Gartner BPM conference in September

I booked my travel for the Gartner BPM conference on September 16-19 in Orlando: I have a bad habit of forgetting to do that until late, then finding that the airfare is $$$ and I’ve missed all the hotel rooms, so thought that I’d do it early this time. I’ll be live-blogging from the conference as usual. I won’t be staying on for the Event Processing Summit that they’re running for the remainder of the week; although it looks interesting, I’m speaking at the Forrester IT Leadership Forum the following week in Carlsbad, and wanted to spend a few days at home in between, plus I want to be back in Toronto on the evening of the 19th to make it to our second Girl Geek dinner.

There was a lot of vendor grumbling about this conference coming so soon after the one in the spring, but I’m sure that all the usual suspects will show up nonetheless.

Disclaimer: Gartner provides me with a press pass to the event, although I am not otherwise compensated for expenses or my time.

links for 2007-07-30

  • Public transit trip planning in various US locations and all of Japan. I want this for Toronto! Funny that the California sites include Orange County which (based on my 1-1/2 years living there) has really bad transit coverage, but not San Francisco.
    (tags: travel)

Take the Ajax challenge

I had a chance to talk to Kevin Hakman of TIBCO late last week about their Ajax Challenge (Kevin co-founded General Interface, which was acquired by TIBCO a couple of years back), the goal of which is to build the world’s largest mashup. You have to use General Interface to build it, but more interestingly, you have to use PageBus, a JavaScript client-side message bus that TIBCO just contributed to the OpenAjax Alliance as open source to become part of the OpenAjax Hub 1.0 installation.

The contest is splashy (win an oversized TV! win a video iPod!) but PageBus is the real news here: it provides a message bus for mashups in an attempt to eliminate the spaghetti mess of point-to-point integrations that we’re already starting to see emerge. In the enterprise world, this is why ESBs have become an essential part of any sizable application integration effort: without a message bus, you’re creating a unique integration between each pair of applications. Okay when you have two applications, but not when you have 10. [To be fair, usually you don’t have every application interact with every other application in a complex integration: each one may only interact with a couple of others, but that just shifts the pain point, it doesn’t eliminate it.]

Getting back to mashups and the OpenAjax Hub, the PageBus exposes the basic functions of messaging — publish, subscribe, unsubscribe — all in less than 5k of JavaScript, so that multiple Ajax components on an HTML page can share data using these standard methods. This allows the development of a mashup to be more easily split up between multiple developers since each can focus on their specific component and not on the interface between components; it will also allow for easier “no programing required” assembly of components within a PageBus-enabled mashup framework.

This is a pretty important step in mashup-land: I’m starting to see a lot of things referred to as mashups that are actually portals, where the components don’t intercommunicate, but the fundamental benefit of mashups is that they *are* an integration, not just components that happen to coexist on the same page.

TIBCO is apparently already using this in their BPM product for things such as task list publication, which means (I think) that you could create a mashup between your iProcess task list and some other component or data source — a real BPM mashup. Although many vendors are starting to provide RSS feeds of task lists/inboxes (I hope that my past year of nagging about this has had some contribution to those efforts), this is the first truly mashup-enabled BPM environment of which I’m aware.

The full OpenAjax Hub specification is about 4-6 weeks away from release, but the project is already on SourceForge. TIBCO will continue to develop the source and contribute to the open source efforts in the future; their press release about PageBus is here.

Can RSS replace trickle feeds for BI?

I was having a conversation late last week with a SaaS BI vendor about how organizations get data into their online data warehouse (ftp seems to be the most popular method), when it struck me: why couldn’t they use an RSS feed from a transactional system to feed data into the data warehouse for BI purposes (or Atom, for that matter)? Near-real-time data is essential for many types of BI analysis, so there has to be something better than once-daily uploads.

BPM Think Tank Day 2: BPMN/BPDM Roundtable

I’m just getting to the last of the BPM Think Tank sessions, namely, the roundtables and one lunch session that I had documented on paper. The three sessions of roundtables spanned Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons, and were some of the best conversations that I had at the conference. I’ll cover each of the ones that I attended in a separate post, then the summaries of the others in another post, just to keep things from getting too long. These were fairly unstructured, general sessions so the notes might be a bit fragmented

The first roundtable that I attended was BPMN and BPDM, with Stephen White of IBM and Antoine Lonjon of MEGA.

There are insufficient books and tools for educating the community on how to use BPMN for different purposes. There is a requirement for a reference document to educate end-user organizations that is smaller and more understandable than the specification (possibly both a business-oriented primer and a technical reference). Stephen stated that additional reference documents will be available within a few months. There is an HTML version of the specification online at ModelDriven.org.

