Thursday, March 22, 2007

Adding BPMN into the fiery mix

Bruce Silver picked up on Keith Swenson's discussion about XPDL v BPEL, which I blogged about yesterday. As expected, Bruce added BPMN into the mix. And rightly so - having a portable modeling notation that describes how drawn processes should be drawn as well as run is an important way to go. BPMN helps business analysts communicate consistently, both with the business they are modeling and each other.

Now when we get to a stage of evolution where execution engines can consume these BPMN models, through XPDL or some other process language, customers will have reached a nirvana in software buying. At this point they can get commodity (cheap) BPM engines that they can plug and play, then rip and replace to their heart's desire. Microsoft is waiting in the wings for this already, though they are proving that they need a little help along the way (see their Business Process Alliance).

Fortunately, by the time complete BPM commoditization happens, some of the real talent in the BPM space will have moved on to even more pressing issues in the business, like gaining visibility across this new multitude of 'appliance' and SaaS process engines. Or providing federation and process enforcement across disparate process engines that make up an end-to-end process. Or providing some other smart system that can help businesses meet ever tougher objectives.

At this point, maybe we'll give business process back to the business, and terms like BPMN, XPDL and BPEL will just be the underpinnings of stuff real business leaders, users and analysts can understand and use to get their jobs done - better, faster, easier. Oh, and all with minimal IT involvement.

By the way, its worth checking out Bruce's post, since he has proven himself to be an expert in the BPMN realm in the past. His discussion is based around the state of play today with BPMN, and makes enjoyable reading.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Manage end-to-end processes - don't argue about standards

On the Go Flow blog, Keith Swenson rekindles the debate about the success of XPDL, and obviously draws some comparisons/distinctions with BPEL. In my view both standards have their place, and vendors should avoid trying to quash the one they don't support because their process engine or modeling tool has different objectives its trying to meet. As Keith says:
The biggest misperception in the marketplace is that BPEL and XPDL are in some kind of a war. I have already covered elsewhere how this is silly, so I won’t duplicate it here. I think Jon Pyke’s response makes it clear how these very different standards serve very different purposes.
I put my own (rather lengthy) thoughts into a comment on Go Flow. The key point of my argument is here as well:

XPDL and BPEL have separate objectives and they will overlap at times. At these times it may be better for the organization implementing human and systems BPM to look at ways of pragmatically handling end-to-end processes. Managing the 'federation' of processes, rather than trying to shoehorn everything into a ‘standard’ optimized for different objectives, seems to be the best way to go. End-to-end processes exist all across an organization, and at this point most organizations seem to struggle with gaining even the slightest visibility into what is going on, let alone attempt to model and execute that process within a process modeling or execution language.

Easier said than done? Maybe - but 'process federation' is a real concept that can be attacked from several different directions. Global 360 (my employer) does this with end-to-end process analytics and optimization. There are other approaches that customer can employ that further improve the visibility and manageability of end-to-end processes that cross the systems and human realms.

By the way, don't forget to add your comments to the discussion on Go Flow.

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Permission to use free online services

Over on The Bankwatch blog, Colin picks up on a note on Seth's Blog about the evolution of advertising. In his discussion, Colin responds to Seth's idea that Google AdSense is effective because it is 'permission based':
Google AdSense is not permission based IMHO. Why? …. because no-one asked me if they could display those ad’s beside my search results. But lets go further … even if those ad’s are relevant, they are only relevant in the minds of the advertisers. I would consider myself a fairly active internet user, and I not only never click Google ad’s …. I don’t even notice them. Google App’s premium, which I subscribe to, does not display ad’s to me.

I think about this slightly differently. Although I wouldn't call AdSense 'permission based', it could be argued that by choosing to use any free service or information source, like Google, Improving New Account Opening, Hotmail or whatever, you are effectively giving your permission to the service to try and make some money from you through advertising.

