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BPEL for Process Modeling Sucks

By on Mar 15th, 2009
Filed Under Industry Trends // Tags: ,

I’m sure you have heard “If your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” This is precisely the concept that plagues many IT organizations today. We have “smart” organizations that look to the future of SOA, mustering up the budget to buy and implement a BPEL solution. They get to work. The next thing you know, you have a team of developers creating business processes in a programmer’s IDE. BPEL is not the best tool for modeling/documenting and communicating business processes to humans…just the same as Java code is not the best tool for documenting and communicating business logic to humans.

BPEL for Process Modeling

BPEL for Process Modeling

Of course, as varied as they may be, there are reasons organizations are succumbing to “BPEL for modeling”. Below I have provided a couple of contributing factors and misconceptions that I have witnessed:

  • The budgets for the SOA/BPEL project were requisitioned by IT and they did not plan appropriate time from the business community for process modeling.
  • The processes are believed to be “IT processes”, and business process modeling is not needed.
  • Processes change, and the cost to maintain both business and BPEL models individually will be high.
  • BPEL modeling is “good enough”. Besides, nobody looks at business process models after they are initially designed.
  • And the most common: Initially, structured business process modeling was followed, but it was not kept in sync with the BPEL model [for a variety of reasons] and the two diverged.

The list goes on. However, the fact remains that BPEL is a business process execution language, not a modeling language.  Not surprisingly, using it for modeling has serious implications.

  • For organizations that did initially set out to perform business process modeling separate from BPEL, only to later diverge, the reality of what is being executed (BPEL) compared to what was agreed/communicated is now also out of sync.  It could be argued that this is worse than never modeling in the first place.  
  • For the places that decided to just go ahead and model using BPEL, their models are generally not easily understood by the business, or even people in IT that don’t understand BPEL. They certainly don’t put the organization in the position of easily documenting, updating, and communicating/disseminating process information.
  • And for those of you who still think your IT processes do not need to be documented clearly for the business to understand, you will someday.

So, put the BPEL hammer down for a minute, back away from it, and take a look at BPMN and other business process modeling options.  [Sincere Plug] But, if you are stuck with BPEL for modeling processes, procper is the only tool that will allow the business to wrap their arms around the processes you have modeled.  procper is the tool of choice for communicating and disseminating your process  models, regardless of the languages/tools chosen, including BPEL.

One Response to “BPEL for Process Modeling Sucks”

  1. John Owens says:

    I totally agree with your hammer analogy. Far too often new fads are adopted because they are seen as the panacea for all of the ills of the IT and the Process Modeling worlds and a “one hammer fits all approach” is taken.

    These “advanced” are adopted because nobody knows how the existing mess has occurred nor has the will or the skills to fix it. So, if an automated approach comes along, Eureka! Technology replaces thinking!

    Too often IT wants to claim processes as it own in order to have control over the business. The business too often abdicates responsibility to IT and then blames them when they fail to deliver.

    The emergence of “process centric” business modeling over recent years has compounded the problem with everybody modeling everything that happens in a business as a “process”.

    Not everything that happens in a business is a process! STOP MODELING IT AS SUCH. Process modeling misses out up to 30% of essential business activity.

    Most “process” modeling tools are only suitable for modeling procedure. This is not recognized as a problem by analysts and business managers who do not know the difference, but it is a big one. Procedure can alter significantly over time within a process, due to in changes in technology, organization, etc.

    This is where approaches such as BPEL are seen as solutions. Because procedure has been modeled in place of process, changes are happening all the time and so there is a need to update things all the time and so a need for something like BPEL.

    BPMN will not solve the problem either. It is only a notation and can be used to model a faulty process or a good process.

    Stop modeling the wrong thing. Stop modeling complexity an trying to control it. Model simplicity by modeling the Core activities of the business – Business Functions. This will not only bring simplicity, but power and elegance too.

    The Integrated Modeling Method [sincere plug] enables this simplicity and power to be achieved with far less effort and greater speed.

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