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Business Ecology Initiative & Service-Oriented Solution

Michael Poulin

Business Process' Going Self-Distracting

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Lessons from History.

BackToFuture - Transformation of Process Defintion.jpg

The first, a manufacturing production has formed contemporary concept of a business process. People did what the technology required and nobody objected to the process. Business Process was defined a repeatable ordered set of activities that together deliver certain result.

A success of manufacturing gave some smart people an idea that the business process is a very productive organisation of business operations. They ported business processes onto non-manufacturing corporate environment.

Some people liked this because if they followed the process instructions the were freed from a need to think about work and were not responsible for it anymore; the instructions were in fault always.

Other people who did their work as they could before, now had to follow the prescriptions. No surprise that we started to hear that people are not for the process but the other way around.

Focus Shift
Then business managers liked the concept of business process because it perfectly supports the major personal ambitions - power and ownership. Indeed, if a manager became responsible for a process, the first managerial requirement was the ownership and authority. The process owned the set of activities to be performed as well as the conditions on when such activities will be performed. Moreover, if an activity was a process on its own, it should be owned by the super-process. A process-centric approach has caused a management hierarchy we see nowadays.

Sunny Day
When the pace of external changes was slow or it was a prosperous time when more and more of the same products/services were in demand, business process model worked perfectly. Though, the number of management levels gown faster than "productive" levels.

Rainy Day
When the pace of external changes speeded up and the demand for the same things declined,the only effective response the process-centric model could give and gave was a decrease of production. Companies were not able to adopt business changes via processes fast enough and failed as it had happened in the last long and deep crisis.

Rebellious Movement
To correct the adaptability problem, management had to allow a special role of knowledge workers in the process. The problem was that those workers did not have instructions and did what they had to do based on their knowledge and experience. The final goal was usually reached but the nomenclature of involved activities were not stable any more and the outcome varies. This led to the new movement of Adaptive Case Management that managers of the old school were not ready for.

The First Fight
The business process management (BPM) tried to defend its positions and re-defined the term "business process". Now, it sounded like "Business processes realize courses of action. Courses of action are undertaken to ensure that the enterprise makes progress towards one or more of its goals" (OMG). Managers still wanted to own actions (and sub-actions) but an ability to repeat activities and deliver the same outcome were dropped. Another problem appeared - how to measure this "makes progress towards one or more of its goals". In too many cases, the departmental goals prioritised over the enterprise goals resulting in disproportional evolution of companies and loosing its positions in the market.

The Rubicon is Crossed
Advanced enterprises started to search the solution in different areas than processes and found business services. Evolution of business services was several times faster than processes, probably, because the economic environment was more aggressive and mistakes were punished much quicker. Anyway, BPM came with an idea of flexible business process and the notion that the business process is the one that manages business services as its activities. But it was too late.

Business services evolved independently from processes and obtained a level of understanding and even standardisation that declared them independent business entities (units/teams) with their personal owners. This resulted in a clinch or interests - if a business process wants to use business services it cannot own them.

The Second Fight
The BPM did not want to give up and made the next move. They declared that anything and everything we do (in life) is a business process. Particularly, the European Committee of Standardisation states that a business process is "the behaviour of two or more business partners in order to achieve a common business goal." That is, there is no order, rules or logic are required for a process; no repeatable behaviour; no particular actions; no ownership. Now a process is an intangible behaviour of partners. We do not know what how a business partner is defined different "partners" from just independent entities that have the same business goal. For example, divisions in two "partners" that each mind their own business toward their divisional goal are not in a process because 1) they are not business partners; 2) divisional goals may have to do nothing with " a common business goal" of the two enterprises. Finally, what does mean "a common" business goal. Even among C-executives, there may be different opinions whether particular ' things' is a corporate goal. For example, in collaboration enterprises make a common goal their own goals but in cooperation a common goal does not become a goal of participating enterprises - they act as usual (by no caring about each other) but their outcomes are gathered by somebody and announced as a common goal.

Looks like this European Committee sacrificed everything meaningful jut to protect the concept of process, probably, hoping that managers would be able to save somehow their power and authority over interactions. This new definition of the business process is not constructive, it cannot be positioned in a context; it is too loose to be useful, thus, it is roundly political.

Final Process Distructing
The process in its original definition had been distracted in full when some people and companies (e.g., IBM) proposed to use a Decision Service (ILog) for performing decisions in each process step about what to do next. Altogether, all process activities are business services and the process logic is can be a special business service as well. However, even in service-oriented ecosystem, there is a need to organise independent business services into a collective work for solving complex tasks. This mechanism is called orchestration, which may be seen as a brother to the business process. The fundamental difference between them is that orchestration's conductor , an entity that holds the logic of the collective work, does not own engaged services but deals with them on the contractual basis.

What Has Left to the Process
A collective work or orchestration is very important for the implementation of business services. This is the reason why it has to be preserved and maintained properly (based on contracts rather than on ownership). As a result, a definition of business process in the service-oriented ecosystem may be like the following "Business Process is a repeatable sequence of conditional steps that deliver the same results or business values in the given business execution context. The Business Process owns the process logic and interacts with external providers on a contractual basis".

This is not history yet. This is our current goal that we have to work hard for and to convince people that inter-servicing is much better, more effective and more progressive than a hierarchical 'command-and-control'.



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In this blog, Michael Poulin writes about business and technology ideas, concepts, methodologies and solutions leading to service-oriented enterprise, the primary instrument for obtaining business objectives in fast-changing environments.

Michael Poulin

Michael Poulin is an enterprise-level solution architect working in the financial industry in the U.K. and the United States.

He specializes in building bridges between business needs and technology capabilities with emphasis on business and technical efficiency, scalability, robustness and manageability. He writes about service orientation, application security and use of modern technologies for solving business problems. He contributes to OASIS SOA standards as an independent member and is listed in the the international "Who's Who of Information Technology" for 2001. View more


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