Appian 2011 Results

Scott Francis
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There aren’t quite as many independent BPM software vendors to report on these days, but I still try to keep track of their financial performance because it still seems that the overall trend is up and to the right – apparently the market still hasn’t gotten too crowded for more than one vendor to be successful. And of course I’m always looking for confirmation (or exceptions) to that trend. Appian reported “record growth in 2011” the other day with some key statistics:
  • 90 new-name customers
  • 219% YoY license order increase for Appian BPM Software
  • Appian Cloud represented 37% of their total license orders in 2011
  • Highlighted new customers include several government agencies.
The press release goes on to describe Appian’s mobile BPM offering and several industry awards they won over the course of 2011.  Appian’s press release and blog certainly support the thesis that BPM still has room to grow. But what I find interesting is the wordsmithing of what seem like otherwise healthy numbers:
  • “90 new-name customers”  – how is a customer defined, then? As a department, subsidiary, purchasing group, or corporate entity?  (the use of new-name rather than just “new customers” makes one wonder what the caveat is).
  • 219% year-over-year license growth sounds fantastic. But then they added another word – they didn’t actually say license dollars, they said “license order increase”.  An increase in orders could happen if you lowered the price to free, which isn’t nearly as interesting as a 219% year-over-year revenue increase in license dollars.
  • I’m surprised the 37% cloud customers is as low as it is.
My beef isn’t that the numbers are good – they’re great numbers, but part of the value of a number is the context.  If Appian grew license revenue 219% why didn’t they just say so?  So if they didn’t just say so, then why did they feel the need to trump up the numbers by obscuring which metric they’re really reporting? It just isn’t necessary. This isn’t a problem unique to small private companies though.  Just the other day Google reported some misleading vanity metrics about Google+.  The effect of using these misleading figures though was to undermine their credibility rather than enhance it. This odd cherry picking of metrics isn’t new however, 6 months ago Appian reported “Sales orders for the Appian BPM Suite grew 158%” – again, orders, not revenue. Of course, as a private firm, they don’t have to report anything, but if your business is growing it is hard to resist crowing about it at least a little! But I would encourage private companies reporting metrics to use plain words in what ever language you need to get through to your audience.  Finessing the terminology only undermines credibility.      

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  • Jcristobal

    Revenue recognition rules typically apply. Until a project is complete it is deferred revenue. Even for private companies. Orders is a legit reference and not a bad benchmark for business performance particularly for doing year over year comparisons.

    • Lots of orders at $1 is not the same as lots of orders at $250,000. 
      Without ASP, Revenue, or any other metric, # of orders isn’t very
      meaningful.

      Sure, revenue recognition applies, but they still get revenue. they can call it bookings (sold, not necessarily recognized yet), cash, or accrual basis.  If they said revenue without any qualifier I wouldn’t assume that it is all recognized unless it was in a financial disclosure of the official variety. If what they really meant was that their “bookings” increased by 200+% they should just say that – it is clear and really quite impressive.  

      Having worked at a few private companies, we never counted orders as an interesting metric by itself.