Thursday, August 30, 2007

Package Vendors: Free your functionality, free your processes

ebizq published a good whitepaper (, direct link to written by Tom Dwyer.

It's key points conform to my point of view, which, in a nutshell, is "free your functionality, free your processes".
Sadly, Tom's view at this point only advice package vendors to select a BPM vendor and implement it's technology, and not look further for an open standard solution for process technology.
Back to basics.
In many current software packages (COTS) that you buy, you will get great functionality and in some cases even automated process support (in the form of workflow and possible straight through processing capability).
We have come a long way from packages which stored their data in closed proprietary persistence layers. Now, many vendors agree with the adagium "Set your data free!". Many vendors have taken the step to become database neutral - e.g. you can stick any major database brand underneath these packages - Oracle, SQLserver, DB2 to MySql, etc. Great news for technology consilidation - vendors finally started to understand that customers did not like to keep thousands of databases running, based on many different database technologies (why? think high cost of licenses, knowledge of staff, lack of centralized monitoring, difficulties interfacing between databases, etc).
The next step they have started is publishing their data store structure or (better) have implemented decoupled logical views, so that we can access data in the application, directly through database calls or predefined API's. A good step but not enough...

The next step should be that vendors set their functionality and processes free.
:-) I can also see those nice pieces of functionality, and processes, sitting there, in their jails of closed code. Very sad indeed.
So free them? How? Like this...
Functionality not locked up, only to be used from user interfaces or very limited API's, but free, in the form of services. We can see a number of vendors that have been doing this, or are working hard on it now. It's basically opening up the business logic (and data) in the form of services, the SOA-fication of your functionality stack.
And the same for processes. First from a implementation perspective: What I mean is being able to put in ANY (standard) BPM engine. Away from proprietary process technology, towards standard BPEL engines, from for instance IBM, BEA, Appian, etc.
Again the business case is clear here: one BPM technology. In addition, the process technology many package vendors are offering, is very limited. No process modelling, but XML script hacking. No freely defined BAM functionality, but only what they provide.
Second is from a logical perspective: either being able to startup a process through a standard interface, or being able to simple reuse the process definition from the package, but place it as part of the total process. I still have thinking to do here, because how much influence do I want to give to a package, to determine part of my process view?

Where we want to go to, is this: if packages only support parts in the end-to-end processes in our companies, we do not want to interface. We want to create the overall process, and link it to services in all the apps we need for that process.

In the following diagram I show a typical example, that you will often encounter:

(click to enlarge)

From a IT perspective, this leads to:
extra technology, extra maintenance burden.

From a business perspective, if we look at this process from a LEAN point of view (, we see there is waste:
- Extra tasks, that do not add value (starting B, nightly batch, rekey activity)
- Time waste, waiting a night before we can continue to serve this customer

What we want is shown in the following diagram:

A key question that is hidden in Tom's article is this:
Can you, as a package vendor, still offer packages that:
- Are only task based (e.g. no process awareness)?
- Offer limited proprietary process technology?
- Which therefore result in difficult integration and suboptimal business and IT solutions?

I think not...

Sure, one last statement - we are not there yet. A recent IDC study also showed that BPM engines are mainly implemented on a project basis, not from an infrastructural basis. This worries me, because we will end up as customers with many many BPM pockets of technology, each requiring licences, knowledge to support, etc. A great role for Enterprise Architecture to help prevent this.... with some help from package vendors that is...

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