ProcessMaker 2.5: Open source workflow made faster, simpler

Latest rev of Colosa's Web-based BPM offering has something for developers, admins, and users

ProcessMaker 2.5 is the latest iteration of Colosa's open source BPM/workflow solution for small and medium-sized businesses, as well as business unit projects. A classic LAMP application built with PHP, ProcessMaker is available in a free community edition, subscription-based enterprise editions, and cloud editions that Colosa hosts on Amazon EC2 and elsewhere. There's also a version tailored to SugarCRM users.

This point release has been nearly two years in the making, so I was pleased to find it delivered more than just maintenance updates.

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The first noteworthy enhancement comes from the addition of TinyMCE (Tiny Moxiecode Content Editor). Replacing the previous, clunky, browser-based editor, TinyMCE is a popular, JavaScript-based WYSIWYG editor that promises to save time by simplifying form and report customization. Since all of ProcessMaker's capability is derived via Web browser -- from process and form designs to administrative and end-user interactions -- anything that streamlines development time is welcome.

The dynamic forms of ProcessMaker, called Dynaforms, have been upgraded to include syntax validation. When you create your forms in the graphical designer mode, ProcessMaker generates XML under the hood. Hand-tailoring the underlying XML for specific use cases is often desirable but can also lead to structural errors. Unfortunately, ProcessMaker handled those errors by failing to open your files. With new syntax validation, ProcessMaker not only validates but even corrects your XML, so troubleshooting flawed processes becomes less labor intensive.

Triggers -- snippets of PHP code that add functionality to a process -- can now be imported from one process to another. Previously a manual copy and paste, this no-brainer is a welcome time saver when reusing common functions across main processes and subtasks.

On initial tooling around, I didn't notice any speed-specific enhancements within the designer. But when I started the process engine and put it to the test, I discovered a noticeable reduction in lag time during processing. It turns out ProcessMaker engineers have been busy tuning the underlying codebase. They've also updated to PHP 5.2.10 to help eke out performance gains. (Note that PHP 5.4 is not yet supported.)

I also appreciated new Linux command-line options to back up and restore large (2GB plus) workspaces. (A workspace is essentially a container for a group of processes and their data.) These commands sidestep automation glitches by compressing and splitting the storage file into digestible bites automatically.

ProcessMaker can create Adobe PDF files and send emails during process runs. Previously, creating large PDFs using the HTML2PDF generator was problematic; anything more than six pages was a no-go. Fortunately, the introduction of the TCPDF PHP class in version 2.5 eliminates the problem. In addition, email notifications have been bolstered. You can now configure them across most any portion of a process to keep users in the loop.

In BPM, it's important to be able to keep your processes running smoothly. To that end, ProcessMaker offers real-time activity monitoring through easy-to-configure dashboards. Users and admins are able to drill into cases and processes to isolate bottlenecks.

To be sure, ProcessMaker's tools for process monitoring and optimization are not as extensive as the KPIs or lifecycle management tools found in high-end BPM solutions. There's no battery of BAM and BI complements in tow, nor does ProcessMaker include BPMN 2 modeling, process validation or debugging, or support for advanced object types.

But a small number of for-pay enterprise plug-ins and connectors can take up some of the slack. For instance, you'll find connectors to the Pentaho BI Suite for reporting, to Knowledgetree DMS for document management, and to LDAP/Active Directory to simplify user management, while Microsoft Outlook and SharePoint integration bring document workspace management into the fold.

Finally, with a baseline price tag of free, ProcessMaker offers a cost-effective approach to implementing approval-based workflow management that's hard to beat.

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