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Workflow Round up

Certainly, a number of companies use solutions based on Microsoft Exchange or Lotus Notes for workflow applications, but I was surprised how many have opted for a pure e-forms solution for their forms-specific applications. JetForm is the market leader in both e-forms and workflow with approximately 80-percent market share in the former and 16 percent in the latter (according to Bruce Silver Associates). JetForm has been in business for some 15 years. The company's bread and butter has been the ability to faithfully represent forms onscreen for data entry. In 1994, JetForm introduced a workflow product that used existing LAN email infrastructures to do routing and task notification.

Early this year, JetForm introduced FormFlow 99, a forms solution built on an XML forms architecture that manages process automation. In addition, JetForm has rebuilt its InTempo workflow engine to support thin clients, Web-based hub architecture, and standards-based public-key infrastructures. There are three parts to the COM-based FormFlow 99: a form designer, a form filler, and a collection of ActiveX objects that contain the controls for a form's user interface. The structure and processing rules for FormFlow 99 are defined in XML files that specify the format and behavior of the ActiveX controls rendered by the browser. According to JetForm, JavaBeans are becoming popular, as are pure HTML forms that trade some of the richness of the ActiveX or JavaBeans versions for extended reach.

Meanwhile, UWI.Com has introduced its InternetForms suite, which is also built around an XML-based form-definition language. While JetForm has the marketshare, according to Meta Group's David Yockelson, UWI has the "mindshare in the Internet space." Contrasting the architecture of these two players' offerings is an interesting exercise. In broad brushstrokes, UWI.Com's InternetForms architecture is similar to that of JetForm's FormFlow 99. But instead of using ActiveX, the InternetForms Viewer uses the plug-in model for distributing and deploying its form-filling and viewing module. As a result, you do need to download and install the InternetForms Viewer before you can use it. Both JetForm and UWI.Com have submitted their XML-based forms and process definition to W3C for standards consideration.

The other vendor in the forms arena is Shana, whose Informed product has the distinction of running on both Macintosh and PC platforms. Shana has taken a slightly different, and in some ways more appealing, approach to Internet enabling its product. Shana provides a Java applet that processes and displays what Shana calls a "Java form." The Informed designer can save a form as either a PC, Mac, or Java form. In addition to Java support, Shana's PC and Mac desktop form-filling products provide form template distribution and revision control via FTP, lookups via HTTP, form tracking via HTTP, autogeneration of serial numbers via HTTP, electronic routing via SMTP, electronic submission via the HTTP/MIME protocols, and digital signature authentication based on the POP3 and IMAP protocols.

The workflow marketplace is quite interesting, because there are a number of relatively small players competing fiercely to be at the head of the pack when the much-anticipated Web-driven takeoff occurs. To start with, Action Technologies has refocused its Metro product on providing Web-based e-process solutions. The product includes a graphical process builder that supports document attachments, database connectivity, and VBA scripting. Once a process has been defined, you deploy it on the Metro server, and manage processes with its "Workbox."

Ultimus Workflow provides a Web-based client/server architecture for workflow applications that requires Microsoft's IIS, MTS, and IE 4.0 Intranet infrastructure. Metastorm's e-work product appears to have a comprehensive feature set with support for HTML forms. Metastormıs other claim to fame is that the company develops the Informs form product for Novell. Plexus is very active in finance, healthcare, and government markets with its FloWare product, and is taking a Java-centric approach to Web enabling its workflow solution. FileNet and Staffware are relatively mature players in the workflow market that have been moving their installed bases toward Web solutions at a relatively slow pace. Keyfile is another workflow vendor that comes up in conversation. Its Keyflow product is built on Microsoft's Exchange Server rather than on a Web foundation, and enables Web access via the Outlook Web Access feature. --TS