Tuesday, July 04, 2006

BPM and SOA 2

Lots of interesting debate about the relationship between BPM and SOA: Phil Gilbert (Lombardi), Jesper Joergensen (BEA), Steve Jones, Mike Rosen (BPTrends, pdf), (via Sandy Kemsley). And loads by Bruce Silver: Phoney War, Still the Exception, Will Deliver. See also Sandy Kemsley's BPM lens.

So what is the relationship between BPM and SOA? In a series of articles entitled "BPM inside the belly of the SOA whale" (1, 2, 3), Colleen Frye of SearchWebServices collects a range of ideas from different experts:
  • BPM is putting a business face on SOA
  • BPM and SOA as ... two sides of the same coin
  • BPM and SOA are ... orthogonal
  • BPM sits on top
  • BPM is one of the main entry points for the business side of SOA
  • BPM ... hand-in-hand with SOA
Do any of these metaphors have a precise meaning? If so, do they contradict one another? And how can we tell? (This is a prevailing problem in the IT industry, where experts commonly try to explain abstract structural relationships using vague metaphors. I confess: I have done it myself sometimes.)

And what about the "Inside the Whale" metaphor used in the title of the articles? This metaphor is commonly associated with George Orwell's essay Inside the Whale, where it was used to denote (and criticize) a disengagement or decoupling between the writer (inside) and the political environment (outside). Salman Rushdie wrote an article called Outside the Whale, which called for a reengagement (alignment, tight coupling) between the writer and the political environment.

The separation between Inside/Outside (or Private/Public) is of course a crucial element of the component/service story. The belly of the whale is a metaphor for encapsulation. In Frye's version, BPM is on the inside and SOA is on the outside. From a business perspective we might have expected this to be the other way around. (There is a story here about business/IT alignment that I have blogged about separately. Update: URL added.)

So I think I can identify two propositions that I think many people would agree with.
  1. BPM and SOA are not tightly coupled. It is possible to have BPM without SOA; and it is possible to have SOA without BPM.
  2. There is synergy between BPM and SOA. There are some potential advantages from combining BPM with SOA, which are not available from BPM alone or SOA alone.
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