Business Process


customer-satisfactionFollowing on from the first part of “Happy Customers”, here are some further thoughts which are more focussed on the emotional aspects of delivery.

No surprises

Nobody likes surprises, especially stakeholders, and being told bad news without any kind of warning is a good way of them losing confidence in a supplier.
Remember, stakeholders generally hold senior positions within the company and all will have differing business priorities to consider. Surprises put them on the spot, and if they are in a meeting with other stakeholders, they will not be amused.

Communicating bad news to Stakeholders needs to be handled sensitively, and most of the time personally, so that all stakeholders can form their own opinions before any stakeholder or board meeting. Stakeholders will also want options for addressing the bad news, and want to know what decisions are required of them.

A key point to remember with bad news is to let stakeholders know as soon as possible, once options have been considered. Holding back bad news, or hiding it only creates more problems, and less transparency, which in turn impacts confidence in the supplier.

Honesty

It goes without saying that suppliers must always be honest, not just with the Customer, but also with their employees and other third parties that they are working with.
Customers value honesty and it is one of the reasons that Smart421 has such a good reputation.

Remember, honesty works in different ways. Customers may not always like to hear the truth, especially if that involves uncovering the “elephant in the room”. However customers do generally respect honesty and honesty goes a very long way to building long term working relationships.

Understanding Customer Challenges

This is generally something which happens with all Customers. Suppliers are brought in to solutions for them, or to advise them, however what can be perceived as the perfect solution may not be suitable for the Customer. A supplier must always take time to consider the Customer’s challenges; whether financial, logistical, organisational, or political, and make sure that solutions are tailored to take these challenges into account.

The role of Supplier is a complex one and understanding the Customer is key to everything that they deliver. Customers like to know that as a supplier, you understand their challenges and you may even be able to provide some insight to them on the challenges they haven’t previously considered.

Value for Money

Is what every Customer wants.

So think about how much your engagement is costing them, and what they are getting from you for their money. If you were the Customer, would you be happy with paying for what you are getting ? Suppliers must always try to look at things from the Customer’s perspective and think about what they have committed to do for them.

Suppliers have to consider additional value that can be provided on top of what has been agreed contractually. Is there additional expertise and knowledge that can be utilised to enhance the deliverables, and is there any knowledge that has been gained during the engagement that can be considered and included within the deliverables to demonstrate a full understanding of what the customer is trying to achieve?

Everybody likes the idea of getting something more than what they paid for, and in getting this, customers will feel confident that you understand them and bought into their challenges, which helps towards building long term, solid relationships, which ultimately are what good business is built upon.

Conclusion

So in conclusion, I hope you agree with my points – or at least recognise some of them – and if you have some to add I’d be keen to hear from you, especially if you are that Customer.

 

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customer-satisfactionAs a Delivery Manager I believe I know what makes my customers happy from first-hand experience. But am I right ?

Is it all about delivering perfectly every time, within timescales and budget, with a top notch solution which meets all defined requirements and with a flawless rollout to the end Consumer?  Yes it absolutely is, but back here in the real world, how often have you ever experienced a project or delivery which achieved that? If you have, I would love to hear from you.

There are a number of things which I believe contribute to ensuring Customers are happy, which I’ll explore in more detail in this blog:

  •          Demonstrating control
  •          Clear, concise, accurate and honest communication / updates
  •          Expertise
  •          Do what you say you are going to do
  •          No surprises
  •          Honesty
  •          Understanding the challenges the Customer themselves have
  •          Value for money

I’m sure there are many more, but as a starting point this is plenty to be going on with.

In this first part of this blog, here are a few thoughts on the first 4 of these points which are more process oriented.

Demonstrating Control

As a Customer paying for a service, the key thing they need is confidence the Supplier is in control. To know you are capable of doing what you are being paid to do. If a Customer detects any nervousness they will immediately start to worry about whether they will be getting their job done.
In my experience, when the Supplier is confident and demonstrates control through efficient processes, it gives the Customer a warm feeling – then they don’t have to worry about what you as supplier are doing and get on with their own job. Remember at the end of the day this is why they engaged you in the first place.

Communication

Your Customer, being extremely busy and with no time to spare, has engaged you the supplier to save them or their team time, because you are an expert in your field. So, when the customer needs to know something (good or bad), it must be communicated as clearly, as quickly and as thoroughly as possible. The communication must also be clear as to why they are being told, and what is expected of them as a consequence of what they are being told.  Don’t waffle, be honest, and ensure you have your facts straight. Remember, despite being busy, your Customer may already know what they are about to be told!

