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Building Java Business Processes Without Java Skills

Unify Corp.'s new release of its business-process-management system, NXJ 10.5, is designed to supply the Java without the Java programmers.
Building new business processes that can be invoked over the Web gets complicated if the need is for more than a few new HTML pages.

To make legacy systems supply services, it's often necessary to use Java, but not every company has a stable of Java programmers available for the work. Unify Corp.'s new release of its business-process-management system, NXJ 10.5, is designed to supply the Java without the Java programmers.

Administrative Systems Inc. sells software to Charles Schwab, State Street, U.S. Trust, and others managing pension funds. Two years ago, these customers told Administrative Systems that they wanted it to give their customers the ability to examine their pension accounts and get detailed reports from them for tax purposes. Administrative Systems tried various means of adding such user access. It tried giving its software end users dial-up capabilities or a VPN connection. But user identification was a necessity and data security paramount.

"There was no effective way to let users access their trust information. It just didn't work," says Miles Ennis, VP of marketing for Administrative Systems. Ennis says his company solved the problem over the last 12 months by adding Java-coded Web access to its systems, following Web standards and invoking the capabilities of the full Java 2 Enterprise Edition infrastructure. Among other things, J2EE can invoke Java Messaging Service or impose restrictions on Enterprise JavaBeans that will tightly control how a system is used.

But in fact, Ennis' company lacked the sophisticated Java programmers it needed to make such additions. Instead, he used a business-process-management system, Unify's NXJ, to design what he needed and then let it create the resulting business processes in Java.

"Our guys are mainframe guys and their skills were dated. But they were able to put an effective user interface over our processing applications," Ennis says.

NXJ, recently upgraded to version 10.5, is a business-process designer, a set of business-process components such as forms, and tools for building business processes that let a programmer with limited Java skills and experience turn out the needed code.

"The environment is closer to using Microsoft's Visual Studio .Net than Java," says Dave Glende, chief technology officer of Unify. The business processes are designed, then built in a highly visual, drag-and-drop environment with many prebuilt components. Included are connectors to such enterprise applications as SAP's R/3, Oracle's e-Business or customer-relationship management from PeopleSoft or Siebel Systems.

Unify is a 24-year-old software firm that produces the Unify relational database system and SQL-based tools for rapid application development.

Sadhu Nadesan, CIO of Cast & Crew Entertainment Services Inc., said his company had a problem similar to that of Administration Systems. A payroll-accounting company for TV and movie-set productions, Cast & Crew must contend with varying union and entertainment-industry rules for calculating the pay of actors, extras, and crew members. Execs wanted to give customers the ability to extract reports from their payroll accounts through a new system it calls Hours to Gross. Hours to Gross includes J-Reports, a look-alike to Seagate's Crystal Reports, that was included in NXJ 10.5. Cast & Crew was also able to use the built-in report router, as well as its rules engine, for determining what rules apply to which payee. One of the actors' union rules is that performers get paid the week after they work.

With Hours to Gross, Cast & Crew can enable producers to "get payroll information at the end of a week of production. They can figure their 'hot costs,'" Nadesan says. Hot costs are the expense of hiring people who must be paid immediately, and up-to-date tracking of expenses remains a sought-after goal of Hollywood productions, he says.

Unify's NXJ 10.5 starts at $3,000 per developer seat, with a deployed business-process-application license priced at $18,000 per CPU.