Offering "Fries" Can Separate A VAR From The Competition
By improving a system's performance, extra software can differentiate a VAR's product.
Business Solutions, March 1998
FileNet is a developer of EDM, workflow and other related software. The Costa Mesa, CA-based company had estimated gross sales of approximately $250 million for 1997 and has approximately 1,700 employees. Workflow is the route a business document follows. For example, in a mail order company, an order form's typical workflow might be from the mail room, to an inventory control operator, to an accountant, to the file room. Workflow software automatically routes that order form via a computer system.
Workflow Makes Adjusting To Business Changes Easier
"All EDM systems are designed to facilitate document routing to some degree," says David Bennett, FileNet's v.p., worldwide channel sales. "The problem is, if the route changes, often adjusting an EDM system to fit a new route can involve complicated software reprogramming. A good workflow program allows a user to make document routing changes with minimal programming, typically through working with drag-and-drop icons."
Bennett describes a government agency which learned the importance of workflow the hard way. "The agency's original EDM system did not include workflow software. When federal regulations changed, due to the complexity of changing its EDM system, the agency was unable to meet its deadline. The agency ended up having to pay a cash penalty to some of its constituents. The agency has since installed workflow software so it can more readily adjust to future regulation changes."
Hiding The Workflow
Bennett says some of FileNet's most successful VARs have integrated workflow so tightly into the EDM systems they sell, it is all packaged under a single name.
"ImageMatrix Corporation (Denver, CO) for example, offers ClaimMatrix, a computer hardware and software system for processing healthcare claim forms. FileNet's workflow is part of the system and part of what differentiates the system from its competitors. But end users don't necessarily have to know that the system includes workflow software. They just know it as a system which can flexibly adjust to change in document routes."
Jay Tanna, president and CEO of Altris Software Inc., adds that end users often don't know what workflow software can add to an EDM system. "It is up to the VAR to educate the end user on the value of workflow," says Tanna. "But to do this, VARs have to be educated themselves. Workflow vendors are more than willing to provide this education if the VAR is willing to contact them and put in the time."
Altris (San Diego, CA) is a developer of EDM and workflow software whose estimated gross sales for 1997 were approximately $26 million.
Workflow Not Dead, Just Redefined
FileNet's Anderson says that the trend of VARs like ImageMatrix, who package workflow with EDM systems, has some industry analysts mistakenly saying workflow is dying. "End users have been reluctant to purchase workflow-centric systems," Anderson says. "So, VARs have had to reposition workflow as a feature of EDM systems. This repositioning has reduced the visibility of workflow," says Anderson.
Just because workflow software is not as high-profile as it once was, does not, however, mean that good products are not available. "VARs and integrators thinking about writing their own programs for routing documents should stop and take a look at what's available 'off-the-shelf,'" says Bennett. "Every workflow application has core tasks that are the same. These can include document forwarding, checks against mainframe data, and document storage. Software vendors have devoted hundreds of man-hours and millions of dollars to develop programs to perform these core tasks."
"What changes in each application is the order in which each of these steps is applied. To account for this, vendors have created interfaces which enable integrators to order these steps in ways to fit different applications. Instead of repeating the development efforts of vendors, VARs are often better served to purchase "off-the-shelf" workflow software, and spend their resources on increasing their sales."