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Appian World 2018 Recap: Touched by an Angel

Roland Alston, Appian
April 26, 2018

Miami Beach, Florida, April 26, 2018: After three action-packed days, numerous panels, thousands of conversations and too many presentations to count, Appian World 2018 is finally in the books.

As conference planners and staffers finally recover from the behind-the-scenes madness in Miami, we're taking a quick look back at some of the happenings and conversations that stuck out the most this year.

There's so much to talk about. So, let's get to it.


Touched by an Angel

It's hard to put the experience of attending John Foley's General Session presentation into words. But that doesn't mean we won't try.

We talked to a number of attendees, and the general consensus? The former Navy pilot, and lead solo pilot of the Blue Angels, burned the paint off expectations. He did a phenomenal job of combining captivating stories and video from his stint in the Blue Angels, with his deep smarts in leadership and team culture.

He wasn't there to teach us how to fly like a Blue Angel. Nope, he was on a mission to teach us how to think, feel, and perform like one instead.

And we were all glad to go along for the ride.

John Foley at Appian World 2018

(I'll get to the takeaways from Foley's talk in a minute.)

As you can tell from the amazing photos and social media coverage from the three-day event, Appian World was a BLAST!

Wednesday, April 25, was the last day of the conference. It was also another amazing opportunity to reconnect with top customers and partners, gain insight from digital leaders, and tune into the amazing commentary of big thinkers and motivational speakers featured throughout the day.

There was also plenty on the agenda for the DevOps crowd as well, including plenty of hands-on workshops, innovation labs, the new Multi-Session Developer Jam Experience, and competitive pitches from the Hackathon finalists.

Every year the Appian World agenda gets more amazing.

Which brings us back to John Foley's motivational talk: "Rethinking What's Possible".

The conference guide described Foley's talk this way: The stakes for high performance don't get much higher than when you're flying jets in close formation at more than 500 miles per hour. Using his personal experience leading the Blue Angels as a backdrop, John Foley will motivate you and your team to explode the barriers and reach your highest potential.

Foley started out his talk by simply saying: "I'm glad to be here." But that simple four word statement would take on a deeper, richer meaning by the end of his presentation.

Those four words "glad to be here" date back to Foley's epic stint in the iconic Blue Angels.

The High-Performance Mindset

"It's about making an impact on other people's lives," said Foley.

"And that's what's special about this conference. I think that's what's special about what you do. You guys are cutting edge. You're changing the world. You're making a difference in people's lives. And you've got all kinds of industries represented here. And I think that's pretty powerful."

Foley talked about the amazing power of bringing together processes, teamwork and a high-performance mindset. Which is what the mantra "glad to be here" represents. It's long been the secret sauce of the high-performance Blue Angel team.

"We start out with our wingtips about 36 inches apart, and get it down to 18 inches," said Foley. "Imagine a 22-ton jet flying at over 400 knots, upside down. I mean, what do you think that feels like? How do you think we get to that level of precision, that level of teamwork, that level of trust?

Trust and Collaboration Are Essential

Now, imagine the results that would be possible, if you put that kind of performance in your company.

Foley described performance high performance as a pyramid.He works with lots of companies around the world that are the best of the best sitting at the top of the pyramid.

John Foley's presentation at Appian World 2018

And here's what he takes away from that experience: Companies, organizations and teams that are at the top of the success pyramid do things SIMPLE. They have a thirst to learn, a thirst to get better. But more than that, the best CONNECT.

"You've got to connect. As a human being, you've got to connect with your customers, your teammates, and your families. The next thing they do is align. And then there's a third one that's really critical commitment.You do these three things. You get 'glad to be here' in the DNA of your teams. And I don't care what industry you're in. You're going to be on top of the pyramid."

Speaking of connecting, we wanted to recap our final day at Appian World 2018 with some raw, unscripted, reactions from attendees.

We started with Earl Pinto. He serves as a Program Support Manager with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Pinto said that his agency has been using Appian for about nine months for Robotic Process Automation. It turns out that the agency's running two different RPA concepts and getting positive results from them. This was Pinto's first Appian World conference.

