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Group to Wed Web Services Specs

A group dedicated to automating business process management (BPM) in the computing industry will demonstrate how its workflow protocol works with the asynchronous service access protocol (ASAP) for facilitating long-running Web services.

The Workflow Management Coalition (WfMC), which includes IBM and Microsoft, has created the Wf-XML 2.0 Web commerce protocol to help companies link processes being managed by other BPM systems. Fujitsu Software, HandySoft and Staffware are among those participating in the ASAP/Wf-XML 2.0 demo at BrainStorm's Business Process Management Conference in San Francisco on June 23.

ASAP is a Web services protocol created by e-business standards body OASIS to access a generic service that might take a long time to complete, much like the process cycle of buying a home.

ASAP is useful for services lasting anywhere from minutes to months in duration. The service may either be fully automated, performed by an individual manually or a mixture of the two. Wf-XML 2.0 provides BPM and workflow interchange capabilities, working well with ASAP because a business process engine is a special type of asynchronous service.

For example, one BPM engine can be easily linked to another BPM engine using Wf-XML. Wf-XML extends ASAP by including the ability to retrieve the process definition and monitor the current state of a process.

Fujitsu Software, HandySoft and Staffware, which make BPM engines, believe the interoperability of Wf-XML and ASAP can help businesses to get a larger return on investment by automating BPM.

According to Susan Muldoon, vice president of product strategy at BPM specialist HandySoft, the WfMC's Wf-XML schema works well with ASAP, because it is built on top of it in the deep Web services stack.

In the demo, there will be a client that has several servers around the world. ASAP will be used to show a client calling a retailer to place an order. The second example will highlight the Wf-XML extension, illustrating what happens when the retailer is out of stock and must order new materials from the manufacturer.

"ASAP is a Web service protocol for things that don't happen instantaneously, and the Wf-XML extension add on BPM and workflow," Muldoon said on a conference call to preview the event with reporters. "So if you were placing an order that had five pieces on the assembly line... you would use Wf-XML to gain insight into each of those activities."

David Kelly, president of business process management research group Upside Research, said this type of test is important because BPM will be required to coordinate processes across companies and supply chains. While organizations will use them internally, they are also increasingly using them externally to connect them to partners, customers and suppliers.

"Having standards such as ASAP and Wf-XML 2.0 provide companies with a way to start planning and managing across companies," Kelly said on the call. He also said prospective BPM buyers are looking for ways to reduce their risk and ensure flexibility; being able to rely on a standard enables companies to integrate with more systems as they grow their business.

As with most standards, Wf-XML 2.0 has a rival: Business Process Execution Language , a spec created to facilitate the orchestration of Web services and other tasks within a supply chain.

However, there are key differences. Kelly said BPEL is more focused on notation and modeling, whereas Wf-XML defines data exchange for business processes. Kelly said the two don't necessarily clash because standards continue to evolve.

He also said technologies from both specs are being integrated in vendor products now. Moreover, many of the key drivers behind BPEL also back Wf-XML, including Microsoft , BEA Systems and IBM .

Regardless, the future for BPM software looks bright, the analyst said, noting that companies in the space have doubled their revenues and landed more contracts. HandySoft, for example, reported 40 percent quarter-over-quarter growth from the fourth quarter of 2003 to the first quarter of 2004.