BEAParticipate: Using SOA Technologies with BPM

Mariano Benitez of BEA (part of the original Fuego team that built what is now ALBPM) and Bhaskar Rayavaram of Bear Stearns (who was with Fuego before joining Bear Stearns) presented a unified view of BPM and SOA.

Benitez started with some pretty basic stuff about how BPM consumes services, either system-level or presentation-level, and how services can be introspected for easy integration. He then discussed ALBPM as producing services, that is, it can create services that can be consumed by other applications. This was much more interesting and comprehensive; however, overly dense with jargon and acronyms, and obviously dependent on us having attended the session immediately prior in that track (which I didn’t). There’s a number of mechanisms for producing services using ALBPM:

  • Web service front-end to a small set of process API (PAPI) functionality, such as instantiating processes, that’s part of Workspace; it appears that all PAPI-based web services use a common WSDL that expose the methods of PAPI.
  • Process web services, which are similar to the PAPI web services in functionality, but are implemented in the execution engine rather than Workspace. This can only be used to create instances and send notifications, but is designed as part of the process and provides a unique WSDL for each process.
  • Extended web services, which provides a component-level service; obviously I’m missing some key piece of information because I really have no idea what he’s talking about here. 🙂
  • HTML API framework (formerly WAPI), which allows for the creation of simple HTML forms that can be called as services in order to call Workspace operations.
  • JSR168 portlets, to provide portlet functionality to render Workspace operations.
  • And if you really want to beat yourself up, you can create plain Java wrappers for PAPI in order to create custom services, or JMS for asynchronous services.

All of this reinforces my impression that BEA’s BPM product focus is still too much on hard-core developers — the same ones that are writing services at the SOA level — and not enough on the business side. If I think about this morning’s presentation by PG&E, he placed BPM on the IT side of the house, with a process modelling layer as being the business side’s participation point. Whatever happened to that lovely zero-code BPM that I saw in Fuego?

Rayavaram talked about how Bear Stearns is using BPM in an SOA environment: how processes identify candidates for service enablement, rather than implementing services then looking for processes that might use them. They’re also accessing Fair Isaac’s Blaze business rules management system via web services calls from the processes. They have a loose coupling of processes and services, with services deployed separately now but with a view to migrating to an ESB and a full event-driven architecture.

BEAParticipate: BPM 101 for Portals

For the first breakout session, I attended BPM 101 for Portals to hear Jesper Joergensen of BEA’s product marketing group and Bob O’Connor of Pratt & Whitney. Jesper started out by giving a brief review of BPM (the usual model/execute/analyze/optimize cycle), since this session is in the portals track and most of the audience is likely much more familiar with portals than with BPM. However, since the description claims that he’s also going to discuss how process and portals can work together, I want to hear their message on this since I’ll be speaking about BPM at a portals conference in two weeks.

O’Connor then told us about how Pratt & Whitney is using portal technology and — soon — ALBPM. They’ve had a customer portal since 2001, but had a lot of business processes that didn’t mesh together very well. In 2002, they added SOA functionality that allowed data to be pulled from multiple systems and presented to the customer, such as all maintenance information for a specific engine based on the serial number. In spite of their advances in their customer portal, however, they still had a number of disparate departments with their own business processes, and no real end-to-end enterprise view of processes. That means that lag time between the separate processes wasn’t necessarily logged as part of the end-to-end cycle time for an engine overhaul, for example, but definitely impacted the customer. Since it was between processes, that time was no one’s responsibility until they started looking at business processes as they span the enterprise, not just within functional silos.Today, they’re doing “manual BPM” for collaboration around engine overhauls, where 1000’s of process steps and approvals are logged and uploaded so that customers have a near-real-time view of the overhaul process.

