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Modeling Business Processes Has Nothing to Do with Standards

I gave a workshop at the Enterprise Architect Summit Monday entitled IT Drivers for Business Process Modeling. When it came time for me to explain the plethora of language stacks and standards that comprise this field, my only option was to present an unreadable two-slide PowerPoint list of the languages, their standards body, and their purpose.

Then the fun began. Why can't BPMN and BPEL play together if they are both standards? What is the difference between a notation and an execution language? Isn't there an execution language that goes along with BPMN? Why are we using that one? What is the Workflow Management Coalition?

The fundamental problem in Business Process Modeling (BPM) is that there are competing standards that in many cases would be better off complementing each other. So the Business Process Execution Language (BPEL), an OASIS standard, actually competes with the Business Process Modeling Language (BPML), a standard of the Business Process Management Initiative (BPMI), now under the auspices of the Object Management Group (OMG). So the industry has adopted the notation language from this group, BPMN, but also BPEL from OASIS. See?

It gets even more complicated, but the point is that Business Process Modeling as a field is still pretty immature. The standards bodies (OASIS, OMG, and WfMC) have to work together rather than compete, and devise a single language stack that practitioners can learn and vendors can build tools for. There is a great deal of potential in BPM to bring together disparate applications that until now have operated in silos in the enterprise. SOA isn't sufficient unless you have a plan for what business activities it will address, and that's where BPM comes in. But it can't happen until we have a single language stack that everyone can work toward.

Posted by Peter Varhol on 05/16/2006

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