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Better BPM tools replacing programmer skills

Today's EAI/BPM tools are better than ever, and one research firm says they could make programmer skills less important. Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy is putting those tools to work.

Integrated suites for enterprise application integration (EAI) and business process management (BPM) are empowering non-technical, business-level users with the tools to develop composite applications, according to a recent report from Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc.

The modeling tools in EAI/BPM suites are taking advantage of the maturation of Business Process Execution Language (BPEL) or Business Process Modeling Language (BPML) specifications to generate much, if not all, of the production code, according to the report.

"The notations included in these standards are directly linked to Java code, and the arrangement of the notations in a specific manner creates the process logic," said Ken Vollmer, Forrester analyst and author of the report.

BPEL is not rocket science. It doesn't take an application programmer to do it. You just need a subject matter expert.
Gary Shaffer
Chief TechnologistScience Applications International Corp.

As a result, the need for programming skills is being replaced by the need for newer skills focused on leveraging the advanced features of EAI/BPM tools, according to the report.

EAI/BPM suite vendor BEA Systems Inc. plans on releasing products over the next several months that will allow business users and other non-programmers to alter Java code using a configuration tool and potentially "wire together" prewritten services without the need to do any coding, according to sources close to the San Jose, Calif.-based company.

Vollmer thinks that the ability to use EAI/BPM modeling tools to define and implement new business processes reflects a new level of maturity in service-oriented architecture (SOA) development.

BPEL tools driving the U.S. Navy

In a case study presentation at the recent Web Services Edge 2005 conference in Boston, Gary Shaffer, chief technologist at San Diego-based Science Applications International Corp., described how BPEL and process-centric development is driving the U.S. Navy's Forcenet application.

Forcenet is a "net-enabled" operational construct that uses Web services and BPEL to integrate things like Warriors, sensors and weapons into a networked, distributed military application.

To demonstrate the power of BPEL tools, Shaffer described how a science adviser for the military shaved hours off the creation of his weekly weather briefing report, which was used for military operations.

Using a BPEL-based tool, Shaffer showed how the scientist composed a weather-gathering Web service that automatically checked the airports of various countries for their temperatures. The XML data was then run through an engine that generated a cleanly formatted PowerPoint presentation for him.

"BPEL is not rocket science. It doesn't take an application programmer to do it," Shaffer said. "You just need a subject matter expert. The hardest part is determining where the Web services reside and how to find the WSDL [Web Services Description Language]."

To that end, he described how the Navy is using SOA and middleware vendor Systinet Corp.'s implementation of UDDI 2.0 for Web services lookup and discovery.

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Check out the BPEL learning guide

Although the Navy ships run a multitude of applications, they all have the same interface, Shaffer said. "You can look up their WSDLs using meta data stored in the UDDI [Universal Description, Discovery and Integration] and bind to them on the fly."

The Navy uses BPELZ, a Collaxa plug-in to Eclipse. According to Shaffer, they were using the Collaxa product well before Oracle Corp. bought the company in June 2004 and rebranded it as the Oracle BPEL Process Manager.

On the subject of BPEL tools, Shaffer talked about model-driven architectures and described how IBM is working on a tool via its Rational product that allows users to insert "stereotypes" into their models and convert them into BPEL processes.

He also mentioned ActiveBPEL, an open source version of BPEL, which you can drop into any application server such as JBoss.

Shaffer emphasized that with these tools, "The orchestration is the business logic." As end users need functionality, they can build out specialized components. Subject matter experts can compose the application either at design time or at runtime.

"It took the military five to 10 years to deploy applications, now they're talking about doing it in weeks," Shaffer said.

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