BPM Think Tank Day 2: Panel on Business Value of Process Standards

We finished Wednesday morning with a panel on the business value of process standards, moderated by Connie Moore of Forrester, with panelists Richard Soley of OMG, Keith Swenson of Fujitsu and John Evdemon of Microsoft representing the BPMN-XPDL-BPEL value chain.

I’m now on the search for the Holy Grail of BPM standards: what’s going to survive the coming shake-out, and how exactly do XPDL, BPDM and BPEL overlap, compete and complement each other? Swenson started his intro with a statement about BPDM and XPDL: basically, there’s some great work happening on BPDM, but XPDL is here now and can be used in the interim. Was this an admission that XPDL is going to go away and be replaced by BPDM? I had a side conversation with Fred Cummins (who gave the BPDM workshop yesterday) before the panel, and he sees BPDM as providing a superset of functionality such that transforming to XPDL or BPEL doesn’t add any value unless the particular BPM execution engine requires the transformation. BPMN has clearly won the graphical representation skirmish; can BPDM take the rest of the field? [Note to Phil Gilbert, who dissed me yesterday for asking why use BPDM if you have XPDL: this is live blogging so pretty much stream of consciousness, I’m just blogging what I hear and think during the session and haven’t had time to formulate any real opinions or analysis of all this. So back off, buddy. 🙂 ]

Evdemon said that in his personal opinion, BPEL has a 3-out-of-5 importance rating for most organizations, mostly for checking off boxes on an RFP (in his position on the TC of the OASIS BPEL group, he said that it’s a 5/5, which makes me wonder why OASIS would choose to use him as a public speaker on the standard when his corporate affiliation and personal opinions aren’t really in line with the goals of the standards committee). He feels that BPEL got a lot of press unfairly, and that when he found out yesterday that XPDL can save a complete representation of all BPMN objects, he seemed to think that BPEL could become even less important and possibly even subsumed — recall from my post yesterday on his workshop that he sees BPEL as more useful as an abstract (modelling or exchange) language rather than an execution language.

Swenson came back to the issue of XPDL versus BPEL, which he doesn’t see as competing. XPDL is about process design, about serializing and saving what you drew in BPMN, and not so much about execution. He sees XPDL as a way of moving a process from one design/simulation/analysis tool to another (about 30 tools support it today), whereas BPEL is about the nuts and bolts of sending messages from one location/service/system to another. As Evdemon said, XPDL is like XMI for business processes. Swenson states that XPDL will continue to track and adjust to any changes to BPMN.

Interesting that the BPEL proponent thinks that BPEL is less important in the face of XPDL’s current functionality, whereas the XPDL proponent thinks that BPEL and XPDL should coexist.

Even more interesting is that the panel did not directly address the issue of the business value of standards, only the standards themselves. It would have been good to hear a bit more about how to promote the idea of BPM standards within an organization, although given the current somewhat confusing state of overlapping standards, it’s hard to know exactly what to recommend.

A last question was posed about BPDM that Soley addressed, namely, what is it and how does it compete/overlap with the others that we’re talking about here. He claims that it’s not intended to compete with any of these other standards, although that’s still not clear to me.

A really valuable and lively session, I just wish that I had recorded it since the opinions and comments were flying by and I’m sure that I’ve missed some key points. Hopefully, I’ll be able to explore these further in the roundtables this afternoon and tomorrow.

3 thoughts on “BPM Think Tank Day 2: Panel on Business Value of Process Standards”

  1. Point of clarification, please:

    I gave it a “3” because the spec is still under development.

    Attempts to use BPEL in a production environment at this point in time are, in my personal opinion, a bit premature. I have seen many RFPs that require integration servers to have a BPEL adoption plan as part of the product roadmap. This does not necessarily mean these implementations will be using BPEL today – they are looking to the future when the spec becomes standardized and is widely adopted.

    I went on to say that we desperately need an interoperable process model. BPEL seems to fulfill this need with the momentum and backing of both large and small integration vendors. Once the BPEL 2.0 spec is completed, standardized and broadly and implemented I would move the score to a “5”, as I indicated on this morning’s panel.

    Sorry if I wasn’t clearer about this.

  2. Another point of clarification. 🙂

    When XPDL came up in the panel I admitted that I hadn’t looked at it in a few years and the last time I did look it didn’t support things like web services. Keith confirmed that the new version did support web services and was designed to support a 1:1 mapping to/from BPMN.

    After hearing these facts I stated that future BPEL work may want to establish a liaison with XPDL efforts to avoid possible duplication of efforts.

    BPEL is a subset of BPMN – I stated several times that it is possible to model a process in BPMN that cannot be represented in BPEL. (BPEL is also a subset of most integration vendors’ capabilities as well.) This fact doesn’t necessarily meant to diminish the value that BPEL can provide – I was merely trying to impress upon people unfamilar with BPEL that exporting a BPMN process model into BPEL might not be lossless.

  3. John, thanks for the clarification — as I mentioned, I was sure to have missed some key points since there was so much discussion going on during the panel.

    I was aware of BPEL providing only a subset of what can be modelled in BPMN, which is exactly what makes me so skeptical of its widespread acceptance in the full BPM space (which include human-facing BPM) in spite of the apparent drive to get it on every vendors’ checklist of features.

    My question from yesterday’s roundtable with you, which I haven’t yet blogged about, remains around the feasibility of the coexistence of XPDL, BPDM and BPEL (assuming that BPEL is not used as an execution language, but as an import/export language as Microsoft, IBM and others do) in a somewhat overcrowded and overlapping standards space.

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