K2, PowerApps and Flow: When and Why?

Since Microsoft released PowerApps and Flow in 2016 there have been a lot of questions about how these new tools compare with K2.

Do PowerApps and Flow do the same things as K2? Are PowerApps and Flow a competitor to K2. Can they be used together?

For businesses making the important decision on what process automation platform to use, these are relevant and critical questions. If you are an Office 365 customer you may already have PowerApps & Flow available, and you will need to evaluate these tools to see if they meet your needs.

At the first glance, PowerApps and Flow display a list of similarities when doing a feature comparison with K2. Both offer connectors to allow you to get data from your business systems, a forms designer and a workflow engine.

Both can also be classified as low code platforms.

However, there are a few key points of difference between PowerApps/Flow and K2 that you need to consider before embarking on your process automation journey.

While it will take thousands of words to describe all differences, this introductory article will focus on two of the most obvious differences.

Firstly, K2 has more a more advanced design experience in most areas of the stack, making it faster and easier to build more complex form and workflow scenarios to address the business problem at hand.

Secondly, and most importantly, K2 is a mature Business Process Management (BPM) platform, which means that it not only offers the tools to build more advanced process automation applications, but it also has tools to manage and analyse your applications. This is a very important consideration in evaluating automation platforms that can get overlooked.

Let’s explore these two points of differentiation in more detail.

Design and Build Experience

I am not going to dive into a detailed technical feature comparison between PowerApps/Flow and K2 for a couple of reasons.

One is that the landscape for both platforms is constantly evolving, with more features being added for both all the time, making a comparison done today redundant tomorrow.

The other is that when assessing the suitability of a toolset it is more important to look at the type/s of process automation application you are looking to build.

What do I mean by “type/s of business process applications”?

The following diagram provides a useful reference point for answering this question. The process-driven application landscape/framework below leverages some of the application portfolio management concepts in Gartner’s Pace-Layered IT Strategy as outlined [1]

According to Gartner:

  • Systems of record — Established packaged applications or legacy homegrown systems that support core transaction processing and manage the organisation’s critical master data. The rate of change is low because the processes are well-established and common to most organisations, and often are subject to regulatory requirements. Systems of record have the longest life cycle, at 10 or more years.
  • Systems of differentiation — Applications that enable unique company processes or industry-specific capabilities. They have a medium life cycle (one to three years) but need to be reconfigured frequently to accommodate changing business practices or customer requirements.
  • Systems of innovation — New applications that are built on an ad hoc basis to address new business requirements or opportunities. These are typically short life cycle projects (zero to 12 months) using departmental or outside resources and consumer-grade technologies.

In the context of K2:

  • “Systems of Record” applications, which includes large business systems like SAP & Oracle (ERPs) are pre-packaged vertical applications which cost a lot to purchase, implement, and extend. Implementation of systems in this layer tends to be strongly IT led and often involves the software platform vendor by necessity. K2 can quite often fill some gaps in this space, for example by providing an alternate user interface for your SAP system and integrating it with other systems. These systems typically have rigid and tight business processes built into the system (for good legal and compliance reasons). Still, within the System of Record context, some organisations also choose to use K2 as the enterprise workflow layer in large-scale line-of-business system type, custom development projects.
  • “Systems of Differentiation” applications meet reasonably complex business needs that require integrations into other business systems and flexible reporting. These applications are typically developed to automate a business process which will provide the business with some competitive advantage, whether it be cost reduction, better customer experience or better decision making. Valuable intellectual property that differentiates the organisation from its competitors often lives in this application layer in organisations. Implementation of applications in this layer tends to involve business, IT and external consulting assistance as necessary. K2 plays very well in this layer, allowing business applications with medium and high complexity level workflow logic, sophisticated forms and advanced data integration to be built quickly with little or no code.
  • “Systems of Innovation” applications are typically simple workflow and/or form applications that solve a specific business need across a team or department. These applications are usually developed by individuals within the team or department and are cost effective to implement using widely available toolsets. This is also referred to by many as “citizen developer” type activity in organisations. With specific reference to the use of technologies like PowerApps, Flow, IFTT, and Zapier, we also see a rising trend around the creation of Personal Productivity Applications in this layer in organisations.

 

As the diagram above illustrates, K2 can play a meaningful role in any of these application layers, but its main strength lies in the “Systems of Differentiation” layer. PowerApps and Flow are mainly used in the “Systems of Innovation” layer.

