BPMN 2.0 – Marriage Made In Heaven or Trough of Disillusionment

October 31, 2008

Inside the OMG there has been a heated debate about whether BPMN 2.0 should become linked more explicitly to UML … so many heated exchanges to chew through. This blog posting was put together in that context.

It was originally Charles Box (and later Deming) who said: “All Models Are Wrong, Some Are Useful.” We should learn to live with that reality.

By modeling something, we are removing some aspect of the real world in order to represent it. And yet, the IT-oriented folks continue to flail about looking for one true modeling notation and set of semantics to rule them all (like string theory). As though how somehow everything must be translatable and interconnected. I think for most business folks – they don’t really care. They use models to communicate with each other … and yes, they use circles and arrows, and boxes and clouds, and … only a very few have the interest in making them all relate to each other.

It is only when we get down into the IT organization that all of this stuff has to be translatable and traceable … that all the classes and elements have to get along (be placed in some interconnected network of stuff).

We currently have a Business Process Modeling Notation (sans rigorous meta-model), we also have a Unified Modeling Language (avec rigorous meta-model)… both can be used to model processes (even businesses). But they are different and some folks feel the need to move stuff between these two approaches. We invented BPDM (another rigorous meta-model) as a mechanism for doing that sort of thing along with providing a competing BPMN serialization (to XPDL). But BPDM was deemed too hard by many (or too expensive to implement support for when you already have UML) … at least we have seen little appetite in the market by vendors for supporting it. Most of the BPM Suite/Workflow vendors out there are on XPDL.

The idea with BPDM was to create a semantic layer that would allow the translation between these modelling notations (and others). Or more precisely, that which can be translated should be able to be translated with “semantic integrity”. It would also allow for extension of the semantics for different needs. But for UML to work alongside this, would have meant a Profile for UML (or some other detailed integration at semantic level) – but the folks with the skills and expertise for this sort of thing chose not to invest their time and energy in developing such an interchange format (between UML and BPMN via BPDM).

But that’s all history now. What these well resourced players could sign up to was a future version of BPMN. So now we have BPMN 2.0 – with all the hope and promise of an effective marriage between orchestration (BPMN) and choreography (something that is needed for effective interchange of models but very few people understand fully).

The BPMN 2.0 RFP calls for: “A single specification, entitled Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN 2.0), that defines the notation, meta-model and interchange format … Extension of  BPMN notation to address BPDM concepts … [will need] changes that reconcile BPMN and BPDM to a single, consistent language. The ability to exchange business process models and their diagram layouts among process modeling tools preserving semantic integrity. Enhancements in BPMN’s ability to:

Model orchestrations and choreographies as stand-alone or integrated models. Support the display and interchange of different perspectives on a model that allow a user to focus on specific concerns.” Further … “Proposals shall specify conformance criteria that clearly state what features all implementations must support and which features (if any) may optionally be supported.”

At the same time, it now seems that BPMN 2.0 has to provide a high level modeling approach and traceability down through the stack (which means UML right). There are various other camps – all attempting to twist the specification in their own particular direction. I hear one group saying “let’s make BPMN reflect the needs of BPEL”; others saying well we should now make BPMN part of UML (I must get asked if that is going to happen at least once at every conference … always with a look of dread on the part of the person asking); others wanting stronger choreography support (personally I would like to see something emerge that could support a translation to Role Activity Diagrams which is a much more powerful approach to modeling how roles collaborate and inter-operate that what I have seen so far in BPMN 2.0).

So now that we are in the trough of disillusionment (the marriage vows have yet to be cemented, the RFP is but a hazy memory of a drunken engagement party). We have two different groups (power bases) lobbying for the ascendancy – well not really lobbying, lets just say they are struggling to work out what bits of each others proposals they like, what they can live with, and what they don’t like. And there is a lot more soul searching (work) to go on there.

Let’s recap on where we seem to be now:

  • There is a Notation Specification with some (IMNSHO) half baked choreography support (along with an abstract syntax). It fixes some things and has missed the point on others.
  • There is another Specification (that derives from the BPDM) which describes a more robust set of process semantics … let’s call that the Process Modeling Framework for the moment. This is still perceived as too difficult for some to wrap their heads around … but in the end it is where the UML piece will have to tie in (if someone is going to invest the effort).
  • Then there is a specification that is supposed to outline the mapping from one to the other.

