The wedding of BPM and SOA was forecast for a number of years. These days it appears the marriage is working. SOA implementers are witnessing a shift in application development that leads to better business–IT alignment. There is evidence that BPM and SOA are being used together, and observers contend that the resulting applications leverage SOA and meet business needs. Next stop: cloud computing!
According to a recent Forrester Research report on the middleware software market, BPM has been a way to show ROI for a SOA investment. The report acknowledged that most CIOs have difficulty proving the business value of SOA, but also suggested the worth of SOA can be proven through BPM. From the report: "The business units of many larger companies are appreciating the direct business value of BPM projects and realize that these projects are significantly easier and cheaper if the systems are already part of SOA."
"BPM was used by many companies to justify an investment in SOA," said Stefan Reid, Forrester senior analyst and author of the report.
Accordingly, the large SOA players have been building out BPM solutions as part of their middleware stacks, and many of the pure-play vendors have been acquired. Most recently, IBM acquired Lombardi and Progress Software bought Savvion.
Reid, a senior analyst at Forrester, said much of this activity represents a "paradigm shift" from what people consider a middleware platform. "Forrester has started to call this model a business process platform," said Reid. He explained that in this model, SOA is the foundation and BPM is one business process component.
BPM tool can be focal point of IT–business alignment
Most every customer site that T-Impact consultants go into already has a service-oriented architecture, but T-impact CEO Keith Stagner is unsure his customers are getting the most out of those service. "In general they've delivered no services that are being used," said Stagner. The reason? The SOA was initiated by IT, and, as Stagner put it, "IT starts defining services, but no one has worked with the business."
Stagner, whose London-based consultancy specializes in enabling business change through business process automation, said taking a business process perspective when developing services makes an SOA more effective. "If you can identify what a business process is, then you can build services that can be reused by multiple processes."
Successful SOA initiatives require the alignment of IT and business, and this is where many SOA projects have to date fallen short, remarked David Chappell, Vice President and Chief Technologist for SOA at Oracle Corp. "Business process management can provide the missing link of helping IT be better aligned with the business," said Chappell. "A BPM tool can be the focal point around which business and IT can work together."
Alex Neihaus, Vice President of Marketing at Active Endpoints, a business process management system (BPMS) vendor based in Waltham, Mass., thinks a shift is under way in how organizations develop applications—a shift that takes a more business process focused approach. And that approach is much more effective if the BPMS leverages the SOA.
Nobody today would start building an application in a monolithic way. SOA is the bedrock of what everyone is doing today," said Neihaus. "Therefore, if you assume that everyone is building services, then a BPMS that is not services-based is a more tragic mistake."
Neihaus said that the shift is in part due to an improving economic environment. "Now that the worst of the economic challenge is behind us, people are looking for ways to make investments in technology and improve their internal business processes. I think this the moment for SOA-based BPMS to shine."
Angel Diaz, Vice President of BPM and Connectivity at IBM, said that combining BPM with SOA enhances its ability to adapt. "You can do BPM without SOA and get some value, but as you start to apply and leverage the infrastructure and investments customers have made in ESBs and services, it will allow them to become more flexible," said Diaz.
Diaz believes that toolmakers are responding to this trend. "As IT and business become more aligned there will be fewer and fewer BPM [tools] that don't leverage some aspect of SOA," he said.
The trend, Diaz said, is about joint decision making and project execution between the business and IT folks. "I think the worlds of SOA and BPM will become closer together just by the physics of it," said Diaz.
"One of the biggest stories in SOA has been around the composition of services," said Ron Schmelzer, senior analyst at ZapThink, an SOA and cloud analysis and consulting firm based in Baltimore. "If you look at the ideas of BPM, it's the same idea: You can represent the process outside system then change the process outside the system."
For Schmelzer, the question is no longer whether SOA and BPM can be done with a similar approach. "You can do SOA in a BPM way or do BPM in SOA way. But increasingly, [the question becomes] why would you do BPM in a non-SOA way or SOA in a non-BPM way?"
Cloud orchestration will be next wave of SOA–BPM integration
Forrester's Ried said cloud orchestration will be the next wave, and that this new paradigm will leverage both SOA and BPM. In his report he concluded that cloud orchestration requires a "next generation" of SOA and BPM products. Reid wrote that these new products will use data and business process pieces similar to how older products orchestrate systems within the enterprise. "In the perspective of IT architects, the business process platform will be replaced by a consistent cloud orchestration platform," wrote Reid.
Schmelzer said that modeling and monitoring business processes that span multiple enterprises is where innovation is occurring in the BPM arena, especially in cloud computing scenarios. "You can build and run services yourself, or have services elsewhere," said Schmelzer. "You can have my services, my infrastructure; my services, somebody else's infrastructure; or my infrastructure, somebody else's services. That's how cloud and BPM will overlap."
Schmelzer said that prior to cloud computing, sharing services and processes between organizations caused integration, security, and governance issues. Cloud computing options can alleviate some of these problems in an affordable way. Schmelzer explained how a large enterprise like a Walmart could have its smaller suppliers put their services on a public cloud. "And a Walmart can manage the process if it can access those services on a cloud," said Schmelzer. "A small business doesn't have to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars to run a service if it wants to do business with a Walmart."
Schmelzer said that to make a cloud vision work those services have to be loosely coupled, though they don't necessarily have to be Web services. "We see a lot of REST and non-Web services, but it's still service-oriented," he said.
SOA and BPM vendors have already started to focus on the cloud. IBM's Diaz cites his company's BlueWorks, a cloud-based BPM tool, and Blueprint, from recent IBM acquisition Lombardi, and said more cloud capability for doing business design will be forthcoming through those products. IBM finalized its purchase of Lombardi last month.
However, added Diaz, "For this to be effective the customer has to see value; there's no net new spending going on. Our approach is to continue [to build on] standards and technology to better those connections, and to ensure the products deliver value."
T-Impact's Stagner said that T-Impact has already used the cloud with a BPM tool. T-Impact wanted a demo to show customers the power of the ActiveVOS BPM tool it is using from Active Endpoints, and designed the business process for a sales application using ActiveVOS, integrating with Salesforce.com and leveraging the Amazon cloud.
But the future, and the next middleware paradigm, may be cloud orchestration. "The SOA challenge of the next decade is the mashup or federation [using] cloud for legacy integration into one new business process environment," said Forrester's Reid. "You will have traditional BPM vendors like IBM, Microsoft and Oracle trying to enter cloud orchestration, and they will need to extend [their offerings] or acquire cloud orchestration companies that come up in the next few years. Or there will be new companies that focus on this area from the beginning. Cordys is one example. So is Boomi, which does cloud mashups."
Boomi AtomSphere is an Integration Platform-as-a-Service that connects a combination of cloud and on-premise applications "If [Boomi] move to process capability they'll have a good position to be considered a cloud orchestration vendor," said Reid. Ried also cited Hubspan, which offers business integration in the cloud. "Hubspan is very cloud-based, but they don't have rich business process capability. BPM [tools] have rich business process capability but they don't understand cloud so far."
BPM may also become more social. Oracle's Chappell said that Web 2.0 technology could merge with BPM. "Think of having workflow that has presence built into it, particularly if you have humans involved," said Chappell. "So executing a human task or workflow can bring up a live chat, or use VoIP to dial that person up, or have collaboration built into the workflow."