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.

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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

I have recently been on a course about Business Process Modelling, which gave me some other perspectives of BPM and how it can be promoted and used by companies.

Prior to the course, I have used a few BPM tools to graphically represent business processes (including IBM Business Process Modeller, Oracle SOA Suite and AquaLogic BPM tools). When using those, I have felt that their use is more related to the automated execution of business processes, through BPEL and service integration capabilities. This seems to be just a technical approach, which isn’t really the solution – although that does depend on how you classify the problem to be solved.

In working with clients, and team members, I have had numerous discussions and explanations on modelling of business processes where there is no technical view involved. It is from this approach that modelling the process can help in understanding, defining and subsequently refining or improving the operations of an enterprise. In process modelling terms, this would consist of creating the Process Architecture for an organisation. From an Enterprise Architecture, this could correspond to the Business Architecture view, where the business is represented as a series of processes operating across defined value chains.

The interesting part of the BPM course I attended was not so much around the approach and methodology described for modelling, but more about the real-world experiences, cases and examples put forward by the course trainer (who does this as a real job, not just as a trainer). Many industry speakers and research analysts are promoting the benefits of process modelling and in structuring companies around process delivery and value chains, rather than in the more common functional silos and hierarchies. The examples discussed on the course seemed to put forward a strong case for this approach (as you would expect), but perhaps with more explanation. My task could now be to summarise and promote those concepts within my own company, as well as that of clients that we work with.

A parallel was frequently drawn with the way in which manufacturing has long been structured and organised around processes, with the production line of Henry Ford being one example. Also, the quality and time controls from Deming et al being another way in which that industry has rationalised and improved over time.

In contrast, the service industry is still mostly structured in functional areas, with a process crossing over many areas and responsibilities from start to finish. That is clearly inefficient. The hand-offs between teams mean that no one person or function is responsible for the process as a whole; each functional area is mostly tasked with ‘doing their job’ and not focused on the end result of the process within which they are working. This is further highlighted by the way in which company budgets are defined. These are nearly always on an area-by-area basis, not on a process-by-process. That can result in functional areas not having any strong interest in delivering value through a complete process, merely in getting their piece of work done in the quickest, easiest or cheapest way. Generally, not the behaviour that an organisation would truly wish for.

A point I would like to repeat from the course is that processes should have objectives or targets and associated measures that cover not only efficiency, but also effectiveness and adaptability. Many measures look just at basic efficiency, which is a waste if the overall process being followed is not actually effective (why optimise a part of a process to the nth degree if that part isn’t even needed in the first place). Analysing and designing processes against such measures can give an objective outcome for any recommendations, and a way to show the gains as a result. Consider also that efficiency gains through optimising process steps may gain percentage improvements, but making larger-scale changes to the overall process may result in many-fold improvements. Figures such as reducing a process from weeks to hours, those are the major gains available to companies if they do things right.

I would think that the one take-away from my views and comments above should be that organisations can definitely be improved through process re-engineering, and that business process modelling is a great approach to achieve this in a visible way. In fact, if you spend time looking at things from a BPM perspective, you would wonder how companies can look for large benefits without such modelling and associated organisation structures.

Have had discussions recently with various colleagues and clients about the way in which business-level transactions need to be implemented in a reliable way that also supports cancelling the actions that have been performed if and when something goes wrong in the process.

When using technology, the use of XA-compliant transaction managers and two-phase-commits give much of what is required. However, those facilities are not always available, and even when present they only cover a particular set of steps or actions in an overall process.

It is important to take a higher-level view of the operations being performed by the associated business process (not only BPEL and BPM, but the real business process, involving people and actions).

The need to unwind or roll back an operation, or sequence of operations, is not only down to technical updates in a database, but has to consider the implications this has on the business.

Where a plain rollback is not possible, there is a need to perform some form of ‘compensating transaction’ to correct the erroneous actions. This can be quite complex, depending on what update(s) went first, what auditing is required, how the updated data might already have been used, and what actions should follow the ‘corrective action’. In an SOA environment, this logic is also to be applied to the definition and implementation of services – if an ‘update’ service is provided, consider if there is a need to provide a related ‘revert update’ service that records the necessary information.

An architectural principle may be defined to state that application updates should not require compensating transactions, but in reality there will often be a need to do some form of update and change of processing.

Caution is required to avoid only performing basic updates to reverse the original transaction. From an accountancy perspective, this is often shown by a balancing transaction that negates the original entry, rather than removal of that older entry. Applications should correct data in the same way, making it easier to identify the sequence of events of the overall business process.

Looking again at the technical aspects, the implementation of multi-stage transactions begins with transaction handlers, which normally exist within the application framework or container (or the operating system itself). As more and more steps occur within a process up to the point at which a failure may arise, this requires additional routes for error handling to unwind the corresponding transactions and notifications.

This may be implemented using specific code in an application, but this may bring problems of its own in complexity and reliability, with maintenance also being made more difficult should any of the steps be changed. We have looked at how this error handling is implemented by the BPM tooling of WebSphere Process Server, and this does provide a clean way to applying compensating transactions based on the logic applied before identification of an error. That does seem to be a great benefit for complex business processes with automation in this way, but it isn’t exactly cheap if considered just as a way to wrap up error handling.

Anyway, discussions come up with various thoughts and recommendations as to how best this is solved for different situations. The most important thing to note is that analysis and design of business processes MUST address the approach taken to transaction handling in error conditions.

Here’s a question for you – do agile methods and BPM go hand-in-hand? I heard the other day of a project adopting an agile approach to developing automated complex back-office business processes – and at risk of falling into the trap of delivering each use case with a heavy focus on the presentation layer but not really designing/thinking about (and presumably refactoring) the business process layer. Most important is refactoring fledgling process functionality out of the presentation layer into the BPM layer.

I’m sure it can be done – but I suspect that the chances of success are significantly lower using agile methods than for a more classic pure web development. Thoughts anyone?

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