As far as I can tell – all three of these documents require significant further work to marry and align – personally, I can’t see this being finished in the near future. It won’t be just a one cycle delay.  And that’s before we take on the UML interface challenge (although I am sure someone stepping up to the plate on that one would be welcome, they would be doing it against a moving target). We also need to think about how we will embrace the current XPDL community (an upgrade path). And now it looks like we are now about to invent a couple of new modeling approaches, which of course some are already saying should somehow be like BPMN (or UML).

In the end, this stuff only makes sense in context of enabling businesses to work more effectively. BPMN 2.0 needs to give true model portability (with semantic interoperability). We need conformance levels (but first we need to decide on where the lines in the sand are for those different levels). We need to … stop broadening the effort and focus more on getting to the result.

It can’t be that hard – especially when we have all the “Wise Wizards at OMGee” working feverishly on the problem.


BPM Think Tank Wiki

August 6, 2007

I think all those who attended BPM Think Tank regard it as probably the most useful event on the BPM Calendar.

Rather naively, I created Wiki to try and capture all the good thoughts that seemed to be circulating … on the assumption that it would immediately fill up with good thought provoking content. Also, as Sandy K points out, I should have created it for BPM Think Tank 07 (rather than as an adjunct to BPM Focus). But all of that is too late now – one day I wil get the hang of the new ettiquette that goes with the use of this new socially connected medium.

BPM Think Tank wiki can be viewed here.

At the moment, it is mainly the speakers and Round Table leaders who have access … if you attended the event and have a comment or two, please feel free to contact me and I will provide the necessary access.


Updated BPM Focus Site

July 12, 2007

Just like the buses – there’s none for ages, then all of a sudden two come past in a row.

The new BPM Focus web site has been in the works for some time. We have been implementing a BPM Suite under the hood to support our interactions with members. This will allow us to have individual conversations with members, to customise their indiviudal experience in the site and to tailor the email interactions we have with members (making sure we only send them stuff that is relevant to their interests).

As with all of these things, getting a complex software environment up and running can be complicated, especially when you are asking it to do things that it wasn’t originally designed to do. So, in the next few days, we will have a BPMS underpinning all interaction in the site. The user wont necessarily be aware of it, as they will still see HTML forms.

Its just that even when they select a White Paper to download, or register for a course, they will be interacting with a process. So to change the way the site works, or any of the interactions–from logging in, to downloading a doc, to updating their own details, to establishing a consulting profile–its all a process. And as anyone knows who has had to build processes to support this sort of behavior, there are lots of wrinkles. But I think we have now cracked it, and by next Monday at least we will have the new site up — but in the meantime, its testing, testing, testing …

There are a couple of new white papers that will be available, a sample case study or two (for those who want to submit a case study to the “Global Excellence Awards in BPM and Workflow”). There is also a summary/white paper that outlines the standards stack being developed at the OMG, explaining the rational of each standard, its functional use, where/how it is beign used and the status of the standard.

But more of that next week …


Loosing Touch With Reality

April 22, 2007

In a recent posting Get Your BPMN Schema Today, Ismael Ghalimi shows how close he has come to loosing the plot. He has certainly moved well away from the reality of standards since he formed BPMI.org with Howard Smith.

Everything has become an element of spin – even down to misrepresenting the article of Bruce Silver. He suggests that Bruce thought “BPDM is essentially useless, and that the BPM industry badly needs an XML schema for BPMN.” While Bruce did talk to the need for robust interchange formats, I didn’t see him say it was essentially useless (although Bruce did demonstrate that he doesn’t really understand software, schemas or the semantics of process … but that is another subject).

Ismael went on …

BPDM, currently developed by the OMG, is presented by its promoters as a universal interchange format for business processes. In reality, it’s an utterly confusing metamodel that brings very little to the table, and is used by legacy workflow vendors as a way to fight against the upcoming dominance of the BPMN+BPEL standard combo. Workflow vendors like nothing more than to protect their respective little niches, and have done a phenomenal job over the past fifteen years of ensuring that no useful standard would ever be developed in the space.

Normally, I wouldn’t bother to comment on such clearly biased diatribe. But as many people never get to read the comments, I thought I should post the carefully worded rebuke that came from Cory Casenove (on of the main authors of BPDM):

We were active in the BPDM specification and feel that some of the views presented here are not well founded and others are out of perspective.

The comments from the author about “legacy workflow vendors as a way to fight against the upcoming dominance of the BPMN+BPEL” is, frankly nonsense both politically and technically. The dominant forces in producing BPDM were BPMN vendors, business and process modeling practitioners, business/process modeling vendors and government representatives – not “legacy workflow vendors” at all. There is no plot and no fight, BPDM fully embraces and supports BPMN and provides added value as we will discuss below. Technically BPDM is a superset of BPMN with added support for SOA – far from the centrally managed style of the old workflow systems. Perhaps we can keep our debate at a higher level.

