This is the transcript of an interview with a leading provider of high efficiency solar cells, solar panels, and composite structural products for satellite and aerospace applications. The company is in the middle of a number M&A-related initiatives and requested that we not mention them by name.
They provide a variety of products and technical services to the aerospace and defense industries. And in 2020, they went through a period of review and refactoring when it came to automating, documenting, and improving a variety of business processes.
We spent a few minutes with the Senior Principal Engineer for their IT department, asking him about his experiences to date with WEBCON. He had been leading their charge toward process improvement, and was the ideal person to talk about what it’s like adapting to and adopting WEBCON BPS.
Can you give us an overall description of your experience with WEBCON?
I’ve been using it probably off and on for the last 6-or 7 months. I got into it, not really knowing anything about it. I was coming from doing things with Nintex, from some basic SharePoint development; this was over at my previous employer, where I used their own internal workflow systems. I’ve done some programming in the past, so I have a good idea of workflows and the general things that need to happen for any given business process.
I was alerted to the existence of WEBCON through the Quest folks when we were looking at Lotus Notes migrations, trying to get more applications out of there and into something else.
So, I downloaded the free copy and installed it. I got it set up on the server myself. I did wind up having to contact Technical Support. There’s more than one way to get integrated into SharePoint, and it really wasn’t clear which way made the most sense. They contacted me back very quickly, within a couple of days. It was just a few hours work; we had it up and running and everything was working perfectly fine.
I got a license and started building the first application, which was an ECR – employee change requests – solution. That’s for managers and other people here to put in requests to do individual employee salary adjustments, promotions, demotions, transfers, and manager changes. We even use it for spot awards reward our employees for going above and beyond.
I had questions at first, but once you get to know WEBCON, it’s intuitive and easy. But there is a little bit of a learning curve when you’re coming from other products. So, I reached out to WEBCON’s U.S. office, and they got online with me and started showing me some of the details of how WEBCON BPS worked and share some of tips and tricks about how to use it. It was those little things that make it significantly easier, and they were fairly easy to pick up once I got started.
The more you use it, the easier it gets. As I ran into issues, you know, trying to get a workflow running here, running into a little error there, I would contact support. They’d get back to me very quickly and would get these resolved usually within a few days. Remember, at the time we weren’t yet a paid customer, so a few days is actually really good; it was much better than I expected.
Building that first ECR application happened a few hours at a time over the course of a few months; it wasn’t our number one priority at the time. We put into production a couple weeks back, and we quickly found that all of our employees were using it.
And that’s without me any effort on end user adoption. I haven’t sent out any directions on how to use the application. I simply added it to the main page of our company’s SharePoint portal and emailed a link to it to all the managers that said, “this is the new system.” They’re using it. I’ve seen records being generated every day, and I haven’t had to tell anybody how to use it. Nothing about which links or buttons to click to approve, disapprove, or review anything; they’ve all pretty much picked it up without any kind of input from me. I haven’t heard a single complaint.
I’ve heard several people actually say it saves them approximately 75% in time over the old system built using Nintex. Now, granted, that old system was very convoluted. I’m not sure who programmed it, but they had a lot of stuff going on that wasn’t clear, and I tend to go with simplification when I build applications – and WEBCON has made that fairly easy.
With WEBCON BPS, it’s the way you build out the forms and link those to the workflows, the processes, and the business rules – it’s very easy. Since it’s all one product, you don’t switch between SharePoint to build a list, then to another application to create a user interface for it. Everything about the application is built right there in one Designer Studio.
Is there one thing you like most about work on WEBCON BPS?
It’s just not one single thing.
The low-code portion of it, in places I wasn’t expecting. If I create a field and want it to appear on a form at some points of a process or not others, I don’t even need to write rules. I just go to WEBCON’s field matrix and by checking a few checkboxes I can make them appear and disappear, or make them read only, or make them required – whatever I need – as the workflow moves from step to step. I’m not only not writing code; I’m not even writing rules most of the time.
You can create the fields that you’ll be using in right there in the studio, so I don’t have to build a database table or list somewhere else, then come back to the studio and match everything up; it’s already done. Those fields are right there in the designer to be used in new processes, new business rules, new form rule, and even email templates.
Everything about the application is all in one place whenever I need it. I don’t have to work to try to click through a bunch of links to find something that I just created so I can add it to the existing application.
Is there anything that you particularly dislike about WEBCON BPS?
The learning curve is a little steep. And although there’s a lot of how-to articles you can find on their website or by Googling, some of the older examples haven’t been updated to show more recent screenshots, or some might refer to a button or menu choice that changed a few versions ago. It still gives me a sense of what to do, but the steps are different, and some things aren’t the same place anymore. Having something in place to keep older articles in current with new releases would help a great deal when new users are trying to learn how to use everything.
If you were starting over today with WEBCON BPS, is there anything you would do differently?
Only in terms of setting it up. When I initially configured the server and installed the WEBCON software, I misunderstood how to best integrate WEBCON BPS into SharePoint. I initially thought it had to be installed on the SharePoint server itself, that I had to use the same credentials, and so on. A few minutes with WEBCON’s support people showed me that this wasn’t necessary and there was an easier way that I liked better. Knowing that up front would have been beneficial.
What advice would you give to others about WEBCON?
I actually just reached out to a friend of mine trying to solve a Microsoft Active Directory issue we ran into with the first project we tried building with WEBCON – that employee change request application. It’s not a WEBCON issue, by the way, it’s an Active Directory issue. He asked me a few more questions about it and I told him that I was using WEBCON BPS, and I recommended it. I believe I said “if you’re looking for a new business process suite to do any kind of data collection, I highly recommend WEBCON.”
