BPM Think Tank Day 1: BPM Standards Panel

The final session of the day was a panel with representatives from four standards organizations: Fred Cummins of OMG (BPMN, BPDM), Charlton Barreto of W3C, Keith Swenson of WfMC (XPDL) and John Evdemon of OASIS (BPEL), moderated by Fred Waskiewicz of OMG.

The first question was on the focus or mission of each organization:

  • OMG has a focus on modelling business processes by business people through specifications such as BPMN and BPDM.
  • The W3C’s focus is on “keeping the web from fragmenting”, which seems a somewhat lofty goal. Relative to BPM, it’s about providing a testable architecture.
  • WfMC’s mission is to help the process design ecosystem work together better by providing process-specific standards such as XPDL. XPDL stills reigns as the de facto interchange standard for process models, with over 60 different systems and open source projects supporting it, and I can’t imagine that WfMC is going to back away from that for quite a while.
  • OASIS is involved in both orchestration, through BPEL, and choreography, through BPSS. Evdemon acknowledged some of the shortcomings with BPEL, such as the lack of support for human-facing tasks, looping and subprocesses, and discussed how they are addressing those with upcoming extensions.

So far, so polite. Everyone seems to be acknowledging everyone else’s position, and it seems like one big happy standards family. The question is, of course, is there room in the landscape for all of these? If so, how do they fit together? Is there One Language To Rule Them All?

Barroto called for more workshops to bring together the standards bodies to work out the issues of overlap and compatibility, and Evdemon agreed; I understood that that was part of the reason for the BPM Think Tanks in the first place, but they seem to be suggesting something different, like a technical skunkworks of some sort where the engineers just get together and hack it out. Since they come from the two organizations that produce much more technical standards, that’s not a surprising view, but I’m not sure that it is sufficiently sensitive to the nature of all of the types of people (including business people) who might need to be involved in the development of BPM standards.

Great question from Phil Larson of Appian: since BPMN is the only thing that everyone can agree on, why is OMG messing things up by including BPDM into BPMN, when there is still an active competition (on some level) between BPDM, XPDL and BPEL (when it’s used as an interchange standard rather than an execution language)? Phil Gilbert responded that BPMN wasn’t right in the first place since it was missing the representation part, and the inclusion of BPDM fixes that somehow. I’m not sure that answers Larson’s question, and he came back to ask if WfMC and OASIS see BPDM as a threat, and if not, why not? Swenson reinforced the big happy standards family idea that all of these can exist together, but mentioned something about migrating from XPDL to BPDM; Evdemon also said that if something better than BPEL comes along, then you should be looking at it. To me, it sounds like both WfMC and OASIS are in a wait-and-see mode to see what BPDM will turn out to be in reality, and both seem to be making noises about how if a superior standard emerges that handles all the use cases, then it would make sense to consider moving in that direction. As if they could say anything else.

That’s it for day 1. We’re all headed for the bar to see which vendors buys the first round.

3 thoughts on “BPM Think Tank Day 1: BPM Standards Panel

  1. I wish I had the time to read all those comptes rendus. Lots of very interesting stuff. Thanks for taking the time to write them down and publish them here.

    Cheers,

    John

  2. You’ve accurately put down my remarks… unfortunately it was the end of the day so I was less than complete (no doubt also looking for the first vendor who would buy me a drink… turned out to be Appian… Thanks, George)

    The point I was trying to make was that if BPMN had had an explicit metamodel and serialization to begin with, it would have fostered even more adoption because we would have more interoperable tools than we do today. So instead of _creating_ confusion by adding BPDM to BPMN, we are actually eliminating confusion about portability, therefore making BPMN a more useful specification (because compliance with the spec will mean that you have not only a common notation, but a common way to transfer that notation from tool to tool).

    The confusion around BPDM is twofold. First, there is confusion about what it means to end users. Let’s be clear: this is not BPEL. It is not an end-user programming language! End users should never hear the letters BPDM. This is purely a specification for vendors so that business process models (and specifically BPMN-based models) have a common metamodel and serialization format.

    The second area of confusion is from vendors who are saying, in essence, “this is really hard. This is going to cost some money to implement.” Well, yeah. That’s why we’re in this business. We do hard work, make it scalable and easy to use. That’s what we do, translate complexity into something more consumable. And, of course, the process of developing the specifications is open… I’d suggest contacting Stephen White of IBM for specifics on how to become involved if you want to work on the spec.

  3. Phil, thanks for the clarification. You did cover some of this over a beer later, but I have a rule about not blogging what happens over drinks. 🙂

    Agreed that end users should never hear the letters BPDM, but they’ll be severely impacted if some sort of interchange format doesn’t exist.

    I’d love to get involved, but it’s a lot harder to justify financially for an independent like myself.

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