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Technology / AI and automation

BANISH CONSULTANTS WITH ‘PROCESSWARE’ FROM CROSSROADS

Try this one for size – ‘processware.’ Just what the world needs, right? Another buzzword. The fact that only one vendor is seeing fit to use this term may also weaken its chances in the market for new boxes for us all to categorize software and IT in. But given that the company in question is the much-hyped (but genuinely interesting) application middleware startup Crossroads Software Inc, of Burlingame, California, and the term was coined by one of its many investors, the growing Technology Group of Deutsche Morgan Grenfell, it may stand some chance. What is certain: what Crossroads claims it does for customers is going to be noted, even if they don’t swallow the new market name for it. Basically, Crossroads is at one level trying to meld the best of the object request broker and message-oriented middleware approaches to the middleware problem, but packaging it in a way much further up the value-chain, as glue to make enterprise applications work together in as plug and play a fashion as possible. The company burst on the business press world in the summer with lots of high-profile coverage – mostly centering on either the youth, gender and capabilities of founder Katrina Garnett, or on the to-die-for roster of angel investors who have let it start life with a total of $15.6m in private funding since its foundation in April of 1996.

By Gary Flood

These backers include industry luminaries ranging from Michael Dell of Dell Computer Corp, Dave Duffield founder and CEO of Peoplesoft Inc, former Bay Networks Inc CEO Andy Ludwick, and Roger Sippl, founder of Visigenic Software Inc. Apart from these backers at the individual level, SAP AG and Intel Corp each ponied up $2m, while Ernst & Young LLP forked out $1m. Adding to this impressive war chest was $3.5m of Garnett and her husband Terry’s own money, raised from cashing in their Sybase Inc and Oracle Corp stock – at Sybase Garnett was VP and general manager of its middleware and Replication Server businesses, where she was also its youngest ever VP (32). The company has already compiled an impressive list of partners – in applications, Aurum Software Inc (now owned by Baan Co NV), Clarify Inc, Peoplesoft Inc, SAP AG, Scopus Technology Inc (also a reseller), Trilogy Development Group Inc, and Vantive Corp; in technology, BEA Systems Inc, IBM Corp (for MQSeries), Microsoft (for MicrosoftMQ), Reuters’ subsidiary Tibco, Visigenic, and ten resellers, including Ernst & Young’s Technology software reselling arm. The basic proposition is that rather than spending vast amounts of moolah feeding all those greedy consultants, corporations shouldn’t have to worry about how to make their SAP R/3 system talk to their new Baan application. For what it’s worth, DMG says processware as a market is today worth $650m, growing to $2bn in 2002; what seems a little more reliable a metric for the potential size of this field is the Forrester Research piece of research that says 30% of enterprise IT budget is spent on designing, developing and maintaining inter-application interfaces. Crossroads does what middleware is supposed to do – hide the complexities of application programming interface speaking unto application programming interface – but goes one further, with packaged cross-application business process functionality that complements the underlying applications. Or as Mike Donaldson, VP Marketing, and also a Sybase alumnus, notes: We are an application of middleware in the same sense that Peoplesoft is an application of a database. The first such example of ‘processware’ is customer interaction, to be followed by human resources (first quarter of 1998), supply chain planning (second quarter of 1998), and supply chain execution (third quarter of 1998). A package such as customer management is said to link a Siebel Systems Inc or a Vantive front end application to an SAP or Peoplesoft back end one through components such as item manager, order generation, account status and contract manager. Other offerings include ‘collaborations,’ packaged business process implementations, while ‘connectors’ (written in Java) are the intermediary link between collaborations and applications. Its InterChange Server is the fundamental piece of the architecture, also written in Java, incorporating Visigenic software and (in first release) IBM’s MQSeries message-oriented middleware. (Visigenic, incidentally, isn’t being used to move objects around the distributed system, which is classically what an object request broker is meant to do, but for administration and maintaining internal modularity – objects are shipped around using transactional queues, i.e. messaging technology instead.) Impressive as this background all is, it’s only now that the company is finally up to actually having actual product to release, as well as four Fortune 500 level blue-chip customer reference accounts (Bay Networks, Hewlett-Packard Co, Orange and Farmland Industries). Out the door this week is Customer Interaction (CI), an enterprise application software suite that is claimed to integrates front-office CI applications with back-office Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) applications through providing cross-application business process functionality, integrating front-office applications from Aurum, Clarify, Scopus, Trilogy and Vantive with back-office applications from Baan, PeopleSoft and SAP. The system is made up of four elements, CrossRoads Collaborations, CrossRoads Connectors, the CrossRoads InterChange Server and CrossRoads Designer. Eight collaborations are initially available, covering contract management, customer manager, item manager, returns processing, shipped product, order status, inventory status, and employee manager.

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Twelve more are in the pipeline for roll-out by the end of 1998. There are seven connectors being released at this time, for Baan, Clarify, Peoplesoft, R/3, Scopus, Trilogy and Vantive (Siebel and Oracle Corp are promised first quarter of next year). The first version of the InterChange Server and an admin tool, plus a design component, are also available, with an option, written with IBM, for incorporation of legacy mainframe apps. Based on existing customer footprints, companies can expect to spend somewhere between $250,000 and $1m. In terms of competition, Donaldson acknowledges that companies like Active Software Inc and Vitria Technology Inc (CI No 3,285) are making similar sounding claims, but what these kinds of competitors tend to do is provide tools, not packages, he says. If enough companies installing ERP level systems agree, all those Silicon Valley godparents will be amply rewarded in their offspring’s good fortune, but we do have to wonder how long we’ll have to call it processware. Application middleware seems good enough for us plain folks.


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CBR Staff Writer

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