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BPEL: The tie that binds business processes

An emerging standard winding its way through the approval process will solve many of the problems that have plagued business process management systems, according to one expert. The handy standard with the clunky name is the Business Process Execution Language for Web Services (BPEL4WS).

LAS VEGAS -- Time-consuming business processes are hard to live with and even harder to fix, but one expert says an emerging Web services standard could bring business process automation much closer to reality for many companies.

During a session Monday at the Enterprise IT Week conference, Collaxa Inc. CTO Doron Sherman told attendees that Business Process Execution Language for Web Services (BPEL4WS, or BPEL) solves many of the problems that have plagued traditional business process management systems for so long.

Those systems have been expensive, proprietary, and muddled by a confusing market with dozens of vendors, Sherman said. For those reasons, many companies choose to live with painful manual processes. Businesses are often reluctant to build their own BPM systems, or they fear falling victim to vendor lock-in.

BPEL, which is currently working its way through the OASIS standards body, is intended to provide an XML-based method of describing the chain of human and machine processes that must be performed to complete a business task, such as the processing of a loan application.

Specifically, Sherman said, BPEL can help a company integrate heterogeneous applications into a process where time-consuming tasks like phone calls and faxes would otherwise be required.

With the help of a BPEL orchestration server, Sherman said, a company can now use Web services to not only automate information exchange between disparate applications and systems, but also bundle several of them together with user-initiated tasks to create a business process execution system that can quickly change to meet business needs.

Sherman said BPEL has developed because of the cooperation between IT's biggest vendors. It was born in August of last year, when IBM combined its Web Services Flow Language (WSFL) specification with Microsoft's XLang proposal.

Early this year, BPEL was implemented commercially for the first time. Microsoft and IBM then submitted it to OASIS for ratification in March, and other vendors, including Sun Microsystems Inc. and Oracle Corp., soon endorsed it as well.

Attendee David Dahl, vice president of technology development for Chicago-based Orbitz, said he wasn't familiar with BPEL prior to the session, even though he has been "watching and evaluating" the evolution of Web services technology.

Dahl said that, because his company is still young, he doubts that BPEL would be a great help -- Orbitz's business processes and IT infrastructure are, for the most part, already integrated. However, he is learning how to best expose certain processes externally, and he said BPEL would probably "help get our arms around business processes."


Check out our BPEL Learning Guide.

Learn more about BPEL for external Web services.

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