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Do You Like Your Workflow or BPM Software? 58

Posted by Cliff
Dukhat asks: "I am really interested in firsthand experiences with these kinds of products and in unbiased reviews, since Google primarily gives me marketing information and vague overviews of how BPM is good for business. I have already looked at an earlier article on work-flow patterns, which gave me a few products to look at. I am trying to compile a short list of work-flow and BPM software to evaluate, but I am having a hard time determining which products are even worth evaluating. The situation is worsened by the fact that work-flow tools are often bundled with CRM or Business Intelligence packages. I am not dead set on using a big package, but I need to know more about their real world pros and cons before I can decide whether to build it myself instead. I am looking at both BPM and work-flow software, since some BPM software can also do work-flow, but it may be more worthwhile to just use a rules engine for automated processes and use a specialized work-flow tool." Dukhat has a fairly long list of software choices that he needs to whittle down. What packages would you recommend and why?
"Here are some of the goals we have that we are trying to solve with work-flow/ BPM software:
  • To be able to understand the path of a process without perusing in and out of a lot of functions.
  • To be able to report on how long each step in each process takes.
  • To be able to see exactly where in the process software errors occur and be able to skip over failed steps so that we can come back and fix them later.
  • To be able to integrate with our issue tracking system, billing system, and CRM software. We definitely will have to write some webservices here.
  • To be able to give process managers in different departments the ability to tweak certain processes without giving them full access to all processes.
We started off looking at rules engines, but it looks like a rules engine would only be useful for choosing actions at each step in the process, but we would have to glue together each step in the process ourselves. A lot of BPM software includes business rules software or is designed to integrate easily with specific packages.

Here is a list of packages that I have assembled so far:
Please help me narrow these down. Thanks!"
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Do You Like Your Workflow or BPM Software?

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  • by FortKnox (169099) * on Saturday July 22, 2006 @10:33PM (#15764864) Homepage Journal
    I used to deal with BPM's a lot. The more you spend, the more flexible and more stuff you get out of the box. Personally, FileNET is probably the tops of the list, but is extrodinarily expensive. JBoss is the cheapest (free), but requires extreme customization.

    The best answer depends on what you will be using it for. If you don't have a reason to use a BPM, then you probably should take the cost (or development effort) to throw one in.

    And, of course, 90% of the replies here will be "do your own homework" which is semi-legit. As while I've seen a company work well with the adobe workflow, and one work great with the fileNET and jboss ones, it really depends on the client and their specific needs (which you really didn't define except in a very global sense).

    The best answer would be to hire an expensive consultant that has lots of experience with BPMs. Let them look at your situation and make suggestions for you. You won't get anything worthwhile, here...
    • > Personally, FileNET is probably the tops of the list, but is extrodinarily expensive.
      > JBoss is the cheapest (free), but requires extreme customization.

      It depends entirely on how well it works for you out-of-the-box. In my experience, the larger the company and the more different departments and groups have to be satisfied, the more likely off-the-shelf packages will be tweaked and customized to hell. At that point a less capable system that allows a high level of customization at the code level can
  • by BunnyClaws (753889) on Saturday July 22, 2006 @11:05PM (#15764930) Homepage
    I have worked with both Bizflow and FileNet. Bizflow does a decent job if your looking at a small to medium size workflow that will not require a lot of transactions with change management. If this is for something like medical claims or AP/AR type stuff Bizflow will probably get the job done. However, if you are willing to spend the money FileNet is the way to go. FileNet is very robust and scalable. It is ideal for a large workflow process.
  • by Blakey Rat (99501) on Saturday July 22, 2006 @11:14PM (#15764948)
    What the hell does BPM stand for?

    Yes, I enjoy my Bleeding Pancreas Monitoring software very much, thank you.
  • BPM?? (Score:2, Funny)

    by sl8r (104278)
    i thought this was going to be about making employees work harder by blasting Techno over the company PA
  • /sigh (Score:1, Flamebait)

    by Onan (25162)

    Oh look, another entry in the ever-growing "slashdot posts a 'summary' that's complete gibberish even to the majority of their readership" collection.

