Documentum and Alfresco BPM – Activiti and Active Wizard 5.0

As you may know, the latest generation Active Wizard codebase utilizes the Activiti Business Process Management (BPM) Platform to provide dynamic workflow for Active Wizard forms and controlled documents.  We started down the path of using Activiti in 2012 when we ported the Active Wizard to Alfresco.  You can read more about our initial thoughts of using Activiti for Active Wizard in this post from November 2012.  For this post, we thought we’d update our readers on the 2013 developments of Activiti with Active Wizard 5.0 as well as our future plans.

Activiti Benefits for Documentum Customers

First and foremost, our main goal was to allow Documentum clients to leverage the Activiti platform. There is a significant licensing benefit for our clients, since Activiti provides an enterprise-class BPM engine as open source. These clients can now use Activiti rather than paying for Documentum BPM licenses.

As a full BPM engine, Activiti provides a number of features that we can leverage “for free”, removing many of the limitations that were present in the old dynamic workflow approach with Documentum workflow. See this post for a recap of how the dynamic template approach worked in Active Wizard 3.x and 4.x. A few of the enhancements we were able to make in Active Wizard 5.0 include:

  • Users and groups can now approve in the same workflow step.
  • More than one group can now approve at the same workflow step.
  • A user can now be assigned to more than one role at the same workflow step.

Overall, we really like Activiti for our Documentum clients for a number of reasons:

  • It’s a BPM engine that can work with an ECM platform, or with no ECM platform. For Alfresco clients, Activiti comes bundled with Alfresco by default. Overall, Activiti allows us to better support both our Alfresco and Documentum clients. Plus, when a client adds a new workflow feature, there’s no need for us to re-implement the feature on a different BPM platform.
  • The “free” workflow tool in Documentum is not a BPM platform. With Activiti, we’re now able to leverage many BPM features in our products that will not require clients to incur additional license costs.
  • Since Activiti is so flexible, we can implement a single dynamic workflow template for Active Wizard approval workflows. Since we no longer have to generate templates on the fly, workflow reporting becomes easier and more powerful.
  • Activiti is actively maintained and developed. Given that EMC is focusing on Documentum BPM, we don’t see the “free” out of the box Documentum Workflow being updated anytime soon, if ever. Clients that rely on out of the box Documentum workflow are stuck dealing with the limitations of the Java Method Server for workflow auto-activities and EBS scripts written in the ancient Docbasic language for sending workflow and notification emails.
  • Activiti is very flexible, and it’s very easy to add hooks into the workflow process to execute client-specific behavior.

Future Activiti Plans for TSG Products

Up to this point, we have been focusing on porting the existing Active Wizard 4.x features to Activiti in the 5.0 release. The enhancements mentioned above just came along for the ride during the process thanks to Activiti’s flexible nature. Looking forward, there are a lot of features that we plan to leverage, including:

Group-based Approval Enhancements for AW

Group-based approval tasks in Active Wizard 5.0 support the typical “one user from group” approval scenario that most of our clients require. However, Activiti gives us some features that we can utilize in the future such as requiring a certain percentage of the users in the group signing off.

Transactional Workflow in HPI

The Active Wizard’s form-driven approval for workflow is geared towards clients that would like to implement approval workflow, especially for industries that have regulatory compliance requirements they must meet such as Pharmaceuticals and Energy. Some of our clients, however, would like a more traditional workflow approach for transactional systems (things like invoice or claims processing, for example). For these clients, we are planning on integrating Activiti workflow directly into HPI for use in these systems. This will allow our clients to develop custom workflow templates or, for our Alfresco clients, use the out of the box Alfresco workflow templates in HPI.

Other Activiti Features

Additional Activiti features that we plan to leverage in both Active Wizard and HPI workflow include:

  • Task Escalation – Activiti allows configurations where, for example, a task can be escalated to a higher-level approver if the task is overdue by 2 days.
  • Task Reminders – Typical requirements include sending out reminder messages when a task is 48/24/0 hours from being due
  • Advanced Reject Scenarios – In addition to providing the capability to abort a workflow entirely when a rejection occurs, we will support configuration for moving a back a step or taking an alternate path through the workflow.

If you have any questions or thoughts, please add them in the comments below.

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