The market for business process management (BPM) solutions is tough. Until recently, there were no real market leaders in the BPM space, even though there were big players such as Metastorm, Pegasystems, Staffware, and DST Technologies.
Currently there are a wide variety of vendors who are entering the BPM market with niche or full-suite solutions. One of these vendors is Vision Software. Even though Vision competes with vendors such as Ultimus, HandySoft, and Staffware, there are certain aspects of their BizAgi that leave room for improvement. These will be discussed later in the article.
Established in 1989 in Columbia, Vision Software is a privately owned BPM company, based since 2003 in Hertfordshire, UK. Vision Software has worked on delivering process technologies over the past sixteen years, resulting in their BPM solution BizAgi. BizAgi is a dynamic solution which supports continuous improvement of core business processes in the organization. Vision Software moved from workflow solutions for messaging services on top of Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes during the late 90s, to adding business rules, a graphical user interface (GUI), and abstractions in 2000 and 2001, to become a fuller BPM solution. The integration with Microsoft Visio was important, as Vision Software created its own shapes for workflow design, and embedded this functionality in Microsoft Visio. This was critical to becoming a full BPM solution because missing modeling shapes was like "missing letters on a keyboard," according to Gustavo Gomez, managing director at Vision Software.
Vision initially focused on the governmental, financial, and utilities markets, but changed the focus shortly afterwards to just financials. The primary reason for focusing on financials was to establish a solid reference list and credibility before entering other markets.
Vision Software introduced the BPM solution BizAgi in 2002 after sixteen years of experience in different process approaches for organizations. BizAgi focuses on expanding the European client base, and already has solid references in Germany and Italy, with successful implementations at large banks in these countries.
Vision Software does a great job developing BizAgi in both Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition (J2EE) and .NET without functionality loss in either platform. This enables end users to implement BizAgi regardless of the organization's technical architecture.
Organizations use BizAgi solutions mostly in the banking and insurance industries. In the context of these industries, BizAgi's BPM solution offers the following benefits:
- Cost reduction
- Reduced cycle time for transactions
- Visibility in processes
- Increased productivity and efficiency
- Better customer service due to reduction of errors
- Enabling process monitoring
BizAgi's solution takes the end user through various steps to optimize, automate, and manage the business processes:
- Process design
- Definition of process data and business rules
- Assignation of resources
- Verification of the process
- Process execution
- Analysis of process performance
BizAgi represents a model-driven architecture throughout the application. Figure 1 shows the architecture.
Figure 1. BizAgi architecture
The architecture covers the four main components: the client interface, the web server which processes the requirements from the client, the application server which processes all business information and components, and the storage components that contain the BizAgi database, the data warehouse and other external application databases.
This logical architecture is the foundation for BizAgi's agility. Figure 2 shows the several components within the different architecture layers of Bizagi.
Figure 2. BizAgi components in architecture
The business process layer uses BizAgi's Studio to define the organizational and data structures.
The business rules component uses a what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) tool which enables business users to design the business rules without any coding. Computational business rules are programmatic components, which are developed outside BizAgi, but the business rules engine has the capability to integrate this coded business rule for further use.
Forms are dynamically assembled, and validations of these forms are present within the form designer, through integration with the business rule engine.
The business objects component, together with the component manager, enables data processing and decision making, based on specific values of data generated by activities in the business process layer.
BizAgi integrates with Microsoft Visio for process design. The level of integration is extremely solid and BizAgi has its own BPM stencil (toolbar) to design process flows, regardless of the complexity in Visio. BizAgi also supports business processes that are created in Aris, but the integration limits itself to importing and exporting the models.
BizAgi Product Strengths
Vision Software has come a long way to develop their BPM solution. Their focus was to develop a tool that shows simplicity, and BizAgi does this extremely well. Navigation through solution and use is well designed.
BizAgi's ability to assign tasks based on roles is a good feature because this assignation can include rules for skills, geographical information, etc. One of the future goals for BizAgi is to give it the ability to assign tasks according to the phase within the workflow.
BizAgi's data management is one of few BPM solutions which manage data in a structured model. Competing solutions such as Fuego and Ultimus do not have a structured data repository; for every activity the user has to define "data in" and "data out" variables.
However, organizations should not be discouraged by its simplicity, as BizAgi is capable of handling a range of simple to very complex demands for the modeling aspect of BPM solutions. Vision Software incorporates experience and understanding of BPM, and uses this knowledge to develop a full range of functionality to allow easy development of business models.
Another powerful feature is the flash animation which shows the workflow phase. This very sophisticated animation is embedded into the workflow interface, showing the steps that have been taken so far, and the phase a certain process is in. The animation is populated by data from the data warehouse.
The scalability and performance of BizAgi in combination with its pricing model makes Vision Software an attractive competitor to other vendors such as FileNet or Lombardi.
Challenges and Vendor Recommendations
Unfortunately, BizAgi depends on process models from external applications, as it does not have a proprietary process modeling solution. This might be a problem for several potential customers because it requires the client to buy a third-party business modeler to create the process models. This may be perceived as a burden. BizAgi is currently working on the designer model for the next release. As the integration with Microsoft Visio is very sophisticated and BizAgi already has their own toolbar, BizAgi should also be able to come up with a decent process modeler by then.
Vision's current solution does allow the user to generate a new version of a business process, where the system manages the different versions of the process at design and runtime. Unfortunately, though, there is no feature currently available to revert to an older version once a business process is changed. Vision Software is focusing on adding versioning capabilities at a later release. Versioning is a common feature among other vendors such as Metastorm, Fuego, and TIBCO, and is often a high priority of end users.
Simulation of workflow process is not present at the moment, and Vision Software indicates that this is also not a priority for delivery in a future release. Vision Software states that the solution is of such simplicity that business users will be able to see where bottlenecks may occur in the process. Validation of the process is currently present in the solution.
It will be interesting to see how Vision Software keeps up this independent platform development in the future, when developing more functionality.
BizAgi is a good solution for organizations in the financial world which are looking to automate their business processes in a simple, organized matter. Even though BizAgi is at the lower end of the price category, this doesn't mean that the solution is only for the small to medium business (SMB) market. BizAgi is capable of managing complex processes, with complex overall BPM requirements that are quite easy to support through an easy-to-use interface. When it comes to very complex structures in organizations, especially where there is a high demand for business intelligence (BI) and business activity monitoring (BAM), BizAgi will need more consideration before it's clear that it gives the right value.