A new view of workflow

Pieter van Schalkwyk is serious about helping businesses do better at getting process work done. That's the official motto of XMPro, the company he founded and is now running as CEO. IDM sat down with Pieter to ask what the company is doing to take its own flavour of workflow software and methodology to the world. Initially founded in Sydney, XMPro now has offices and customers in the US and UK, and has recently opened its US HQ in Dallas.

IDM: Pieter, can you give me a bit of a background to XMpro and where it started and where it came from. 

PvS: XMPro started off  when we realised that workflow systems as we know it, from a classical point of view, didn’t address the requirements of where knowledge style processes are going. I’ve been involved with the workflow market for the last 15 years, and at the end of 2009   we started XMpro  in Sydney as a result of some of the challenges that we saw, and also trying to extend functionality inside ERP based products or financial or business applications. In  2012 Gartner put out a research report to say 80% of work is unstructured, and only 20% is really structured where you know the flow in advance.   

The other challenge with those kinds of processes is they’re very content-rich, so there’s a lot of documentation and information and content associated.  You don’t know the flow in advance, and they’re very collaborative, so people like to discuss things, and as a result of that discussion they have context, and then they can make a decision on who should I send it to, who’s the best person to act on it?  So Gartner looked at our way that we approached this and said it was a really unique way, and as a result of that they made us a "Cool Vendor" for business process management in 2012.  As a result of that we had a lot of enquiries out of the US, which initially  as a small Australian business we didn’t have the appetite for.  Towards the end of 2012 we started approaching the US market and almost 12 months later we’ve established ourselves there and have now won our first really big contract at the end of 2013.

IDM Can you tell us a bit about that deal?

PvS: It’s a really large global industrial company in the Fortune 50 and they manufacture a broad range of high tech products; it’s a household name worldwide.

IDM: Do your BPM solutions target any particular environments, whether it’s ERP or ECM that people have in place?

PvS: Most processes these days are relying more and more on knowledge style workers and less and less on factory style operations, where the outcome can be chosen from a pretty defined set.  With most organisations, these processes are woven into the fabric of how they work.  So that means that inherently needs to connect to their financial systems, the ERP systems and their manufacturing systems, and their content management system.  I think a lot of people sometimes forget that content is a key part of any of this process, content and collaboration; those are two areas.  

One of the things that we built into this solution as well is the ability to have collaboration, so instead of breaking out into email you can have that collaboration inside the process.  It’s a great thing.  But as part of that you also need to put content into that as well.  

So if we can collaborate around it the document can’t sit somewhere else; it needs to be there when I look at a current workflow strain or a flow or a case, because we call it “case management.” One of the elements of this new BPM is to be able to handle adaptive cases on a case by case basis, so we can adapt it.  

All of that have content associated with it; the challenge is most large enterprises already have established content management solutions, so you can’t now bring a new thing, say the process has got its own content.  You need to integrate that content.  So in terms of integration to content management solutions, we support integration to all of the large name vendors.

IDM: Everyone's seen the diagrams that most workflow vendors use showing a sequential flow diagram with different outcomes that flow from different decisions. How do you illustrate XMPro workflow?

PvS: We look at something like customer onboarding, for example and see it as a container, and inside that container we have a collection of events.  In actual fact we find a lot of these are hybrids, so sometimes the first part of the workflow will be structured and we can use the conventional notation because people are used to it.  Then it goes into a more collaborative or dynamic process which we represent from a diagrammatic perspective, as a kind of ring fence surrounded by some guard rails. 

Dynamic processes doesn’t mean uncontrolled, so there’s still some business rules that we can put around it to say within this framework or within this bucket or container there are eight or nine or 10 different potential things that someone can do and you don’t have a pre-defined sequence to it. But you need to provide people with decision support because someone now needs to make a decision on this.  So under this current set of circumstances, what is the best next action that you could do?  

For that we can look at history and use predictive analytics, we can say, “Over the last 1,000 transactions,” or 100, whatever the number is, “these were the actions that were taken and these where the outcomes.  So as a result of that we suggest that you do this.”  

An example of that might be onboarding of a new customer based on where you are in the process.  “We suggest that you do a credit check now, but based on your contextual knowledge,” I’m a sales guy, I know this, I’ve been doing, we’ve been dealing with this customer for a long time, and we will do the credit check a little bit later.  

Or we may find it’s a new customer and once again I’ve contextual knowledge as a knowledge worker, I've read something in the paper this morning and as a result of that I want to do the credit check now.  So we do provide decision support with suggested routes that people take.  So we don’t just leave you to say, “There’s 10 options, choose one.”  We do provide guidance or best next actions, but unlike conventional workflow and BPM systems we don’t take the decision for you or for that person.  

