Progress Software Revs Up to Higher RPM via Savvion - Part 4

Part 1 of this series began the analysis of the recent merger of Progress Software Corporation (NASDAQ: PRGS) and Savvion Inc. Progress has this way made a large leap into the business process management (BPM) space, from where it had been notably absent. My post detailed how Savvion BusinessManager 7.5 [evaluate this product] is one of the most mature BPM suites in the still-evolving market, with the ability to handle high volumes of workflows that coordinate people, data/documents, and systems.

Part 2 analyzed Savvion’s capabilities with regards to the three common usage scenarios of BPM systems, i.e., human-centric business processes, system-centric (integration) processes, and document-centric processes. Moreover, in its white paper “Understanding Usage Patterns An Enterprise BPMS Must Support,” Savvion identifies and describes four other equally important usage scenarios that are neither very well understood by users nor well supported by BPM vendors.

Savvion claims to currently be the only BPM provider that can accommodate all seven of these usage scenarios. Part 2 then also analyzed the case management and rule-based (decision-intensive) processes, whereas Part 3 continued with the project-oriented and event-centric BPM usage scenarios. My post also ushered the Progress’ recent novel concepts of “operational responsiveness” and the grouping of its portfolio of products into three logical groups with the “responsive” moniker.

Progress touts that three important possible benefits can result when companies are in control of the systems and processes that drive their organizations. First, they gain deeper insight into the operations and events that impact their business. Next, they become faster (and better) at pinpointing and responding to potential opportunities, challenges, and risks.

And finally, they bring about continuous improvements that drive greater profitability. The final part of this blog series will explain the lofty responsive process management (RPM) idea in more concrete terms and examples. 

To accomplish these worthy benefits, Progress recently introduced the Progress Responsive Process Management (Progress RPM) suite, a single platform that unifies comprehensive visibility, complex event processing (CEP), and BPM capabilities to enable continuous process improvement (CPI). The Progress RPM suite provides key functionality that enables CPI in the following three specific ways:

  1. The Progress RPM suite is a human-centric platform providing business users with real-time visibility into business processes and systems, including legacy processes both inside and outside the business.

  2. The suite includes comprehensive business process modeling and automation capabilities. This enables business users to continuously improve their existing business processes and rapidly implement new ones, without disrupting existing systems.

  3. The Progress RPM suite continuously monitors millions of events impacting a business in order to identify patterns as well as anticipate opportunities and threats. The RPM suite is capable of immediately responding, either by triggering an automated response, adjusting a business process that is already running, or even launching a new business process. It can also simply alert a business user to take action.

Actional + Apama + Savvion = Progress RPM

All of this functionality is managed through the Progress Control Tower product, a unified environment that displays real-time alerts, interactive interfaces, and tools. The Control Tower provides business leaders with the ability to view what is happening within their business and to improve it from a single source.

In simplified terms, by converging the real-time business visibility and business transaction management capabilities of Progress Actional with the sense-and-respond or CEP capabilities of Progress Apama and BPM and CPI capabilities of Savvion, Progress has created the RPM suite. The suite brings processes, events, rules, and information together to make business process improvement (BPI) and take advantage of changing conditions as they happen, rather than after the fact.

A National Airways Example

At Progress Software’s Industry and Financial Analyst Conference in March 2010 (mentioned in Part 3), there was a slideshow demo on how Progress RPM could help a hypothetical airline company better coordinate flight operations, crews, aircraft maintenance, and passengers. The RPM suite provides the events and process discovery and real-time visibility amid these diverse constituents.

For instance, the director of crew management has instant visibility into crew scheduling and recovery processes. He/she can then anticipate non-compliance via real-time crew flying time key performance indicators (KPIs) and crew training KPIs, and proactively prevent crew disruptions with real-time visibility into the available reserve pool.  Progress Apama’s correlator and simulator provide visibility into the disruption activity and its impact on the crew schedules. Progress Control Tower (mentioned in Part 3) and Apama correlate flight operations and crew teams to proactively reallocate resources based on workload, disruptions, and other factors.