Expertise

Expertise is what Customers engage suppliers for, and therefore as supplier you will be expected to deliver on all of the promises that were made in the sales pitch to the customer; After all the supplier is the expert, has bucket loads of previous relevant experience and clearly knows what they are doing.
Any suspicions the  Customer has that the suppliers expertise and experience is not quite what was promised, will seriously damage the relationship and trust in the supplier, and trust is not an easy thing to win back. This is especially true when dealing with “disruptive” technologies like Cloud – to take a customer on that first journey you need to demonstrate you are expert.

Do what you say you are going to do

Obvious I know, but how many times have you been in a meeting and said you will take an action or actions and not followed through with all of them? Hopefully not too often, but it’s easy to forget !
Suppliers must always ensure that anything they commit to doing is done on time, in budget and to the quality that the customer expects. What credibility do suppliers have otherwise? Suppliers must be professional at all times. Following up on what has been committed to, will quickly earn respect, confidence and demonstrate commitment to the Customer.

In part two, I’ll look at the more “emotional” side of Happy Customers.

 

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Tonight’s British Computer Society (BCS) event in the Davidson Building opposite the Savoy in London was the first one I’ve attended for years. The subject was the Network Rail “ORBIS” programme which focuses on data asset management.

The attraction for me was three-fold: First, I’m developing a keen interest in the railways generally thanks to our work with ATOC RSP and second, because of Smart421′s focus on BigData challenges. Thirdly, the agenda mentioned something about specialist mobile apps, which is my main interest in leading our Enterprise Mobile capability in Smart421 which is backed with IBM Mobility solutions.

Secure end user enterprise mobile devices

The slick presentation from the impressive Davin Crowley-Sweet and his team brought out the approaches to data as an asset and highlighted the challenges of modernising an organisation that still collects much of its information, such as survey data, on paper. The slideshow was “Prezi” style zooming in and out like a game of Angry Birds and contained a LOT of detailed analysis and roadmaps which made me glad I sat in the front row to try and take it all in.

My rough notes are summarised here but I believe the interested reader can learn much more about ORBIS (which has been “reverse-acronymed” with the name “Offering Rail Better Information Services”) from the Network Rail website. The first point to note is that this is not another BigData experiment but an extremely far-reaching business transformation programme, focussing on business processes and aiming to be business-led. There are very serious business benefits already being gained and (according to the paper linked to above)

the £327 million total cost of ORBIS is expected to yield £270 million in asset benefits plus £100 million per year in maintenance improvements.

An iPhone for every maintenance engineer

Maintenance worker using new tablet technology

The company took the far-sighted step of giving every engineer their own ruggedized iPhone along with the request to use the built-in features as best they could to suggest what can be used. Not surprisingly, one of the most useful features was GPS, accurately pinpointing problems with rails. Then when engineering work comes along on the Sunday consigning us travellers to the replacement bus service the disruption should be minimised as engineers should be guided directly to the problem location. Taking photos with the iPhone of problems with rails was another obvious use and now there are Apps being developed (one per month on average) that can automate some of the data capture along with the photos. I asked the presenter Edward afterwards about the apps and he said there are now developments across other platforms and O/S to use other (perhaps cheaper Android-based) handsets. Having around 12,000 engineers with a ~£500 iPhone is significant cost although the positive aspect of the workers being given the desirable devices should not be overlooked.

These unstructured data inputs were combined with significant mapping data, collected using helicopters and cameras on trains similar to “Google Streetview”. I think they mentioned collecting a few Terabytes of data from each train journey that was recorded in this way. That is some BigData problem to deal with the analysis and Network Rail to develop some sophisticated decision support rules around which stretches of railway need maintenance work most urgently based on the data analysed around curvature of the line, weather conditions, etc.

Some 20,000 miles of track, 40,000 bridges and tunnels and huge electrical, telecoms and physical networks make for a highly complex set of problems to manage. The seven year mission focuses on 5 asset types: Fixed assets, Fleet assets, Topology, Topography, Unstructured data (schematics, drawings, etc). It has several defined stages, in stage 1 it asked “what?” and “where?” and continues in stage 2 to try joining up and optimising the collected asset data.

The Contribution of Data Analysis to saving lives

There is a strong emphasis on improving safety through improvements to data management; recommendations following rail disasters like the terrible Lambrigg crash in Cumbria, for which Network Rail are still apologising, said that the points failure could have been detected and fixed earlier with better data analysis. Literally a case of life and death software.

