Lombardi Software is working to make business process management as easy as checking e-mail.
The company announced March 27 the availability of a new product that integrates the Lombardi TeamWorks BPM platform with the Microsoft Office system.
Lombardi for Microsoft Office 2003 enables users to "participate" in a business process directly from their desktop using Microsoft Office software—Word, Excel, Outlook and InfoPath—according to Phil Gilbert, chief technology officer of Lombardi, in Austin, Texas.
"As companies move more and more to access screens for exception-based processes it turns out its really hard for users to constantly go to another portal [for process information]," said Gilbert.
"With Office 2003 were providing a J2EE process-based platform, allowing information about those processes to be pushed to users through Outlook and InfoPath."
Gilbert gives the example of one of Lombardis customers, a large pharmaceutical company, that has in place a monthly determination and reconciliation process for its 20,000 sales people.
"The real core process workflow is done by about 100 people at the home office," said Gilbert. "But once a month, 20,000 people need to do one or two things to complete the process."
With the Lombardi for Office 2003, those exception-based processes are pushed out to 20,000 sales people through Outlook e-mail, making the end-to-end process visible—and much more accessible.
Those employees that use the Lombardi Office tool can execute tasks in the BPM system directly from Outlook, with little to no training, officials said.
Users can also use the Office environment to do process work offline, while process performance can be managed directly from Outlook, without the need to set up separate portals.
At the same time, letters written in Microsoft Word can automatically incorporate process information—the current status of a loan application, for example.
Gilbert said the Lombardi Office 2003 application is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of combined offerings the two companies are working on.
"The real heavy work is with Office 12, where were really pushing into things like online presence," said Gilbert. "As part of our modeling process, some of the meta data on each activity is [available]. So well be able to demonstrate who the leaders are [of a process] and capture that structured and unstructured information."
Gilbert gives the example of a help desk, where a caller is unable to get the answers he or she needs during an initial call. All the work done between the caller and the help desk worker—instant messages, creating a help desk ticket, e-mails—will be captured so a caller doesnt have to go through the same steps the next time he or she calls the help desk.
"As companies become more and more process-centric going forward, there is a delicate balance that Office is playing, and has a really interesting role in," said Gilbert.
The question Lombardi and Microsoft will look to answer is how do they provide management with a structured view of whats going on in the enterprise, through process work, and at the same time give users an ad hoc view of whats going on.
"We value [workers] brain power and value the ad hoc-ness with which most humans resolve problems," said Gilbert.
"So theres this whole interesting delicate balance—a structure to the process to link activities to structure of organizations—but at the same time, we dont want to constrain people by this process. Thats what were trying to do."