WfMC Brings Standard Protocols To BPM

Standards Group Will Demonstrate Products Based on Wf-XML 2.0 workflow protocol and ASAP interoperability at Conference This Week.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

June 19, 2004

4 Min Read

The Workflow Management Coalition (WfMC) will conduct a live demonstration on Wednesday of products that have implemented the group's Wf-XML 2.0 protocol for asynchronous workflows.

The ASAP/Wf-XML 2.0 demonstration will be part of the BrainStorm Group's Business Process Management Conference in San Francisco on June 23, both in front of an audience and online observers. Participants who have implemented the protocol include Fujitsu Software Corporation, HandySoft and Staffware. These vendors will participate in a demonstration of a Web commerce scenario that involves a customer, a retailer and a manufacturer. Because Wf-XML is built on ASAP, a protocol for asynchronous services across the Internet, the scenario will simultaneously demonstrate ASAP interoperability.

ASAP, the Asynchronous Service Access Protocol Version 1.0, was developed by an OASIS technical committee. It is a Web services protocol that can be used to access a generic service that might take a long time to complete. Web services protocols allow a remote service to be accessed in a standard way. Existing protocols work best when the service can provide an answer quickly, within a minute or two at the longest. ASAP is useful when the answer might take longer than this -- for example services that last from minutes to months in duration. The service being invoked might be fully automated, a manual task that a person performs, or any mixture of the two. This capability to handle both automated and manual activities is what makes ASAP particularly suited for B2B and intra-organizational service request scenarios.

Wf-XML 2.0, from the WfMC, extends ASAP to include BPM and workflow interchange capabilities. A business process engine is a special type of asynchronous service: it has the ability to be started, to involve people in that process, and to complete some time later. One BPM engine can be easily linked to another BPM engine using Wf-XML. Wf-XML extends ASAP by including the ability to retrieve the process definition, and to monitor the current state of a running process instance.

The Workflow Management Coalition (WfMC), the primary standards body for the workflow community, has a long history. It was founded in 1993 as a non-profit organization of workflow vendors, users, analysts and university/research groups. The group's effort to establish a standard for interchange of workflow data have evolved alongside XML, SOAP and Web services. Wf-XML has its roots in a 1997 Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) project called Simple Workflow Access Protocol (SWAP). While SWAP found commercial applications, it predated Web services and SOAP. The ASAP committee implemented the features of SWAP on top of SOAP messages and added support for other Web standards.

SImilarly, the WfMC started with SWAP and produce a more rigorously defined standard that became known as Wf-XML. Wf-XML 1.0 also predated SOAP. Wf-XML 2.0 moves the standard to ASAP to take advantage of its SOAP support for asynchronous services while adding features specific to workflows.

ASAP and Wf-XML are tightly integrated, as evidenced by the fact that Keith Swenson, chairman of the WfMC Wf-XML Working Group, is also chairman of the OASIS ASAP Technical Committee. (Swenson is chief architect of Fujitsu Software Corporation.)

"The ASAP standard gives companies real-world benefits of business process interoperability without programming," said Keith Swenson in a statement. "An example of quick, easy connections between systems supporting long-term processes would be the process cycle of buying a home, involving all players from the mortgage lender through geology reports to title search and closing. Soon Wf-XML 2.0 will be available to extend ASAP with functionality specifically for BPM engines."

"Wf-XML 2.0 addresses the significant hurdles that companies have faced in attempting to optimize business processes across organizations using different BPM engines," said Jon Pyke, WfMC chair and CTO of Staffware, a workflow and BPM vendor.

The demonstration will involve several vendors in an e-commerce workflow scenario in which a client places an order with a retailer and the retailer relays the order to a factory. Confirmation and status information flows in the other direction, from factory to retailer to client, all after delays that reinforce the asynchronous behavior of the various services involved. For links to more information on the demonstration and how to become an observer, see the sign up form on the WfMC Web site. For more on ASAP, see the public documents of the OASIS ASAP Technical Committee.

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