Davin answered questions after the presentation and made the very relevant observation that enterprises should manage their operational data in the same way as they manage any other (physical) asset: know what it is and where it is, monitor its quality, use it while it is relevant and when it reaches end of life get rid of it.

Benjamin Mitchell

Benjamin Mitchell
Photo by James Neale

No doubt about it, Benjamin Mitchell’s (Twitter @benjaminm ) presentation at SyncNorwich last night certainly resonated with attendees.

Kanban: What is it good for? An introduction illustrated with war stories

Approaching a hundred people packed into The King’s Centre in Norwich for the monthly meetup of SyncNorwich, the geek-friendly interest group which was only launched 5th June this year and which has already proven to be a big hit with start-ups, developers and technologists from many tribes.

Mitchell, a Lean/Agile consultant and coach with experience in financial trading systems, delivered a proficient and well-grounded 45-minute keynote using nothing more than Post-It Notes and a powerpoint featuring index cards and even more Post-It Notes, clearly the stock-in-trade of a busy Agile Scrum master.

Networking at SyncNorwich

Networking at SyncNorwich
Photo by James Neale

Repeatedly extolling the virtues of keeping things simple and avoiding the pitfalls of planning systems like Jira, he impressed on the audience the art of the possible with a few ‘basic’ techniques from Kanban – the manufacturing process democratised by Toyota – which, when applied to the world of application development, promises to transform lurching or limping projects into lean projects with little (or less and less) wasted time.

“Monitors in daily stand ups suck the energy,” cautioned Mitchell. There spoke the voice of sometimes bitter experience, which came across loud and clear. I did notice several people in the audience stratching away on backs of envelopes, a ‘note to self’ for action next Monday perhaps. No shame in that. We were all here to learn something. My note to self: ‘buy more masking tape’

SyncNorwich 13 Sept 2012

Note to self
Photo by James Neale

His witty anecdotes and on-the-fly Questions and Answers engaged everyone and enlivened what could so easily have been a mundane or routine subject area for those without deep expertise. This meant that he connected with attendees at all levels, including those new to kanban with no prior knowledge of direct experience. Skillful stuff indeed.

Recounting tales of holding agile scrums in fire escapes (to avoid the attention of an enemy CTO) and Agile-sceptic managers who “won’t blame you – yet”, Mitchell performed like a one-man comedy store, blending hard facts and soft skills which, to me anyway, came across as persuasive and surprisingly compelling.

Mitchell recalled an Agile development project when he wore a t-shirt sporting the message “Our ambitions outstrip our capabilities” causing uproarious laughter amongst the developers and testers in the audience and a few wry smiles from secretly-embarrased managers. No names no packdrill here, mate, you’re safe.

In all, it was a well-tuned and cleverly-crafted slot. Mitchell’s delivery was as good as the content. It was hard to know how the organisers might top the Lightning Talks at the August meetup. We need not have worried.

As well as intros from Paul Grenyer, and cold beers, I think this is exacty the kind of quality that SyncNorwich will become known for.

Twitter:  @SyncNorwich
Read the feed:  #SyncNorwich

All photos by kind permission of James Neale Photography

RELATED LINKS
Benjamin Mitchell’s blog  http://blog.benjaminm.net
IT Kanban Podcast http://itkanban.com/podcast/

Last week I attended the EA & BPM Conference in London. This is an interesting event covering the Holy Trinity of Enterprise Consulting; Enterprise Architecture, Business Process Management and Business Architecture (the key filling pulling this sandwich together).

This was the second year they have collocated the BPM Conference with the EA Conference and I think this makes for a really interesting mix. It also highlights the rise of BPM as a key function in the Enterprise. This was reflected in the exhibitors where BPM was a recurring theme on the majority of the stands. I found there was so much of interest that selecting a session was really tough over the course of the three days so I’ll highlight a few of my favourites.

Day one was a collection of seminars. I was intrigued by Alec Sharp’s Data Modelling seminar. Not for everyone Alec insisted on audience participation as he gradually built up his set piece of normalisation dance moves. Bizarre initially but I gradually found myself totally buying in to this. It’s a great way to reacquaint yourself with the various forms of normalisation. This was however a serious session providing tips and techniques for applying this ‘Misused Technique’. I’ll be laying out my diagrams in a more structured form and looking to apply ‘Guerilla Modelling’ where I encounter resistance to modelling in the future.

I was introduced to Blue Ocean Strategy during Jeff Scott’s Key Note on day three. He showed the use of the Strategy Canvas as a tool for developing strategy potentially making your competitors irrelevant. This was particularly interesting and BOS has been added to my reading list as a source of inspiration for my growing Business Architect’s toolkit.

