Complete overview of the Appian platform for customers, analysts and investors: covers history, product-market fit, tech stack, pricing and ecosystem.
Appian provides a low-code application development platform, which is becoming an increasingly popular method for developing apps with little to no code, focusing on workflows. These workflows are derived from Business Process Management, BPM. Appian delivers its three core products today into an integrated product, the Appian Platform, and a single price to the customer.
The venture started in 2004. The founders of the company initially worked with customers as a systems integrator and a services company. Some of its first customers included the US Army. Its initial market focused on BPM, which is essentially mapping business workflows to software behavior. As they did this, they realized that the concept could become a product of its own. It could become a platform for developing apps, to the extent the declarative input contains enough information to translate the business process into code automatically. They evolved the product enabling customers to create apps by drag and drop workflows. Over time the product evolved into three core components that make the Appian Platform today.
The Appian Platform
The team today is one of the leaders in the low-code application development market. Its platform includes the following components:
- Business Process Management, BPM
- Case Management
- Low-code Development Platform
Unlike some vendors which sell these products individually, Appian bundles them into a single integrated product. Since most internal business apps need a way to communicate and respond to issue, the built-in case management simplifies the life of developers. The workflow is already provided out-of-the-box for this module.
The platform delivers predefined objects through a proprietary programming language called SAIL. SAIL stands for Self Assembly Surface Layer. It enables quick development and portability across client platforms the app will run on, including native builds on Android and iOS. SAIL is the language that runs in the backend. Developers and business users can build Appian apps without using any code from traditional languages: PHP, Java, Python, Node.js, etc. Some coding is sometimes necessary when integrating with APIs, bringing data in and out, configuring micro-services.
The low-code platform uses the concept of “records”. A record aggregates data from different systems into a single view within an app. Records are built on the notion of views and actions. They are meant to render information, whether that information is stored within the app or not. This means that end users can access data from third-party systems without the data being copied into the Appian app. Use cases like healthcare apps, HIPAA compliance where data is sensitive in how developers store it, become easier to implement.
Appian does not intend, for now, to become a system of record. System of record would mean that all data available in the app would reside on the server and its associated databases. Instead, some data can remain on external systems. Apps can connect to a variety of data sources, including MySQL, SQL Server, Oracle and IBM’s databases.
Apps can be built either on-premise or in the cloud. This means Appian’s strategy and resource allocation is not 100% Cloud, rather hybrid based on customer choice. Those choosing the on-premise model will acquire a server, install the operating system, the middleware, then Appian stack. Those choosing the cloud deployment path get the power of Amazon AWS. Their app will run in one of 17 data centers available across geographies in the Americas, Europe, Middle East and Asia.
As we discussed with the team at Appian, it struck us that the notion of simplicity is central to their value. They want to make technology simpler for customers. They aim to apply the same concept when it comes to pricing. As a result, the three components of the platform, BPM, service and case management, and the platform are bundled into one product. When customers buy a SKU, they get all three. Two options exist:
- Enterprise pricing: customers can deploy one of many apps, one or one hundred, for $150 per user per month. For companies that want to take full advantage of the platform, it’s a great price given it is only 2X the cost of the per-app option.
- Per-app pricing: at $75 per user per month, this enables customers to create, deploy and run a single application.
While Appian’s costs are significant, they save time in DevOps and hard coding resources, and can significantly accelerate time to market. In addition, the company listens to each customer’s use case and takes into account the case of infrequent users who may only use the app once in a while. In these cases, a discounted price can make an app viable even in the case of infrequent or rare users, which still need to have access every now and then.
Use Cases & Ecosystem
Independent software vendors that resell apps to end users are not in Appian’s current strategy. Therefore, there is no OEM pricing available at the time of this writing. The primary use case for Appian apps are internal. These are companies that want to make apps available to their staff, and rather than their customers.
What Appian believes sets it apart in the market today is its dual focus. It believes that vendors like K2 or Pegasystems address primarily the Process part of app development. On the other hand it sees Salesforce address the Data aspects more than processes, and sees itself as addressing both Process and Data.
While there ISVs are not a focus, the company partners with data platforms for ETL (extract, transform and load). One of them is Mulesoft, which provides ETL in the Cloud to get data in and out of systems, or render the views if data is not copied. An out-of-box Mulesoft to Appian is available.
In addition, a partnership with Blue Prism allows for collecting legacy data through scraping and methods not possible using standard ETL tools. This is a field of RPA, or robotic process automation, which includes also vendors like Automation Anywhere.
Appian also partners with the top system integrators, including PwC, Deloitte, KPMG, Accenture, McKinsey and Infosys, depending on the business and technical scoping and implementation.