The observation that BPDM is complex to understand has more merit – but lets look at the context and why;

Process semantics: Some other approaches to process “exchange formats” are little more than pictures in XML. While this provides interchange of the diagram it fails to exchange a process specification. One of the reasons that BPDM took so long is that nailing down what is really being said in process models is harder than it may appear, the team had the advantage of being able to work with the BPMN team directly, to iron out the real semantics – and there were a lot of arguments and disagreement about what they really meant. BPDM captures the result of this and provides a way to exchange the process semantics, not fuzzy pictures or partial thoughts. Semantics like this does take more time to grasp – but the result is REAL sharing of process, not lock-in to different vendor’s interpretations and extensions.

Integrating process and SOA: Process orchestration is a valuable tool in the enterprise toolbox, but not the only one. Process is part of the business model that includes services, organizations and resources. The SOA perspective in particular has been fully integrated so that the process for doing and the services offered and used are well integrated into a coherent enterprise perspective. BPMN can’t fight SOA, it needs to join it. Orchestration and SOA are just different ways to look at process. BPDM provides a bridge between those views. That bridge can be ignored by those who only want to understand orchestration, but we don’t think it will be ignored by the users who need both.

So this additional “complexity” of actually understanding what processes mean and how they relate to services and other processes has an impact, but that impact is primarily the responsibility of the builders of process tools, frameworks and infrastructures – perhaps having them take the time to understand the semantics behind their diagrams and runtimes is a good thing, I’m sure they are more than capable of grasping it.

There will be an open source Eclipse based implementation of BPDM on ModelDriven.org/bpdm as well as a schema for interchange – those who just want to know how to exchange BPMN models can use this, without the complexity. Perhaps we can also use this forum for an informed debate on the best way to represent process and provide the best approach to our communities and organizations.

Cory Casanave

Model Driven Solutions (www.modeldriven.com )


Returning From The Cold

April 19, 2007

Well, after a continued absence, I suppose it is time to make or break with this blog thing. I just dont know where some of my contemporaries find the time. I suppose it is a balance, like everything in life – to keep the fires burning you have to bring in the coal, chop logs, eat, … you can see where I am going with this. With a punishing travel schedule, too many customers wanting work packages completed, completion of another training course (Process Modeling Fundamentals) and an ever present OMG ready to chew any free time, it just never seemed to be high enough up my agenda. But enough excuses – there are so many things that have happened, spin-pieces written and misleading posts that I really do need to put a few stakes in the ground. So with luck, I will get back to a quick post every day or two.

Lets start with the major step forward that happened at last month’s OMG meeting. BPDM was voted through for adoption by the Business Modeling and Integration Task Force. With a couple of notable abstentions from major vendors (not wanting to rock the boat but not quite ready to endorse), virtually every voting member gave a resounding yes to the hard work that has been put in by the team. (You can find out more about BPDM here.

Of course it wasn’t universally welcomed. We have a few die-hards in our industry who try and spin everything to their benefit (well I suppose most vendors could be put in that bucket). Any standard they have not been involved in developing, they are not interested in seeing being adopted widely. Especially one as far reaching and important as BPDM.

Not surprising really – these standards represent real software development costs for vendors (and in the end customers). For instance, if you had placed all your bets on BPEL delivering the answer to world peace, and outsourced (open sourced) all your development to your customers, then the emergence of a new direction in how business process models are managed and interchanged is nothing short of a major threat. Alternatively, if you had placed the UML metamodel at the heart of your software architecture, then the emergence of another metamodel at the higher business level of abstraction (rather than being purely software focused) just represents further investment (with little prospect of immediate ROI).

At the heart of BPDM is support for both the orchestration and choreography sides of the process coin. Orchestration is the bit we are all used to – purposeful activity strung together in a sequence. Choreography is more about the interactions of the roles involved – be they business partners and the company, internal roles or even between software services. Choreography is becoming ever more important as people start to realise that a serial input-output perspective of process doesn’t help you much when you have thousands of associates working on a problem in parallel (a subject I explored here). The point is that this sophistication is set to enable the next round of innovation in BPM.

A lot of energy is now being focused around creating the next version of BPMN which is set to be extended folded into the BPDM metamodel. It was really interesting to see who was now becoming very focused about making sure the scope of that effort achievable and yet also meaningful.

