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BPMN 2.0 Virtual Roundtable Interview

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Manoj Das is Director of BPM Product Management at Oracle. He is responsible for Oracle’s BPM technologies, including BPMN, BPEL, BPEL4People, and Business Rules. Manoj has a long history working with BPMN and BPEL, including his job at Siebel prior to Oracle, where he was responsible for building next generation process-centric application platform leveraging BPMN and BPEL.

Dave Ings is a Program Director in the IBM Software Standards group. In between games of squash racquets, his passion is Business Process Management and SOA standards. He is currently the chair of the OASIS BPEL4People technical committee and is the IBM project lead for the BPMN 2.0 development team.

Ivana Trickovic is a standards architect in SAP's Standards Management and Strategy group. Her work focuses on technology standards concerning the area of business process management and Web services. Ivana has represented SAP in several standards efforts including OASIS WS-BPEL TC and OASIS BPEL4People TC. She is the SAP project lead for the BPMN 2.0 development team.

Q: BPMN has intensively been discussed in the BPM community. However, for the uninitiated, can you give a quick overview of BPMN?

(IBM, Dave Ings) BPMN is the leading business process modeling notation standard. It defines a flowchart-like visual notation that allows business analysts to design new or document existing business processes. The standard provides a lingua franca that businesspeople, business analysts and IT architects can use to collaboratively design, deploy and monitor business processes.

(Oracle, Manoj Das) BPMN or Business Process Modeling Notation is a graphical modeling standard that enables business analysts and business users to create process models, spanning multiple activities, systems, participants, and transactions, that can be taken into execution by IT, adding necessary implementation details. BPMN provides business audiences flow-chart like experience, a metaphor that they are conversant with. However, unlike flow-charts, it adds sufficient constraints and semantics to make the models valid starting point for implementations. Also, closely associated with BPMN is its swim-lanes feature, which enables intuitive modeling of activities by participants and roles, and a very expressive visualization of the collaboration between various participants.  

(SAP, Ivana Trickovic) BPMN is a graphical notation for modeling business processes ranging from workflows to automated business processes. The new work on BPMN (known as BPMN 2.0) also includes a notation for collaboration processes (aka choreographies) used to specify business contracts in terms of a set of requested interactions among business partners.

Q: Why do we need BPMN? Can't we just use other modeling languages such as UML?

(IBM, Dave Ings) Just as there are a variety of problem domains, so there are a variety of "domain specific languages" optimized for each domain. UML is a standard modeling language best suited for designing and implementing software. BPMN is a standard optimized for designing business processes. Both have an important and complementary role to play when designing business processes and the SOA services that implement them.

(Oracle, Manoj Das) BPMN provides a modeling notation targeted at business analysts, specific to process modeling, and one with execution semantics. BPMN is unique in addressing all these three aspects and is critically needed for driving BPM adoption within business analysts.

(SAP, Ivana Trickovic) BPMN is a modeling language specifically for designing various flavors of business processes. As such it introduces some modeling constructs that are specific to the process modeling domain, such as correlations, compensations, human-user interactions, etc. These constructs are not covered by more general modeling languages such as UML. Furthermore, UML tools are oriented to IT people, while BPMN tools are oriented to business process experts.

Q. What problems is BPMN 2.0 addressing that BPMN 1.1 did not?

(IBM, Dave Ings) In IBM's view there are four key goals for BPMN 2.0. First, enhance the precision of the notation so that it can be deployed in a straightforward way and inter-operate in multi-vendor runtime environments. Second, define an industry standard exchange (file) format for both the process model and its visual appearance as displayed by a tool. Third, provide a set of extension points that allow vendors to address their customers’ specific needs without breaking interoperability. Fourth, add "choreography" support to allow the definition of SOA applications that cross organizational boundaries.

(Oracle, Manoj Das) Most importantly, sufficient semantics to ensure true consistency across implementations and persistence format to provide portability between implementations. Also, inclusion of data modeling and alignment with WS Standards.

(SAP, Ivana Trickovic) BPMN 2.0 is based on BPMN 1.1 and extends its current capabilities in a number of ways. It refines elements that were already available in BPMN 1.1, such as human-user interactions and events, and resolves known inconsistencies and ambiguities. It introduces interchange formats, for domain models as well as visual models. Finally, it formalizes the execution semantics of BPMN elements, which helps to interpret BPMN process models unambiguously.

