Integration World Day 1: Best Practices in Delivering Results with BPM

Bruce Beeco of Cox Communications told their story of how and why they implemented webMethods BPMS. Their goals:

  • Reusable processes independent of channel
  • Consistent experience independent of channel
  • Visibility into processes
  • Proactive on customer-facing problems
  • Automate manual tasks to reduce cost and errors
  • Improve time-to-market for new products and services

Overall, their goal is to move the processes out of the front-end applications using BPM, leverage existing services and provide monitoring and business health using BAM.

They started a number of BPMS initiatives, including monitoring and alerting around existing applications, modelling new processes, portal interfaces and others; some of these are in production, while others are just getting started. Being a Six Sigma shop, they took on business processes by creating a shadow process to an existing human process: they created a process model, collected data from the real world and correlated events to the model to provide some “visibility” into the process, particularly for the purposes of optimization.

He looked at the link between SOA and BPM, and said that you can’t do services without at least modelling the processes, since otherwise you just don’t create the right services: the models identify the service integration points and required functionality. He also addressed the issue of when to put functionality in a service versus a process in BPM:

  • Use BPM if it maintains state; services are stateless
  • Use BPM if you have variable complex outcomes; services outcomes are fixed and predetermined
  • Use BPM for composite process solutions; services are discrete entities
  • Use BPM for process visibility; services are black boxes

His key lesson learned was that BPM and SOA need to be done together in order to have a holistic view of your operations and business.

Integration World Day 1: BPMS 7.1

Pete Carlson (Product Development) and Matt Green (Product Marketing) gave some of the high points of the new 7.1 release of webMethods BPMS. Their first question to the audience was to determine who is already involved in a BPM project in their organization: almost no hands went up. As it turns out, most people are here to learn about BPM and what webMethods has to offer. Given that the audience at the conference is mostly IT and mostly work with the webMethods ESB product, this isn’t all that surprising; BPM is a relatively new concept to most of them even if they’ve been involved in the integration-centric end of the BPM spectrum. I think that the biggest challenge for the Software AG webMethods group is, in fact, to gain greater visibility in the business areas of customer organizations, which is where many of the other BPMS vendors already have much more visibility.

A few points about the product:

  • Eclipse-based modelling tool with multiple perspectives for business analysts and developers to share a common model.
  • There’s a process debugger built into the modelling environment, which allows you to step through a process to see how the variables change as the process flows
  • Simulation is new for their BPMS, so they’re pretty excited about this and it’s a big focus at this show
  • BAM is also highlighted as a major part of their suite, and has separate product sessions here at the conference. They do some interesting things using prediction models that I saw briefly in a demo last night, and do automatic baseline metric creation based on running processes.
  • Business calendar, so that you can schedule something for 3 business days versus 3 calendar days (this is definitely behind the BPM curve as a new feature)
  • Integration of Cognos for business intelligence to be able to drill down into data that you might see in a dashboard environment; this will be fully embedded within the webMethods product suite in next year’s version
  • Integration of Blaze Advisor for business rules management, although the rules management user interface won’t be fully integrated into the webMethods environment until next year
  • A new UI design environment that allows for codeless generation of portals and form-type interfaces.

Carlson gave a live demo, showing how they can call services from their ESB, services outside their ESB, business rules and human steps all in the course of a process. Interestingly, one thing that he showed was an executing process instance, including the information that it was in the state "Queued" — does this imply that an instance can only have one state at one time, hence can’t execute parallel paths? Or does that say something about the small number of states that can exist?

He showed their simulation, which has the requisite animated dials to show where work is piling up in the system; although you can take a snapshot of the conditions and the results of any particular simulation scenario in order to manually derive improvements, there’s no tools to suggest ways to improve processes, such as I’ve seen in some other products. Instead, it’s a matter of tweaking the parameters and watching the effect on the simulation, or exporting the results to Excel to perform some other analysis on them.

He showed how individual tasks in a process map are edited using the new version, which is a view that allows you to modify the roles, data values, events KPIs and user interfaces at this point in the process. In particular, the event capabilities seemed pretty powerful, although I’m not sure if it supports the full BPMN set, and it’s certainly not represented in the process map as BPMN events.