For the past year, they’ve been working with ALBPM (although they’re just starting to roll out BPM applications), and see great potential value from combining ALUI and ALBPM to automate the processes using BPM and provide the necessary visibility into those processes via portals. Their initial processes include line maintenance order-to-cash (where any delays in the process severely impact the customer), quality process clinic management, help center routing, overhaul records coordination, employee awards, engine events management, engine wash, and shop processes. Some of these smaller processes took only a day or two to create in ALBPM, while their internal IT had quoted several months and several hundreds of thousands of dollars to do the same thing. They’re pulling data from SAP and other enterprise applications into ALBPM at the start of the process, then feeding back any updates at the end; I would have thought that they’d use web services for at least SAP in order to do interactive updates rather than have to deal with the potential for mis-synchronization between BPM and the back-end systems.

They’re doing some pretty innovative combinations of technologies to shorten maintenance cycle times, for example, RFID and other sensors to detect any engine problems while a plane is still in the air allow dispatching of maintenance personnel to be at the site when the plane lands. The time to service the engine may be the same, but the down-time for the aircraft is greatly reduced, which shows a commitment to their customers’ concerns.

O’Connor, as a BPM department of one person, is part evangelist and part BPM developer (without having much of an IT background), helping to figure out how BPM can be used across Pratt & Whitney and help implement the solutions.

Although this presentation was really about BPM, I can understand why it’s in the portals track: since Pratt & Whitney was a big portals customer first, this shows how you can successfully add BPM to a portal environment.

BEAParticipate: Adrian McDermott and Jay Simons

The general sessions finished with Adrian McDermott and Jay Simons from BEA engineering and product marketing to talk about — no surprise by now — the new Enterprise 2.0 products. This conference is starting to look like one big launch party for Pages, Ensemble and Pathways, although I can understand their excitement.

They describe Pages as “Studio on steroids”, which would make much more sense if I knew what Studio does. It’s a tool for easily building static web pages, but also allows the inclusion of more dynamic content via RSS feeds. It can be used to create blogs, wikis and other situational applications. (I just got a mention from the stage — obviously, someone’s been reading my blog this morning.)

We then had a demo of Pages; I’ll have more details after a more in-depth demo that I’m expecting to get at some point, but this shows some of the capabilities. Demo’d in Firefox, I’m pleased to say.

To start, you can create a new DataSpace, using data from back-end systems, RSS or web services, or using some pre-defined templates such as a blog DataSpace. The blog functionality looks pretty basic: a WYSIWYG editor, but it’s not clear if there’s support for categories (for auto-tagging) and other more complex blogging constructs. Cute, they just create a new DataSpace from an RSS feed: my blog is now live in their demo. Fabulous way to score points, guys, I’m loving it. What’s interesting is that they can take my posts and augment them with other unstructured information, although by replicating my posts in their entirety onto their own site, they’ve violated my copyright and the principles of fair use. 🙂

He demonstrated a nice quick mashup between a Google map and addresses of employees from an internal database, then added in the blog that he created originally and filtered the blog posts by the expertise of the employees.

Next in the demo was Ensemble, which is for creating mashups (although I’d consider what he did with Pages to be a mashup), and handling authentication, provisioning and analytics for web applications and portlets that were built without those necessary bits of IT deployment services. They showed an event calendar application built in Ruby on Rails, then showed how Ensemble can be used to create a wrapper around that application to turn it into a portlet (or pagelet): it created a friendly URL, added security (authentication, access policies, auditing), and made it accessible for including in mashups and portal environments.

They finished up with Pathways, which is a social bookmarking/tagging environment, like within the enterprise. It also allows for people to be tagged as well as content, making it act a bit like a social networking environment like LinkedIn or Facebook. All of this feeds into searches, so that results can be ranked based on it either being authored by or linked to by experts in a certain field. It uses tag clouds to display tag relevance (you can read my friend Tom’s opinion on why tag clouds suck and how they’re both a hallmark of Web 2.0 applications and a “sordidly abused miscarriage of functional information design”), but I’m sure (I hope) that’s not the only way to display tag relevance. There are a number of controls over how search ranks are calculated, based on both the content and people involved.

