Methodology for Modeling Business Processes in SOA

This article by Matjaz B. Juric, Sven Bernhardt, Hajo Normann, Danilo Schmiedel, Guido Schmutz, Mark Simpson, and Torsten Winterberg, authors of the book Design Principles for Process-driven Architectures Using Oracle BPM and SOA Suite 12c, describes the strategies and a methodology that can help us realize the benefits of BPM as a successful enterprise modernization strategy.

In this article, we will do the following:

  • Provide the reader with a set of actions in the course of a complete methodology that they can incorporate in order to create the desired attractiveness towards broader application throughout the enterprise
  • Describe organizational and cultural barriers to applying enterprise BPM and discuss ways to overcome them

(For more resources related to this topic, see here.)

The postmature birth of enterprise BPM

When enterprise architects discuss the future of the software landscape of their organization, they map the functional capabilities, such as customer relationship management and order management, to existing or new applications—some packaged and some custom. Then, they connect these applications by means of middleware. They typically use the notion of an integration middleware, such as an enterprise service bus (ESB), to depict the technical integration between these applications, exposing functionality as services, APIs, or, more trendy, "micro services".

These services are used by modern, more and more mobile frontends and B2B partners. For several years now, it has been hard to find a PowerPoint slide that discusses future enterprise middleware without the notion of a BPM layer that sits on top of the frontend and the SOA service layer. So, in most organizations, we find a slide deck that contains this visual box named BPM, signifying the aim to improve process excellence by automating business processes along the management discipline known as business process management (BPM).

Over the years, we have seen that the frontend layer often does materialize as a portal or through a modern mobile application development platform. The envisioned SOA services can be found living on an ESB or API gateway.

Yet, the component called BPM and the related practice of modeling executable processes has failed to finally incubate until now—at least in most organizations. BPM still waits for morphing from an abstract item on a PowerPoint slide and in a shelved analyst report to some automated business processes that are actually deployed to a business-critical production machine.

When we look closer—yes—there is a license for a BPM tool, and yes, some processes have even been automated, but those tend to be found rather in the less visible corners of the enterprise, seldom being of the concern for higher management and the hot project teams that work day and night on the next visible release. In short, BPM remains the hobby of some enterprise architects and the expensive consultants they pay.

Will BPM ever take the often proposed lead role in the middleware architect's tool box? Will it lead to a better, more efficient, and productive organization?

To be very honest, at the moment the answer to that question is rather no than yes. There is a good chance that BPM remains just one more of the silver bullets that fill some books and motivate some great presentations at conferences, yet do not have an impact on the average organization.

But there is still hope for enterprise BPM as opposed to a departmental approach to process optimization.

There is a good chance that BPM, next to other enabling technologies, will indeed be the driver for successful enterprise modernization. Large organizations all over the globe reengage with smaller and larger system integrators to tackle the process challenge. Maybe BPM as a practice needs more time than other items found in Gardner hype curves to mature before it's widely applied. This necessary level of higher maturity encompasses both the tools and the people using them.

Ultimately, this question of large-scale BPM adoption will be answered individually in each organization. Only when a substantive set of enterprises experience tangible benefits from BPM will they talk about it, thus growing a momentum that leads to the success of enterprise BPM as a whole. This positive marketing based on actual project and program success will be the primary way to establish a force of attraction towards BPM that will raise curiosity and interest in the minds of the bulk of the organizations that are still rather hesitant or ignorant about using BPM.

Oracle BPM Suite 12c – new business architecture features

New tools in Oracle BPM Suite 12c put BPM in the mold of business architecture (BA). This new version contains new BA model types and features that help companies to move out of the IT-based, rather technical view of business processes automation and into strategic process improvement. Thus, these new model types help us to embark on the journey towards enterprise BPM.

This is an interesting step in evolution of enterprise middleware—Oracle is the first vendor of a business process automation engine that moved up from concrete automated processes to strategic views on end-to-end processes, thus crossing the automation/strategic barrier.

BPM Suite 12c introduces cross-departmental business process views. Thereby, it allows us to approach an enterprise modeling exercise through top-down modeling. It has become an end-to-end value chain model that sits on top of processes. It chains separated business processes together into one coherent end-to-end view.

