Archive for the ‘BPM’ Category

The management continuum

Mark Palmer of Apama continued his series of posts on myths around the EDA/CEP space, with number 3: BAM and BPM are Converging. Mark hit on a subject that I’ve spoken with clients about, however, I don’t believe that I’ve ever posted on it.

Mark’s premise is that it’s not BAM and BPM that are converging, it’s BAM and EDA. Converging probably isn’t the right word here, as it implies that the two will become one, which certainly isn’t the case. That wasn’t Mark’s point, either. His point was that BAM will leverage CEP and EDA. This, I completely agree with.

You can take a view on our solutions like the one below. At higher levels, the concepts we’re dealing with are more business-centric. At lower levels, the concepts are more technology-centric. Another way of looking at it is that at the higher levels, the products involved would be specific to the line of business/vertical we’re dealing with. At the lower levels, the products involved would be more generic, applicable to nearly any vertical. For example, an insurance provider may have things like quoting and underwriting at the top, but at the bottom, we’d have servers, switches, etc. Clearly, the use of servers are not specific to the insurance industry.

All of these platforms require some form of management and monitoring. At the lowest levels of the diagram, we’re interested in traditional Enterprise Systems Management (ESM). The systems would be getting data on CPU load, memory usage, etc. and technologies like SNMP would be involved. One could certainly argue that these ESM tools are very event-drvien. The collection of metrics and alerts is nearly always done asynchronously. If we move up the stack, we get to business activity monitoring. The interesting thing is that the fundamental architecture of what is needed does not change. Really, the only thing that changes is the semantics of the information that needs to get pushed out. Rather than pushing CPU load, I may be pushing out the number of auto insurance quotes requested and processed. This is where Mark is right on the button. If the underlying systems are pushing out events, whether at a technical level or at a business level, there’s no reason why CEP can’t be applied to that stream to deliver back valuable information to the enterprise, or even better, coming full circle and invoking some automated process to take action.

I think that the most important takeaway on this is that you have to be thinking from an architectural standpoint as you build these things out. This isn’t about running out and buying a BAM tool, a BPM tool, a CEP tool, or anything else. What metrics are important? How will the metrics be collected? How do you want to perform analytics (is static analysis against a centralized store enough, or do you need dynamic analysis in realtime driven by changing business rules)? What do you want to do with the results of that analysis? Establishing a management architecture will help you make the right decisions on what products you need to support it.

SOA Consortium

The SOA Consortium recently gave a webinar that presented their Top 5 Insights based upon a series of executive summaries they conducted. Richard Mark Soley, Executive Director of the SOA Consortium, and Brenda Michelson of Elemental Links were the presenters.

A little background. The SOA Consortium is a new SOA advocacy group. As Richard Soley put it during the webinar, they are not a standards body, however, they could be considered a source of requirements for the standards organizations. I’m certainly a big fan of SOA advocacy and sharing information, if that wasn’t already apparent. Interestingly, they are a time-boxed organization, and have set an end date of 2010. That’s a very interesting approach, especially for a group focused on advocacy. It makes sense, however, as the time box represents a commitment. 12 practitioners have publicly stated their membership, along with the four founding sponsors, and two analyst firms.

What makes this group interesting is that they are interested in promoting business-driven SOA, and dispelling the notion that SOA is just another IT thing. Richard had a great anecdote of one CIO that had just finished telling the CEO not to worry about SOA, that it was an IT thing and he would handle it, only to attend one of their executive summits and change course.

The Top 5 insights were:

  1. No artificial separation of SOA and BPM. The quote shown in the slides was, “SOA, BPM, Lean, Six Sigma are all basically on thing (business strategy & structure) that must work side by side.” They are right on the button on this one. The disconnect between BPM efforts and SOA efforts within organizations has always mystified me. I’ve always felt that the two go hand in hand. It makes no sense to separate them.
  2. Success requires business and IT collaboration. The slide deck presented a before and after view, with the after view showing a four-way, bi-directional relationship between business strategy, IT strategy, Enterprise Architecture, and Business Architecture. Two for two. Admittedly, as a big SOA (especially business-driven SOA) advocate, this is a bit of preaching to the choir, but it’s great to see a bunch of CIOs and CTOs getting together and publicly stating this for others to share.
  3. On the IT side, SOA must permeate the organization. They recommend the use of a Center of Excellence at startup, which over times shifts from a “doing” responsibility to a “mentoring” responsibility, eventually dissolving. Interestingly, that’s exactly what the consortium is trying to do. They’re starting out with a bunch of people who have had significant success with SOA, who are now trying to share their lessons learned and mentor others, knowing that they’ll disband in 2010. I think Centers of Excellence can be very powerful, especially in something that requires the kind of cultural change that SOA will. Which leads to the next point.
  4. There are substantial operational impacts, but little industry emphasis. As we’ve heard time and time again, SOA is something you do, not something you buy. There are some great quotes in the deck. I especially liked the one that discussed the horizontal nature of SOA operations, in contrast to the vertical nature (think monolithic application) of IT operations today. The things concerning these executives are not building services, but versioning, testing, change management, etc. I’ve blogged a number of times on the importance of these factors in SOA, and it was great to hear others say the same thing.
  5. SOA is game changing for application providers. We’ve certainly already seen this in action with activities by SAP, Oracle, and others. What was particularly interesting in the webinar was that while everyone had their own opinion on how the game will change, all agreed that it will change. Personally, I thought these comments were very consistent with a post I made regarding outsourcing a while back. My main point was that SOA, on its own, may not increase or decrease outsourcing, but it should allow more appropriate decisions and hopefully, a higher rate of success. I think this applies to both outsourcing, as well as to the use of packaged solutions installed within the firewall.