Small consulting organizations and independents can’t realistically get involved in standards creation so we’re always “users” of the specification. I didn’t raise this point, but do agree with it — paying my own travel expenses and missing out on days of revenue to attend standards meetings several times each year is just not in my budget.

BPM vendors are unlikely to replace their own internal model formats with BPDM, but will translate to/from BPDM. Vendors need to review and understand BPDM and how it maps between different representations. There is a need for BPMN/BPDM conformance testing and certification of BPA/BPM products.

BPDM gives BPMN credibility as a modelling format since the specification is now “complete”. There was a great deal of discussion, both in this session and at other times during the think tank where this same point was raised, namely, that BPMN was rushed out without a serialization format, and that may have been a short-term mistake. One person at the table was concerned that combining BPMN and BPDM, and thereby increasing complexity, may be a mistake.

A comment that Phil Gilbert made on my TIBCO webinar Q&A post made a valid point about how there’s two main use cases for BPMN: non-executable process mapping and analysis by business analysts, and “visual coding” to create an executable process. We discussed this a bit at the roundtable, particularly around how business analysts could use the basic shapes (i.e., skip some of the internal graphic symbols that distinguish between different flavours of the shapes) and hence might benefit from a much simpler training program to get started. There was some discussion about how far up the chain that BPMN will or can be used for modelling businesses, e.g., whether it can be extended to strategy and goals or whether that’s more the mandate of BMM (Business Motivational Metamodel)

I had an interesting side conversation with Antoine after the roundtable ended about adoption patterns for BPMN and BPDM. Although standards organizations tend to have the “if you build it, they will come” attitude towards standards adoption, I believe that there needs to be some good reasons put forward for why BPDM provides benefits to the end customer and for the BPM vendors before we can expect to see widespread adoption.

BPM Think Tank Day 3: BPM & SOA panel

We’re starting to wind down a bit, and many of the east coast people have taken off already to avoid the red-eye flight home so the audience is getting a bit sparse. Those of us with presentations this afternoon, however, are still here.

First after lunch is a panel on BPM & SOA, and how they complement each other, with Tony  Baer of onStrategies and Brenda Michelson of the SOA Consortium. This is more of the mini-presentation format rather than a true panel, but I promised Brenda that I wouldn’t blame the presenters for that. :)

Tony started out with the “BPM is from Venus, SOA is from Mars” phrase, which we’ve all been bandying about for a while, although he really meant ‘business is from Venus and IT is from Mars). Considering, however, that Venus is the goddess of love (collaboration in its most basic form, perhaps?) and Mars is the god of war (technology shoot-outs and other battle language), that may not be far from the truth.

He addressed the culture issues: both business and IT talk about business processes, but business tends to take a top-down approach versus IT’s bottom-up approach, and business is using BPM to rationalize the business whereas IT is using SOA as the next great way to integrate applications. He sees a process orchestration battleground between BPM and SOA about where to do integration in a process. He also pointed out that BPEL is still at the “checklist” level (that is, it’s on the RFP checklist but not actually used) for most BPM applications, an opinion that I stated here a couple of weeks ago.

Brenda was up next talking about business-driven SOA and the SOA Consortium, and looked at the correlation between an Economist survey of late last year with her personal findings in touring around talking to CIOs and CTOs: the top thing that they state is critical for both revenue generation and cost cutting is the creation of services. One CTO saw BPM, SOA, Lean and Six Sigma all as the same basic thing, namely business strategy and structure, and they need to work together without artificial divisions between them in order to enable a platform for business agility.

Before SOA, business and IT strategy weren’t well aligned and were often developed independently, and the business process became an output of an IT solution rather than driven directly by business requirements. Business and IT need to collaborate on both strategy and architecture, which in turn drives out portfolio planning and delivery of the business solutions. She pointed out that also “enterprise architecture” is currently mostly technology architecture with a bit of business architecture on the side (if you’re lucky), in the future it will become more balanced with equal contributions from business and technical architecture.

Part of what the SOA Consortium is doing is providing guidelines for how the too-technical technology architects can become more valuable enterprise architects, and to break the artificial divide between business and IT. Part of this, I think, is similar to something I posted a year and a half ago, where enterprise architecture is not an IT function, but something that is in a strategic position between business and IT.

We’re off to do the last of the roundtables now, where I’ll be leading one on Enterprise 2.0 and BPM mashups. My notes will be on paper, and I’ll summarize them over here sometime on that overnight flight home tonight.

