Introducing IBM BPM and ESB : Achieving success through BPM enabled by SOA

2/1/2012 11:36:59 AM

What is Service Oriented Architecture (SOA)?

There is no single unique and easy way to define or explain SOA. Given a room full of C-level executives, IT Managers, IT-Architects, and developers with each asked to give a one sentence explanation of what SOA is, for sure, each answer will be different. What is the fundamental message behind SOA? What is it trying to achieve and what does it provides the adopter with? This will help the reader to be able to define or explain it correctly. Let's list some of most common facts he/she may have heard about SOA:

  • It's a style for building loosely coupled and distributed applications

  • It's all about service providers providing services to service consumers that conform to contracts

  • It provides a programming model based on standards defined by various standard bodies including OASIS, WS-*, and so on

Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) is a set of architectural styles, patterns, principles, procedures, and criteria for building solutions and applications.

Such applications exhibit the following characteristics:

  • Loosely coupled from operating systems, programming languages, and protocols

  • Expose coarse grained Business Services that can be mapped to business capabilities

  • Business Services are Modular, Encapsulated, and Reusable

    Can be Composed, Orchestrated, or Choreographed

  • Services expose standardized interfaces

  • Services are described though contracts and hence discoverable

  • Leverages a standards-compliant middleware

The process of adopting an SOA is a journey and possibly an ever-evolving, ever-learning, never ending one. With SOA, you progress and mature over time to reach a state where you can truly achieve the benefits, as promised.

Process, Business Services, and Components-the core constructs

Business Processes represent the flow of activities required to complete a business process, which, in turn, help achieve a business objective. They are orchestrations, choreography, or compositions of Business Services targeted to achieve business goals.

Business Service, to be more precise, represents a discrete business function that makes meaningful sense to an organization. A Business Service can be composed of one of the many fine-grained functions or atomic services, and by the true definition of SOA, encapsulation, it can dynamically behave depending on how it is invoked. Services form the building blocks of SOA and should be reusable, decoupled, exposed in a standardized fashion, and derived from disparate IT resources.

Components realize and provide services from one or more applications and these components are wrapped into the Business Services. Components help realize not only the functionality of the services they expose, but also ensure that their Quality of Service (QoS) is good, as guaranteed by the service provider. The following figure depicts how all of the above are interrelated and interconnected at a very high level.

Achieving success through BPM enabled by SOA

A fact of reality in many organizations today is that they have many applications which are disparate in terms of technology, programming languages based on which they were written, capabilities exposed through interfaces, services, or APIs, and so on. To create a purchase order in an order entry system, we will need information about the customer from customer information management systems, product information from product catalog, and so on and so forth. Hence there is a constant struggle to make all the applications integrated.

IT is under constant pressure to address these requirements for managing layer upon layer of legacy systems that may or may not interoperate with any degree of simplicity. This is where integration comes in and helps connect applications together with the right communications , data semantics and server infrastructure as well as the right business process capabilities to give IT and enterprise leaders the ability to create composite applications that meet new flexible and dynamic business needs.

Getting the integration right is one of the key aspects of getting SOA right, and it enables the integration of the disparate applications. Integration is only one half of the struggle; there are several techniques and modes in which you can integrate applications. They include but are not limited to:

  • Presentation-based integration that provides interaction and collaboration capabilities

  • Process-driven integration that helps streamline business processes

  • Information-centric integration for unified access to information from heterogeneous data sources

  • Bare bones connectivity-based integration

A Business Process Management (BPM) approach enabled by SOA is key to achieving operating efficiencies and gaining a competitive advantage for any organization. Organizations need a BPM enabled by SOA framework, which will allow them to constantly evolve their collaborative process automation and process improvement approaches. So what is this BPM enabled by SOA framework and what will it comprise?

Business Process Management (BPM)

You may have been reading a lot about Business Process Management. What is it? BPM is a discipline that focuses on process modeling, design, automation, management, and continuous improvement. It is not a technology or a product. It covers the full range of application-to-application, inter-application, workflow, and person-to-person process management, including process modeling, design, automation, monitoring, management, and continuous improvement. The core and basic components of BPM include (but are not limited to):

  • Modeling and simulation

  • Policies and Rules

  • Collaboration through human task processing

  • Content-centric processing

  • Process execution including choreography and orchestration

  • Business Activity Monitoring (BAM)

  • Support for common Business Objects (BOs)

