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Analysis: BPM Vendors Tap AJAX to Put Process in Context

The hot AJAX development approach isn't just for pretty, consumer-oriented Web sites such as Google Earth and Business process management (BPM) vendors Pegasystems and Appian use AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) in their latest releases to deliver interfaces that are not only rich, dynamic and user-friendly, but much more process-relevant and personalized.

Much has been made of AJAX's ability to deliver rich Internet applications (RIA) that are up to thick-client standards, but in fact, the best of these interfaces outdo thick clients in terms of dynamic delivery and personalization. Pegasystem's SmartBPM Suite upgrade, unveiled on April 17, 2006, uses AJAX for "hover and see" functionality that provides immediate user feedback. Hover over an exception process shown in the PegaRules Process Commander 5.1 portal, for instance, and a window pops up with the details of that transaction and the steps in the process that went wrong.

Hover-and-see is typical for an AJAX implementation, but Pegasystems takes it one step further by using its rules technology to drive AJAX personalization. As you interact with the system it instantly generates new windows and views in response to changing business rules--without an army of Java programmers. "The system generates the AJAX automatically, and it does so with tools that even business analysts can use," says Russell Keziere, senior director of BPM marketing at Pegasystems. "It adapts to the situation and seems smarter based on how you model business behavior. When you make a change in the business rule, the models work behind the scenes to generate the Java code required in the AJAX-based interface."

Appian is another BPM vendor embracing AJAX, and the company claims its Enterprise 5 suite, released in March, is "the most pervasive and advanced use of AJAX in any enterprise application to date." Appian uses AJAX not only for the portal, but for the process modeler as well. The rich but purely browser-based design tool makes it easy and less expensive to deploy to business analysts and others who design and optimize processes.

AJAX is not the only game in town for RIA, as Nelson King points out in a recent Intelligent Enterprise article. Adobe, which has a BPM suite of its own, has Macromedia's Flash and Flex products, which have supported rich Internet apps for years. And TIBCO's BusinessWorks provides support for Web services, XML, SOAP, UDDI and other elements that developers can employ for user interface management.

AJAX and other RIA approaches may be great for the masses, but they will really shine in sophisticated enterprise uses--such as BPM--where there are drastic differences by user, group and role as well as by level of sophistication, thereby helping to bridge the gaps between IT and business users and to reduce helpdesk and training costs.

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