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AuraPortal: A BPM Vendor Worth Checking Out

Written By: Predrag Jakovljevic
Published On: August 11 2011

Despite the ongoing consolidation in the business process management (BPM) space (i.e., the acquisitions of Lombardi Software by IBM, Metastorm by Open Text, Chordiant by Pegasystems, Savvion by Progress Software [see related blog post on the TEC Blog], BEA Systems by Oracle, IDS Scheer by Software AG, and so on), the BPM arena is still crowded with a number of vibrant vendors (many of which are still startups) with innovative value propositions and approaches. A previous blog post on the TEC Blog looks at a few lesser-known BPM vendors and their interesting approaches to BPM.

Having adopted the latest technologies, these newcomer companies have rendered themselves future-proof—i.e., they have minimized the risk of providing technology that may soon be considered obsolete. Such business process management system (BPMS) solutions, which are founded on the latest technology advancements, often become more popular than market-renowned BPMS products.

One of these up-and-coming BPMS vendors is AuraPortal (a.k.a., AURA), which delivers a solution that creates business process (workflow) execution models without the need for heavy information technology (IT) programming. AuraPortal is fully Web based (i.e., all components and facets of the AuraPortal BPMS have a Web-oriented architecture [WOA]), and is complementary to existing enterprise resource planning (ERP), supply chain management (SCM), and customer relationship management (CRM) systems. As such, the offering is most beneficial to developing business process workflows across multiple disparate enterprise systems.

AuraPortal BPMS [see product profile] is also completely based on the latest Microsoft technologies, utilizing the Microsoft .NET Framework, Microsoft SQL Server, Microsoft SharePoint, and Microsoft Visio solutions. Other technologies that can be used as required include Java, Ajax, ASP.net, and Web Services. With AURA’s focus on organic product development (i.e., no acquisitions) comes a suite with all modules unified on a single platform.

 

Who Uses AuraPortal BPMS?
The AuraPortal BPMS solution has proven utility in a variety of industries, including manufacturing & distribution, financial services, professional services, health care, and federal and local government sectors. However, the vendor has penetrated virtually all industries (see figure 1). The company has a presence in 50 countries with 400 customers and for companies including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Frito-Lay, Toyota, Yamaha, Petroleos Mexicanos (PEMEX), ArcelorMittal, Eletrobras, Royal KPN, Bristol-Myers Squibb, SODEXO, Carrefour, and Saras, to name a few—some of which are in the Fortune 500 Global Report.

AuraPortal also showcases many government agencies and departments and caters to small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) in several countries. The vendor, with a customer base concentrated in Europe and Latin America, has been expanding recently to North America, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Asia-Pacific. The product supports the following languages: English, French, Spanish (European and Latin American), Dutch, Portuguese (European and Brazilian), Greek, Arabic, Romanian, Chinese, Catalan, and Galician.

 


Figure 1

AuraPortal has dual headquarters in North America (Boston, Massachusetts) and Europe (Houten, The Netherlands) and software development facilities in Spain and India. Its 100 or so employees are based in offices in Valencia (Spain), Cairo (Egypt), Sao Paulo (Brazil), and Beijing (China).

In addition, AuraPortal has more than 400 certified consultants, as most of its sales and services are done through its 100 channel partners. Partner offices are found in the following regions:

  • EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa): Albania, Andorra, Belgium, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Egypt, France, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Greece, Hungary, Italy, Kosovo, Kuwait, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Oman, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, The Netherlands, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, and UK
  • NALA (North America and Latin America): Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, USA, and Venezuela
  • ASIA-PACIFIC (APAC): China and India (contacts in the works to develop business in Australia and New Zealand (ANZ) and other countries)

AuraPortal has more than 30 years of experience in developing sales channels entirely through its network of partners. With this philosophy, the company has won a wide range of projects, in many different markets, and has experienced rapid growth in the past 5 years. Most of its BPM initiatives originate at the services level, with experts in a given vertical industry or discipline (rather than from a horizontal product-centric model). In addition, the company provides an extensive support network for customer-focused consultancy, training, and services via the AuraPortal Training School.

