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Friday, November 21, 2003

Grand Central adds BPEL
"Using the new service I can provision new BPEL services into the network without having to deploy any software, hardware etc," writes John McDowall, the company's CTO, in his weblog. Grand Central offers a web services intermediary service — basically a web-services-network-in-the-cloud — and now it has added a BPEL engine, which means users can construct joined-up processes by orchestrating services together.

To help developers grasp the potential, Grand Central has launched a BPEL Resource Center on its website. I'd been wondering why John hadn't posted anything to his weblog for almost a month. Now I know why he's been busy. I find the sample scripts page fascinating, because it looks like the kind of thing even a non-programmer like me could get to grips with. Let me see now, Foreach [RSS feed] Call a Service ~ Switch [IsContent]Call a Service ~ Switch [NoContent] Compensate ... etc, etc. I know I'm simplifying here, but you get my drift ....

And the wonderful thing is that, being BPEL, you can map virtually any process you can conceive, because it's founded on a form of logic called pi-calculus. Some people think this is just souped-up workflow, but in fact pi-calculus — and the business process software that's based on it — produces many different forms of process mapping besides workflow. To understand why, read Workflow is just a Pi process, a white paper by Howard Smith and Peter Fingar. I'd like to say more about this paper but due to server problems today and John McDowall's surprise posting I ran out of time ... I'll return to the topic in more depth next week.
posted by Phil Wainewright 1:02 PM (GMT) | comments | link
Server change
The Loosely Coupled site just moved to a new server and so for a few hours you may have experienced problems accessing the site while the new DNS information propagated. This was an unplanned move due to server reconfiguration at the hosting company, so please accept our apologies for the sudden disruption. We had been having intermittent downtime on the site this week, and the move should fix that. With any luck there will be no further problems and everything will be back to normal by tomorrow. (I suppose it serves me right for calling J2EE 'grossly unreliable' yesterday. The site is hosted on Linux/Apache/XML/PHP, which is our variation on the emerging LAMP platform.)
posted by Phil Wainewright 9:23 AM (GMT) | comments | link

Thursday, November 20, 2003

J2EE 'grossly unreliable'
According to a survey published by performance testing company Wily Technology, applications that run on the J2EE platform experience a full day's downtime each week, on average. At least, that's what this news story on internetnews.com says, coinciding neatly with all the publicity surrounding the release of J2EE 1.4

I must say this comes as quite a surprise to me. I'd always understood that J2EE was the platform companies use for really important applications that have to be used by lots of people. I'd imagined it being a bit less reliable than a mainframe, but still more solid than Windows. But now it turns out that J2EE is as flaky as hell. I mean, one day a week is the average, so does that mean some people are down as much as four or five times a week?

Apparently so. But it isn't necessarily J2EE's fault. Apparently, most of the downtime is caused by troublesome connections to other systems (86 percent), while the rest is down to poor programming (14 percent). And a big factor in the length of downtime is that it takes a long time to identify the cause of the problem — often more than a whole day. So the problem is not J2EE itself, it's just that the people who use it to build applications don't know how to network, are lousy programmers, and can't cope when things go wrong. Luckily for them, Wily offers a portfolio of products that can help them overcome all these shortcomings. What a coincidence!

This week, not only have I learnt that J2EE falls over more often and for longer than Windows. I also heard that Microsoft is giving away intellectual property for free.

I was surprised not to see more comment on this. Microsoft is publishing the XML Schemas it is using in Office under a royalty-free licence, starting with WordprocessingML, and later on following up with SpreadsheetML and FormTemplate XML (the latter is used by InfoPath). WebServices.org covered the press release, and an article on ADTmag.com provided some Thoughts on the Office XML Reference Schemas, but I would have thought such an about-turn would have merited slightly more attention than just these two articles.

But then ADTmag.com's Mike Gunderloy goes on to note in his article, "There are two potentially troubling things in the legalese that comes with the schemas ..." Ah, that's more like it. For a moment there I thought the world had gone mad. But no, Microsoft is still as untrustworthy as everyone likes to believe it is, and by the same token, I'm sure that J2EE is still just as reliable as everyone always knew it was.
posted by Phil Wainewright 10:54 AM (GMT) | comments | link

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Process entrepreneurs
For decades, the IT industry has sold its wares to computer systems experts. Now, at last, its products are maturing, and vendors are starting to offer on-demand business functionality. It's only natural they should start looking for business systems experts to whom they can sell these new capabilities.

But whereas you can expect a CIO to be highly knowledgeable about the inner workings of computer systems, how many COOs and CEOs are familiar with the science of business? While you'll certainly find quite a few business systems experts on the payrolls of larger enterprises — business analysts in marketing and production planning, six-sigma specialists in manufacturing, compliance officers in the back-office — they typically occupy advisory roles to the lower echelons of management power. The top managers and executives who are actually in charge of operations of course have an intimate understanding of how their businesses run, but they're rarely business scientists in any sense of the word. Indeed, most of them would surely view management as more of an art than a science.

This leaves the IT vendors in something of a quandary, as David Longworth explains in this week's Loosely Coupled feature article, In search of business architects. The business experts who will appreciate the complex merits of their sophisticated products will have little or no spending power with which to acquire them, whereas those who do wield the purse strings will demand a more accessible, polished offering.

What the vendors will have to do is segment their target market a little more intelligently, and offer propositions appropriate to each:

  • Process architects are an emerging breed of senior managers who are indeed nominated to take responsibility for a specific process across an enterprise. These specialist process owners are few and far between but are eager to learn more about how to control and manage business processes, which makes them a prime target for products tailored to their specific process interests.

  • Process owners are more of a catch-all category. These managers are responsible for a specific business process or area of operations within an organization, and although they would recognize themselves as process owners if the term was explained to them, they don't describe themselves as such. To successfully sell process management tools to this group, vendors need to talk to them in terms of the operations they manage.

  • Process analysts are specialists who monitor and analyze business operations to ensure they are operating efficiently. They normally report to line-of-business managers (ie process owners) in specific functions. They'll be interested in technologies that improve the quality of information they work with, but they don't have much spending clout, and whatever they do spend has to be signed off by their boss.

  • Process maintainers are specialists whose role is to make sure processes are operating correctly, typically within the context of a quality systems or regulatory environment. They command their own budget, but they're wary of new technologies, preferring products with proven and predictable metrics. It will take time for vendors to win over this group.

  • Process consultants work for business consultancies such as Accenture, CSC and others. It's their job to be process experts, and they're keen to use the latest BPM technology to create new process-enhancing methodologies. Vendors will find the consultances are keen allies in bringing BPM products to market.
  • Process entrepreneurs are the most promising group of all. These risk-taking visionaries aim to achieve cost savings or capture new revenue opportunities through process innovation. They may be forward-looking CEOs or COOs or ambitious line-of-business or departmental managers — and they'll already have a track record of process innovation, achieved without the aid of business process technologies. Vendors will have to help them acquire the specialist process skills they'll need to get up-and-running with the technology, but if it can help them implement their process ideas faster and more successfully, there'll be no limits to their commitment and enthusiasm.

posted by Phil Wainewright 4:35 AM (GMT) | comments | link

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