We just say, “This is what we suggest under this set of circumstances.”  And you can leverage the experience and skill and knowledge that people have.  There are certain areas that you want to reduce that and turn it back into a conventional flow diagram. 

IDM: There are some pretty established players in the enterprise BPM market, names like Lombardi acquired by IBM and Pega Systems. How does a small Australian developer hope to compete?

PvS:  I think by being innovative in terms of how people could use the solution.  If you take any of the conventional large traditional workflow solutions they require a lot of consulting and lot of technical skills that go with it, where with a tool like XMpro it is designed in a more modern fashion where it enables those subject matter experts to a large degree, to be able to build and configure more than code.

 Traditional BPM systems require  pretty large, big projects staffed over a number of years.  Nowadays we find for example, in private banking and in financial services, they can’t wait that long for the traditional workflow style tools to go through the whole IT processes.  

If you allow some of the flexibility and agility that a tool like XMpro brings, it gives them the opportunity to respond a lot quicker to how the market changes, because they’re in very competitive situations for that area of the market that they need to be able to respond a lot quicker.  

Also many of those organisations have grown by acquisition and comprise different tools that were developed separately. We have workflow, BPM and adaptive case management woven into the same architecture. You can actually move as your organisation’s maturity improves you can go from workflow to BPM to adaptive cases. And something like a customer onboarding for private banking is once again an adaptive case.  

On a case by case basis you will change and for that it’s the case manager or the relationship manager or someone like that that actually construct that at run time; there’s no coding involved in setting any of that up.  So for organisations to move from traditional workflow to BPM to these more adaptive, for us it’s all one thing and the agility and speed at which we can do this. 

IDM Over the last two years pretty much every major ECM vendor has bought a workflow vendor so it’s obviously integral to them, and yet you’re out there marketing independent tool in between the enterprise applications and the ECM vendors.  How are you competing with that?

PvS: With the ECM vendors we find that they’re all very document flow oriented. The way that they design is in a traditional way where you have to know the flow in advance.  If you open up the website you look at the modelling tools that they show you,  there’s a pre-defined workflow, and that’s the mindset of most people when they think about workflow or BPM.  And the same with the content. 

The reason why ECM vendors are buying this is so that they can create a vehicle for the document components that they have, and documents they want moved around based on pre-defined flow.  So in the market at the moment, the ECM vendors tend to move into that system of transaction layer into the organisation, and the workflows that they present are not really designed around, “How do we make the organisation faster, smarter?”  

An area that we’ve created for ourselves is what Gartner calls “intelligent business operations” which is all around embedding analytics inside processes to make smarter decisions faster around operational excellence.  So we don’t really see any of the ECM vendors competing there; although we do bump into the larger classical workflow vendors 

IDM: What are the main business processes that are being targetted by users of your tools?

PvS:     We initially thought that it would be related to some processes that are very customer-centric, where the customer will drive the sequence of flow.  So if you take something like private customer onboarding  in a bank, it’s not a simple workflow process; ,as you go through it the customer will dictate what the next steps are.  So we find a lot of the kinds of unstructured processes have been managed around customer-focused processes.  

 I think the market is changing and one of the areas that we see a lot of growth in and I think where acquisitions and things are going to happen in the future is actually around internet of things.  

One of the things that XMpro is really good at is handling interventions from machine-based signals.  So once again, the content is slightly different.  

An example of that is there’s one of the largest challenges in the US at the moment is around the healthcare system is people not using prescribed medicine to the prescription.  

As a result of that it’s got a massive impact on the healthcare cost.  One of the smart devices up there is a smart inhaler, so for people with asthma we can, there’s technology built into that machine we can actually monitor where and how often people use it.  

What XMpro can do is handle the intervention when we find someone, so we have machine to machine integration as well, so we can listen for devices, whether it’s industrial device, medical device or personal device, there’s a whole range of devices.  And they generate content as well.  

enex Energy (Limited) selects XMPro to manage authorisation for expenditure


UPDATE: Senex Energy (Limited) selects XMPro to manage authorisation for expenditure

Senex Energy (Limited) has chosen to implement XMPro with Professional Advantage.

Senex Energy is a successful Australian oil and gas business with significant growth in oil reserves and production. Senex Energy will use XMPro to manage authorisation of expenditure (AFE). This includes the automation, standardisation and conformity of the process.