Whether you call it business process integration (BPI), business process management (BPM), or business process automation (BPA), a process-oriented integration solution is now within reach for your midsize clients, according to Gartner. One company, Metaserver, is among a handful of smaller vendors that are competing with IBM to offer small to medium-size businesses (SMBs) this type of business solution.

We spoke with Metaserver COO Michael Aubin to find out what the company has to offer consultants’ SMB clients.

BPI differs from EAI
BPI software allows for the streamlined interchange of information between multiple systems used in business processes. Those processes can be defined as applications or transactions, and they can span multiple divisions within one company or extend to all of an organization’s trading partners and customers. According to Gartner, the new breed of BPI software solutions offered by Metaserver and others, like Sterling Commerce and IBM CrossWorlds, differs from Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) “because the focus is on automating business processes; the technology itself, while critical as an enabling function, is secondary to the objective.” The result is a less expensive solution—traditional point-to-point EAI solutions have been expensive to deploy and maintain.

Graphic modeling environment
Metaserver’s solution offers a graphic modeling and mapping environment, as shown in Figure A. Gartner recommends that SMBs choose a solution with such an easy-to-understand interface because it will allow executives to collaborate with IT on how processes should be carried out. With a common ground to talk about the cycles and information exchange necessary, these two groups can streamline and produce higher quality day-to-day processes.

This type of graphic modeling environment promises to cut down on the disconnect between what business leaders say they want and what IT ultimately delivers, Gartner said.

Figure A shows the view from the Process Designer in Metaserver’s software. It illustrates the process in which a user will enter a customer’s ID number into a Web-based form and retrieve a view of the customer’s financial portfolio. (The symbols are defined in the Gallery at the left.)

Figure A
Metaserver’s Process Designer

Why BPI is attractive to SMBs
As every business struggles to cut costs, SMBs are faced with demands from customers and business partners for information and increased nimbleness in automating business processes. In a recent report, Gartner analysts James Browning and Robert Anderson suggested that properly selected and implemented integration solutions can deliver benefits that will help SMBs maintain a competitive edge.

By helping to eliminate redundant staff, reducing errors caused by manual efforts, and continually refining the company’s business processes, the benefits of using BPI solutions go beyond mere operational effectiveness and help to sustain a strategic advantage. The specific values of this type of strategic integration, as outlined by Browning and Anderson, are shown in Figure B.

Figure B

Achieving those benefits through a simple process is what’s making solutions like Metaserver’s popular with SMBs, Aubin said. The Metaserver packaged integration solution will work with whatever front-end or back-end systems a company is already using. “So it’s really about tying together what they have faster and cheaper than alternative ways, so that they improve their processes and provide better customer service and lower their cost of doing business,” he said.

Short sales cycle, quick implementation, low cost
Aubin said Metaserver is focused in the SMB market, mostly in the financial services and insurance industries, because it has found a shorter selling cycle and fewer “politics” than in larger companies. Most of the midmarket companies haven’t been able to implement BPI solutions because they’ve been too expensive or complex, he said.

“They’ve basically been living with the manual processes in the IT infrastructure…so we feel like we have a solution that is much more competitively priced.”

Aubin said most of Metaserver’s deals range from $200,000 to $300,000, with projects typically in the one- to three-month range. The typical proof-of-concept stage is two to three days and no longer than five, and training can be completed in about two days, he said.

“You can install our software in 15 minutes, we can connect to a database or mainframe in 45 minutes, and we can have a couple of systems talking to each other in less than a day,” Aubin said. “And even though it sounds too good to be true, now we have customers that will back it up.”

Economy drives BPI sales
As an example of a typical Metaserver client, Aubin cited insurance companies that are putting products online and, therefore, must expose systems and information via the Web to allow brokers to order services, get commissions paid, and perform a host of other procedures. Many companies are working toward the goal of straight-through processing to streamline their businesses and stay competitive, especially in a difficult economic environment.

In a good economy, companies typically have enough staff to handle the work without a problem, Aubin said. At other times, however, organizations are laying off workers while having to maintain the same business processes.

“You need to drive costs out of the business, which is really what BPI and our product does for customers,” Aubin said.