Open Source BPM with Alfresco’s Activiti

When Tom Baeyens announced that he and Joram Barrez stepped down from the jBPM project, he hinted about a new project, but details have been sparse until now except for a post that stated that they’re working on an open source BPMN 2.0 offering, plus one that gave unprecedented (for Tom) attention to ECM, which should have tipped me off as to their direction. Turns out that they have both joined Alfresco and are spearheading Activiti, an Apache-licensed open source BPM project, announced its Alpha 1 release today with a planned November GA date. From the press release:

An independently-run and branded open source project, Activiti will work independently of the Alfresco open source ECM system. Activiti will be built from the ground up to be a light-weight, embeddable BPM engine, but also designed to operate in scalable Cloud environments. Activiti will be liberally licensed under Apache License 2.0 to encourage widespread usage and adoption of the Activiti BPM engine and BPMN 2.0, which is being finalized as standard by OMG.

I met Tom face-to-face a couple of years ago when we ended up at different conferences in the same conference center and had a chat about total BPM world domination; interestingly, at the time he expressed that “BPMN should stick to being a modeling notation…and the mapping approach to concrete executable process languages should be left up to the vendors”; obviously, BPMN 2.0 execution semantics have changed his mind. 😉

Activiti Modeler - process designJohn Newton, CTO of Alfresco, and Tom Baeyens, in his new role as Chief Architect of BPM, briefed me last week on Activiti. The project is led by Alfresco and includes SpringSource, Signavio and Camunda; Alfresco’s motivation was to have a more liberally-licensed default process engine, although they will continue to support jBPM. Alfresco will build a business around Activiti only for content-centric applications by tightly integrating it with their ECM, leaving other applications of BPM to other companies. I’ll be very interested to see the extent of their content-process integration, and if it includes triggering of process events based on document state changes as well as links from processes into the content repository.

They believe that BPEL will be replaced by BPMN for most general-purpose BPM applications, with BPEL being used only for pure service orchestration. Although that’s a technical virtuous viewpoint that I can understand, there’s already a lot of commitment to BPEL by some major vendors, so I don’t expect that it’s going to go away any time soon. Although they are only supporting a subset of the BPMN 2.0 standard now – which could be said of any of the process modelers out there, since the standard is vast – they are committed to supporting the full standard, including execution semantics and the interchange format.

Activiti includes a modeler, a process engine, an end-user application for participating in processes, and an administration console. Not surprisingly, we spent quite a bit of time talking about Activiti Modeler, which is really a branded version of Signavio’s browser-based BPMN 2.0 process modeler. This uses AJAX in a browser to provide similar functionality to an Eclipse-based process modeler, but without the desktop installation hassles and the geeky window dressing. It is possible to create a fully executable process model in the Activiti Modeler, although in most cases a developer will add the technical underpinnings, likely in a more developer-oriented environment rather than the Modeler. Signavio includes a file-based model repository, which has been customized for inclusion in the Activiti Modeler; it would be great to see if they can do something a bit more robust to manage the process models, especially for cloud deployments. They are including support for certain proprietary scripting instead of using Java code for some interfaces, such as their Alfresco interface.

Activiti Explorer - end-user interfaceActiviti Explorer provides a basic end-user application for managing task lists, working on tasks, and starting new processes. Without a demo, it was hard to see much of the functionality, although it appears to have support for private task lists as well as shared lists of unassigned tasks; a typical paradigm for managing tasks is to allow someone to claim an unassigned task from the shared list, thereby moving it to their personal list.

The Activiti Engine, which is the underlying process execution engine, is packaged as a JAR file with small classes that can be embedded within other applications, such as is done in Alfresco for content management workflows. It can be easily deployed in the cloud, allowing for cross-enterprise processes. The only thing that I saw of Activiti Probe, the technical administration console, was its view on the underlying database tables, although it will have a number of other capabilities to manage the process engine as it develops. Not surprisingly, they don’t have all the process engine functionality available yet, but have been focusing on stabilizing the API in order to allow other companies to start working with Activiti before the GA release.