The value chain describes a bird's-eye view of the steps needed to achieve the most critical business goals of an organization. These steps comprise of business processes, of which some are automated in a BPMN engine and others actually run in packaged applications or are not automated at all. Also, BPM Suite 12c allows the capturing of the respective goals and provides the tools to measure them as KPIs and service-level agreements.

In order to understand the path towards these yet untackled areas, it is important to understand where we stand today with BPM and what this new field of end-to-end process transparency is all about. Yet, before we get there, we will leave enterprise IT for a moment and take a look at the nature of a game (any game) in order to prepare for a deeper understanding of the mechanisms and cultural impact that underpin the move from a departmental to an enterprise approach to BPM.

Football games – same basic rules, different methodology

Any game, be it a physical sport, such as football, or a mental sport, such as chess, is defined through a set of common rules. How the game is played will look very different depending on the level of the league it is played in. A Champions League football game is so much more refined than your local team playing at the nearby stadium, not to mention the neighboring kids kicking the ball in the dirt ground.

These kids will show creativity and pleasure in the game, yet the level of sophistication is a completely different ball game in the big stadium. You can marvel at the effort made to ensure that everybody plays their role in a well-trained symbiosis with their peers, all sharing a common set of collaboration rules and patterns. The team spent so many hours training the right combinations, establishing a deep trust. There is no time to discuss the meaning of an order shouted out by the trainer. They have worked on this common understanding of how to do things in various situations. They have established one language that they share. As an observer of a great match, you appreciate an elaborate art, not of one artist but of a coherent team.

No one would argue the prevalence of this continuum in the refinement and rising sophistication in rough physical sports. It is puzzling to know to which extent we, as players in the games of enterprise IT, often tend to neglect the needs and forces that are implied by such a continuum of rising sophistication.

The next sections will take a closer look at these BPM playgrounds and motivate you to take the necessary steps toward team excellence when moving from a small, departmental level BPM/SOA project to a program approach that is centered on a BPM and SOA paradigm.

Which BPM game do we play?

Game Silo BPM is the workflow or business process automation in organizational departments. It resembles the kids playing soccer on the neighborhood playground. After a few years of experience with automated processes, the maturity rises to resemble your local football team—yes, they play in a stadium, and it is often not elegant.

Game Silo BPM is a tactical game in which work gets done while management deals with reaching departmental goals. New feature requests lead to changed or new applications and the people involved know each other very well over many years under established leadership. Workflows are automated to optimize performance.

Game Enterprise BPM thrives for process excellence at Champions League. It is a strategic game in which higher management and business departments outline the future capability maps and cross-departmental business process models. In this game, players tend to regard the overall organization as a set of more or less efficient functional capabilities. One or a group of functional capabilities make up a department.

Game Silo BPM – departmental workflows

Today, most organizations use BPM-based process automation based on tools such as Oracle BPM Suite to improve the efficiency of the processes within departments. These processes often support the functional capability that this particular department owns by increasing its efficiency.

Increasing efficiency is to do more with less. It is about automating manual steps, removing bottlenecks, and making sure that the resources are optimally allocated across your process. The driving force is typically the team manager, who is measured by the productivity of his team. The key factor to reach this goal is the automation of redundant or unnecessary human/IT interactions. Through process automation, we gain insights into the performance of the process. This insight can be called process transparency, allowing for the constant identification of areas of improvement.

A typical example of the processes found in Game Silo BPM is an approval process that can be expressed as a clear path among process participants. Often, these processes work on documents, thus having a tight relationship with content management. We also find complex backend integration processes that involve human interaction only in the case of an exception.

The following figure depicts this siloed approach to process automation. Recognizing a given business unit as a silo indicates its closed and self-contained world.

A word of caution is needed: The term "silo" is often used in a negative connotation. It is important, though, to recognize that a closed and coherent team with no dependencies on other teams is a preferred working environment for many employees and managers. In more general terms, it reflects an archaic type of organization that we lean towards. It allows everybody in the team to indulge in what can be called the siege mentality we as humans gravitate to some coziness along the notion of a well-defined and manageable island of order.

