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Ultimus aims to put the 'flow' back in workflow

The latest release of the Ultimus Workflow Suite, technology that automates the workflow process, includes support for XML data exchange.

How does your company handle workflow?

If you depend on your own mental checklist to move a task through the ranks, you've probably noticed that manual workflow has some major flaws: even a simple task can be labor intensive and hard to track. It's difficult to measure time and cost, and worst of all, tasks can easily fall through the cracks.

To address these problems, many enterprises are turning to companies, such as Ultimus Inc., that offer workflow automation products.

Cary, N.C.-based Ultimus is promoting the latest release of its workflow automation tools, the Ultimus Workflow Suite.

Ultimus said Version 5.0 of the Workflow Suite has several new features, including native XML support and support for wireless devices. Ultimus workflow can exchange information with any XML-compliant application, including those that use the Microsoft BizTalk framework, the company said. And its integrated thin client/thin forms feature allows remote users to participate in the workflow process from any Web browser, including handhelds and PDAs.

A Web-based client/server application, the goal of Ultimus is to allow users to design, simulate, implement, monitor and measure workflow for many different administrative business processes, such as purchase orders, expense reports and time cards. According to Ultimus co-founder and CEO Rashid Khan, only 10% of the time required to complete the tasks for each process is spent actually on the task. The other 90% is wasted lag time. The Ultimus software aims to cut this lag time.

The Ultimus Workflow Suite uses a graphical interface, where each step in a given process is represented by an icon. For each step, an electronic form, which is the means through which the users will interface with the process and perform their required tasks, can also be assigned. Tasks that can be preformed by a third-party application such as Word, Excel or a database are represented by "Flobots." When the icons are linked together, the routing of the task within a process is specified.

The Monitor View in the Ultimus Administrator allows users to monitor the status of any task. They can also see a list of all workflow participants and steps, who is the recipient of each step, when they received it and when they completed it. Here, users can also reassign pending steps to different users.

Cutting task time

"Using the Ultimus Workflow Automation Suite, one of our customers, (grocery store owner Alex Lee), was able to reduce his task time from seven days to just two and a half," said Khan.

Before implementing the software, Lee would mail the purchasing orders to all of his stores, which in turn would fill out their inventory information and then mail them back to the warehouses. This information was then entered individually into the spreadsheet and sent out to the distributors that filled the orders and delivered to the store shelves. The process took seven days. With the Ultimus Workflow Suite, Lee was able do all the work online, thus reducing grocery-chain order processing by 65%, Ultimus said.

Kevin Heim, project manager at Stainless Steel Fabricating Inc., a manufacturer of cheese-processing equipment, installed the Ultimus Workflow Suite two years ago to automate his company's purchase-order process. Prior to installing the workflow automation suite, the purchase orders at Heim's company were handwritten, manually filed forms. Although implementing the workflow suite did not decrease the time involved in completing a purchase order -- about three days -- it did substantially reduce the amount of paperwork involved and made POs easier to track, said Heim.

"The greatest benefit of using the Ultimus Software is that I can tailor the software to meet my exact needs," said Heim. "I can put the controls where I want, and set up the forms and variables the way I want -- and I'm not a programmer."

The one downfall Heim noted is the time it takes to write the whole process -- about 40 hours.

Ultimus provides customer "coaching" programs to help companies identify essential business processes. Depending on the needs of an organization, the Ultimus Workflow Suite can take anywhere from two weeks to three months to implement -- with nearly half of all customers using the Ultimus Workflow Suite "out of the box" within three weeks, according to Ultimus. Implementation does not require any programming, scripting or macros.

The Workflow Server costs $25,000. It is integrated with the Microsoft Transaction Server, the NT Server and Back Office and communicates with Ultimus browser clients using COM/DCOM and TCI/IP. Licenses may be purchased in packages according to the number of users.


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