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What Is Business Process Modeling

by Michael Havey, author of Essential Business Process Modeling
07/20/2005

"The boxes and arrows of outrageous fortune ...." When a business analyst stands at a whiteboard, sketches the flowchart of a business process as a cluster of boxes linked by arrows (apologies to Shakespeare), and asks the software team to make it run, Business Process Modeling (BPM)--sometimes known as Business Process Management--comes to the rescue. BPM is a set of technologies and standards for the design, execution, administration, and monitoring of business processes. A business process is the flow or progression of activities (the "boxes")--each of which represents the work of a person, an internal system, or the process of a partner company--toward some business goal.

Over the years, the scope of business processes and BPM has broadened. Less than a decade ago, BPM, known then as "workflow," was a groupware technology that helped manage and drive largely human-based, paper-driven processes within a corporate department. For example, to handle a claim, an insurance claims process, taking as input a scanned image of a paper claims form, would pass the form electronically from the mailbox (or worklist) of one claims specialist to that of another, mimicking the traditional movement of interoffice mail from desk to desk. BPM today is an enterprise integration technology complementing Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA), Enterprise Application Integration (EAI), and Enterprise Service Bus (ESB). The contemporary process orchestrates complex system interactions, and is itself a service capable of communicating and conversing with the processes of other companies according to well-defined technical contracts. A retailer's process to handle a purchase order, for example, is a service that uses XML messages to converse with the service-based processes of consumers and warehouses.

The Ideal BPM Architecture

My forthcoming book, Essential Business Process Modeling, explores the concepts, design, and standard specifications of BPM. BPM today is somewhat of a morass, my book argues, with far too many misunderstood, misapplied, and excessively hyped vendors and standards. In its survey of the landscape of BPM, my book emphasizes standards over vendors, because standards are a better source of concepts, and bring greater clarity to the subject. Granted, BPM's standards are ostensibly a murky alphabet soup (see Table 1), but when the best of them are combined properly, they form a surprisingly intelligible architecture, shown in Figure 1.

Table 1. BPM standards

Standard Organization Type
Business Process Execution Language (BPEL) OASIS Execution Language
Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN) Business Process Management Initiative (BPMI) Notation language
Business Process Modeling Language (BPML) BPMI Execution language
Business Process Query Language (BPQL) BPMI Administration and monitoring interface
Business Process Semantic Model (BPSM) BPMI Process metamodel, in fashion of Object Management Group (OMG) Model-Driven Architecture (MDA)
Business Process Extension Layer (BPXL) BPMI BPEL extension for transactions, human workflow, business rules
UML Activity Diagrams OMG Notation language
Workflow Reference Model Workflow Management Coalition (WfMC) Architecture
XML Process Definition Language (XPDL) WfMC Execution language
Workflow API (WAPI) WfMC Administration and monitoring, human interaction, system interaction
Workflow XML (WfXML) WfMC Choreography (or similar to it)
Business Process Definition Metamodel (BPDM) OMG Execution language and/or notation language, as MDA metamodel
Business Process Runtime Interface (BPRI) OMG Administration and monitoring, human interaction, system interaction, as MDA metamodel
Web Services Choreography Interface (WSCI) World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Choreography
Web Services Choreography Description Language (WS-CDL) W3C Choreography
Web Services Conversation Language (WSCL) W3C Choreography
XLANG Microsoft Execution language
Web Services Flow Language (WSFL) IBM Execution language
Business Process Schema Specification (BPSS) OASIS Choreography (and collaboration)

Thumbnail, click for full-size image.
Figure 1. BPM architecture--click for full-size image

Pages: 1, 2, 3, 4

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