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Some thoughts about opensource BPMs

Posted by edgars on June 23, 2008 at 1:44 PM PDT

Business Processing Modeling – BPM, I was starting my career when I heard the word “Workflow” by the first time, of course I had many other things to learn, instead to pay attention on some thing that seems to be too complicated, however in during any computer science or related course we learn some about “State Machines”, well, I wanna tell you a history that I heard when I worked for one of the biggest federal bank in Brazil: Workflow products had arrived down here in end of 90's, this bank tried implement a Workflow, although instead to map the the activities into a “State Machine Diagram” where would be possible figure out where the process's drawbacks or too long waits came from, they mixed business logic to process logic, obtaining serious performance problems and not too accurate information, the word “workflow” was abolished for a long time on this bank after this first frustrated try. Maybe, such things like that happened in all over the world, that's why during too much time, the concept to try get the company's process and map all of them represented using cool colored diagrams, which internally are not much more than a “State Machine”. The workflow products getting started so to hibernate, and then as a “pheonix” are relaunched but now with a new name: BPM (Business Process Modeling)! Maybe now, many people will stop to read this entry, but sorry, I can't figure out BPM in any other way, but now it is dressed much better, with new terminologies and concepts that make it “hot” or “fashion”.

All the text above is just to call your attention for BPM Opensource implementations as an alternative for commercial licensing vendors,as such alternatives I can recommend you the following: OSWorkflow, IntalioBPM and jBPM, actually I respect all of them, but I've been using jBPM most frequently, that's why I will point some about it here. But, I recommend you take a look about the other ones. From this point of this entry, I don't wanna promote any project marketing, in despite of the fact I wanna tell you my particular vision about jBPM as a solution, and based on my professional experience show you where and how you may apply it into your projects.

The best way I found to look at jBPM, is that it is a great BPM Engine, and it is not a weakness, I mean: When you think about BPM you can take many scenarios, since from modeling, management, governance and so on. JBPM is a really cool BPM framework and Engine. When you have an Application that has an internal workflow with a complete User Interface or a set of Services to do everything you want without. In other words, imagine you have a HelpDesk System built 10 years ago with OracleForms , and you have mapped a kind of workflow on that, however you never figured out how measure your business activity monitoring(BAM). Now, keep in mind that you can during your regular activities in your system call a procedure to generate a simples text file with some information, which can be used to fill information into a process execution of a jBPM process instance, and from another system you can handle such information to get some report or any other issue. If we are speaking about text file generating, it could be a serious candidate for an ESB listener to process it, well but ESB is out of this scope, but keep ESBs usage in mind.

In general, jBPM can be your best option when you want embed a BPM engine into your application, good scenarios contributes for that, such as: JBPM has a native extensible and open language called jPDL, that can process both HumanTasks in addition to invoke WebServices via Java components, it counts with BPEL support as well. In a near future, jBPM will have a PVM(Process Virtual Machine), which basically is “State Machine Framework”, which will render a process independent from the language source, support for BPEL, XPDL using PVM are in the plans of jBPM new versions. A really nice Eclipe plugin where is possible design all process visually, in addition to this, you can use Java components to interact with Node events(node-enter, node-leave for example) or during a transition from a node to another, and everything associating Java objetcs to some specific event during the process execution. The last good reason to use jBPM is the Seam intergration, which make the process management really easy for any developer.

For sure, that you may use jBPM as a “BPM Suite” as well, but keep in mind that you will keep Business Analyst designing the process in UML or in some BPMN tool, and you will need a tech-guy to transform this design in to a jpdl diagram, where a Eclipse plugin is available.

By the way, when you made an option by use an Opensource engine such as jBPM, you can do that because your plan can be get culture about BPM first, and it is really important for a SOA strategy. No matter if you have many boxes with SOA solutions with you have no idea how use them, and even worst when you already paid for them.

Well, if you need more information, you can go to jBPM web site, and download the lastest jbpm-jpdl-suite, which contains the framework and the eclipse plugin all together. Watch the demos, and take a look into documentation.

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