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HP adds XML to process management

HP's new version of Process Manager, driven by an XML engine, manages to take potential enterprise chaos and turn it into order.

For companies looking to push business process management beyond the boundaries of their enterprises, Hewlett-Packard Company is coming to the rescue.

Chris Tracey - HP's e-process operations
Monday the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company released Process Manager 5.0, the latest version of its technology that ties people, applications and services together.

Process Manager can rapidly automate almost any business processes that call for a combination of input from or involvement of customers, employees, databases, or applications in order to provide a complex service.

According to Chris Tracey, marketing manager of e-process operations for HP's Software & Solutions Organization, one example situation in which Process Manager could automate an internal business process would be when new hires join an organization.

"It sounds trivial, but when you break that down, in a company like HP, you have the obvious things like payroll, pension and medical plans. But then, do (employees) get a car? Do they get a desk location and a PC? You start to see there are some fairly complex processes needed behind the scenes," Tracey said.

Process Manager -- when tied via middleware to a company's various applications -- could take on the task of facilitating all of those processes in a single demand chain by retrieving data from an ERP application or by sending e-mail messages to individuals asking them to play a role in the process.

The XML connection

The highlight of Process Manager 5.0 is the inclusion of the XML engine from the HP Bluestone Total-e-server, the J2EE-compliant application server HP acquired when it purchased Bluestone Software, Inc. in January of this year.

Through the use of a predetermined XML format, a business partner could, for instance, send an estimate request as an XML document to a service provider that uses Process Manager 5.0. When Process Manager receives such a document, a business process is automatically triggered that retrieves information from databases, applications, and individuals to automatically create an estimate based on the information provided in the XML request document.

Even though businesses are already utilizing XML today in one form or another, Tracey said that does not mean their processes are automated. Without Process Manager technology, he said a company would have to put in extra time and effort to manually assemble and process information from various sources to generate a quote.

Such an estimate put together with Process Manager could then be sent back to the business partner as an XML document, automating virtually the entire process. The system can also be programmed to alert managers via e-mail at any point during such a document assembly process based on the results of its queries or the time it takes to compile information.

"What that means is, as far as the business partner is concerned, you're masking the complexity of things inside your organization and providing a nice simple interface for partners to work with," said Tracey.

Other perks

Version 5.0 also includes a process-modeling feature supporting more complex chains of business processes, making it more efficient and reactive.

For example, when Process Manager would fulfill a complex customer order over the course of days or weeks, it would have to check for changes to the order after each single task was completed before it could continue to the next task and eventually fulfill the order.

The latest version allows alternate "what if" scenarios to be created. For instance, if a customer cancels an order halfway through the fulfillment process, instead of halting the process to ask for instructions, Process Manager would automatically know what actions to take based on predetermined instructions.

Greater support for Oracle databases is also included in this release. Now the Oracle database that Process Manager needs to record historical process tracking and other metrics can reside independently from the Process Manager, which is convenient for companies that run strict backup protocols on centrally located database farms.

Process Manager 5.0 is available on Windows NT 4.0, Windows 2000 and HP-UX, and will be available on Sun Solaris within 90 days. Pricing for an entry-level system, which typically also includes an Oracle database and a best-of-breed middleware package, starts at approximately $75,000. A mainstream Web application server, such as iPlanet or IIS, is also required.

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