For me the most challenging speaker, and also presentation attendee, was Michael Roseman. His constant reference to ‘Commodity BPM’ and ‘Cute’ ideas pushed you to think about the desired outcomes and values of your BPM initiative. Sure you need the fundamentals in place but conventional analysis and modelling techniques aren’t guaranteed to produce the innovation Enterprises need in today’s highly competitive and changeable environment. His classification of brainstorming as a child’s technique that is more often than not a hit and miss affair was great. He continued to explain that what’s needed is patterns for thinking and innovating that allow you to move towards a repeatable approach.

It was a great three days with an enormous amount of information and learning to be gained from both the presenters and in discussions with the exhibitors and attendees between the presentations. I’ve come away with new tools, techniques, ways of thinking and an even larger backlog of reading to cover. All I need is some time to sit down with a good book and a cold beer…

Recently, I attended the 3-day conference in London that combined, for the first time, EA and BPM, which had in previous years been the subject of separate conferences, see the overview at http://www.irmuk.co.uk/eac2011/overview.cfm for more details. Thanks to Robin Meehan presenting a session with Visa Europe we got a good deal on the ticket to go to all three days including the Seminar on Wednesday.

The first day gave me the opportunity to see the legendary John Zachman present a half-day introduction to his famous “Zachman EA Framework”. The seminar was subtitled “Enterprise Physics”, which made me think of Star Trek and Scottie the Engineer but maybe that’s just me. Zachman prefers using the terms “ontology” or “classification” rather than “framework” for the core 6×6 matrix (sorry, “normalised schema”) that compares with the periodic table that underlies the whole of chemistry. The main thrust of Zachman’s very entertaining presentation was that nobody can carry out any seriously complex activity without architecture and that architecture is the same for enterprises as it is for aeroplanes or one hundred storey buildings (but harder).

The analogies and application of EA to science and engineering showed how relatively young and immature is the whole practice of EA and Zachman can rightly claim to be a pioneer in the late 1960s and still going strong now at the age of 76. Robin Meehan wrote about him two years ago and I would echo a lot of the sentiments he expressed regarding the energy and passion he still displays.

In the afternoon on day one I attended a seminar on Business Process and BPMN, which told me that BPMN 2.0 has only four basic building blocks that result in 100 or so detailed objects with embellishments and decorations. For example there are something like 63 different categories of “event”. What BPMN 2.0 does is categorise into “common core” of just a few important fundamental concepts that can code the majority of simple business processes. There were a range of tool vendors in the exhibition supporting BPMN in various ways, many now based on standard archimate-style notation.

What surprises me a little bit is the way the business process delegates still seem to think they exist alongside EA whereas by definition EA encompasses the whole enterprise, as Zachman says “The whole thing including the business architecture and processes”, so therefore BPM falls within EA.

Day Two

Day 2 started with a nice opening by Sally Bean (@cybersal on twitter – Twitter was in evidence including tags #IRMEAC and #IRMBPM that I used for a bit) and Roger Burlton (@RogerBurlton) that focused on having a disciplined, coherent and shared architecture strategy that encompasses both EA and BPM; ok, I would argue EA already encompasses BPM but it’s good the similarities and overlaps are now being recognised and acted upon. The other statement that stuck with me was that “The common repository” is critical, something that causes a debate in our group with respect to federated SOA and autonomy of business units within an enterprise.

The keynote was given by Thomas Lawton (@TCLawton) who was clearly suffering with mild laryngitis so has to be applauded for getting through his description of breakout strategy, leadership and vision wheels so well. Some nice categorisations of businesses in frame of their response to the recession (Panic, Protect, Cloak, Conquer) and then in terms of breakout, being offensive (in the “attacking” sense in British parlance), i.e. “…the best form of defense is attack”. He spent a long time exploring the nature of growth opportunities, where Google are a “True Original” taking an emergent market by storm and Tesco are a “Big Improver” moving from laggard to leader in established market. I stopped to think about it and would probably categorise Smart421 as “Wave Rider”, not really a true original but taking on and leading the way in an emerging market (EA Consultancy). The only thing that bothered me slightly was the example in this space was Ryan Air – I’d like to think we have a much friendlier customer focus! Thomas’s “Vision Wheel” was an interesting concept, separating external and internal aspects and the final section was about how to create a “Magnet company” that excites markets and attracts customers. The key seems simply to build the Vision for the future based on the six aspects: Price, Features, Quality, Support, Availability, Reputation. I had a go at doing this for Smart421 below. It would be interesting to get other peoples’ views on the ratings.

