Achieving Success with Workflow and Imaging Standards

The nature of e-commerce means that any failure to provide nearly instant transactions may mean an instant loss of customers. After all, your competitor is just a click away.

More often than not, we speak of standards as taking a lot of time to develop and being difficult to implement. And because of the length of time it takes to develop the standards, the technology may have already leaped far ahead of where it was when the standards development activity was initiated. Fortunately, in the workflow and imaging area, this scenario is not the case.

Two major forces, the Workflow Management Coalition (WfMC) and the Object Management Group (OMG) have been working since 1993 to develop specifications to allow for interoperability between workflow products and the objects or tasks which are passed between systems. The WfMC began the standards development process by developing a glossary of terminology that allows users to speak consistently with workflow vendors in order to describe the issues they are trying to resolve through the use of workflow technology.

Working On Workflow

The Workflow Reference Model identifies different components of a workflow system establishing the architecture and the required interfaces between workflow clients and applications. The Workflow Process Definition defines a formal separation between development and runtime environments, enabling a process definition to be generated by one modeling tool and used as input to a number of different workflow products. By implementing standards-compliant workflow products, an organization is not tied to only one vendor, but is able to acquire the best products to suit its needs.

Just as technology is rapidly evolving, workflow standards must continually change to accommodate technology advancements. The WfMC is developing extensions to the original specification to allow for the incorporation of XML, so that these standards will become a fundamental part of e-business in the enterprise. This will allow businesses to dramatically transform the way they work by making use of the Internet and e-commerce to increase their sales.

While having the specification is good for the adoption of workflow, making sure they are properly used in products is of even greater importance to users. User’s must protect their investment in the technology and allow for the seamless exchange of work tasks throughout the enterprise.

The WfMC is in the process of establishing an independent Confor-mance Test Facility hosted at the University of Muenster in Germany. Initial conformance testing will focus on the interoperability specification which describes how workflow engines can communicate or interoperate to coordinate and execute tasks specified in the workflow process. Rather than relying on product statements made by vendors, this independent assessment will assure products have been properly implemented utilizing requirements of the specification.

The OMG’s efforts have focused on the development of the Workflow Management Facility (WMF) which, among other things, will allow users to define nested workflows (a process running on one standards-compliant product can trigger and monitor a workflow process running on another compliant product) that cover the entire enterprise regardless of its size or complexity of the workflow schema.

The Workflow Management Facility relies heavily on the Process Definition Interchange developed by the WfMC that allows a compliant product to output a workflow schema to another compliant workflow product. Through a productive and close relationship between OMG and the WfMC, a formal CORBA/Workflow standard has been developed. And OMG members continue to develop the workflow standards.

A maintenance revision was approved at the OMG meeting in November 1999. At that same meeting, the OMG Workflow Working Group (consisting of key WfMC members and OMG members) agreed to integrate their metamodels with extensions to the metamodel for workflow. This will remove the barrier between process and information modeling and will allow modelers to define process and information models that understand each other and potentially be able to do the modeling exercise using one tool.

In the late 1980s, AIIM International was very active in the development of electronic imaging standards. In order to keep pace with the technology, several committees were established to address the three major aspects of imaging:

• Input: how to get the paper documents converted.

• Output: how to get them onto paper or distributed to others.

• Software and systems: how should we index the images to find them later.

AIIM has made available a number of standards in this area that provide specifications for quality control of image scanners, file formats, indexing of page zones, indexing elements for retrieval of the images, verification of stored data, electronic folder interchange, and scanner APIs. There are a number of technical reports that help users to understand how to use imaging for public records, how to purchase and implement an electronic imaging system, and how to make sure images are legally acceptable records.

The Pace of Things To Come

While the pace of imaging technology and the development of electronic imaging standards has slowed since the early 1980s, there is still an opportunity for some standards to be developed, especially in the areas of quality and archiving. As imaging expands to the Internet and enterprises implement the use of color imaging to provide a more accurate representation of the documents, we can expect to see activity in the development of imaging standards increase.

In September 1999, AIIM initiated a study group to begin exploring standardization needs for color imaging. This study group will hold another meeting at AIIM 2000 (April 9-12, 2000) in New York to further their discussions. Additionally, the AIIM Electronic Imaging committee will explore the need to develop additional standards in the quality area and recommended practices for the operation of imaging systems to benefit end users who are implementing imaging and service companies that are converting documents to images.

These workflow and imaging specifications and standards have been successful because they establish a common language that is critical in establishing processes and acquiring equipment, software and services needed to implement technology in an enterprise. In the workflow area, the specifications have allowed true interoperability between vendor products, so that a user or system integrator can implement a best of breed system that businesses truly need. These standards and specifications allow enterprises to more easily and effectively implement workflow and imaging while allowing the market to grow.

Although there are completed standards and specifications for workflow and imaging, there is still work to be done. Users and technologists need to demand and use products that comply with the available standards and specifications to protect their technology investment and allow multiple workflow products to operate seamlessly in the enterprise.

In doing this, they are bringing an awareness of the need of standards to the vendors. Vendors need to be aware of the standards that exist; get involved in the development of them and any extensions to them; and implement them in their products.

A vendor’s involvement in the development of standards and specifications helps to shape the industry. The bottom line in making the business successful is through a commitment to industry standards.

– Betsy Fanning, Manager Standards Program

AIIM International