Getting Work in Order

Updated: Before Foley & Lardner, one of America’s top law firms, takes on a new client, it must check for conflicts with existing engagements. That means looking to see not only whether the Milwaukee-based firm already represents a competitor, or someone involved in an action against the prospective client. It has to check all the way up to the parent-company level, across 17 Foley & Lardner offices, as well as the files of some 1,000 attorneys.

Six years ago, the firm had paper forms that weren’t routinely used, says Bob Plastine, the firm’s Milwaukee-based director of projects and applications. Instead, an attorney would send ane-mail to the conflicts department, which managed the checks, with details—the client’s name, nature of the potential work and the like.

When the conflicts department got the e-mail, staff would re-enter the information into a specialized conflict check program from a legal software vendor. If details were missing, a conflicts staffer would call the attorney, and if he were out, leave a message and wait for somebody to reply. “It was screaming for a unified process,” Plastine says.

Foley & Lardner found one, in the form of business process management software from Baltimore-based Metastorm. Instead of collecting 20 conflict checks a day and taking up to two weeks to turn them around, the firm now handles 200 checks a day and clears them in 48 hours.

The software, then known as Metastorm e-Work, begins with standardized forms for taking in information. The attorney enters the data from his computer. Then, the system generates an alert for the conflicts department. Other units in the firm that need to weigh in, such as accounting, get a heads-up.

Plastine’s team used e-Work to set up rules for how the files would be routed. If a key person is away when a sign-off is needed, there’s a rule for how the file should be re-routed.

Business process management software, which evolved from workflow and document imaging systems, is still used to automate manual processes such as opening a bank account. Several vendors have taken BPM to a more sophisticated level, building software packages that not only replace paper forms, but check forms for accuracy, alert users to missing information, route them to the right departments and employees in many different areas for approval, and re-direct them as necessary to keep the process moving.

Gartner Dataquest puts the market for business process management software at $1.69 billion in 2006, up 18.5% from 2005. It is expected to keep up that double-digit pace through 2010. The software helps financial services firms manage regulatory compliance, and it’s also being used in health care, manufacturing, retail and government to gather information and act on it in a consistent, predictable way.

Gartner counts 170 vendors now in the market, ranging from point-solution providers such as Axway in Scottsdale, Ariz., to companies such as Pegasystems of Cambridge, Mass., Lombardi Software of Austin, Texas, and Savvion of Santa Clara, Calif., that have crafted a full-fledged business process management suite, or BPMS.

Gartner defines a BPM suite as a product that allows you to define an abstract model, rather than writing integration code that exactly specifies how, say, a new hire should be properly registered into the human-resources system as well as the payroll system.

Gartner expects businesses to increasingly favor this model, and expects that no more than 25 vendors it now tracks will make the transition to offering suites.

The BPM suite leader in Gartner’s book is Pegasystems, according to a report issued last year. Close on its heels are Metastorm and Global 360 in Dallas.

Analysts say a key challenger is IBM, which acquired FileNet in October 2006 for $1.6 billion. Best known for its document management software, FileNet has moved into the BPM market, offering tools to model and simulate business processes. And BEA Systems and Tibco, known for their application integration software, are also seen as gaining market share.

Some vendors will likely be acquired. That was the case when BEA Systems purchased Fuego, a rival to Pegasystems, for $87.5 million in 2006. BEA, which specializes in service-oriented architecture, or SOA, has blended Fuego’s BPM software into its BEA AquaLogic service infrastructure products for managing SOA.

Janelle Hill, a Gartner vice president, predicts other changes are in store for vendors that could lower costs for customers while providing more customized processes. One such change is being brought on in part by technology such as open-source software, but Hill also sees customer demand driving a movement to SOA, Web services and the marketing of BPM services as easily implemented components that will help customers craft the approach they need.

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