Matt Calkins founded Appian in 1999, long before app became a noun. He found his sweet spot in the world of business process management, that jargon-filled practice (automation, execution, optimization) of making work easier by helping companies create customized software. And whether for tracking mileage on rental cars or processing insurance claims online, clients using Appian's platform can make their apps quickly, without coding, and for far less than they could before. Appian now has more than 600 employees worldwide and 3.5 million users, including those at Enterprise, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, and 45 federal agencies. It is primed, but in no rush, to go public. First, the Reston, Virginia-based company wants everyone to know that making apps is easier than one might think.

Faster--and Better

The business process management industry is byzantine. Software and technology have completely overturned the way we live our personal lives--all because computing and IT became so easy for everyone with the packaged, off-the-shelf software revolution of the '80s and '90s. But that value has not been realized in custom software. Whatever differentiates one business from another is stifled, because it's hard to automate the things that make each business unique.

In the old paradigm, you hire a coder and describe exactly what you want, with the person often getting it wrong. Then the software needs a revision, but if the coder has quit and nobody else can revise it, it can't be used, and you have just wasted many months and lots of money. So I thought, "Wouldn't it be extraordinary to be able to express your business in software without all of that hassle? What if you could draw a flow chart with lines and boxes and the result of that could be the automation that makes your organization unique?"

Ryder is one of many companies that use our platform. It creates apps to track its trucks--whether they're getting checked in or out, inspected or repaired. Instead of needing four separate applications, the company can build all of these apps in one environment. It can track trucks as they get rented and returned, and forecast when they need a tune-up. Plus, there's an application that allows employees to receive trucks from customers in the field, which has saved almost 50 percent in checkout time. Returns take place with a person holding a tablet, taking photos of the truck if there's any damage. The rental customer never has to see a counter.

Sharing Data

Most BPM products are purchased to build one application, which operates independently of any others. Appian's platform breaks down the data silos, so the information from each application can be shared throughout the organization. It allows companies to connect the information in a smart way. This data--time and money saved, customer satisfaction--is the heart of any business. People want clear access to it. Our platform collects every node--about an employee or a specific Ryder truck--and saves it, which means you can always find, and use, that information for your next app.

Using our platform is really simple. I'm an economist--I've never written even one line of code. Most people don't require training at all. It's more difficult than sketching on a napkin, but it's easier than learning a programming language. Our customers are the CIOs or IT leaders--the people who automate business processes to make their company more efficient. Our platform lets them draw a picture of what they want to create--such as on-the-ground inspections in their store or insurance claims processing--and then that gets interpreted into an application.

In the past, that would be a one-off behavior. Our customers create hundreds of custom applications on our platform--not just one or two. Dallas/Fort Worth Airport rolled out 36 applications in the first 18 months, including new employee onboarding and automation of payment approval for vendors. It's extraordinary how productive the customers can be and how much each application benefits from every previous application, so it's a snowball, and it just keeps rolling, and once you get it going it can be the whole custom side of your enterprise.

When you buy a license and create an application, you can use it anywhere, anytime. We're very punctual about supporting the latest devices even if our customers don't want them yet. That gives us a speed advantage and reassures them that we're future-proof, because 10 years from now if the world is using an Oculus Rift to consume business applications, then everything written on Appian will run on that. Right now, there's a lot of emphasis on mobile, but devices go out of fashion. We'll interpret that onto all of today's and tomorrow's devices.

Take It to Your Customer

One of the main ways that we improve companies is speed. We want to know, "How long does it take to draw the map and start running your process? What was the measurable impact?" For example, Sprint rolled out a white-glove, home-service concept this summer called Sprint Direct 2 You, which essentially brings its store to its customer--to deliver a new device--versus the customer going to a Sprint store. It's an exciting, innovative, aggressive idea, and Sprint didn't know if it would work. So it used our platform to test it, and tried it first in the Kansas City area, where Sprint is based. It was so successful that Sprint has rolled it out to 25 major cities around the continent since then. This happened in less than six months. It's gratifying when we can accelerate and enable a business.

I see what we're doing in grand economic terms. We're on the cusp of creating the value that will make this industry famous. We're a mortal threat to the old way of writing internal software. Businesses that chose to be efficient rather than different let software run their organization, and that software was either out of a box and thus inflexible, or it was unique but couldn't change with the times, and in both cases the company could not translate its will into its behavior. We're going to disrupt that division between will and behavior and allow organizations to act out their intentions in a way that they're not able to today. It's going to be like the moment color TV replaced black-and-white screens. We are going to bring color back to business. 

 inline image

Apps Take the Field

Appian has grown by making its software versatile.

Companies pay enterprise software providers such as IBM and Oracle about $100 billion annually to build apps. Most are single purpose and work on only one device. With a cloud-based platform for client-created apps, Appian founder and CEO Matt Calkins had an opening.

Global disaster-relief insurance company  Crawford & Company, for example, has deployed more than 40 Appian applications since 2007. Adjusters who once went into the field with paperwork to fill out can now do it all electronically, on any mobile device. Claims processing speed is up by 80 percent and invoicing speed by 70 percent.

Appian's revenue exceeded $100 million in 2014, an increase of 47 percent since 2013, with its customer roster growing 67 percent. Earlier in 2014, Appian received more than $35 million from New Enterprise Associates, a venture capital firm with a reputation for taking its investments public.