In an era where increasingly every company is a software company, and skilled developers are in short supply, the attraction of “low-code” and “no-code” platforms is obvious. Companies can get more applications prototyped, tested and built with fewer developers. The business operations people who would normally specify a new application can now do much of the building of the application themselves, using these new tools.
In many ways, BPM was the precursor to low-code platforms. Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN) was always intended to bridge the divide between business teams and technical teams, but the subsequent implementation of human and system tasks was not always so simple. IBM BAW, for example, has leveraged the BPMN standard in its process modeler, but completing the implementation of process applications is more complex. User interfaces for process activities are typically built using the out-of-the-box coach view framework. The coach view framework is powerful and extensible (check out ACV2), but requires some technical skills to really utilize it effectively. So, with the conventional approach, skilled developers are required to create (or change) process applications.
Apex has been working for several years to integrate open source technologies with IBM BAW, and now we are excited to launch Apex Forms. Apex Forms is an easy-to-use, “no-code” form configuration tool that greatly simplifies the creation of form-type user interfaces for BAW processes. Forms are clean, modern and responsive, making them mobile-ready, and the tool allows easy re-use of form sections and controls from libraries. Data input to forms is saved automatically.
Business In Control
Apex Forms allows a business team to take responsibility for form creation, which can increase throughput and allow a team to automate more processes in less time. It reduces the dependency on developers to create the user interfaces. It also saves work and improves consistency across forms by re-using sections and controls. Perhaps more importantly, it puts the business team in control of making changes to their forms post-launch.
In today’s dynamic business environment, business-needs change constantly. With the standard implementation model, a “snapshot” of a BAW application is tested as a complete package and deployed to the production server. A simple change - for example, an extra field on a form - can drive a complete re-test cycle, and requires a new application snapshot to be deployed by the IT operations team — not very agile. With Apex Forms, a simple UI change like this can be published to production immediately. It can take effect on new and existing process instances without breaking anything.
Tackle the Long Tail
Apex Forms can also support the concept of many specialized forms connected to a generic process implementation. This can make it feasible to automate the “long-tail” of “similar but different” process variations with BPM. A common process implementation can be put in place, and the business can build all of the forms needed to cover the variations. In many companies, this long tail is never addressed by automation efforts, as there is insufficient ROI for each variant.
We are working with a customer using over 100 different forms, with flows implemented in around 12 process models. The team has successfully implemented Apex Forms as the replacement for Microsoft Infopath. The business team is building all of the forms themselves, and are happily taking control of making and deploying changes to the forms. This is making a huge difference to the agility of the team. At the same time, processes are running on the IBM BAW platform — a stable, reliable and enterprise-approved standard, which means the IT team are happy too.
If you are a current customer of the IBM Digital Business Automation platform or considering becoming a customer, you might want to watch this space for more information on Apex Forms. It will not replace coach views for all use cases, but for form-style UIs we think it is hard to beat.