Software // Information Management
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7/31/2006
11:50 AM
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Put to the Test: Pegasystems' BPM Suite Combines Process and Rules

Deploying SmartBPM Suite 5.1 can be challenging, but the reward is a powerful model-driven approach that manages the complete process environment.

PROS
• Dynamic binding of processes and rules supports more sophisticated and granular applications.
• Automatically generated user interfaces support delegated development and ensure a closer fit to the real needs of the user.
• Ajax-based portal with rule-driven JavaScript provides intelligent, goal-centric pop-up interfaces.
• Strong support for development and deployment lifecycle management.
CONS
• Demands sophisticated development expertise (preferably a Pega-certified system architect) from the outset.
• Lacks an inherent, role-based model for work assignment, complicating process modeling.
• Too many opportunities for programmers to step around the configuration features and break model-driven applications.

With the 5.1 release of its SmartBPM Suite, Pegasystems has made its powerful product easier to use for process participants, business analysts and developers alike. Although the suite is still one of the more daunting BPM systems to deploy, this new release is significant because of the kind of business process management suite (BPMS) it now offers. Pega's suite manages processes in a fundamentally different way from any other BPMS I've looked at.

SmartBPM is based on a unified rules and process engine in which processes are first-class citizens alongside all the different types of business rules. Pega effectively binds together all the elements required to deliver an application at run time, including process fragments, business rules, presentation elements, integration calls, security controls and so on. Everything is dynamically selected and bound based on the context of the work, as defined by the events and attributes of the case (process instance).

Competitive approaches tend to limit the use of business rules to decision points calling a standalone rules engine. With Pega, the inferencing capability of the core rules engine detects changes in the state of the related information and then works out what to do based on the goals of the process. That could be just about anything, from forward chaining (move to the next step in the process), invoking a separate process thread in parallel, raising an alert to a manager or even backward chaining through the rule set to automatically retrieve some piece of missing information.

Keep Data in the Domain

Another key differentiator for Pega is that rather than regarding the information domain as out of the scope of the BPMS, the entire SmartBPM environment is based on a componentized, service-oriented runtime environment in which data classes are specialized alongside the business processes and declarative rules. This approach gives Pega the ability to resolve the right rules and processes to bind to the case based on the context of the work. Although specialization delivers tremendous downstream flexibility, enabling better market segmentation, it also presents challenges in the early stages of deployment.

Overall, the approach facilitates customization of the application to meet particular needs. For example, imagine you have a standard way of processing orders, but when an order comes in for a key customer and the product is out of stock, you want to offer a special alternative. Or perhaps it is a first-time customer and, as a result of a directive from on high, you want to use a special set of customer satisfaction checks. Pega handles these situations by layering on specializations from the rule base, adding alternatives without having to go back and manually weave these revisions into the baseline process.

Other BPM suites require a cut-and-paste approach, whereby each subtly different scenario requires a copy of the process that is then adapted. Over time, this can lead to fragmented process architectures and a higher cost of ownership. However, creating the right class structures to meet the downstream goals of the organization demands long-range planning and expertise. For a major enterprisewide project, it's best to involve a Pega-certified system architect from the outset.

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