Aligning strategy with Execution - Putting PEX on the C-Suite Agenda: Interview with Appian's Matt Calkins

PEX Network recently spoke to Appian CEO, Matt Calkins for our industry report, 'Drive strategic performance through Process Excellence'. The conversation focused on the continued growth of Process Excellence on the business agenda, and it's recent progression into the C-Suite board room.

The conversation offered up key insights from someone who has spent many, many years looking at PEX as a topic, and championing the cause. As such, we thought you'd enjoy the conversation. We hope you enjoy the interview below, and when you're finished, don't forget to grab yourself a copy of the report too.

Appian CEO, Matt Calkins

PEX Network: Do you think that process excellence is moving up the agenda of the C-Suite?

Matt Calkins: Understanding of the definition and role of "Process" is changing. A traditional mind-set makes it easy to relegate process to the ivory tower of theoretical "to-be" states, or the grunt work of marginal improvements to discrete departmental tasks. The truth is that "process" really means "how work gets done," and work has fundamentally changed in the wake of mobile, social, cloud, and data technology disruptions.

C-level executives who see opportunity in change are embracing new ways of doing business. Creating new revenue streams, driving mobile engagement with customers, increasing collaboration among employees, etc. all require process transformation. New technologies offer little business value if disconnected from actual work. As the concept of "process" evolves to the concept of "work," it is getting serious attention from the corner offices.

PEX Network: In theory process excellence is about enabling corporate strategy. In practice, many companies fail at this strategy-execution alignment. Why do you think that so many companies struggle with this?

Matt Calkins: There have always been two problems. The first is the pain involved in operationalizing new ways of working – development/rollout time for new process applications, change management needs, training time and the possibility of user rejection. The second problem has been that there is limited value to be derived from departmentally-bound process improvement initiatives across a relatively small group of employees. Enforcing goal-seeking behaviour requires a broader approach at every level.

Vitally, the goal of process excellence must be to rapidly, and continuously maximize the unique qualities that an organization brings to its market. How you do what you do is not a commodity – it is the heart of your competitive advantage. For decades, organizations have developed, deployed and maintained expensive, rigid, cumbersome custom applications to support and enforce their uniqueness. Ask any IT manager for their least favorite application, and they’ll point to a piece of custom software. It is likely to be functionally archaic, difficult to use, poorly integrated and difficult to repair or upgrade. What’s worse, the cost of building and maintaining these applications scales linearly, because each one is a separate silo from top to bottom.

PEX Network: What do companies need to do in order to make their processes better support and enable business strategy?

Matt Calkins: To tune the way work gets done to the overall business strategy, organizations need a new approach to quickly capturing and automating their unique competitive advantage. A new breed of business process management (BPM)-driven enterprise application platforms is revolutionizing this sort of custom software development. Through a model-based approach, companies are no longer dragged down by the limitations of traditional coding. Process applications built on such a platform are modern, affordable, and synergistic with each other. (Traditional custom software was none of these things.) When such a platform is hosted in the cloud (as an Application Platform-as-a-Service) the benefits are compounded with automatic, hands-free upgrades as device platforms evolve. By working on mobile devices as easily working on a desktop and with no extra cost, application platforms will transform the way custom software is delivered and used. Easy-to-use mobile-available custom software will now unite the organization rather than drive it apart.