Watch Out for Oracle

Recall that they did an OEM deal two months ago with IDS Scheer for the ARIS Process Design Platform, the leader in business process analysis tools according to Gartner's quadrant. At the time I speculated this had more to do with keeping up with SAP in the enterprise apps battle than engaging in the BPMS marketplace, but that's apparently not entirely true. Yes, the Oracle Apps team is one very important customer for the "Oracle BPM Solution" -- 1000 demanding beta users, with Larry's ear to boot! -- but not the only one. Armed with the new Oracle BPA Suite (i.e., ARIS), Oracle is also going after corporate customers in the mainstream BPMS market, Oracle ISVs looking to do something similar to the company's own Fusion Apps, and system integrators looking to create their own repositories of models representing best practices and solution templates.

The Oracle BPM Solution consists of the BPA Suite plus the SOA Suite. The SOA Suite includes BPEL Designer and engine, Workflow services, Business Rules, BAM, Registry, Repository, ESB, adapters, security, service management... the whole deal. They also seem to be the second SOA vendor (besides BEA) who actually understands that BPM and SOA are not the same thing, with a clear idea of how to put them together.

OK, so far that sounds like a complete, but not especially cool, BPMS offering. Here's the cool part, and it goes back to the recent BPEL discussion. Remember, a problem with BPEL in BPM has always been keeping the executable design in sync with the business analyst's model once the developer has taken a whack at it -- the notorious roundtripping problem. Oracle has solved that here with the Business Process Outline - a model that sits in between BPA (ARIS) and BPEL, with unambiguous mappings to both, and intelligible to business as well as IT. They described their conception of it last spring in Business Integration Journal, and I blogged about it then. But it's place in the offering was not at all clear back then. Now it is.

The Process Outline is based on metadata shared by BPA and BPEL Designer. Both the process model and BPEL -- at least the parts that need to be kept in sync -- can be saved as Outline metadata. No matter what the BPEL developer does, Outliner stays in sync. Oracle envisions a new role as the target user of Outline: a "process architect" -- more technical than a business analyst but not a programmer, and with a knowledge of the business side. Maybe a useful role for enterprise architects? (No jokes please). The interplay between the BPA user and the architect is viewed as an iterative collaboration, and this seems like an interesting approach to the supposed "business-IT collaboration" promised by SOA. A side benefit: the process architect adds business-friendly metadata to the service registry so that business users can actually use it to discover available implementations, another SOA promise. Why didn't other vendors think of that?

The Oracle BPM Solution is GA today and in production at several customer sites. New versions supporting Outline will be rolling out in phases over the next several months.