Image

The afternoon keynote from Ian Gotts of Nimbus focused on CEOs and specifically selling BPM projects to CEOs. The first rule he quoted was “not BPM”, which was a theme of some other talks “Don’t mention architecture”. It reminded me of the famous football autobiography by Len Shackleton where he entitled a chapter “What the average club chairman knows about football” and left the page completely blank. Gotts’s talk used examples from the transformation of Carphone Warehouse from a basic “phone shifter” to a rounded customer-oriented gadget shop with supporting processes. The slides contained some interesting predictions like the market for BPM services to top $24bn in the next few years and he had a nice graphic showing an exponential increase in spending by 8 of their customers recently (could just be coincidence as business always increases over time). It was entertaining and made me more aware of how to present to senior business-people, as if I didn’t already know not to mention IT terminology.

Also today, I had the pleasure of attending two presentations by working Enterprise Architects from Shell and British Gas. It is always enjoyable hearing about real-world experiences that highlight gaps in the models. Dan Jeavons from Shell is far too youthful to know as much as he does about Enterprise Architecture but I found myself agreeing with what he was saying and it confirms my belief that implementing EA needs sponsorship from the top and there is a right way to do it (meta-model definition before tooling for example).

Jane Chang from British Gas pretty much developed her own practice, on the back of delivering Smart Metering to the company’s 10 million customers. The programme has been a great success and now has a large 400-person development team working on it to meet the architecture vision. A very good end to the day.

Day Three

And so to the third and final day of EAC and BPM and the obvious highlight was the presentation bySmart421 CTO, Robin Meehan and Chris Forlano Lead Enterprise Architect at Visa Europe on “Maturing Visa’s Enterprise Architecture Practice”.

Robin Meehan CTO at Smart421 (pictured left) with Chris Forlano, Lead Enterprise Architect at Visa Europe. Photo by Andrew Smale.

The session was appreciated by all and they asked some very interesting questions, like “How did you justify a 530 days budget for this work?”, which should probably have been answered by Mark had he been there.

Prior to that I went along to a Lean Six Sigma presentation and learnt a few more strings to use around promoting Quality through reducing variance (Six Sigma) at the same time as addressing the 7 Sins of Waste (Lean). I thought Peter Matthijssen was really good at using examples to introduce LSS as a practice for aspiring Business Process Architects and explained the concepts really well.

The morning keynote was probably the best talk of the whole conference by Jason Bloomberg on …. you’ve guessed it… The Cloud!   Or more specifically, “Architecting the Cloud – How EAs should think about Cloud Computing”. Both the Pros and the Cons were presented and the not so subtle message to delegates was to not let vendors drive down the route of private cloud and that public cloud cannot be trusted. I did think some examples: a Cloud employee taking a memory stick to your server and stealing your data, or the police impounding your (shared) boxes because of illegal activity by someone else was a little bit OTT. The main message reinforced our view that you must architect for the cloud and synergies with SOA were well presented, in particular the suggestion to extend SOA Governance to cover Cloud Governance, a reasonable extension as I’ve always thought SOA Governance should govern the underlying platforms for capacity and autonomy anyway. I didn’t quite get his point of Cloud services using REST couldn’t be governed as part of SOA because surely SOA is technology agnostic? His last slide on availability and redundancy with reference to the April Amazon outage provided a good discussion point afterwards and if anything this will be good for service providers like Smart421 offering experienced Cloud consultancy.

My second session of the day was “The Success of a Pragmatic Enterprise Architecture approach ‘STREAM’” by Jaap Schekkerman, Thought Leader Business Technology Strategy. I wasn’t completely convinced that these methods will work for everyone and the recommendation to design business methods on A0 format was provocative to someone like me who believes in a more componentised approach and that a process should fit on a single page to be understandable. Some of his slides also suffered from the A0 format and were incomprehensible. However, I did like Jaap as a presenter and he does have some original methods built into STREAM, which stands for:
Speedy Traceable Result-driven Enterprise Architecture (or Asset/Agile) Management, and it can be integrated with other frameworks and methodologies.

If I have one regret from this conference it is some of the session choices I made – Oliver Robinson’s presentation about improving the National Policing Agency drew a lot of praise, as did Tom Graves from Tetradian on “Respect as an Architectural Issue: a Case Study in Business Survival” but you can’t be everywhere. At least I have all the slides and further references like to tetradianbooks.com for the last one.

