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Interview: Miko Matsumura on AlignSpace

by Jean-Jacques Dubray on Apr 21, 2009 |

InfoQ spoke with Miko Matsumura, deputy CTO of Software AG about the new AlignSpace service that was launched last month (in beta).

[AlignSpace] is a software-as-service-based social platform for business process management practitioners.. Initially, only collaborative business process modeling capabilities are available in a controlled beta program. Other planned capabilities include:

Collaborative process discovery and design

Peer networking

Process model translation services

A marketplace for BPM-related assets and services

The platform will be ready for commercial launch by early 2010.

InfoQ: What class of problems are you trying to address with AlignSpace?

Miko: The biggest barrier for SOA is this plural “we”: in the enterprise there are many different forces. There is a huge impedance mismatch as you cross an organizational boundary, particularly the boundary between the business and IT organizations. We are seeing increasingly that SOA ROI is driven by BPM, by delivering agility in business process. What if we could put a collaborative function in the cloud around BPM, something emerging as a unique phenomenon.

The first problem is that the “happy path” does not cross boundaries very well: the key barrier is the barrier of intention. What does that mean? Essentially one person’s “happy path” is another person’s nightmare. It all depends on your point of view. What makes business happy might make IT unhappy. What might speed up delivery for the business might make a regulator cringe.

That’s a big barrier to adoption and complexity. There is also the problem of translating BPM into business terms, how can we answer accurately the question: what’s the benefit? How do we create a “Global optimum” that is right for all parties?

So we concentrated in these two problems, and build “collaboration in the cloud” (geographically, reporting structure, other companies…) with the goal to help tie all key stakeholders to a common base line.

InfoQ: What are your design principles?

Miko: This is a very big development for Software AG. Traditionally we have been relegated to the “plumbing” aspects of SOA and primarily have been surfacing our interfaces through BPM. But as we gained experience in BPM, we came to realize that there’s a general purpose pattern in adoption—and that’s to do with the management of variation.

In SOA whether you are managing variants of Business Processes, of Interfaces, of Data Schemas, or other variants, the general principle applies—differentiate in order to compete, but consolidate in order to reduce cost of operation.

The problem that every implementation faces, is what is the wisest way to achieve these two often conflicting goals?

The tool itself is flexible enough to enable collaboration over different artifacts. For instance, we offer a rich user experience around process. Our goal is to transcend silos. Another enabling technology is the operational aspects. Our tool allows you to drive the KPIs that ties together different organizations. The key is to establish and measure shared goals. So eventually AlignSpace will move beyond processes and into other areas of collaboration. But of course BPM is first.

We feel that collaboration is about planting the seed, but being able to measure success is key to achieve continuous process improvement.

Align Space is purely a design time solution. We are “seeding” the cloud, and some of these seeds are going to be developed into fully functional processes. The key is to have agreement and this is where the cloud helps. This environment is very open and can be used in many situations.

InfoQ: Are people comfortable using cloud?

Miko: We have noticed that the 80/20 rules applies: 20% of the processes are complex and dedicated to an organization, while 80% are more or less commoditized. This makes it easier to share with a partner: customers, integrators… The ability to define access controls and manipulate access controls is a key facet. The ability to define public and private spaces, as well as move information from one to the other is very important.

InfoQ: How does it relate to methodologies such as Lean Six Sigma?

Miko: These types of methodologies are optimal for core processes, the ones that change less frequently, and often exhibit a high transaction volume. The processes that we target are about optimization. Optimizations can generate a huge ROI. The core processes are less differentiating at some level. They are already optimized. At the moment we are focused on being methodology independent and embrace a wide variety of practitioners.

InfoQ: In your opinion, what are the roles that will use AlignSpace?

Miko: We studied a lot of projects and we discovered that, more than specific roles, there is a graph of players that are involved in every successful project. It is important to establish a connection earlier than later. AlignSpace is not about redefining the people involved, but we enable people to join the design process sooner. This is what we think is critical for the success of the project.

So we see very heterogeneous players getting involved in process improvement. This would include Business people, but also IT folks sitting in many different silos. We envision multiple business units, customers, suppliers and even regulators may have a stake in the optimization of process.

InfoQ: How does AlignSpace relate to BPMN?

Miko: BPMN is a first class citizen within an AlignSpace project. We use BPMN as a notation but we have our own internal representation.

The thing that is wonderful about modeling is that it reduces the amount of information that is captured: in the seed stage a common notation is sufficient, but, ultimately these models have to be propagated to runtime environment.

The important aspect for all these types of tools is to be able exchange standards, and hopefully, they are converging towards this goal.

InfoQ: How does AlignSpace fit in Software AG’s strategy?

Miko: This is a big step for Software AG, AlignSpace helps us define where the company is heading. People tend to look at business infrastructure as plumbing. The key here is that Software AG has thorough experience and we have learned over the years that the hardest problem to solve is to manage human interactions. For us, this is at the tip of a very large iceberg. We aim at bringing different constituencies to agree.

We see our space as being defined by two major variables. There is the legacy reality and the contemporary reality where innovate to bring their company forward. Our 40 year long experience shows that businesses tend to extract as much value from the things they have already invested in. An optimal model depends a lot on the past: integration (a dirty old word) is a business reality, people will continue to consolidate. There is a partition here that prevents interoperability this is where we see SOA (the dirty new word), but that’s not enough we also want to close the gap at the human interaction level, addressing one problem alone is not enough.

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