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Workflow software standard backed

Netscape, Sun, Hewlett-Packard, and more than 20 other vendors said they will support SWAP, the proposed Net-based standard for interoperable workflow products.

A group of software makers today announced support for a new Internet-based standard for workflow products that would let various software packages be more easily interconnected in the building of intranet and extranet business applications.

Netscape Communications, Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard, and more than 20 other vendors said they will support the Simple Workflow Access Protocol (SWAP), the proposed Internet-based standard for interoperable workflow products.

Currently, integrating products from different makers requires considerable time, expertise, and at lease some custom coding. The protocol, if widely adopted, would make it much simpler to link dissimilar software into a company-wide manufacturing system, for instance, that could also be tied to both suppliers' and customers' intranets.

But some analysts say the proposal is a little off-target.

"[The proposal] deals with execution, and that is less of a problematic workflow issue than having a workflow model," said Daniel Rasmus, an analyst with Giga Information Group. "The biggest problem for companies right now is building a model for workflow. The issue of interoperability is a very visual one," but the real issue for corporations "is having a workflow model in place that works."

A workflow model is an illustration of how workflow, data, files, and spreadsheets move throughout a company. There are tools on the market that do this, but many of them have difficulty working with one another, thus making it nearly impossible to develop a workflow model between departments and businesses, according to observers.

Today's proposal was inevitable, said Rasmus. "But the big question is how do you build a successful workflow model we can all do business on?"

Other vendors supporting the proposed standard include Action Technologies, Cognos, Adobe, Blue Oyster Software, NetObjects, Sybase, and Fujitsu Software, among others.

SWAP will be based on extensions of the HTTP 1.1 standard to enable companies to extend their existing workflow applications out to the Internet and extranets. It will also provide a simple effective way to integrate workflow systems with other Web-based services, according to backers.

The group of companies plan to submit SWAP to an appropriate standards body to allow for open participation in development of the protocol. No standards body has yet been named.

John Paul, senior vice president and general manager of the Server Product Division at Netscape, said in a statement: "Approval of SWAP as an Internet workflow standard would enable customers to leverage software from multiple vendors to build workgroup and enterprise process-automation solutions on their intranets that also can be extended out to partners, customers, and suppliers on extranets."

Support for the standard provides workflow software with the ability to start, monitor, and exchange workflow data, as well as control workflow processes with other workflow systems, according to backers.