Highlights of Appian 17.4

As some of you may be aware, Appian recently released Appian 17.4 on november 17th. I thought that I would go through what I thought were the highlights of this release.

Parallel Processing

A little less than 4 years after Oracle released Java 8 in March 2014, Appian has finally been able to complete the conversion of their code base to take full advantage of Lambda Expressions and bring hassle-free multi-core processing to Appian 17.4. With Moore’s law slowing down, processor makers are now favoring multi-core chips. Amazon AWS, which serves as the backend infrastructure for Appian Cloud has compute instances that can go up to 64 virtual cores. This annoucement means that Appian can now scale more easily as cloud providers provide compute instances with more vCPUs. With this new feature, Appian claims that it has reports that run 40% faster in Appian 17.4, it will be interesting how parallel processing improves response times in real life client applications.

In my opinion, this is the type of enhancement that truely illustrates the power of an APaaS (Application Platform as a Service) like Appian. In a traditional custom application setting, a project would have been required to upgrade the code base to take advantage of multi-core processors. In most cases, unless there were severe performance issues with the application, this project would have not gotten the buy from stakeholders because it was not adding any new features to the application. If eventually approved, this upgrade would have likely had to be spread out over a multitude of development cycles, costing precious time and taking some capacity away from the development to deliver new features to end users. With an APaaS, you can take advantage of these types of enhancements with a simple upgrade.

Start Process Links

Another game changer in my opinion is the new Start Process Link type. This is a big change in my opinion because it finally fixes one of the main Sites limitations.

Appian Sites has historically only supported 5 tabs mostly because of the responsive interface design. To get around this limitation, Appian provided the ability to define multiple sites and allow users to navigate between sites by introducing the Site Navigation Menu.

Site Navigation Menu

However, even after doing this, there was still 2 remaining limitations with the Site Navigation Menu:

  1. When you clicked on a site, it opened in a new tab which did not translate into a seamless user experience.
  2. Site names were not expressionable therefore they could not be internationalized.

The only to get around this limitation that I had found was to create what I called “Sub-Menus” whereby you would essentially link one of the tabs to an Action which initiate a process that would simulate a sub-menu. With Start Process Links, this is no longer required and it is now possible to create Sub-Menus effortlessly!

Export Record Lists to Excel

I am a little divided on this feature myself. In a world where we are encouraging users to use Excel less and less I’m not certain if this is a step in the right direction. I also don’t see many benefits for being able to export from Record list since it will export the same number of columns that are already in the Record list and it is already possible to filter directly from the Record. I’m not sure what added value exporting to a spreadsheet provides in these scenarios. In any case, whatever I may think of this particular feature is not really important as I’m certain most end users will be thrilled to have it in 17.4.

Connecting to OAuth 2.0 Web Services

Appian has finally added native support for OAuth 2.0 Web Services. This was a long time coming as pretty much almost every API on the planet is secured by OAuth 2.0. Obviously, it was possible to connect to OAuth 2.0 Web Services prior to 17.4 but it required adding multiple system process nodes to a process model in order to be able to handle the authentication and the web service call itself. This feature should make for cleaner process models. Integrated error handling will also help reduce process model complexity. A lot of times, this time of error handling was usually handled by introducing a “loopback” mechanism in the process model in order to display the error message return by the Web Service on the form entry page. With the Connected System object, this is no longer required and your process models will be cleaner and more readable.

Simpler File Upload Handling

This seems like a small enhancement on the surface but it one step further in helping isolate CRUD (Create Read Update Delete) forms from actual task forms in a proper process model. Prior to 17.4, you had to create small process models be able to retrieve the Document IDs of the documents to store a reference in the Record. This along with the Connected System object mentioned above allow designers to design cleaner process models by not having less system nodes in their processes. One of the benefits of BPM software like Appian is that you can actually show your process models to clients or auditors. Traditionally, system nodes were often a distraction when trying to understand what the process actually did, with these changes, processes will be simpler to understand. In some CRUD scenarios, you might not even require an actual process model.

Users Can Now Select from Multiple IdPs on Their Login Screen

In version 17.3, Appian added support for multiple SAML Identity Providers. It now lets your identity provider from the login screen. This feature is handy for organizations who have external clients or partners that participate in their processes.


Final Thoughts

This type of release reminds me of the Snow Leopard, Mountain Lion or High Sierra releases of Apple’s Mac OS. A lot of cleanup and changes happening in the background to enhance performance but not much to show for in the front-end. That being said, with the avent of Start Process Links, I really feel that Sites has reached a sweet spot where it offers a more intuitive UI than Tempo for End Users in addition to offering more flexibility in terms of the layout of the application. It is now possible to offer a true friction free multi-lingual user experience with Sites. This is a big deal in Canada where most our applications need to work in both official languages (English and French).

This is Appian’s last release for 2017. Looking forward to 2018 and version 18.1!