Metastorm BPM v7.6 – focusing on the user

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Content Copyright © 2008 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

This is the third 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 Kevin Haugh, VP of Product Management and Product Marketing, Brian Murray, Director of Solutions Marketing, and Rob Vignerot, Director of BPM Product Management for their recent briefing. Some of you may have read my short article in June 2008 (Metastorm acquires Proforma Corp). This formed part of a new strategy for the company to tackle the gaps that they saw in their customers between Enterprise Architecture, Process Analysis and Process Execution. As part of the incorporation of the Proforma product, Metastorm started on the building of a SOA-inspired common meta-model and platform, called Metastorm Enterprise. The Metastorm Enterprise products portfolio consists of:

  • Metastorm ProVision: Enterprise Modelling and Business Architecture which includes support for modelling of people, systems, processes, data, services, and critical interrelationships.
  • Metastorm ProVision BPA: Business Process Analysis which includes process modelling, simulation, Six Sigma and other optimization methods.
  • Metastorm Discovery: Business Process Discovery which provides understanding and analysis of current operations.
  • Metastorm BPM: Business Process Management which provides support for including design, automation, analysis, and monitoring of both human and system-based processes.
  • Metastorm Integration Manager: Process Integration which provides support legacy and mainframe process integration.

Enterprise 7.6 – BPM
Rob Vignerot described BPM v7.6 as all about enhancing the user experience. As a founding member of Microsoft Business Process Alliance, much of this is to exploit Microsoft’s Office 2007 and, in particular, Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS), which has been gaining many new users for Microsoft.

In addition to its traditional web client, Metastorm also offers a Metastorm Client for Office 2007 which provides the ability for users to use any of their Office desktop applications as a BPM client—complete with a Metastorm BPM ribbon bar. This latest edition of Metastorm’s Microsoft Office client also contains a new feature, which Metastorm call “process binding”; this allows process data to be incorporated into documents, presentations, and spreadsheets and for business users to have the ability to generate pre-defined or ad hoc Metastorm reports in Excel 2007 format. This feature Vignerot also describes as a means of providing offline support by variables being bound to fields contained within a document or spreadsheet, which can then be opened offline. In fact, new instances of a process can even be created from new documents or spreadsheets that are based on templates using process binding.

In terms of working with MOSS 2007 and WSS 3.0, Metastorm BPM 7.6 includes support for WebParts and Document Library integration. This latter feature supports the access and storing documents in a SharePoint Library from a Metastorm BPM process.

Metastorm’s Notify gadget is a new feature for users who are using Vista. This gadget provides a To Do List or Watch List that can be monitored. A priority breakdown can be displayed and alerts for new items are shown. It is possible to run multiple gadgets at the same time.

Another piece of integration with the Microsoft infrastructure components is the ability to use Microsoft Workflow Foundation workflows as part of a BPM process. This is both a design time and run time feature which begins with hosting of the Workflow Foundation (WF) Composer by the Metastorm Process Orchestrator for WF. This gives process designers access to all WF activities along with a collection of Metastorm WF activity components including activities that authenticate, create process instances, take actions, manage content, and update task lists. The WF rules composer can be used to build libraries of re-usable business rules that combine process information with existing services and data. There is support for Visual Scripting via WF driven from the Process Orchestrator. At run time the Metastorm Process Engine is a highly scalable WF host. WF Workflows are “published” to the BPM repository. The Integration Wizard is used to call the “Workflows”. The BPM Process Engine hosts the Workflow Foundation Engine and runs workflows at selected stages and actions.

The final piece of support for Microsoft infrastructure components in 7.6 is the ability to build customised BPM UI in Visual Studio using a new set of ASP.NET Web Parts. These new Web Parts give access to Services, ToDo Lists, Watch Lists, Custom Lists, Blank Form Lists, Admin Form Lists, and Dashboard Views.

The Metastorm BPM 7.6 release also sees the first major integration with the former Proforma products with the ability for a simulation model in ProVision to be generated from a model in the Metastorm Designer (process design component of Metastorm BPM). This facility is wizard driven and uses either estimated or historical simulation data.