I admit I also suffered a little bit of BPM-fatigue after a while of going round the numerous vendors and trying to understand their products. However, if anyone has a need to deliver a BPM tool then I’ve got some good contacts now and a backpack full of literature and demos so give me a call or tweet me @smaley

"Small opportunities are often the beginning of great enterprises" - Demosthenes

"Small opportunities are often the beginning of great enterprises" - Demosthenes

Did you know that of the 500 original companies of the original S&P 500 (Standard & Poors) in 1957, only 74 of those remained in 1997 – that is a staggering 85% reduction!

Why is this?

The capital markets in the world today encourages rapid and vast growth leading to greater revenues and wealth, meaning people are expecting companies to adapt and perform to the market conditions and are not too understanding when they under-perform over the long term. Of those companies that are no longer in the S&P 500 one of the key factors that they were unable to be keep up with the changing demands of the markets and been able to be agile in entering new high value markets. Whilst change can be slow, it is always powerful!

It is having this ability to adapt and change that helps companies today to survive and a great way to help your business achieve this agility is by adopting a SOA architecture. It can really help a business create an IT infrastructure that will support a truly dynamic enterprise.

SOA is all about defining services that align and support business process, and exposing these services so they can re-used easily. It also allows these services to change independently so only aspects of business processes that need to change (as the business adapts and changes) minimising the impact on the rest of the IT infrastructure and business.

The loose coupling gained from adopting a SOA also provides abstraction from underlying systems and applications. This allows greater flexibility on consuming and invoking the capability exposed through the SOA, whilst enabling the ability to  switch the underlying systems and platforms as and when this is required.

When you consider all of these benefits you can see the agility this provides your business.

SOA is nothing new and has been around for a number of years now (and in a number of different guises) but in our opinion it is now a widely accepted mainstream approach within IT architecture, which we are seeing with a number of our clients investing and driving forwards with SOA as they have realised (and are already reaping) the benefits that it brings and how that journey can be the beginning  of a great and dynamic future.

It’s been a while since Oracle’s spending spree – including Sun and BEA – something that i’m still in shock about.  To get some clarity on the SOA offerings from Oracle a colleague and I recently attended an Oracle partner day in Reading. As the day was ran by 2 presales guys we got an interesting incite into what they were picking out as the differentiators to the other main player IBM – some of their opinions are reflected below – all of which i take with a pinch of salt.

Fusion Middleware

Oracle Fusion Overview

After everybody nodded to the question “does everybody know what SOA is?” the instructors continued on to tell us about SOA for a couple of hours. Nevertheless there was an interesting slide in this period with the average project cost and staff size for SOA projects; Basically, the message was ‘too big’ and doomed and ‘too small’ and it’ll just fade away. Also, they noted that the audience and the questions asked were testament to how the market has matured: their presentations have moved more from ‘how it works’ to ‘how to roll it out and support it’.

One contradiction I noted was how often they talked about the importance of interoperability and the use of industry standards but at the same time were really playing up how well integrated the Oracle SOA Suite 11g is. Perhaps this itself isn’t a contradiction – it’s more the incongruity of vendors on the one hand sell you the standardisation but at the same time tut-tut and teeth-sucking at the idea of using open source in some instances.

From a product perspective the day was a really useful insight in to how the suite has evolved and into what’s new and exciting about Oracle SOA Suite 11g (r1 patchset 2 – the 3rd big release in a year). Here are some specific notes I made which may or may not make sense:

  • No prizes that the winner in the application server shoot out between Oracle App Server and WebLogic was… WLS. The current version of SOA Suite won’t support running on WebSphere or JBOSS AS but this is on the roadmap.
  • One important piece of consolidation with the release is that SOA Suite and Oracle Service Bus can now run on the same application server platform (previously in 10G you needed different versions/instances).
  • Aqualogic ESB is called Oracle Service Bus (OSB) and now fulfils the ESB function. The product formerly known as Oracle ESB is actually still part of the product set – but is called Mediator. There is clearly some overlap between the products but mediator should be used only for the basic routing and transformation tasks.
  • BPM Suite for 11g is the completely re-written Aqualogic BPM which is for business modelling, supplied as part of the Dev Suite and includes some coding ability and allowing closed loop development (BPM is not as powerful or feature rich as the BPA Suite and not intended as a competitive product). The BPA Suite is pure modelling.
  • BPA Suite is targeted at analysts and contains 3 licensed modules of the ARIS product from IDS Scheer. The message was clearly made that Oracle don’t feel it is their business to create business process design software. I think this was a poke at IBM.. who recently bought Lombardi. BPA is much cheaper then the pureplays, example he gave was Pega PRPC but delivers on the promise of being able to integrate this rather then run it is as a homogeneous blob.
  • List of what’s included in SOA suite: OSB, Adapters, B2B, BPEL, BAM, EM, WSM, Service Reg, JDeveloper, CEP. –maybe missed a couple – all running on top of WebLogic with AQ/JMS and JRockit
  • BPM, BPA Suite and Enterprise Repository (ER) are licensed separately, the later under the ‘governance suite’. The ER assists governance from an assets perspective and provides the repository to store all artefacts.
  • The process server now supports BPMN 2.0 as well as the existing BPEL. There is an aim to provde BPMN round-tripping
  • Oracle have invested a lot in the adapters – making them all JCA compliant again (BEA had focussed on making them fast and not standardised). Lots of them, and there are lot’s of partners providing even more (Attunity and iWay were mentioned)
  • Event Driven Architecture  aka Event Delivery Network is JMS based of course, thankfully on weblogic JMS and not Oracle AQ. Apparently, you can use another JMS provider if you want, there is a JMS bridge (though I’m not sure that is really the accurate answer to my question)
  • The B2B product is really just an endpoint and not B2B network provider software
  • Oracle business rules (OBR) is a basic product – again the distinction was drawn out between IBM buying ILOG JRules and the OBR. No desire to create BPMS software which they say can hide implicit process within complex business rule structures. However, they have added handling for the basics of decision tables. OBR is integrated into JDeveloper.
  • Oracle policy admin (OPA) provides a sophisticated tool for managing your internal policy related data, e.g. VAT.
  • Application Integration Architecture (AIA) are all about making the Oracle Applications harmonious with the SOA suite and providing reference and process integration packs (PIP) are about providing standard processes across these applications.. rather then developing your own ‘order to pay’. Another distinction was drawn to IBM – who “don’t do applications”. Although predominantly Oracle Applications currently, the architecture is intended to support any cross application integration (e.g. connectivity to SAP http://www.oracle.com/applications/aia-plm-to-sap-erp-data-sheet.pdf). A list of the currently released PIP is at http://www.oracle.com/us/products/applications/application-integration-architecture/054232.html
  • JDeveloper is the development tool and is very well integrated and includes Unit Test Framework in 10.1.3.

As I said before – if you have noticed the Oracle instructor references to IBM above – clearly the competition is fierce between the 2 application integration stacks. A couple of other points were made which I regurgitate for the reader to make up their own minds: IBM products aren’t well integrated like the Oracle suite now is, and rational are holding back BPMN development within the System Architect tool.

It’s been a while since I have attended one of these so I went with an element of excited anticipation…honest :-)

In truth it was good to have a day away from the office and client site to refresh my view on as many Websphere related topics that I could cram into one day. Another important facet of attending the event was to ‘man’ the Smart421 marketing stand in between the various sessions with one of our Lead Consultant colleagues as part of our long-standing commitment and relationship with the WUG. This is always a bit of a daunting prospect but I saw it as a way of ‘dip-sticking’ the current IT temperature gauge – I was kind of expecting some stumbling conversations around the Cloud but there were more conversations around SOA…….a debate for another time but perhaps SOA is still more real for many organisations at the moment as they continue to experience the pain of their SOA journeys. 

The breadth of the sessions available is a real attraction of one of these events and to me adequately justifies any time and cost of attending one these events. We weren’t disappointed by the topics up for discussion. I went to 4 sessions consisting of:

  • Business Process Management: Collaborate, Iterate, Refine, Validate – by Waverney Croson, Consulting IT Specialist, IBM
  • Java 6 Unleashed: Tuning the IBM JVM – presented by Chris Bailey, IBM Java Technology Center, Hurlsey Lab
  • Learning from Other People’s SOA Experiences – presented by John Moe, Head of Integration Services, Tori Global
  • Websphere Message Broker V7 Introduction and New Features – presently by Dave Page, IBM Consulting IT Specialist