Activiti Cycle mockup - design collaborationI also saw a mockup of Activiti Cycle, a design-time collaboration tool that includes views (but not editing) of process models, related documents from Alfresco, and discussion topics. Activiti Cycle can show multiple models and establish traceability between them, since their expectation is that an analyst and a developer would have different versions of the model. This is an important point: models are manually forward-engineered from an analyst’s to developer’s version, and there are no inherent automated updates when the model changes, although there are alerts to notify when other versions of the same model are updated. This assumption that there can be no fully shared model between analyst and developer has formed a part of a long-standing discussion between Tom and I since before we met; although I believe that a shared model provides the best possible technical solution, it’s not so easy for a non-technical analyst to understand BPMN models once you get past the basic subset of elements. Activiti Cycle may not be in GA until after the other components, although they are working on it concurrently.

The screen shots that I saw looked nice, although I haven’t seen a demo yet; Tom gave credit to Alfresco’s UI designers for raising this above just another developer’s BPM tool into something that could be used by non-developers without a lot of customization. I’m looking forward to a demo next month, and seeing how this progresses to the November release and beyond.

Global 360’s analystView Simulation

It’s the first day of Gartner’s BPM summit in Las Vegas, so expect to see a lot of vendor announcements this week. Some, like Global 360, had the decency to arrange for a briefing for me last week so that I could write something about their announcement in advance; others, who shall remain nameless, waited until Friday afternoon to send me a content-free advance press release that is not worth repeating (although some undoubtedly will). You know who you are.

Global 360’s products are tightly tied to Microsoft platforms, and they use Visio as their business-facing process modeler. Although I have a philosophical problem with not using a shared model approach to process modeling, I’m also realistic enough to know that Visio for process modeling is not going away any time soon. There’s some nice things in Visio 2010 that are allowing them to move Visio from a passive role to a more active role, although only in the Premium edition.

BPMN in Visio 2010Visio 2010 Premium supports BPMN 1.2 with a stencil, and also has a number of ease-of-use enhancements to make it easier to draw process diagrams, such as the ability to easily add connected shapes, auto-alignment, reflowing the process map to vertical or horizontal alignment, and allowing a selected group of elements to be converted to a subprocess. In short, Visio is becoming a competent BPMN modeler, although the key will be how quickly they will release BPMN 2.0 now that the standard is with the finalization taskforce and can be expected to be released pretty much as it is currently defined. For those of you who aren’t that familiar with the differences between BPMN 1.x and 2.0, there are a number of new event types (some of them will be rarely used, although the non-interrupting boundary events are going to be a big hit), the addition of standardized task types, and most importantly, a serialization format that can be used for process map interchange between tools.

Global 360 analystView Visio integration: simulation resultsSo far, that’s just Microsoft Visio Premium. What Global 360 provides is the analystView plugin to add simulation to these BPMN models right within Visio. This is intended to be simulation “for the masses”: really, we’re talking simulation for the statistically-minded business analyst, although they’ve made the user interface fairly simple, and will include tutorials and interactive help to support the user who is just getting to know simulation. This actually runs discrete events through the model, and can pump out the results to the managerView analytics just as if it were an executing process. It can also do the reverse, taking historical data from managerView and using it as baseline data for the simulation. There are a number of fairly sophisticated simulation functions: data can be simulated through the model; routes can be selected conditionally rather than just weighted decision; roles can be used; and specific statistics can be tracked, such as logged events, timed sequences of events, or SLAs for the entire process, an activity or a timed sequence.

After watching the simulation in action, I’m left with two thoughts: first, it looks quite fully functional, although you’re still going to need some basic statistical background to use it; and second, I’m very glad that they didn’t use little animated running people while the simulation is running, because we’re all just so over that as a user experience. The simulation engine, by the way, is what they acquired from Cape Visions around 2004, which is the same as is used in IBM FileNet and Fujitsu BPM products for simulation.

Visio/SharePoint 2010 integration: saving as Web DrawingA second part of this announcement, also riding on the shoulders of Microsoft, is their SharePoint integration. Process maps created with Visio can be checked in to SharePoint for collaboration; although this can be done with the prior version of SharePoint, the 2010 version allows the process models to be checked in as Web Drawing files, which allows viewing and commenting by non-Visio users, where the built-in Visio services allow the diagram to be viewed as a web part. A process model in this form is still fully functional, for example, clicking on a subprocess will link to that subprocess, and clicking on an element shows the parameters associated with that element, including the simulation parameters.

When an analystView simulation is run, the simulation data is stored in SharePoint with the process model as XML; although Global 360 hasn’t yet launched the web part that will allow viewing of the simulation data directly in SharePoint, that’s expected to come along within a couple of months.

