Strategic process optimization

A webinar going on right now on BPM, BAM and SOA: Optimizing both Business and IT focussing on the ROI of process integration. Beth Gold-Bernstein contrasted the tactical versus strategic approaches to process integration:

  • Tactical approach requires defining underlying integration infrastructure
  • Strategic approach — enterprise integration architecture defines infrastructure, business defines the process

This goes back to one of the key ideas that I’ve been working with lately, namely the role of process and BPM in an enterprise architecture framework.

She also made a distinction between web services orchestration and business process management, where she sees WSO as providing a graphic way to design and control flow between web services, but without all the process governance (monitoring, analytics, management and simulation) that you would find in BPM. Given the role being assigned to BPEL, is this just another artificial distinction in the process marketplace?

BPM Think Tank

I couldn’t make it down to Philadelphia this week for the AIIM conference, but if you’re there, consider dropping in for the BPM Think Tank task group sessions organized by BPMI that form part of the WfMC meetings.

After an initial think tank meeting in Miami in March, three working groups were formed: Execution, Modeling, and Education, and the latter two of these will be meeting this week. If you want to see what happened at the meetings in March and keep up to date on these joint meetings, check out the Specifications section of the BPMI.org forum (no registration required unless you want to post a comment). You might also find out something about that rumour of BPMI and WfMC merging.

The standards debate

Another funny thing from yesterday at BPM 2005: at a BPM standards panel session that included representatives from BPMI, WfMC, OMG and OASIS, Dave Petraitis from OASIS took great exception to an audience member’s suggestion that a standard could be biased in favour of a particular vendor. C’mon Dave, why do you think that vendors sit on a standards committe? It’s not purely altruistic, and they’re not just there to learn about the standard so that they can incorporate it into future products; they’re there, in part, to attempt to influence the standard to their way of doing things, both to make it easier for them to conform and to provide them with some competitive advantage.

    Also heard Martyn Ould speak yesterday afternoon, and went online to buy his book from Amazon with hopes that it will be waiting for me when I get home.

    You want me to pay for what?!

    I’ve been putting together some ideas for a presentation at FileNet‘s annual user conference, UserNet, on how to make the link between business process models (such as those that form part of an enterprise architecture set, modelled with a notation such as BPMN) and the implementation of those models in a specific product (in this case, FileNet BPM). I’m interested in exploring the BPMN/BPEL link between modelling and implementation using various products, since it represents the transformation from Zachman’s Row 2 to Row 3; however, for UserNet, where BPEL is not yet in play, I’d choose to focus on the conceptual (business) view of how this works specifically with FileNet BPM.

    I’ve spoken at UserNet many times, first as the chief architect of a FileNet partner, then later as FileNet’s Director of eBusiness Evangelism, and I always enjoy it because of the focus on user/business issues instead of just technology, and the interaction with business users of BPM products. But today, as I was looking at the conference dates to make sure that my calendar is clear, I had a flashback to my earlier post on vendors charging exorbitant rates to their “partners” for training. Sure enough, according to the conference presentation guidelines:

    One customer presenter per presentation will receive a free registration but they must be the primary speaker. Partner presenters will register for the regular conference fee.

    Excuse me, I thought that I just read that FileNet wants me to spend my time creating an educational presentation that will be of benefit to their user community, but then wants me to pay to deliver it.

    Just like with the training issue, this cuts out a lot of the highly-skilled smaller partners, because the conference fee on top of a week of lost revenue, travel expenses and the time invested in creating the presentation just isn’t worth it. Instead, count on seeing presentations submitted from partners based on their marketing budgets rather than their abilities.

    The attendees should be hoping that the conference selection committee uses a more appropriate assessment tool than a partner’s amount of loose change.

    Alphabet soup for lunch

    Just watched a great lunchtime webinar, “The Business Value of Process Standards”, although I was dining al desko and managed to drop sunflower seeds into my keyboard that required some mid-webinar keyboard surgery. I mentioned this webinar in a previous post on BPM standards, and was glad to see that it lived up to my expectations. eBizq usually makes the webinars available for replay on the same link within a couple of days, so you can check it out if you missed it live.

