Take advantage of Web 2.0 for next-generation BPM 2.0

Find out how Web 2.0 has been used in business process management (BPM) 2.0, the next generation of BPM. This article covers the convergence of Web 2.0 and BPM along with the use of other standards, which have helped organizations become more agile and dynamic and have given business analysts a greater role in modeling, managing, executing, and optimizing core business processes. Learn about the attributes of BPM 2.0, and see which IBM® products are available in this space.

Pradip Roychowdhury (pradip.roychowdhury@in.ibm.com), Senior IT Architect, IBM

Pradip Roychowdhury's photoPradip Roychowdhury is an IBM Certified Senior IT Architect. He works in IBM Global Account from IBM's GBS GD delivery centre in India. He has about 13 years of experience in providing technical solutions in integrated supply chain (procurement), telecom (OSS), retail (POS), and pharmaceutical verticals. He has been involved in the complete software development life cycle of many projects ranging from traditional client-server architecture to multitier object-oriented enterprise applications developed in C++, CORBA/COM+, J2EE, ORACLE, SQL Server 2000, and cross-platform enterprise application integration using SOA tools. He's also interested in business process modeling and its related technology. He is an active member of various technical communities within IBM.



Diptiman Dasgupta (ddasgupt@in.ibm.com), Senior IT Architect, IBM

Diptiman Dasgupta's photoDiptiman Dasgupta is an IBM Certified Senior IT Architect, currently working as lead architect for the ISV Program, electronics industry, and one of the advanced technology projects called CBS Nano in the Global Business Solution Center (GBSC). He has about 12 years of experience in design and development, architecting, providing technical strategy, solutions for creating and leveraging assets in client solution, and providing technical leadership to the organization. He also acts as a core member of WW SOA and Web services CoP. He is co-chair of TEC-India and currently leads many organization-level initiatives related to thought leadership and technical vitality improvement of IBM.



12 September 2008

Also available in Chinese

Introduction

To achieve business agility and flexibility, most organizations are adopting BPM as an approach for simulating, modeling, executing, monitoring, and managing key domain-aligned business processes by abstracting the underneath technical system, application logic, and other aspects of IT. Some organizations have started this initiative as part of a Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) transformation of their IT infrastructure (a bottom-up approach), while others are using any out-of-the-box BPM tooling to first model and simulate the business processes and then deploy it into the runtime environment (a top-down approach). In both cases, organizations face challenges, including:

  • Multiple and disparate data sources.
  • Multiple and isolated business processes.
  • Lengthy and complex integration work.

Also, most of the BPM tools available in the market lack support for business users, business-to-business (B2B) scenarios, and end-to-end traceability of the business model and IT components running in the production environment. This has created a technological understanding gap between business users and IT professionals. Business is best understood by the business analysts and subject-matter experts (SMEs), and a business model created by them should transform easily into reality by effective use tooling. This article describes how the advent of Web 2.0 and its enabling technology have created a ray of hope in this ever-disputed matter by reducing the dependency of the business analyst in building and managing the process models on their IT counterparts.


BPM issues

In the highly competitive business world, effectively managing business processes is not the only key to outperforming the competition. You must also constantly drive operational efficiency, create unique opportunities, and provide real-time business performance visibility to climb to the top of the marketplace. BPM plays an important role by providing visibility to your core business processes and the flexibility to improve those processes. To do this, BPM requires a structured approach with high-level business goals tied to the business processes that are decomposed into executable processes that run into a robust enterprise class platform. The following issues are common stumbling blocks to having a true BPM environment:

  • Though BPM is meant for business process analysts, most of the tools lack support for the roles of business users versus IT users. Business analyst play a key role in defining business processes in any BPM engagement. But in most of the BPM tools, it's extremely difficult to define key BPM model elements without knowing a programming language. So for the business user, BPM tools sometimes make it too complicated to define or to modify a business process. There's limited ability for suitable collaboration between users in different roles.
  • Most of the BPM tools are considered as either tools to draw a flowchart or a workflow modeler from business requirements, which generates some implementation artifacts like code. This transition from business requirements to analytic models to an implementable code isn't traceable enough. It's impossible to seamlessly navigate between design elements and implementable artifacts.
  • There's usually a lack of a single, portable, and acceptable standard for business process execution and business process model notation. With the lack of standards, it's not possible to reuse models generated by different BPM tools. This reduces both interoperability with other systems and portability to different BPM products.
  • Lack of dynamic process optimization has made it very hard to change a process model on the fly in a production environment. Modifying an executable business process in production requires going through the entire process life cycle of modeling, simulation, and deployment.
  • Lack of integration between business modeling, process modeling, and service modeling tools have, so far, not facilitated the higher-level orchestration of business services, human interactions in BPM, and creation of those services at the lower level by a single tool. Thus, there's no single platform of effective business and IT modeling.
  • The existence of multiple tools from different vendors adds layers of complexity when it comes to learning and results in a lack of standardization.
  • Many chosen BPM tools require you to write code to implement your BPM environment. Thus, these tools are only usable by technical experts, and business analysts are skeptical about using them.
  • An ad hoc process-simulation mechanism doesn't ensure the accuracy of the semantics of the simulated process with the semantics of the process to be deployed and executed in the production environment.