Most people never need be aware of the intricacies and sophistication of BPDM – it is all about how model information is stored and exchanged between tools. So even the most adept BPM business analyst will never be concerned with it. As far as most of you are concerned, it is just gobbledygook. All the end-user organization need worry about is that their vendor is working toward supporting the standard. Why? Because it will give them true portability and ownership of their important possessions – their process assets.

On the other hand, the vendors of BPM technology products should take a keen interest.

The other big step forward at the OMG was around BPMM (Maturity Model). This is now going through a fast track adoption process at the OMG. BPMM is equally important to the business side. It outlines the long term transformational nature of the BPM journey, describing and highlighting the practices and behaviors as the firm becomes more adept. Based around the 5 layer model we have all become used to in CMM, CMMI and PeopleCMM, it provides a comprehensive assessment mechanism. Knowing where you are is an essential part of working out where you want to get to.

Finally, for those of you who have read this far (it sort of proves you are interested in this stuff), you really should attend BPM Think Tank in Burlingame . Think Tank was a concept I helped put together as co-chair of BPMI.org as a way of getting some conversations going between the various (at that time competing) standards bodies. One could argue that this seminal event led to the eventual merger of BPMI.org with the OMG. This is a real opportunity to learn from the best in the business; to get together with your peers and share knowledge; and to grow a deep understanding of the value and power of process standards.

No other event involves every attendee as a real part of the action. Now in its third year, OMG’s BPM Think Tank is a unique gathering of experts with a highly interactive format that makes it a can’t-miss event.

The format is unique in that delegates spend significant periods to time deep in discussion around the real issues of BPM adoption and implementation. During these Round Table discussions, delegates learn from each other, facilitated by the world’s leading practitioners. They share their experiences and draw out the expertise in the group, before reporting back to the conference as a whole.

To help frame these collaborative discussions, plenary sessions feature a range of unique case studies and keynote presentations that highlight the best practices and pitfalls to avoid on the BPM journey. Other sessions focus on the value of standards and the best practice approaches toward their use. A Standards Body Panel session provides the opportunity to clarify the roadmap ahead, while a carefully managed Vendor Panel will explore the challenges and opportunities for technology vendors as we move forward.

The following firms are combining their talents to helping you learn how to maximize your BPM investment:

AFLAC, Allianz, BP Trends, BPM Focus, Bruce Silver and Assocs., Business Semantics, Capability Measurement, EDS, Forrester Research, The General Services Association (US Government), GTE, HandySoft, IBM, Intalio, Kemsley Design, Lombardi Software, McAfee, MEGA International, Microsoft, Oracle, PDL, Pi4 Technologies, Process Core Group, Queensland University of Technology, SAP, Stevens Institute Of Technology, TIBCO

The following standards groups and industry associations are also represented:

ACORD, OASIS, OMG, Supply Chain Council (SCC), TeleMgt Forum (eTOM), Value Chain Council (VCOR), W3C, WfMC

More Information


Lombardi Shows The New Direction in BPM Modeling

February 8, 2007

Some of you bright eyed people will have noticed that Lombardi announced a new process modeling environment today called “Blueprint”. As you will no doubt surmise from my review Put to the Test: Lombardi Takes BPM Mainstream on Intelligent Enterprise, I have known about it for some time. I find it a really interesting development that I think will put a rocket under some of the current process modeling vendors.

An there in lies a set of perspectives that I have been holding off writing about for some time. I have for a long time felt a certain degree of unease around process modeling approaches that require a large amount of effort up front before any real value is delivered. In the 90s this took the form of IDEF0 modeling and SADT/SSADM style approaches.

I was involved in implementing and assessing these approaches and it always worried me how much work they took … and how quickly any particular repository got out of date. In one study I undertook, a rather large, well known British Oil company had decided to build a “process reference” model for their operations in Europe. That was a team of around 100 consultants (from PwC and Oasis) for over a year (work out the budget) to create a reference book of IDEF0 models – the users complained of measuring output … and how incomprehensible the models were … and how they had to develop a set of best practices to help people understand them (like putting all the ICOMs inside role oriented boxes to show who was responsible for undertaking the work). For anyone who is interested, this study was published as part of Process Product Watch (a set of modeling and workflow reviews that I published through the 90s).

I seem to remember the statistic of 6 months being how often you should revisit any part of the business before the models contained in the repository was out of date (and that was a number quoted to me by one of the original brains behind SSADM in 1996). If anything the problems have got worse – the pace of business change and evolution has only accelerated since then.

