Special Report: BPM inside the belly of the SOA whale, part 2

The second installment of this three-part series examines how BPM and SOA vendors are reaching into each other's markets, creating a middleware hybrid.

To borrow a turn of phrase from former President Bill Clinton: It's the process, stupid.

It's easier to shorten the gap between the definition of a business process and execution with SOA.
Ashish Mohindroo
Senior Product DirectorOracle Corp.

Today's organizations are striving to be more agile to better respond to change and new opportunity. Process improvement and innovation will be key to doing so. However, according to a recent survey conducted by the BPM Forum and webMethods Inc. only about one-third of respondents are satisfied with their company's ability to respond to change. The survey found that the biggest obstacle to modifying core business processes is a lack of functional integration, followed by human factors, cultural resistance and incompatible legacy systems.

Most companies have growth as a number one priority, both through revenue and market increases. What is going to drive this growth is a new business model, said Ashish Mohindroo, senior product director for Oracle Fusion Middleware at Oracle Corp. "Companies are introducing and defining new business processes and most of these guys are looking at IT and business process management [BPM] to shorten the gap from strategy to execution. They want new business models implemented as soon as possible. That's where BPM becomes more critical. We see a tremendous uptake in the need for a BPM platform."

Forrester Research has projected that the market for BPM suites will grow from $1.2 billion in 2005 to $2.7 billion in 2009. Forrester also notes advancements in key standards, such as Business Process Management Notation (BPMN), XML Process Definition Language (XPDL) and Business Process Execution Language (BPEL).

However, according to many in the industry, the combination BPM and service-oriented architecture (SOA) is the ideal.

While BPM is independent of the underlying architecture, "the combination of BPM and SOA makes a killer platform," Mohindroo said. "It's easier to shorten the gap between the definition of a business process and execution with SOA. It's easier to pull and access applications in the back end and tie them to business processes. That's direction we're moving with Oracle Fusion."

Oracle's BPEL Process Manager is part of the Fusion middleware suite. In addition, Mohindroo said Oracle Fusion applications, which will begin rolling out in 2008, will embed the BPEL Process Manager.

The Market Shifts

Oracle is not alone in its foray into BPM. All the heavy hitters are moving in this direction.

"Any vendor who wants to have a credible SOA solution in order to build loosely coupled, composite, service-oriented applications will necessarily have to have a business process aspect to their product," said Ron Schmelzer, a senior analyst at ZapThink LLC. "IBM, Oracle and Microsoft already have this capability as well as vendors like Sonic Systems, Fiorano and SOA Software. Even emerging composite application vendors like SEEC Systems, Webify Solutions, Tenfold and others are adding BPM capabilities to their SOA infrastructure. Vendors need to have process capabilities if they plan to have a credible solution in the space."

"Some BPM [products are] implemented on SOA today. All vendors say they are," said industry analyst Bruce Silver of Bruce Silver Associates. "Some rely on SOA and define processes in terms of service orchestration and some don't. Some just use SOA for the integration parts of the process [machine to machine], some for the entire process."

There are two threads in this area, Silver said. One is, "how do we expand SOA to include BPM as one of the applications of SOA? Others see BPM as really more about improving human workflow and business integration."

While BPM may have started with workflow, SOA is helping to make end-to-end BPM possible, said Pierre Fricke, director of product management for JBoss, now a division of Red Hat Inc. "There are hundreds of vendors that solve BPM from a vertical angle, many started in the workflow arena," he said, "but all are quite limited and disjointed. There were no real standards before we got to an SOA fabric. Now we've got BPEL. You couldn't do end-to-end BPM before. You could [only] do pieces because the IT environment may have been incompatible. In the new world BPM can cross these silos lot easier than before."

JBoss offers the jBPM system as part of its open source JBoss Enterprise Middleware Suite (JEMS). The 3.1 version added multiprocess language support and integration with JBoss Seam, the company's framework for building Java applications. "With jBPM you may have BPEL orchestration, but you also need Java process automation because not all services are Web services. Some may be Java endpoints," he said.

Infrastructure vendors are building out BPM capability through both internal development and acquisition of BPM pure-play vendors. BEA Systems Inc., for example, this year acquired BPM vendor Fuego Inc. "When we announced plans for AquaLogic, it included a holding space for a BPM product," said Shane Pearson, vice president of marketing and product management for BEA. "Fuego allows business users and IT to collaborate on a single model. There is no disconnect between what the business users are defining and what the IT side of the house is developing against."

BPM as a Service

While the platform players are adding BPM functionality to their offerings, pure-play BPM vendors as well as those who have their roots in integration and B2B are service-enabling their products.

"BPM as an enabling technology for rapidly deploying process-centric applications predates any concept of SOA in so far as BPM leverages whatever existing assets are in the business," said Rob Risany, director of product marketing at Savvion Inc. "Whether you're exposing it via a Web services layer or a traditional messaging layer for doing integration, BPM sits on top and acts as a superset to the business community."

Today BPM products must be able to function as a service, Risany said. Savvion's BusinessManger "is completely Web services-enabled," he said. "Every process application you create is exposed by a Web service accessible by a UDDI repository. The terminology in SOA is a composite application."

Tibco Software Inc., which has its roots in integration, is positioning to address both human- and system-oriented processes, according to Jeff Kristick, director of product marketing for BPM at Tibco. "Because of our heritage we had a good head start on SOA, and two years ago we acquired Staffware, a leader in the BPM pure-play space, so we're in a good position to bring together BPM and SOA, both the human-to-human plus system-to-system sides."

Reusability is one area where Kristick sees BPM and SOA coming together. "As organizations build out business processes, they don't want to reinvent the wheel if there are underlying services that can be reused of parts of the business process. That's a key principle of SOA that fits with BPM. Another is abstraction. SOA tries to replace point-to-point integration and abstract it out for reusability. BPM has a similar concept for abstracting the business process out of the application."

Tibco's BPM offering, the Staffware Process Suite works with its SOA suite, but they are offered separately, and Kristick said he doesn't see that changing in the near term. The Staffware product does not have a native BPEL engine currently, but the company is watching the progress of the standard.

BPM the SOA Way

Vendors from both sides of the aisle are also partnering up for a combined BPM/SOA offering. CentraSite, for example, jointly developed by Fujitsu Ltd and Software AG, is an SOA repository that unites metadata from Fujitsu's Interstage Business Process Manager and Software AG's Enterprise Service Integrator and Enterprise Information Integrator.

For more information

Read part one of this series on SOA and BPM

Check out our BPEL Learning Guide

Where this is all going, according to Oliver Sharp, general manager in the Connected Systems Division at Microsoft Corp., is a convergence of human-to-human ad hoc and semi-structured processes with human-to-system and system-to-system processes. The company is positioning its BizTalk Server to evolve to a unified process server, according to Sharp, and expects the disparate markets of EAI, B2B, BAM, workflow, etc., to merge into this type of middle-tier server.

Microsoft launched BizTalk Server 2006 in March, but the R2 release, expected the first half of 2007, will move toward its process server vision by leveraging .NET 3.0 with Windows Communication Foundation-based adapters and will include EDI adapters as well as support for RFID. R2 is part of Microsoft's BPM roadmap that includes WinFX with Windows Workflow Foundation and Office 12.

According to Sharp, when human and system processes come together in this middle tier and increasingly express intent as metadata, it will be "transformative." He predicts this evolution to occur over the next five to seven years.

The precondition for this vision of BPM, according to Sharp, is SOA.

The next installment of this series will look at the future direction of BPM and SOA and the key standards.

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