As for the sense and respond capabilities with regards to crew schedule disruptions, the crew coordinator is able to discern what crew pairings are impacted before, e.g., the storm (or volcanic ash cloud) happens somewhere and then respond quickly with automated generated tasks. The abovementioned Progress Control Tower enables crew managers to make better decisions faster with enriched results (based on the proximity info) to weather the storm (literally and metaphorically).

For the process improvement part, there was an example of how to use Savvion BPM to drill down and analyze crew activation process efficiencies and handle exceptions by modifying processes graphically. The manager can then use Savvion to add needed resources to a location-based service to modify the process (and adapt to changes) on the fly (no pun intended).

Certainly, the demo was a recording of a real product only, and there is much more real product integration yet to be done in addition to the abovementioned Progress Control Tower workplace solution. Progress Control Tower is based on Savvion’s portal module, but it also features certain functions and integrates information from Actional, Apama, and Savvion. Progress will also need to deliver common development and administrative tools, as well as integration of the three disparate runtime environments, while preserving each product’s standalone openness to non-Progress environments (which has been Progress’ modus operandi [MO] thus far).

Not Your Father’s (or Even Older Brother’s) Progress

Progress Software has certainly moved on and evolved from only offering application development platforms, primarily Progress OpenEdge. While this line of business (LoB) still contributes about two thirds of Progress’ revenues, it is quite mature and is admittedly expected to decline a few percent (as it tends to lag the gross domestic product [GDP] trend). Conversely, Progress’ Enterprise Business Solutions (Actional, Apama, Savvion, and Sonic) are expected to grow a whopping 30 to 45 percent, while this figure of growth for Progress Enterprise Data Solutions (largely the DataDirect family) is expected to be about 20 percent.

This is not to imply that the application development platforms will not be enhanced accordingly. The future of the Progress Responsive Business Applications (RBA) product group (mentioned in Part 3) is to evolve from “packaged applications” to “dynamic applications. Progress Control Tower is already available for business users to model, monitor, control, and improve dynamic applications, and there will be many more Solution Accelerators for pre-built industry-specific dynamic applications in addition to the recently released Apama Market Surveillance and Trade Monitoring Accelerator and Progress Order Management Stability solution accelerator.

Progress pledges that RBA will drive Operational Responsiveness by delivering the industry’s best business application development platforms with the fastest time-to-value. BPA, BPI, and application developments are all intrinsic parts of BPM, and there should be some lessons that could be learned from Savvion in terms of simplifying the creation of dynamic applications. Progress expects to be able to enhance its independent software providers (ISV) partners’ applications with new RPM tools as well.

On the other hand, other Progress products can benefit from OpenEdge’s success in the cloud computing. Progress is embarking on gradually delivering many of its offerings to be suitable for building scalable multi-tenant solutions that can be certified on cloud computing platforms and that can enable elastic licensing arrangements.

Down the track, when it comes to Progress RPM Solutions, look for the ability to model and deploy responsive processes in the cloud. In addition, Progress Control Tower will be available for both on-premise and cloud-based solutions. This is pretty much in tune with the findings of a TEC survey conducted by my colleague Kurt Chen, which found that 16 percent of BPM seekers are interested in a software as a service (SaaS) delivery model. IBM BPM Blueprint (formerly Lombardi Blueprint), Appian, Cordys, and AuraPortal are some cloud-based BPM offerings.

Thus, as already mentioned in Part 1, Progress’ transformation is a work in process. In addition to the company’s traditional lack of the professional services culture, both Progress and Savvion have traditionally focused on delighting IT departments and developers rather than business users (end users). In fact, Progress Software has never been the epitome of a slick user interface (UI) design. Thus, only time will tell how the company will simplify and refresh the look and feel of its products to be more in the Web 2.0 metaphor, so as to be intuitive and simplified for the casual users.

Progress will also need additional products to close some remaining functional gaps (or currently bland offerings), primarily in operational management, business intelligence (BI), analysis and reporting, and collaboration. We will all have to wait and see whether partnerships, acquisitions, or in-house development will fill these needs.

Dear readers, what are your comments, opinions, etc., on Progress’ ambitious operational responsiveness strategy? We would certainly be interested in your experiences with any of the abovementioned software categories (if you are an existing user) or in your general interest to evaluate these solutions as prospective customers.
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