Deutsche Bank’s Wolfgang Gaertner at TUCON

The third keynote speaker this morning was Wolfgang Gaertner, CIO of Deutsche Bank: we’ve moved from international crime-fighting to the somewhat more mundane – but every bit as international and essential – world of banking. Their biggest challenge over the past few years has been to reduce the paper flow that was slowing the communication between their processing centers, reduce processing time, and improve customer service levels: all of which they have achieved. They’ve used TIBCO to integrate their multiple legacy systems, especially those from mergers and acquisitions such as they had with Berliner Bank, where they wanted to maintain the customer brand but integrate the back-end systems to allow for greater efficiency and governance.

They’re using BPM to manage some of the processes, such as special account opening and exception handling, and are finding that the new technology drives new opportunities: as other areas in the bank see what can be done with integration and BPM, they want to have that for their applications as well. They’re also planning to rip out their core legacy systems and replace them with SAP, and use TIBCO for integration and workflow: TIBCO is a big enabler here, since Deutsche Bank now has sufficient experience with TIBCO products to understand how it can be used to help with this technology transformation.

Who will mash?

Further to my post about enterprise mashup yesterday, I’ve been thinking about who in the BPM space will jump on the enterprise mashup bandwagon first.

In my Making BPM Mean Business course, I discuss the history of BPM, and I’ve noticed that BPM vendors who started on the workflow side of the house typically expand their capabilities through OEM agreements and partnerships (the “United Nations” approach), whereas those who started on the EAI side typically expand by building functionality in-house or buying a small company outright and submerging it into their product (the “world domination” approach). That could be because the pretty UI stuff that is usually developed for the human-facing workflow functionality is perceived as the “personality” of the BPM product, and everyone needs to author their own personality, or at least be perceived as being its author. (Okay, for a comment about technology, that’s pretty philosophical.) There’s lots of exceptions to this, but I find that’s true in many cases.

Does that mean that the BPM vendors with a workflow heritage are more likely to embrace the mashup concepts than their descended-from-EAI competitors? While the old guard thinks it over, the “nouveau BPM” vendors (who are built on web services from the ground up) are probably already demoing the integration of Yahoo Maps with back-office transaction processing, and rewriting their marketing materials to include the word “mashup”.

By the way, I signed up for MashupCamp, so if you’re headed there in February, look me up.

Integration Trends 2006 webinar

Catching up on a few webinars that I missed live, I just reviewed the replay of ebizQ’s Integration Trends 2006. There’s a nice summary slide up front by David Kelly, an ebizQ analyst, where he talks about the current focus of most businesses (reducing costs, increasing flexibilty, becoming process-driven) and most IT departments (composite applications, modernizing legacy systems, moving to SOA and event-driven architecture). Certainly true for all of my customers.

The webinar was sponsored by PolarLake, makers of an ESB product, and it turns out that the CEO, Ronan Bradley, has a blog that includes some interesting stuff, such as his recent post that “exposes the myth” of run-time discovery of web services (he quotes and comments on a post on the same subject by Brenda Michelson). Alas, I’m unlikely to read his blog much since he chooses not to publish full feeds, and I find it too much of a hassle to click through to every blog on my list of daily reads.

Anyway, back in the webinar, Ronan Bradley made a huge point about how ESB is not EAI, but I’m not sure that the lines are that clearly drawn. David Kelly later asked how he made that distinction, and it seems to be based on attributes such as “distributed, standards-based, extensible” and providing “productivity and agility”, but I don’t think that the lines are that clearly drawn between ESB and EAI: it’s more of a spectrum of capabilities than the black-and-white picture that Ronan puts forward. He depicts EAI as having functionality without these attributes, “lightweight ESB” as having the attributes but little functionality, and (of course) PolarLake as having both the functionality and the attributes.

Of course, what vendor doesn’t find a graph to publish where they’re in the upper-right quadrant? Gartner probably just calls it all integration-focused BPM anyway.

Regardless of any distinction between EAI and ESB, he does make an interesting point about how orchestration isn’t so simple as it is often portrayed, but requires “mediation” around the orchestration that may be many times larger and more complex than the orchestration itself: things such as complex data manipulation and translation beyond simple XSLT transformation, interaction with existing infrastructure and applications, and complex and recursive data transformation, enrichment and management.

