Driven by growing customer needs to streamline operations up and down the enterprise, automation vendors have increasingly been moving to integrate more workflow automation and business process management (BPM) capabilities into their product lines.
One of the latest examples comes with the recently announced acquisition of Skelta Software by Invensys Operations Management (IOM, http://iom.invensys.com), the Plano, Texas-based automation technology supplier. Skelta, a privately held company based in Bangalore, India, is a provider of enterprise BPM and advanced workflow software solutions for multiple industries, including manufacturing. IOM announced the acquisition of the seven-year-old Indian company on April 21.
“This acquisition further extends our Enterprise Control System strategy,” said Sudipta Bhattacharya, IOM president and chief executive officer, in a press release. “Simply put, Skelta technology will enable Invensys Operations Management and our global network of ecosystem partners to deliver new, easy-to-configure workflow, collaboration and process-centric applications. This, in turn, empowers our customers and partners to be more productive and innovative as they strive to achieve productivity excellence.
“Every business needs the flexibility to respond to new business challenges in real time,” Bhattacharya continued. “By extending our open Wonderware System Platform and InFusion Enterprise Control System (ECS) offerings, we further accelerate the development of applications that improve collaboration and workflow across people, systems and documents.”
Craig Resnick, a research director at ARC Advisory Group Inc. (www.arcweb.com), in Dedham, Mass., notes that integrated workflow solutions are increasingly in demand by manufacturers. “We are certainly hearing from our customers that this is something they need to kind of build into their systems, especially in the area of synchronizing data amongst all of these disparate systems that they have.” This applies not only to factory floor systems, but also extends into the production management and manufacturing execution system (MES) space, as well as to enterprise business systems, Resnick adds.
The Skelta deal is in line with industry trends, according to Resnick. “We’re seeing that all of the major automation companies are thinking in these terms,” he says. Resnick notes that numerous vendors, including GE Intelligent Platforms, Rockwell Automation, Siemens and Schneider, have all been moving to integrate BPM and workflow management into their software solution suites.
Seize the moment
But one thing that is different about the IOM approach is that the company has gone the acquisition route, while many of its competitors have chosen to develop the capability internally, Resnick observes. The Skelta deal was not surprising, however, given the cost required in time to develop a capability organically. “So if there’s an opportunity to accelerate that, you might as well seize the moment, and they (IOM) did that,” says Resnick. Further, “I would anticipate that IOM will always be kicking the tires and looking for additional solutions to kind of round out its enterprise offerings,” he adds.
During a Web briefing for media and analysts following the Skelta acquisition announcement, Rob McGreevy, IOM vice president, platforms & strategy, acknowledged that many of the company’s competitors are pursuing extended workflow and BPM solution strategies. But there are three things that will differentiate the IOM/Skelta solution, he said.
Many IOM competitors are taking “a stand-alone product approach” to the problem, said McGreevy, while “what we want to do is make workflow and collaboration a natural extension of our suite.” The second difference involves IOM’s plans to go beyond generic workflow tools to deliver packaged libraries of industry-specific work processes. For industries such as pharmaceuticals or food and beverage, for example, IOM might provide an application for Hazardous Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP), said McGreevy, “so that when certain conditions occur, you’ve got standard workflows for that.”
The third difference involves IOM’s focus on the human element in workflow and business processes, McGreevy said. Competitors tend to focus largely on data movement issues, for example, between an SAP enterprise system and the plant floor, he contended. But the IOM/Skelta solution will also include a focus on activities involving employees at many levels, with information routed though multiple channels including mobile devices, e-mail and other channels, McGreevy said.
According the press release, the Skelta BPM suite offers leading capabilities for business process modeling and execution and includes unique, integrated capabilities for business rules management, forms management, document management and business activity monitoring. It also includes connectors to popular Microsoft offerings such as SharePoint, BizTalk and Microsoft Office.
Skelta BPM is one of the first completely embeddable business process management and advanced workflow frameworks, IOM said, and like Invensys’ ArchestrA software framework, it is built on Microsoft .Net technology, making it open, extensible and scalable. The Skelta BPM software will extend the Invensys Wonderware System Platform and InFusion Enterprise Control System with new workflow capabilities that can help customers improve their process execution, standardization, quality control, regulatory compliance and environment, health and safety programs.
Skelta BPM technology can improve productivity for clients in many industries, including food and beverage, oil and gas, and power, IOM said. Its agile framework links manufacturing and infrastructure operations systems to existing business and departmental workflow systems, helping customers achieve better business results in real time. Personnel at every level of the operation, including quality managers and planners, can use the resulting solutions to help control their daily workflows, as well as improve demand response, issue resolution and corrective and preventive actions.
For example, because it is being integrated with the InFusion ECS, Skelta technology will help make it quicker and easier for customers to initiate a production change sequence as a result of a large order or to manage workflows associated with maintenance issues, such as faster recovery from unplanned downtime. Preconfigured industrial and manufacturing-specific workflows will be built into future Invensys offerings, IOM said, with the goal of dramatically reducing the cost and complexity of implementing high-value workflow solutions while driving productivity excellence.
ARC Advisory Group Inc.
Invensys Operations Management