    What's worse is that the excerpt from the submission implies that there was a preceding paragraph that might have explained what the fuck he was talking about. But Cliff apparently elected to snip out anything that might have lead to this making the slightest bit of sense.

    Good show, Cliff! You'll catch up with Zonk on nonsensical "summaries" any day now!
  • Lotus Workflow (Score:2, Informative)

    by JohnnyOpcode (929170)
    I work with Lotus Workflow almost everyday. I am able to tap its power for anything that comes along. It does have a learning curve like all things, but since it is Lotus Domino based it's capabilities are vast. If your company/client are already Notes/Domino then the incremental costs are very reasonable since you have the client/server infrastructure in place. If you don't, and are intending on a Web-centric approach then the cost of a Domino Server with a suitable number of browser CAL's may not be too e
    • Do not go LOTUS if you do not have Lotus programmers available.
      We used to have a team to support our Domino servers and Lotus Notes applications. It is a right pain to do *anything* now. Basically it is: 'Do it yourself. If you need server access then don't do it'. Lovely. Really excellent. Consider what support staff you will need BEFORE implementing a solution - and don't fire (sorry: downsize) all of the support staff.
  • by strangedays (129383) on Sunday July 23, 2006 @12:37AM (#15765083)
    These questions appear to be mal-formed and the sub-text obvious. The interesting thing is why do this on Slashdot? I'm guessing the preparation of a future appeal to perceived authority, potentially coupled with a rush to judgement?

    There may be no such thing as a dumb question, but be real careful... there is such a thing as an inquisitive idiot, so lets be sure that doesn't apply here...

    * To be able to understand the path of a process without perusing in and out of a lot of functions. Huh? Whatever do you mean? Its a process. A process is not necessarily instantiated in software. Or to put it another way, if your a real business guy, you do what it takes, not what you prefer to peruse.

    * To be able to report on how long each step in each process takes. This is trivially simple, whats the issue? Do you really need a consultant to hold your watch and tell you the time?

    * To be able to see exactly where in the process software errors occur and be able to skip over failed steps so that we can come back and fix them later.

    Why do you expect software errors, before you have even selected a package? If a business process has a genuine fault, and is broken, continuing the process and hoping to fix it somehow later sounds like a dumb business move to me. "yeah Boss we sent out the wrong orders, to the wrong addresses, I figured we'd fix the software issue later... ok?"

    * To be able to integrate with our issue tracking system, billing system, and CRM software. We definitely will have to write some webservices here.

    Aha! Isn't this what you really want to do? Come on, admit it... Your itching to find a reason to develop cool web-services and some fancy infrastructure. Ok, who cares!, but it is a side issue to the described problem. Webservices, are just protocols, methods, used to access a real service, that someone may "write". They are not important, nor do they inherently solve anything.

    * To be able to give process managers in different departments the ability to tweak certain processes without giving them full access to all processes. Well Duh. This must be obvious and trivial, RTFM.

    Picking a package selection list, then trying to boiled it down using some simplistic check-box style assessment, coupled with an appeal to Slashdots perceived authority... That not a good idea.

    Don't go there. Use some real business and systems expertise and analysis of the processes, with each item mapped onto a compelling business case and ROI. Yep, that's real work, it costs money and takes time, is it worth it... you bet. It's much better than screwing around with your business processes, using some checkbox selected packages, which will surely cost a lot more.

    As another poster has already said, hire some business and systems analysis expertise.

    • Speaking as someone who currently works for one of the afore-mentioned shortlisted companies, and also as someone who has worked for another company whose BPM package which did not make the list, I can tell you that you don't have a good grasp on the situation.

      Yes, the first and foremost question to ask is "what is my business case", but that's for a business analyst to address. What makes you think a business analyst would even bother posting to Slashdot? Did you consider that, perhaps, he's tasked with
    • The interesting thing is why do this on Slashdot?

      Slashdot has lots of readers who are programmers. I may find more useful information from another source, but it really doesn't take much time to ask slashdot, so there is no real downside. If I evaluate five products and one fits the bill, I'll probably use it. However, if I spend two or more weeks on each product, I'm definitely not going to test 20+ products, so it is very important that I test highly recommended software first.

