Coalition Overview

What is the Workflow Management Coalition?

The Workflow Management Coalition, founded in August 1993, is a non-profit, international organization of workflow vendors, users and analysts. The Coalition's mission is to promote the use of workflow through the establishment of standards for software terminology, interoperability and connectivity between workflow products. Consisting of over 100 members, the Coalition has quickly become established as the primary standards body for this rapidly expanding software market.

Mission Statement

The Evolution of Workflow

Workflow software products, like other software technologies, have evolved from diverse origins. While some offerings have been developed as pure workflow software technologies, many have evolved from image management systems, document management systems, relational or object database systems, and electronic mail systems. Vendors who have developed pure workflow offerings have invented terms and interfaces, while vendor who have evolved products from other technologies have often adapted terminology and interfaces. Each approach offers a variety of strengths from which a user can choose, adding a standards based approach which would allow a user to combine these strengths in one infrastructure.

Workflow Standards Framework

The Coalition has proposed a framework for the establishment of workflow standards. This framework includes five categories of interoperability and communication standards that will allow multiple workflow products to coexist and interoperate within a user's environment. Technical details are included in the white paper titled The Work of the Coalition.

Workflow Management Coalition Structure

The Coalition is divided into two major committees, the Technical Committee and the Steering Committee. Small working groups exist within each committee for the purpose of defining workflow terminology, interoperability and connectivity standards, and for assisting in the communication of this information to the workflow user community. The Coalition's major committees meet four times per calendar year for three days at a time, with meetings alternating between a North American location and a European location. The working group meetings are held during those three days and as necessary throughout the year. Coalition membership is open to all interested parties involved in the creation, analysis or deployment of workflow software systems. Membership is governed by a Document of Understanding, which outlines meeting regulations, voting rights, etc.

The Work of the Coalition


The objectives of the Coalition are to : This document describes the work that the Coalition is doing to meet the first two of these objectives. The latter objectives are being addressed by a communications program, active participation in industry events, and liaison with other industry bodies.

Coalition Working Groups

The Coalition has established a number of working groups each working on an area of specific interest. The work centers on the development of a Reference Model for workflow management systems which provides the framework for the working parties. The Reference Model identifies the common characteristics of workflow systems and by specifying the discrete functional areas will set the scene for the development of interface standards between them.

Reference Model

In order to progress these objectives the following working groups have been established: The current focus is on the first two areas of activity since they lay the foundation for the rest of the work.

Workflow Reference Model

All workflow systems contain a number of generic components which interact in a variety of ways. To achieve interoperability between workflow products a standardized set of interfaces and data interchange formats is necessary. A number of distinct interoperability scenarios can be constructed by reference to such interfaces. For example a standard process to be used by a number of groups of users, perhaps in different organizations could be defined using one tool and exported to each group who may use different workflow systems. Also a given user may use one workflow client application to receive tasks generated by a variety of workflow systems. The model identifies the major components and interfaces. These are considered in turn in the following sections.

Process Definition Tools

A variety of tools may be used to analyze, model, and describe a business process. The workflow model is not concerned with the particular nature of such tools, and currently each is in a form specialized for the particular workflow management software for which it was designed. One of the interfaces proposed by the Coalition enables more flexibility in this area. This interface is termed the process definition import/export interface which would provide a common interchange format for the following types of information: There are other industry groups working in related areas such as process modeling and CASE tools. The Coalition intends to work with such groups to advance the definition of interchange formats.

Workflow Enactment Service

The workflow enactment service provides the run-time environment in which one or more workflow processes are executed. This may involve more than one actual workflow engine. The enactment service is distinct from the application and end-user tools which are used to process items of work. A wide range of industry standard or application specific tools can therefore be integrated with the workflow enactment service to provide a complete workflow management system. This integration takes two forms:

Workflow Client Applications

The workflow client application is the software entity which presents the end user with his or her work items, and may invoke application tools which present to the user the task and the data relating to it, and allow the user to take actions before passing the case back to the workflow enactment service. The workflow client application may be supplied as part of a workflow management system or may be a third party product (such as an Email product) or written specially for a given application. There is thus the need for a flexible means of communication between a workflow enactment service and the workflow client application which would provide a series of functions for connecting to the service and for obtaining and processing items of work.

Invoked Applications

There is a requirement for workflow systems to deal with a range of invoked applications; for example, to invoke an Email service such as X400, a fax service, Document Management services or existing user applications. The Coalition sees value in the development of standards for the invocation of such applications by building "tool agents" which will provide the interface to invoke applications. In addition it is seen that it may be possible to develop a set of APIs which will allow other developers to build "workflow enabled" applications which can be invoked directly from the workflow engine.

Workflow Interoperability

A key objective of the Coalition is to define standards that will allow workflow systems produced by different vendors to pass work items between one another. Workflow products are diverse in nature ranging from those used for ad-hoc routing of tasks or data to those aimed at highly regularized production processes, each product having its own particular strengths. In its drive for interoperability standards the Coalition is determined not to force workflow product vendors to choose between providing a strong product focused on the needs of its customers and giving up those strengths just to provide interoperability. Interoperability can work at a number of levels from simple task passing through to workflow management systems with complete interchange of process definition, workflow relevant data and a common look and feel. The greatest level of integration is unlikely to be available generally as it relies on a commonality of approach by a wide variety of developers deep in their products where it is likely that healthy innovation is rife. The following interoperability approaches have been identified and are being investigated:

Administration & Monitoring Tools

A common interface standard which will allow one vendor's status monitoring application to work with one or more vendor's workflow enactment service engines. Firstly it will allow a complete view of the status of work flowing through the organization regardless of which system it is in, and secondly will allow the customer to choose the best monitoring tool for their purposes.
Workflow Management Coalition Office
Avenue Marcel Thiry 204, 1200 Brussels, Belgium;
tel: +32 2 774 96 33. Fax: +32 2 774 96 90.

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Last updated: Thu Aug 28 15:38:52 1997 by Austin Tate, AIAI (