These products are all in beta now, and will be released in GA in July.

BEAParticipate: Product updates

The general session continues with some BEA product and services information from Shane Pearson, VP of Marketing and Product Management someone whose name that I missed since I was late coming into the session after the break (someone help me out with the name, please), particularly what’s been done in the past year:

  • In AquaLogic User Interaction, there’s some new integrations, improved usability, and greater platform support. They also have some new solution suites; listed under services, I’m not sure how productized these are, or whether they have to come as a professional services offering.
  • In ALBPM, they’ve re-branded and internationalized the Fuego product, and enhanced its integration with other BEA products such as the service bus. They’ve enhanced both the business and developer tools. As with the ALUI products, they now offer strategy workshops, and there are a number of BPM-specific educational offerings such as BPM lifecycle assessment, some of which are available online.
  • In Enterprise Social Computing, the release of the new AL Pages, Ensemble and Pathways products. They also offer management consulting in this area (yes, the phrase “new paradigms” was used); I see this sort of consulting as a huge growth area in the Enterprise 2.0 space, but not necessarily one that can be addressed by product vendors.

Great quote from the presentation: “People use enterprise systems where they provide value, but otherwise work outside enterprise systems for day-to-day work.” For years, I’ve been going into customers and pinpointing deficiencies in their enterprise systems (and usually, therefore, in their business processes) by finding out where they use Excel, Access and paper log files: these are the mechanisms that they create for when the enterprise systems don’t provide sufficient value or actually hinder the process. Or, as was stated as the dilemma of the information worker on a later slide, “Our ability to create information has outstripped our ability to easily and accurately use this information in the context of business”.

They see their three main product foci as enterprise social computing, BPM and SOA, with impacts on people and participation as well as technology. The product portfolio breaks down as follows:

  • Social computing: AquaLogic Pages, AquaLogic Ensemble and AquaLogic Pathways
  • Activity servers: AquaLogic Commerce Services, AquaLogic Interaction Analytics, AquaLogic Interaction Collaboration, AquaLogic Interaction Publisher and AquaLogic Interaction Search
  • Interaction servers: AquaLogic Interaction and WebLogic Mobility Server
  • BPM: AquaLogic BPM (which is a suite including modelling and analytics in addition to the execution engine)

There was a comment about BPM standards such as BPMN and XPDL being supported in the next version — this is something that I’ll want to drill into during a more detailed session or demo. They’re also adding RSS enablement, so that work lists can be consumed with any feed reader tool.

The focus at the end of the presentation came back to social computing — as I mentioned earlier, BEA is obviously betting a lot on this new market segment. I’ve been reading and writing so much about these technologies that much of this is old hat, but it’s likely pretty new for much of the audience, or at least its application within the enterprise is a new concept. “Users at the center”, “Poised to transform the enterprise”: all the right buzz phrases in place. There were some interesting stats about the use of social computing within organizations, some of which I find hard to believe: 15% using internal blogs? Also, Pearson the presenter has a pretty slim grasp of aggregate statistics, since he added up all the % of who is using enterprise blogs, wikis, bookmarking, etc., and stated that 80% of organizations are using social computing. Um, maybe not. The 15% who are using internal blogs almost certainly has nearly 100% overlap with the 18% who are using internal bookmarking. The stats shown for consumer social networking participation also look high compared to what I’ve seen recently: 13% of people who are online are creating web pages, blogs and YouTube videos?

There’s a not-surprising chart about age demographics and social networking: I’m a “young boomer”, apparently, and only 12% of us in this age category create content on the web, so I’m obviously an outlier with three blogs, 3000 Flickr photos, a few videos on YouTube, hundreds of bookmarks on

it’s obvious that the MySpace generation is driving much of the content creation and, if they ever get jobs, will be the ones forcing the adoption of social computing within the enterprise.