AuraPortal promotes the solutions of its partners embedded in its platform. These are typically extensions that meet industry-specific and localization requirements. In addition, AuraPortal supports its value-added resellers (VARs) and independent software vendors (ISVs) by helping to promote their solutions through corporate-sponsored marketing campaigns and the AuraPortal relationship.

 

AuraPortal Genesis
AuraPortal is the second successful venture of Dr. Juan Trilles; the first was Dimoni Software, renamed Exact Software since its acquisition in 2001. AuraPortal was founded in the same year and produced its first module for intranet collaboration—thus the “portal” aspect of the company was born. The Intranet module has become the foundation of the AuraPortal BPMS suite and is a required module.

AuraPortal BPMS enables not only AuraPortal customers’ employees to interact via the intranet, but also third parties, such as customers, suppliers, associates, franchises, citizens, students, etc., to interact via extranets or external portals. The vendor has come up with the interaction platform for the next generation of process-driven organizations.

The Wide Interaction Platform (WIP) is an exclusive AuraPortal collaboration platform delivered in a process-driven paradigm that permits different audiences to start processes, receive tasks, check e-mails, manage information, and download exclusive features from an organization’s public Web site (see figure 2). Through WIP, AURA’s clients can engage their clients, prospects, external agents, and suppliers (referred to “authorized guests/visitors”) as part of their process-driven network in a transparent and shared environment. This allows authorized parties to be involved in processes and access information, documents, news, etc. Also, using WIP, enterprises can control, manage, and follow up on all Web site visitors and traffic.


Figure 2

From 2001 to 2004, the company was furiously pursuing the development of a comprehensive BPM suite with a noble capability for marrying process modeling and execution in a single step—i.e., to execute processes directly from models made in familiar tools such as Microsoft Visio. The end product is what the company refers to as the “6 in 1 Solution: The Gold Asset” concept. In addition to the required Intranet module, AuraPortal BPM features the following solutions:

  1. BPMS (Business Process Management Suite). Considered by some experts as the world’s most advanced, complete and easy-to-use.
  2. Extensive Document Management Facilities containing automatic generation of intelligent documents with automatic signatures and an agile File System.
  3. A new concept of CRM (Customer Relationship Management) based on Process Patterns including ‘Marketing Automation’ with tailored Marketing Campaigns and Sales Opportunities follow-up.
  4. An Enterprise Content Management system (ECM) with powerful publishing and broadcasting possibilities.
  5. A system for creating, by the user, of an Online Commerce platform in his/her own web site including shopping cart and payment processing gateways (all that without the need of any programming).


With funding of $30 million (USD) in shareholder's equity and increasing annual profits, the private company appears financially stable. During the past 4 years, AuraPortal has achieved consistent annual increases in sales of more than 30 percent and annual increases in customer base of more than 50 percent. Its ecosystem has more than 400 Certified AuraPortal Consultants, which are directly involved with implementations. In addition to its strong growth and investment in research and development (R&D), AURA has seen significant involvement with universities, research groups, and other entities involved in R&D projects with the support of the European Community.

 

AuraPortal BPMS—Common and Optional Modules
The AuraPortal BPMS Suite consists of general (common) and special (optional) modules. General modules provide the basic mechanisms to be widely applied by a company. Therefore, they are of general scope and are always acquired for all licensed users. The General Modules are as follows:

  • Intranet Basic Module provides support for all the modules. It contains both ad-hoc and compounded tasks workflows, and provides the underlying BPM platform with the employees’ organization chart, as well as families of accounts, items, projects and areas, together with a strong document handling system and other important features.
  • BPM Module provides the system with which all corporate processes can be easily modeled and executed without the need for programming.
  • BR (Business Rules) Module deals with business rules, both independently of or related to BPM processes. This module is based on a modern technology, which grants rules with higher coverage, and more importantly, with greater ease of use.
  • AV (Advanced) Module adds special functionalities that greatly enhance the power of the aforementioned BPM module. AV is required for exporting classes of processes and for other advanced operations, such as dynamic Gantt graphics, that are focused on providing control over singular projects managed with BPM processes.
  • ML (Multi Language) Module allows for working with different languages simultaneously, with each user allowed to choose the language of preference. The whole application can be displayed in different languages for different users at the same time.
  • WIP provides a rich communication platform for all guest and casual users, such as customers, providers, etc. WIP is an essential part of the CRM Module (to be explained shortly), which is built into the AuraPortal BPMS processes. Of note, this module grants the right to work with an unlimited number of guest users at no additional charge.
  • CM (Content Management) Module provides content management for Web-based publishing of announcements, news, articles, documents, videos, and any type of digital content created by the company.
  • OC (Online Commerce) Module provides ‘Commerce on the Internet,’ also called ‘e-Commerce.’ An interesting functionality, online commerce is becoming the main sales channel for companies, reducing traffic in traditional channels. The purchase of this module allows a company to open its own online commerce system, and easily modify and adapt it to its characteristics without needing to use external Web design companies or investing in programming.