Design Principles for Process-driven Architectures Using Oracle BPM and SOA Suite 12c

Figure 1: Workflow automation in departmental silos

As discussed in the introduction, there is a chance that BPM never leaves this departmental context in many organizations. If you are curious to find out where you stand today, it is easy to depict whether a business process is stuck in the silo or whether it's part of an enterprise BPM strategy. Just ask whether the process is aligned with corporate goals or whether it's solely associated with departmental goals and KPIs. Another sign is the lack of a methodology and of a link to cross-departmental governance that defines the mode of operation and the means to create consistent models that speak one common language.

To impose the enterprise architecture tools of Game Enterprise BPM on Game Silo BPM would be an overhead; you don't need them if your organization does not strive for cross-departmental process transparency.

Oracle BPM Suite 11g is made for playing Game Silo BPM

Oracle BPM Suite 11g provides all the tools and functionalities necessary to automate a departmental workflow. It is not sufficient to model business processes that span departmental barriers and require top-down process hierarchies.

The key components are the following:

  • The BPMN process modeling tool and the respective execution engine
  • The means to organize logical roles and depict them as swimlanes in BPMN process models
  • The human-task component that involves human input in decision making
  • The business rule for supporting automated decision making
  • The technical means to call backend SOA services
  • The wizards to create data mappings
  • The process performance can be measured by means of business activity monitoring (BAM)

Oracle BPM Suite models processes in BPMN

Workflows are modeled on a pretty fine level of granularity using the standard BPMN 2.0 version (and later versions). BPMN is both business ready and technically detailed enough to allow model processes to be executed in a process engine. Oracle fittingly expresses the mechanism as what you see is what you execute.

Those workflows typically orchestrate human interaction through human tasks and functionality through SOA services.

In the next sections of this article, we will move our head out of the cocoon of the silo, looking higher and higher along the hierarchy of the enterprise until we reach the world of workshops and polished PowerPoint slides in which the strategy of the organization is defined.

Game Enterprise BPM

Enterprise BPM is a management discipline with a methodology typically found in business architecture (BA) and the respective enterprise architecture (EA) teams. Representatives of higher management and of business departments and EA teams meet management consultants in order to understand the current situation and the desired state of the overall organization.

Therefore, enterprise architects define process maps—a high-level view of the organization's business processes, both for the AS-IS and various TO-BE states. In the next step, they define the desired future state and depict strategies and means to reach it.

Business processes that generate value for the organization typically span several departments. The steps in these end-to-end processes can be mapped to the functional building blocks—the departments.

Design Principles for Process-driven Architectures Using Oracle BPM and SOA Suite 12c

Figure 2: Cross-departmental business process needs an owner

The goal of Game Enterprise BPM is to manage enterprise business processes, making sure they realize the corporate strategy and meet the respective goals, which are ideally measured by key performance indicators, such as customer satisfaction, reduction of failure, and cost reduction.

It is a good practice to reflect on the cross-departmental efforts through the notion of a common or shared language that is spoken across departmental boundaries. A governance board is a great means to reach this capability in the overall organization.

Still wide open – the business/IT divide

Organizational change in the management structure is a prerequisite for the success of Game Enterprise BPM but is not a sufficient condition. Several business process management books describe the main challenge in enterprise BPM as the still-wide-open business/IT divide. There is still a gap between process understanding and ownership in Game Enterprise BPM and how automated process are modeled and perceived in departmental workflows of Game Silo BPM. Principles, goals, standards, and best practices defined in Game Enterprise BPM do not trickle down into everyday work in Game Silo BPM.

One of the biggest reasons for this divide is the fact that there is no direct link between the models and tools used in top management to depict the business strategy, IT strategy, and business architecture and the high-level value chain and between the process models and the models and artifacts used in enterprise architecture and from there, even software architecture.

Design Principles for Process-driven Architectures Using Oracle BPM and SOA Suite 12c

Figure 3: Gap between business architecture and IT enterprise architecture in strategic BPM

So, traditionally, organizations use specific business architecture or enterprise architecture tools in order to depict AS-IS and TO-BE high-level reflections of value chains, hierarchical business processes, and capability maps alongside application heat maps.

These models kind of hang in the air, they are not deeply grounded in real life. Business process models expressed in event process chains (EPCs), vision process models and other modeling types often don't really reflect the flows and collaboration structures of actual procedures of the office. This leads to the perception of business architecture departments as ivory towers with no, or weak, links to the realities of the organization.

