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Business and IT need to get cozier in an SOA

Business process tools can help, but a symbiotic relationship and collaboration are key, according to Forrester Research.

It's no secret that business and IT need to work together, particularly in a service-oriented environment, where collaboration needs to go beyond the requirements document, according to Randy Heffner, a vice president at Forrester Research Inc., Cambridge, Mass.

Business services in a service-oriented architecture (SOA) are best designed with an understanding of the business process, which requires a new model for how IT and business work together, which Heffner dubs "concurrent business engineering" in a new report.

 It's about driving a connection with business and IT around business processes. Process is where the two worlds meet.
Randy Heffner
Vice PresidentForrester Research

Concurrent business engineering borrows from the notion of concurrent engineering in the manufacturing world, where product design and manufacturing engineers collaborate. With concurrent business engineering, IT and business work together to identify a business process that needs improvement or a new business opportunity, and collaborate on designing the process, as well as the technology solution.

"It's about driving a connection with business and IT around business processes," Heffner said. "Process is where the two worlds meet."

While a symbiotic relationship is needed, Heffner said the larger burden falls to IT to understand the business. "From an IT perspective, they need to get smarter about business, talk about business processes and run projects in business terms. But IT largely measures itself on, 'Did we deliver on time, on spec, on budget?' You can do that and not deliver any business value."

With concurrent business engineering, collaboration revolves around business process design, Heffner said. Tools for business process management (BPM), business process modeling and business activity monitoring (BAM) can help, but he said they are not essential, and still have some maturing to do.

"You can turn business analysts into programmers at some level, but in a sense they have the same ability to introduce a bug into a system [as IT] that drives a business into the ground," he said. "The fundamental issue gets back to control and stability of the environment. And you have to be opportunistic. If [IT] has a good relationship with business and they're competent and interested in doing this stuff, then sure, but I wouldn't hold them to a standard of producing what IT needs."

The makers of business process modeling and management tools recognize this need for collaboration and are addressing it in various ways. Phil Gilbert, chief technology officer of Lombardi Software Inc., in Austin, Texas, said Lombardi has what it calls a playback methodology, which is a collaborative, iterative process baked into the development environment.

During a playback session, businesspeople, business analysts, IT analysts and IT developers in real time "can run the process flow with forms and the businesspeople can experience it and say, 'Right there I need another piece of data to run that application; alter it right there.'"

After the playback session, IT will typically make the changes, he said. Throughout the development process, there would be numerous playback sessions.

Savvion Inc., a BPM provider in Santa Clara, Calif., targets its process modeling tool at business analysts, but according to vice president of marketing Don Nanneman, managing the process models has become a challenge, particularly when leveraging an SOA. Last month Savvion released a new product, the Savvion Process Asset Manager (PAM), along with a new version of the Savvion Process Modeler.

"Our customers view their processes as assets. PAM is a repository for process models. It allows analysts to store process models or subprocesses in the repository, and the repository manages all the activity around the models, from access control to check-in/check-out, versioning, etc. It's also a repository for the simulation data."

For more information

Learn how better business process management tools are replacing programmer skills 


Should SOAs be developed using a top-down or bottom-up approach?


Business process modeling: Methodology for enterprise integration 

Rick Mattock, vice president of product strategy, at BPM provider Fuego, in Plano, Texas, said IT "has to be the right-hand man to the CFO [chief financial officer] or CEO."

In a runtime environment, businesspeople are looking for process monitoring and business activity monitoring, he said. For example, Mattock said, they want to know if "Joe" is sitting on an order. And on the design side, he said, BPM is "keeping historical information and feeding it back to the business analyst who can make modifications in the process."

Before thinking about tools, however, Forrester's Heffner said organizations must focus on business process improvement, establish business and IT metrics, develop mutual understanding between the IT and business side of the house and focus on the design of the business rather than the IT architecture.

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