Q. Who is developing BPMN 2.0? I understand there are competing submissions at OMG. What's that all about?

(IBM, Dave Ings) OMG, the Object Management Group, is the standards body that is sponsoring the development of BPMN 2.0. The OMG "RFP" process is an open process roughly similar to an architectural competition in that multiple industry groups are free to independently develop and propose RFP responses. IBM, Oracle, SAP and several other industry leading companies have partnered to develop a response, as have a second group of companies. If multiple submissions are received the OMG has a process for reconciling them so that the best possible result is developed.

(Oracle, Manoj Das) At this time there are two broad coalitions working on addressing the BPMN 2.0 RFP from OMG. At this stage, it is healthy and natural to have competition of ideas.

(SAP, Ivana Trickovic) In February 2008, OMG received two competing, initial proposals for BPMN 2.0: the BPMN 2.0 proposal submitted by SAP, IBM and Oracle, and the BPMN-S proposal submitted by Adaptive et al. The BPMN 2.0 proposal submitted by SAP, IBM and Oracle is based on the OMG BPMN 1.1 specification. The proposal generated a lot of interest and as a result many leading technology vendors have joined this submission team in order to actively participate in shaping the next version of the OMG standard. The two submission teams are now collaborating with the aim to produce three complementary specifications: (1) a definition of BPMN’s graphical notation, metamodel, interchange formats and formalized execution semantics, (2) a general process model facilitating semantic integration and (3) a mapping between the two.

Q. What's the relationship between BPMN and deployment environments?

(IBM, Dave Ings) BPMN defines the modeling (business process design) environment whereas the BPEL standard defines the core of the deployment (runtime) environment. BPMN can be used for different purposes, from sketching high-level business processes to specifying business processes intended for automatic execution. For the latter, the BPMN 2.0 execution semantics have been aligned with the BPEL execution semantics. The BPMN 2.0 specification also includes a mapping to BPEL, to allow for deployment into BPEL-based deployment environments.

(Oracle, Manoj Das) Many, but not all, BPMN models will be implemented as executable processes. BPMN 2.0 will align with execution standards including SCA, BPEL 2.0, and BPEL4People. Further, BPMN 2.0 will be able to leverage organizational directories and other services available in the deployment environment.

(SAP, Ivana Trickovic) BPMN is meant to be agnostic to deployment and execution environments. That means, a BPMN process can be deployed and executed on different environments provided they support BPMN 2.0 execution semantics.

Q: What is the relationship between BPMN 2.0 and BPEL 2.0? Does BPMN 2.0 make BPEL redundant?

(IBM, Dave Ings) As stated above, BPMN is for modeling and BPEL is for deployment. They are both foundational standards which support the BPM development lifecycle.

(Oracle, Manoj Das) To start with BPMN is a modeling standard and BPEL is an execution standard. Both are complementary in that regard and many BPMN models may be executed as BPEL processes. However, as BPMN 2.0 defines sufficient execution semantics, implementations may start executing BPMN 2.0 natively, creating an overlap with BPEL 2.0. We believe that there will be significant consistency between the two from this perspective. Further, there will be different use cases for which the two approaches - BPMN models executed as BPEL and native BPMN execution - will be better suited.

(SAP, Ivana Trickovic) BPEL defines model and execution semantics for Web service-based processes which present a subset of the BPMN capabilities, e.g. BPMN allows the drawing of arbitrary graphs, and complex data flows.  The BPMN 2.0 proposal includes an optional mapping of a BPMN subset to BPEL which is restricted to block-structured flows without cycles. These BPMN processes can also be executed on BPEL-based execution environments.

Q: What is the relationship between BPMN 2.0 and BPEL4People?

(IBM, Dave Ings) BPEL4People is in fact two complementary specifications - "WS-BPEL Extension for People" and "WS-HumanTask" - which extend BPEL 2.0 to support human-executed activities ("human tasks") in business processes. BPMN also allows you to define business processes with people involvement, and such BPMN processes can be deployed onto BPEL with BPEL4People. BPEL4People is still being standardized at OASIS and so is not yet an adopted standard.

(Oracle, Manoj Das) If you refer back to the interview you did in April 2008 on BPEL4People, you will see that it is the same set of people as this. While we were working on BPEL4People, we were already cognizant of the fact that we will be working on BPMN 2.0 and will need to align the two. BPEL4People was designed such that its primary component - WS-Human Task - may be used with BPEL, BPMN, or any other process engine. As we continue the work on BPMN 2.0 and BPEL4People, we will continue to make sure that the two are aligned, and BPMN 2.0 leverages WS-HumanTask.