      * To be able to und

  • Do Your Research (Score:5, Informative)

    by DaRat (678130) * on Sunday July 23, 2006 @12:45AM (#15765093)

    Do your proper due diligence and examine each package very carefully. You'll start off with a very large list (far beyond what you currently have) because everyone and their brother is claiming to have a BPM package these days. Some are way better than others and some are just cobbled together bits of something else.

    You need to know what you want and what you need.

    Then, you really should do a proper test by implementing a good prototype in each system with minimal help from each vendor. That's the only way to get some decent idea of how well each might really work. Don't let the vendor implement the prototype since each vendor will have some consultant how can throw up enough smoke and mirrors to do anything.

    We started with a list of about 20 different vendors, narrowed it down to 5, and then did prototypes with 3. And, we discovered things which we wouldn't have known if we had just read some magazine or white paper and listened to a vendor's song and dance.

    • I would greatly appreciate it if you would share the results you had prototyping in those three packages.
      • Since I am under NDAs, I will not share much. We found that all three would generally satisfy our minimum technical requirements, but each had different technical strengths and weaknesses beyond those minimum requirements.

        A point to keep in mind is that, in all likelihood, economic and relationship aspects should also weigh into your decision. A package which is technically excellent, but prohibitively expensive or from a vendor who is impossible to work with may not be as desirable as one that is techn

  • on some level it makes sense to post a broad general question like this on slashdot so the responses to said question can benefit the largest number of people but when the question gets this broad it begins to appear that there's no real query. the article seems to be "tell me about this software" not really what i'd expect, ask something specific.
  • You cannot endanger something as critical as your business processes on something like this.

    As others have noted do your research. Every sales 'droid and their dog is going to tell you that their big expensive package will satisfy every need, can be implemented with only moderate effort and if you sign on the dotted line right now you'll save massive amounts of money, ignoring the fact that you'll save even more money and have much less risk by not buying the package in the first place. You simply can't t

  • All these products have a steep learning curve and will end up becoming essential to the business. Do you have an existing working relationship with any of these companies ? The consultancy costs for training and support will far exceed the cost of the product itself. Make sure the supplier can provided people to input into the buiness analysis phase as well as pure techies.
  • Mostly flawed (Score:4, Interesting)

    by RubberBaron (990477) on Sunday July 23, 2006 @05:41AM (#15765462)
    I did my Masters on workflows and workflow verification. In defining a workflow you are essentially designing a system that, in the 'old' days, was programmed. The program could be tested, for example, for both syntactic and semantic correctness with compilers, unit and functional testing.

    On the other hand, every (commercial and other) w/flow system that I looked at, except for one or two academic systems, had (usually) the same set of major flaws, mostly in terms of verifying the workflow. There could often be logical inconsistencies, they would, for example, easily allow deadlocks and livelocks and, as for defining business rules, there are holes everywhere. Holes which (through robust procedures, training etc.) are minimised in the programming world but which are put into (business) critical systems by people who can barely spell 'progremn'.

    Would you, for example, alter the flow based on data output by an activity/action/state (or whatever your BPM system calls the 'blobs' that do most of the work)? If so, what happens when you have a SPLIT object somewhere (the flows split into more than one flow)? Is the data copied across the SPLIT to the multiple output flows? Is it a deep or a shallow copy? Deep or shallow copies can have ramifications to actions/activities/states downstream of the flow.

    I came to the conclusion that good, verifiable workflows had to be as simple as possible. No business rules, for example, only simple 'decision points', quite strict restrictions on data and control flows especially through control nodes. No commercial system seemed to follow my conclusions, they seemed more intent on producing pretty graphics and I would be wary of using any of them, especially given the prices they charge...
  • by anomaly (15035) <tom.cooper3@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Sunday July 23, 2006 @07:45AM (#15765636)
    I've been doing this at a Fortune 500 company for a couple of years now. We have worked with two different packages, and have had some successes.

    1. We worked with a major CRM package using it's internal workflow capability. This required a dedicated programmer, and ended up costing about $100,000 per business process to implement, and took a few months per process to get in production. WAAAAAY too expensive and didn't scale. On top of that, the software was VERY hard to get working properly. (We already had the CRM package in place, the workflow was supposed to be a cherry on top, but it clearly was not.)

