Commerce One tunes Conductor for integration

Commerce One is attempting to re-establish itself on the enterprise road map with an application integration platform that seeks to redefine the role of internal developers.

With the release of Commerce One Conductor on March 24, the Pleasanton, Calif.-based company will also address the limitations of application-centric integration with a platform built around abstracting business processes.

The move comes as competitors including SAP AG, Siebel Systems Inc., Oracle Corp., and PeopleSoft Inc. continue to embrace Web services to create composite applications. Architectures such as SAP's NetWeaver, Siebel's UAN (Universal Application Network), and PeopleSoft's AppConnect have been variously pitched as horizontal platforms that unite enterprise applications. As a result, composite applications have emerged as an efficient, cost-effective alternative to expensive integration projects through the use and reuse of existing application components and data.

But according to Commerce One executives, enterprises still require a platform such as Conductor that can easily build, manage, and orchestrate composite processes.

Underpinning the platform's design is a belief that, in the future, an enterprise's internal business analysts will be able to undertake more of the integration functions than more expensive, specialized programmers.

"What we see is the empowerment of the business analyst," said Narry Sengh, Commerce One's senior vice president of marketing.

Conductor is designed to abstract business processes and workflow from integration technologies, changing the role of the IT department and the business analyst by masking the complexities of building composite applications, Sengh said.

Sanjay Chikarmane, Commerce One's vice president of product solutions, explained that the company is attempting to create light application logic that fills in the gaps between existing enterprise applications.

"With package applications, you have application-specific processes that are particularly locked within the application, whereas with composite processes you have a business orchestration process which is separated from the application," Chikarmane said.

Analysts using Conductor's Graphical Process Builder and Design Center can create schematics with a simple UI that defines an application's workflow and processes, according to company executives. This workflow process is then executed as an application using Conductor's central registry, which stores the components used to create composite applications. The Registry also controls the CIE (Collaborative Interoperability Engine), the CPM (Conductor Process Manager), and the platform's Systems Management components.

"Conductor, in a nutshell, is a unified service-oriented platform for creating composite processes," Chikarmane said.

Commerce One's approach differs from that of competitors such as SAP and Siebel, which are developing application-centric integration platforms. Executives from both companies claim that enterprises are more interested in acquiring specific applications than an integration platform.

"It’s all about getting more value from what (enterprises) already have -- that is what’s driving our technology development," said Kaj Van de Loo, SAP’s director of product strategy for Web services. "We build technology for our applications. We believe our strength is in applications."

Larry Barbetta, vice president and general manager at Siebel Analytics in San Mateo, Calif. , agrees. "We believe people will over time go and buy apps. So we are principally in the app play," he said.

Given the intense competition in its core markets, Siebel is working to build out its CRM product with the business intelligence and analytics capabilities of Siebel Analytics 7.5.

"(Siebel now offers) a prebuilt analytic solution. And instead of it being a bunch of prebuilt reports, it's tied into business processes and business decision making. So the applications, in and of themselves, represent a business flow," Barbetta argued.

As such, Siebel Analytics reflects the company's attempt to move from packaged to composite applications, as the product is designed to leverage the company's UAN layer. The UAN performs a similar function to SAP's NetWeaver architecture and Commerce One's Conductor, using Web services to both perform an application integration function and build out a platform that allows enterprises to easily integrate business processes.

Siebel Analytics' role "is exploiting (UAN), so now I have up-to-the-minute data and can get into more things like intelligent business activity monitoring," Barbetta said.

But Commerce One's Sengh argues that SAP and Siebel will continue to struggle with the complexity of converting existing packaged applications into composite applications.

"The question for a CIO is you’ve got 18 different vendors over here, all with their existing legacy applications. Who do you trust to manage the composite process? And the answer is none of them," Barbetta said.

Yet at the same time, the question applies equally to Commerce One. According to Jon Derome, an analyst at The Yankee Group in Boston . Conductor represents a new set of challenges for its maker.

One of these will be finding new customers outside its traditional supply-chain and marketplace domains that are willing to put aside the investment made in companies such as SAP or Oracle. "Internally, you have folks that are already familiar with the process flow and the technical underpinnings of the backbone system," Derome said.

Making a head start on that challenge, Commerce One said that 11 early adopters are using Conductor, including Siemens, BOC Gases, Eastman, and UCCNet.

EDS Canada, another early adopter, is installing Conductor at a Canadian government purchasing agency in Saskatchewan that is keen to begin electronic trading with its supply-chain partners.

"Through Conductor, we are able to really work on giving our trading partners the message and the format that they see fit, and transporting messages to them how they see fit," said Guy Leach, an Internet developer at EDS Canada. "The purchase order is translated using Conductor into the message format as required by supplier, and then transmitted to supplier using whatever transport and preferences the supplier desires. The composite application framework lets us take little bit of application functionality from disparate systems and glue them together in a composite app."

Application in supply-chain environments such as this are a natural fit for Commerce One given its history in that market. But supply-chain customers also suit its strategic objective: Conductor must function across organizational boundaries to be successful.

"The fundamental focus of our technology is at interorganizational processes that transcend more than one application environment, more than one vendor environment, and in most cases, different corporations with a certain industry's value chain," Commerce One's Sengh said.

And ultimately, enterprises are demanding that type of functionality from every application investment. Companies offering hosted applications as an alternative to traditional enterprise applications know this argument inside out.

"It’s just too complicated today. It’s too hard to get the value out (of enterprise apps)," said Greg Gianforte, CEO of hosted CRM player RightNow. "This is why I believe that this hosted model -- whether it’s us,, UpShot, name five other vendors -- really marks the death of traditional enterprise software. It will be reborn through these easier to consume, easier to use, (and) easier to get value out of models, and the existing vendors can’t get there unless they start all over from scratch."

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