BPM Think Tank Day 3: BPM vendor panel

Next up was a panel of BPM vendors: Phil Gilbert (Lombardi), Angel Diaz (IBM), Marco ten Vanholt (SAP BPX), Burley Kawasaki (Microsoft), Scott Byrnes (Handysoft) and David Shaffer (Oracle). Derek Miers moderated, and posed a series of questions to the panelists rather than having the panelists do short presentations as we saw on previous panels — a much better panel format, in my opinion, and it even generated some conversation between the panelists directly.

Phil mixed it up right away by agreeing with the other panelists that standards are important (duh), but said that the first thing that we need to standardize is the meaning of the term BPM. He also thinks that OSM (Organizational Structure Metamodel) is going to be one of the most significant standards in the coming months, next to BPMN. In other words, people are going to start modelling their business, not just their processes. Marco added that there’s going to be an increasing interest in the processes that span organizations, and standards that support that will become more important. They all seem to agree that business users don’t really care about standards explicitly, but that standards are an implicit part of things that the business types to want: portability of models and reusability of skills, for example.

One question was whether BPM offered via SaaS is reducing the barriers to entry to what is still a complex implementation. Burley feels that it will make a difference for departmental applications that just can’t justify the spend, and for cross-organizational choreographic processes where no one organization is “in charge”, but that there will still be a strong market for on-premise solutions especially at an enterprise level. Angel added that standards are going to play a strong role here, since there’s likely to be a hybrid approach that uses both on-premise and on-demand systems within the same processes. Marco made the statement that some industries will “never, ever have software as a service”; it will be interesting to come back in a few years and see if he has to eat his words. Many organizations already have their data centres outsourced, including those that require advanced security, and I think that SaaS is just a small step beyond that from a security standpoint even though it might be perceived as being something entirely different. Scott things that a template-driven, simpler type of BPM functionality could be adopted by the SMB market. David pointed out that there’s a difference between having BPM embedded in a SaaS application and offering BPM directly as a SaaS, and feels that the latter is going to see much lower adoption. Phil stated that their Blueprint product is a tactic in their way to building a cloud capability, implying that we’ll see some hybrid on-premise/on-demand functionality from Lombardi in the future

They then discussed mechanisms for supporting more collaboration and deeper embedding into a worker’s environment. Scott talked about being able to share, for example, information about the experts for a specific process, and be able to IM them directly. Marco talked about being able to do some collaborative Visio diagramming in a wiki-type plug-in (presumably on BPX); I’m not sure if this something that they have with a browser design interface, or if it’s a place to upload Visio diagrams. He also pointed out that wikis, forums and IM are going to be start to be built into applications for collaboration, further pushing the need for standards since none of us want the BPM vendors to build their own wiki or IM software.

A question from the audience asked whether the vendors are getting inquiries from other vendors to embed/OEM their BPM functionality inside another product, whether SaaS or not. David, Burley and Angel spoke up that they are seeing this; not surprising since Oracle, Microsoft and IBM are all “platform” BPM vendors that tend to offer components rather than a more cohesive suite. Although I haven’t written up my notes from the BPEL roundtable yesterday, this is one of the areas where standards like BPEL will help to facilitate that type of integration. Phil added that they’re seeing this as well, but more from the standpoint of embedding more of their suite rather than just the engine.

Another question was on the distinction between modelling processes for business improvement purposes, and modelling processes as a visual coding/RAD tool. Phil responded that if you’re just buying BPM as a RAD tool, don’t buy it: stick with Java or .Net.

There was a discussion on the role of large vendors in standards, and how large vendors can sometimes take a standard off into their own organization and develop it 80% of the way and bring it back to the standards group: sometimes this works well, and sometimes it allows the vendor to just mould the standard to their own product agenda. We also came back around to the comment that Phil made at the beginning of the panel, where we need to define what BPM is in the market: the vendors all seemed to agree that they all have their own definition of BPM that coincidentally matches completely with their product functionality, and they all agreed on the buzzphrase “BPM is all about the business”. :) The analysts also all have their own definitions, although they all seem to be congealing around the Gartner definition of BPM as a management practice, which doesn’t at all help the issue when the BPM vendors define it in terms of the technology capabilities. Bruce Silver lobbed a small incendiary device from the audience by stating that from the viewpoint of BPM as a management discipline, the vendor products are all exactly the same, and that customers may just see them as snake oil salesmen trying to sell the same thing in a different way. Not sure that we’re going to solve this one today.

It’s interesting watching a vendor panel like this, where the panelists are not allowed to do any product pitches, and where they’re all pretty smart guys: the discussion is a complex weave of philosophy, techno-geekery and thinly-veiled nudging towards their own specific agendas. This is part of what I like about the BPM Think Tank: there’s much more open collaboration between vendors than at other conferences, although there’s always a strong streak of friendly competition throughout the interactions.