On the other side, the tools and models of the IT enterprise architecture and software architecture speak a language not understood by the members of business departments. Unified Modeling Language (UML) is the most prominent set of model types that stuck in IT. However, while the UML class and activity diagrams promised to be valid to depict the nouns and stories of the business processes, their potential to allow a shared language and approach to depict joint vocabulary and views on requirements rarely materialized.

Until now, there has been no workflow tool vendor approaching these strategic enterprise-level models, bridging the business/IT gap.

Oracle BPM Suite 12c tackles Game Enterprise BPM

With BPM Suite 12c, Oracle is starting to engage in this domain. The approach Oracle took can be summarized as applying the Pareto principle: 80 percent of the needed features for strategic enterprise modeling can be found in just 20 percent of the functionality of those high-end, enterprise-level modeling tools. So, Oracle implemented these 20 percent of business architecture models:

  • Enterprise maps to define the organizational and application context
  • Value chains to establish a root for process hierarchies
  • The strategy model to depict focus areas and assign technical capabilities and optimization strategies

The following figure represents the new features in Oracle BPM Suite 12c in the context of the Game Enterprise BPM methodology:

Design Principles for Process-driven Architectures Using Oracle BPM and SOA Suite 12c

Figure 4: Oracle BPM Suite 12c new features in the context of the Game Enterprise BPM methodology

The preceding figure is based on the BPTrends Process Change Methodology introduced in the Business Process Change book by Paul Harmon.

These new features promise to create a link from higher-level process models and other strategic depictions into executable processes. This link could not be established until now since there are too many interface mismatches between enterprise tooling and workflow automation engines.

The new model types in Oracle BPM Suite 12c are, as discussed, a subset of all the features and model types in the EA tools. For this subset, these interface mismatches have been made obsolete: there is a clear trace with no tool disruption from the enterprise map to the value chain and associated KPIs down to the BPMN process that are automated. These features have been there in the EA and BPM tools before. What is new is this undisrupted trace.

Design Principles for Process-driven Architectures Using Oracle BPM and SOA Suite 12c

Figure 5: Undisrupted trace from the business architecture to executable processes

The preceding figure is based on the BPTrends Process Change Methodology introduced in the Business Process Change book by Paul Harmon.

This holistic set of tools that brings together aspects from modeling time, design time, and runtime makes it more likely to succeed in finally bridging the business/IT gap.

Design Principles for Process-driven Architectures Using Oracle BPM and SOA Suite 12c

Figure 6: Tighter links from business and strategy to executable software and processes

Today, we do not live in a perfect world. To understand to which extent this gap is closed, it helps to look at how people work. If there is a tool to depict enterprise strategy, end-to-end business processes, business capabilities, and KPIs that are used in daily work and that have the means to navigate to lower-level models, then we have come quite far. The features of Oracle BPM Suite 12c, which are discussed below, are a step in this direction but are not the end of the journey.

Using business architect features

The process composer is a business user-friendly web application. From the login page, it guides the user in the spirit of a business architecture methodology.

All the models that we create are part of a "space". On its entry page, the main structure is divided into business architecture models in BA projects, which are described in this article.

It is a good practice to start with an enterprise map that depicts the business capabilities of our organization. The rationale is that the functions the organization is made of tend to be more stable and less a matter of interpretation and perspective than any business process view.

Enterprise maps can be used to put those value chains and process models into the organizational and application landscape context.

Oracle suggests organizing the business capabilities into three segments. Thus, the default enterprise map model is prepopulated through three default lanes: core, management, and support. In many organizations, this structure is feasible as it is up to you to either use them or create your own lanes.

Then we can define within each lane the key business capabilities that make up the core business processes.

Design Principles for Process-driven Architectures Using Oracle BPM and SOA Suite 12c

Figure 7: Enterprise map of RYLC depicting key business capabilities

Properties of BA models

Each element (goal, objective, strategy) within the model can be enriched with business properties, such as actual cost, actual time, proposed cost and proposed time. These properties are part of the impact analysis report that can be generated to analyze the BA project.