One reason for this difference is that the K2 platform allows you to more easily design the medium and high complexity workflows and forms that “Systems of Differentiation” demand than PowerApps/Flow. Flow is designed to solve “If This Then That” type workflow problems. For example: “if a new account is added to a CRM system, then send an email”. Flow also does simple data orchestration well, using its large number of connectors it can respond data being created or updated in one system and then create or update data in another.

Flow can be very useful for personal or team-based workflows, such as sending notifications or reminders. However, when requirements start getting more complex – things like rework patterns, parallel paths, sub-workflows, multiple user actions (beyond approve & decline) and task escalations – implementing these in Flow often becomes quite difficult, where K2 can handle these with ease.

PowerApps is a “mobile first” forms platform, primarily used to capture and display data for a single data object (e.g. a SharePoint List). When you want to start doing things like creating complex user interfaces for desktops and mobile (e.g. displaying/updating from multiple data sources on different tabs, offline forms and sharing forms with external users) PowerApps often hits limitations that may be difficult to overcome without significant workarounds or custom development.

K2 uses a simple declarative form rule to drive form behaviour, whereas PowerApps requires Excel-like formulas to be used. Another aspect to consider is the ability in K2 to create reusable objects. K2 Forms, Views, SmartObjects, and Workflows can all be re-used in K2 across multiple applications, reducing your build time and making updates quicker and easier.

A final, and very important, consideration with respect to the design experience, is the management of the application development lifecycle. In K2 you can build an entire application (Forms, Views, SmartObjects and Workflows) and package that up and deploy to a test or production environment in a few clicks.

This is a powerful feature that lets you totally segregate your development, test and production environments and have full control over the deployment process and application development lifecycle.

I am sure we all know by now that almost anything is possible with most development platforms given enough time and energy. In practice, choosing the appropriate tool for the job is often the difference between success or failure though.

Process Management

So, you have built a business-critical process-driven application, released it into the wild, and it starts getting used in anger. Soon, the business starts asking questions like “How many workflow processes are running right now?”, “What happens if someone is on leave and cannot approve an urgent request?”, “By who and when was a particular request approved?”.

This is when having the tools and features that a proper BPM platform come in very handy.  K2 offers a comprehensive set of functionalities to manage your processes, including:

  • Out of Office notifications
  • Task list for all workflows
  • Task escalations
  • Task redirections and sharing
  • Working Hours
  • Workflow permission management (who can start, administer and report on workflows)
  • Workflow error management
  • Workflow version management
  • Workflow instance management – starting & stopping workflow, go to specific workflow steps
  • Workflow Reporting – workflow analysis and insight
  • Centralised and secured management interface
  • Design Permissions – control who can build and deploy applications

Microsoft PowerApps and Flow working with K2

A final thought to consider when looking at K2 and PowerApps/Flow is that they can actually work together quite nicely when building an automation application, utilising the strengths of each platform.

Take the example of a CRM system and an onboarding process for new accounts. A user can add a new account directly into the CRM system, however for the account to become active, we need an onboarding process to occur that involves verification from different business departments and data from other systems.

This workflow might have a parallel approval pattern with rework steps and inputs required from other systems (e.g. the account is added to the Finance system and the new account ID is input back into the CRM system by the finance team.). To implement this application, we need to monitor the CRM system for new accounts, and when one is added we need to start a reasonably complex account onboarding workflow.

Now, we could try and do all this using K2, or similarly by only using Flow/PowerApps.

To trigger the K2 workflow for account onboarding from your CRM system will probably require some sort of custom development in that system – not something you really want to do, but possible.

On the other hand, trying to create a Flow and PowerApp that implements the account onboarding process will quickly become very difficult and complex. In addition, you don’t get the additional benefits of things like task lists, out of office task redirection and task escalations. As the kid on the Old El Paso advert says, “porque no los dos?” (Why not both).

We could also expose the new account form in CRM as a PowerApp, allowing users out on the road to use their mobile device to add new accounts on the run. We could then use Flow connectors to monitor our Salesforce or Dynamics system for new accounts – there are out of the box connectors for these systems that are relatively simple to set up in Flow.

We could then use an action in Flow to start a K2 workflow to start a more complex business process to onboard the new account (involving legal and finance teams, and other LOB systems).  A Flow connector for ease of integration with K2, is available [2].  K2 SmartForms can be used as the task forms, exposing data from not just the CRM systems but other business systems as well.

This hybrid application approach is playing to the strengths of both platforms. Flow gives us the nice and easy way to monitor our line of business system by providing loads of connectors, PowerApps provides a mobile form for new account submission, and K2 gives us both an enterprise-grade workflow engine that can easily handle complex scenarios, and a user interface to allow task completion, as well as all of the other baked in platform, features such as task management and process reporting.

