Workflow Software Creates Opportunities – September 3rd, 2015

Conventional wisdom says that work-flow automation technology is not ready for prime time on the PC LAN. Reach Software Corp. will try to change that this week when it announces a work-flow program designed specifically for standard networks.

When released in the first quarter of next year, WorkMan will be the first work-flow automation product that runs on standard PC LANs running Windows. It will also be a litmus test for the market readiness for work-flow automation.

“Reach will be a little bit ahead of the movement,” said Doug Whitman, president of VenCom Inc., a communications firm in Hopedale, MA that monitors work-flow technology.

Analysts and some users have lauded existing work-flow automation programs from AT&T’s NCR division and Hewlett-Packard Co. for their ability to actively compile and route data between multiple users and, often, multiple applications, on a network. The drawback to those systems, however, lies in their ties to larger office-automation or image-management applications.

“The systems guys want to sell you too much baggage,” said John McCarthy, an analyst at market researcher Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., and co-author of two reports on work-flow automation.

The work-flow capabilities of Reach’s WorkMan, which will be priced at an average of $300 per user, center around WorkMan Tools. A forms tool can be used to create the form — such as a loan-approval or check-request form — in which work-flow data moves around the network, said Anand Jagannathan, president of Reach in Sunnyvale, Calif.

A work-flow tool lets users define who receives those forms and predetermine when a change in the value of data will cause a change in either the form used or the route of the work flow, said Jagannathan.

WorkMan Tools could be used to design, for example, an insurance claim procedure that automatically routes a claim form to numerous supervisors for approval and then issues a check authorization form to another supervisor for final approval.

WorkMan’s compatibility with Microsoft Corp.’s Dynamic Data Exchange technology will let developers design work-flow applications that automatically launch other Windows applications, such as Excel, for greater clarification or processing of data contained in the form.

Users say such applications could be a productivity boost but their immediate appeal is limited.

“We have an interest in work-flow automation, but I’m not sure we have an application,” said Larry Stouder, manager of technical development for Continental Grain Co. in New York. “For us, this is a solution looking for a problem.”

Analysts agree.

“This type of technology has to come [into its own] by companies such as Reach going out and educating people,” said Bill Clinton, director of office groupware for WGTech, a market researcher in Hampton, N.H.

Forrester Research’s McCarthy added, “Work flow takes a lot of time … and there are [hidden] costs in analyzing the way you do business and implementation [of the software].”

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