    2. We went with a "workflow lite" vendor. The tool is organized to process orders, and has workflow capability. This is not enterprise workflow like FileNet, but theoretically means that business analysts could do the workflow design.

    We've had some success with this. The absolute biggest pain point has not been technical - the problem has been defining the process to be automated. Business process analysis is an entirely different skillset than automation.

    Once the process is defined clearly, automation is not terribly painful. Unfortunately it hasn't been the case that analysts could do the automation, but it also doesn't require programmer-level skills, either. We've been able to implement a large number of services.

    The tool we picked has been completely immature, and our back end processing costs have been HUGE compared to what the vendor estimated initially.

    Overall it's been a good ride, and the tool we used provides the types of metrics you're looking for. It's important to know that whatever path you go will be EXPENSIVE. On top of that, another key lesson learned was that we don't need to model EVERY possible path through the business process. We model the "happy path" and an "exception path" and that provides the Pareto model (80/20)

    I'd be happy to converse off line about this if you want to know more about our experience.

    Regards,
    Anomaly

  • by jafiwam (310805) on Sunday July 23, 2006 @07:47AM (#15765642) Homepage Journal
    So.

    What's your problem?

    Seriously, you want to buy software.

    Why?

    That's probably one of the most important bits of information you'll need to decide what package you need. And you left it out. I see a bulleted list of goals. But what made you decide to get going buying BPM?

    Say, if it's a regulatory body saying you need something, make sure what you get will help satisfy them. Etc.

    Also, though I work in a very small company, all the process analysis in the world means dick if you don't have someone going around and beating the crap out of the processees to do things differently. Expect to meet up with little fifedoms, power hungry people, people who won't change and will throw up roadblocks because they are lazy, or think you will process them out of a job. Make sure you got upper management who is clueful and will do that stuff for you or just drop the project as failed already. Some guy that needs to write to AskSlashdot probably doesn't have the juice. So get the juice first or you are already fucked.

    (Note, I did process analysis for the "Baldridge" crap a couple years ago, and used nothing more than pen and paper for most of it. Finished product used one sheet and an overall flythrough flowchart. But then the process was simple enough that I could sit with someone and get the data I needed. If your problem consists of a large company wondering why processing rebates takes to long something that integrates is a good idea.)
  • When my company, a very small software house, looked into integrating with workflow systems, we quickly came across this site:

    http://is.tm.tue.nl/research/patterns/ [tm.tue.nl]

    Which contains a list of workflow patterns which they use to compare the expressiveness of different workflow solutions. Finding many of them lacking, they have now gone on to produce YAWL http://www.yawl.fit.qut.edu.au/ [qut.edu.au] which aims to address the shortfalls of the systems they looked at. I found it quite a nice academic approach to a probl
    • I'm probably going to regret posting this, but... what exactly is "workflow" software good for? What class of problems is it supposed to excel at? I first came across "BPM" about 6 years ago and to my (admittedly potentially naive mind) it looks like workflow tools are all just flowchart creator/executors. Is that it? Is there more to it than just a tool that lets you graphically define a flowchart which it then executes? If so, the cost seems hard to justify, especially since the tools themselves are

      • Change. The point you're missing is "change". Process A works like Chart A today. so, you in your happy little world gop off and hard-code Chart A into the application. But, in six mnths' time, Process A is actually working like Chart B. If you had used a separate workflow backend with data retrieval, you would only have to change the chart in the back-end and your application would happily use Chart B. But, since you coded it in hard, you have to make a new release.

        Fine, for in-house stuff, possibly. But a
  • This has got to be one of the best pieces of software I've ever seen. You should definitely add them to your list. They can be found at Lombardi Software [lombardisoftware.com].
  • by nightowl03d (882197) on Sunday July 23, 2006 @11:58AM (#15766216)

    I have been working in the BPM field for about 10 years, and I think ProjectLink is very nice.

    The workflow engine in particular really rocks. Full Petri Net expression capabilities, robots, inline Java code to fine tune activities and provides automatic rollup of dependant activities. Workflows can even be created from an MS project file, or their native UI.

