A conversation with Persistent, Appian and a client

This would be a great time for us to celebrate the 12 years Persistent and Appian have been working together to deliver pioneering, transformational digital platforms. But we realize it’s not about us.

Instead, we hosted a roundtable discussion around how business process automation (BPA) is being implemented with a Financial Services client.

Read highlights from the discussion below and listen to the complete conversation HERE.

Disconnected Acts of Data Capture

The big drivers for business process automation are how to create competitive advantage and contain costs. Everyone has existing processes and vast amounts of information and data, and often they’re trying to blend that data and information to look for new insights.

The common challenge is replacing siloed, manual processes which have grown over time and are unable to scale across an organization. To understand the macro journey that we’re going through, we need a unified view.

These siloes limit an organization’s ability to access company-wide data which is a core requirement to re-imagining how an organization operates – true digital transformation. It can be reducing costs and peoples’ time, accessing more complete and timely information, improving the customer experience, and even pursuing new business models.

Many times these environments come from the best of intentions. Problems come up like a change in a regulation, a change in a business model or acquisitions. Solutions need to be done or fixed quickly so a new system or a new data source is created.

So now we see not only siloed applications but siloed processes and data because they tend to go hand in hand. We see Excel spreadsheets, standalone databases or the manual off-line reconciliation of different data sources. Someone must spend a lot of time integrating the sources when the system really ought to be able to do that in real-time.

Another scenario is a system store data because it was needed two or three years ago and now it’s a problem – the company has 14 different systems with 14 different databases. Most software applications are set up to get as much of an organization’s data as possible inside their own system – it’s a surefire way to make sure they never get ripped out. But this creates the silos and prevents the macro processes from taking hold. The big premium is on being able to leverage other data systems, process systems, rule sets, and places where that kind of information may exist in an organization.

In fund administration, for example, there are many different steps, applications, and data sources. How do you unify not only the processes but the data around it? Organizations are also looking to enable new technologies to go digital and extend legacy or on-premise systems. They have either new users or constituents and business partners they haven’t reached before which means thinking about how to bring a new world of information together that they can actually act on. Just about every organization in the world can relate with this client about how they were operating.

Abstracting Away Complexity

Sometimes management teams describe shadow, manual or runaway I.T., usually born out of a need to get something done and people trying to do the right thing. Spreadsheets are easy to open but not scalable. Automation helps bring that back and lays it out in a way that you can get all the benefits. This now remains a durable asset of the organization and really helps harmonize data and processes.

Our clients also want to build applications quickly. With BPA you can start out with one – big or small – then grow it over time. This includes legacy applications to extend their useful life, making sure data can be anywhere in an organization without having to replicate it in multiple places. Users can finally gain access to data without having to always build new applications. BPA sits on top of different applications to connect and unify data and process together – the essence of digital transformation.

We try to engage on the business metric that you want to see movement around. Once you narrow that down, you can start to make a real quantifiable impact. For example, we see organizations that have a strong process in one region, then able to scale the process and best practice globally.

As with the client in this discussion, they narrowed down on a set of metrics, then focused on iterations. Persistent designed an engagement process that brings maximum life to the Appian software. Algorithms, bots, and machines help make humans more efficient. What the client describes is exactly that concept of being able to connect and unify people, processes, and data together.

But it’s important to recognize that transformation initiatives are not about ripping and replacing existing systems. It’s about taking advantage of things you already have, being able to tie them together more effectively, and understanding really what needs to be upgraded. One of the principles that organizations can learn from this is that there’s strength in an iteration as opposed to the “Big Bang” approach. BPA moves away from the big projects that take months or years. This is one of the main reasons people feel technology is something done to them.

This is very typical when we work with clients around automation. It’s a roadmap, an iterative cycle of going after the low hanging fruit, knocking it out and then moving to the next issue. It’s about driving towards a benefit, making sure we’ve got that right. End-users feel they have ownership over the project and that the cycles of response to their feedback can be measured in hours and days.

Holistically, you’re using a design-thinking approach delivered thru Appian software to be able to bring new possibilities to users. You start to scrum and involve folks in what’s possible, to imagine new capabilities or interactions.

Focus on the Outcomes, not the Process

The client talks about users getting excited about the new dashboard environment where they are able to get their work done and away from the manual reconciliation. It’s as easy to use as the app that you download at home. That’s really the promise of technology and where we want to go.

Besides moving from manual to digital, this is beginning to set the groundwork for what comes next. The solution is not going to be frozen in time – it will be updated with new technologies and data as they come along, continuing to improve the solution.

Some key takeaways:
  1. Keep your options open with what you’re creating. When building things that really help organizations on their transformation path, think in terms of making sure that data and process cooperate. You can in many cases leave data where it lies, but create a view that connects and unifies that data with process to an individual, helping you give your users that “single pane of glass.”
  2. Understand that speed plays an important part, making sure users are on board. If you can change things quickly, you’re more likely to get buy-in for projects. It’s important early on to show progress and success so that you can reach the ultimate end goal.
  3. Full-stack automation is very much centered on making the humans in the process work better. With automation, whatever you build today needs to be future proof for tomorrow. This doesn’t mean another six-month project. It means you can quickly add a new element in hours and days to take advantage of the next piece of capability that will make your business work even faster.