BPM 2.0 strategy

Analyzing several BPM suites, BPM experts have introduced a new architecture paradigm in BPM, termed BPM 2.0. This new model helps technical business analysts to understand business requirements and directly implement them into processes leveraging existing IT systems. Also, BPM 2.0 enables process execution from Web 2.0, providing a new way to communicate within and beyond the enterprise. Thus, it allows business models of any enterprises to respond to strategic changes quickly. Following are the three important strategies behind adopting BPM 2.0 within an enterprise.

Leverage the entire Web for process collaboration (mashups, SaaS)

One of the key concepts of Web 2.0 is creating a self-service world, also known as The Long Tail strategy. In simpler terms, this means reaching out to the entire Web and encouraging collaboration to solve issues. In the context of the enterprise, it means using Web 2.0 technology cost-effectively in the underserved part of the enterprise, which couldn't previously justify the expense. The Web has turned into a worldwide landscape of open, high-value services. When an enterprise tries to wire these services together into a useful business process, it requires key ingredients, such as identity, location, business context, and other information, as an integral part of the business process. BPM in Web 2.0 can add these ingredients into the business processes in a consistent way to create a robust business process based on integrated services. Thus, it might bring the concept of a global business services marketplace into reality (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. BPM using Web 2.0
BPM using Web 2.0

Increase tacit interactions

Studies have shown that typically 20% of the job types in an enterprise are extraction and conversion of raw materials; 40% of the job types are routine transactional interactions, standardized work, and so on; and the remaining 40% are complex interactions involving decision making, collaboration, knowledge consumption, and so on. These complex interactions are called tacit interactions. They're not simply rule-based; they require expertise and judgment. Experts say that increasing tacit interactions within an enterprise increases productivity. Automating tacit interactions is difficult because of the inherent variability; that is, users try to do something different every time. The low-barrier, easily changed, mashup-style BPM 2.0 tools let users find, or build and tweak the right solution in the right time. It also supports enhanced communication, collaboration, and decision making by better usage of data and presentation of relevant information. Thus, automating and managing transactional interactions in BPM 2.0 lets you spend that saved time focusing on building solutions that support and enable tacit interactions, which might ultimately have an even greater return on investment (ROI).

Convergence of BPM, SOA, and Web 2.0

The other fundamental strategy that BPM 2.0 puts forward in the space of a next-generation enterprise platform is the convergence of SOA, BPM, and Web 2.0. Your business' policies and rules need to be agile enough to accommodate changes quickly. BPM alone might be enough to fulfill this need, but BPM along with SOA and Web 2.0 can bring it all together. BPM provides flexibility in process orchestration; SOA provides business services through standard interfaces; and Web 2.0 provides a standard platform for communication. Many organizations are using these separately as discrete technologies. So far, as an architectural paradigm, SOA acts as an enabler to provide an enterprise with seamless access to business functions, services, and data universally. On the other hand, BPM has provided abstraction for building business systems by orchestrating various business functions and human interactions to achieve a common business goal. Also, BPM has provided other capabilities, such as monitoring and managing business processes. So combining SOA and BPM has increased efficiency, IT agility, compliance, consistency of IT operational systems, business insight, and business transformation capabilities with the help of efficient process monitoring and process optimization. BPM 2.0 has added another dimension to this convergence: Web 2.0. From two directions, Web 2.0 can converge with BPM and SOA:

  • From the SOA and BPM tooling perspective, you can use Web 2.0 to bring in rich Internet interfaces and a robust user experience using Asynchronous JavaScript + XML (Ajax) and Adobe Flex. These are readily available for download online (see Resources for links).
  • from the business collaboration perspective, Web 2.0 supports social networking; new ways of messaging and services mashups. Thus it empowers end-users to start exploring the world in much richer ways and make them more productive.
Figure 2. Convergence of BPM 2.0, SOA, and Web 2.0
Convergence of BPM 2.0, SOA, and Web 2.0

