Imagine

November 14, 2008
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Imagine a BPM tool that could be used by real business people. Imagine a tool that would allow them to document business processes using the simplest notation possible. Imagine a tool that would not only show pretty pictures, but actually turn them into executable processes, at the click of a button. Imagine a tool that could be used on demand, without having to install any software. Imagine a tool that would let business people automate highly-

Imagine a BPM tool that could be used by real business people. Imagine a tool that would allow them to document business processes using the simplest notation possible. Imagine a tool that would not only show pretty pictures, but actually turn them into executable processes, at the click of a button. Imagine a tool that could be used on demand, without having to install any software. Imagine a tool that would let business people automate highly-regulated processes such as the financials closing process, without any involvement from IT. Now, imagine such a tool being tightly integrated with the most advanced standards-based BPMS currently available on the market. Such a tool exists today, it has been developed by a little company based in Germany, and Intalio acquired this company today.

Before I tell you which company I’m talking about, I would like to give Intalio’s marketing team some time to finish our brand new website, and that’s going to take another week or two. In the meantime, I’ll let you guess which company it might be, and if you guess right by posting a comment to this article, I’ll send you one of these cool iPods designed by one of my friends (sorry, I can’t tell you who that is either). And because I’m getting a huge kick out of this guessing game, I’ll tell you more about the company we just acquired, its product, its customers, and why we decided to make such an acquisition.

Since its inception (nine years ago), Intalio’s strategy for bridging the business-IT divide has been a middle-out one: start from the process analyst, then reach out to the business leftward/upward, and to IT rightward/downward (Cf. article). Developing a standards-based, Zero-Code/One-Click-Deploy product for process analysts proved to be quite a challenge, but with the upcoming Intalio|BPP 6.0, I like to believe that we’ve pretty much reached this first milestone. Having done that, now is time to get software developers and business users involved as well.

As far as software developers are concerned, the early feedback we’ve received for the upcoming Intalio Developer Edition has been extremely positive, and I am confident that we are on the right track. But developing a product that could be used by true business users is quite another challenge. Of all the products we have seen so far, none let business users design non-trivial business processes that can be deployed without any involvement from IT. Either they generate skeletons of processes to which muscles must be added by technical people, or they’re too complex for real-world business people to really use them. Or so was the case until we came across this little GmbH, which I will refer to as The Company.

The Company’s product has been eight years in the making — good software is like good red wine, it takes time to fully develop. It’s a web-based process design tool coupled to a very lightweight process execution engine. The tool uses a notation so simple that any business user can understand it: boxes for activities, diamonds for conditional branchings, and arrows for transitions. And because the boxes have rounded corner, it could legitimately be considered as a primitive subset of BPMN. The process engine is a simple finite state machine built directly on top of a relational database, and tightly integrated with a BPEL engine (Apache ODE) for supporting more complex processes. It supports in-flight changes to process models, and such changes can be applied to any number of process instances, including individual ones, thereby supporting the execution of ad hoc processes. In other word, it’s quite flexible/forgiving, which is precisely what business users need. For workflow activities, the product integrates natively with the most popular task managers (instead of providing a dedicated one), including Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Notes (RTM coming soon).

The Company has sold this product to a dozen blue chip companies in Germany, including one of the largest insurance companies in the world, and one of the largest industrial equipment manufacturers in the world. These customers are using the product for a variety of business processes, ranging from new product development to money laundering detection. But one of the processes that really captured our imagination is the financials closing process. This process is owned by the CFO, usually managed by hundreds of employees working in the Finance Departments of large organizations, and is highly regulated by SOX and Basel II. For a couple of The Company’s customers, the process was designed and deployed by accountants directly, without any help from IT, and is being used for closing financial statements every quarter. Very cool stuff…

That’s all for now. More on it later. So, any guess as to which company we bought?

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