Go with the workflow

Traditional EAI (enterprise application integration) vendors are tackling BPM (business process management) head-on to meet the demand to integrate human workflow with application integration efforts.

WebMethods Inc. next month will add enhanced workflow automation into its integration platform while teaming with BMC Software Inc. to provide the network management for it. The effort underscores the importance of ensuring availability of business process operations. Other integration vendors including BEA Systems Inc., Tibco Software Inc., Vitria Technology Inc., and SeeBeyond Technology Corp. are moving to marry BPM with integration so that changes done on the business process level will be replicated on the data integration level.

WebMethods plans to add technology that furthers automation of the human elements within BPM in Version 4.6 of its integration platform, to be announced March 11, according to Scott Opitz, senior vice-president of strategic planning at webMethods, based in Fairfax, Va.

Version 4.6 is designed to integrate into the workflow technology a modelling and workflow management tool that controls business processes, rather than lower-level data integration issues. “We provide workflow for any step in the process that involves humans,” Opitz said.

Typically, when business processes reach the point where human interaction is required, users print out and pass around the function that needs approval then rekey it into the system. WebMethods’ workflow interface keeps everything within the system, Opitz said.

In addition to the new interface, webMethods workflow includes features such as a manager review step, support for roles, and full process management. Because the workflow is tied to the integration platform, Opitz said, companies can execute workflow on the same scale as integration efforts.

“We think workflow is an integration platform. If you can’t get to the data, what are people going to do?” Opitz said. “The days of business process management, workflow, and integration being separate need to pass.”

Morgan Gerhart, an analyst at Meta, based in Stamford, Conn., said it doesn’t make sense to have separate environments for automating electronic processes and human processes. “There is definitely a coming connection between integration and workflow. Long term, it only makes sense to have them together,” he added.

BEA Systems will announce a new version of its integration server on Monday at the company’s BEA eWorld user conference in San Diego. Although not a major release, the server includes enhanced business process management capability, according to John Kiger, director of product marketing at San Jose, Calif.-based BEA.

As BPM becomes increasingly tied to the integration platform, enterprises are demanding tools to monitor the health of the platform, much like they monitor the availability of networks. BMC and webMethods announced a partnership last week to deploy Patrol for webMethods, a management product designed to maximize the availability of business process operations by monitoring the integration platform technology responsible for creating them, according to company officials.

Patrol for webMethods will manage and monitor critical processes and availability of enterprise and integration servers as well as the health of adapters.

“We’re taking our service-level management capabilities…and now we’re able to include the webMethods components so we can begin to look at overall business processes,” said Jim Byrd, senior product manager at BMC.

Philips Semiconductors turned to integration vendor Tibco because it needed a complete solution for EAI, B2B connectivity, and BPM to improve the efficiency of its supply chain. Philips is using Tibco to integrate its legacy systems for real-time capabilities worldwide and to power the interface for its private information hub, enabling it to automate its collaborative planning and forecasting process.

No longer in danger of having its supplier rating with Nokia – one of its biggest customers – slip, Philips is now able to make more accurate forecasts and is seeing a dramatic reduction in customer calls through improved inventory management, said Bill Roeder, Philips director of worldwide business.

The company has contract manufacturers and distributors tied in to its supply chain to allow it to look into the demand and ripple it back into the supply chain, Roeder said.

“Before it was multiple phone calls to multiple entities,” Roeder said. “It’s all real time now. [Tibco’s] software had some business process mapping capabilities that other vendors didn’t have. The tools allow us to map those processes in a more streamlined fashion.”

Shankar Iyer, Tibco’s vice-president of products, said the promise of Web services is driving the move to link integration with business process management. For example, enterprises are beginning to offer some previous core competencies as services. An airline may want to outsource catering but may still want the third-party company to be plugged in to its processes to ensure quality customer service.

“We define [business process management] as the ability to integrate processes and proactively manage them so tomorrow you can analyse by metrics and make any changes,” Iyer said.

SeeBeyond this month unveiled a strategy to combine enterprise integration, Web services, and BPM. This new Real-Time Information Network relies on an integration backbone to accelerate delivery and management of data, applications, and processes in real time, company officials said.

The company’s business process management technology provides a canvas for drawing and analysing processes, said Richard Clements, SeeBeyond director of product marketing. That model then generates all of the integration components for executing a business process, he added. “With our tool you’re providing a strategic management process across the entire enterprise,” Clements said.

Ultimately, the marriage of data and process integration is aimed at making human workflow drive integration projects, analysts said.

“All the vendors know human interaction is an element. Everybody expects it, so it’s no longer hot to say ‘We can bring humans into the picture,’ ” said David McCoy, vice-president at Gartner, a consultancy based in Stamford, Conn.

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