Overall, this was a very interesting and insightful webinar. You can register and listen to a replay of it here. I look forward to more things to come from this group.

EDA begins with events

Joe McKendrick asks, “Is EDA the ‘new’ SOA?” First, I’ll agree with Brenda Michelson that EDA is an architecture that can effectively work in conjunction with SOA. While others out there view EDA as part of SOA, I think a better way of viewing it would be that services and events must both be part of your technology architecture.

The point I really want to make however, which expounds on my previous post, is that I simply think event-oriented thinking is the exception, rather than the norm for most businesses. I’m not speaking about events in the technical sense, but rather, in the business sense. What businesses are truly event driven, requiring rapid response to change? Certainly, the airlines do, as evidenced by JetBlue’s recent difficulties. There are some financial trading sectors that must operate in real-time, as well. What about your average retail-focused company, however? Retail thinking seems to be all about service-based thinking. While you may do some cold calls, largely, sales happen when someone walks into the store, goes to the website, or calls on the phone. It’s a service-based approach. They ask, you sell. What are the events that should be monitored that would trigger a change in the business? For companies that are not inherently event-driven, the appropriate use of events are for collecting information and spotting trends. Online shopping can be far more informative for a company than brick-and-mortar shopping because you’ve got the clickstream trail. Even if I don’t buy something, the company knows what I entered in the search box, and what products I looked at. If I walk into Home Depot and don’t purchase anything, is there any record of why I came into the store that day?

Again, how do we begin to go down the direction of EDA? Let’s look at an event-driven system. The October 2006 issue of Business 2.0 had a feature on Steve Sanghi, CEO of Microchip Technology. The article describes how he turned around Microchip by focusing on commodity processors. As an example, the articles states that Intel’s automotive-chip division was pushing for “a single microprocessor near the engine block to control the vehicle’s subsystems and accessories.” Microchip’s approach was “to sprinkle simpler, cheaper, lower-power chips throughout the vehicle.” Guess what, today’s cars have about 30 micro-controllers.

So, what this says is that the appropriate event-based architecture is to have many, smaller points of control that can emit information about the overall system. This is the way that many systems management products work today- think SNMP. To be appropriate for the business, however, this approach needs to be generating events at the business level. Look at the applications in your enterprise’s portfolio and see how many of them actually publish any sort of data on how it is being used, even if it’s not in real time. We need to begin instrumenting our systems and exposing this information for other purposes. Most applications are like the checkout counter at Home Depot. If I buy something, it records it. If I don’t buy something and just exit the store, what valuable information has been missed that could improve things the next time I visit?

I’d love to see events become more mainstream, and I fully believe it will happen. I certainly won’t argue that event-driven systems can be more loosely coupled, however, I’ll also add that the events we’re talking about then are not necessarily the same thing as business events. Many of those things will never be exposed outside of IT, nor should they be. It’s the proper application of business events that will drive companies opening up their wallets to purchase new infrastructure built around that concept.

What’s the big deal about BPEL

Courtesy of this news release from InfoWorld, I found out that Microsoft Windows Workflow Foundation (WWF, which has nothing to do with endangered animals or professional wrestlers) is going to support BPEL. This is a good thing, but what does it really mean?

I’ll admit that I’ve never gotten very excited about BPEL. My view has always been that it’s really important as an import/export format. You should have a line item on your RFI/RFP that says, “supports import/export of BPEL.” You should ask the sales guy to demonstrate it during a hands-on section. Beyond this, however, what’s the big deal?

The BPM tools I’ve seen (I’ll admit that I haven’t seen them all nor even a majority of them) all have a nice graphical editor where you drag various shapes and connectors around, and they probably have some tree-like view where you draw lines between your input structure and your output structure. At best, you may need to hand code some XPath and some very basic expressions. The intent of this environment is to extract the “business process” from the actual business services where the heavy duty processing occurs. If you sort through the marketing hype, you’ll understand that this is all part of a drive to raise the level of abstraction and allow IT systems to be leveraged more efficiently. While we may not be there yet, the intent is to get tools into the hands of the people driving the requirements for IT- the business. Do you want your business users firing up XML Spy and spending their time writing BPEL? I certainly don’t.