The critical component here is Visio 2010, which is still in beta, required for the BPMN 1.2 support; SharePoint 2010 is a nice-to-have because it allows non-Visio users to collaborate on process models, but isn’t required for any of the other functionality. Global 360 is hedging on the BPMN 2.0 support, saying that they’re pushing Microsoft to support it as soon as it is available, but if Microsoft doesn’t come through by the end of 2010, they’re going to have to make a move on their own. There’s also the issue of what happens when Microsoft decides that they really want to play in the BPM market, although Global 360 (and many other Microsoft-centric BPM vendors) are so far ahead of them, it will likely take an acquisition to have any of the current BPM vendors lose any sleep over it. In the meantime, Microsoft and Global 360 are doing some nice co-marketing, and Microsoft’s Visio website will offer the Global 360 analystView plugin for sale ($349) as well as Visio Premium 2010 ($800).

Global 360 userView inboxThis isn’t the first thing that Global 360 has done with SharePoint, however: they built 20-30 “ViewParts” that are SharePoint web parts that provide a front-end to the Global 360 process engine, allowing you to assemble a user interface for executing their processes in a SharePoint portal view. They’ve done quite a bit of research into persona-based user interfaces, which has resulted in their viewPoint set of interfaces tuned to each particular type of user: builders, managers and participants. The newly-released analystView is for analyst-type builders, whereas some of the userView applications that I saw last fall are for end users in various roles.

For example, a user’s inbox would show their current task list, a Current Workload feedback widget tell their supervisor how busy that they feels they are, a performance comparison with other users, and a message center for other work-related information. A heads-down transaction processing user’s view could be similar, but with push-type task lists instead of browsable lists. A user can then open a work packet, view any attached documents, and complete the tasks within the packet. A supervisor, on the other hand, would see the managerView, containing SLAs, warning and reports, and allowing the supervisor to reallocate work and roles.

The designerView, for more technical builders than the Visio tools described above, provides a process modeler with palettes for standard BPMN process elements, but also messaging, document functions, scripting and a variety of other integration functions. The data model for the process is fully exposed and integrated with the process model, something that more BPM vendors are realizing is critical. Comments can be added on each element in a model, then a documentation view collects all of those comments into a single view. The process models were not fully BPMN compliant when I saw them last fall, although that was planned for early 2010.

Once a process is designed, a builder can create the UI using web parts that are auto-wired when dropped onto the SharePoint canvas. Composite applications can be built using SharePoint or ASP.Net; a number of production-quality starter applications are provided out of the box.

I’ve been waiting for the analystView piece, announced today, to complete this picture: now they have business-facing process modeling and simulation in Visio with analystView, collaboration on the process models in SharePoint, redrawing (or at least enrichment) of the process models in the designerView, and user interface design in SharePoint. The suite feels a bit disjointed, although taking advantage of the penetration of Visio and SharePoint within enterprises could be a huge advantage for Global 360. The major challenges are direct competition from Microsoft at some point in the future, as I discussed previously, and the slow migration of many organizations onto the 2010 versions of the Microsoft platforms required for full functionality. Given that I still have enterprise customers using SharePoint 2003, that could be a while yet.

Business Process Incubator: Another Online BPM Community, But With Standards

BPM standards, I mean. 😉

Yesterday saw the public beta launch of the Business Process Incubator; although this was inadvertently announced by Robert Shapiro during a public webinar last month, it only moved out of closed preview yesterday. I had a briefing from Denis Gagné of Trisotech, one of the driving forces behind BPI, and have had a test account to try it out for the past month.

BPI has a focus on BPM standards, especially BPMN and XPDL, and is intended to a be a hub for content and tools related to standards. That doesn’t mean that this is another walled garden of content; rather, a lot of content is mashed in from other locations rather than being published directly on the site. For example, if you search for me on the site, you’ll find links to this blog and to a number of my presentations on Slideshare, plus the ability to rate the content or flag them on a My Interests list. That means that there’s a lot of content available (but not necessarily hosted) on the site from the start, and it’s growing every day as more people link in BPM-related content that they know about.

