Despite dropping a little later than usual this year, Appian 16.3 was released earlier this month and brought a ton of exciting new features across all aspects of the product. Apparently the release was delayed due to extensively testing Appian’s new High Availability cloud offering, but no matter, let’s dig into the new features!
Sites continues to quickly improve and move towards being the default view for most small applications. 16.3 brought the addition of regular Reports to the interface. Previously, only Task Reports were supported which required some hack-y workarounds.
Tasks and all records now render in Sites as well, so there’s no reason to go back to the “5 tabs” environment, except for maybe the Feed. User records can be included in Sites as well now, which helps for kicking off user-centric related actions.
Tasks now take up the full width of the screen, and the left column has been moved to the top bar. The increased space is great, especially for grids with lots of columns, and hints at the upcoming Modern UI improvements like the three column layout.
Also, Task emails can now be turned off at the task-level. This is a welcomed improvement mostly because Appian task notifications are generally horrendous. The email template is poorly designed, is not responsive to mobile, there’s no (easy) ability to customize, the task information available is severely limited, and the recipient doesn’t know whether the task has been completed or not. Turning the emails off is one way to solve the problem. But outgoing email management could use a major refresh given how often it’s used in the product.
Hierarchy Browser Tree
A couple years ago, Appian really struggled showing nodes, graphs, or hierarchical data. You could kind of use grids or multiple components but the experience was always clunky for the end user. It’s gotten much better with the Column Browser component, but the newly released tree component looks great. I’m excited to try it out.
User Card on User Record Links
User cards now popup over a User record link. It provides a nice display with context about the underlying user, but this feature just reinforces that you need to actively get your users to update their profiles. Sadly, I see a ton of Appian environments with very few profile pictures and background pictures. Bringing in these pictures automatically is a great way to increase engagement from what I’ve seen.
With 16.3, the “still in beta” cross browser Process Modeler has gone from “good enough” to “good”. The new modeler is starting to get features not available in the legacy version like multi-selecting of nodes and resizing the window. I’m sure it’ll continue to get better and better in future releases.
The Application Designer continues to improve as well, adding functionality to pre-populate object names and ‘Save Into’ folders. And process models are now updated automatically with new versions of a CDT. These improvements all lower development time and increase productivity.
Multi-sort is now available on a!queryEntity(). I’m a little surprised this feature took so long since I believe multi-sort has been available on query rules for some time now.
Quick Apps got some updates. You can find the details here. The updates are fine.
But seriously, Quick Apps is pretty good for creating a quick demo, a PoC, or possibly to bootstrap an application for a new Appian Designer. Small CRUD applications could be a good fit as well, but a solid wiki, hosted spreadsheet like Airtable or Google Sheets, or MS Access database might be the better tool for the job. But I believe Quick Apps still has potential if simple approval tasks and small workflows are added in a future release.
Admin Console settings can now be imported and exported to easily transport across environments and you can define environment-specific configs as well. The Admin Console keeps getting upgraded so that sys admins can stop messing around with text files on the server. In performance news, process archival has been moved to the app server, which should free up bandwidth on the Execution engines.
Appian is starting to offer a Hot/Hot high availability cloud environment, which could be used for mission critical applications in the cloud. The more customers choosing cloud over on-prem, the easier their lives will be, and the better Appian looks to investors. 🙂
Deprecations (Cleaning house)
Out with the old and in with the new!
Prior to about 2011-2012, Appian’s main end user interface was its Application Portal, which focused mainly on process dashboards and process reports. It included a less-than-appealing pre-“Enterprise Web 2.0” UI, required hacking together JSPs and HTML snippets, and included some odd and distracting styling bugs. But over time, Appian built out the Tempo interface, first around the social feed and expanding to the “5 tabs” layout, and then added native mobile clients, Sites, and Embedded interfaces more recently, all based on their SAIL technology. Next year brings a fresh new look, called Modern UI, that continues to keep up with end user’s need for a pleasant user experience to match their excellently designed consumer applications.
So, time to get rid of the legacy objects and interfaces since they can be confusing for new Appian Designers and unnecessarily increase the ramp up time for developing applications. Here’s a little of what’s getting deprecated:
- Application Portal – If you’ve used it, you will probably say “good riddance”.
- Process Report Charts & Indicators – These were fairly nice pre-configured charts during the Application Portal days. RIP.
- Forms Designer – I spent many hours learning the ins and outs of this tool. The drag and drop features were way before their time, but there were some infuriating bugs and overly complex configurations that make writing SAIL feel like a walk in the park on a nice fall day.
- Communities – Further refinement of Appian’s content management system. Now it’s mostly Knowledge Centers and folders.
- Attachments and Notes on Process Models – Never used and supremely confusing to new Appian Designers. Should have been hidden/removed years ago.
- System Groups: Document Administrators, Portal Administrators, Tempo Global Message Authors – More unnecessary complexity that was rarely used.
- Smart Services: Send Alert, and lots of other Portal services – ‘Send Alert’ sounds like a good idea, but the email notifications were always so terrible. ‘Send Email’ is pretty much always used instead, with a custom html template of course.
Some older customers will probably be a little irritated about being forced to upgrade their UIs. I know some customers with major mission critical applications still running on these older designs. Luckily, Appian has agreed to support the Application Portal through October 2018 so there’s plenty of time to upgrade.
16.3 is the last release of the year, so we’re done for 2016! Next year will bring plenty of excitement for the Appian community including an updated Modern UI, Appian World in San Francisco, and more rumors of an IPO!
Until then, if you ever want to discuss anything Appian, automation, or just tech in general, you can find me @corbpage. Let’s connect!