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Does Pairing BPM and SOA Make For a Better Way to Align Business and IT?

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In the wake of Progress Software's acquisition of Savvion and IBM's pick up of Lombardi, and as the SOA Guru asks, do you think combining BPM and SOA makes for a better way to align business and IT then using either alone?

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  • In large enterprises with a lot of unintegrated systems, and more importantly many people that have to interact with the information in those systems, SOA + BPM makes a lot of sense. But if the number of people needing access to a 'service' or two is low, SOA underpinning BPM could be viewed as integration for the sake of integration.

    There is no benefit to IT or the business in spending heaps of cash to help a handful of people avoid flipping between a few apps on screen. Fingers and thumbs manage Alt+Tab and Ctrl-C cheaper and faster than spending 200k on integrating a couple of applications, and another 500k for building the business process to help others avoid doing the same.

    For a large number of businesses, the level of investment they can consider is streamlining some broken business processes with a workflow tool and some simple, pragmatic integration of systems where appropriate (do mashups count as SOA?). This basic but effective approach appears to provide a far better bang for far fewer bucks.

    In my opinion, BPM + SOA has not been pervasive, due to the expense, complexity or number of software developers required to make it really work.

    Phil Ayres

  • SOA is mostly about the business re-organization around services. It implies the redesign of business flows as orchestration of services and as such it is based on BPM practices.
    Good business IT alignement is implicitly provided by the Enterprise SOA.

  • I am amazed that in the year 2010 this question is still being asked?

    To me and many others the answer was obvious years ago. The only natural way to align business and IT is through BPM+SOA.

    We have to remember that SOA, like BPM, is as much a discipline as it is a technology solution. To those who claim that the cost of SOA is high, I want to ask the question: Have you ever calculated the cost of no SOA?

    Also, SOA as discipline and technology can be implemented incrementally. As long as the architecture is defined properly, companies can deploy one, two or three services, and add more as they are needed. There is nothing which says that all services must be implemented all together! Furthermore, given the tools availabe from software vendors, developing SOA is not as expensive proposition that some claim it to be.

    If the vision of BPM as a business tool is going to be realized, the logical way is to isolate the business fucntions from the IT functions in a coherent model. BPM+SOA is the best, and I would dare say the only model out there today.

  • The combination of BPM and SOA has far more potential value than either of them on their own, in my opinion. But that's a different question than whether it will lead to increased alignment. It's safe to say that for maximum value to be achieved, the entire business, including the IT department, needs to be aligned and thinking as one.

    Frankly, I don't think any IT-driven concept is going to magically create alignment. You typically can't align the front end of your car by adjusting one wheel. Both wheels have to adjusted and put in sync. The same is true here. If IT pushes a business process driven approach or a service-oriented approach, and the rest of the business doesn't think in terms of processes or services, we're not necessarily going to be any better than we are today.

    We need to have some common way of describing the enterprise such that it is clear where information and technology dependencies exist, where they do not, and whether those align with the desired operating model of the company. If you do not have clear views of the information portfolio, the technology portfolio, and the operating model, there's no way to even say whether you're in alignment or not. Furthermore, you could be in alignment, but that may not be the best model for company goals. You may be completely out of alignment (or simply not know), yet still be succeeding as a company due to market factors. At some point, lack of alignment, either internally, or against the company goals will come back to haunt you.

    So, the real question here is what is the tipping point for the appropriate level of alignment? Can business process models help? Absolutely. Can a service-based or capability model help? Absolutely. Are there other models besides these? Absolutely. Information is power, but you can get mired in it. If you choose to add more models in, you get more information, but you also add work to make those models work seamlessly together. If you can't do that in the timeframe needed to execute the change, then you may be better off starting with a single IT model (be in service or process models) and a single business operating model, make your improvements, and then use additional models to incrementally improve things. If you're able to bring multiple sources together, you may be positioned to make a greater leap, but that leap may take longer to achieve the results. Neither way is wrong, it's a decision that must be made according to the needs of each individual company.

  • I'll agree with everyone else and say: yes, BPM + SOA is critical for aligning business and IT. But how? The answer is that you need to use a SOA-based BPMS.

    One of the key characteristics of SOA is that it is standards based. The key standards for a SOA-based BPMS are WS-BPEL 2.0 for the underlying engine, BPEL4People and WS-HumanTask for the inclusion of people in the process, and BPMN 2.0 for the process notation.

    WS-HumanTask is especially noteworthy when you care about SOA. Unlike traditional workflow systems, WS-HumanTask is designed to make tasks done by people look like services to the rest of the system. Yes, people are services! Also, with BPEL-based processes, you don't have to decide whether a process should offer services or not. All processes implement services. Using a form to kick one off is just a special case.

    Modeling all processes and all human work as services unifies the model for all work done in the system and greatly simplifies the overall architecture.

  • I maintain that the vision of BPM and SOA is to align business better with IT. I think this is possible to do, has immense value and is a better way of spending your integration dollars for long term reuse from an IT perspective and alignment from a business perspective.

    In reality this vision often goes unrealized thanks purely to the fact that SOA design and Business Process design event more so, is just a skill not found easily.

  • Yes and No. We have been talking for years about how BPM both accelerates and increases the business value of SOAs. People use business process management to open new customer accounts, detect and investigate fraud, and match invoices to purchase orders – and more and more services/SOAs deliver the information required for people to make decisions and ultimately the business transactions that complete the work.

    This marriage works fine on a small, departmental scale but falls apart in large, complex enterprises. Why? Because the extremely limited process modeling and analysis capabilities available with most BPM products lack the broad range of modeling capabilities needed to truly leverage SOAs. By only offering the most basic of process models, the entire SOA is left out of the picture – there is no way to understand what services are used by what processes, or what processes will be effected by changes as the SOA evolves.

    To make the most of SOA+BPM you have to first take a model-driven approach to SOA so that you can then truly analyze and understand the interrelationship between strategy, goals, processes, people, and services. This allows both IT and the business to establish “value traceability? between the information and transactions offered via SOAs and avoid projects that deliver SOA for SOA’s sake.

    From another angle, the potential power of SOA and BPM, when used alone or in unison, lies in the control, visibility, and most importantly the flexibility to change rapidly. By not understanding the relationship between business processes and services you can actually decrease flexibility. Changes to services, datagrams, and SLAs are made without a thorough understanding of the business impact. The result is a set of fragile (not agile) processes and services that are no better off than traditional, pre-process thinking and point-to-point integration.

    So yes, combining BPM and SOA makes for a better way to align business and IT then using either alone, but the recent announcements do little truly take advantage of the potential.

  • To answer the question simply, YES...

    BPM only truely works well when it is used as an integrator, bringing people, data and systems together seamlessly in order to complete a business process or task. The best way of doing this is through services.

    One of the problems is that current BPM mapping doesnt allow for really powerful integration to occure, becuase of this it can be expensive to try and integrate LOBs into a BPM process and in some cases, the very first comment in response to this question by Phil can be true...However, lets be positive and move BPM forward...

    If your BPM solution provides integration through Services, and it can utilise LOB business services within a process, then that solution is always going to provide great flexibility and integration capabilities, it will align business and IT better and more importantly, serve the business better...

    SOA is the way forward for BPM and ECM for that matter...

  • A flippant answer: better than what?

    Todd has hit the nail on the head yet again I think: "no IT-driven concept is going to magically create alignment". The models you can create in SOA and BPM work can be put together and shared in such a way that they help to create a shared language and vision across the business - but success there is more about organisation and culture than it is about the models themselves.

    I'm a big advocate of both BPM and SOA done right, but let's keep things in perspective.

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