Open Enterprise Interview: Ismael Ghalimi

Think of enterprise open source, and you probably think of GNU/Linux, Apache and MySQL – the core infrastructural programs. You probably don't think of specialist areas like Business Process Management (BPM), since the received wisdom is that the free software development process only works for general applications. And yet it was as the open source company Intalio that the people who invented the idea of a Business Process Management System (BPMS) chose to implement their ideas.

One of those, Ismael Ghalimi, talks about the origins of his company, its open source products, what exactly all those acronyms beginning with “B” mean, and explains Intalio's innovative Demand Driven Development programme – which he describes as “Digg for Product Management.”

GM: What's the background to Intalio's foundation - when and why was it set up? Where does the name come from? How has it evolved since those early days?

IG: Founded in 1999 by myself, Pascal Belloncle and Assaf Arkin. The name comes from Intaglio in Italian (the -g- is not pronounced), which is the name of stones where text is engraved. It's also the name of the process to engrave inscriptions onto stones. It's the same process that is used today to make US bills.

Intalio started as an open source company to build a BPMS. The team invented the concept of a BPMS and released the first white paper on this concept in 1999. At the time tools for developing applications with connectors to other systems (SAP, Oracle, etc.) that included workflow and had an intuitive user interface were non-existent. In researching the existing tools I realised that a lot of low-level tools were needed.

Intalio, in essence, had to invent Web services before they existed, such as passing XML objects to Java. To this end Intalio developed the following open source projects:

Castor (the XML to Java project), which is being used by NASA in the Mars Rover project.

Open EJB which became the basis for the application server Apache Geronimo

Open JMS, a messaging broker

Open Object Request Broker (ORB)

Tyrex, to manage distributed transactions

Slide, a WebDav open standard for document management

PXE, an open source BPEL engine that was donated to Apache and became the foundation for Apache ODE

These open source projects coalesced into N3 Server the first product offered by Intalio. We realised that just having the software stack was not enough. We had to make it easier for the customers to use rather than having to deal with the different components separately. Instead of spending their time developing applications that ran on these technologies, they just wanted to get their business process accomplished. N3 Server did this by delivering modeling, workflow and execution – the core of what we called our Business Process Management System (BPMS).

In 2002 the investors didn’t see a business model for open source, and pulled the company out of standards-based development. After 2003, however, the model started gaining in popularity. In 2005 Intalio started to rewrite the entire codebase so that we could provide an easily installed package, as opposed to the highly customised set of applications and services Intalio provided under the previous commercial model. The code re-write also removed all non-open source components and supported new industry standards such as BPEL, BPMN and GMF.

Now Intalio is in the process of migrating from a pure play BPM company, focusing on modeling, execution, workflow and process monitoring, to a Business Process Platform (BPP). BPP adds on to the core BPMS by integrating:

Enterprise System Bus (ESB)


Content/Document Management

Business Rules

System Monitoring

Identity Access and Management

Application Server

In essence we are providing what Oracle Fusion does in an open source model, gluing together the applications businesses need to run their business and making the process seamless throughout the enterprise.

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