And that brings us to the modern day. Where we have BP-oriented modeling tools talking about BPM and trying to convince everyone that it is just a matter of a quick export to your favorite BPMS.

Sandy Kemsley, in her excellent blog series from the IDS Scheer event (I was invited but unfortunately could not travel this week), points to a fundamental problem I see in many process modeling repository-oriented tools.

ProcessWorld Day 1: Briefing with Trevor Naidoo of IDS Scheer – Column 2 – ebizQ

“This really came around to the issue of how to get those process models into an execution engine, or if anyone is really doing it at all. Naidoo said that what was moving from ARIS to the execution engine was a “process outline”, which then required some amount of work to hook it up to the BPMS engine (as expected), and that the main value is not in the transfer itself — which could be readily recreated in the BPMS designer directly — but in engaging the business in the entire process design cycle. This, then, is what I suspected: that most people really are redrawing the process models in the BPMS designer, adding who knows how many translation errors along the way, because there is insufficient value to bother with the direct integration. This is not unique to ARIS; I saw the same thing at the Proforma user conference last year.”

And Bruce Silver (who was also at the IDS Process World event) in his posting Almost Dead from Process World talked about two different classes of ARIS user – a group of business people developing a rigorous repository of stuff (about how they do business and the systems/data etc that fit into that); and a second group which are doing BPMS style things – automating their processes, etc.

This is an interesting observation that I think gets to the heart of the disparate camps we see at BPM conferences – where one group is all about the people/soft side and driving organizational transformation; the other is concerned with automating processes using BPM Suites and workflow tools to drive cost and errors out of the process, all the while reducing cycle time.

All very cozy, but at the same time completely at odds with what I think is likely to happen going forward. I have for some time complained that the fidelity is just not yet available when you move models from the repository style tool to the BPMS Suite (if we see widespread adoption of BPDM then this problem will be significantly redressed). Add to this the fact that to make the repository style approach really useful means engaging in a certain degree of “analysis paralysis” as users flounder about wondering where to stop. Part of the problem here is to do with how we represent processes (while flow diagrams are familiar they do not really tell the whole story).

The point is that what most people do is not the best practice. After getting stuck in a rut for while (modeling everything in sight), management is starting to loose patience with the current effort and the team is now being pressured to get some value back out. So perhaps they implement what they have on a BPM Suite. Only problem is that is is often pretty much the same as the original (mess). So now we have an automated mess. After a year or two, people suddenly realize there is another way of looking at the process and end-up throwing out their earlier endeavor, re-implementing a radically improved process that reflects their new-found wisdom. But along the way they have wasted several man-years of effort and untold lost opportunity space.

And this is what concerns me – the amount of time and effort that is needed to get to the point where value is delivered via the comprehensive rspository style approach. Which in a way, brings me full circle to the Lombardi announcement today. An easy to use modeling environment, delivered on demand using a SaaS model and supporting wiki-style collaboration between the protagonists is definitely a much quicker way of getting to value. [Note to Sandy – I too have been using the term Process Wiki for a couple of years … but I think Blueprint has a ways to go yet before we get to a Process Wiki]. Using this sort of modeling approach it becomes possible to quickly outline the process, flip it over into an execution environment (TeamWorks or some other that supports BPDM) and you are away laughing.

If deployed widely, it will enable a wide variety of users to engage in process modeling (something that is denied to them with virtually all other current approaches). Blueprint relies on the simplicity of the outlining approach and the ease of deployment.


BP Maturity Models

November 30, 2006

Sandy Kemsley in her piece today about BPMM (BPMM tutorial) clearly hasnt seen too many of these things.

Our old friend at Babson (Tom Davenport) has one, Gartner have a collection of slides for $795 (I am sure it is more than that), Bearing Point have one (The
Business Process Maturity Model: A Practical Approach for Identifying Opportunities for Optimization
(overview free from BP Trends) … even a casual search on Google brings up a great number when you put in Business Process Maturity Model. But BPMG dont seem to make it to the first few pages. Every vendor worth its salts in the SOA space has one …

But none that I have seen have anything like the depth and breadth of that which is being discussed at the OMG next week (i.e. BPMM). Personally, I had a real “A Ha” moment (I know I have had a couple in the last 6 months …) during John Alden’s original presentation on the concept in June in Boston … I was writing (thrashing around) my paper on Corporate Agility and Process Innovation (available
free on the BPM Focus web site under White Papers). It was very much about at what point endless standardization of process needs to give way to innovation and personal freedom (the sort of thing that Jon Pyke alludes to in Why Workflow Sucks).