Almost Live from Process World

I missed Day 1 (see Sandy for details), and for me Day 2 has been mostly about the technology - keynote on BPM and SOA by IDS Scheer CTO Dr Wolfram Jost, Devesh Sharma on how ARIS (I mean Oracle BPA Suite) enables business-IT collaboration, a one-on-one with Dr Jost, and to provide a little balance, a user case study, in this case a Coca Cola bottler. The case study essentially confirmed my biases going in: "We documented our processes, made the documentation available online, and this saved us half a million dollars." Not, "we did detailed modeling and simulation analysis", and certainly not "we automated execution of the process and business rules." Just "we documented how the current process works." I didn't go to any other case studies, but I think Sandy hints at this with the business about "we're just getting started in BPM" etc.

So my one on one with Dr Jost was pretty interesting. Like, why couldn't these users just write it down in Microsoft Word instead of ARIS, and save half a million dollars just as well? Essentially it comes down to consistency - through the enterprise repository, structure of the notation and metamodel, the ARIS Value Engineering methodology, etc. I'm sure that helps, but basically it's about writing it down so that people can start the conversation about how messed up things really are.

In his keynote this morning, Dr Jost mentioned a piece of the ARIS platform that does something pretty amazing. You instrument the systems that perform pieces of the process, e.g. SAP, and the software not only measures the KPIs but automatically generates the model! Jost said something interesting in the keynote: Does it make sense to take 6 months to model your processes? No, they have changed by then. Autogenerate them instead.

Wow. webMethods and Lombardi talk about instrumenting the process activities and measuring KPIs before creating a model, but ARIS actually creates the model for you. I gotta see this. They've had it for 3 years, but nobody seems to know about it. Least of all their customers (who have taken 6 months to model their processes).

SOA is a big theme this year. Since IDS Scheer's execution-level partners are guys like SAP, Oracle, Tibco, Fujitsu, and Microsoft, SOA is generally equated with the process execution layer, which is not what ARIS does. But there is a big gap between "business BPM" and process execution in SOA - essentially modeling the business services - that ARIS is moving to fill. To IDS Scheer, business BPM is "the process of business process" - I don't know, maybe it gets lost in translation - essentially tying together process strategy with process design, implementation, and "controlling" (management), and ARIS is the platform that supports the process of process management. What they don't do is "technical BPM", i.e. process execution. That role is filled by their partners, i.e. middleware and enterprise app vendors, and to an extent, BPMS vendors.

The gap in between is the domain of the "business service", which they define as an API accessed over the network to perform a business activity. The definition was carefully crafted to indicate business services require collaboration by business and IT. What is the right scope of a business service? Too coarse-grained and you lose flexibility, too fine-grained and you lose manageability. I agree, but not clear yet how ARIS provides the answer.

ARIS is entering the SOA domain by extending its modeling down into that gap. Below the business model, enterprise model, and business process model is the "EA/Business Service model" and below that the "pre-executable process model" using BPEL. That's as far as ARIS goes. The next layer down, executable processes (in BPEL), is partner-specific. The new ARIS SOA Designer supports business service definition and design. It sounds more enterprise architect-oriented than business-oriented, but Jost insists it's intended to encourage collaboration between business and IT.

Oracle's Devesh Sharma plowed similar turf in his talk. We've written about this before, but now they're almost ready to ship the product. Oracle's BPA Suite is ARIS plus some Oracle SOA extensions that flesh out the mapping to the executable BPEL process - human tasks, business rules, stuff that BPEL leaves out. The thing they used to call Outliner is now called Oracle Business Process Blueprint. From what I could see in the demo, it's really two things: 1) extensions to BPEL to hold info from the process model that standard BPEL doesn't provide, what Oracle calls "shared metadata"; and 2) a new graphical notation to display/enter that metadata, which is essentially ARIS Event-driven Process Chains (EPC) with the shapes changed to look like BPMN shapes and the overall look similar to Oracle's BPEL Process Designer. (EPC and BPMN are not all that different semantically, but a little.) Is adding a hybrid notation moving the ball forward? Not sure. I asked Dr Jost if they could envision supporting a future version of BPMN that merged it with EPC. The answer, very polite and diplomatic, was basically no.

Other notes of interest:

  • the metadata Oracle uses to describe human workflow in Blueprint will be submitted for inclusion in the BPEL4People spec from OASIS.
  • the business rule infrastructure supports any business rule engine and repository - Oracle, ILOG, Blaze, or Corticon. The tooling allows you to introspect the rule repository to map rules to model activities.
  • Oracle is busy building reference models for Fusion apps, including business objects and high-level processes, detailed activity flows, and the activities themselves. Right now about 3 industry models, 22 high-level process models, and 200 detailed process models.