BPM + SOA as a Composite Application Model is Gaining Mindshare

| by Jean-Jacques Dubray Follow 3 Followers on Jul 19, 2007. Estimated reading time: 2 minutes |

Innovating at the business process level has become critical for most companies in 2007. In a classical case of the innovator’s dilemma, Google looked at Overture’s processes to publish ads on participating sites and quickly figured out they could do better.  Armed with only a few optimized processes, they took over Overture’s business in 18 months and grew the web ads market to unimaginable levels. This is what business process innovation can do.

Overture was unable to react, partly because they did not see it coming and felt little pressure at first to optimize their processes, but mostly because once they were built Overture could not change its systems which involved critical manual steps that Google eliminated or offered in a self-service mode.

It has long been recognized that traditional application models are not geared towards changing business processes easily.  In a J2EE or .Net programming model, processes are hard coded. Charles Simonyi –the cosmonaut developer and founder of intentional software- compares this type of coding to an “encryption” process.  In most companies, and over time, employees tend to “go around” systems as new process optimizations are discovered or certain exceptions can’t be handled and tracked by the systems. Ultimately, critical pieces of the business process context or analytics are captured in notes or spreadsheets at best.

The effort to create and leverage business process formalisms in software is not new. In his thesis “the state of the art of business process modeling and execution” (2007), Jungmin Ju, is retracing the history of BPM standards. Yet, as of today, the attempts to integrate BPM within the application model are timid to say the least. Microsoft does provide some building blocks with WF and Acropolis, but for the most part, BPM products are developed as solutions and therefore require integration with application models such as JEE or proprietary environments.

This latest survey from Aberdeen confirms that most people indeed need to change their processes often and that they are committed to do it with a BPM infrastructure. The survey reports that:

“51% employ manual processes to get the job done” and “21% say their applications force them to limit service offering”. As a result “50% of those surveyed are turning to BPM in 2007.”

Another interesting fact is how clear the link is between SOA and BPM, which was also noted by Sandy Carter, IBM VP of SOA Strategy, when she said eloquently:  “BPM and SOA are the two faces of the same coin”. And, in this article, Alex Cullen, Forrester analyst, shows how SOA is refactoring the application model towards being more process centric (see Figure 1 in the article).

“SOA technology and web services is the glue that 67% indicate they will use to tie BPM to ERP and other enterprise applications”, while 62% acknowledge that the driver of their SOA initiative is “the need to support new, agile business processes”. Aberdeen concludes “Commitment to and interest in both SOA and BPM spells the difference between Best in Class organizations and the rest of the survey pool.”

Based on these numbers, Aberdeen is suggesting that 2007 will be the year of BPM. The BPM market is growing and healthy: just published their latest survey of BPM products.

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What about BPM + ROA? by Porter Woodward

As a habitual fence sitter committed to neither REST nor WS-* I wonder at the tight coupling of BPM systems to SOA (typically implemented with the plethora of WS-* standards).

Assuming that some mechanism can be put in place to help auto-describe RESTful services (WADL?) it would seem potentially ideal to combine BPM type tools and notation to control access to and flow of REST style services. Most business processes are centered around the consumption and production of documents (concrete, or virtual) - creating, updating, etc.

Just food for thought.

Re: What about BPM + ROA? by Jean-Jacques Dubray


I am not sure I can establish a semantic difference between ROA and SOA, it is rather syntactic IMHO, so I don't see why process engines would be limited to invoking WS-I type services.

Representational state transfer does indeed look like an interesting idea to implement a certain class of business processes (I would not call it ideal though). Not all business processes are limited to manage "documents" even conceptually. BPM has long suffered from the lack of a general formalism that could be applied to all kinds of business processes and I am not sure REST would bring any solution to this accute problem.

I don't want to revive the REST vs WS debate. I like David Chappell's post on the topic. Debate is over, both are here to stay and great at solving some class of problems.


Don't forget decisions by James Taylor

I blogged in response to this over on ebizQ. I also think that these posts on InfoQ are useful in this context:
Implementation of business rules and business processes in SOA
Overview of rules engines
Using rules and agile

Service Enabled Processes Here to Stay by Zubin Wadia

BPM & SOA are certainly here to stay and we've been implementing an amalgam of both for our customers over last 2 years. We've noticed that the key differentiator tends to be the boundaries set between Process Resources and Process Routing/Transformation. Obviously, how well you set those boundaries is a factor of implementation experience & subject matter expertise.

If one distills it down to that level - you are likely to get a solution that isn't skewed towards a "human-centric" or "service-centric" orchestration. Today, real world solutions need a balance of both. Process execution platforms like Websphere Process Server are examples of suites that offer the ability to execute BPM+SOA in a unified environment with BPEL, BPEL4People & SCA assisting.

Unlike many things in life, BPM-SOA is not a chicken-egg situation. I believe an SOA mindset makes BPM implementations significantly more successful because they aid process agility & optimization. We've realized a lower ROI for our customers when they have explored process automation without having a service backbone in place.


Zubin Wadia
"Business Acceleration Through Process Automation"

Re: Don't forget decisions by Jean-Jacques Dubray


thanks for your comments. I agree with you after reading your book on EDM. This was definitely an eye opener for me. We need to start thinking about the relationship between EDM,BPM and SOA.


Re: Service Enabled Processes Here to Stay by Jean-Jacques Dubray


we are also in complete agreement. I am happy to see that some practioners are recommending an approach that pushes some orchestration in the service layer as opposed to keep it exclusively in the process layer. I have been recommending this since 2002 ( and again in 2004 Most recently I have been working on an abstract SOA framework that establish this design guideline prescriptively (



Re: Service Enabled Processes Here to Stay by Bikash K

We have a newsletter for the IT professionals on Enterprise Applications like PCM, BPM/SOA, Web Services, Business Intelligence, Datawarehouse, Data and Information Security. Anyone from the industry would like to write for it? We appreaciate such proposals and would like to help the writer by offering specific topics.

Re: Service Enabled Processes Here to Stay by Bikash K

You can check the newsletter at

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