The main function of the Special Modules, generally included in the so-called “Process Patterns” (also to be explained shortly) designed by AuraPortal, is to perform specific operations for which a few employees are involved, as is the case for CRM applications. Each of these modules can be acquired for a reduced number of licenses, unlike General Modules. Special Modules are as follows:

  • MC (Marketing Campaigns)—This module contains Process Patterns for the design and automated follow-up of all types of campaigns, including general and direct marketing, prospects and customers based on specific profiles (up-selling and cross-selling), covering a wide range of channels, both offline and online, and campaign result analysis. This Special Module is based on the AuraPortal ‘Standardized Projects’ approach, and is therefore suitable for the design, follow-up, and control of projects of any class, aside from marketing campaigns, as the mechanism and know-how are already embodied in the Process Pattern.
  • SO (Sales Opportunities)—This module contains the Process Pattern for follow-up of sales opportunities, in which the workforce is automated, and quotation documents are automatically composed, according to the context and the products and services in each sales process. Its vast controls include fine-tuned and dynamic reports on the status of all current sales and purchase orders.

AuraPortal provides application accelerators or process templates for CRM and SCM to give its customers a head start by applying what the vendor has defined as Process Patterns. Process Patterns are classes of processes of general applications already prepared by AuraPortal that contain the knowledge and structure for ensuring smooth and effective operations related to a given subject or within a particular environment. They are ready to be used except for small details (tweaks) strictly related to the user’s specific circumstances, which need to be defined.

Predefined rules among the aforementioned modules dictate interrelationships—e.g., the presence of a given module may be required for other modules to work. The general Intranet module is always necessary (see figure 3). The general BPM module is required for all the other modules except for Intranet and ML. The AV module is required for the general modules WIP, CM, and OC, as well as the special modules MC and SO. In addition, the WIP module is required for the CM and OC modules. Finally, the BR module, although not strictly necessary, is very convenient for optimal performance of the special MC and SO modules and the general CM and OC modules.


Figure 3

 

Early to Market with CRM and SCM Processes
Given the broad scope and diversity of its modules, AuraPortal BPMS can address the following departmental processes in any enterprise:

  • Business Administration: Budget, purchase management, internal policies, etc.
  • CRM: Marketing campaigns, opportunities follow-up, call center, post-sales management, etc.
  • SCM: Order management, delivery management, complaints management, etc.
  • Financial Management: Cost and budget management, consolidation, risk analysis, etc.
  • Manufacturing: Production and returns management, planning and supply management, etc.
  • Human Resources (HR): Hiring management, vacation management, candidate selection, contract termination, etc.
  • Governance, Risk Management, and Compliance (GRC): Quality control, Corrective Actions/Preventive Actions (CAPA), European Foundation for Quality Management (EFQM), Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI), Six Sigma, Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX), etc.


The Process Patterns currently available are related to CRM activities, namely: CM (Content Management), WIP (Wide Interaction Platform), OC (Online Commerce thru Internet with Social Networks Enhancements), MC (Marketing Campaigns), and SO (Sales Opportunities Follow-up). In delivering these template solutions, a complete set of capabilities for importing and exporting all Process Pattern application data is available, providing a ready-to-use set of applications that can be quickly configured within different companies and in different sectors of the business. Examples of other business solutions include Basel II Risk Management, Quality Management, Purchase Management, Call Center, and Internet Site Registration/Lead Tracking.

