Peeking at Fuego

When I was at BPM 2005 in London back in May, Fuego was one of the exhibitors (there were only about 10 so it was easy to see them all), and I heard independently from a few attendees that they were looking at or using Fuego. I dropped by the booth and talked to their Director of Marketing, who promised that if I applied online to evaluate their product, he’d make sure that I was approved promptly. He knew that I was headed off for vacation in May/June, but emailed me after I returned and asked when I was going to take a look at it, so I finally got around to downloading the Fuego Process Orchestration Studio and I’m trying it out over the next couple of weeks.

My first thought is that this is an independent contractor’s (you know how I hate the “consultant” word) dream: Fuego bundled all the design and development tools — including Tomcat to serve the end-user portal and the Cloudscape database for RDBMS components and directory services — plus a mini runtime engine into the Studio package, which means that I don’t need to source and install a compatible web server and database independently. Furthermore, the minimum system requirement on Windows is 512MB of memory, and it runs quite well on my 3-year-old 1GHz laptop with its 576MB of memory. This allows me to do anything that I would need to do with a Fuego customer in terms of designing a process or custom development, including full runtime testing, as long as I had access to (or could emulate) any external components that are called by the process, using a mid-range mobile machine instead of a handfull of servers. In fact, I spent my first few hours working with it — on battery power! — at my local Starbucks, not something that I could do with most other BPM products that are inching into (or are already in) Gartners’s top-right quadrant.

I don’t intend to make comparisons with other BPM products; I’ve spent a bit of time with lots of products, and a lot of time with a couple of products, and they all have their pros and cons. For example, addressing the mobililty issue, I love the fact that FileNet (which I know very well) makes all their modules web-based so that there’s no explicit installation required at a workstation, you just go anywhere on your network, decide that you want to design, adminster or participate in a process, and you’re good to go as long as you have appropriate security levels. However, if you’re not on the network, you’re pretty unlikely to have the minimum system requirements on your mobile platform to run any of their stuff standalone. I’m not picking on FileNet specifically here, I’m just pointing out that most of the “industrial strength” BPMS don’t let you “snap off” a design/development environment to be used by independents like me that aren’t supported by a big IT department, which means that these vendors have shifted their target designer and developer community to become either people within the customer organization itself, or the large SIs. I’ve posted my thoughts before about how a small organization can provide significantly better quality of work than the big boys for certain types of work, which puts me in mind of this article on McDonald’s versus the Naked Chef, which opens with the line “Mystery: why is it that some of the biggest IT consulting companies in the world do the worst work?” Keep in mind that there was a time in almost every BPMS vendor’s past when they embraced and catered to small SIs and indepedent consultants while still courting the big SIs; I just hope that this is a phase that Fuego will never grow out of.

Anyway, getting back to product stuff, I’m not going to talk much about technical details (in spite of my inner geeky engineering desire to do so) since I think that’s covered sufficiently elsewhere and in Fuego’s white papers; instead, I want to give a perspective on what it’s like to use as a designer. Suffice it to say, however, that it’s a pure Java implementation and should run on any environment that supports JVM 1.4 or higher, but is certified only on several Windows versions and two flavours of Linux. And it supports Firefox (as well as IE and Netscape), which makes me very happy.

There’s a pretty complete tutorial included (as a PDF) that I’m working through as a quick test drive before taking it out on the open road. It’s even funny, in a dark humour sort of way: the first example application is an “idea evaluation” process where employees create processes by submitting an idea, and evaluators participate in the process to check the idea. At the end of the brief process overview, the tutorial states “Just like in the real world, the ideas submitted are never really implemented so after the evaluator checks the idea, the idea just goes to the end of the process.” A bit of a sad business commentary but made me laugh out loud.

More to come when I get a chance to work on it.

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