Service-Oriented Process to Cannibalize Integrators


As Web services support for business processes matures, companies may be
able to throw out expensive and complicated integration systems through a
“Service-Oriented Process” approach, according to a new report by XML
research firm ZapThink.

Service-Oriented Process is a separate abstraction layer for business process definition and execution that leverages the capabilities of
Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA), a collection of services which
communicate with each other. Service-Oriented Process provides businesses
an approach to tying business requirements to the Service model represented
in the SOA metamodel, thereby providing a flexible approach towards
implementing architectures that promote business agility.

This approach depends upon businesses defining their business processes and
then using those processes to define their IT infrastructures. The
businesses can then expose those business processes as Web services which
can be consumed by other services. From a process standpoint, those
services can then include key personnel. For instance, a purchase order
process could require approval from a purchase manager before it completes
fulfillment.

“A process is a set of activities that are linked together into a logical
flow that meets business requirements,” Ronald Schmelzer, ZapThink
co-founder and senior analyst, told internetnews.com.

Processes encompass everything from the way a business produces a product
to the way it communicates with its suppliers or works with its employees.
A business could have a process for the way it submits purchases or the way
employees reserve airline tickets or the way it exchanges customer
information with partners.

But ZapThink’s Schmelzer said that the current approach to integration
relies on defining business processes based on the capabilities of IT
infrastructure, meaning that businesses lose flexibility.


“Every time the IT folks make a change, they have to change the overall
process,” Schmelzer said, adding that it requires the complex and
time-consuming task of tying disparate systems together.


As Annrai O’Tool, CEO of Cape Clear Software, notes in his paper, Web Service-Oriented
Architecture — The Best Solution to Business Integration
, “Business
integration (that is, the task of tying many information systems together
to support a business process) has historically been an extremely complex,
costly, and time-consuming task. Dogged by a lack of standards in terms of
programming languages, operating systems, application interfaces, and
networking protocols, the traditional ways of integrating many diverse
applications have necessitated small armies of systems integrators and
Byzantine technology.”

He continued, “I would hazard a guess that many reading this article have
sat in large rooms with walls covered in paper diagrams that depict
possible flows among several applications and mock-ups of screen layouts,
only to discover six months and several million dollars later that even
getting your CRM system to synchronize data with SAP is proving to be a
nightmare!”

Drawing the same conclusion, Schmelzer said, “The success of business
depends upon IT systems that are able to deliver functionality that meets
business requirements in a flexible, agile way. Yet most corporate IT
infrastructures are littered with a heterogeneous array of systems that
perform isolated tasks reasonably well, but fail to fulfill core business
requirements. Approaching business process from a Service-oriented
perspective enables business requirements to drive IT capabilities in an
agile, cost-effect manner.”

“If you’re thinking of it from the bottom-up as a bunch of systems that
you’re trying to integrate, you’re going to need a bunch of expensive
systems to make it happen,” Schmelzer added. “By approaching a
Service-Oriented Architecture from a business process perspective, it will
buy you all of the things people are trying to solve with integration
products today.”

To meet the goal of allowing business processes to drive IT decisions
rather than the other way around, technology companies have been working on
a slew of specifications which address key supporting concepts like
orchestration, choreography, composition, collaboration, coordination,
workflow and transaction. Among the specifications are Business Process
Execution Language for Web Services (BPEL4WS), Business Process Modeling
Language (BPML), Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN), Business
Transaction Protocol (BTP), Conversation Support for Web Services (CS-WS),
ebXML Business Process Specification Schema (BPSS), RosettaNet Partner
Interface Processes (PIPs), SOAP Conversations, Web Services Choreography
Interface (WSCI), Web Services Flow Language (WSFL), WS-Coordination,
WS-Transaction, WS-Reliability, WS-ReliableMessaging, WS-Addressing,
Extensible Process Definition Language (XPDL), and Microsoft’s XLANG. In
addition, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) working group on Choreography
is chugging along.


In ZapThink’s new report, Service-Oriented
Process: Meeting the Requirements of Business Agility with SOA-based
Process
, the firm found that while the standards landscape will
converge on a single choreography, orchestration and process flow
specification within the next 12 to 18 months, the players in the space are
already unveiling products, and the market looks ready to explode from $120
million in 2003 to more than $8.3 billion by 2008.


ZapThink also predicts that by 2005, more than 70 percent of Web services
implementations will be process-driven.


“The business process is going to be in charge of IT,” Schmelzer said.
“It’s really going to apply some serious pressure on the integration
vendors. Simply connecting systems together is not enough. If you’ve really
implemented Service-Oriented Architectures correctly, you shouldn’t need an
integration system.”


The possibilities of the space may also drive a wave of consolidation, as
application server and platform vendors focused on Web services — like
IBM, Microsoft, BEA and possibly Oracle — take an interest in firms
focuses on business processes, including Fuego, Savvion, MEGA Systems,
Collaxa, Intalio, Oak Grove Systems, Choreology and HandySoft.

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