Other Process Patterns should be considered more of a framework than a template, for although a great deal of knowledge is present, adaptation to an enterprise’s requirements will require some adjustments to be provided as a separate service. These process frameworks are related to SCM, and include, for example, Distributed Order Management (DOM). In addition, some AuraPortal clients have delivered manufacturing process automation models focused on the execution of the production plan and production process quality control.

AuraPortal plans to leverage its SCM capabilities by delivering process frameworks for production and supply chain planning (SCP). These packaged business solutions provide total flexibility in customizing all parts of the process model, even if any adaptation of the model is required. In addition, changes can be made by business people directly from within the model itself. AuraPortal has adopted CRM process patterns well before its traditional BPM peers, some of whom are only just recognizing the value of these innovations. For more information on the intertwined relationship between CRM and BPM, see one of my previous blog posts on the TEC Blog.

AuraPortal BPMS can tightly cover the BPM needs of diverse economic sectors:

  • Public Administration (file management, citizen files, budget management, etc.)
  • Manufacturing (supplies, production management, equipment maintenance management, etc.)
  • Construction (site management, planning, promotion, license management, etc.)
  • Financial Institutions (risk management, asset management, loan requests, planning, etc.)
  • Insurance (audits, legal requirements, policy management, technician management, etc.)
  • Health care (prevention management, clinical tests, patient management, clinical security, diagnostics, etc.)
  • Education (dossier management, qualification management, planning, events management, etc.)
  • Services (booking management, hiring request management, advice request, etc.)

 

Why Do Companies Choose AuraPortal?
After several years of developing its product offering, AuraPortal gained its very first customer in early 2005—the large Mexican petroleum company PEMEX (see AuraPortal’s blog post). The rest is history (see company’s history; no pun intended).

Since the company’s creation, AuraPortal solutions have been designed for organizations of different sizes and sectors. The product pricing and the combination of different modules make AuraPortal’s solutions affordable and ready for companies ranging from small to medium businesses (SMBs) to Fortune 500. Most of the AuraPortal clients are larger (Fortune 500) organizations—owing to the typical technology adoption curve, with early adopters of a relatively nascent BPM technology segment concentrated in larger companies.

However, many innovative SMBs are starting to adopt BPM technology as part of their IT strategy and competitive plans. AuraPortal installations range from just a couple of users to more than 20,000 concurrent users, and processes supported range from a just few to several thousand concurrent ones. The Instituto Nacional de Seguros (INS) or National Insurance Institute of Costa Rica has an installation with 2 million users. Most of the time, clients are looking to solve specifics issues. And they may see an opportunity for improvement, by eliminating manual work or integrating people and systems, enabling all activities to be orchestrated by the AuraPortal BPMS platform. A typical AuraPortal project requires approximately 60 days before business value can be realized.

The vendor’s clients typically select a very important process for improvement, with major implications in operations and business processes. Once the first process model simulation takes place, a client company can gain insight into the real numbers and make decisions based on the process simulation results (prior to execution of the process). Zero effort is required in handling different process "modes" (i.e., simulation vs execution), and no code debugging or compiling is required.

Once the company starts to leverage the potential of AuraPortal, additional business process issues can be addressed in different areas or business units. In other words, companies working with AuraPortal may scale up at their own pace. They may start working with a few 'basic' or 'mission critical' processes, and in a subsequent phases may add more complex processes and substitute legacy applications.

AuraPortal can be scaled in terms of both number of users (few to many) and functionality (by adding new modules) as demand increases, license mode (from named users to concurrent users or corporate license), and infrastructure required for a given installation (i.e., it is possible to install the product from a unique server, to a more complex clustered structure and using the Windows Load Balancing System and Fault Tolerance [implemented automatically] with no need for any specific configuration). Multiple installations can be generated in the same server with total independence of databases and several different application environments.

The vendor’s partners can deliver virtualized installations in a common data center for providing on-demand process automation solutions powered by AuraPortal BPMS. The suite can be deployed in common application servers, such as IBM WebSphere or Oracle WebLogic. AuraPortal BPMS’s roadmap for the next 2 years includes multi-platform support for additional databases and operating systems.

