Workflow Apps Help Organise Businesses Better

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Symantec is betting that its Altiris Workflow Solution will automate the way end users define processes and interact with systems and business tasks, and will improve operational efficiencies. What workflow apps require are solution providers that understand the technology and business operations.

To listen to John Radi, the next great technology opportunity lies in a rather ambiguous word: workflow.

“It’s a rapid development application environment where you can write your processes and integrate into other products,” says Radi, the chief executive of Incendio Technology, a solution provider in the USA, specialising in Symantec’s Altiris Workflow Solution products.

Symantec, best known for its security and storage management software, is probably the most unlikely vendor to market an application set that competes against the likes of SAP, Lombardi and Metastorm. It acquired its automated workflow technology—an application that seamlessly creates, manages, monitors and reports on organisational processes—from Transparent Logic more than a year ago, and it’s sat relatively idle until recently.

Workflow solutions such as the Altiris Workflow Solution are likened to applications that look like Microsoft’s Visio graphic and diagramming application. The difference between the two applications is that workflow applies process checks in the background, creates interfaces where users must use the tool when working on projects and automatically compels compliance with defined business processes.

As Symantec releases the latest versions of its Altiris client and server management suites, it’s placing a new emphasis on its Workflow product. At the Managed Fusion conference this week, Symantec executives repeatedly evoked the virtues of the Workflow products and how they’ll change the implementation and management of IT departments and businesses in general.

“It’s all about integration,” says Enrique Salem, Symantec’s chief operating officer and future CEO, who mentioned the game-changing potential of workflow technology in the opening of his keynote address at Managed Fusion.

Altiris Workflow Solution is integrated in the Client Management Service 7.0 and Server Management Service 7.0, also released this week, which enables solution providers and end users to create dynamic change management workflows and checklists, automate responses to specific IT security and operational scenarios, and provide granular compliance and reporting capabilities on systems and security management.

“Workflow is a key opportunity for partners, and we’re going to train them and enable them to use it,” said Salem in an interview with Channel Insider.

Symantec and solution providers say the integration of Altiris Workflow Solution with the rest of the Symantec systems management platform provides a means for creating dynamic workflows and checkpoints for systems configuration management, software updates, application and equipment deployments, and security incident response.

“Symantec wants to use workflow as the glue for all the other products under one architecture,” Radi says.

The pervasive opportunity for workflow applications, though, may oftentimes lie outside IT departments. Workflow applications may be about automating systems management, but that doesn’t necessarily confine it to technology management. The tool is applicable to every system from human resources to purchasing to facilities management to operations and project management.

“The difference between a process and a workflow is that a process is automated while workflow requires human interaction,” says Matt Meservey, a product manager for Altiris Workflow Solution. “Rarely does workflow stay within a particular group. Whenever data passes an organisation boundary, it has the potential to fall through the cracks. Workflow is designed to automate the passing of data and decision making.”

For organisations looking to cut costs and optimise operations, Radi says workflow is a tool that produces an immediate benefit. His company, Incendio, is a spin-off of a company that specialised in construction project management. It adopted Altiris Workflow Solution to meet the complex process management needs of its clients. Over the last five years, it’s serviced customers in health care, transportation and logistics, education, and government.

Workflow’s value to the customer is immediate, since it does two things very well: provides a repeatable and auditable process, and shortens the intervals for decision making and project management. The resulting audit trail provides an organisation with the ability to demonstrate due diligence for compliance with such regulations as Sarbanes-Oxley and some Homeland Security protocols. More importantly is its ability to shave off precious time in decision making and organisation processes, which results in near immediate efficiency returns.

“Workflow can automate in ways that we never could before,” said A. Wade Wyant, managing partner of ITS Partners, a systems management solution provider. “You’ve been automating with computers since punch cards. Workflow will take it to the next level.”

Workflow isn’t typically a technology sale, though. Many small and midsized businesses don’t have the institutional, defined processes necessary for workflow applications, so solution providers must establish the foundational processes as well as implement the application. That creates up-sell services opportunities for solution providers.

Some companies may not know they need workflow or understand the benefits of workflow applications. Radi said with workflow consultative selling, a solution provider must show the near-term benefits and return on investment.

“The way you sell workflow is that you have to show ROI,” Radi said. “If you can’t show ROI in the first 90 days, you might as well not walk in the door.”