Design Principles for Process-driven Architectures Using Oracle BPM and SOA Suite 12c

Figure 8: Use properties to specify SLAs and other BA characteristics

Depicting organizational units

Within RYLC as an organization, we now depict its departments as organizational units. We can adorn goals to each of the units, which depict its function and the role it plays in the concert of the overall ecosystem. This association of a unit to a goal is expressed via links to goals defined in the strategy model.

These goals will be used for the impact analysis reports that show the impact of changes on the organizational or procedural changes. It is possible to create several organization units as shown in the following screenshot:

Design Principles for Process-driven Architectures Using Oracle BPM and SOA Suite 12c

Figure 9: Define a set of organization units

Value chains

A value chain model forms the root of a process hierarchy. A value chain consists of one direct line of steps, no gateways, and no exceptions. The modeler in Oracle BPM Suite allows each step in the chain to depict associated business goals and key performance indicators (KPIs) that can be used to measure the organization's performance rather than the details of departmental performance.

The value chain model is a very simple one depicting the flow of the most basic business process steps. Each step is a business process in its own right. On the level of the chain, there is no decision making expressed. This resembles a business process expressed in BPMN that has only direct lines and no gateways.

Design Principles for Process-driven Architectures Using Oracle BPM and SOA Suite 12c

Figure 10: Creation of a new value chain model called "Rental Request-to-Delivery"

The value chain model type allows the structuring of your business processes into a hierarchy with a value chain forming the topmost level.

Strategy models

Strategy models that can be used to further motivate their KPIs are depicted at the value chain level.

Design Principles for Process-driven Architectures Using Oracle BPM and SOA Suite 12c

Figure 11: Building the strategy model for the strategy "Become a market leader"

These visual maps leverage existing process documentation and match it with current business trends and existing reference models. These models depict processes and associated organizational aspects encompassing cross-departmental views on higher levels and concrete processes down to level 3. From there, they prioritize distinct processes and decide on one of several modernization strategies—process automation being just one of several!

So, in the proposed methodology in the following diagram, in the Define strategy and performance measures (KPIs), the team down-selects for each business process or even subprocess one or several means to improve process efficiency or transparency.

Typically, these means are defined as "supporting capabilities". These are a technique, a tool, or an approach that helps to modernize a business process. A few typical supporting capabilities are mentioned here:

  • Explicit process automation
  • Implicit process handling and automation inside a packaged application, such as SAP ERP or Oracle Siebel
  • Refactored COTS existing application
  • Business process outsourcing
  • Business process retirement

The way toward establishing these supporting capabilities is defined through a list of potential modernization strategies. Several of the modernization strategies relate to the existing applications that support a business process, such as refactoring, replacement, retirement, or re-interfacing of the respective supporting applications. The application modernization strategy that we are most interested in this article is establish explicit automated process.

It is a best practice to create a high-level process map and define for each of the processes whether to leave it as it is or to depict one of several modernization strategies. When several modernization strategies are found for one process, we can drill down into the process through a hierarchy and stop at the level on which there is a disjunct modernization strategy.

Design Principles for Process-driven Architectures Using Oracle BPM and SOA Suite 12c

Figure 12: Business process automation as just one of several process optimization strategies

The preceding figure is based on the BPTrends Process Change Methodology introduced in the Business Process Change book by Paul Harmon.

Again, just one of these technical capabilities in strategic BPM is the topic of this article: process automation. It is not feasible to suggest automating all the business processes of any organization.

Key performance indicators

Within a BA project (strategy and value chain models), there are three different types of KPIs that can be defined:

  • Manual KPI: This allows us to enter a known value
  • Rollup KPI: This evaluates an aggregate of the child KPIs
  • External KPI: This provides a way to include KPI data from applications other than BPM Suite, such as SAP, E-Business Suite, PeopleSoft, and so on.

Additionally, KPIs can be defined on a BPMN process level, which is not covered in this article.

KPIs in the value chain step level

The following are the steps to configure the KPIs in the value chain step level:

  1. Open the value chain model Rental Request-to-Delivery.
  2. Right-click on the Vehicle Reservation & Allocation chain step, and select KPI.
  3. Click on the + (plus) sign to create a manual KPI, as illustrated in the next screenshot.

