What’s Old Is New Again with BPM

In the old old days, just before the World Wide Web and the Internet were the next big things (the mid-late 1990s), the dominant emerging application architecture was something called client/server. In fact, there were a raft of client/server tools vendors pushing the envelope, trying to deliver scalable, client/server development tools that were manageable in a distributed environment. Of course, the Internet and WWW technologies changed all that, making distributed client/server products almost immediately passé. Initially, organizations paused as the Web exploded, and then moved their development efforts toward standardized application servers and Java.
That would seem like the end of the story for these tools-and it was for many. But not for all. In fact, Upside Research is seeing somewhat of a resurgence in these companies and products that were originally focused on solving complex distributed computing issues in the client/server era. In fact, not only are some of these companies still around, but after surviving a rather turbulent five years in the application development space they’re even starting to see success again with new products, new customers, and new approaches to application development. What’s more interesting, however, is the degree to which business process management (BPM) is playing a part in their product plans and customer needs.
A good example of just such a company is Unify Corporation, a Sacramento, Calif.-based company that just last month closed a new $4M round of investment and has seen its customer base for its BPM-oriented products double in the past 6 months. After its near-brush with client/server extinction a few years ago after failing to meet corporate and performance expectations in the hyper-fueled Internet era, Unify regrouped, focusing on it core customers (everyone from Citigroup to Corporate Express to Pioneer Electronics) and its extensive experience. Unify set out to maintain revenue and identify new product opportunities that leveraged its core expertise in scalable, distributed
application development.
Then a funny thing happened-Unify started getting messages from its customer that in spite of the J2EE/application server juggernaut, they still wanted robust application development tools that could help them build business-focused applications for J2EE and .NET. In fact, for many companies, new infrastructure alternatives such as J2EE ended up creating more complexity than the previous alternatives, and as Unify found out, organizations wanted process-oriented development tools to accelerate development, reduce skill requirements, and enable more dynamic applications.
As a result, Unify went back to product development and released the first version of Unify NXJ platform at the end of 2002, and an updated version at the end of 2003. NXJ is an application platform for process-centric transactional applications that builds on Unify’s experience with its Unify VISION client/server products and its ACCELL family of rapid application development tools.
More interestingly, the key to NXJ is its support for service-oriented architectures (SOAs) and business process management (BPM) capabilities. With NXJ, Unify tapped into the large number of companies that want help moving from server-centric computing to process-centric computing, and the SOA and BPM components of NXJ filled that need. NXJ includes a business process engine for automated workflow, business process management, and Web services orchestration.
The product also includes a graphical modeling environment that allows developers as well as business users to define and modify process definitions. In addition, NXJ has an integrated forms processing and reporting capabilities for automating the creation of robust user interfaces and business intelligence capabilities.
Unlike the structure of traditional applications, Unify’s NXJ sees them as a series of components wired together in a flow. Processes are defined externally, rather than hard-wired into the core application logic. In other words, in the NXJ world applications are simply the user interface (UI) to the business process. Of course, this is often a hard notion for many traditional IT shops and development organizations to understand or move their development methodologies toward (as we’ve seen with other BPM products). But it’s one that they’ll have to-sooner, rather than later if they want to remain competitive
with the rest of the world.
Upside Uptake
As we’ve noted before, BPM technologies and ideas are becoming more pervasive every quarter. Unify is a good example of how new, BPM-related solutions are being developed to support the need to unite business and IT when it comes to application design, development, deployment, management, and monitoring. Pure BPM solutions aren’t for everyone-not today, and not ever. But BPM technologies will continue to “diffuse” their way into an ever widening series of IT products, giving business users and managers more direct control over their applications and processes.
Unify Corporation’s NXJ is a solid alternative for organizations focused on application development that want to move toward business process management and service oriented architectures. Unify’s long experience in delivering distributed application development products and its new recognition of the importance of process-centric computing and workflow/service orchestration requirements makes NXJ a viable alternative to pure J2EE application development platforms. By moving business process management and service-oriented architecture to the front of the agenda, Unify is rising from the ashes of the client/server era with a viable application platform for today’s needs.