What are the important factors that we should be concerned about with our BPM technologies, then? Repeating a common theme you’ve seen on this blog, it’s the M: Management. No one should need to see BPEL unless you’re migrating from one engine to another. There shouldn’t be a reason to exchange BPEL between partners, because it’s an execution language. Each partner executes their own processes, so the key concern is the services that allow them to integrate, not the behind the scenes execution. What is important is seeing the metrics associated with the execution of the processes to gain an understanding of the bottlenecks that can occur. You can have many, many moving parts in an orchestration. Your true business process (that’s why it was in quotes earlier) probably spans multiple automated processes (where BPEL applies), multiple services, multiple systems, and multiple human interactions. Ultimately, the process is judged by the experiences of the humans involved, and if they start complaining, how do you figure out where the problems are? How do you understand how other forces (e.g. market news, company initiatives, etc.) influence the performance of those processes. I’d much rather see all of the vendors announcing support for BPEL begin announcing support for some standard way of externalizing the metrics associated with process execution for a unified business process management view of what’s occurring, regardless of the platforms where everything is running, or how many firewalls need to be traversed.

The human side of SOA/BPM

Two recent posts that were completely unrelated have prompted me to write a little bit about the human interaction side of SOA and BPM. First, in response to the debate on maturity levels between myself and David Linthicum, Lori MacVittie posted this entry on the F5 DevCentral blogs. She didn’t get into the debate on maturity levels, but rather brought up a point about the use of the term orchestration. She states:

Orchestration of applications is a high level automation mechanism that can’t really be completed until there is a solid underlying SOA infrastructure and set of common services in place. It’s the pinnacle of SOA achievement, the ultimate proof that an organization SOA can indeed provide the benefits touted by pundits. But orchestration of services should also be the mechanism by which applications are constructed.

The second post that caught my eye was Ismael Ghalimi’s post, “What is Wrong with BPM.” In this post, he talks about the problems customers face in selecting a BPM product and some of the things that customers run into after the purchase has been made and they try leveraging the solution on one of their real business problems. He states:

Then comes the really fun part: the business folks want a different user interface for their workflow. The one you got out of the box seems to be working pretty well, and you could display your company logo at the top left, but somehow the suits have something different in mind, and they want it now. They paid $300,000 for some magic pixie dust that gives them business agility, and they expect it to make you a contortionist worthy of a full-time job with Cirque du Soleil. So you end up spending the next six months writing massive amounts of JavaScript code that will hardcode the customer’s process deep into the user interface. You will be late, over budget, and won’t benefit from future software upgrades, for what you have now is built upon a completely different codebase. Great…

The two things I want to call out are Lori’s phrase “orchestration of applications” and Ismael’s laments about the quality of the user interface. I believe both of these posts are hitting on an element that is frequently forgotten around SOA, which is the human interaction. Regardless of how many services you build, some user is still going to need a front end, and there are inherently different concerns involved. Ismael’s absolutely right that some bare bones web form creation tool slapped onto the ugly schemas that represent the process context just don’t cut it. While 5-10 years ago, you may have been able to limp by with basic HTML forms, today’s web UIs involve AJAX, CSS, JavaScript, Flash, and much more. The tools that are calling themselves orchestration engines excel at what Lori calls orchestration of services (the BPEL space), but I don’t know that there are many that are really excelling at business process orchestration. I’m using my definition of business process orchestration here, which is both the human activities and the automated activities. I’m guessing that this is what Lori meant by orchestration of applications, however, I try not to use the term application anymore. It implies a monolithic approach where everything is owned end-to-end, and that simply won’t be the case in the future. If I do use the term, it’s reserved for the human facing component of the technology solution.

True business process orchestration that includes the human element, is not one that we’re seeing a lot of case studies on, but it’s where we need to set our sights. The problem is quite difficult, as the key factor is context. When I was working with a team on a reference solution architecture for BPM technology, one of the challenges was how and when to bring in context. If you rely on events to trigger state transitions, should those events carry references to information, or the contextual information itself? If it contains references, then you need access to all of the associated information stores, and you need to figure out what information is relevant for the problem at hand. It’s hard enough to get this right for an automated system where the information required is probably well defined. Now try getting it right when the events are tied back to a user interface. The problem is that every scenario may require a different set of information. As humans, we’re good at determining correlations and understanding where to go. Systems are not. Our goal should be to creating solutions that support the flexible context required for true business process orchestration. I think this will keep many of us gainfully employed for years to come.


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