The following image shows the configuration of the KPIs:

Design Principles for Process-driven Architectures Using Oracle BPM and SOA Suite 12c

Figure 13: Configuring a KPI

Why we need a new methodology for Game Enterprise BPM

Now, Game Enterprise BPM needs to be played everywhere. This implies that Game Silo BPM needs to diminish, meaning it needs to be replaced, gradually, through managed evolution, league by league, aiming for excellence at Champions League.

We can't play Game Enterprise BPM with the same culture of ad hoc, joyful creativity, which we find in Game Silo BPM. We can't just approach our colleague; let's call him Ingo Maier, who we know has drawn the process model for a process we are interested in. We can't just walk over to the other desk to him, asking him about the meaning of an unclear section in the process. That is because in Game Enterprise BPM, Ingo Maier, as a person whom we know as part of our team Silo, does not exist anymore.

We deal with process models, with SOA services, with a language defined somewhere else, in another department. This is what makes it so hard to move up in BPM leagues.

Hiding behind the buzz term "agile" does not help. In order to raise BPM maturity up, when we move from Game Silo BPM to Game Enterprise BPM, the organization needs to establish a set of standards, guidelines, tools, and modes of operations that allow playing and succeeding at Champions League. Additionally, we have to define the modes of operations and the broad steps that lead to a desired state. This formalization of collaboration in teams should be described, agreed on, and lived as our BPM methodology. The methodology thrives for a team in which each player contributes to one coherent game along well-defined phases.

Political change through Game Enterprise BPM

The political problem with a cross-departmental process view becomes apparent if we look at the way organizations distribute political power in Game Silo BPM. The heads of departments form the most potent management layer while the end-to-end business process has no potent stakeholder.

Thus, it is critical for any Game Enterprise BPM to establish a good balance of de facto power with process owners acting as stakeholders for a cross-departmental process view. This fills the void in Game Silo BPM of end-to-end process owners. With Game Enterprise BPM, the focus shifts from departmental improvements to the KPIs and improvement of the core business processes.

Pair modeling the value chains and business processes

Value chains and process models down to a still very high-level layer, such as a layer 3, can be modeled by process experts without involving technically skilled people. They should omit all technical details.

To provide the foundation for automated processes, we need to add more details about domain knowledge and some technical details. Therefore, these domain process experts meet with BPM tool experts to jointly define the next level of detail in BPMN. In an analogy to the practice of pair development in agile methodologies, you could call this kind of collaboration pair modeling.

Ideally, the process expert(s) and the tool expert look at the same screen and discuss how to improve the flow of the process model, while the visual representation evolves into variances, exceptions, and better understanding of the involved business objects.

For many organizations that are used to a waterfall process, this is a fundamentally new way of requirement gathering that might be a challenge for some. The practice is an analogy of the customer on site practice in agile methodologies. This new way of close collaboration for process modeling is crucial for the success of BPM projects since it allows us to establish a deep and shared understanding in a very pragmatic and productive way.

Design Principles for Process-driven Architectures Using Oracle BPM and SOA Suite 12c

Figure 14: Roles and successful modes of collaboration

When the process is modeled in sufficient detail to clearly depict an algorithmic definition of the flow of the process and all its variances, the model can be handed over to BPM developers. They add all the technical bells and whistles, such as data mapping, decision rules, service calls, and exception handling.

Portal developers will work on their implementation of the use cases. SOA developers will use Oracle SOA Suite to integrate with backend systems, therefore implementing SOA services.

The discussed notion of a handover from higher-level business process models to development teams can also be used to depict the line at which it might make sense to outsource parts of the overall development.

Summary

In this article, we saw how BPM as an approach to model, automate, and optimize business process is typically applied rather on a departmental level. We saw how BPM Suite 12c introduced new features that allow us to cross the bridge towards the top-down, cross-departmental, enterprise-level BPM. We depicted the key characteristics of the enterprise BPM methodology, which aligns corporate or strategic activities with actual process automation projects.

We learned the importance of modeling standards and guidelines, which should be used to gain business process insight and understanding on broad levels throughout the enterprise. The goal is to establish a shared language to talk about the capabilities and processes of the overall organization and the services it provides to its customers.

The role of data in SOA that will support business processes was understood with a critical success factor being the definition of the business data model that, along with services, will form the connection between the process layer, user interface layer, and the services layer. We understood how important it is to separate application logic from service logic and process logic to ensure the benefits of a process-driven architecture are realized.

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