    ProjectLink [ptc.com] is NOT freeware.

  • by cdrudge (68377) on Sunday July 23, 2006 @05:45PM (#15767081) Homepage
    I know it probably won't be a popular package here, but SourceCode's K2.Net [k2workflow.com] also can be added to the list, if you develop in .Net. My company is currently looking into the package as we are almost exclusively a Microsoft shop and it integrates well with .Net.
  • Try it out. ARIS [ids-scheer.com]
  • We've started a project using AlphaFlow in Plone [plone.org] from our Oracle database; we've had to do some work to define things like who has what role related to what object; but of course you have to do that no matter what package you use.

    And the costs are similar to other Open Source packages -- paying your own people to read the source, rather than paying some other big company to do it for you.

  • Has anyone experimented with or had exposure to the Microsoft SharePoint Server 2007 workflow/BPM software? I know it is currently only available in beta2, but it seems like it has received a lot of "hype" as of late.

    Also, if you have used it, what were your feelings on the product and what issues or problems did you face? I'm asking because the company I work for is debating a SharePoint roll-out, but we would likely wait for the SP Server 2007 (and SharePiont Services v3) release.

    Thanks.
  • I work for an independant BPM consultancy in the UK. While you should, of course, invest in some top quality consulting you could in the meantime take a look at http://www.lombardisoftware.com/gartner-magic-quad rant-06.php [lombardisoftware.com] (most of the top-scoring vendors have similar press releases up right now but this is the first one I found with an actual picture of the "Magic Quadrant").
  • Also add to your list SkyXoft Procx [skyxoft.com]. We have an easy to use interface and integration with any third party software using Web Services.
  • I would avoid Pega if possible. It's not a true, headless workflow engine, doesn't support BPEL, and is not very good at integrating with external java code. Despite the pre-sales claims, we have not found the product to be sufficient. I'll just repeat- very poor java support.
  • Goal 1 - To be able to understand the path of a process without perusing in and out of a lot of functions. - The BPM tool should contain a graphical drag and drop representation of your process. Additionally, if the tool can represent a complex yet constant business function as a high level action step that would hide the underlying details to.

    Goal 2 - To be able to report on how long each step in each process takes. - The BPM product should have this report and other reports that help you engineer yo
  • I am a little late in replying here (long weekend) but I think you should look into TeamTrack which is made by Serena. I have a considerable amount of experience in this area, as BPM was a major part of my last job (with the other major component being SCM- Software Configuration Management), and I still try to keep up with the major developments in these areas.

    In general do I recommend a BPM/Workflow tool? Hell yes. I am not sure how things are currently handled in your organization, but most management an
  • ...and don't let someone try to sell you any, either.

    I don't have much experience in workflow or business process management (BPM - please, when you use acronyms, spell them out the first time prior to first use, to help those who don't know what the acronym stands for), but what I have experienced at my current job (a very small company) has taught me many things in this problem domain.

    The biggest thing has been, in regards to workflow and BPM, you need to talk to the people doing the task. To do this prop

  • BPM software is NOT a solution in itself. It will only automate the problems you currently have in the process. You dont need it until you don't need it. In other words, you better know your processes and where they are borked first. Then the software choice will be more obvious. When you understand the entire collection of business systems and how they interact at the process level, when you have profound knowledge of your processes, THEN you can make some intelligent choices on software. Do you have the
  • I'm surprised no one's mentioned Bluespring.....been around 8 years, .NET, SOA, Microsoft Gold Partner, Microsoft Managed ISV, etc. Much more "enterprise grade" BPM, competes more with Fuego & Lombardi than K2 & Skelta. Microsoft just named them a finalist for 2006 Technology Innovation Partner of the Year........www.bluespringsoftware.com Worth looking into.
  • Your list is missing an important player in the BPM Suite space: Appian [appian.com]. Appian was named a leader in the Forrester Wave and the visionary with the highest ability to execute in Gartner's magic quadrant. Use these analyst evaluations when beginning your research - they've done a good part of the work for you already. Don't take theirs as the final word though - also contact the companies to find out the truth. Most will gladly give you demos and/or prototypes if you're serious.

    If you're interested in a

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