Appian IDP | Information Management | Vendor Vignettes

Appian IDP


Founded 1999 | HQ Reston, VA | 1,400 employees (approx.) | $304.6M revenue

Appian’s focus with IDP (cognitive capture) is to provide a full array of process options in a low-code environment that can quickly build highly targeted applications for your business. We like this approach a lot, as capture without process has limited value.


The Company

Appian was founded in 1999 and is headquartered in Reston, Virginia, with offices across North America, Europe, and the Middle East. Appian’s CEO is Matt Calkins, one of the company’s founders, and the company is publicly traded on the NASDAQ (APPN). Appian had revenues of $304.6 million in 2020 and is currently growing at more than 17% over the previous year; it employs around 1,400 people. Appian acquired the RPA firm Jidoka in 2020.

Though best known for its low-code process automation technologies, Appian’s Intelligent Document Processing (IDP) – or as we know it at Deep Analysis, cognitive capture – is, in fact, a substantial and growing part of the company’s business.

The Technology

This report analyzes Appian’s IDP offering, but it is essential to consider context before going further. IDP/cognitive capture is simply one element of Appian’s much broader Low-Code Application Platform. It is a microservice bundled within that platform (with a free-to-use tier), not a standalone offering.

The Appian platform encompasses everything from RPA to case management through BPM that is accessed through a single low-code development interface. One of the key distinguishing elements of the Appian platform is its commitment to low-code development, making it relatively simple for business users to build out their specific business applications. The platform includes:

  • Powerful BPM capabilities (part of Appian’s heritage)
  • RPA from its Jidoka acquisition
  • Case management
  • Business rules and integration with AWS
  • Google and Azure AI/ML modules
  • IDP/cognitive capture

These elements are pulled together via its low-code application development environment. The stated goal of the platform is to provide an easy-to-use and fast-to-deploy system to automate business processes. This is where things get interesting. Most cognitive capture systems have some form of workflow, but typically they rely on the buyer/developer integrating the capture system with complex BPM tools and business applications. Appian offers an entire process application system, including capture, in one bundled low-code environment, thus allowing you the potential to build end-to-end business applications.

The capture element of this platform, IDP, is understandably not as complex or sophisticated as some pure-play capture vendors’ offerings. Instead, it relies on the use of Google AI modules for OCR-related activities. The goal of IDP here is simple, to convert unstructured data (documents and forms) into structured data that can be processed. Much of that forward processing will be repetitive and straightforward: for example, capturing an invoice number and inputting it into the application. For such repetitive tasks, the platform provides its RPA tools rather than requiring you to license and deploy a third-party system such as Blue Prism or Automation Anywhere.

For more complex processing, it provides its own BPM and case management capabilities. Looking deeper into the specific IDP service, we can see that it does more than simple OCR. It provides data extraction and auto-categorization functionality, it can handle forms recognition, and it has recently added improved handwriting recognition and image extraction. Once deployed, IDP will typically require an end user to validate the process. Still, as it is underpinned by machine learning, this requirement would decline over time as the system learns the vagaries of the document elements.

Appian also provides templated starter elements as standard to identify common formats such as purchase orders, invoices, receipts, or claims (see Figure 1 for a purchase order example). Users can further modify these to meet their specific needs or add different document types to the system. One neat element is that although document capture is usually designed to be the original input in a process, IDP can be deployed anywhere along your process flow as a sub-process because of the low-code development environment and the fact that IDP is provided as a microservice.

On the surface, then, we have a bunch of process tools pulled together through a unified low-code development environment, where IDP can be leveraged, and that’s good. But in our analysis, the secret sauce in the Appian platform is its multi-channel and orchestration facilities. You can efficiently orchestrate and monitor process and task activities across these functional elements into a single whole. Moreover, it is easy to develop various interfaces for your applications, be they mobile or desktop, and configure and manage multiple channel inputs into the process modules.

The Appian platform comes with a wide range of zero-code integration points to Salesforce, SAP, Oracle, Dropbox, etc., alongside a comprehensive range of APIs like REST and SOAP and connectors to most database types

Figure 1
Purchase Order Format Within Appian IDP

Our Opinion

Appian’s technical strength and focus is its low-code automation software development platform. This low-code approach provides customers with the ability to develop robust and specialized business applications quickly. Appian IDP is probably not the first choice for high-volume, varied, and complex capture requirements, but it may well be first in situations where capture is a part of a broader application project. Capture without process has limited value; the focus here is to provide a full array of process options in a low-code environment that can quickly build highly targeted applications for your business. We like this approach a lot as it’s a radical departure from the more typical work of pulling together multiple, complex, third-party elements that require expert developers to get anything done.

Advice to Buyers

Document capture is an often overlooked but essential element in any process or business application; typically, it is viewed as an add-on integration or is relegated to scanning to TIFF and manual key entry. The Appian platform, which includes cognitive capture via IDP, should be considered when you are looking to build out new standalone applications and new applications that extend your existing operating infrastructure. True to the firm’s roots, it is a process-centric platform. We see that as a good thing whether you require simple repetitive task automation (RPA) or more sophisticated BPM or case management: all the elements you require are available in one place, with the added advantage of being accessed through a low-code development environment. The fact that the pricing is flexible and affordable and that there is even a free community edition of the platform means that Appian is a relatively low-risk option to check out.


SOAR Analysis

Strengths

  • Deep expertise in digital process automation, case management, low-code, RPA, mobile applications, and business insights
  • Impressive low-code development environment

Aspirations

  • Further extend low-code, digital process automation, RPA, and capture to create a new market option
  • Challenge and unseat the traditional business application market

Opportunities

  • Expand into relatively greenfield markets such as energy and supply chain
  • Provide a more comprehensive alternative to standalone capture and RPA tools

Results

  • Impressive and growing customer base
  • A customer renewal rate for Appian that sits at around 99%