 

Deployment and Pricing Flexibility
At this stage, 15 percent of AURA’s customers are on a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model, with the majority on-premise. SaaS delivery is often used during the proof-of-concept phase and a broader BPMS is then used on-premise. AuraPortal solutions have been delivered in a cloud or SaaS model since 2006. AuraPortal’s strategy is to provide SaaS capabilities for its partner network. This is done by AuraPortal delivering its platform with the SaaS technology embedded and the partners then developing the best business model for delivering business process automation and application accelerators in the cloud.

AuraPortal offers many licensing options for clients large and small: from focused departmental implementations and proof-of-concept trials, to SaaS or on-premise implementations, to named or concurrent users, etc. The BPM project can deliver real results quickly, which helps AURA’s clients move ahead with subsequent project phases and continue with business process improvement across their organizations.

Compared with other competitive BPMS products on the market, AuraPortal offers economic license pricing, and above all a very significant consultancy cost savings to the user. The latter is due to minimal time for processes development and implementation, as no programming is required for building executable processes regardless of their complexity and operating throughput.

The final license price is calculated by taking into account the modules purchased and the number and type of users (employees and external). As an example, a system for 100 named users will cost between $30,000 and $240,000 (USD), depending on the modules selected. Moreover, the system offers different sales models within selected industries (education, associations, etc.). Service and maintenance contracts for on-premise customers cover technical assistance (annual fee: 9% of software licenses) plus upgrades (annual fee: 9% of software licenses).

 

Differentiation in a Nutshell
AuraPortal usually wins against competitors through the depth and breadth of its product suite (whereby all required BPM capabilities [and more] come from a single vendor) and its willingness to develop a proof of concept at no cost to the customer. Moreover, AuraPortal BPMS can enable processes with greater complexity, without need for any programming, including integration with other systems and ability for business analysts to maintain the process models. All these features enable the vendor to implement the product faster and allow its customers to maintain their processes using business people instead of precious IT staff.

There is no need for programming resources to develop executable processes, as all AuraPortal functions are parameter-driven and enable business users to easily create forms and workflow models. Other nice-to-have features (which are not necessarily differentiating factors compared with many other BPM vendors’ similar offerings) are as follows (see figure 4):

• Completely Web-based user interface (UI)
• All business rules independent of the processes, making it easier to maintain and modify models
• Use of industry standard tools, such as SharePoint, Visio, SQL Server, etc.

The development environment in AuraPortal is fully Web based, along with its process modeling tool, which is based on Microsoft Visio. These capabilities provide a zero training–oriented solution for interaction of business users with the platform.


Figure 4

 

BPM Lifecycle Enabled by AURA
AuraPortal excels at requests from prospective customers to develop a real business process for automation. These are relatively short yet complex processes, not just linear approval workflows. As an example, consider a process with human- and system-centric tasks, exception events, looping flow threads, the handling of multi-register data (with complex automatic treatments for each register), and the seamless integration of independent sets of business rules—that can be changed at any time without changing the process model. Also consider including documents that can be automatically constructed and reshaped based on changing data and emerging situations, with automatic insertion of digital signatures. All these activities require the participation of not only employees, but also customers and/or suppliers as the process task performers.

A vendor with a BPMS that does not require programming for process model execution can develop the entire process and deliver it for testing in a matter of a few days. AuraPortal defines the lifecycle of any business process via the following four phases:

  1. Modeling—Where the process models are built
  2. Execution—Where users work with the processes daily
  3. Monitoring—Where users can have a global or detailed visualization of the processes and their situation
  4. Optimization—Where changes and improvements are made, using the results from the monitoring phase, to optimize the processes

 

Straightforward Process Modeling
First, the user draws a diagram of the model of the Process Class using the AuraPortal Modeler tool (see figure 5) as well as the Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN) standard for all of the process steps and milestones. During the process design, business users can focus on the model, with no help from the IT staff.


Figure 5

When the user finishes the diagram, the system checks that the syntax is correct. If it is, the application automatically generates the Process Class code (see figure 6).


Figure 6

Once the model is defined, attributes must be assigned to the diagrammed objects, e.g., task performers, roles, execution time, forms, etc., in the process configuration step (see figure 7).


