Summary of IBM's BPM Announcements

The first half of the briefing talked about a lot of new tools for building and managing business services, along with a major initiative on the part of IBM Global Business Services to build them for you, based on a single well-defined approach used globally across IBM: "one registry, one repository, one methodology, one set of tools across IBM". The second half talked about some minor tweaks to the BPM offering, with engagements based on a very different approach -- an "open methodology based on best practices" that lets customers start anywhere (i.e. modeling, BAM, automation) and do just as much as they want. IBM obviously has a clearer vision for what business services are and how they should be built than they do for business processes.

IBM describes a business service as "a business function whose execution can be adapted at runtime based on business policy and user context." That sounds interesting in its own right, but they didn't elaborate on the adaptation piece. The key ingredients are business metadata (describing the policy), reference business models (standard representations of elements needed to select and tailor the behavior), and the business function (the underlying services selected to do the job).

IBM announced a new Business Services Fabric as their strategic platform for building and managing business services, plus some industry-specific prebuilt SOA assets based on the Fabric. The Fabric includes existing components such as WebSphere Process Server and WebSphere Integration Developer, and adds a bunch of new ones, including:

  • Dynamic Assembler, a scalable "service personalization and semantic services engine"
  • Business Services Repository, layered on WebSphere Services Registry and Repository, supporting business services metadata
  • Subscriber Manager, controlling "entitlement"
  • Performance Manager, providing visibility and monitoring of running services
  • Governance Manager, to "visualize hierarchies and dependencies to monitor business SLAs"
  • Composition Studio, an Eclipse plug-in for visually modeling and managing business services metadata and policies
  • Industry-specific services content, including Healthcare Payor Pack and Insurance P&C Pack
The Business Services Repository "leverages and extends" the WebSphere Service Registry and Repository. The WebSphere Service Registry and Repository enables search and publishing of record metadata such as service location, endpoint definitions, lifecycle state, and service usage parameters, along with technical metadata associated with infrastructure implementation - WSDL, XSD, WS-Policy, etc. The Business Services Repository contains business-related metadata and industry contextual data for use in dynamic service selection and assembly, such as subscription policies, business policies, industry semantics, and industry metamodels.

Using these repositories and the rest of the Fabric, IBM Global Business Services is launching a major effort to build large-scale "composite business services" - essentially customizable industry solutions based on SOA - in a few SOA Solution Centers, and distribute them globally through its army of 90,000 global business consultants. To give you an idea, the composite business service called Insurance Rate Quote Issue Auto - described as "one of the smaller ones" - has a price tag of $900K and includes 1000 hours of custom "configuration." So these aren't out-of-the-box solutions.

The briefing then shifted to BPM, which IBM defines as "a discipline combining software capabilities and business expertise to accelerate process improvement and facilitate business innovation." As in the case of business services, when IBM talks about "process knowledge" and "industry expertise", they mean theirs not yours.

On the BPM side, enhancements to WebSphere Business Modeler seem to be minor tweaks:

  • Better integration with Visio, PowerPoint, and ARIS
  • Improved simulation input validation and troubleshooting
  • A simplified business format for developing KPIs and business metrics
The new version of Modeler apparently does not yet support the WebSphere Service Registry and Repository or Business Services Repository (or possibly any other part of the Fabric). In the Q&A session, those links were described as something to look for in the future. I would hope so.

Enhancements to WebSphere Business Monitor appear to be more substantial but mostly in allowing it to be used for BAM outside the context of BPM. The new Monitor will be able to aggregate and respond to events conforming to IBM's CBE standard, regardless of their source. Previously I believe Monitor just listened for Process Server events. Also the monitoring models are expanded to include input from Modeler, WID, or custom events, instead of just Modeler.

Process Server enhancements emphasize improvements to human workflow plus dynamic selection of service endpoints on the ESB (along with configuring mediation logic). The human workflow enhancements were described as follows:

  • Graphical process view
  • Group work
  • Ad hoc follow-up tasks and sub-tasks
  • Remote client support
  • Web Service interface for tasks
No details were given, and the term BPEL4People was not mentioned. FileNet came up only as follows (I'm paraphrasing here): The deal closed yesterday, and we're positioning it as content-centric BPM, and we'll have more to say at a later date.

The strength of the announcements is clearly the Fabric, along with what appears to be a massive effort in IBM Global Business Services (and presumably ISV partners as well) to use it in building industry solution components. The "one registry, one repository, one methodology across IBM" idea should really accelerate SOA by providing a concrete blueprint used on a large-scale. I only wish the company would apply a similar kind of thought leadership on the BPM side by advocating more forcefully for a specific BPMS-oriented methodology in which modeling leads directly to an executable process with performance monitoring, and by creating well-defined touchpoints in the tools and methodology linking BPM to SOA and the Business Services Fabric. It's coming, but clearly not yet.