The presentation finished up with a very quick look at the design time and runtime architectures, then (for the 3rd time today) a look at Forrester’s two waves that show them as the top vendor in integration-centric BPMS as of Q406, and in the leader category (barely) in human-centric BPMS as of Q307. They’re obviously pretty pleased with being a leader in both categories, although they’re pretty neck-in-neck with TIBCO, with BEA and IBM trailing a bit behind but still having a strong showing in both waves.

Integration World: Peter Schwartz

The futurist Peter Schwartz gave the final keynote this morning; I saw him giving a closing keynote at the Gartner BPM conference in February this year and really enjoyed it; unfortunately, this was pretty much the same talk. Long tail…blah, blah, blah…nanophotonics…blah, blah, blah…flattening world…blah, blah, blah…global warming…blah, blah, blah…ubiquitous broadband.

Conference organizers should definitely take a look at who’s been doing the generic keynotes at recent conferences that their attendees are very likely to have attended.

Integration World Day 1: Peter Kurpick

Peter Kurpick, CPO (Chief Product Officer) of webMethods Business Division, gave an overview of the technology direction. He talked about the paradigm for SOA governance, with the layers of technical services, business services and policies being consumed by business processes: the addition of the policy layer (which is the SOA governance part) sets this apart from many of the visions of SOA that you see.

He brought along Susan Ganeshan, the SVP of Product Management and Product Marketing, to give a (canned) demo similar to one that we saw yesterday at the end of the analyst sessions. She showed the process map as modelled in their BPM layer, where the appropriate services were called and other points of integration using webMethods, then we saw the custom portal-type interfaces for customers, suppliers and internal workers. They have Fair Isaac’s Blaze Advisor integrated with the BPMS that allows them to change rules for in-flight processes, and their own monitoring and analytics as well as some new Cognos analytics integration. She also showed us the CentraSite integration, where information about services and their policies are stored; CentraSite can be used to dynamically select from multiple equivalent services based on policies, such as selecting from one of several suppliers. The idea of the demo is to show how all of the pieces can come together — people, web services, B2B services, legacy services, and policy governance — all using the webMethods suite.

The original core functionality provided by webMethods is the ESB (originally from the EAI space), but now that’s surrounded by BPM, composite applications, B2B integration and legacy modernization tools (from the Software AG side). Around that is BAM, which is being raised in importance from being just an adjunct to BPM to being an event-related technology in its own right. Around all of this is SOA governance, which is what CentraSite brings to this.

The next release, due sometime in 2008, will be a fully-integrated suite of the Software AG and webMethods products, although Kurpick didn’t provide a lot of information.

Integration World Day 1: David Mitchell keynote

David Mitchell, COO of webMethods Business Division, was up next with a much greater focus on BPM. webMethods had been positioning BPM — including both system-to-system and human-facing — as their growth area before the acquisition, and that’s still the message. Companies are competing on process, not just products and services, since process represents the ability to meet customer requirements in the face of changing conditions. As I’ve written many times before, the value is in process agility and visibility in a heterogeneous environment.

He had a number of case studies of how customers have improved their processes and operations based on what they’ve done with webMethods to integrate their systems for the goals of agility and visibility. He said "If you have unlimited time and unlimited money, you can pay IBM to do this for you", followed by the clear message that the rest of us should be using webMethods instead.

He also discussed the impact of the merger: long-time Software AG customers engaging with the webMethods product line since they trust Software AG to help them with their modernization efforts. There were some interesting comments about mergers in this marketplace, and the issue of aligning the products and customers of the acquired and the acquirer. As Mitchell put it, that question has now been answered for webMethods, but is still up in the air for companies such as BEA and TIBCO.

Integration World Day 1: Karl-Heinz Steibich keynote

Well, not really day 1: there were classes yesterday, but this is the first day of the Integration World conference per se. Someone in webMethods management must have a serious love for electric guitars, since the prize at last night’s reception was a Gibson Les Paul guitar, and a loud (for 8:30am) rock band was on stage to open the conference. My ears are still ringing.