(SAP, Ivana Trickovic) BPMN 2.0 provides capabilities needed for modeling human-user interactions and workflow processes. BPEL4People and WS-HumanTask, which are part of the ongoing OASIS BPEL4People standardization activity, support important interoperability requirements between task execution engines, task list clients and process execution engines. Therefore, execution environments supporting BPEL4People and WS-HumanTask can be used to deploy and execute BPMN workflow processes.

Q. What is the relationship between BPMN 2.0 and XPDL?

(IBM, Dave Ings) XPDL defines a modeling language (that partially overlaps with BPMN) and process model exchange format. In the absence of an OMG defined exchange format, XPDL 2.0 was enhanced to support BPMN 1.1. As noted above BPMN 2.0 will define a specific exchange format and over time we expect the industry to migrate towards it.

(Oracle, Manoj Das) Since BPMN 1.1 did not specify a persistence format, products, including ours, used XPDL as the persistence and inter-change format for it. BPMN 2.0 will have a native persistence and inter-change format; we plan to stop using XPDL and start leveraging BPMN 2.0 specified format, migrating existing BPMN1.1/XPDL assets to BPMN 2.0. We expect that others will take similar approach.

(SAP, Ivana Trickovic) XPDL defines a model and interchange format for workflow processes. It has also been proposed as an interchange format for BPMN 1.1. processes. BPMN 2.0 introduces XMI-based and XSD-based interchange formats for BPMN models which we expect will be used in the future to interchange both BPMN 1.1 and BPMN 2.0 process definitions.

Q: If you had to pick one important aspect of BPMN, what would it be?

(IBM, Dave Ings) In IBM's view the most important aspect of BPMN 2.0 is that it will significantly enhance tool and runtime interoperability for business processes, by standardizing a graphical notation, semantics and XML interchange format. It will thereby move the industry towards the larger goal of aligning and integrating business and IT.

(Oracle, Manoj Das) The most important aspect of BPMN is the impact it has on process development lifecycle. It enables business analysts and IT to collaborate more effectively using a shared language and vocabulary. Traditionally, the analyst models became irrelevant as soon as IT started development. BPMN enables a high fidelity mapping from business analyst requirements to implementation, while supporting continuous refinements of business analyst requirements.

(SAP, Ivana Trickovic) The OMG BPMN 2.0 RFP has a broad scope so it is difficult to pick one specific feature. One critical drawback of the OMG BPMN 1.1 was underspecified execution semantics which is now addressed by the BPMN 2.0 proposal. Addressing this shortcoming will have a positive impact on BPMN adoption in future. Also, the integrated view on process orchestrations and choreographies is something new that we have not seen in other standards.
Q: What does compliance with BPMN mean?

(IBM, Dave Ings) The draft BPMN 2.0 specification defines four compliance points. Paraphrasing, they are process modeling, process execution, deployment to BPEL environments, and support for choreography. This recognizes that difference customers have different tool needs and that one size does not fit all - tool vendors can optimize a tool for particular class of users.

(Oracle, Manoj Das) First, compliance, as with any other standard, guarantees that users have consistent experience and their artifacts produce consistent results across vendor implementations. In this case, since BPMN addresses multiple constituencies, there are multiple dimensions of compliance. From a modeling perspective, compliance means that analysts and IT users of BPMN modeling tools have consistent modeling experience and can leverage their modeling skills and learning across different vendor implementations. From an execution perspective, compliance means a BPMN model executes the same across vendor implementations. For those who want to map BPMN to BPEL, compliance means consistent BPMN to BPEL mapping across vendors supporting it.

(SAP, Ivana Trickovic) The BPMN 2.0 proposal addresses different scenarios: modeling of business processes, exchange of process definitions and process execution. We envision that not all tools will support both modeling and execution of business processes. Also some tools may offer modeling of process orchestrations and not collaborative processes, or vice versa. In order to address these requirements, the BPMN 2.0 proposal defines a number of compliance targets including Process Modeling conformance, Process Execution conformance and Choreography Modeling conformance. Also, BPEL Process Execution conformance has been introduced for implementations that support the optional BPMN mapping to BPEL.

Q: How do you see the adoption rate of BPMN 1.1 and why should customers care about BPMN 2.0?

