When salesforce.com makes a new product announcement, the world usually sits up and takes notice. The announcement of Visual Process Manager is in a lower key than most, but it is potentially significant for companies needing to build processes to handle customer interactions. Driven by what I suspect are smaller users of Force.com, Visual Process Manager provides tools to make application development for these purposes even easier. Experienced users of Force.com are already used to having point-and-click and drag-and-drop tools for building applications and Web services, but apparently salesforce.com didn’t think these went far enough, hence the launch of Visual Process Manager. It brings building applications into the domain of people who do not consider themselves developers.
However, I think it is important to point out that from what I have heard and seen, Visual Process Manager is not for building full-blown applications. Rather, it allows users to document processes and then have them turned into executable code that can run in the cloud or as a Web-based application. Salesforce.com made this clear during an industry analyst briefing, although the point is not so up front on its Web site, but it is clear that salesforce.com is not going into completion with business process management vendors such as Nimbus.
The product consists of four components: process designer, wizard builder, simulator and real-time process engine. The process designer lets users drag and drop different components of a process map into a design studio. They can include data input forms, decision points, calls to other applications to retrieve data, and processes to raise alerts or generate workflow items. Each of these can be modified to meet individual process requirements such as what data to collect or what data to extract from an external application, and thus create highly customized processes. Users can start from scratch or modify existing process maps. The other tools allow the process map to surface on a desktop, a Web-based application or both as a user interface that follows the course of the map.
I see this as particularly applicable to designing and executing interaction-handling processes, for example, how to handle a sales call or how to respond to an e-mail, or a simple application on a customer self-service portal. My benchmark research into customer experience management found that the majority of companies have yet to map these processes and instead rely on agents to use their experience to handle customer interactions. This can lead to some agents handling interactions differently from others and not all agents following best practises. Visual Process Manager allow companies to build such maps easily and thus improve the operations of their contact centers.
However, the product has limitations, the most evident being that it is only available to currently licensed users of Force.com, mostly because it uses other components of the platform to work. Pricing might also be an issue because companies have to buy a license for every user who builds processes and every user of a running process; thus, for example, a company with two employees building a process to be used by 100 agents would have to buy 102 licenses. This approach seems out of line. These caveats apart, I think Visual Process Manager is a simple technology that current users of Force.com could find useful for standardizing how relatively simple processes operate. It builds on the vendor’s momentum in servicing customers in their cloud computing environments, which require well-defined processes to support customers’ needs and interactions. In recent analysis of Salesforce ServiceCloud (See: “Salesforce Cloudforce – Socializing and Servicing Customers in the Clouds”), I pointed out that further advancements and innovations will be required, and this is a step in that direction.
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Global VP & Research Director