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To listen to John Radi, the next great technology opportunity lies in a
rather ambiguous word: workflow.

“It’s a rapid development application environment where you can write your
processes and integrate into other products,” says Radi, the chief executive of
Incendio Technology, a solution provider in Lakewood, Colo., specializing in
Symantec’s Altiris Workflow Solution products.

Symantec, best known for its security and storage management software, is
probably the most unlikely vendor to market an application set that competes
against the likes of SAP, Lombardi and
Metastorm. It acquired its automated workflow technology—an application that
seamlessly creates, manages, monitors and reports on organizational
processes—from Transparent Logic more than a year ago, and it’s sat relatively
idle until recently.

Workflow solutions such as the Altiris Workflow Solution are likened to
applications that look like Microsoft’s Visio graphic and diagramming
application. The difference between the two applications is that workflow
applies process checks in the background, creates interfaces where users must
use the tool when working on projects and automatically compels compliance with
defined business processes.

As Symantec releases the latest versions of its Altiris client and server
management suites, it’s placing a new emphasis on its Workflow product. At the
Managed Fusion conference this week, Symantec executives repeatedly evoked the
virtues of the Workflow products and how they’ll change the implementation and
management of IT departments and businesses in general.

“It’s all about integration,” says Enrique Salem, Symantec’s chief operating
officer and future CEO, who mentioned the
game-changing potential of workflow technology in the opening of his keynote address
at Managed Fusion.

Altiris Workflow Solution is integrated in the Client Management Service 7.0
and Server Management Service 7.0, also released this week, which enables
solution providers and end users to create dynamic change management workflows
and checklists, automate responses to specific IT security and operational
scenarios, and provide granular compliance and reporting capabilities on
systems and security management.

“Workflow is a key opportunity for partners, and we’re going to train them
and enable them to use it,” said Salem
in an interview with Channel Insider.

Symantec and solution providers say the integration of Altiris Workflow
Solution with the rest of the Symantec systems management platform provides a
means for creating dynamic workflows and checkpoints for systems configuration
management, software updates, application and equipment deployments, and
security incident response.

“Symantec wants to use workflow as the glue for all the other products under
one architecture,” Radi says.

The pervasive opportunity for workflow applications, though, may oftentimes
lie outside IT departments. Workflow applications may be about automating
systems management, but that doesn’t necessarily confine it to technology
management. The tool is applicable to every system from human resources to
purchasing to facilities management to operations and project management.

“The difference between a process and a workflow is that a process is
automated while workflow requires human interaction,” says Matt Meservey, a
product manager for Altiris Workflow Solution. “Rarely does workflow stay
within a particular group. Whenever data passes an organization boundary, it
has the potential to fall through the cracks. Workflow is designed to automate
the passing of data and decision making.”

For organizations looking to cut costs and optimize operations, Radi says
workflow is a tool that produces an immediate benefit. His company, Incendio,
is a spin-off of a company that specialized in construction project management.
It adopted Altiris Workflow Solution to meet the complex process management
needs of its clients. Over the last five years, it’s serviced customers in
health care, transportation and logistics, education, and government.

Workflow’s value to the customer is immediate, since it does two things very
well: provides a repeatable and auditable process, and shortens the intervals
for decision making and project management. The resulting audit trail provides
an organization with the ability to demonstrate due diligence for compliance
with such regulations as Sarbanes-Oxley and some Homeland Security protocols.
More importantly is its ability to shave off precious time in decision making
and organization processes, which results in near immediate efficiency returns.

“Workflow can automate in ways that we never could before,” said A. Wade
Wyant, managing partner of ITS Partners, a systems management solution provider
in Grand Rapids, Mich.
“You’ve been automating with computers since punch cards. Workflow will take it
to the next level.”

Workflow isn’t typically a technology sale, though. Many small and midsized
businesses don’t have the institutional, defined processes necessary for
workflow applications, so solution providers must establish the foundational
processes as well as implement the application. That creates up-sell services
opportunities for solution providers.

Some companies may not know they need workflow or understand the benefits of
workflow applications. Radi said with workflow consultative selling, a solution
provider must show the near-term benefits and return on investment.

“The way you sell workflow is that you have to show ROI,” Radi said. “If you
can’t show ROI in the first 90 days, you might as well not walk in the door.”