Bits and pieces

I’m heads-down on a project this week so not much time for catching up on the news and blogging. However, interesting things keep happening whether I’m watching or not…

  • RUNA WFE 1.0.1, an open-source workflow based on JBOSS-JBPM was released. More details here, including a link to an online demo. Open source BPM is going to be a market force in some sectors, so best to be aware of what’s happening there.
  • Greg Wdowiak published an interesting post on the role of integration brokers within an integration stack. In particular, he discusses what you should expect to get from the integration broker portion of the stack, and where some of the vendors are lacking. If you’re new to EAI, you can read his excellent background post on bus versus broker models. In particular, he talks about how organizations move from a broker to a bus model as their integration needs become larger and more complex.
  • BEA buying Plumtree has been all over the tech news, with lots of interesting analysis. MWD blog thinks that the purchase may not be about what BEA says that it’s about, but more about moving away from complete Java-centricity and into a more neutral technology territory by supporting .Net. The Butler Group sees this as a better fit than some of the previous portal buy-outs, although an earlier post ponders the fate of the Plumtree-Fuego OEM agreement in light of BEA’s existing BPM strategy.
  • On the enterprise architecture front, The first issue of the Journal of Enterprise Architecture was published. Via Nick Mudge’s blog.

Lastly, if you’re free today at noon Eastern, there’s a webinar roundtable on Winning at BPM discussing IBM‘s WebSphere process integration products.


Agility and BPMS Architecture

Bruce Silver writes about the distinction between workflow architecture and service orchestration architecture, pointing out why it’s important to distinguish between these two process architectures and see how they fit together. If you’re having trouble figuring out the difference between what the former workflow and former EAI vendors are saying, this might help.

He also discusses what’s changed in BPMS to actually make it as agile as the vendors would have you believe that it’s been all along: easier application integration. As he puts in, in the bad old days, when the EAI part of workflow systems didn’t work very well:

If you went to a workflow conference or trade show, any vendor could show you how to build a workflow in 30 minutes using no programming, just graphical drag-and-drop design. So once you bought the technology, why did it take six to twelve months to design and deploy real-world workflows?

There was a huge market for systems integration companies to do all that tricky application integration stuff — I know, because I ran a 40-person version of that model up until 2000, with a crack team that did design, development, testing, documentation, training and installation, all targeted at trying to turn the dream that the workflow vendors sold into a reality. If I hadn’t already got out of that business, I’d certainly be looking to do so now, as the EAI part of BPM gets easier and easier, leaving much less of the complex systems integration that used to drive a huge part of the market.

What I find amazing is that some of the large systems integrators continue to stick their heads in the sand and refuse to buy into the new way of doing things. Even though capabilities exist for much simpler (and therefore faster and less expensive) integration of BPMS with other technologies, the SIs have too much of a vested interest in selling huge pieces of custom code that they’ve written to augment previous versions of various vendor products, and the associated 1000’s of hours of customization that they can sell to the unsuspecting customer. They actually win work based on the premise that if it takes that long and costs that much, it must be good.

Back to the Silver article that started this thought, I also find it amazing when vendors (and therefore, by extension, their clients) don’t make the distinction between the two types of process architectures, and try to sell their legacy technology (usually either workflow or EAI) as if it spanned the entire space. Since most former workflow vendors have hopped on the EAI bandwagon by buying in that capability early, I see the problem more often with the former EAI vendors trying to sell service orchestration as if it were workflow, with only the barest of long-running process and human-facing capabilities. I remember leading a discussion on exactly this topic with a client’s IT group who had selected an EAI product as their BPM corporate standard, and never being able to get through to them that there are really two major classes of process functionality and architectures, only one of which was addressed by the product that they selected. Silver’s article may have helped.

The value of vendor white papers

Every vendor writes white papers that try to appear vendor-neutral (in an effort to build their street cred), but which have subtle — or not-so-subtle — hidden agendas. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t read them, just don’t take them as the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The best approach is to read a variety of sources on a subject from both vendors’ white papers and “independent” analysts (who, of course, have their own agendas as well) and start looking at the common themes and messages across all of them. If a vendor doesn’t mention something that is considered important by several others, that could highlight a missing functionality or flaw in their system. However, when one vendor offers an opinion that is vastly different from all the others, then either they’re trying to justify a flaw, or they’ve really discovered a better way of doing things and are the first to flaunt it. Don’t discount the latter possibility out of hand, because a vendor is much more likely to be silent about their flaws rather than try to justify them, so if they’re talking about it in a white paper, then they may have something to say.