Mark Jeffries of webMethods led off this marathon 2-hour keynote session, then Karl-Heinz Streibich, CEO of Software AG, was up to talk about the combined corporate structure and their general future plans. He showed the evolution of the software industry, from build to buy to compose, and how Software AG sits directly on that infrastructure space focused on composite applications. It’s not like companies are throwing away all the applications and infrastructure that were built (or bought), but the growth is in the composition area. This growth, plus the webMethods acquisition, will push Software AG into the $1B revenue range next year (although those are, unfortunately, rapidly declining $US 🙂 ).

I attended the BPM Advisory Council breakfast prior to this, and had an interesting discussion with a couple of large (and long-time) webMethods customers about how webMethods stacks up in the BPM space. Clearly (to me, anyway), they’re behind the curve in terms of the pure BPM technology, but they play to their strengths in the integration end of things. The customers pooh-poohed the BPM vendors that don’t provide the whole integration stack as "just calling individual services", which is a bit of a simplistic view, but considering that these customers are coming from the traditional EAI-type usage of webMethods, it’s understandable. When you’re modernizing your legacy systems, there needs to be something in there to allow you to easily plug into those old systems using a web services interface, and that’s provided by webMethods. The Software AG acquisition will allow them to strengthen those linkages for Adabas/Natural applications, which are technologies still well-represented within large organizations.

Software AG analyst briefing at Integration World

Thanks to Air Canada’s ever-shifting schedule (why does the same flight number that I flew to Orlando two weeks ago now leave an hour later?), I arrived too late to the analyst briefing to hear the Peter Kurpick and David Mitchell of the webMethods division, but did sit in on the latter half to hear about the enterprise transaction systems division, which includes their Adabas and Natural products. There’s a press release in the packet about a new Software AG release due for tomorrow: Natural for Ajax, reminding me that there’s a ton of companies out there with Adabas and Natural applications on their mainframes that are still supported by Software AG, and need to find some alternatives to keep the life in those systems. I have a few financial services customers that have mission-critical Adabas/Natural applications, and they have no intention of rewriting them for some other software platform.

Simply replacing the mainframe with some other technology platform isn’t always the best solution, and is a total non-starter in many situations where there’s a significant amount of legacy business logic and data in those systems. I’ve been referring to mainframes as "just big servers" for quite some time now, and there’s no reason not to think of them that way: big database and back-end application servers that serve a useful purpose within large organizations. You might not start building a new system from scratch on a mainframe, but there’s often good reasons to keep them around if they’re already in place. Software AG, by providing tools such as Natural for Ajax, is providing some of the tools that organizations need to make the transition into more modern technology, without requiring a full rip-and-replace. I’m not sure that I completely agree with their vision of a mainframe Renaissance, however.

We had 20 minutes of corporate financial review from the CFO, which reminded me firmly why I went into engineering instead of accounting; I’m sure that there’s many capable financial analysts who have written about the numbers so I can slack off here. In looking at the overall financials, I’m reminded of the presentation that I saw at the New Software Industry conference earlier this year about how the proportion of product to services shifts as a software company ages: if you ignore software maintenance revenue — which is about 2/3 the size of the licence revenue — then the product-to-service ratio is about 1:1, and if you include maintenance in services, then the ratio goes to about 3:5. The theory is that as software companies age, they get better at providing services, and therefore it’s more profitable, hence tend to encourage the growth of that part of their business. This is completely off on a tangent, but I’m trying to keep my mind on the presentation as the CFO discusses the "Brazilian effect", and I have no idea what he means (since I assume that he’s not talking about the type of Brazilian effect that you get at a salon).

I had a chance to review the materials from the presentations that I missed, and there’s some interesting things there. This is a condensed version of what will be presented to customers here at Integration World, and I have a one-on-one meeting with Peter Kurpick on Wednesday so will undoubtedly see this again over the next two days. And hopefully have some more insightful comments at that time.

Integration World next week

This week I’m not travelling — a chance to catch up on the work that I’m actually paid for 🙂 — but next week, I’m off to the Software AG/webMethods user conference, Integration World. Watch for my blogging coverage from there.

Disclosure: as with all vendor user conferences that I attend, Software AG is covering my expenses, although I am not paid to attend.