BEAParticipate: Building your own UI

First session of the last morning, Eduardo Chiocconi of BEA and Rob Wald of JPMorgan Chase talked about the ALBPM UI: what comes out of the box, and what you can build yourself.

Out of the box, ALBPM has three user interfaces alternatives:

  • HiPer WorkSpace, a full user workspace with menus based on their permissions, a view of their inbox, and views of any instances that the user opens. It uses CSS if you want to change styles, and can be customized further in terms of removing buttons and other controls.
  • JSR-168 portlets for any standard portal environment, such as WebLogic.
  • WorkSpace Extensions WorkList Portlets that can be plugged into ALI and provide additional integration functionality over the standard portal interface, such as integration with the ALI Collaboration environment.

They’re working on consolidating these interfaces in order to reduce the user learning curve.

If those don’t work for you, then you can create your own user interface, either browser-based or rich client, using the available APIs. For building web clients, many of their customers have used JSP to re-code the entire user interface, then used servlets to access the engine. Alternatively, you can use Struts or JSF/AJAX. All of these can use their Java-based process API, PAPI, or the web services version, PAPI-WS, to retrieve instances from the engine, or WAPI (a servlet-based API) to execute interactive activities such as screen flows.

For rich clients, they’re seeing a lot of .Net development that uses PAPI-WS to retrieve instances, then create the UI. It’s also possible to use Eclipse or Swing to build rich user interfaces that call PAPI directly. This is more complex for interactive activities, but there are ways to work around that.

To sum up, there are three public APIs:

  • PAPI (process API), which is a Java implementation. If you’re working in a Java environment, this provides the tightest integration and best functionality. It manages multiple process engines transparently, and does instance caching on the client side to reduce latency in connecting to the engine — a critical performance factor.
  • PAPI-WS is a subset of PAPI that operates as web services (SOAP), although this is being extended in the near future to provide the full functionality of PAPI. There may be a .Net version of PAPI in the future, but for now you have to use PAPI-WS if you’re developing in .Net (e.g., ASP.Net), and can also be used from any web service client. Right now, PAPI-WS is part of the HiPer WorkSpace, but will be decoupled as a self-contained web application in the future. It’s also possible to expose processes directly as web services, as we heard in an earlier session, which provides another point of integration from a web service or .Net development environment.
  • WAPI, which is a servlet API that can be used to launch the UI of an interactive activity at a point in the process, which can’t be done in PAPI or PAPI-WS.

With any custom UI, there’s always the question of single sign-on. With the WorkSpace Extensions WorkList Portlets in ALI, that’s handled natively; in the HiPer WorkSpace and JSR-168 portlet implementations it requires some customization, although there is a single sign-on login servlet provided with the JSR-168 portlets to make this easier.

Getting to the specific JPMorgan case study, they created a custom user interface since, like many large companies, they want integration with other applications in their environment and want more control over the look and feel of the interface. It’s possible to just create custom JSPs and use them in the standard work portal framework, which provides a great deal of control over the UI without completely rewriting it, but this wasn’t sufficient for many of their applications. What they ended up doing was creating a completely custom inbox using Struts/JSP/GWT with PAPI: one example that he showed was using Struts and AJAX via the Google Web Toolkit to manage financial reconciliation processes. They’re also using IceFaces, an open source RenderKit implementation of JSF (as a replacement for Struts) that supports AJAX to create a visual drag-and-drop components for use in an IDE such as Eclipse. Since JPMorgan is dedicated to the use of open source, they’re doing some innovative development that’s not seen in most corporate environments, but maybe should be. They’re also using the JSR-168 portlets in a more standard portal implementation, and building rich clients with Eclipse.

On the back end of their implementation, they’ve found that some of the PAPI protocols don’t work well over wide-area networks, such as between their US and Japan operations, so they do quite a bit of preloading of the PAPI cache.

JPMorgan has implemented ALBPM as a centralized shared service in order to provide efficient use of both human and server resources: centralized code and best practices on the human side, and a single ALBPM server handling 10 applications without difficulty.

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