Microgen – an “Aptitude” for verticalisation

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Content Copyright © 2008 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

At the beginning of July 2008, I met with Neil Thomson, CTO, Martin Redington, Director of Product Marketing and Ian Crombie, Principal Consultant of Microgen to be briefed on the company’s BPMS product Aptitude.

Who are Microgen? Microgen was originally founded in 1974 and has been publically listed on the London stock exchange since 1983. During the last few years they have made a number of acquisitions, one of which was the company that originally developed Aptitude. The company currently has some 300 employees with its headquarters in Fleet, Hampshire, UK. The group has four major operating divisions: Asset and Wealth Management; Banking; Commercial, Public and Utilities; and Billing and Database Management, with offices in the following global locations:

  • In the UK: London and Welwyn Garden City
  • In Europe: Wroclaw (Poland) and Guernsey
  • In America: New York and Grand Cayman
  • In Africa: Cape Town.

There are over 120 employees within Microgen’s development team, with approximately 45 developers that focus on the Microgen Aptitude product. The development team amounts to one-third of total company employees. Microgen has development teams based both in Microgen’s development centre in Wroclaw, Poland, in the Fleet Headquarters office in the UK and their Channel Island operation.

Technology partners include SAP, Microsoft and Reuters. Strategy partners include Bearing Point, LogicaCMG and SAP.

Bloor was informed that the turnover for the last financial year was £33m and they had some 1500 customers. Aptitude is the key product of the company, and their own solutions are built upon this. Thomson explained that the company’s value proposition was to sell to the business with IT their software and consultancy with some domain knowledge.

So what about Aptitude? Aptitude was developed as a horizontal BPMS product that would provide a common environment in which both business and IT users could collaborate to build and manage applications. This is achieved through a single integrated environment that is used for Business Process Management, Business Rules, Integration, Web Forms and Services Orchestration, using one common language, interface and data model. Microgen use Aptitude to develop their vertical solutions for Asset and Wealth management, Energy and Utilities, Gaming, Transportation and mainstream Financial Services.

Redington explained that Microgen see their USP in the BPMS market that they are offering BPM with rules. Their sales targets were organisations with mission critical applications where millions of transactions per day where the norm, with the requirements where transaction failure back out is key and all the parts in the process are tightly coupled. Aptitude works on an event driven approach; this allows components to respond to changes in status of the events.

Another unique capability is that Aptitude includes Transaction Process Management (TPM) with transaction control, flow management and a throughput capability of over 5,000 transactions/second for extreme transaction processing (XTP). This means that Aptitude provides support both for Straight Through Processing as well Batch Processing.

The other interesting factors Bloor were told include:

  • There is no mandatory persistent storage required to run Aptitude. It operates in memory.
  • Aptitude supports the collaboration support between business users and IT. Microgen envisages that business users will set the rules, whilst IT will tune the rules and configure the environment for run time efficiency.
  • There is no intermediate stage between graphically modelling the business process and the executable version of the process. Movement from the development project folder to execution folder generates pcode from the diagram and the configuration file.
  • Aptitude supports 3 stages for deployment—development, UAC for testing and production.
  • Any Business Process or Rule can be published as a web service.
  • Currently the forms designer supports ASP.Net forms, but Bloor were informed that in the next release Aptitude would support Java as well.

The development environment—Aptitude Studio—has a Microsoft Visual Studio look and feel. It provides support for remote server access. The check-out capability works as for Visual Studio in that follow-on users of a booked out object have read-only access.

Aptitude client is written in C# and is agnostic in terms of application server. Aptitude Server is written in C++ and can run on either Windows or Unix. The internal DBMS is Berkley DB, which now owned by Oracle.

The current version is 2.5 and this release went on general release recently. The new features include better support for simulation and maintenance, ability to do what-if scenarios for the data design process, and support for test data generation.

Microgen Aptitude is an interesting BPMS product. It does conform to all the norms, but has a very successful track record in the financial sector and Energy trading. Redington explained to Bloor that they were in the process of developing a solution for a European Rail Infrastructure company to provide a better way to price rail journeys.

Bloor views Microgen Aptitude as a product that has some real benefits for the support of high transaction throughput processes. The approach to generate pcode from a graphic model is of particular note.