How good are Metastorm’s claims for their product set?

One of the things Bloor’s research is looking at is the way vendors position themselves to their customers. Metastorm lists their 6 differentiators as:

  • More than the basic BPM round trip—strategy to execution
  • Unique integration to Microsoft applications
  • Advanced integration and system based process support—as well as the traditional human-centric BPM
  • Superior process intelligence capability and flexibility
  • Product maturity and leadership
  • Superior time to value and customer success

The acquisition of Proforma last year has allowed Metastorm to provide what at present is a unique state for an organisation to use an integrated product set to support both Enterprise Architecture and the capture of business strategies, and the ability to turn that into designed business processes that can be managed and monitored.

Certain of the new features in the latest release mean that at the time of writing Metastorm have developed some unique features (for example process binding) in the way they integrate to the Microsoft Office Suite. The test will be how long this is true and that their competitors will also generate other unique features, so that will leave the potential buyer in the position of assessing which of these features is more important to their situation.

In terms of integration, Metastorm backs this claim on it being faster and easier exploitation of legacy and mainframes. This is very difficult to evaluate as well as being a matter of opinion. All BPMS tools need to support this capability. It is really about the ease with which IT and business users can do this.

Metastorm backs the claim over process intelligence by referring to a native BI capability (via an OEM of Hyperion in Metastorm Insight) in addition to the support of a broad range of third-party BI/reporting tools. Whereas this is one way of looking at this issue, Bloor would see this as being more to do with what can you do with the process data collected by the monitoring capability. For instance, can users combine the process data with business data to view how many processes dealt with a particular insurance product in a given timeframe—particularly useful during promotions?

When I fed back to Metastorm that Bloor was not sure that this USP was proven, we got a response from Metastorm which provided more information on their capabilities. Sharon Hanger, Metastorm’s Director, Market Strategy and Analyst Relations responded, “Metastorm Insight provides the facility to combine the business data consumed or produced by the process or other data within the enterprise with process metrics to provide process intelligence.” The Metastorm BPM process data is stored in an open documented schema and is available to be queried by other tools. This allows customers to develop reports with their existing reporting infrastructures or the data can be used in other tools.

What this means is that Metastorm are able to offer real “process intelligence” capabilities, although it would appear from the information supplied that currently this only worked from the Metastorm side and Bloor would see complete process intelligence meaning that the BAM data collected by Metastorm could be interrogated externally by BI tools—i.e. our view of true process intelligence is that queries link BAM and BI data can come from either side. Hanger added that “Metastorm BPM can integrate with other BI tools. The schema is open and accessible to be queried outside the tool.”

In terms of product maturity and leadership, with over 1200 customers and a thriving partner network put into the melting pot with Metastorm’s vision of going back up the chain to business strategy and their current closeness to Microsoft, we give them a big tick here.

Superior time to value is another one of these measures which is in the eye of the user and therefore difficult to assess without actually doing a project involving the toolset. Metastorm’s product set is on route to being completely unified (see review comments on 7.6 above), but the tools themselves are mature with therefore a lot of experience in how best to use them around. Metastorm have provided a series of what they call “Accelerators”, which include process pods and templates. In addition, like many BPMS vendors they have developed a rapid implementation methodology to speed implementation. The company also has over 80 documented, customer-approved success stories and over 25 customer video testimonials on its website.

Metastorm BPM v7.6 provides some really good usability features that exploit Microsoft Office Suite 2007. Not only does this mean that current and potential users of Metastorm who are Office users can see immediate benefits, but for Metastorm they are using Microsoft infrastructure components which means that they don’t have to develop their own—makes good sense to exploit the platform that you are built upon.

In terms of Metastorm’s USP, in the main one Bloor sees is that they stand up to the mark, but certain ones are about perception and therefore hard to verify. However Bloor’s overall feel about Metastorm is that they are well placed for the next stage of BPMS development and use.