of core challenges:

  • Lack of Standardization – implementing a process without a guiding framework can lead to a non-standardized workflow.  The process can routinely breakdown, and result in a non-repeatable and non-transparent business process.
  • Inaccurate Request Routing – manual routing of requests can lead to unplanned delays, and can impact project timelines, as well as core business operations.
  • Missing Data and Errors – Enforcement of required data and calculation errors are common in most environments, leading to further delays and accounting issues.
  • Lack of Productivity – utilizing email as the primary means of communication can cause additional delays, and lead to a total lack of visibility into the process.  This can result in hours of lost time tracking down a process, or researching issues.

Implementing a Capital Expenditure process within the confines of a Business Process Management (BPM) suite can produce many benefits:

    •  Standardization – standardizing the CapEx request workflow across company departments and divisions can lead to a predictable and timely outcome.   BPM tools can provide visual aids, like K2’s ViewFlow, to always provide a status on the standardized process.
Capital Expenditure Workflow and Automation
K2’s ViewFlow for CapEx
  • Automation – automating the entry of data, as well as its validation, minimizes errors and ensures the accuracy of any request.  BPM forms can provides the ability to perform automatic calculations, summarize information, and check all the entered data for accuracy.
  • Improved Collaboration – with any Business Process Automation (BPA) tool, communications are automated to keep key personnel informed throughout the process.  A centralized location for comments, as well as a communication log for each request, can help involved stakeholders make quick adjustments and minimize any delays.
  • Reduction in Approval Time – the standardization and centralized communication leads to reduced processing time.  In addition, automated escalation can be put in place that enforce approvals and ensure process flow.
  • Transparency – BPM systems provide fantastic reporting to give full visibility and transparency to any process.   Management can view the process in real-time, identify bottlenecks and make incremental improvements to improve efficiency and increase overall productivity.
Capital Expenditure Process Reporting
CapEx Reports

These are just a few of the benefits from automating your finance processes with a BPM tool.   Want to see a CapEx process in action?  See the video below:

 

 

No Code Dev Platforms for Customer Facing Apps

No low code platform

Driving Fast External Apps with No/Low Code Business App Platforms

She sits in her office, and stares at the calendar.  “There is no way to get all these projects done on time,” she mumbles to herself.

Enter the life of today’s development manager.  There just aren’t enough hours in the day, days in the month, months in the year.  With IT departments struggling to keep pace with the speed of their internal and external customers, low/no code app platforms are quickly becoming necessary in all aspects of business.  Of particular importance are those apps that are customer facing, driving interaction with products and services, as well as personnel from sales, marketing, support and operations.

“Low-code platforms are a converging category, not a new one. Most vendors of these products established their technologies with internal-facing applications. Customer-facing applications are quickly becoming a popular new use case for these platforms because these types of applications demand rapid delivery and evolution.”

Forrester Whitepaper: New Dev Platforms Emerge for Customer-Facing Apps

So how can these platforms be leveraged?  See below for some key benefits:

  1.   Quick Web and Mobile Integration with Line of Business System Data – The bane of any CIO’s existence is integration and cross system communication.  With no/low code business app platforms, integration and surfacing data is a snap.  An example would be K2’s smartobject technology for line of business integration.  smartobjects take away the pain of integration, and make integrating with any line of business system, whether on-prem or in the cloud, a snap.   No more code…just “point and shoot” through configuration.  Imagine surfacing SAP or Oracle data in a web form in hours, not days, and making it available on a vendor portal, or to a partner ecosystem.
  2.   Use Powerful Forms Technology to Save on Dev Time – imagine a powerful component-based technology that gave you a library of form controls, a form rules engine and fantastic data capabilities at your finger tips.  Just use powerful wizard driven interfaces to auto-build components, and customize further through an intuitive drag and drop design canvas.  When you are all done, embed the form or view into any web page.
  3.   Create Once.  Reuse Often. – reusability is a core theme to no/low code platforms, and one of the biggest benefits.   Over time, organizations can create a set of forms, data, reports and workflows that can be utilized as an accelerator in any application project.  No more reinventing the wheel, over and over again.

The above are just a few of the benefits.   Below is an overview of how an organization can leverage a no code platform to deliver functionality in short order for external users:

 

BYOA in Healthcare: Quick Sample of a Rapidly Built Advice Nurse App

Healthcare process automation

Workflow and Forms in Healthcare, Hospitals and Medical Clinics

Building Your Own Apps

I wanted to share a quick proof of concept I built for a healthcare organization that was struggling with automating their process in their telephone nurse advice center.  This video shows using K2 Workflow, Forms and Data to build out a quick app for managing calls, and the new tele-patient process.   This process was built using K2 blackpearl, the no-code Business Process Applications (BPA) platform.

Here is a great link for more info on BYOA in Healthcare and Medical: Business Process Apps in Healthcare