Zynium Maps Visio to BPMS

I had an interesting briefing today from Zynium, provider of a tool that maps Visio process diagrams to various BPMS environments, including Fujitsu, Appian, Software AG, and DST. Many BPMS and modeling tool vendors have developed their own Visio import capability, with varying degrees of success, and several of them are talking to Zynium as well. Doing it well is apparently harder than it looks.

All these tools work essentially the same way, requiring the user to manually define a mapping between each Visio shape and a corresponding shape or widget in the BPMS modeling or design environment. Zynium adds a bit of extra intelligence in using text and color attributes of the Visio shapes in the mapping rules.

The attraction to Visio is its ubiquity as a legacy process documentation format and its familiarity to corporate users. Something like 60-70% of the existing process "models" (I use the term loosely) in the wild exist as Visio documents. In many ways Visio represents the antithesis of BPMN - ad hoc, unstandardized, no semantic precision, no validation rules. It's really a sketchpad. BPMS vendors like the idea of mapping it because they can leverage the process capture work users have already done and introduce those users to BPMS. It's certainly better than rekeying the information.

Zynium's target or "export" formats do not yet include BPMN, but supposedly that is coming. The company doesn't see a big demand for it at this stage. Also coming is a round-trip version, in which the BPMS design can be shipped back to Visio. I had a hard time understanding the use case for this -- I always thought of the round-tripping problem as keeping the analytical model (business view) and executable design (IT view) in sync, but Visio is just a diagram not an analytical model. Zynium doesn't really distinguish between analytical and executable models on the target side; it's whatever the BPMS exposes to the mapping. For a BPMS that provides both simulation analysis and executable design in a single tool, the round-tripping is apparently between Visio and the native graphical representation of the same business view. For BPMS that relies on third party modeling such as IDS Scheer, the mapping skips the modeling component altogether. So I don't completely get Zynium's round-tripping story. I guess what I can say for it is that in some BPMSs the native graphical process representation is so crude and opaque that the user-defined Visio provides a much clearer picture of what's going on.

It will be interesting to see whether BPMN can dislodge Visio as the default "modeling" environment for BPM. I'm betting that it can, and the picture may look quite a bit different in 12-18 months.