The site is divided into four main areas:

  • Do, including services for verifying, visualizing, validating, publishing and converting process models in various standard formats. These are premium services available either directly on the site or via an API: you can try them out a few times with a free membership, but they require payment for more than a few times each month.
  • Share, for contributing content such as process models, tools and blogs; this is also used to view process models shared by others.
  • Learn, for viewing the links, blogs, books, training and other content added in the Share section.
  • Tools, for viewing the tools added in the Share section; these are categorized as diagramming, BPMS, BPA, BAM and BRE. Trisotech’s own free BPMN add-in for Visio is here, but is also featured directly on most other pages on the site, something that competing diagramming tools might object to.

Most content on the site can be tagged and rated, allowing the community to provide feedback. There needs to be better integration with other social networking besides just standard “community share” options on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, and this site just begs for BPI iPhone app, or at least a mobile version of the site.

Although I like the clean user interface, the categorization takes a bit of getting used to: for example, you add both content and tools in the Share section, but you view the links to content in Learn and the links to tools in Tools. Furthermore, you both contribute and view process models in the Share section; this appears to be the only type of contribution that is viewed in Share rather than another section. Also, the distinctions between some of the functions in the Do section are a bit esoteric: most users, for example, may not make the distinction between Transform (which is an XML transformation) versus Convert, since both turn a file of one type into another type. Similarly, Verify ensures that the file is a BPMN file based on the schema, whereas Validate ensures that there are no syntax errors in the BPMN file.

Although vendors can participate in the community as partners, it is vendor-independent. Rather than vendor sponsorships, the site is monetized through a membership model that allows access to most of the content for free, but requires a $300/year premium membership for unrestricted access to premium features, such as process model validation and translation services. In that way, the bulk of the site revenue is expected to come from corporate end-user organizations that use a combination of free and premium memberships for their users, and can sign up for a corporate membership that gives them four premium memberships plus 50% any additional ones. End-user organizations are becoming more aware of the value of BPM standards, and understand the value proposition of a standard notation when using process models to communicate broadly within their organization; BPI will help them to learn more about BPM standards as well as being a general resource for BPM information.

Businesses can have their own page on the site using a custom URL, fancy it up with their own logo and business description, and list all of the site content that belongs to them, whether links to tools, blogs or other content. Partner pages are free, but are monetized by referral or commission fees on any RFI/RFQs, services, training or paid content offered via those pages.

The cloud-based functions offered in the Do section are also available through a public API for vendors to include directly or white-label them in their own offerings; although monetized for this wasn’t settled last month, it would be possible to do this through an API key, much like other public APIs. Both APIs and a toolbar are available for including BPI content and functions on another site.

Partners are already ramping up on the site, and by fall, BPI will be in general availability for all members. There’s now quite a bit of choice in BPM online communities: in addition to all the BPM-themed social networking sites and discussion groups, there are now several public communities offering tools and functionality specific to BPM, such as BPM Blueworks and ARISalign. Gagné sees BPI as complementary and partnering with those sites – for example, those sites could have a partner page, as BPM Institute does – since they augment the other sites’ content with standards-focused materials. BPI’s openness via APIs and a toolbar allows it to be added as a BPM community from another site, and will likely see many referrals from BPM vendors who don’t want to build their own community site, but like the idea of participating in one that’s vendor-neutral. Although BPI is focused on BPM standards, the open platform gives it the potential to grown into a full BPM social networking site with a broad variety of content.

By the way, as your reward for reading this entire post, here’s a link to get a free premium membership. Enjoy!

The State of BPMN Implementation: Webinar Replay

Here’s the replay of the webinar that I did yesterday with Active Endpoints – it runs almost 90 minutes, because we just kept the Q&A going at the end with all the interesting questions from the audience.

Unfortunately, during Alex Neihaus’ intro to the live presentation, the entire audience may have heard that I forgot to turn my *&$%^ phone off, and it started ringing at just the wrong time: definitely my bad. Then, I was disconnected from GoToMeeting (through no action of mine, just one of those things), which is why I went through a bit of reconnection confusion at the start of my part of the presentation. In spite of these glitches, I was finally reconnected and we got started.

Enjoy the replay.

BPMN In The Real World Slideshow

Webinar done, we’re just on the final Q&A; I saw about 170 people logged in at one point, a pretty good turnout. The replay will be available on the VOSibilities blog or on iTunes.

Here’s my slides, with the “Process Model Hall Of Shame” removed:

As I mentioned in the presentation, there are a lot of great resources on the BPMN standard; my presentation was about how people are actually using it rather than the standard itself.