The challenge for the service is to optimize how effective this is: balance the annoyance of the adverts against the need to get people to click through to the paying advertiser, so they can profit from running the service. This is what in my mind stops advertising becoming too much like TV and radio - with the Internet I always have the choice to go somewhere else.

This blog is admittedly an exception to the real commercial services in this respect. I do run AdSense on this blog and know I'm not going to get rich, but it certainly helps me understand the dynamics of free online services. I get a steady-ish stream of page views even when I don't post, and I get little bursts of ads being clicked some days - split between ads on my most popular posts (most last year) and the home page. My guess is that its not regular readers doing this, instead people stumbling across the site from outside, and looking for the next place to go for more relevant information. It works far more effectively than the prepaid Adify service on the right, which rarely shows anything but my own banner, and when it does mostly unrelated commercial ads that are really just fluff.

Since I started my blog last June, I think I've been credited with approximately $65 US in clicks. The value of some of the ads seem to be reasonably high, to match the business nature of things discussed here. Based on my original aim, I have donated this 65 bucks, and a lot more to Oxfam. And maybe I have helped the occasional reader find something they were looking for related to my posts.

I have posted in the past that the AdSense is a useful model for corporate intranets and knowledge worker applications, helping target user actions with other useful information that may help them complete their tasks or research faster. It was an idea that I'm sure is already offered by the information access vendors like Autonomy and FAST. I think it is almost better than pure search, since it provides a manageable list of results, that are driven by value as well as content on the page, rather than the 3 words entered into Google.

So everyone is encouraged to read my blog, and by doing so they have my permission to get mildly annoyed by the presence of AdSense adverts. I hope that regular readers do not find them too annoying, and that everyone may occasionally stumble across something related that may be of interest to them. I'm not necessarily a good linker to external stuff, and AdSense helps fill that gap!

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Back to the (account opening) future

The thing that really kicked off this blog (apart from the feeling that I was going nowhere in Vignette) was back in front of me yesterday.

A little over a year ago, a colleague, good friend and extremely smart finance guy, Rob Hill, brought a big business problem to my attention. This was perfect, as we were looking for compliance problems that were a better fit for Vignette document and records management technology than SOX. The new business / new account opening processes around annuities were being focused on by an industry association called NAVA, with unusually strong buy-in from its member financial services institutions.

Rob and I started working on NAVA standards task forces, while planning a Vignette solution to address the New Business for Annuities (NBfA) problem. And I started writing this blog a little later when I realized that we were going to get little attention from the (overloaded) Vignette marketing folks. About 9 months later, Vignette decided that the only solutions it was going to pursue were those that reflected it core web content management competencies, losing the stomach for back-office financial services business problems. I happily escaped Vignette back in October to Global 360, a company that’s bread and butter is exactly this type of problem.

Anyway, back to the future and NAVA STP for New Business for Annuities has come of age, approving a range of standards based on a legal framework for operations that support a set of technical requirements for straight through processing of new business applications. Yesterday, many interested software and services vendors met in a Dulles hotel to understand how they could play a role in helping the new standards become software and operational reality.

NAVA’s lead technology consultant, Tony Deakins, who has been central to much of the standards work, encouraged me to go along to the conference. Global 360 BPM and ECM products are a great fit for the current new business for annuities (NBfA) problem, and I was excited to be back in front of this smart group of people and interesting business problem.

Now the activity of the day has sunk in, it feels like all the requirements are being shuffled together with a bunch of technology, consultants and systems integrators and thrown up in the air. With a bit of seeding, clouds will form as pilot solutions around natural technology synergies and needy customers. And everyone hopes that these clouds are silver lined and will rain down something meaningful that actually meets the NAVA standards.

Over the last 15 months NAVA has achieved some magical results in building and approving its standards, getting regulatory approval from a good number of states, federal and self-regulating bodies. Who knows where this will go when the clouds of vendors and customers form around the pilot systems NAVA is promoting. But I have a hope that improving new account opening will be something this blog can focus on again, with real tangible solution experience to relate.

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