Stop Application Sprawl! Make Business Process Management Your Operational Backbone

I love “ah hah!” moments.  Those are when you can literally see the light bulb going off over someone’s head.  I witnessed one of those last week while sitting in a conference room at a Fortune 500 company evaluating Appian’s Business Process Management software.  The people in the group were responsible for all accounting operations in the company, many managed through their financial shared services center.  They needed help addressing the unstructured work required to resolve exceptions stemming from financial operations processes such as order to pay, record to report, account reconciliation, and deductions management.  The number of people they had spending 100% of their time tracking down information to resolve exceptions was staggering.

The group went through their past attempts to improve control of their processes.  Of course there were the inevitable spreadsheets created for manual tracking and the associated e-mails and voice mails that go along with that slow approach.  At one point they even tried tracking month-end reconciliations in a software system designed for procurement.  Why? Because it was the only software they had at the time that had any workflow capability.   Their most recent attempt was using the process management capability in their new ERP system.  That failed because their workflow system lacked reporting capability.  They could manage the work, but couldn’t easily get a big picture view to help them diagnose exception causes and stop them at the source.

So what was the “ah-hah!” moment? A bit more background first.  Capgemini and HP Solutions recently released their Application Landscape Report 2011.  Their survey of over 100 CIOs unearthed the following:

  • 85 percent say their application portfolios need to be rationalized
  • 60 percent say they currently support “more” or “far more” applications than needed
  • Most believe that up to 50 percent of their application portfolio needs to be retired

The report makes it clear that today’s companies find themselves living in a world of “application sprawl.”  Every point solution they bought to solve a specific problem was a good decision at the time.  Same goes for internally developed custom applications.  But when looked at from 30,000 feet, the individual successes are outweighed by the complexity of managing so many applications, each one’s inability to fit the exact needs of the company, and the way that work is “fractured” by having so many different systems to log into.

The “ah-hah!” came from one of the financial leaders in the room.   While they had been participating in the discussion, I could tell they weren’t fully engaged.  But they perked up when talk started shifting to how Appian could wrap or replace existing point solutions in addition to automating currently unstructured processes.  A few minutes later, full of excitement, they said the following before the whole group, “After we adopt Appian, we will need to be convinced why any point solution would be better than what we could create for our own needs in BPM.

The light bulb was shining brightly.  They made the connection.  They now saw that Appian was the path to having one platform – one system to log into and one place to work – for a wide variety of processes within the company.  No more application sprawl.  And we’re not talking about “rip and replace” either.  Appian can “wrap” any application allowing our newest mobile and social capabilities to be the interface for pulling information and writing back to those systems.  You can preserve any legacy investment until there’s clear outside justification to replace.  (And based on the survey above, there are a lot of people anxious to disconnect or replace systems.)

Signs of the transformation away from application sprawl are all around.  A key contact at a new Appian client shared an e-mail he sent to his team with me.  The message, in summary, read as follows, “Please hold off on [name of point solution product].  We are adding too many software tools.  We are already using Appian for Deductions Management and we’re having great success.  The process problem that [name of point solution product] was going to be solved can be addressed even better through an incremental Appian process.”

Stop application sprawl. Just say “no” to any new point solutions.  Use Appian BPM to get your unstructured processes under control and pull work from multiple systems together into one mobile and social interface.

Evan McDonnell

Vice President of Solutions