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Will Activiti Meet the BPM Challenge?

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According to Scott Francis despite successes of open source BPM projects such as JBoss jBPM, ProcessMaker, Apache ODE, Intalio and BonitaSoft, up until recently commercial vendors have been dominating BPM software landscape. In his opinion, this is due to the fact that

BPM is a different animal than many other software categories-user experience is critical; the problem-space is wide, rather than narrow; and it requires seamless coordination of many different activities, rather than just a few activities. Add to that, the standards and specifications hadn’t firmed up yet, as they had for databases.

But, as Francis notes, the environment is evolving:

  • BPMN 2.0 provides what might be the first standard that is complete enough for open source software to use as a basis for competing with the commercial vendors
  • User Interface software development tools have improved. It is easier to produce visually appealing applications that run inside a browser than it ever was before (thanks to HTML 5, AJAX, and several libraries built to leverage both).
  • The cloud makes potential deployment of complicated software components easier to manage.

And this creates an opportunity for a new wave of open source BPM projects. The latest of them, - Activiti, was announced just last week.

One of the distinguishing features of the Activiti project, according to Sandy Kemsley, is that:

They believe that BPEL will be replaced by BPMN for most general-purpose BPM applications, with BPEL being used only for pure service orchestration... Although they are only supporting a subset of the BPMN 2.0 standard now - which could be said of any of the process modelers out there, since the standard is vast - they are committed to supporting the full standard, including execution semantics and the interchange format.

Tom Baeyens, Alfresco’s BPM Chief Architect and project lead, has expressed some of the goals of the Activity project:

The first target of Activiti is to achieve the same developer friendliness that we established at jBPM... Thanks to the Process Virtual Machine design, apart from BPMN 2.0, Activiti will also be able to support other process Domain Specific Languages (DSL)... our ambition is to build the clear #1 BPM engine.

Peter Hilton from Lunatech Research sees a lot of potential in Activiti:

Activiti starts a new generation of business process management (BPM) software that will disrupt the existing BPM engine landscape. Activiti promises to be the ideal choice for using BPM in commercial application development, because it is both based on open-standards and distributed under a liberal open-source license. More than anything else, these two aspects of Activiti make it more interesting for commercial software development than either other open source BPM platforms that have more restrictive licenses, or closed-source commercial offerings that carry the heavy price of vendor lock-in.

Francis considers that the focus of Activiti is on:

... embedding the engine inside other software - and on more liberal licensing terms (Apache license) that should make it easier for software companies to adopt it. And I think the market is ripe for an open source BPM platform that leverages standard underlying technologies and is built from the beginning to allow for cloud-based deployment. I think they’re off to a good start to create something that is really developer-friendly.

Which causes a negative reaction from Active endpoints:

BPM is a management discipline... That means that not every process ends up being automated. Of those that do... it makes no sense - none whatsoever - for those to be automated inside another type of product. Instead, the real opportunity for BPMSs is to allow the extended development team to break down the design barriers of ECM, CRM, ERP, PLM and other application types to focus on the core business process. The desired process model is, literally, "above" the constraints and assumptions of the containing systems.

Activiti is definitely a very strong new player in the open source BPM arena. It will become even stronger providing that BPMN 2.0 will really become not only a notation, but a de facto BPM execution language.

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