WebMethods adds human element to workflow

When webMethods ships the next version of its integration platform, the company plans to add technology that furthers automation of the human elements within business process management, a company official said.

The technology will emerge in Version 4.6 of the platform, which webMethods will announce on March 11, according to Scott Opitz, senior vice president of strategic planning at webMethods, based in Fairfax, Virginia.

In the forthcoming iteration of its product, webMethods plans to add technology that humans interact with for workflow modeling, deployment, and management. The basic idea, Opitz added, is to keep all workflow steps in the system.

To that end, webMethods workflow includes features such as a manager review step, support for roles, and full process management. The manager review capability ensures that the right person receives notices when need be; so if an order worth more than US$25 million requires the CFO's approval, the system knows to send the notification directly to him, rather than someone who reports to the CFO and will just have to pass the notice to the CFO anyway.

By supporting roles, the webMethods software can send notifications to a job title or job description, instead of to one specific individual. In the case that the system says the next step needs to be handled by technical support, everyone who fits the tech support category will receive an alert.

"We didn't want to give up access and say, 'Hand it back to us whenever you're ready.' We wanted to control the human steps as much as possible," Opitz said.

Full process management enables anyone with permission to view exactly where any business process is, whether it's in a system or human step.

Morgan Gerhart, an analyst at Meta, based in Stamford, Conn., said this incarnation of webMethods' platform gives it an edge over the competition.

"With the exception of Tibco, the only thing webMethods' competitors have is rudimentary exception handling," Gerhart said.

Although webMethods is not the first company to bring human intervention and workflow to market, one analyst said the technology it offers holds the promise to surpass that of its competitors.

"WebMethods was one of the last vendors to get process management, but when they did, they bought [great] technology," said David McCoy, a vice president at Gartner Inc., a Stamford, Connecticut.-based consultancy. "They are late to market with this product, but as time goes by they are going to go from non-competitive to very competitive because of the technology."

McCoy said Gartner lists the five leaders in this space as webMethods, Tibco, IBM, Vitria, and SeeBeyond, though not necessarily in that order.

WebMethods' Opitz added that webMethods' workflow tool runs only on the webMethods platform, and is available as an optional add-on for which the company charges. Pricing was not set. With this mid-March release, webMethods is synchronizing all of its products to Version 4.6.

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