Specs Unite Partners

BEA, SAP, Sun, Intalio back collaboration protocols for web services.

A couple of standards backed by BEA Systems Inc., SAP AG and Sun Microsystems Inc. should make it easier for companies to transact business with partners using Web services.

Together, WSCI (Web Services Choreography Interface) and BPML (Business Process Modeling Language), introduced late last month, should provide business analysts and software engineers with a view of how business processes perform in various business-to-business scenarios.

This will enable them to collaborate with one another when modeling and executing cross-company processes.

BEA, SAP, Sun and Intalio Inc. jointly published XML-based WSCI, which provides a foundation for Web services to deliver automated, application-to-application collaboration. The specification describes the flow of messages exchanged by a Web service in a particular process and describes the collective message exchange among interacting Web services. In this way, it provides a global view of a complex process involving multiple Web services, according to officials from the sponsoring companies.

At the same time, the Business Process Modeling Initiative announced the draft release of BPML 1.0. This specification leverages WSCI and defines a formal model for expressing abstract and executable processes that can be translated into collections of private implementations executed as BPML processes and public interfaces defined by WSCI.

BPML 1.0 will be formally released Aug. 15. The first products to implement the language should come out during the first quarter of next year from Sterling Commerce Inc., Intalio and IDS Scheer AG.

In the meantime, the BPMI is working on a substandard, BPQL (Business Process Query Language), which will present a standard way to query business processes and do business activity monitoring.

WSCI 1.0 is available now. The founding organizations expect to announce endorsements by major software companies within a few weeks.

Currently, each of the founding companies is adding the WSCI specification to its own software.

There are no actual implementations of either standard, and the question remains how quickly such Web services will displace existing B2B communications, such as electronic data interchange connections.

In addition, two other business process modeling specifications are already available: IBMs WSFL (Web Services Flow Language) and XLANG, which was developed by Microsoft Corp.

WSFL is an XML language for the description of Web services compositions and choreography. WSFL considers two types of Web services compositions: flow models and global models. XLANG (pronounced "slang") is an XML-based business process language that provides a way to orchestrate applications as components in a long-lived business process.

Phil Gilbert, chief technology officer at BPM software maker Lombardi Software Inc., is banking on BPML. Lombardi is embedding the 1.0 specification of BPML in the next iteration of its core product, TeamWorks 3.4, expected by years end.

However, Gilbert agrees that a standard for BPML is far off.

"Companies are not too concerned about standards in this space," said Gilbert, in Austin, Texas. "They are more concerned about the tactical benefits they are going to get [from Web services]. It just kind of points to the fact that this market is maturing rapidly, but its an adolescent. We are not yet mature."

There has been a lot of interest in offering business process integration as a Web service, according to Kimberly Knickle, an analyst at AMR Research Inc., in Boston.

"But I dont know how many companies will use it," said Knickle. "Vendors want to keep this moving forward, so they are looking three steps ahead of where users are. [Vendors] think they need these standards, but most of the users are still trying to figure out the four key pieces to Web services—XML; WSDL [Web Services Description Language]; SOAP [Simple Object Access Protocol]; and UDDI [Universal Description, Discovery and Integration]."

While AMR is seeing some customer understanding and adoption of XML and SOAP, WSDL and UDDI are certainly further out in terms of adoption, according to Knickle.

"Right now, people are just using the basics," said Knickle.

With both WSCI and BPML in early stages, another key issue arises: What happens to the underlying standards if the basic building blocks of Web services change or are not adopted by users?

"One of the most difficult things about [Web services] integration is defining the processes and tracking the processes," said Knickle.

Gilbert said that while standards are a checklist item on customers requests for proposal, they are not a determining factor in whether a sale is made or an implementation is productive.

"From our perspective, in talking about standards, discussions about Web services and SOAP are a much hotter topic than a BPM standard," said Gilbert. "[People need to achieve] an understanding and adoption of Web services first before BPM."