  • Intuitive process definition tool

  • Customizable work portal

  • Historical process analysis

  • Wide range of integration capabilities and adapters

  • Process Tracking and Notification

  • Process Performance Analysis

  • System Scalability and Process Performance

  • Provision for parallel human task approvals

  • Capability to work with and modify in-flight processes

Building blocks of BPM enabled by SOA framework

Businesses very well understand that their core (and differentiating) business processes will have to be automated (post integration) and be able to externalize these from end applications. Process-driven integration is about bringing people, processes, information, and systems together using the Business Process management (BPM) approach enabled by an SOA approach. This approach requires a solid technology platform and of course an over-arching methodology that will offer you prescriptive guidance on how to deliver solutions. So what are these core building blocks? They include:

  • Business Process Modeling

  • Business Process Execution

  • Business Policies and Rules

  • Enterprise Service Bus

  • Business Process Monitoring

  • Information Model (the semantic model)

Now let's look briefly at each of these core building blocks/capabilities that are needed for achieving success in a business process-driven integration provided, as shown in the following figure:

Business Process Modeling

This is the starting point where you discover and document the various other business process(s) (using a modeling notation such as Business Process Modeling Notation BPMN) that might exist on paper or even in the minds of some subject matter experts and document it with business modeling. Also, once the processes are modeled, you will have the ability to run model simulations and try out various 'what-if' scenarios to forecast what would happen if you altered the process. Based on these simulations, you arrive at an optimal process design. The process modeling exercise also helps to identify the SOA services that will have to be specified, realized, and also in many cases, reused.

Business Process Execution (including Choreography)

Once the business processes have been modeled, they will have defined in an executable format (such as Business Process Execution Language (BPEL)) and deployed on a standard-based process execution platform that supports both the business process execution environment and the packaging of business tasks as services. The assembly, sequencing, orchestration, and choreography of existing services and new services results in the realization of a deployable process model. This assembly should be based on industry standards such as Service Component Architecture (SCA). The execution platform must also support human interaction for both participants in the business process and administrators of the business process. The runtime should also provide a variety of administrative capabilities required to configure the environment for the applications that are installed.

Enterprise Service Bus

Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) provides the underlying connectivity and backbone infrastructure for SOA to connect applications. An ESB is essentially an architecture pattern that provides capabilities including connectivity, communications, message queuing, message routing, message transformation, reliable messaging, protocol transformation and binding, event handling, fault handling, message level security, and so on. It enables loose coupling between service consumers and service providers, and thus enhances the ability to rapidly change and introduce new Business Services into the environment. An ESB typically would leverage a service registry and repository to provide information about service endpoints.

Business Policies and Rules

Policies and rules can make the business processes highly flexible and responsive. A business policy represents a key piece of domain knowledge, externalized from a business process and is applied when a particular request context is met. An example could be, all purchase orders that include order items such as Oxygen Canisters $1000 has to be shipped overnight, and so on. Metadata elements such as "order item" and "order amount" are deemed as the business domain vocabulary and values of which can change (you can add "Defibrillator" along to the critical items list), which will have to be externalized from the business process. are deemed critical orders, order amount worth over

A business rule is a statement that defines or constrains some aspect of the business. They are typically atomic and cannot be broken down further. An example would be, say, in a loan origination business process, at each step of the process, business analysts identify rules that must be met by the loan staff and underlying systems. In traditional banking systems, these rules reside within the loan origination system itself, so changing the rules means modifying the application. When the rules are abstracted from the loan origination systems, they reside in a business rules engine. As a result, bank management can identify those activities that change rapidly, such as decisions relating to FICO® scores, and then, instead of changing the process and its underlying application, they change only the decision point within the business process, which in turn resides in a business rules engine (external to the process itself). This capability adds agility to the process by reducing the time, costs, and resources necessary to respond to changing conditions.

Business Process Monitoring

While the business processes are deployed and are executing, data must be captured that provides information about the processes. This data can be analyzed to determine if the business processes are performing as expected. Both business-related information and IT-related information can be captured for monitoring. You should also be able to visually define dashboards based on Key Performance Indicators (KPI), which are based on the monitor model deployed for the business process, providing a visual display of the business process status.

Information Model

For a process-driven integration approach coupled with SOA to succeed, a common and enterprise level information model is required, which becomes the basis for the messages exchanged between processes and services, and also serves as the glossary for the business policies and rules. When dealing with applications that have disparate data and information models, use of this common information model shields the business processes away from the gory details of each and every individual system. The ESB provides capabilities to transform from this Canonical Data Model to the target system's format. The Canonical data model minimizes dependencies between integrated applications that use different data formats. Typically, one could leverage industry standards such as Tele Management Forum's Shared Information/Data Model (SID) and so on to define the information models.

A mind map is a diagram used to represent words, ideas, tasks, or other items linked to and arranged around a central keyword or idea. Mind maps are used to generate, visualize, structure, and classify ideas, and as an aid in study, organization, problem solving, decision making, and writing.

A mind map, as shown in the following figure, sums up all the previous concepts.

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