Posted by: Adam Deane | 09/03/2010

BPM: The No-Coding Myth



There is no BPMS software that can be implemented without any coding.

I’ve been implementing workflow solutions for years. Never had a project that I didn’t need to write some code. Never will be.

I’ve seen all of our competitor’s products. We are all in the same boat. A bit of javascript is always needed to spice up the webforms. A bit of SQL coding is needed to create custom reports. It might not be a lot of coding, or even highly skilled coding – but it is still coding.
But that’s not the point..

The Point

You do not need highly skilled software programmers to create workflows, and a BPM project doesn’t need to be a complex IT development project.

One of the biggest worries customers have when looking to buy BPMS software is the overhead.
Do I need to allocate programmers from the IT department for this project? (IT team is usually swamped with work anyway)
Do I need to recruit new employees and train them on the product?
How fast can I get the system up and running: will the start of the project drag on because of installation, training…?

No coding is a simple way to say “no fuss, no big overhead, low risk”
You do not need to recruit new developers, you do not need highly skilled software programmers.
BPMS software comes with wizards that generate the complex code behind the scenes.
The product is intuitive, training takes 2-3 days and you can start building workflows immediately after that.
You can create workflows without writing one word of code (for example: presale demos & training), but “real” workflows need a bit (not a lot) of coding.

Most of the workflow developers that I have trained didn’t know how to code (and don’t want to know how to code): Kids that just left university, business analysts, system analysts, Excel programmers, presales, managers…

So where do you need coding?
Webforms: the BPMS wizards create the form with all the code and logic. But every form needs some small customization that the BPMS can never think of:
If the value in the amount textbox is bigger that the value in the limit texbox – paint the background of the textbox red.
If the user hasn’t chosen “credit” – hide the “credit” related fields.
These usually consist of one-two lines of javascript code. No much. Simple and quick.. but still code.

Reports: the BPMS will create out-of-the-box generic reports. You might be even lucky and have a drag n’ drop wizard to help you create custom reports.
But in real life you will always need to create that additional report that the manager must have that includes a calculated field that no wizard can create.
This usually involves creating a custom SQL view, a stored procedure with an “inner join” or an additional trends table.
This might not be even be done by the workflow developer (you might have someone from IT in charge of reporting).. but it’s still coding.

Integration: the BPMS will create the web services, connect to an external server.. These tasks are usually done through the BPMS wizards.
They either are straight forward, take a couple of minutes and connect without any hassle, or the customer has security “features”, a proprietary database, or data sitting in external Excel files. Roll up your sleeves… and start writing code.

I’m often asked what would be the ideal workflow developer technical skills. My answer: Javascript & SQL server (Javascript you can learn from the internet in 40 minutes, SQL server – select, insert, update and inner-joins scripts).
More importantly, they need to be nice to work with, motivated and completely understand the company’s business processes and procedures.

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