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12/5/2005
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In Focus: Q&A with Process & Architecture Guru Jan Popkin

Jan Popkin has been a pioneer in developing technologies and setting standards for both process modeling and enterprise architecture. Chief strategist at Telelogic, he explores the ties between business process management (BPM) and service-oriented architecture (SOA).

Jan Popkin Jan Popkin has been a pioneer in developing technologies and setting standards for both process modeling and enterprise architecture. Chief strategist at Telelogic (which acquired Popkin Software last April), he explores the ties between business process management (BPM) and service-oriented architecture (SOA).

Q: You were on the board of the Business Process Management Initiative (BPMI), which in August merged with the Object Management Group (OMG), where you're now a board member. Why was that merger significant?

A: BPMI was the process-oriented group that developed the Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN) standard. OMG had the intellectual property around Unified Modeling Language (UML) and other standards used widely in the implementation world. OMG now officially recognizes BPMN and will add capabilities to that standard.

I think the merger underscores that process and standards around process management are becoming very important in driving IT innovation. Before the merger, OMG was also working within the rules and process domains. Now we have one standards group concerned with how processes, rules engines and workflows are put together. Some of the most innovative and creative minds in the IT world are part of this effort, and it's exciting to see all these initiatives coming together.

Q: How will the business and IT communities benefit?

A: Standards are an important aspect of business process or any other IT implementation. They represent best practices, and OMG modeling standards like UML and BPMN promote better, faster, less costly application construction. Standards enable developers worldwide to combine their knowledge to develop a platform that facilitates communication and collaboration. My role in the OMG is to encourage widespread adoption of industry standards in the areas of business process, systems engineering and defense. The OMG, with its global team of industry experts, has the infrastructure in place to guide this effort worldwide.

Q: BPM promises to put business people in charge of processes while SOA is in IT's domain. How are the two related?

A: Business analysts should be focused on processes and business needs around them. The IT group needs to understand how business processes relate to an IT architecture, especially when it includes an SOA. One way this has been done is to lay out an enterprise architecture, which details the capture, visualization and analysis of processes, systems and data into one enterprise view. This helps everyone understand how business processes relate to the larger IT architecture.

Q: But can business process goals coexist with the SOA goals of IT?

A: Organizations must understand how their IT projects are transitioning into broader enterprise initiatives that drive their business. Many see SOA as the enabling technology behind this. SOA is the coupling of applications in a service layer. SOA can be the internal architecture of a single application or the integration platform for many disparate applications. SOA cannot exist as a technique by itself; it requires an architecture of application services to enable the services to interact reliably and securely and align to business goals.

BPMN is emerging as a modeling standard for capturing, visualizing and modeling business processes. These processes can then be visually mapped into an SOA. Many business processes involve both internal processes and their interaction or relationship with external organizations, so organizations must look at architecture in a broader context.

A more agile, responsive business process lifecycle can be created when an IT architecture is integrated into the execution process. Organizations can quickly refine and optimize their processes in response to changing business environments or new regulations or competitive pressures.

Until recently, integrating processes and applications with an underlying enterprise architecture blueprint required manual integration of the architecture with the process execution. Product integrations are now helping IT teams speed up the BPM development process and use IT resources more efficiently.

Q: What's the role of architecture in this?

A: Some organizations will build applications using new technologies and miss the value of the new technology. At an extreme, an IT team could build an SOA and not see the need to build in flexibility in interfaces to other systems. Yet the benefit is based on many applications working together, including workflows, and their ability to evolve over time to adjust to new operating realities. By leaving out the middle step of architecture, all that is left is the application of the new technology, not the benefits.

Architecture is the intellectual component that enables new ways of thinking and delivering on the benefits of SOA. The key is having architecture-based thinking, which dictates that new applications are built to support a larger enterprise goal.

Outtakes:

Q: What do you do to relax?

A: I like to hike in the wilderness. Last year I was asked to participate in a government industry technology panel, but it conflicted with my vacation. I compromised and agreed to participate by phone. The trouble was we were pretty far from any town, so I grabbed my cell phone and climbed up to a sunny spot on top of the nearest mountain. I picked up a cell signal and could see for miles. I don't like to combine work and vacation, but if I had to do it, this was definitely the place.

Q: Last book read?

A: "The World is Flat," which is about some of the major changes taking place in the global economy. In one example called "Work Flow Software--Let's Do Lunch: Have Your Application Talk to My Application," author Thomas Friedman touched on how IT has helped "flatten the world," creating multiple tools for collaboration across the globe.

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