(IBM, Dave Ings) IBM has several tools in its portfolio which already support BPMN. Customer reaction has been positive so far and in sales opportunities we are often seeing it specified by the customer as a mandatory requirement - a sure sign that the technology has "crossed the chasm" and is becoming mainstream. Furthermore, we are considering using BPMN 2.0 as the interoperability standard within our business process modeling tools portfolio.

(Oracle, Manoj Das) We see significant interest in and adoption of BPMN 1.1. Today, we support both BPMN to BPEL as well as BPMN to XPDL. However, while BPMN 1.1 is serving an important role today, it is far from realizing its full potential as lingua franca for business analysts. It is hindered by its lack of standardized execution semantics and persistence format. This means that while BPMN modelers have similar concepts, they are not completely standardized and BPMN skills are not truly transferable. Moreover, BPMN models are not truly portable. BPMN 2.0 addresses these deficiencies and is a significant step forward.

(SAP, Ivana Trickovic) The fact is that BPMN 1.1 has been broadly adopted and software vendors and customers have great interest in its future development. The fact that many companies participate in the OMG BMI Task Force demonstrates the interest in this standard. Since the BPMN 2.0 proposal is based on BPMN 1.1 and addresses critical customer requirements, it is reasonable to expect that current implementations will be upgraded to version 2.0 and also new implementations will emerge.

Q: Why is your company interested in BPMN?

(IBM, Dave Ings) IBM is widely acknowledged as the SOA market leader. The lifecycle of what we call "BPM Enabled by SOA" is to iteratively model, deploy and monitor, and BPMN provides a key standards based technology for the entire lifecycle. Therefore BPMN will allow our customers to accelerate their adoption of SOA and BPM. 

(Oracle, Manoj Das) We are generally committed to open standards as they drive customers’ total-cost-of-ownership down and adoption by mainstream enterprises. We have leveraged the benefits of open standards across our stack for technologies targeted at the developer community. However, we believe that for our customers to achieve operational excellence in today’s environment, they need to bring in the business analysts with the business and domain understanding into the development lifecycle and empower them to do more and more. BPMN is clearly a standard that business analysts in our customer community find interesting and therefore, we are interested in and significantly vested in BPMN.

(SAP, Ivana Trickovic) Business processes are the core of SAP’s business software. Modeling business processes is an important capability which facilitates business process change and innovation. SAP adopted BPMN as its modeling notation for future collaborative processes.

Q: What's the timeline for BPMN 2.0?

(IBM, Dave Ings) It is always hard to predict the precise timeline for a standard created with an open process, since multiple points of view must be considered and reconciled. However we anticipate that an initial "beta" draft of the standard will be published by OMG in spring 2009 with the final specification published sometime in 2010.

(Oracle, Manoj Das) The involved parties are working fulltime on this and we are making good progress. Expect to see beta drafts early next year.

(SAP, Ivana Trickovic) Recently the OMG BMI Task Force reviewed the progress on proposals for BPMN 2.0 and approved a one-meeting deadline extension in order to provide additional time to complete the proposals as discussed above. It is expected that the Task Force will discuss the final proposals and their adoption at the next OMG Technical Meeting in March 2009. As a result of the meeting the OMG BPMN 2.0 Finalization Task Force may be ready to move forward in the second half of 2009 with an initial focus on issues that arise during the first wave of implementations of the new specification.

Q: What's next after BPMN 2.0?

(IBM, Dave Ings) With modeling (BPMN) and deployment (BPEL, BPEL4People) standards maturing in the market, IBM believes that attention will turn to business event, business rules, and enterprise architecture standards. In some cases these standards exist but need to be better integrated across the BPM lifecycle, in other cases there is a void where proprietary technology needs to be standardized to move the industry forward.

(Oracle, Manoj Das) We believe that standards, including all its accompaniments such as standard trainings, books, and methodologies, will enable business analysts to have a bigger and more meaningful role to play in the development lifecycle. With that in mind, we will like to standardize more and more of the aspects interesting to business analysts. In addition to specifying business models, business analysts are interested in specifying and managing policies and rules, events, metrics, and dashboards, simulation scenarios and models, and organizational models including roles and hierarchies. We will like to see standardization in these areas as well as their inter-relationships. We also will like to see development of some standard patterns and best practices that will facilitate BPMN learning.  

(SAP, Ivana Trickovic) SAP believes that adoption of BPMN 2.0 is the immediate next goal. In terms of future standardization activities the new capabilities in WS-BPEL and other areas, such as business rules, also deserve some attention.

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