"The John Foley presentation today, the way it was presented was amazing. He did a great job of capturing the audience's attention. The thing about the conference is that for anyone who is new to technology, new to Appian, the opportunity to learn is phenomenal."

Developer Jams

Planners added a new twist to Appian World this year Developer Jams. It was like a giant headphone party. Wireless headgear allowed everyone to listen in on a number of presentations in a single setting, without a speaker system.

You could choose the presenter that you wanted to listen to by the stage number on their headgear just like hip fans at a silent disco.

Jam attendees were also able to get an early look at 18.2, and see how Appian engineers made the latest release easier, smarter, and and more flexible than ever before.

The new 18.2 product enhancements included:

    • Drag and drop features.

    • Dynamic form entries.

    • Records exporting.

    • Renaming query rules.

    • Text sentiment functionality

    • New mobile offering interface.

In another session, engineers created an app on-site to give a complete demo of the new mobile interface and show just how easy and fast it really is. They were able to build an app in under 20 minutes that could save customers time and money.

Want to learn more about the new mobile interface? Email to sign up for the mobile beta program.

Main Attraction: The Woz

The curtain rose on the main event, and keynote speaker and technology legend Steve Wozniak walked across the stage. It was the moment we were all waiting for. "The Woz" took us back to the future with riveting stories about the birth of computing in the pre-digital age.

Woz's love for engineering bubbled up in his inspiring commentary about launching Apple Computer alongside Steve Jobs. Woz also threw in a quip or two about the rise of the AI hype machine.

During the fireside chat with Appian's CTO, Michael Beckley, Woz continued to explain how Jobs many not have understood computing at the highest level, but he was very good at understanding people.

Steve Wozniak at AppianWorld 2018

It was simplicity that made Appleclick with the masses. Jobs wanted to turn computing into an elegant art form. And, with Woz, he was able to do just that.

Woz also stressed that an early focus on gamification helped to bring computers into the home in the first place.

"I never started Apple to make money. I just wanted to make good computers."

Low code: What Agile Organizations Do

"The main thing I've learned," said Pinto, "is that change management is also a big part of digital transformation. You have to work really hard at it. Otherwise, resistance to change could be an impediment to technology improvement."

"I also liked yesterday's keynote by Matt Calkins. Not being a technical person, it was great learning about low-code and what it is. I learned that that is the kind of environment you need to be in, if you're going to be an agile organization."

From a technology perspective, Pinto was really into the AI commentary. He said that AI comes under his leadership in the Program Support Center at Health and Human Services, and that he was planning to attend an upcoming session about transformation in the public sector.

"I also did the AI Innovation Lab on Monday. It was much more focused on developers and tech folks. But I still benefited from learning the terminology, because I'm still getting used to the language of machine learning and cognitive learning."

"I think the same is true for lots of people. The latest AI and RPA trends really exploded in the last three years. And I would say that many agencies and organizations are still in the infancy of learning about them. This conference has really moved the needle on what I've learned about the latest digital trends."

Integrity in Leadership Matters

Moments later, we caught up with Alicia Dunn, Senior Computer Programmer Analyst, Persistent Systems (Appian partner).

"So, I came in this morning," said Alicia, "and I got to listen to the first speaker, John Foley and he was absolutely AMAZING!"

"I also caught Matt Calkins' keynote yesterday," said Dunn. "What I like is that you can tell he has integrity. You can tell that he believes in the product that he backs. And if Matt's that confident in the Appian product, I think that flows down and gives everyone else that much more confidence on top of it."

"I love that Appian invests in training the employees of its partners," said Dunn. "That just makes me so excited to come to Appian World every single year. If I have a junior developer, I can send him to some of the basic sessions.If I have an experienced architect, I can send him to more advanced sessions. And the fact that they break out the learning paths for specific people is fantastic."

Paul Snead, Manages Research and Development for Enterprise Business Process Office at JM Family Enterprises. Snead's role focuses on business process improvement and re-engineering. And his journey with Appian began just over a year ago.

Aligning Platform and Business Strategies

"One of the things I was excited to learn," said Snead, "is that Appian is starting to build platforms on top of Appian. I was really impressed with the Intelligent Contact Center. I like the analogy of the Lego building blocks."

