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General Database (January - October 2000)

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Frequently Asked Questions
about the WfMC Interoperability Specification

bulletAbout the WfMC Interoperability Specification
bullet Why does the WfMC insist on an interoperability specification?
bulletHow is WfMC's Interoperability specification different from EDI?
bulletWhat is the difference between an abstract specification and a binding?
bulletMail media imposes asynchronous protocols what are the implied benefits and limitations?
bullet Who has so far demonstrated the MIME binding specification?
bullet Who has presently declared the intent to support a MIME binding?

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About the WfMC Interoperability Specification

The WfMC Interoperability Specification (also known as Interface 4) establishes the precise definition of all the requests and responses that two workflow engines must exchange to be capable of supporting processes that interoperate across a network. (Note: A ?network? may be a LAN, WAN, intranet, the Intranet, etc.). It defines how all requests and responses are encoded and transported across the network such that completely independent implementations can inter operate without any ambiguity. The abstract specification defines requests, responses and their input and output parameters. This specifies unambiguously the functions that each engine must be able to support. The exact coding used to transport those requests and responses is specified in a binding specification. It is only by an implementation of a binding that an engine can cooperate with another engine supporting the same binding. The implementation of an engine specific support for Interface 4 binding can be done completely independently from the implementation on others engines.



Why does the WfMC insist on an inter-operability specification?

Put simply, because the market is demanding it! WfMC members are convinced that enterprises involved in workflow applications will rapidly face the challenge of automating processes that cross departmental boundaries. Continuous deployment of workflow applications in large enterprises will be possible only through the support of interoperability of different workflow engines. This in turn will promote extra enterprise networks of business processes linking multiple enterprises inside virtual enterprises. To further support enterprises in their efforts for always better and more effective services workflow engines must proceed rapidly into the direction of interoperability via Interface 4.




How is WfMC's Inter-operability specification different from EDI?

EDI transfers data across the network. WfMC interoperability specification addresses data transmission as well, but its fundamental scope is process invocation, status control, and synchronization. It supports the management and execution of business processes, which is the real innovation of workflow technology, and opens the way to many forms of cooperating processes.




What is the difference between an abstract specification and a binding?

The abstract specification specifies the functions and their parameters that any engine must support to be able to inter operate. In order to effectively inter operate with another engine, it must send commands and parameters encoded in such a way as another engine can interpret them correctly, a binding specification describes exactly that. By separating the binding, it becomes possible to easily specify several different bindings using different network and encoding protocols. By offering a precise abstract specification it is possible to identify and implement the functions to be supported. The only defined binding, as of March 1997, is using Internet mail as the transport mean, and MIME (Multipurpose Internet Mail Extension) and CGI for content encoding.




Mail media imposes asynchronous protocols what are the implied benefits and limitations?

Benefits of selecting Internet mail as transport mechanism are the ubiquity of the interface, its network independence, and its support by nearly all platforms. Its limitations may be for real time synchronization between processes, a domain of little interest in most business processes.




Who has so far demonstrated the MIME binding specification?

The Interface 4 MIME binding was demonstrated by JetForm at three large public events:

bullet Toronto Canada, June 1996, Workflow Conference: IBM FlowMark, WANG OPEN/workflow, Staffware, DEC
bulletAmsterdam, The Netherlands, October 96, GiGa conference: CSE Workflow, Computron Workflow, ICL RoleModel, Staffware, WANG OPEN/workflow
bulletOrlando, USA, March 97, LOMA conference: DST Systems, DOMUS Software, IBM FlowMark, NSI, Staffware




Who has presently declared the intent to support a MIME binding?

Business Review International, Computron, CSE Systems, Digital Equipment Corp., DOMUS Software, DST Systems, FABA - Fallmann & Bauernfeind, FileNet Corporation, Fraunhofer Institut fur Arbeitswirtschaft und Organisation, Fujitsu Software Corporation, Hitachi Ltd., IA Corporation, IBM, ICL, IDS Prof. Scheer GmbH, InConcert, Meta Software MS S.A., Open Text Corporation, PPP Healthcare, SAP AG, Sema Group sae, Siemens Nixdorf Informat, Staffware.

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