Webinar Today on the State of BPMN Implementation

I’ll be speaking on a webinar today about how BPMN implementations are happening in the real world of customer process modeling. This is not going to be an update on the BPMN 2.0 standard itself – you can watch the excellent update from last week by Robert Shapiro for that – but rather a review of what I’m seeing in terms of real-world adoption within customer organizations, plus some tips on how to make that adoption happen.

The webinar is from 12-1pm ET on Thursday, February 18th; I’ll be on first, followed by Michael Rowley, CTO of Active Endpoints (who are sponsoring the webinar), who will demo their BPMN 2.0 product. You can sign up here.

BPMN 2.0 Industry Update

It’s webinar day here at Column 2: this is my third in a row, this one an update on the BPMN 2.0 standard by Robert Shapiro, who participates in both the OMG BPMN 2.0 and WfMC XPDL 2.2 standards efforts. We’re already starting to see vendor support for BPMN 2.0, even though it’s not yet fully released, as well as books and training materials.

The concept of subclasses in process modeling has been included in this version, where there is a simple subset of eight elements used for process capture by non-technical process analysts/owners (start, end, sequence flow, task, subprocess, expanded subprocess, exclusive gateway, parallel gateway), then a larger subset for a “descriptive” persona, a larger-still subset for a “DODAF” persona, then the entire set of more than 100 elements.

You can download the accompanying PowerPoint deck for a more complete view of subclasses and their corresponding personas. I can certainly understand why many of the event variations were pushed out of the simple subclass, but I’m not sure that I agree with excluding pools and lanes, since these are pretty commonly used constructs. Also not sure why the US DoD’s enterprise architecture standard is impacting what is supposed to be an international standard.

These subclasses are important for vendors of modeling tools, but also for those looking to use BPMN as a standard for representing processes: this gives a good idea of how to split up the standard by the type of reader (persona) so that you don’t overwhelm the less technical audiences with too much detail, but also provide the greater levels of details for complete process specification.

Shapiro went on to discuss what most consider to be the most important (and likely the most controversial) part of BPMN 2.0: diagram interchange; BPMN 2.0 does not include an XSD schema, and there is ongoing work to create an XSD that is aligned with the metamodel. For those of you who follow BPM standards, you’ll know that XPDL is currently the de facto standard for process model interchange, supported by many vendors; these efforts are continuing in a separate organization (BPMN is managed by OMG, XPDL by WfMC) so it’s good that Shapiro and others are there to bridge the efforts across the two standards. We’re now seeing the emergence of XPDL 2.2, which will support the interchange of BPMN 2.0 process models. XPDL may eventually disappear in the face of a comprehensive BPMN 2.0 diagram interchange standard, but that will take years to happen, and a lot can happen in that time. In the meantime, XPDL will likely be used as an alternative diagram interchange format for BPMN 2.0 diagrams, with vendor support required for both standards.

The Business Process Incubator site has been created by several of the companies participating in both BPMN and XPDL standards efforts as a source for information as well as a variety of standard-related tools such as Visio templates. Shapiro also predicts that many tool vendors will release web-based BPMN 2.0 modelers, as well as BPMN and XPDL converters.

If you’re interested in where BPM standards are headed, it’s worth listening to the entire webinar, especially the Q&A at the end; I imagine that it will be available at the registration link on the WfMC site that I posted in the first paragraph.

BPMN 2.0 tutorial #BPM2009

Hagen Völzer from IBM Research in Zurich – and a member of the BPMN standards group – gave a tutorial on BPMN 2.0, with a specific focus on the new execution semantics.

BPMN 1.1 has taken us a long way towards a standardized process modeling notation, but has several shortcomings: no standardized execution semantics, no standardized serialization, and lack of choreography support. BPMN 2.0 addresses these and some other issues, but does not include organizational models, data models, strategy and business rules. BPMN 2.0 is still being finalized and will be adopted as a standard sometime in 2010, but many vendors are starting to include the new features in their products. The challenge, as he points out, is representing the interrelationship between the new diagram types.