BEAParticipate: Brian Abrahamson

Last up before the morning break was Brian Abrahamson, Director of Enterprise Architecture at PG&E; although I’ve been interested in the portal presentations prior to this, I was relieved to finally get some BPM/SOA content. They started on a huge business transformation strategy two years ago due to various factors such as deregulation and changing legislation that are impacting the competitive landscape in the utility industry, forcing them to become more competitive. Price is certainly a point of competition, but they also have customer service issues such as managing unexpected outages (e.g., what Abrahamson referred to as a “car-pole incident”), installing new residential service, and managing regular maintenance and work orders.

They made an explicit decision to create an SOA layer that would leverage their SAP and Oracle systems in order to provide a more agile development environment. They’ve been using EAI technologies for a number of years to create integration between enterprise applications, but most of the business processes were embedded in these applications rather than being explicitly defined and executed. Their current direction, therefore, is moving from application-centric to process-centric by allowing the construction of composite applications and business processes from the services provided by the enterprise applications. They consider BPM to be a strategic enabler of their future vision.

What they’ve done so far is to expose services from the enterprise applications, and used ALSB as an enterprise service bus. ALBPM then allows those services to be used, via the bus, to create executable business processes using those services. As soon as they started exposing BPM to their internal clients, however, there was an immediate demand for modelling, simulation and analytics; now, they’re planning for a business process modelling layer that allows their business analysts to do all of these with some type of more comprehensive BPA tool, with round-tripping as a key requirement. Above all of layers is a process architecture and governance layer that, like the modelling layer below it, is business-driven, whereas they see the BPM, ESB and SOA layers as being IT’s domain.

They have realized a couple of key points: from the IT side, SOA provides a service layer than greatly expedites BPM; from the business side, cross-departmental process optimization is key to future growth. They have a business process competency centre that does mainly paper-based and manual modelling and analysis, which is a big driver for getting the business process modelling layer in place in their BPM stack.

They learned some valuable lessons along the way: put SOA principles and practices in place early; get executive sponsorship of BPM initiatives; business process modelling, management and governance is more of a business issue than a technology tool issue; and lastly, the market is still maturing and requires partnering with some key technology partners.

BEAParticipate: Daniel Weiler

The Ministry of Education of Luxembourg has implemented an educational portal using BEA technology, and Daniel Weiler, a professor at the Center of Technology for Education, discussed what they’ve learned over the 5 years since first implementation. They had a vision 5 years ago of a digital learning place that was accessible anywhere on any type of device, with many social computing aspects such as collaboration, that provided access to eLearning and other educational content, using single sign-on authentication and security, and different personalities depending on whether it was a teacher, student or other type of participant. Today, these requirements are no big deal. Five years ago, in an educational environment, it was a bit more revolutionary.

Weiler did a live demonstration of the portal from a teacher’s viewpoint, which provides access to educational content such as MSN Encarta, internally-created documents, email, collaboration communities, and services such as forms creation. They’ve built and integrated a number of custom applications, such as resource scheduling and library management. In the student-facing version of the portal, they have eLearning collaboration spaces that include direct Skype links to teachers as well as content specific to a certain subject area.

Each school can have a personalized extranet portal that is hosted under the mail mySchool portal, but has its own look and feel, including navigational structures; he showed examples of an elementary and a primary school that looked and behaved completely differently, but were based on the same platform. They also have a media gallery with both photos and video on various arts, literature and other topics, all managed and accessible through the portal platform.

BEAParticipate: Frank Ybarra and Bambi George

Next up were Frank Ybarra and Bambi George of Applebee’s, a customer of BEA, discussing their corporate (internal-facing) portal and business agility. They’re a public company (for now) with almost 2,000 restaurants in 49 states and 17 other countries, 75% of which are franchised, so they have a lot of internal communications challenges. They use the portal to publish operational changes, such as recipe changes that need to be implemented; sales figures and other branch-specific metrics; schedules and other HR information; and collaboration spaces for project teams such as new country startups.

