WebEx is pushing beyond the boundaries of its Web conferencing, adding a custom workflow engine and composite application framework to its collaborative environment. The new service, called WebEx Connect, is due for release in Q1 2007, and is built on the company’s on-demand MediaTone network.
WebEx Connect takes a bottoms up, lightweight, loosely coupled approach to building collaborative, composite applications and business processes. "Most applications are non-collaborative, behind a firewall and transaction-oriented. Humans have to do the integration of email, IM, meetings and back end data. It's no long just about scale, but speed," said David Knight, vice president of messaging solutions at WebEx.
“The enchancement of the platform seamlessly connects business applications and creates new micro-applications on the fly by users to support business needs. It's user driven, not top down, said Subrah Iyar, CEO of WebEx. “Most importantly, our design point is inter-company workflow--not intranets."
WebEx Connect is targeting semi-structured business processes, such as a sales cycle that has some uniqueness tied to the individual or group and applications, and involves cross-company collaboration. At the core of the new services is an SOA-enabled workflow and integration platform is from Cordys, a company founded by Jan Baan, who was also the first investor in WebEx. Business users can modifiy can create or modify business processes without 'programming.' The WebEx Connect Grid provides a set of applications and services, including connectors to partners such as BMC, Business Objects, Genius, MindJet, NetSuite, SoonR and SugarCRM. For the partners, WebEx can provide exposure to 2 million of its customers.
The WebEx Connect virtual workspace will be available as a desktop or Web client, and a mobile client is also in the works. The client will be based in part on the recently introduced WebEx AIM Pro Business Edition, Knight said. Workspaces will also have basic dashboards and integrated desktop search, but the company would not disclose who is providing the search technology. Pricing will be based on adding additional levels of service and support with WebEx Connect, Iyar said
WebEx Connect appears to represent a good marriage of software-as-a-service, Web services, workflow and synchronous and asynchronous collaboration. The company is right to target inter-company--partner-relationship management--collaboration and integration where the company already has a foothold and the need is clear. Most solutions today are too heavyweight and cumbersome. However, WebEx will need to rapidly build its ecosystem, with composable services and business process elements, such as digital signatures, to deal with more sophisticated application requirements and compliance issues. As the ecosystem grows, WebEx Connect could serve as a collaboration and basic workflow engine for a variety of service-based, on demand applications.