While Flow and PowerApps are constantly evolving and getting more and more features, the types of business problems they are focussed on solving are fundamentally different from the ones that K2 is aimed at. And while there is of course cross-over in the terms of functionality, you need to look at what type of business application you are building based on the application portfolio management approach chosen by your organisation. (i.e. is it a System of Innovation or Differentiation etc.?). Lastly, find a toolset that can deliver for not only your technical requirements but also provides features to let you manage your processes.

[1] Pace-Layered Application Strategy and IT organisational Design: How to Structure the Application Team for Success

[2] Microsoft Connector – K2 Workflow

Join the webinar on October 11th, 2018 at 3PM AEST to see a comprehensive overview of PowerApps and K2 and how when they work together to build an automation solution.

Register now

 

The Future of AI and Machine Learning in Business Process Automation

 

Companies are increasingly looking to AI and specifically machine learning (ML) as a way to improve their businesses.
While some of these applications may be in the early development phase, companies must be prepared to successfully implement AI and ML in the future to take full advantage of the power of these technologies.

In this session, we will go beyond the “art of possibility” and show tactical examples of how organisations can start applying AI in incremental ways within their process-based applications.

The Benefits of Process Automation: For Courts, Tribunals, Commissions and the Broader Legal Community

 

 

Our legal systems are experiencing significant growth and are increasingly reliant on consumable, digital information. The volume of content is continuously increasing, creating new management challenges.

Are you reaping the benefits that are available from process automation?

During this video, we will be demonstrating how K2 can improve customer service and efficiency through process automation.

– Streamline and enhance your case or matter processes with K2
– Integrate with your existing systems – enhance what you already use
– Reduce manual paper processes
– Mitigate risk through the creation of structured workflows
– Generate process focused reporting
– Collaborate with your document management and automation systems
– Improve both your client and your internal user outcomes

Creating the Data Ecosystem for Your Transition to an AI World

When Alan Turing was developing the Turing Test for determining machine intelligence—what we today refer to as Artificial Intelligence (AI)—he first posed the question, “Can machines think?” At the time, this seemed preposterous, but technology advances in recent years now have us asking a similar question: “Can machines learn?” The answer is “yes,” as long as we supply them with enough of the right kind of data.

Click here to read the whitepaper, Creating the Data Ecosystem for Your Transition to an AI World

This ability to learn is a specific, data-oriented form of AI that has the power to dramatically increase productivity and streamline business processes. Companies are increasingly looking to AI and specifically machine learning (ML) as a way to improve their businesses. While many of these applications are still in the early developmental phases, companies must prepare now in order to successfully implement AI and ML in the future and take full advantage of the power of this technology. Specifically, organisations need to establish the data ecosystems today that will become the foundation of ML applications, training models and business process development in the future.

Machine learning analyses data flow in the enterprise. Anticipating this eventual capability, the most critical issue is how companies prepare the data that will be used as the basis for machine learning. Data scrubbing and formatting is one of the greatest challenges in implementing AI so companies should adopt clean data format methods now.

To address this challenge, IT and the lines of business need to organise around a specific business problem they are trying to solve. Defining that specific problem creates a direct correlation between the input, its format and shape, and ultimately the decision output. Therefore, understanding the outcome and the kinds of decisions that need to be made will determine which data sets you use and how you need to scrub, transform or clean them.

Looking ahead into 2018 and the next few years, there are three steps companies looking to power their process optimisation efforts with AI must take:

  1. Look for “low-hanging fruit” opportunities where AI can make a difference and good, clean data is readily accessible.
  2. Build a solid technical infrastructure and invest in developing the digital assets for collecting and organising the data needed for AI and machine learning.
  3. Invest in a common platform that allows IT and the lines of business to collect and clean the data that will be used to build the training models for machine learning.

A comprehensive process automation platform can help businesses address all three of these steps and businesses who use one to make sure they are ready for AI- and ML-enabled applications often fall into one of three categories – each with its unique challenges:

  • New user with existing LOB data
  • New user with no existing LOB data
  • User with an existing platform and an existing data repository

Want to determine where on the spectrum your company falls and how to make sure you are best poised to transform business process management with emerging technologies?

Read the white paper, Creating the Data Ecosystem for Your Transition to an AI World

Meeting of the Minds – Hunter Valley Region

Do you still have manual or ineffective processes in your business?

Are you realising the dividends from your digital transformation investment?

