A New Approach to BPMN-BPEL Round-tripping

The current issue of Business Integration Journal has an interesting piece from Oracle about my favorite topic, how to keep process models (e.g. BPMN) and their BPMS implementations (e.g. BPEL) in sync, what we call the round-tripping problem. I've repeatedly expressed my view that if BPM 2.0 is going to deliver real benefit over what we have today, this capability is essential, but others believe just as strongly that - especially when BPEL is the implementation technology - round-tripping is a mirage, fool's errand, or worse.

Oracle's solution, which I don't believe is available in the current version of Oracle BPEL Process Manager, is what the authors call a "business flow outline" with additional "metadata" that can be populated by a BPMN model using "well-defined guidelines" and fleshed out in a real BPEL design tool like Oracle BPEL Designer. Hey, "outline" -- isn't that what Edwin K was talking about a while back? I thought that was his term for modeling, but apparently it's more in the nature of a skeleton process design created automatically from BPMN.

Unfortunately the screenshots aren't in the bijonline version, but the print version makes it look like more than an artist's conception. (I don't believe this is in the current version of the product.) The outline, representing a "logical view" of the process, appears to run in Oracle BPEL Designer using a BPMN-ish notation called the Process Analysis palette. A developer can then map those shapes to BPEL activities that represent the actual implementation. To ensure the round-trip, the BPEL shapes must have guaranteed bi-directional mappings to the BPMN-ish shapes in the outline.

It's not apparent whether Oracle plans to offer the outline as a modeling tool for business analysts or simply a way to capture BPMN models created in third party tools. If you've been following this thread on BPMS Watch, you'll remember that BPMN lets you draw things that don't map quite so easily to BPEL - or at least the kind of BPEL you'd want to edit and maintain, but there are subsets of BPMN diagrams that can be mapped automatically. If you control the BPMN tool, you can solve the problem by not letting the user draw something that can't map easily to BPEL.

In the BIJ screenshots, the outline's BPMN-ish shapes happen to correspond one-to-one with BPEL activities. If that's how the thing works, it may be just a gimmick, since you'd expect a many-to-one ration of BPEL activities to BPMN shapes in a real process. But I suspect that's just an artifact of the screenshot. Hoping to find out more...