This is the ninth in a series of articles I shall be producing based on a major piece of research being undertaken by Bloor Research on the BPMS market. My thanks go to Roland Jager, Product Manager of Open Text for the briefing given to Bloor at the end of August 2008
One of the main classifications of business processes is document/content centric, where the processes are based around document flow with particular emphasis on the parts of the content of those documents causing business events to happen. Open Text are one the major BPMS specialists in this market. They were founded in 1991 with their headquarters in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. Their main market is Enterprise Content Management (ECM) with their BPMS tools providing the support for workflow. Open Text have some 46,000 customers. Although I am not clear of exactly what constitutes a customer, it is still a big number! Customers include Deutsche Rentenversicherung, Bundesrechenzentrum and Mann + Hummel Group. As can be seen from these customers Open Text has big and successful presence in Europe.
Open Text offer 3 different BPM tools:
- Livelink ECM - Advanced Workflow combines a secure document repository and information retrieval with process automation tools.
- Livelink ECM - Business Process Management (BPM) Server manages a company's structured workflows by analyzing, administrating, automating and optimizing them.
- Open Text eDOCS Workflow allows its users to define, apply and reuse business logic and processes providing them with the ability to generate interactions among people, business systems, and content.
In this article we are going to look at the second of these—Livelink ECM—Business Process Management (BPM) Server. As a BPM tool it is very focused on supporting document/content centric processes and it provides the process services in the full ECM offering from Open Text. Figure 1 provides a high level architectural view of the product.
Figure 1: Livelink ECM BPM Server Architecture (Source: Open Text)
Jager saw the strengths in the product as follows:
- Support for full lifecycle of BPM covering the model, automate, monitor and analyse phases.
- The tight integration with imaging and document management tools, built around the consistent access to various repositories.
- The strong support for roles and responsibilities to provide identity access control.
- All APIs are based on open standards including XML, JSR 94 and WfMC
So how do these strengths as seen by Open Text stack up?
The first was support for the full lifecycle. In Bloor's view the lifecycle of business process can be describe in terms of lifecycle model—starting with a build phase, then deploy stage, then, once the automated process is live, a manage and finally an assess step. Bloor describes this model as the Process v2 Lifecycle. So how does BPM Server support this model?
BPM Server's BPM Designer is a user-friendly graphical design environment that provides support for the definition and management of business processes. Not only does this component support the model of the process being automated but it also supports the creation of forms. The tool also supports the assigning of users and roles as well as the definition of escalation procedures. There is also a tool that allows attributes in documents to be matched, which in my view is a real key to providing real support for mashups. Therefore BPM Designer provides the key support Bloor would associate to support build phase of the lifecycle.
What about the deploy stage? BPM Server has the necessary features to manage the deployment of a process that is being automated and run inside an organisation. At present Open Text are not following a number of other BPMS vendors by offering a SaaS version of their products so there is no support provided for SLA and Contract support for service providers. Bloor would say that Open Text provides good support for Verson1 BPMS but as yet don't have the extended support required support SaaS processes.
The next stage in the Process Lifecycle is the manage phase. Many people refer to this stage as monitor, but in my mind that is too passive. What has become clear during the current research on products in the BPMS market is that every vendor has support for business activity monitoring (BAM) and Open Text are no exception. What BAM tools provide is the means to monitor the processes and report on what happens. The new addition, and Open Text provide this, is to use an alert or notification system to automatically produce alerts to the relevant individuals who need to carry out correcting action. Importantly, Open Text provided support for one of the key requirements of BPMS v2 in that they provide support for "process intelligence", by enabling BAM data to be passed to any BI tool to be incorporate with other BI data. So here Bloor would confirm there is very god support for the manage phase of the Process Lifecycle.
The final phase in the Lifecycle is assess. My research shows that at present there is little automated support for this phase from current BPMS—the best being simulation tools. At present, Open Text do not provide their own simulation capability with BPM Server, however in the UK they are evolving a partnership with an ISV partner Cadre CSM focused on Financial Services. Additionally there is a strategic partnership with Lanner Group being developed that will added simulation to the Open Text price list. So here we really have a near future of one of the base elements needed to support the assess phase.
The second strength listed was BPM Server's integration with imaging and document management tools. In Bloor's view this is an undersell of the product's capability in that it can support integration, not only to these ECM facilities out of the box which is what should be expected from a document/ontent centric BPM tool, but it also can interface with enterprise applications, such as ERP, SCM, and CRM and office applications like Microsoft Outlook. There are standard connectors for SAP, Wf-XML and Web Services (SOAP). In addition, custom connectors can be developed using either Java or .NET coding. 3rd party adapters from vendors such as iWay can also be used with the product. This is very definite strength of Open Text but it is much more that just image and documents.
The third strength listed was the support of roles and responsibilities in BPM Server. One of the interesting aspects of BPM Server is the way that it uses roles and responsibilities not only when the business process is defined for the allocation of tasks, but also that it is used by the Design component itself to present various components only to particular user groups. When designing a workflow, roles and responsibilities can be taken into account. So therefore we have another proven strength.
The fourth strength is on the use of open standards and in particular in the areas of APIs. Like many BPM tools Open Text supports WfML and BPMN along with XML, SOAP, SNMP and LDAP. The programming model is based on Java. It will be interesting to see how Open Text responds to other standards such as SIF and other currently evolving standards.
Bloor sees Open Text's BPM Server as well suited to support of document/content centric processes in organisations.