They’ve had their portal in place for long enough to reach their entire target audience, and are now looking for new content to deliver through the portal to increase its value to the internal community. For example, their head chef (love his title: VP of Menu) writes a regular blog-like column, and answers questions that come in as feedback on the column; once this was put in place, no IT support was required to keep it running since the chef was posting his columns and reading/responding to feedback directly.

They’ve done some manual search optimization to help people to find documents on the portal site, and they’re looking forward to trying out AquaLogic Pathways to see how community tagging and bookmarking improves the search capabilities. They also mentioned incorporating Pages for blogging and other user content creation in the future.

BEAParticipate: Mark Carges

Day 1 of the BEA user conference in Atlanta, and we start out with a morning of general sessions hosted by Ira Pollack, SVP Sales at BEA; the remainder of the 2-1/2 day conference is all breakout sessions. There’s wifi around but I seem to be missing the conference code necessary to get logged on, so posts will be delayed throughout the conference as I’ll be gathering them up to publish at times when I can get internet access. There’s also not a power source in sight, which could mean that the last parts of this are really delayed as I transcribe them from paper. 🙁

BEAParticipate is a new user conference dedicated to portals, BPM and social computing with tracks for business and developer-focussed audiences. My focus has only come on BEA with the acquisition of Fuego a year or so ago, so I’m not sure what they had in terms of user/developer conferences prior to (or in addition to) this, although I talked last night with a web developer who has been a Plumtree customer for years and has transitioned from the Plumtree conference as it was rolled into this conference.

We started out with Mark Carges, EVP of BEA, (who many years ago helped develop the source code for Tuxedo) with a high-level vision of how these technologies can create new types of agile applications, and how BEA is delivering BPM, SOA and enterprise social computing (Enterprise 2.0). He talked about the difference between traditional and situational applications, the top-most point of which is that traditional ones are built for permanance whereas situational ones are built for change: exactly the point that I made last week in my talk at TUCON. He covers other comparative points, such as tightly- versus loosely-coupled, non-collaborative versus collaborative, homogeneous vertical integration in application siles versus heterogeneous horizontal integration, and application-driven versus business process-driven.

He walked us through a few examples of their customers’ portal applications — purely intranet, customer-facing, and public — and one example of BPM in a customer, before moving on to talk about BEA’s strategy and product development, particularly in Enterprise 2.0. He made the point that enterprise applications are having to learn from the consumer-facing Web 2.0 applications by allowing for different types and degrees of user participation. Instead of just listing consumer Web 2.0 applications, however, Carges makes analogies with how the same sort of technology could be used inside an enterprise: Digg-like ranking used for ranking sales tools internally; social bookmarking and implicit connections for internal expert knowledge discovery (much like what IBM is doing with Dogear, which I’m sure that they’ll turn into a commercial product once companies like BEA prove the market for it); mashups for creating a single view of a customer from multiple sources including product, support incidents and account information; and wikis to capture competitive intelligence. This is where their new product suite fits: AquaLogic Pages (to create pages, blogs and wikis), Ensemble (for developers to create mashups) and Pathways (for tagging and bookmarking). All of these mesh with IT governance such as security and versioning, but the content isn’t controlled by IT.

Interesting that the focus of his talk has really been on their new Enterprise 2.0 products rather than portals or BPM; they obviously see this as a strong potential growth area.

BEA user conference this week

I’ll be blogging live from the BEA user conference this week in Atlanta. I arrived here today and had a quick look around the evening partner exhibition/drinks reception, but I’m really looking forward to the sessions tomorrow. Jesper Joergensen has also promised that I’ll get a proper demo of both their BPM product and the new Enterprise 2.0 product suite this week.

All of my posts for this conference will be here.

Disclosure: BEA paid my travel expenses to be at this conference.