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Q&A: Stephen White, IBM: BPMN spec aims to help join business and IT

The Business Process Management Initiative (BPMI.org) recently began delivering release 1.0 of the Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN 1.0), which is designed to provide a readily understandable, royalty-free notation for both business process design and business process implementation, according to the organization.

This spec will help bridge the gap between business analysts and technical developers responsible for business process management within the enterprise, according to Stephen White, business process management architect for IBM's WebSphere Business Integration Strategy and Architecture.

In this QA conducted in an e-mail exchange, JDT asked White about the significance of this new spec.

Q: What are the new capabilities and offerings of BPMN 1.0 and how does it help users of business process modeling tools?

A: Historically, each vendor provided their own individual notations within their tools and methodologies. BPMI.org brought together a consortium of process modeling vendors and consultants to work on a common standard notation that targets a business user. BPMN includes a key capability: a mapping from the business-oriented notation to the execution language BPEL4WS. This creates a new bridge, within the standards arena, between the business level and IT level that was previously handled by riskier, ad-hoc methods.

Q: What are the advantages in offering a standardized graphical notation?

A: The end users of process modeling tools will benefit in that the models they develop will be consistent regardless of the tool of origin or purpose. This will greatly aid in communication and collaboration. Moreover, this will help in the training of employees, especially for those moving between companies, both end-user companies and consulting companies.

The mapping to BPEL4WS provides a technical bridge that, historically, has been handled by IT developers re-creating process models for input into the appropriate execution tool. Such a manual connection between the business-level model and the IT-level model is error prone and loses the traceability between the original requirements and the executed processes.

Q: What are the next steps for the BPMN specifications?

A: BPMN is currently at a 1.0 version of the specification. There is a commitment from many vendors to implement the specification this year. As these vendors gain experience with the specification, particularly the mapping to BPEL4WS, we expect the feedback will require a maintenance release of BPMN within 9-12 months.

Since BPMI is not a true standards organization, but rather innovates and incubates technology, BPMN will eventually be forwarded to a formal standards organization. The OMG is a likely candidate, and there have been discussions between BPMI and OMG to facilitate this move. Within the OMG, BPMN could be brought into the UML framework and consolidated with the Activity Diagram.

Q: Why are business process management and modeling becoming key components of the application development cycle and what is its relevance to the developers?

A: Business process modeling and management bring the software tools of the process owners and end users into a tighter and more coherent relationship with the software tools of developers. This ensures that the requirements as defined in the business-level tools are more rapidly and accurately realized by the development tools. The developers then provide better products that are more closely aligned with business intent.

Q: Can you give us an example of how the new standard would be used in developing a business application for J2EE/WebSphere?

A: The notation would be used within the IBM WebSphere Business Integration Modeler tool as the user's view for the development of business process models. The models could then be transformed into BPEL4WS components that can be deployed to the runtime engine. Other information in the process models, including process artifacts, provides information on how data flows in and out of applications. This information can be linked to the IBM Rational suite of tools for application development.

About the Author

Rich Seeley is Web Editor for Campus Technology.

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