I told him there’s a little bit of a learning curve but compared to what we were working with previously at my old company, it’s a lot easier once you get the hang of it. A lot faster and a lot easier, too. There’s a lot less coding behind the scenes– unless of course you’re actively trying to add complexity to your apps.
Anybody that asks me about business process application tools, I’m going to point them towards WEBCON – because I haven’t found anything better.
You’ve gone on to use WEBCON BPS for other use cases, haven’t you?
Yeah, the employee change request application was something I got into a fairly stable state, rolled it out, and then made some changes to it as needed. That the thing I like about WEBCON, I can immediately see what my issues are and then make a change in the application designer, deploy an update, and the change takes effect properly and immediately, even on the stuff that’s already running.
But after I got through with the ECR application and no longer needed to make a lot of changes to it, I moved on to some Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) things; they had something they call as ROSI form, a Report of Safety Incidents. So, if there’s a safety incident on the floor, people are expected to log it into a system so it can be audited and keep a trail of it. I built a straightforward little system for EHS called ROSI. It gave them a way to go in enter those safety incidents.
It automatically captures the name of the person entering it, the date and time that they are entering it. They put in the effected department, what kind of incident was, what kind of injury, the location, and other details. They hit a button and it gets submitted to EHS, who then has the opportunity to review it. They’ll either send it back with a request for more details, or they’ll acknowledge it and then keep it in editing state until a point where they find the resolution to it – at which point they fill out their portion of the ROSI and then close it out.
And just today I had another request from our EHS lead to make a couple of small changes to it; similar to what we did for our Contracts application, once she closes out a ROSI, she wants the ability to be able to reopen it, put it back into an editing state, and make changes to it. Within 3 minutes I had made that change and sent the update to her.
Yeah, so it’s really easy. I just added a simple path between the “Finished” and “Active” steps and named it “Reopen.” It took me no time at all.
The other one that I built was also for EHS, and it’s called an After-Hours Log. Anybody that’s going to be onsite after normal business hours needs to check in using this application; because if there’s an emergency or something they can pull up a list and see who is onsite right now, find out where they’re sitting, get them out of the building or whatever.
It shoots them an email, so as soon as they’re ready to leave the building, they open the email. They click the link, it checks them out, and they walk out. No one has to sign in on a piece of paper or anything; they keep the electronic record of it.
At the moment, I’m working on something to handle facilities requests, because they’re still using an old Lotus Notes database for that. And I’m also working on a Capital Expense Request application for our Finance people; that one is taking a little more effort, but we have a real need to get it updated pretty soon.
Our IT project manager has been doing some work with the inventory people; he’s building an Inventory Request application that was previously built in an old version of .NET, and it’s very buggy. He got into WEBCON BPS all on his own; he started looking online, watched some tutorial videos, and so on. With very little input from me, he’s built his own workflow, his own forms, SQL database connections to pull data from our ERP system, and so on; I think he’s planning to get it to the point where it can put data back into that system as well.
What have your interactions with the company been like?
So far very pleasant. Considering that I’ve basically been using their freemium edition, all support requests have gotten back to me within 48 hours at the very longest; to me, that’s the kind of turnaround I expect for something when I’ve already paid for the software. Anytime I’ve had a question, I shut it off to my contact at WEBCON, and he in turned got someone technical involved right away.
And so far, WEBCON has always been able to resolve my issues and answer any of the questions I’ve asked.
Did you look at any other platforms?
We did some Google searching for business process management software, but we never saw anything that we actually liked. The Lotus Notes version we have is very old; it’s 8.5, I think. We did not want to upgrade it because we just don’t like that system.
When I came in here, the previous person writing workflows was the one who pushed for Nintex. I was not impressed with it. I did some research in the SharePoint .NET development area to try to basically just build it with Visual Studio, which I’ve done some coding in before, but it was clear that doing that would require a lot more back-end effort.
So when the Quest guys suggested WEBCON, I just took their word for it that it was worth a look.
They said a lot of their folks had worked for Nintex before and had worked in different areas, and they told me that the people that they hire have said that WEBCON was the best thing they had found to date.
WEBCON points out its InstantChange™ technology quite often. Was it relevant to the work you’ve been doing?
Definitely. I had some issues with assigning a task to the correct manager. If users submitted requests for themselves, the first reviewer was their manager. We later realized that we hadn’t accounted for what to do if the request was submitted by the user’s manager. A manager was trying to submit a form and it was failing.
While the manager still had the form open, I went into the designer, changed the logic, deployed it, told him to hit the same button, and it worked. He didn’t even have to refresh the page.
That’s fantastic. I love that. It’s a significant difference from other applications that I’ve used where you basically have to reload the entire screen, and re-enter all the data just to get it to see a background change.
And being able to change the name of a form field or a rule and then not have to go update that in every single place that it’s used. Behind the scenes, WEBCON identifies everything with an ID, so the names are dynamic. It seems simple. It seems like everybody should have done that by now.
Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
The only other thing is, comparatively, the cost is a significant savings over what we had been spending each year.
You can either subscribe to WEBCON BPS or out-and-out buy it, and for us it made more sense to buy it once and just pay annual maintenance fees for updates. We’re saving $30,000 USD each year that way. It’s a significant cost savings for us.
We’re getting more functionality at a lower price point. And if we decide to stop paying for the maintenance, we don’t have to worry about all of our forms self-destructing.
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