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Why Are We Still Talking About Process Management Instead of Service Orchestration?

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From Michael Poulin: From the outside world, a business process has an interface, target results and input data. A business service may be described in exact same way. The business process actions may be implement by services (manual or automated); the process decision logic may be provided by other special services. If everything about the business process is defined via business services, what is so specific in BPM? Why are we still talking about process management instead of service orchestration?

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  • Michael, you are right about the strong overlap but conceptually you are talking about two different layers of abstraction as they say. Services can be used for a lot of different things other than business process management (ITLM being an example that comes to mind quickly) and conversely BPM does not require a service oriented architecture (doesn't even require technology). Putting BPM and SOA into lockstep as if one requires the other is actually harming the growth of both to some extent (althogh since BPM has been around 30 or so years, the harm cannot be said to be too significant). -- Dennis Byron

  • I have some empathy with this question I think that it misses a crucial point. The building of course grained business services is absolutely the right thing to do – having a service which contains business rules, UI, KPIs supporting metadata are the only way to go. It opens up a whole new way of building and deploying applications – we can now assemble not program. Great – problem is that the services are part of a business process which needs to be managed – if you picture a service as a sub-process (a component of a bigger process) then your solutions become far more readily controlled and changed – by invoking services on demand and not pre-defining what those services need to be you can change the applications 1 second before the transaction occurs.

    Why do we need process enablement to deliver this vision?

    There are many reasons as to why we need process technology to govern the deployment of business services and chief among them is compliance.

    For example, using services to build Situational Applications can be very disruptive and lead to anarchy and a breakdown of corporate governance and compliance. Think of all those Excel spreadsheets that are used to run most businesses – no control no compliance no ownership. Process enablement of these types of applications will provide ownership, control and auditablity – making them compliant with the corporate demands without stifling innovation and change.

    So using process based technology we are able to deliver simple to use service based applications, where, and when they are needed (Situational Applications); effectively deploying the technology as managed services along with all the other services that can be found in today’s organizations.

  • It seems to me that this conversation is about technology buzzwords. The real discussion should be around solving real business problems. The technology doesn't matter if it doesn't solve the problem.

  • The simple answer: “Service orchestration? sounds too technical to be funded by the business; “business process management? is far simpler for the business to wrap their heads around. Right now business units hold the purse strings, and initiatives that can be easily explained (and show clear business value and ROI potential) to the CFO are getting the green light. Imagine, walking in to your CFO’s office saying “I need a half million dollars for a service orchestration initiative.? He’ll boot you out of his office faster than you can spit out the merits of “service orchestration.?

    The other challenge with “service orchestration? is that it subtly suggests complexity (i.e., add another layer to your technology infrastructure to make it simpler). Unfortunately, in the current economic climate, most companies just aren’t interested in adding yet another layer – in fact, most are looking to shed a few layers to become leaner. That doesn’t mean they’re shunning service orchestration; instead it means service orchestration becomes a key ingredient in the recipe for BPM success. BPM (i.e., “business process?) surfaces opportunities for building services that can be reused and orchestrated (that doesn’t seem like a real word).

    Bottom line, executives understand business process management; they don’t understand “service orchestration? or “business services.? Best to stick with what will get your project funded, right?

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    Clay makes a good point where non- IT decision-makers are in the loop. Indeed the word 'service' as well as 'orchestration' can be affected. Non-IT people understand 'a service' by its plain English meaning. A hair dressing chain MD will see haircuts as the service and not relate the term easily to an automated component of his order management system for supplies for example.

    The problem from 'BPM' for general progress is that it is so long established and has such a comprehensive sounding name in simple language that it implies IT optimality and a holistic approach to non-technicians whereas open minded IT insiders know that BPM is one alternative for part of the picture. Critical missing elements for efficiency and flexibility such as SOA or BPM alternatives are tough to explain to non-IT decision-makers. Its all in a name sometimes!

    However, to maintain the usefulness/ longevity of this interesting discussion string, why not assume that 'service orchestration' is successfully called in business language XXX and then we can move on from semantics and word ambiguity (important though they can be) to focus on Michael's question.

  • Michael, as others have said we are talking about technology vs. business. For me we can step back even further. Your question was not why are we talking BPM instead of service orchestration, but why are we talking process management.

    The fact that many people are still talking about process management may be due them realising that BPM(S) is only one way of potentially dealing with the issue, there are others, such as simple workflow, document management etc. as well as the fact that many of the Lean or Six Sigma type approaches are being successfully applied to process improvement efforts.

    To my mind people are talking about Process Management in order that they can avoid being trapped into a one way/technology solution.

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    Folks, thank you for the comments. I do agree that the question is a bit ambiguous (deliberately). However, I hoped that you would picked up the tone from the explanations – I talked about technical implementation of business processes in IT rather than about Business Process Management at large.

    The point I have is simple: in Business, we have many business processes, which, I believe, jut implementations of business services but this is different topic; in Technology, we supporting business processes while many of them may be fully automated. In some cases automation is not efficient from business perspective but in many other cases we do not automate just to preserve business operational teams. The these latter cases, I am sure that Technology can re-define any of such ‘business processes’ via services and service orchestration, and simplify business process hierarchy by removing the low level manual operations.

    To Jon Pyke: I am sure that Business is service-oriented from the top and can be service-oriented in the middle and at the bottom. All business processes are just immediate implementation of the business services via solutions available to the Business. Dominant majority of organisations have only 5-7 business processes defined in the business model, all other processes are implementation of business services, functions and features. Whilst business processes exist, they require management, of cause. However, if Business would partner with Technology, many of those processes may be re-focused onto business services and functions providing enormous flexibility and efficiency to the business organisations. Yes, I am talking about relisation of service orientation within Business itself.

    To Scott Cleveland: here is a real business problem – adoption of new industry regulation in the most efficient manner, which does not only save real money for the company but also, and may be first of all, provides market advantage over slower moving competitors. Adoption of related changes via process-oriented business operational model is slower and more expensive than via function-oriented (service-oriented) model that also contains highly authoritative cross-functional service/function. Realisation of function-oriented business model does not exclude internal implementation in the form of business processes. Technology in this case doesn't matter, indeed. What matters is the service-oriented approach to business organisation.

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    Michael, Please correct just para 2 or re-post

  • Michael,
    What about the human factor? In most business processes, people play a large, active role in the processes. If you are talking about "straight through processing" or system integration - then the two are equivalent, but for processes that are heavily human oriented, they aren't. People have a hard enough time seeing themselves as a part of a process - just think how they would react if you told them they are just a service that needs to be orchstrated :)

    But seriously, by using terminology (e.g. service orchestration) that ignores the people part of business process - you are enabling IT folks to continue to ignore the ad-hoc, human process that make up 80% of the business.

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    Yes, I agree fully agree with Jacob U. All end to end cycle of any transaction or process is nothing but orchestration of services/methods. A good process management can give you more feature on top of orchestration like SLA, BAM,…

  • The answer is simple. Managers execute business processes. Business value is added though the execution of business processes. Hence, to add value, services must enable business processes. It makes more sense for IT to conform with the language of the business, as opposed to the other way around.

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