All the presentations I attended were well prepared and well presented but the one that in the end stood out for me was the ‘Learning from Other People’s SOA experiences’. There has been much debate on the subject of SOA generally and there has been much discussion amongst our consultants in Smart421; where it is today, where it is heading and how it relates to the emergence of the Cloud. Anyway back to the presentation……the slides rolled through but there were a few gems that I thought were worth repeating. The presenter clearly had lived and breathed this stuff and had also been burnt by it; his opening gambit was ‘its not easy’!. He stated that many large organisations had good messaging architectures (hub and spoke) and that moving to a SOA architecture (n layer) wasn’t necessarily a natural next step; “just because you can doesn’t mean you should”. Some reasonable advice was to begin your SOA evolution in small chunks; stay with the core capability of the product you are using to help avoid vendor lock-in around some obscure functionality only available in that product. He did say that the products in this area were far more mature than a few years ago but his strong advice was always to use vendor support to help you through the evolution process. He mentioned that the original implementations of most the products in this area were embarrassingly poor and this did remind me of some work with a client some time ago (circa. 2006) on an early enterprise version of one of these products – it would have been overly generous to even suggest this was ready for ‘beta’ trialing. Some of the other challenges he mentioned were around the adoption of service-based development practices and that organisations entering their SOA evolution should initially look to use agile methodologies to deliver services where tight control could be maintained; when the processes were more mature this could go to a waterfall methodology and off shored. The definition he used for determining SOA maturity was one around reuse; a rough figure of 30-40% reuse of services would represent a mature SOA architecture.

An interesting debate was around governance and it was made clear that this was one of the key barriers to success. This developed into an interesting discussion about versioning of services; this has been raised before on a client site and I was expecting a concise and polished answer but there wasn’t one. The answer given was that there wasn’t a tool out there to help with effective versioning of production services and typically the service would be split into 2 separate production services. He justified this by saying that as soon as a service goes live it effectively becomes legacy and there should be an acceptance that it will be difficult to change due to the potential impacts on consuming platforms. This is certainly something I have seen in practice but I wasn’t expecting that to be the norm!

The session that I was eager to attend based on the original order of the day’s events was the Business Process Management (BPM). I see a lot of need within organisations to manage their processes more efficiently and realise the cost savings that just a few key improvements can often bring. The presentation didn’t disappoint but I was left trying to work out how an organisation could effectively adopt such an array of tools in this area. It may be a reflection of some of the clients I have worked with but it seems to me to require such a large amount of transformation within an organisation to perhaps make it too big a shift to bite off in one go. Maybe the answer is in the question in terms of concentrating on implementing the products/tooling (let’s ignore the cost and vendor lock-in issues for the purposes of this discussion) and target a particular problematic or high-value process and just deliver it. If the delivery is successful (and of course it should be because you will have heavily weighted the first implementation in your favour) then get the recognition and buy-in from other areas and rollout the adoption of the tool and the other requisite skills, training etc. across more and more of your organisation. Perhaps to convince me, I need to attend a ‘Learning from Other People’s BPM experiences’ next time :-)

This week I attended the WIUG meeting at IBM’s South Bank. The meeting was a half day event consisting of a Connectivity Stream with presentations on the new features in MQ V7 and Message Broker V7 and a Business Process Management Stream with presentations on BPM and Business Rules.

The Connectivity Stream was the more popular by at least a factor of five but I was interested in the BPM stream and was hoping to gain a little more clarity around the plethora of offerings IBM have in this space and I believe Business Rules Management Suites have a lot to offer as organisations get further down their SOA journey.

The presentations were interesting, both presenters were experts with their subject matter and as it was a small group it was very informal and interactive. I won’t regurgatate the presentations, which I believe will be posted on the WIUG site soon but here are my thoughts following a couple of days to reflect.

IBM’s BPM suite is still slightly confusing. Although I know that Process Server, Dynamic Process Edition and Business Services Fabric are essentially Process Server based bundlings and FileNet is for document centric business processes, it’s not clear where Lotus, Lombardi and Business Space fit into the equation. I guess clearing this up is going to take a little more effort on my part but it would be nice if the guys at IBM had a clear route map.

As well as extracting the Business Rules from your process IBM are talking about Composite Business Applications. The policy about which task is executed next in your process is extracted making it possible to dynamically alter your business process at runtime based on factors such as the channel servicing the request, the platinum status of the customer making the request etc. This higher level of abstraction will allow you to simplify your business process into its core tasks extracting the complex if, then else decisions that don’t form the meat and veg of the process itself.

ILOG BRMS looks pretty cool in action and I look forward to the guys coming into the office next month to talk to our WebSphere practice.

I need to look into Business Space, this came up in both the BPM and BRMS talks and I don’t know anything about it (yet) and also look into BlueWorks BPM again (when I first looked at this a while back it didn’t work – turns out it doesn’t work in IE yet).

For me the most important point of the day was policy extraction from business processes. With a SO approach it becomes much easier to implement business processes by plugging services together. When you’ve got that sorted just make sure you haven’t moved the inflexibility of the past into a higher layer. Look for opportunities for reuse, simplification and policy extraction throughout your model / design.

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