Friday, September 16, 2005

Workflows as Content: New Windows Workflow Foundation Tries to Trip 3rd Parties

As we mentioned in our report on The New Aggregation, the current mania that publishers have for workflow applications has practical limits. Everything in technology can be commoditized easily in time - including the ability to support sophisticated workflows. As PC World notes the new Windows Workflow Foundation (part of the WinFX development environment) suite announced for next year's debut of Microsoft's Windows Vista operating system is an interesting point. The promise of WWF is to simplify vastly the process of developing, testing and maintaining workflow applications, aiming to push out third parties such as portal providers, content management systems and content aggregators that are gobbling up the high-end of software value in today's institutions. In a sense Microsoft is saying that workflows themselves are becoming more content than software, units of information and experiences to be consumed within a proprietary venue - WinFX.

While Microsoft's plans are not likely to crack the 20 percent of high-end users who can extract more value from their current vendors their typical hope of appealing to the 80 percent who are willing to find cheaper solutions that they can tweak themselves is likely to find both content vendors and solutions providers willing to cater to small-to-medium sized businesses and departments that can afford to get "pretty good" workflow infrastructure to do the job. But at the other end of the spectrum are emerging "platformless" solutions such as Salesforce.com, which treat both content and functionality as discrete modules that can be added to a browser-based application with no software development required by the customer. As indicated in last week's weblog, this approach has increasing appeal to major business content producers such as OneSource that have been spearheading integrations into portals via Web services interfaces for some time. These approaches to workflow integration that take the software out of the clients' hands altogether are likely to gain in popularity where they contain the right amount of configurability and administrative ease. Content producers and aggregators should look at WWF as a far more sophisticated approach to true workflow integration than that provided via the crude Research task pane capabilities found in today's Office applications, but focus more broadly on a wide variety of XML-based objects with embedded content and functionality that can work in many different portal environments effectively.
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