Oracle BPM Update

Oracle has this unfortunate policy of putting almost everything in their Fusion Middleware Analyst Day under NDA and requiring blogs on that to be preapproved by Oracle. So I will just ignore what I heard in the analyst sessions and talk about what I saw in the Exhibition Hall, where bits of the next release of Oracle BPM, version - or, if you prefer the catchier marketing name "BPM 11g Patch Set 6"- were on display. The most interesting to me was the enhancement to the Process Composer, a browser-based tool purportedly intended for "business users". Process Composer supports both collaborative process discovery and executable design in a single tool. That's an interesting but odd combination, since I don't think business users - or business analysts, either, for that matter - are going to do executable process design. For those familiar with the IBM toolset, it's like BlueworksLive and Process Designer combined in a single browser-based tool. Most of the Process Composer artifacts are interoperable with the JDeveloper design environment used by professional developers, and the runtime environment is the same as well.

Oracle has had Process Composer for a while, but the new version adds a few features that make it much more usable. One is an easy-to-use form designer, as an alternative to Oracle ADF forms in JDeveloper. Oracle solution developers I've spoken to have consistently told me that ADF is by far the most complex and time-consuming part of the project, so in many cases Process Composer would seem to be a big help not only for business users but for normal BPM developers, as well. I believe that the Composer forms do not support ADF Task Flows, a system of human workflow logic built in ADF rather than the BPMN process model. I've never liked the idea of hiding process logic in this way, but Oracle has always maintained that it is a better way to do complex review/approval and escalation chains. Anyway, with Composer you would have to put that logic in the process model.

A second Composer enhancement is the ability to define business objects, complex data types defining, say, a customer or an order. That used to require JDeveloper. It's not really a business user function, but something business analysts are very comfortable with.

Third, Composer provides a business-friendly decision table editor to define business rules and bind the decision logic to a task in the process model.

The new Composer also has instant playback of either a single task or a process flow directly from the modeling environment, as opposed to the traditional compile-deploy-view approach of JDeveloper.

And I'm not sure if this is new, but Composer supports snapshot versioning of all the design artifacts.

If this sounds to you suspiciously like the path IBM went down in the shift from Process Server to Lombardi, I think so too. If you remember, IBM first positioned Lombardi as "departmental" BPM and Process Server as, I guess, "real" BPM. But it didn't take very long before "IBM BPM" was basically Lombardi, and Process Server became just the SOA stack. My bet is that Oracle will follow on a similar path, with Composer becoming a mainstream development environment for corporate developers and SIs, not just a sandbox for business users. Or, to put it slightly differently, I think Oracle BPM would be more successful if they positioned and supported Composer in this way. Today that doesn't seem to be Oracle's vision for BPM. But in early 2010, handing the BPM keys to Lombardi wasn't IBM's vision, either.