He walked through BPMN, highlighting the changes to the visual notation in 2.0:

  • Lanes can be used to structure visualization of activities by any suitable attribute, not just roles
  • Call activity type that can call another process or a global task.
  • Business rule activity type (although this could be handled with a service task type).
  • Non-interrupting boundary events, including all event types except error events.
  • Escalation events.
  • Event subprocesses, which is an event handler within a subprocess (hence has access to the subprocess context); this can be triggered multiple times for the containing subprocess, and all event subprocesses must terminate before the containing subprocess terminates.
  • Inline error handler, which appears similar to the event subprocesses but for handling errors; it can handle the error locally rather than propagating it up the scope tree.
  • Compensation event subprocess, similar to the previous two handlers but for handling compensation events.
  • Data are now first class elements, and can be used as an input or output to an activity using the new data association that describes data flow between data objects and activities or events.
  • Choreography diagrams containing (not surprisingly) choreography activities that represent the activities between the participants; the pools and message flows are hidden, and only the choreography activities and the linkages between them are modeled. The two diagram types can be combined to show the choreography in the context of the pools and message flows.
  • Conversations, which collapse multiple related message flows to visually simplify a diagram; conversations can include more than two participants.

He also walked through the execution semantics, which are based on token flows, with token being produced and consumed by activities, events and gateways. BPMN 2.0 also specifies the representation of an activity lifecycle to map all of the actions that can occur around an activity. We looked in detail at the token-based execution semantics for an inclusive join (where the number of tokens generated by the split is not known locally) in a variety of nested contexts. The complexity of this explains a lot about why the 7PMG guidelines recommend not using inclusive ORs: if it’s this hard to figure out all the possible execution semantics, it’s going to be complex for a human to understand the model visually.

He ended up with research opportunities that have been created by the new specification, such as formalizing semantics of choreography diagrams (now we know his motivation for sitting on the committee 🙂 ); it seems that there are many unresolved issues remaining.

It was useful to have a complete walkthrough of the specification as a refresher and to see the changes in context. I’m left with the impression that the event handlers and some of the other new features are exceptionally useful, but unlikely to be well-understood (and therefore used) by non-technical business analysts. As another one of the attendees pointed out, they’ve just invented a new visual programming language.

Lombardi Blueprint update

Home pageI recently had a chance for an in-depth update on Lombardi’s Blueprint – a cloud-based process modeling tool – to see a number of the new features in the latest version. I haven’t had a chance to look at it in detail for over a year, and am impressed by the social networking tools that are built in now: huge advances in the short two years since Lombardi first launched Blueprint. The social networking tools make this more than just a Visio replacement: it’s a networking hub for people to collaborate on process discovery and design, complete with a home page that shows a feed of everything that has changed on processes that you are involved in. There’s also a place for you to bookmark your favorite processes so that you can easily jump to them or see who has modified them recently.

At a high level, creating processes hasn’t changed all that much: you can create a process using the outline view by just typing in a list of the main process activities or milestones; this creates the discovery map simultaneously on the screen, which then allows you to drag steps under the main milestone blocks to hierarchically indicate all the steps that make up that milestone. There have been a number of enhancements in specifying the details for each step however: you can assign roles or specific people as the participant, business owner or expert for that step; document the business problems that occur at that step to allow for some process analysis at later stages; create documentation for that step; and attach any documents or files to make available as reference materials for this step. Once the details are specified, the discovery map view (with the outline on the left and the block view on the right) shows the participants aligned below each milestone, and clicking on a participant shows not only where it is used in this process, but where it is used in all other processes in the repository.

New step and gateway added - placement and validation automaticAt this point, we haven’t yet seen a bit of BPMN or anything vaguely resembling a flowchart: just a list of the major activities and the steps to be done in each one, along with some details about each step. It would be pretty straightforward for most business users to learn how to use this notation to do an initial sketch of a process during discovery, even if they don’t move on to the BPMN view.

Switching to the process diagram view, we see the BPMN process map corresponding to the outline view created in the discovery map view, and you can switch back and forth between them at any time. The milestones are shown as time bands, and if participants were identified for any of the steps, swimlanes are created corresponding to the participants. Each of the steps is placed in a simple sequential flow to start; you can then create gateways and any other elements directly in the process map in this view. The placement of each element is enforced by Blueprint, as well as maintaining a valid BPMN process map.

There’s also a documentation view of the process, showing all of the documentation entered in the details for any step.

Not everyone will have access to Blueprint, however, so you can also generate a PowerPoint file with all of the process details, including analysis of problem areas identified in the step details; a PDF of the process map; a Word document containing the step documentation; an Excel spreadsheet containing the process data; and a BPDM or XPDL output of the process definition. It will also soon support BPMN 2.0 exports. Process maps can also be imported from Visio; Blueprint analyzes the Visio file to identify the process maps within it, then allows the user to select the mapping to use from the Visio shapes into Blueprint element types.