Figure 7

The type of data that can be stored in the object panel is manifold: one-line text, multiple-line text, rich multiple-line text, whole numbers, decimal numbers, dates, dates and time, yes/no fields, simple selections, multiple selections, family elements (items, accounts, employees, documents, connections to external databases [adapters], singular roles, generic roles, account profiles, item profiles, lists of recipients, contacts, SharePoint annexes, integrated tasks, digital signatures, planning), and other complements. In addition, AuraPortal includes a wide range of action buttons for process tracking, queries, triggers, links, planning, flow deviations, e-mail tests, links, automatic documents with process context data, system tasks, etc.

AuraPortal Form Editor is one of the most powerful tools in the market (see figure 8). It provides a variety of functionalities, without the need for programming. Its distinct Dynamic Activated Divisions (DAD) feature permits users to have a vast amount of information on the same screen—dynamically activated (some BPM vendors refer to this capability as Adaptive Desktop). The editor converts a personal task form, within a process, into a powerful workstation, enabling AURA clients to create and launch complex forms.


Figure 8

As the workflow is automatically generated without any coding, the user just needs to configure the forms, and then define textual business rule(s) for declaring procedures, policies, or job instructions to be applied for each activity (step) in the process. This approach provides a well defined and self-guided approach to process automation.

 

Process Simulation and Execution Straight from the Model
Once the Class of Process is modeled, the process can be executed in real-time simulation, before it is published. Process modes can be changed between Modeling and Simulation as many times as needed (see figure 9), in order to check the process performance and, if needed, optimize it.


Figure 9

AuraPortal delivers process execution directly from the process model. When an employee logs into AuraPortal and clicks on “My Tasks,” he/she can access a list of all pending tasks. Individual tasks may open in different layouts, as indicated by the designer (see figure 10).
 
 
Figure 10

AuraPortal is a business units-oriented solution, as all features available in the platform are amenable to business users. The process model can be deployed in a real-time execution environment as well as in an off-line or simulation mode. Processes can be executed directly from the model, with no need for compiling or debugging. The BPMS engine is responsible for interpreting and putting the model into action in a transparent manner for business users. 

As mentioned earlier, authorized visitors are allowed to interact with business processes of the company, such as Marketing Campaigns, Shopping Baskets, etc. When the Web portal visitor clicks on the “Join Now” button or “Register” button, he/she will prompted to fill in an AuraPortal Process Start Message Event Form (see figure 11). This action will automatically create the visitor’s login for accessing special restricted areas of the Web (all this is designed with the aforementioned WIP module).


Figure 11

 

Process Monitoring and Optimization (Improvement)
Using tools such as business intelligence (BI) and data visualization (e.g., dashboards, scorecards, key performance indicators [KPIs], etc.), business processes can be viewed both in a global (big picture) and detailed (e.g., results, delays, bottlenecks, etc.) manner (see figure 12). Customers can consolidate information by gathering data from different sources and gain visibility of all the KPIs monitored. For a direct business activity monitoring (BAM), users can define specific process views, queries, and dashboards for showing only what they need and how they need it.


Figure 12

The Visual Tracking functionality of AuraPortal Monitoring permits viewing the status of the process, the route taken, the results obtained, etc. Featured is the common method of drawing a colored line on the diagram to follow process flow as well as a list showing the sequence of objects traveled by the flow heads (annotations), with additional information including: name, exact time stamp (date, hour, minute, and second of the start and finish of each object), performer (of tasks), active outlets (in divergent gateways).


This monitoring approach, exclusive to AuraPortal, has the following important advantages over the commonly seen approach of a “colored line on the diagram”:

  • provides richer information on process execution
  • allows users to follow separately the evolution of each branch resulting from divergent process gateways with their time stamps
  • allows users to view information separately for each loop, regardless of whether objects are the same in the entire looping circuit

Aside from flow tracking, the system provides access from the same window to other monitoring information: Panel Data, Comment Logs, Documents, and Chronometrics (see figure 13). All told, this is possibly the most comprehensive offering of tools in the market that helps process owners discern what is going on with their business processes.


