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IBM Embraces BPEL for Modeling

IBM recently migrated its business process modeling software to the XML-based Business Process Execution Language (BPEL), a specification that ties Web services to business processes.

The reason for the move of version 5 of WebSphere Business Integration Modeler to BPEL is two-fold: it gives companies a standards-based platform to plot out operations to determine where a business process is breaking down, and it gives companies a revenue-generating opportunity to sell the processes that work best within the organization.

"Everyone wants to reduce costs and everyone wants to drive new revenues," said Debbie Moynihan, IBM WebSphere Business Integration program manager.

Moynihan pointed to the benefits that can be derived using the modeling software for either strategy. On the business process side, it lets companies that have recently merged their operations -- either through an acquisition or business partnership -- to identify each other's business processes and meld the two. The case for business modeling also makes sense in operations that span companies, or even continents, bringing them all under one business process umbrella.

WebSphere Business Integration Modeler fits into the Armonk, N.Y., company's overall business integration (BI) strategy of model, integrate, connect, monitor and manage. The systems vendor got into the modeling business through the September 2002 acquisition of Holosofx, a former partner.

Launched as an IBM product in March 2003, Modeler and the WebSphere BI Server are used throughout IBM's operations, a necessity given the number of acquisitions the company makes in any given year.

For companies looking for another money-maker, the modeler allows companies to sell working processes as a service.

"[A customer could] model a process and if they chose to do so, specific steps in the process could be made available as a service," she said. "If you can model them, you can leverage them, which is very beneficial."

IBM's modeler application was originally based on Forms Definition Language (FDL), a proprietary technology intended for MQ Workflow, a process integration server. With BPEL, version 5 allows existing customers to use the information gathered in the modeler to run in Workflow and new customers to use other business integration servers based on BPEL, from IBM's own Business Integration Server Foundation to Oracle's BPEL Process Manager and Microsoft's BizTalk Server 2004.

Modeling data is imported into third-party integration servers using another Web standard, XML Metadata Interchange (XMI). The move to BPEL also lets companies using XML-based content or Microsoft's popular Visio program to import the data into IBM's modeling software.

IBM's push to incorporate BPEL into its code base has a lot to do with the growing popularity of business process management in the corporate world, an area industry experts say will pick up considerably in coming years.

According to a February 2004 report by research firm Gartner, 70 percent of all enterprises will have conducted some type of business process activity by the end of 2005 despite much of the damage done by business process "gurus" of the mid-1990s, who tried to convince companies to break established processes and build entirely new ones, regardless of the need.

One of the points forwarded by the report's author, Jim Sinur, is that many company officials aren't really aware of the scope of their enterprise.

"Although it's not common knowledge, most enterprises don't really understand the depth and breadth of their business processes, if they haven't had a recent business modeling effort," he noted in the report. "This isn't intentional; however, processes that were designed years ago have been adapted for volume changes, exceptions, managerial regime changes and additional regional activities."

Pricing on the WebSphere Business Integration Modeler 5.0 starts at $1,250 and includes one year of maintenance support.