TECH TALK: SMEs and Technology: Business Applications Architecture
The business applications layer consists of various components to describe and manage the processes within the small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Sandwiched between the Database and the user interface (via the Digital Dashboard or the Microcontent Client) are the Application Server, Visual Biz-ic and the specialised objects that represent the business functions.
The Application Server has become part of the e-Business infrastructure. In the open-source world, there is JBoss. Among the proprietary solutions, there is IBMs Websphere, BEAs Weblogic, Oracles Application Server and Indian company Pramatis product.
The database and the application server provide the foundation for business process management (BPM). William Gurley provides the wider perspective:
BPM is a new programming paradigm for the enterprise that leverages browser-based applications, e-mail, global connectivity and enterprise application integration (EAI) infrastructure to deliver a powerful, business-focused programming solution. A mix between workflow, EAI and application development, BPM makes it easy for companies to codify their current processes, automate their execution, monitor their current performance and make on-the-fly changes to improve the current processes.
Here is how it works. Business analysts work alongside IT staff and create a graphical flow chart of targeted processes within the organization. These graphical designs are typically done in an integrated design environment (IDE) and represent the different events, decisions and actions that are performed by employees as well as the flows of data that are necessary to perform each task. Once defined, people begin to interact with the new application. New “processes” are started by an individual (for example, entering a new customer issue) or as the result of an event (for example, a customer account goes past due). Actions are then passed from person to person through the concept of a task inbox, and typically the passing of a URL.
For the first time, a single person can easily “hand off” an application to another person. For instance, during an approval process, one person may initiate a purchase order. If that order is over a predefined limit, the order may then be passed to the task box of the person’s supervisor to await approval. The supervisor will click on a URL in the inbox, immediately see all the relevant data, and then perhaps decide to approve the order. The order may then be passed to the purchasing department and even potentially forwarded out to the supplier.
The essence of BPM software is that it solves business problems for business users. Whether Web services or Corba or .Net is part of the underlying technology is about as interesting to these decision makers as the brand of disk brake is to most people who purchase automobilesBPM purchasers want applications that are easily understood, quickly deployed and have immediate impact. Simplicity is the key here–technology for technology’s sake just won’t fly.
Gurley describes six components that a BPM solution would need to provide: IDE (integrated development environment), process engine, user directory, workflow, reporting/process monitoring, and integration. This is what Visual Biz-ic needs to do.
Tomorrow: Visual Biz-ic
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