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Agile To The Bone

Service-oriented architecture lets you respond quickly to demands for new and improved processes

SAP is now rearchitecting its formerly monolithic applications as enterprise services on its NetWeaver platform and is creating packaged composite applications, called xApps, based on enterprise services. SAP's Enterprise Services Architecture provides the tools to create enterprise services, to orchestrate them in business processes using the SAP Composite Application Framework and then execute those processes on the NetWeaver application server. Leveraging NetWeaver and enterprise services, SAP too now offers BPM solutions. Human workflow is usually implemented as part of an SAP application, such as R/3 or CRM, using SAP Business Workflow. BPEL-based service orchestration, which SAP calls cross-component BPM, is used to integrate enterprise services with SAP and non-SAP applications, including their respective workflow domains, in end-to-end business process solutions.

SOA and BPM: Perfect Together

The latest moves by BPM, integration and application vendors point to the rapid incorporation of SOA into BPM software. And acceptance of BPM is accelerating within IT departments as infrastructure software vendors embrace the approach. (See Listening Post for Web services surveys.) Sources of services are multiplying — whether by coding them, wrapping existing systems, buying them as application software or discovering them on the Web. Similarly, alternatives abound for the communications backbone: Legacy EAI middleware, new ESBs or plain old HTTP all work with Web services orchestration.

BPEL has near-universal acceptance as an orchestration standard even if vendors disagree about how to incorporate human workflow. A final draft of the BPEL standard should surface in the first part of 2005. The draft will reflect progress on related standards, including XML Path Language (XPath) and Web Services Description Language (WSDL). In implementing BPEL, infrastructure vendors will focus on application integration, while the BPM pureplays will emphasize their richer human workflow features.

No matter where you turn for a BPM solution, the influence of SOAs is creating better tools, extending process automation across functional boundaries, promoting reuse of existing systems and reducing vendor lock-in through industry standards. Most important, SOA allows BPM to deliver on its basic promise: agility in the face of continual change.

MATURITY METRICS: SOA Support for Business Process Management
Few organizations have implemented the full capabilities of BPM tools because the enterprise application integration required has been difficult, expensive and proprietary. With SOA, BPM can take advantage of open integration standards, in particular BPEL. Application server and integration middleware vendors compete to support and implement the standards.

Demand for BPM comes from a range of applications where automation and end-to-end integration promise greater efficiency and business agility. Supply chain management, order fulfillment, customer self-service and regulatory compliance are typical uses. Organizations are discovering that SOA widens the range to include new business opportunities with Web services, which BPM platforms could link together to produce component applications.

SOA is a major software infrastructure focus. Thus, the market includes nearly all the application server and integration vendors, including BEA, Computer Associates, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, Sonic, Tibco and WebMethods. Specialized BPM vendors, such as FileNet, Fuego, Intalio, Lombardi, Savvion and Vitria, are rapidly incorporating SOA. Model-driven development tools are also important to driving SOA implementation of BPM.

Final Analysis
"SOA" became a buzzword in 2003 as the initial excitement about Web services began to fade for lack of substance. SOA development methods and integration standards have a long history; however, the current wave of technology is young. SOA support for BPM is still evolving and is somewhat dependent on new approaches to application and business integration middleware. Proven applications are beginning to show the way toward competitive advantage.

Analysis focuses on SOA's supporting role in BPM initiatives rather than development tools and middleware.

Bruce Silver is president of Bruce Silver Associates. Write to him at [email protected].

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