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SOA and BPM headed for convergence, says Gartner

A new Gartner report urges developing a "process architecture" to support the coming convergence of service-oriented architecture and business process management.

Gartner Inc. analysts predict that, beginning in 2007, business process management (BPM) will become the driver for SOA implementations.

Business people really don't care about pieces of technology. They care about the problem they have and how somebody can help them solve it.
Rashid Khan
Founder and CEOUltimus Inc.

The technology for the convergence of BPM and SOA may not fully mature until 2010, but the analysts urge business adopt "process architecture" now if they want to take a leadership role in this trend.

In the report titled Gartner Predicts 2007: Align BPM and SOA Initiative Now to Increase Chances of Becoming a Leader in 2010, analysts tell business managers, SOA architects and developers to start adopting "process modeling and develop a process architecture." Process architecture includes identifying the customer-facing and partner-facing processes that are key to achieving the business goals of a company and then holistically concentrating on optimizing them through BPM and SOA, the Gartner analysts explain.

Asked for a definition of process architecture, Jim Sinur, Gartner vice president and distinguished analyst, who co-authored the report with Janelle B. Hill, research vice president, explained: "A process architecture would start with the 10-15 most important business processes and drill down from there to avoid process sub-optimization."

Project management specialists identify process sub-optimization as a Catch-22 in IT systems design where concentrating on making some of the processes more efficient can make the overall system less efficient. It is a little like the case where speeding up the number of cars that can pass through an onramp then causes a traffic jam by putting too many cars on the freeway at the same time. Thus the overall goal of smooth traffic flow is lost, even though the onramp is technically operating faster.

To avoid this, the Gartner report recommends that business analysts and architects take a holistic approach. "Identify the areas that require greater flexibility and adaptability than possible in their current implementation form," the report recommends. "Look for common activities and tasks across the process architecture where flexibility is desired. These areas should be the top priorities for an SOA and BPMS-based implementation."

Rashid Khan, founder and CEO of Ultimus Inc., a business process management (BPM) software vendor, said that when he read the Gartner report it jibed with his current experience with customers. He said he finds that business people don't care about SOA, but they do care about their business processes. He sees BPM as the link that brings business people into the SOA world.

"If you talk to a business person about SOA in most cases you'll draw a blank stare," Khan said. "It's a piece of technology. Business people really don't care about pieces of technology. They care about the problem they have and how somebody can help them solve it. So I think the fundamental advantage of BPM is that on the backend we are talking to applications and consuming Web services, which these applications are exposing. The service could be opening a bank account or finding inventory levels. So these services are available to us in an SOA. The business person doesn't really fully understand what SOA is, but from a process perspective, a business person can use a BPM tool and layout a business process."

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In the case of bankers wanting to set up an online application for opening an account, they are interested in the process, workflow and the business rules required to get that done, Khan said. How SOA might pull that all together into an application is where the IT professionals come into the overall process.

"SOA's big benefit is it abstracts the backend application from the process and the BPM tool allows a business person to dictate how the process will flow and which service will be consumed, without having to get into the details of the technology," Khan said.

Sinur notes in the Gartner report that all the tools and best practices for achieving SOA-BPM convergence are not yet available, but he urges organizations to begin the process now with technology they have if they want to be leaders when this approach to business applications matures in the coming decade.

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