TUCON: BPM, The Open Source Debate

Ryan Herd, who heads the BPM centre of competence within RBM Private Bank, was up next to talk about the analysis that they did on open source BPM alternatives. Funny that the South Africans, like we understated Canadians, use the term “centre of competence” as opposed to the very American “center of excellence”. 🙂

Don’t tell Ismael Ghalimi, but Herd thinks that jBoss’ jBPM is the only open source BPM alternative; it was the only one that they evaluated, along with a number of proprietary solutions including TIBCO. Given that he’s here speaking at this conference, you can guess which one they picked.

Their BPM project started with some strategic business objectives:

  • operational efficiency
  • improved client service
  • greater business process agility

and some technology requirements:

  • a platform to define, improve and automate business processes
  • real-time and historical process instance statistics
  • single view of a client and their related activities

They found that then needed to focus on three things:

  • Process: dynamic quality verification, exception handling that can step outside the defined process, and a focus on the end-to-end process.
  • People: have their people be obsessed with the client, develop an end-to-end process culture in order to address SLAs, and create full-function teams rather than an assembly-line process.
  • Systems: a single processing front-end, a reusable business object layer and centralized work management.

Next, they started looking at vendors, and for whatever reasons, open source was considering the mix: quite forward-thinking for a bank. In addition to TIBCO and jBPM, they considered DST‘s AWD, IBM‘s BPM, eiStream (now Global 360) and K2: a month and a half to review all of the products, then another month and a half doing a more focussed comparison of TIBCO and jBPM.

For process design, jBPM has only a non-visual programmer-centric environment, and has support for BPEL but not (obviously, since it’s not visual) BPMN. It does allow modelling freedom, but that can be a problem with enforcing internal standards. It also has no process simulation. TIBCO, on the other hand, has a visual process modelling environment that supports BPMN, has a near zero-code process design and provides simulation. Point: TIBCO.

On the integration side, jBPM has no graphical application integration environment, although it has useful integration objects and methods and has excellent component-based design. The adapters are available but not easily reused, and has no out-of-the box communication or integration facilities. TIBCO has a graphical front-end for application integration, and a lots of adapters and integration facilities. Point: TIBCO.

On the UI side, jBPM has only a rudimentary web-based end user environment, whereas TIBCO has the full GI arsenal at their disposal. Point: TIBCO.

Reporting and analytics: jBPM has nothing, TIBCO has iProcess Analytics and (now) iProcess Insight.

Support: don’t even go there, although jBoss wins on price. 🙂

Overall, they found that the costs would be about the same (because of the greater jBPM customization requirement), but a much longer time to deploy with jBPM, which had them choose TIBCO.

Given what they found, I find it amazing that they spent three months looking at jBPM, since jBPM is, in its raw form, a developer tool whereas TIBCO spans a broader range of analyst and developer functionality. The results as presented are so biased in favour of TIBCO that it should have been obvious long before any formal evaluation was done that jBPM wasn’t suited for their particular purposes and should not have made their short list; likely, open source was someone’s pet idea so was thrown into the mix on a lark. Possibly an open source BPM solution like Intalio, which wasn’t available as open source at the time of their evaluation, would have made a much better fit for their needs if they were really dedicated to open source ideals. I’m pretty sure that anyone in the room that had not considered open source in the past would run screaming away from it in the future.

Getting past the blatant TIBCO plug masquerading as a product comparison, Herd went on to show the architecture of their solution, which uses a large number of underlying services managed by a messaging layer to interface with the BPM layer — a fairly standard configuration. They expect to go live later this year.

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