Standalone Vendors Look to Plot BPM Course
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Business Process Management (BPM) -- the ability to define and execute business functions independent of applications or infrastructure -- may sound like a stuffy concept, but a few small companies are steadfastly clinging to it for success in a time when controlling company workflow is seen as a way of paring total-cost-of-ownership.
Intalio and Oak Grove Systems are two of a handful of standalone software companies that make custom engines for executing transactions with packaged applications, databases, and heritage systems, each hoping to chomp a bit out of what market research firm Delphi Group recently claimed is a $550 million market when the book closes on 2003, with growth rates of between 15 and 30 percent over the next few years.
The tricky part is, both companies, along with Savvion and Staffware, are hustling for customers in a realm filled with the likes of IBM and BEA Systems, both of whom have assets needed for BPM platforms, but don't necessarily have a set strategy to attract new business. Intalio and Oak Grove announced refreshes of their flagship products Monday.
A practical example of BPM is the automation of an application and credential review and approval process in a large, global organization. Instead of a process that might normally occur offline and be completed by an individual or several individuals, a BPM platform might be used to obviate the problem issues that arise out of copious paper shuffling, which often yields lost applications or missed deadlines.
San Mateo, Calif.-based Intalio unveiled version 2.5 of its BPM system, which includes Page Designer, a WYSIWYG editor for the Web-based user interfaces, as well the integration of software maker Systinet's Web services stack and Corticon's business rule engine.
The Intalio Designer process development environment also includes a new and user interface to improve business analysts' productivity. Meanwhile, Calabasas, Calif.-based Oak Grove Monday unveiled Reactor 5.5, which combines the extensibility that developers need with point and click ease of use features for business users.
Intalio CEO Tom Meyer said Page Designer lets business users define page layouts and build forms without having to code by hand, saving developers time, freeing them up to perform other tasks. Page Designer runs in a standard Web browser and provides drag-and-drop control of out-of-the-box user interface components, including data tables, and form and navigational elements to compose user interfaces. The user interfaces can then be graphically bound to processes and backend systems in the Designer and deployed in Intalio Director.
Such user interfaces would almost be for naught if it wasn't for the presence of Web services capabilities, which many analysts say bridge the complex gaps in business processes and application integration alike. With the help of Systinet's software, Intalio has fullyWeb service-enabled Intalio 2.5 with Systinet's Web Applications and Services Platform (WASP), a stack that makes it easier to access processes and Intalio APIs using Web services.
WASP supports SOAP 1.1, SOAP 1.2, WSDL 1.1 and WS-Security and works with Microsoft .NET, IBM Web Services, Apache SOAP/Axis and other Web service frameworks. Intalio has also made business rules engine available on Intalio 2.5 with the help of Corticon, which means users may change business process rules without having to modify and reconfigure the entire process.
Meyer said Intalio anticipates heavy adoption of BPM in Europe, and therefore opened offices in Brussels and London. The Aberdeen Group forecasts BPM spending in Europe will reach $850 million in 2003 and will top $1.67 billion in 2005.
"The competitors we bump up against regularly include IBM and BEA," Meyer said. "BPM is a logical extension of their product offerings but they don't package it that way, which is why we see ourselves a key differentiator in the market."
Meyer noted that, given the snowballing interest in BPM, it wouldn't surprise him if a vision for BPM emerged out of the IBM WebSphere and BEA WebLogic middleware platforms down the road "But the reality is you can buy it from Intalio today. To be really serious about utilizing BPM assets, you need a complete system allows you opportunity to start processes and deploy them in sophisticated way."
Oak Grove, which got its start some five years ago to create Web-based process coordination at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for the NASA Space Shuttle and International Space Station programs, issued Reactor 5.5. Developers and business users can use and monitor their solutions with the Reactor Studio, Engine and Portal.
Reactor Studio's new integrated forms, decision routing and reusable process component functionality allows users to deploy custom applications, while Reactor Portal provides the facilities for business activity monitoring (BAM) and real-time reporting.
Mercy Ships, a non-profit, uses Reactor 5.5 to coordinate the application review and approval process for the recruiting and placement of the thousands of volunteers. As Mercy Ship's needs change over time, the organization can use Reactor 5.5's extensibility features to customize the process model, reuse process components and integrate web applications with APIs.
Until Reactor 5.5, tasks and applicants at Mercy Ships were often overlooked or lost in translation as spread out sets of applicants, staff and credential approval officers attempted to share enormous amounts of information via phone, fax and email.
"The process design and usability enhancements in 5.5 also reinforce Oak Grove's standing as one of the top providers of embeddable workflow solutions to ISVs," said Delphi Group's Palmer. "This is a market segment we believe to be on the cusp of a major breakout, making this release all the more timely."