I received Proforma’s press release last week about the Forrester report on process modelling tools (PDF, free download), in which Proforma places well against their usual competitors, IDS Scheer and MEGA. All three are in the leaders category, with Proforma leading on current product offerings, and IDS Scheer leading on strategy. This result is quite different from Gartner‘s Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Architecture tools published in April: many of the same tools are being evaluated, but the Forrester focus is purely on business process modelling, while the Gartner focus is on the broader topic of EA modelling. Gartner also published an MQ on business process analysis tools this year that has results closer to the Forrester report, not surprisingly.
All of this made me realize that I still had a few notes about the Proforma user conference that I attended a couple of weeks back in Las Vegas, mostly all the ones from the Proforma folks about upcoming product release, ProVision Series 6. Here’s the rundown. [All inaccuracies in this information are due to my hurried notetaking, delayed transcription, and incomplete understanding of Proforma’s product, and I rely on those more knowledgeable to add any corrections in the comments.]
Software as a service was mentioned in the keynote on the first day, and Proforma’s push further into their Knowledge Exchange server-base product (an intended replacement for their ProServer product, and eventually their TeamWorks product with a “light” version) seems to support that concept architecturally, although the web client is not fully functional yet and web services interfaces won’t be supported until version 6.1. I asked a direct question about whether it would work across the firewall and the answer was “it should work”, which means to me that they haven’t actually tried it and you might want to wait until they do before trying that one at home.
The web client does have quite a bit of rich AJAX-y stuff going on: it shows all the inventory views in a browser, uses some nice UI controls such as elevator bars, drag+drop and double-clicking to open a property dialog, plus allows property editing in the browser client although no real modelling tasks. It uses scalable vector graphics to allow for fast zooming, panning and printing of complex models. I think that they might still be working on the licensing model for the web client: although a user must login, there is no licence required for the web client, such as there is for the desktop client, but this will certainly have to change when the web client is able to be a full desktop client replacement.
They’ve introduced the concept of dimensions in models, which allows for alternative versions to be created based on specific dimensions, where a dimension may be, for example, geography, or as-is versus to-be. In one model, then, you can compare North American as-is models with European to-be models, or whatever else you want to define based on your dimensions. It took me a while to wrap my head around it, but it’s pretty powerful stuff. This replaces the less-powerful concept of scenarios that were used in previous versions.
There were a number of enhancements that aren’t really meaningful to me since I’m not a regular Proforma user, but were welcomed by the audience: embedded Crystal Reports, federated search across repositories, more granular access rights down to the instance of an object, and the ability for a user to change their own password (?!).
There are some new business data modelling tools that are intended to allow designers to work in ProVision, then easily bridge to other technical design tools. This theme was picked up later during a lengthy discussion about interfacing with other applications, which is ultimately the key to making Proforma work as an integral part of any organization. They have development an XML-based common interchange format (CIF) and made it openly available to anyone who wants to interface with them; this covers all model types, not just process models. They interface with an impressive number of BPMS, SOA suites, and business rules systems.
Because of the rise of process model standards, however, they’ve also done a BPEL interface. The CTO’s keynote made a strong statement in support of standards, mentioning BPEL, WS-CDL, XPDL, SVBR and others. However, during a technical presentation the following day, I asked a question about XPDL to find out that it’s under review, but not even on the roadmap yet. They might use CIF as a stepping stone to get to XPDL, as they did with BPEL, but who knows. By then, BPDM will probably be out, and they’ll have to address all three serialization formats at some point.
In my opinion, there’s a few things that they’re going to have to address over the next few years in order to keep their product ahead of the big guys who are nipping at their heels, most of which are Web 2.0-type things that I’ve been talking about for BPMS:
- Full functionality in a zero-footprint web client
- Tagging to allow users to build up their own folksonomy around models
- Syndication and feeds for alerts on changes to models, and to provide feedback to some of their new process monitoring capabilities
- Support for XPDL now, and eventually BPDM