    Jeanne Baker, the primary speaker, is VP of Technology at Sterling Commerce, but she was speaking in her capacity as Chairman of BPMI and didn’t even mention Sterling’s products. In fact, the webinar was sponsored by Oracle, so the only product that was (briefly) discussed was Oracle’s BPEL Process Manager.

    Since the discussion was on standards, the inevitable alphabet soup resulted, but two acronyms floated to the top of the broth: BPMN and BPEL. BPMN is a standard for modelling business process notation, and BPEL is a standard for executing business processes. Conveniently, BPMN maps directly to BPEL, so they work in concert for designing and implementing business processes. Both of the speakers stressed the importance of the BPMN and BPEL standards, a point with which I fully agree.

    On the subject of modelling standards, I especially liked Ms. Baker’s comment on the use of UML for process design (which echoes my own sentiments from my previously-referenced posting): “UML is used by poor, hapless process modellers [who didn’t have anything better, such as BPMN].” I was laughing so hard when I heard that, I didn’t get the whole quote, but that’s the gist of it.

    It’s also worth checking out the newly-designed BPMI site, it’s a lot nicer to look at and has a great deal more information than on my last visit there. It gives a much better definition of BPMI’s role in standards development, and features an interesting graphic that Ms. Baker also used in her presentation to illustrate BPMI’s involvement the lifecycle of business process management:

    The diagram shows Process Designers as an essential link between business analysts and system architects, but that skill set is often absent on BPM projects. As she spoke about the importance of that role, it struck me that although I started my career as a developer and software architect, I now usually sit in the process designer role, while spreading in both directions into business analysis and system architecture. I describe myself as a “technology catalyst”, because I like to make to make stuff happen, especially that bridge between business and technology.

    From the BPMI site:

    BPMI focuses upon the Business Process as the inflexion point between the business environment and a technology implementation. Our work is relevant to a wide range of audiences as we innovate a seamless transition ‘path to execution’ for Business Processes. Our aim is to unify process thinking across Business and IT disciplines.

    A lofty, but very worthwhile goal.

    BPM standards

    I feel pretty strongly about the benefits of standards in all areas of technology, and BPM is no exception. For years, we’ve been using different notations in different tools to create BPM systems that don’t communicate with each other because they speak a different language. There’s been a lot of headway in standardizing the communications part — the messaging protocols, for example — but there’s still work to be done in the design end. How can we hope to make BPM systems truly interoperable when they don’t use the same notation to model the flow within the system?

    Every BPM system has its process designer tool, but when it comes right down to it, most people model their process in Microsoft Visio before implementing it in the BPM system. First of all, a lot of people already have Visio on their desktop and know how to use it, so there are less licensing and training issues. Secondly, a process model will usually include all sorts of non-automated steps that will never be represented in the BPM system (especially the “as-is” model), but need to be modelled for proper business analysis. I’m not interested in tools, however, but in the actual BPM notation, which can be drawn in Visio or any number of other process modelling tools.

    There are standards emerging for BPM notation, with two strong contenders: UML activity diagrams, and BPMN business process diagrams. If you have a technical background and haven’t had your head in a paper sack for the past 10 years, you know about UML; however, you probably know it as a modelling tool for software design, with activity diagrams being used for computational processes, which is why the OMG originally developed it. UML activity diagrams have recently been repurposed for business process modelling: a type of object-oriented flowchart, if you please.

    As much as I like UML for software design, I like the emerging BPMN standard (from BPMI, an industry standards body) better: it’s been designed as a business process modelling notation, not retrofit from some other standard; it’s more understandable to business analysts and other non-technical participants; and it has a direct mapping to WSBPEL for process orchestration. It was only introduced last year and may take a while to catch on, but it’s worth knowing about.

    If you’re interested in learning more about BPM standards, there’s a non-vendor webinar (a rarity!) called The Business Value of Process Standards at ebizQ on April 6th.