Metastorm New Releases: Collaborative Modeling with M3 and Smart Business Workspace Application Builder

Although we didn’t have a chance for a demo, I had a quick briefing with Greg Carter, Metastorm’s CTO, on the announcements that they made today.

M3 Collaborative Modeling

We discussed M3, their cloud-based collaborative process modeling tool. This is one of the first BPA/BPM offerings that I’ve seen on the Microsoft Windows Azure platform, allowing for a variety of hosting options: private hosted, private on-premise or public cloud, all accessed via a browser. Unlike many of the cloud process modeling tools available that offer fairly simple workflow and interaction models, Metastorm has taken advantage of the rich modeling capabilities from the Provision acquisition and are offering multiple model types, objects and viewpoints for more complete business models. Their rich object-based models allow more information to be attached to objects in addition to more model types and the ability to associate objects with multiple model types: for example, a goal model will include the definition of measurements, and those same measurements can be associated with a related process model.

Their press release lists the model types available:

Modeling capabilities for 11 different model types: goal, organization, capability, system, process/workflow, activity, rule, project, requirement, location and deliverable; providing 23 modeling objects and viewpoints beyond just a process model to deliver more comprehensive, holistic business improvements that factor in a full range of enterprise assets

Metastorm M3 Sharing SessionM3 also includes a number of collaboration features: you can share models (with different levels of access control) with other users, and have an interactive modeling session between multiple users. The entire session is available for playback, including any chat conversations that occurred during the session.

The big question is how this will fit into their existing portfolio of modeling tools: ProVision EA for full enterprise architecture modeling; Provision BPA, a subset of EA that includes 12 models used for process modeling; and the process designer within Metastorm BPM. These are all desktop applications without explicit collaboration capabilities, providing a greater range of modeling and analysis functionality than M3: ProVision has more model types, plus analytics and simulation, and the BPM process designer includes service and integration management.

Metastorm’s answer to this is that the three products (if you consider ProVision EA and BPA as a single product) are targeted at three different personas: M3 is for the casual, untrained user that needs to do some lightweight modeling and process discovery; ProVision is for the trained analyst or architect to do more comprehensive analysis and optimization of the models; and BPM is for the developer to hook up all the technical underpinnings to the model in order to make it executable. That’s a reasonable split of capabilities, although there are a couple of issues with that: model portability/round-tripping, and vastly different user experiences. They are approaching the model portability problem by moving towards directly sharing models in a common repository; this will require that BPM be modified to use the ProVision metamodel (M3 already uses the same metamodel), then bring them together into a shared repository. Once that is done, a model could be started in M3, then worked on in ProVision and/or BPM directly. As for the multiple user interfaces, Carter said that they would likely deprecate one of the modelers in the future; I would expect to see the BPM process designer replaced by additional functionality in ProVision, for example, although he didn’t say that.

The Azure platform provides a multi-tenant environment that can be run in the public cloud, or as a private cloud either hosted or on-premise. Process models created in the public cloud version can be shared with an on-premise version of ProVision; in the future, this will be done using Azure’s app fabric to make it more seamless. Microsoft is also implementing features in Azure that allow for data location control, so that specific data objects can be defined as being held in a specific geographic region.

The public cloud version of Metastorm M3 is free to existing Metastorm customers in 2010, and subscription pricing will be introduced in 2011. The M3 product page includes a “Register for an Account” link at the bottom if you want to try it out.

The market place for collaborative process modelers is very busy right now, with long-time players like IBM (Lombardi) Blueprint and a raft of more recent entrants, but I wouldn’t call the market mature at this time: there is definitely room for new players, especially if they can offer a richer modeling experience such as Metastorm is claiming to provide.

Smart Business Workspace

We also discussed Smart Business Workspace (SBW), Metastorm’s entry into the rich internet application/mashup development area. Based on Microsoft Silverlight, it provides an environment for integrating Metastorm applications and any other applications into a common user environment. It’s not just for creating standard mashup pages, however: driven by metadata, it can change the environment based on the user’s role, skills and other information.

Metastorm SBW Multiple Layouts

Metastorm publishes the specifications for widgets that can be used in SBW, and provides a widget designer, but doesn’t interface with JSR168, Google widgets or other existing standards. So although you can, in theory, integrate any application or data, it’s likely going to take a bit of work.

Although it seems like M3 and SBW are completely different products, they’re actually quite closely related: M3 is based on SBW, so all the hosting and collaboration features discussed for M3 can be generalized to any SBW application: public and private cloud, plus chat and shared whiteboard sessions.

This is Metastorm’s start to creating a workspace in the cloud. Although SBW based in the public cloud can’t yet make a connection to on-premise Metastorm BPM, that will be available in a future release. Also, there are plans to move Metastorm BPM into the cloud using Azure, making it easy for business process outsourcers to offer process as a service.

6 thoughts on “Metastorm New Releases: Collaborative Modeling with M3 and Smart Business Workspace Application Builder

  1. Interesting post, and news from Metastorm. I agree with your comment about this market being somewhat less than mature; I am looking forward to more integrate-able cloud based systems. I’ve noticed myself that collaborative features such as the ones mentioned are becoming strong key success factors for these players. Much of the collaborative value intrinsic in the cloud has fostered a need for a common dialect between such parties. As you say, there products for three personas will likely be consolidated. It seems as though we are getting closer to our three personas working in one realm. In any case, thanks for the post. How do think these product features will continue to evolve?

  2. Hi Eric, thanks for your comment. We likely need to wait for demand and adoption to catch up to the existing product collaboration features before there is a need for a lot more. I gave my first presentation on social BPM over four years ago, where I predicted a lot of the existing functionality; in a presentation that I gave earlier this year, as well as a couple of papers that I have written recently, I talk more about the runtime collaboration aspects. Collaborative modeling is great, but that’s only a relatively small subset of the participants. If you want to truly introduce social and collaboration features, they need to be in the runtime as well. We’re starting to see some of this in ACM products that allow a process participant to add new participants as well as define their own processes/tasks, but this also needs to push further into the more structured BPM products that are the mainstay of many back-office transaction processing operations in order to capture and exploit some of the tribal knowledge from the workforce.

  3. Hi sandy, i’ve had a look at the IBM blueworks site and Arisalign both provide interesting environments for collaborative process modelling. Is anyone actually using them? There is a very low volume of messages on their respective forums. Any thoughts

  4. Simon, I think that they’re both pretty low still, since they haven’t been around that long. Software AG was talking last week about how they have 50,000 members on the ARIS community site, but that’s a site for ARIS users, not the same as the ARISalign.

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