Join us as we hear from one of the leading manufacturer’s in the Hunter region who are realising the rewards of their investment in process automation by improving the visibility of employee safety, reducing the organisation risk profile, and enabling a mobile workforce.

7:45 am – Registration and Arrival

8:00 am – Welcome and Introduction

Tony Roupell

BPA Practice Manager

Definiti

8:05 am: Life Savings Controls – Process and Visibility to the Rescue

Charmaine Underwood

EHS Systems Officer

Tomago Aluminium

8:20 am: K2 Technology Showcase – Driving Process Visibility and Insights to help you make Effective Business Decisions

Igor Jericevich

Process Evangelist

K2

9:00 am: Question and Answer – Panel Discussion

Panel – Tony Roupell, Charmain Underwood, Igor Jericevich

9:15 am Networking

Join K2 at the Velrada V:Inspire Roadshow

In April 2018, Velrada in partnership with K2, will be holding our Annual Microsoft Focused Event, V:Inspire™ around Australia.

The purpose of which is to “Inspire” each other to innovate and deliver powerful new technology solutions with our customers.

During this workshop, K2 partner Velrada will introduce you to the wonder of Artificial Intelligence and Bots and the potential that AI offers for business and productivity and process improvement.

Don’t miss out on this unique half-day event!

Perth – Friday, 9th April 2018 
Melbourne – Friday, 13th April 2018
Adelaide – Friday, 20th April 2018
Sydney – Friday, 4th May 2018

AI in the Workplace

AI Is Everywhere, Even in the Workplace

Today the phrase Artificial Intelligence (AI) still conjures up images of robots that look and talk like humans and the notion of using an optical scanner to start your car instead of a key or button. In reality, AI is a technology we all interact with at some level every single day.

View this infographic to see how businesses like yours use AI to help make critical decisions and solve problems.

Prepare Today to Transform Your Business Processes with Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) is often considered to be the future of computing and possibly the greatest driver of innovation in the next decade. Already it is showing up in autonomous vehicles, voice-controlled digital assistants and devices with facial recognition. But this is only the beginning. AI’s power to support human knowledge and ingenuity and change our perception of business challenges is game-changing when we look at how it can be applied to processes throughout an organization.

In many ways, AI is a natural partner for business process management efforts. AI can help automate routine tasks, improve user interfaces and analyze huge amounts of data. McKinsey & Company estimates that AI can automate as much as 45 percent or more of any particular job – allowing workers to focus on higher level, mission-critical activities.

Let’s look at two examples already in use. AI-driven natural language interfaces make interacting with applications easier and speed up many of the individual steps within a process just by understanding the words spoken and the context of the request. For example, natural language processing can allow doctors to dictate clinical notes into a device, which then automatically populates appropriate forms, lab orders, and prescriptions. Or it can summarise long blocks of text from medical journal articles or studies by identifying key concepts and phrases.

Machine learning, a component of AI, analyses and identifies patterns within vast amounts of data by iterating through the data to identify relationships between data and the resulting decisions made from the data. With each iteration, the system acquires a deeper understanding of why decisions within an organisation are made and apply statistical analysis to develop rules around these decisions. In the case of a complex area of business activity, supply chain management, machine learning can do things like predicting when stock will run out or recommend which products are at a surplus and automatically reduce their price to clear inventory.

As you can see, AI is starting to play a significant role in process automation and optimisation efforts. More importantly, as the adoption of AI technologies become even more widespread, they will become easier to implement and have more applications within business process management.

Looking to determine where on the spectrum your company falls and how to make sure you are best poised to transform business process management with emerging technologies? Read the white paper, Prepare Today to Transform Your Business Processes with Artificial Intelligence.

KOOS DU PREEZ, CHIEF TECHNICAL OFFICER

Australian industrial services company overcome inefficiencies incurred by using manual processes

This industrial services company tried to automate their processes and workflows using traditional .NET development. Instead of showing improvement, however, the existing processes proved to be problematic and time-consuming. Thousands of employees had to submit training requests, which meant chasing approvals and additional supporting information for each step.

“Even though we had digitised our hardware request forms and system access form requests, modifications could not be handled in the system. We would need to change the original document, create the PDF and publish it on our intranet. Our employees would download, print, fill out, get them signed, then scan them to send to the service desk,” said the IT applications and development group manager.

In short, the existing systems were labor-intensive, slow to develop, prone to errors and difficult to troubleshoot. The company abandoned their .NET attempt after six months with no progress — and decided that there had to be a better way.

“After seeing what K2 can do, we knew this is what we were looking for,” continued the IT applications and development group manager.

Download the full case study here