Figure 13

Finally, using the results from the monitoring phase, changes can be carried out in process models in order to continuously optimize process outcomes (see figure 14). AuraPortal processes can be adapted at runtime by:

  • using built-in business rules,
  • editing process context data,
  • modifying process flows (to cancel, resume, or roll back the path taken by processes), and
  • by changing task forms (which will take effect in runtime processes).


Figure 14

 

The “Secure Rooms” Concept
All these functional capabilities (see figure 15) are only available to users with the right permissions, which are handled by the proprietary AuraPortal “Secure Rooms” system. This system controls access to different parts of the application. Each Secure Room is created by users with administrative power that may select from a wide range of combinations to decide which elements (documents, objects, processes, reports, queries, or any part of the application) are to be lodged in that secure room. The users then define the ‘key’ that opens that room. This key is a set of ‘credentials’ that any visitor wishing to enter the secure room must have in order to access the elements inside. Any element may be lodged in more than one secure room.

Once the secure rooms are created, the system generates a ‘Guardian,’ that at the time of execution will check that a user that wants to act over an element lodged in a given room has the key (the credentials) for that room prior to granting access permission. Moreover, in many situations, the guardian hides from the user’s screen those elements that are in the rooms but that are not accessible to the user (so that he/she only sees what access allows).


 

Figure 15


This system is of unlimited scope, as virtually any element can be lodged in a secure room. It is also tailored to a company’s needs, as the company defines all the secure rooms it needs. It also does not affect the performance of the whole application, and therefore can be considered to provide optimal and flexible access control.

 

The Importance of Business Rules
AuraPortal and Pegasystems share a number of capabilities (see previous TEC blog post series on Pegasystems) including an independent business rules engine. This engine allows business users to define, control, and monitor each business rule in a transparent manner via a common repository that can be used independently from the process. Though linking business rules with processes is becoming important, the system requires a separate repository of information that can be modified as frequently as needed without having to touch the process model per se.

All rules are configured in the business rules repository, using and interacting with the process data or common data, which means that there is no need to replicate the same rule for different processes. A particular rule can be applied to different processes. In addition, the event processing system, created by invoking a ready-to-use Web service, can check for any external information (in a spreadsheet, database, text file, etc.) in order to update the rules data, execute calculations, or just compare them for providing the results of the business rules execution (see figure 16). AuraPortal features the following four types of configurable business rules:

  1. Textual—texts to be read
  2. Assignment—lists of heterogeneous parameters to which values are assigned
  3. Calculation—algebraic and date operations, statistics, comparisons, etc.
  4. Inference—matrices with criteria and qualifications


AuraPortal Business Rules do not require programming. For example, the Inference rule can be easily defined following the directions of how to handle the criteria and qualifications that populate its matrix. In this procedure, all possibilities are considered and therefore the conditions normally expressed by statements of the type ‘If’ and ‘Then,’ as well as any other code expressions, do not have to be used.

This approach has proved to be powerful, simple to apply, and practical, as demonstrated when used for controlling complex environments, such as the Basel II international banking directives for ‘Credit, Market and Operational Risks and Regulatory Capital.’ The rules may seamlessly integrate all company regulations with business processes wherever necessary (but while still maintaining their independence from processes).

AuraPortal offers a comprehensive, proprietary Business Rules system that does not need a separate engine for rules handling. Namely, it takes advantage of the process engines to perform the actions regulated by the rules. Thus, this system follows the approach accepted by all business rules experts: business rules must be declarative and not executive (i.e., they must proclaim what is to be done, but they should not perform any action).

Like its competitor Pegasystems, AuraPortal can leverage the best of both declarative and procedural worlds. AuraPortal deals with the declarative execution approach to business processes via rules definition and configuration. This is the foundation for delivering the aforementioned zero code–oriented platform for process automation.


Figure 16


On the other hand, all aspects related to interacting with external sources for defining or generating process workflows or business rules can be dealt with in a procedural, business-oriented approach. This allows the IT staff to focus on third-party systems integration and systems infrastructure tasks. For the procedural side of the process automation, AuraPortal delivers a tool set that reduces the time for generating business results. Examples of these features are the different types of system tasks, connectors, and import functions.

