Every transaction in a B2B architecture forms part of a business process that can be highly automated using workflow technology. The majority of the major players in the middleware market are seeking to offer solutions: MQSeries Workflow for IBM, Versata, WebLogic Process Integrator for BEA, Biztalk Server for Microsoft.
An excellent article from techmetrix explains the history and direction of workflow
Story source: application-servers.com
The article is focused on BEA. How-ever, it's important to realise that every Web Services suite being announced by vendors includes a Workflow/BPM (business process manager) engine. A definition of WebServices is a suite of middleware components that includes a protocol engine (implementing SOAP/UDDI, RosettaNet etc), a security infrastructure, a workflow engine, and an adapter suite for plugging the workflow in to the applications inside a company.
These BPM engines how-ever are not much use without adapters to the legacy systems. Companies like WebMethods have been offering these things for ages and are widely deployed but not built on J2EE.
The article neglects to mention the enabling role of JCA in all of this. Currently, B2B vendors such as WebMethods, IBM and BEA have had to build custom adapters between their products and backend systems such as SAP, Peoplesoft, Oracle Apps, CICS, IMS etc.
JCA allows these backend vendors to make a JCA adapter that can be hosted in any application server that includes a JCA container. This means that the eLink type products BEA products now have a limited shelf life and I'd expect them to be ported to JCA by BEA soon or some of them will simply be phased out as the backend vendors produce their own JCA adapters, i.e. you won't be reliant on BEA to provide these adapters.
It's pretty clear that without the adapters, the BPM engine would need a lot of custom code in these B2B architectures. JCA is one of the missing components needed to simplify this space.
It will be interesting to see the first entrants in the B2B market. Most are not based on a J2EE server and therefore may have trouble taking advantage of the JCA adapters that should be forthcoming.
WebMethods is one of these early entrants. It is a proven solution and is deployed by companies such as Dell. It has around 50 adapters currently and this obviously helps them as they can basically talk to anyone out of the box. But, the arrival of JCA will mean that any J2EE based B2B engine will suddenly have the same choice of vendor supplied adapters. This should ease the entry cost of IBM, BEA and Sybase etc in to this WebServices space when compared to before and may help drive down prices because of competition.
Anyway, interesting times...