Standards Emerge From Alphabet Soup

An important consideration when deploying BPM software is which standards to follow.

An important consideration when deploying BPM software is which standards to follow.

There is a growing selection of languages and interfaces out there—Web Services Choreography Interface, BPML (Business Process Modeling Language), BPEL (Business Process Execution Language), WSFL (Web Services Flow Language) and Xlang—some of which are backed by competing forces.

Once the standards get sorted out, however, these technologies should provide business analysts and software engineers with a view of how business processes perform in business-to-business scenarios.

One standard with a lot of momentum is BPEL for Web Services. IBM, Microsoft Corp. and BEA Systems Inc. published BPEL last summer to provide a way to define a process and to define a way a Web service is ordered. IBM, in Armonk, N.Y., has offered two additional standards proposals—Web Services Transactions and Web Services Coordination.

BPEL appears to be the front-runner. The language amounts to the merger of the WSFL and Xlang specifications. Xlang, put forth by Microsoft, reflects the way the Redmond, Wash., companys BizTalk software works, while WSFL focuses on how IBMs MQSeries middleware works.

At the same time, two other organizations are putting their combined muscle behind BPML, a metalanguage for the modeling of business processes. They are the Workflow Management Coalition, which counts as members IBM, BEA and Microsoft, as well as Sun Microsystems Inc. and Oracle Corp., and the Business Process Management Initiative.

"BPEL for Web Services is going to be important," said Gartner Inc. analyst Jim Sinur, in Stamford, Conn. "BPML and BPEL are more the same than different, but it comes down to a matter of agreeing on the semantics of how you communicate. I believe the big dogs win."

Meanwhile, companies are continuing to model business processes in XML, so changing whats inside a model is not a big deal, according to Sinur.

For its part, IBM says that while it stands behind BPEL—the standard will be supported in the next release of the companys WebSphere integration software—it will also continue to support other BPM (business process management) standards.

"Its more a case of how do we continue to advance the state of the art with standards and provide additional functionality relative to industry-based functionality," said Marie Weick, vice president, WebSphere business integration, at IBM. "So as part of WebSphere integration, we offer industry-based templates. We also plan to do the same with monitors, providing industry-based monitors for roles."