I read a lot of vendor white papers and analyst reports because it’s my job to stay on top of what’s happening in the BPM and related spaces, and it’s nice to run across one that I can recommend every once in a while. Last week, I saw this report from Metastorm published on TechRepublic (TechRepublic free registration required to view) about choosing a BPMS. It includes five very valid steps along the selection path:

  1. Consider the vendor’s core competence.
  2. Consider the vendor’s reputation and position in the market.
  3. Validate the essentials.
  4. Evaluate implementation & maintenance requirements.
  5. Ensure the solution can support your unique process needs.

and provides a checklist of activities as well as a description for each of these activities. In the first step, they take a direct shot at EAI vendors who have grown into the BPM space: a hidden agenda of sorts, since Metastorm built their product as BPM from the start, but one that I don’t necessarily disagree with:

Many of the solutions marketed for BPM today were not actually developed for BPM — for example, EAI may be great for data to data integration and automation of system flows, but because it was not developed to address human interaction, it is unlikely to be the ideal solution for human-intensive process management, where human involvement and decision making is key.

I’ve run into situations in the past where an EAI vendor has positioned themselves as BPM and made large (and inappropriate) sales because of it. At some point, however, an EAI vendor will presumabely have built sufficient BPM functionality and expertise to be allowed into the club. Furthermore, it’s fair to say that the line between EAI and BPM is sufficient vague that there will be many vendors who play in both arenas instead of being in one and interfacing to the other: check out my post last week on integration stacks as well as Gartner’s emerging view of what’s in a BPMS.

All in all, there’s very little in the Metastorm white paper that most other BPM vendors would disagree with. At only 2-1/2 pages of real content, it’s a somewhat superficial look at the vendor evaluation process, but a good starting point.

Integration stacks explained and compared

A good explanation of integration stacks (including EAI and BPM) by Greg Wdowiak. He makes a nice distinction between task flow management in the EAI layer and business process management in the BPM layer:

The Task Flow Management function of the broker coordinates relatively simple, short time activities amongst the integrated systems… The Task Flow Management function service translates the business task into a set of lower-level (often application specific) technical tasks.The Business Process Management function (BPM) coordinates long-running business processes. In many aspects, BPMS resembles Task Flow Management function. BPM differs from Task Flow Management in that:

  • It is geared towards managing tasks that may range from hours to months in duration. BPM persists its state in a database.
  • BPM focuses on business-level tasks, frequently tasks that are performed by humans. To support such tasks, BPM support sophisticates access control and authorization models, escalation procedures, task delegation, etc.

He goes on to compare the integration stacks of TIBCO and IBM, including the history of what was developed internally versus what was acquired, although he’s missing a few details about the BPM side of things since his expertise appears to lie at the EAI end of the spectrum (for example, the InConcert BPM product, now owned by TIBCO and probably soon to be discontinued, was originally developed by XSoft, a division of Xerox), but I think that this is a work in progress.

I really like that way that he overlays the five technology layers (connectivity, MOM, transformation & routing, task flow, and BPM) with the various products from both vendors so that you can see what’s what: something that most vendors don’t do, so it’s very hard to tell what portion of the stack that a product covers.

TIBCO and IBM definitely compete head-to-head technically at the MOM layer: I’ve seen a lot of holy wars about TIB/Rendezvous versus MQ Series in my financial services customers, and usually they end up with some of each, although MQ has a large enough market share to be considered a de facto standard. At the BPM layer, however, it’s hardly a fair fight: Staffware is recognized by Gartner as one of the top two or three pure-play BPM products, whereas MQ Workflow doesn’t even make it onto the chart. I wouldn’t be surprised to see IBM replacing MQ Workflow, or radically overhauling it, in the near future in order to remain competitive and get on Gartner’s pure-play BPM radar.