 

The DAD Technology Revisited
As mentioned earlier, AuraPortal has recently incorporated the innovative form control tool DAD. This system converts a Personal Task form within a process into a workstation. This workstation then acts as a control center with dashboards capable of triggering an unlimited number of divisions (pop-up windows, forms, etc.), so that many related activities can spring out from the same point.

DAD is part of the hypertext markup language (HTML) forms capability that allows for the creation of dedicated areas of the end-user process form (where the user is responding to a task) to appear under specific conditions (e.g., once the input of fields is completed). This ability to generate new forms on the fly can be rules-based as well. Based on the information entered, more screen regions or divisions (fields and information) can be displayed.

When opening a Task, the related Form contains all the fields and information required for the activity to be carried out by the user (so the user does not need to exit the Task to look for information elsewhere). One Task may contain several Dynamic Forms, which are designed with the form editor, including: conditional divisions, calculated fields, conditional fields, conditional pages, conditions based on fields values, business rules, automatic creation of documents based on the information entered in the form, action buttons, link buttons, and much more. Some fields appear as the user enters information; e.g., the three areas separated by horizontal lines in figure 17 would appear as different steps are completed. Figure 18 shows a dashboard with dynamically updated data as soon as the tasks are processed.


Figure 17


Figure 18

Any division in a process form may contain not only fields, but also ‘complements’ and ‘supplements’ for inserting rich text, images, video, flash, sound, etc., to improve the appearance of the form. The ‘complements’ can also accept conditions, so that some complements are shown while others are hidden according to the circumstances of the process execution. This allows for inserting dynamic and changing operating instructions for the task performer according to each particular situation.

In addition, the AuraPortal form editor provides templates for creating the most appropriate look-and-feel, which also includes button design templates. Furthermore, forms can be designed to automatically create documents based on information entered in the form. These automatic documents, created over templates called ‘Base Documents,’ can automatically be reshaped based on the data and conditions of each situation, allowing for version control.

 

Case Management Capabilities
The combination of business rules and DAD supports runtime creation and control of tasks, case-handling features, and ad-hoc task management. Business users can redefine a rule on the fly, during process execution. At the time the process instances are active, business users can perform any change to the process fields or forms. Also, a multiform approach can be applied and used depending on the situation, and retrieved by the participants. Interactions can be compiled from the multiple comment logs and configured for different audiences; there is also the possibility of starting a parallel ad-hoc workflow inside of a process instance to involve any people at any time that are needed to play a role in the current cases.

Any type of data or event source can be directly involved in the process that is created, and business users receive data seamlessly through the forms, parameters, conditions, and reference data for performing their work. AuraPortal provides automatic routing either through its Generic or Singular Roles. With generic roles, the participants and task assignments are based on the context, which is reflected in the configuration of the AuraPortal families, which include accounts, projects, items, etc. The organization and classification of the BPMS engine in a tree format enables checking the context and defining the responsible task performer(s) for a specific activity any time the family elements are referenced in the process execution (see figure 19).


Figure 19


With singular roles, workflow can be automatically configured to avoid duplicate work during a group activity execution, by checking the group configuration and performing automatic actions previously defined. Moreover, in AuraPortal, data can be stored in a person-centric or process-centric manner. The capability for case management and holding a master customer record against which processes are associated and executed is embedded in the platform. The approach for accomplishing this is carried out through the aforementioned “family” structure: employees, rules, processes, free tasks, documents, accounts, items, projects, and areas. These families are common elements found in any type of business, with their own common repository of data featured in AuraPortal.

 

Conclusion: A BPM Bang for Users’ Bucks
The AuraPortal BPMS features many more capabilities that are not really expected to be offered by a vendor of AuraPortal’s size and stature. Pegasystems, Oracle, IBM, Progress, Software AG, and others might have all of these BPM capabilities on paper, but they come with much higher price tags and require more involved implementation projects with pricey Tier 1 consulting companies.

AuraPortal is certainly at a disadvantage due to its much lower size and brand recognition as compared with the aforementioned stalwart opponents. Also, the vendor’s presence and customer references outside of Europe and Latin America are still nascent and limited. But with time, prospective customers in most regions of the world will get the chance to see AuraPortal as a more affordable BPM alternative that does not necessarily skimp on functionality—quite to the contrary.

 

 
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