"You don't have to have everything scripted and figured out to start with Appian," said Snead. "With Appian, you don't box yourself in when you start. You can say I want to start with minimum or no integrations.And you can go back later and say: 'I want to do integrations.' Being able to take that kind of iterative approach, having that kind of flexibility to grow and scale is appealing to me."

As for Snead's biggest takeway? The focus on teamwork and collaboration. He mentioned that the keynote, the general sessions and every breakout session all focused on the importance of collaboration, and making sure that platform priorities line up with business priorities."

"That's what I've heard from so many people who've had success with their Appian deployments."

Going to School on Use Cases

Alison (last name unknown) is a staffer with the British Columbia Teachers Federation. Her organization has been using Appian since 2011. "The conference is amazing," said Alison You can learn so much from all of the sessions and listening to the Appian experts talk about what's new with the platform and where it's going. It's all very exciting.

"I caught the Foley talk this morning. And it was incredible, just incredible. I texted the number he put up on the screen. So, I can get a copy of his presentation, and share it with my team back home. He was so inspiring and engaging.

"I'm not a technical person," but I went to several of the technology workshops to listen in learn about use cases, and how other people are using Appian in their organizations. Hopefully, I can learn how to replicate their success in ours."

"Today, I'm focusing on sessions that talk about optimizing efficiency and the customer experience. I'm also planning to see the Hackathon finalist presentations."

Before making my way through the crowd to the poolside Conference Lunch, I spoke with Zrinka Cutura. She is CFO for Convedo, a London-based consulting company that helps organizations in financial services, banking and the public sector with digital process automation and robotic process automation.

Looking for the Big Picture

"Most of our customers are in the United Kingdom and Europe. And we've been with Appian for about two years. I'm on my way to a financial services session now. And then for the rest of the day, I've got back-to-back sessions. My colleagues have their own agenda, in terms of what's important to them from a technical point of view."

"But the main goal for me was to get an overview of Appian , as well as ideas on organizational and digital transformation strategy. Getting the big picture, the strategic point of view on digital transformation. That's what's important to me."

Our final recap conversation was with Deb Cummins, Senior Manager in the Business Management Operations Group of Application Services & Technology Services at Johnson & Johnson.

"I've been to three Appian World conferences," said Cummins.

"I think Appian World is a fantastic opportunity to bring people together people that use the software. The networking is wonderful. It's great to come together with the Appian teams. All the Appian folks that I see back in New Jersey they're all here in Miami. It's great to have the opportunity to collaborate and socialize with them outside the office. And if I could come every year, I would."

Dunn noted that her business team started laying the foundation for working with Appian back in 2013. They built an order entry system, which lead to building a Cash-in-Cash-out system. She said that this application helps her team to manage the contract approval flow. It also prepares a purchase order template that is used with an Ariba purchasing system.

"Our financial people love how Appian ties it all together," says Dunn. It gives us strong internal control, and puts lots of data and facts at our fingertips."

"Yes, artificial intelligence (AI) is a hot topic at the conference. And we're interested in exploring the capabilities of AI. And I was really interested in the commentary I heard about Appian's new Sentiment Analysis capability. That capability really fascinated me."

"In our business, it's important to know which services are the most popular with our customers," says Dunn. "And we also want to know how to make repeatable orders easier. So, I think using artificial intelligence with sentiment analysis in the background would be very valuable for us."

Making the Complicated Simple

Another technology Dunn's team is looking at is robotic process automation. She says that there's a whole team working on RPA right now, to bring that capability to the company.

For Dunn, the biggest takeaway from the conference is the idea that low code doesn't mean that an application is unsophisticated. It's that low code is an easier way to build it.

"I'm not an IT professional by trade," says Dunn. I'm on the business side. I'm a finance person. But learning that low code can help me achieve what I need to achieve in my business, I like that about Appian. I like that Appian's focused on bringing more simplicity to a complicated world."

That's a wrap. Hope you enjoyed our Appian World 2018 recap.

Major props to our customers and partners, and to the too-many-to-mention, super hard-working people who toiled behind the scenes to pull off this amazing event.

See you next year in San Diego.