Ballons on steps indicate comments from reviewersThere are other shared process modeling environments that do many of the same things, but the place where Blueprint really shines is in collaboration. It’s a shared whiteboard concept, so that users in different locations can work together and see the changes that each other makes interactively without waiting for one person to check the final result into a repository: an idea that is going to take hold more with the advent of technologies such as Google Wave that raise the bar for expectations of interactive content sharing. This level of interactivity will undoubtedly reduce the need for face-to-face sessions: if multiple people can view and interact simultaneously on a process design, there probably needs to be less time spent in a room together doing this on a whiteboard.There’s a (typed) chat functionality built right into the product, although most customers apparently still use conference calls while they are working together rather than the chat feature: hard to drag and drop things around on the process map while typing in chat at the same time, I suppose. Blueprint maintains a proper history of the changes to processes, and allows viewing of or reverting to previous versions.

Newly added is the ability to share processes in reviewer mode to a larger audience for review and feedback: users with review permissions (participants as opposed to authors) can view the entire process definition but can’t make modifications; they can, however, add comments on steps which are then visible to the other participants and authors. Like authors, reviewers can switch between discovery map, process diagram and documentation views, although their views are read-only, and add comments to steps in either of the first two views. Since Blueprint is hosted in the cloud, both authors and reviewers can be external to your company; however, user logins aren’t shared between Blueprint accounts but have to be created by each company in their account. It would be great if Blueprint provided authentication outside the context of each company’s account so that, for example, if I were participating in two project with different clients who were both Blueprint customer and I was also a Blueprint customer, they wouldn’t both have to create a login for me, but could reuse my existing login. Something like this is being done by Freshbooks, an online time tracking and invoicing applications, so that Freshbooks customers can easily more interact. Blueprint is providing the ability to limit access in order to meet some security standards: access to a company’s account can be limited to their own network (by IP address), and external participants can be restricted to be from specific domains.

One issue that I have with Blueprint, and have been vocal about in the past, is the lack of a non-US hosting option. Many organizations, including all of my Canadian banking customers, will not host anything on US-based servers due to the differences in privacy laws; even though, arguably, Blueprint doesn’t contain any customer information since it’s just the process models, not the executable processes, most of them are pretty conservative. I know that many European organizations have the same issues, and I think that Lombardi needs to address this issue if they want to break into non-US markets in a significant way. Understandably, Lombardi has resisted allowing Blueprint to be installed inside corporate firewalls since they lose control of the upgrade cycle, but many companies will accept hosting within their own country (or group of countries, in the case of the EU) even if it’s not on their own gear.

Using a cloud-based solution for process modeling makes a lot of sense in many situations: nothing to install on your own systems and low-cost subscription pricing, plus the ability to collaborate with people outside your organization. However, as easy as it is to export from Blueprint into a BPMS, there’s still the issue of round-tripping if you’re trying to model mostly automated processes.

Heather Kreger, IBM, on SOA standards

It’s impossible for me to pass up a standards discussion (how sad is that?), so I switched from the business analysis stream to the SOA stream for Heather Kreger’s discussion of SOA standards at an architectural level. OASIS, the Open Group and OMG got together to talk about some of the overlapping standards impacting this: they branded the process as “SOA harmonization” and even wrote a paper about it, Navigating the SOA Open Standards Landscape Around Architecture (direct PDF link).

As Kreger points out, there are differences between the different groups’ standards, but they’re not fatal. For example, both the Open Group and OASIS have SOA reference architectures; the Open Group one is more about implementation, but there’s nothing that’s completely contradictory about them. Similarly, there are SOA governance standards from both the Open Group and OASIS

They created a continuum of reference architectures, from the most abstract conceptual SOA reference architectures through generic reference architectures to SOA solution architectures.

The biggest difference in the standards is that of viewpoint: the standards are written based on what the author organizations are trying to do with them, but contain a lot of common concepts. For example, the Open Group tends to focus on how you build something within your own organization, whereas OASIS looks more at cross-organization orchestration. In some cases, specifications can be complementary (not complimentary as stated in the presentation 🙂 ), as we see with SoaML being used with any of the reference architectures.

Good summary, and I’ll take time to review the paper later.