Web 2.0 as a driving force in BPM

Web 2.0 has created a new way of doing BPM in a Web 2.0 environment, or, as we've said, BPM 2.0. This is not your standard workflow-centric BPM. BPM 2.0 envisions a new tooling that's simple, inexpensive, and uses the Web 2.0 style to facilitate process-guided interaction among services, enabling entire business processes in the same way on the Web or behind the firewall. For example, using Web 2.0 technology, it would be easy for business users to define and organize the key performance indicators (KPIs) of the business processes in a dashboard and then drag to customize it according to their preferences. Rich visualization techniques using Web 2.0 would make these dashboards more powerful to monitor what's happening, with the defined processes both at the business level and IT level. Some of the driving forces behind BPM 2.0 include:

  • Allowing for the involvement of more business process analysts: Easy-to-use Web-based technology encourages the business process analyst to use the BPM tool and deploy executable business processes. Most of the workflow-centric BPM tools require greater involvement of technical people to transform the business process model created by a business analyst into an executable form. So business analysts have less ownership of the overall process design. But the collaborative influence of Web 2.0 has introduced the concept of the process wiki, which implies some sort of universally available process repository to harness a collective intelligence of process analysts to create a process and finally deploy it into a runtime environment.
  • Faster development and content creation: Most BPM tools are based on proprietary notations and execution languages. They have typically required writing a lot of custom code to make processes executable, and ultimately it has become very expensive to maintain this code. Also, by their nature, business processes are prone to change. The process of changing the business process model and redeploying it in production was very cumbersome in earlier BPM tools. You had to change multiple deployment descriptors, configuration files, and various interfaces. BPM 2.0 envisions a radical shift in this area. It claims that a complete business process model—with all its mapping, business rules, and other parameters set and defined in the model—is just a one-click-deploy approach to solve this problem.

Features of BPM 2.0

As stated earlier, BPM 2.0 has leveraged some of the technology features of Web 2.0 to make BPM more powerful and relevant to the business process analyst community. The vision for BPM 2.0 is to let customers create more agile and dynamic processes, which can act as the foundation for greater innovation and flexibility in the future. So the intention is to leverage BPM as a catalyst for alignment between business architecture and IT services, and continuously adapt to changes more quickly. Major features for BPM 2.0 include:

  • Rich user experience: Web 2.0 technology has increased user expectations about rich user interfaces. These interfaces use Ajax, RSS feeds, and Representational State Transfer (REST) APIs to provide a reasonably lightweight Web UI experience. Users can create complex forms, Web logs, wikis, and content for business process documentation; create Web-based calendars for task scheduling; process business events; maintaining user task lists, and more.
  • Process tagging: Web 2.0 focuses on the opportunity to connect people and support their collaborative efforts, and BPM 2.0 harnesses this collective intelligence, allowing for collaborative process design. It lets business users structure business information and content. For example, it's a universally available process repository where one business user can create a draft process and a colleague in another location can modify that process.
  • Lightweight integration model: Traditionally BPM involved process choreography using service orchestration of various loosely coupled stand-alone Web services and composite services. All these services are created based on WS-* or SOAP standards. On the other side, BPM 2.0 can integrate relatively lightweight REST services, widgets, and so on, which are built using Web 2.0 protocols like JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) and Atom. This has created an inexpensive, easy, and highly scalable service integration model.

Apart from the above Web 2.0 features, the products in BPM 2.0 space, also known as Business Process Management Suits (BPMS), have adopted Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN) and Business Process Execution Language (BPEL) as modeling and execution standards. These features have made BPM 2.0 more widely acceptable amongst the business process community. Some of those are:

  • BPMN and BPEL: Earlier, most of the workflow-centric BPM products were based on proprietary modeling notations. They were also incompatible with each other. Also, there were multiple standards like XLANG from Microsoft® and Web Services Flow Language (WSFL) from IBM for executable processes. However, with the acceptance of BPMN as the standard notation for modeling executable business process, this issue has been resolved in BPM 2.0. BPM 2.0 has adopted BPEL as the standard for process execution.
  • Zero code: In BPM 2.0, it's very easy to transform a business process modeled in BPMN to an executable process in BPEL. You can perform this transformation without writing a single line of code. This has enabled BPM 2.0 to implement a complex business process without having to write and maintain code.
  • Dynamic process optimization: Business process optimization was always one of the driving concepts of BPM. However, in reality it was difficult to implement because it required change in the entire existing process life cycle, starting with remodeling the process and ending with deploying the modified process. As a result of this, the benefits of business process optimization were hardly realized. BPM 2.0 has resolved this issue by bringing in a new concept of dynamic process optimization. Required elements of the process model can be optimized without having to redeploy the entire process. BPEL, with its key features of late-stage binding, externalization of business rules, and so on, has made it possible in BPM 2.0.
  • Business performance optimization: Meeting business performance challenges for cross-functional end-to-end business processes is challenging because of their inherent complexities and dependencies on other business areas. Now BPM, enabled with SOA and Web 2.0, opens a new set of opportunities and challenges for performance optimization. For example, while the IBM WebSphere® BPM suite enables customers to implement BPM quickly, IBM realizes that its customers may need prebuilt design patterns, templates, and best practices for business performance improvement using BPM techniques. Here "It" means the formalizing the process of re-using templates, design patterns or any other assets from IBM's previous successful customer engagement etc. in defining business process models. This formalizing of the process of reusing templates, design patterns, and other assets is standing on a new initiative called Business Innovation and Optimization (BIO), which provides a structured methodology, industry expertise, and a set of software components built on top of the BPM suite. The BIO methodology is built with three major steps:
    • Step 1 is based on the concept of a business goal, which means it's a goal-driven approach where key business goals are identified and processes around the identified goals.
    • In step 2, the process model and KPIs deal with implementation. The process model creates the structure and flow of execution, which in its run time invokes IT services through SOA to fulfill the business need. Each process is backed by KPIs that measure the business goal.
    • Step 3 is to describe the outcome of the process during its execution to continuously monitor, analyze results, and take appropriate actions based on that.
  • Industry flavour in BPM: Business flexibility and responsiveness is a key dimension for success of any business solution. So industries are exploring options for quickest go to market with support for flexibility and responsiveness, where BPM can play a major role. By combining IT assets in composite business applications, BPM can achieve greater process-level flexibility, faster time to market, and reduced operational cost. A product like IBM WebSphere Business Services Fabric provides a different dimension in BPM by helping you to build modular business-level building blocks called composite business services, which are policy driven and can dynamically invoke services in run time. This gets further value with the introduction of industry content packs, which are prebuilt, reusable business service templates that accelerate the building and assembly of business services.

BPM 2.0 challenges

BPM 2.0 is Web 2.0-centric, introducing some challenges for organizations that are similar to Web 2.0 challenges. Previously, there was limited information sharing between departments within the organization, meaning there wasn't much agility in business processes. In BPM 2.0, content doesn't remain centralized within the organization. Using Web 2.0, BPM 2.0 increases participation levels of users in creating, modifying, and managing a business process. To do this, every user has access to business content, and each user can change the content. This can render content administration within an organization more decentralized. For example, in BPM 2.0, a business user can control the process of replacing content in the management dashboard from an RSS feed of a different process to monitor a particular condition in the overall business process. This increased level of content sharing and user participation may create a different culture of process management within the organization, which might take time for the organization to adopt.


IBM BPM offerings

IBM is a major player in the BPM 2.0 domain and is a strong advocate for the BPMN and BPEL specifications. In fact, IBM coauthored the BPEL specification. IBM's BPM suite of products contains a comprehensive set of collaborative, role-based capabilities that let you model, simulate, execute, change, monitor, and optimize core business processes for your specific industry. The IBM BPM suite includes two major offerings under the WebSphere and FileNet brands:

  • IBM WebSphere Dynamic Process Edition
  • IBM Enterprise Content Management BPM products for active content (formerly known as IBM FileNet® Active Content Edition)

IBM FileNet P8 supports the BPMN and BPEL specifications and has added strong content-management capabilities in the IBM BPM product suite. FileNet uses the XML Process Definition Language (XPDL) as a file format to store processes in interchangeable and extensible formats. The IBM FileNet Workplace XT UI uses emerging Web 2.0 and Ajax technologies to incorporate a comfortable and productive desktop application experience in the BPM UI.

In the WebSphere product suite, IBM WebSphere Business Modeler also supports the BPMN and BPEL specifications. IBM WebSphere Business Monitor, the robust business activity monitoring tool, provides customizable Web 2.0 dashboards that let business users define and view KPIs easily. WebSphere Business Services Fabric is a cross-life cycle SOA offering used to rapidly model, assemble, deploy, manage, and govern business services, which are building blocks of a composite business application. It also defines and leverages common industry semantics as the language for helping to simplify interoperability between disparate systems.

Figure 3. BPM products from IBM
BPM products from IBM

Conclusion

This article explored current BPM issues in the context of Web 2.0 technology evolution, how to benefit from this, and how to make a move to the next-generation BPM, BPM 2.0. You learned about the basic features and strategies of BPM 2.0, about the key benefits that BPM 2.0 provides compared to first-generation workflow-centric BPM, how Web 2.0 can become a foundation for BPM 2.0, and how to leverage BPM 2.0 in defining or modifying your business processes. You got a brief introduction to some of the IBM products available in the BPM space.

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