Greg’s impressions of the vendor smoke screens are bang-on:

IBM constantly re-brands products (most recently, pre-pending all names brands ‘WebSphere’) making it difficult to understand… Both [TIBCO and IBM] stacks include products with overlapping functionality. It is not clear from the vendor which product should be used under what circumstances; rather, both vendors attempt to create an impression of perfectly coexisting and augmenting each other components.

Some things never change.

Intelligent Enterprise BPM cover

Today’s Intelligent Enterprise cover story “Business Process Management is Under Construction” is focussed specifically on modeling, analysis and reporting, business activity monitoring (BAM) and simulation features (since they cover integration and automation features in an earlier article).

Their assessment shows BPM as still at a relatively early adoption state:

BPM software is headed for mainstream adoption, but it’s still a relatively small, immature market… Plenty of organizations have yet to discover BPM… 36 percent said they were considering BPM and 29 percent said they had no plans to implement it, while only 24 percent said they were either piloting, rolling out, in production with or upgrading BPM.

That’s certainly what I’m seeing in many organizations, and why BPM evangelism is going to be required for some time still. Yes, there’s lots of successful BPM case studies to point at, but if you dig into the infrastructure at a large financial institution (for example), you’ll find a lot of EAI and not a lot of real BPM. Intelligent Enterprise states that even the basic automation and integration are still a challenge for many organizations, but I’m finding that the integration part has pushed forward because EAI is typically an IT initiative to integrate systems behind the scenes: the business benefits obliquely but their environment may not be impacted at all. On the other hand, automation requires true BPM (including human-facing workflow, modelling and simulation, and a whole raft of other features not typically found in EAI), plus full involvement of the business in order to achieve success, so gets hung up on the continuing disconnect between IT and the business that they serve.

Compliance is certainly going to push BPM forward, although that requires closed-loop process control throught the addition of analytics and simulation. There needs to be a bigger focus on making BPM performance monitoring and improvement a part of the larger corporate performance management framework, and showing how BPM fits into an organization’s enterprise architecture framework.

There are two more BPM articles in this issue of Intelligent Enterprise, “IT Detours on the Road to BPM” that discusses nine BPM suites’ closed-loop capabilities, and “Simple Process Management: Quick, Cheap and Easy” about Nsite, a hosted solution for a limited range of administrative-type workflows. I’d love to stay and blog all day about them, but it’s a holiday here and I’m going sailing.

Integration 101 webinar

If you’re new to the world of integration, EAI, SOA and all those other good things, you can tune into the ebizQ webinar Integration 101 – From Application Integration to SOA on Tuesday at noon Eastern:

In this webinar, Roy Schulte, Vice President and Research Fellow in Gartner Inc., joins Lance Hill, webMethods Vice President Solutions Marketing, to make some sense of all the acronyms (BAM, BPM, SOA, EDA, CEP) and to describe at a fundamental level the different integration technologies that can be leveraged to integrate and enhance business systems and processes.

Roy Schulte is pretty smart about these technologies, and webMethods has just won the ebizQ EAI Buyer’s Choice award. Should be an interesting discussion.

BIJ online edition

Business Integration Journal (formerly EAI Journal) now makes their magazine available via free email subscription, for those of us who are not in the U.S. and therefore not eligible for a free paper subscription. A lot of the content is “advertorial” written by vendors, but there are a few gems in there, such as this month’s article on process-centric business intelligence by Keith Gile at Forrester Research, wherein he tackles the problem of out-of-context BI data by looking at ways for BI platforms to associate data with processes in order to deliver decision-making capability to the operational level.

Given BIJ’s policy of not publishing PDF copies of the current edition’s articles on their website until the next month’s edition is available, this e-subscription is the only way to get the content in electronic format at the time of publication, and I actually prefer an electronic copy of these “read and toss” magazines anyway. I think that I was sent an invitation for the subscription, but have no idea why; poke around on their site and you’ll probably find something. They also have issues back to January 2000 online, some of which are really a blast from the past.

My only complaint is that the e-subscription issue is hosted on Olive Software’s “ActiveMagazine”, which is really not a nice way to read online. It also doesn’t produce very readable copies if I print to PDF, so if I want to save a copy of an article or send it to a client, I have to either put up with the poor quality or wait until next month for it to come available on the BIJ website.