Saturday, November 19, 2011

DOAG2011 Day 2: Vennster presentations

Wednesday was the day I presented on BPA Suite to BPEL and User experience in the Enterprise. As I mentioned in the previous blog, this fitted nicely with the sessions I attended on Tuesday.

BPA Suite to BPEL case study
The first session I presented talked about the use of the Oracle BPA Suite as the modeling tool for the business processes in a project. The Oracle BPA suite provides an option to automatically transform BPMN (Business process execution language) to BPEL (Business process execution language). This approach has some advantages and disadvantages, as I described in "Transforming BPMN to BPEL: Why and How" a couple of years ago.
So, not surprisingly, we ran into some issues in the project; both from a design perspective and from a development perspective. These findings were discussed, including some pointers to solve these issues:

Using Oracle BPM (the BPMN 2.0 designtime and runtime tool from Oracle) will resolve a lot of the translation and impedance mismatch issues. But other issues will remain; the most important things to keep in mind when using the models that are created by analyst for development are:
  1. Make sure the analyst is fluent in BPMN 2.0.
  2. Make sure the business process is not to detailed, so that the best practices from a development and user experience perspective can still be applied.
User experience in the enterprise
The second presentation concerned the second item: best practices from a user experience perspective. Often when Business processes are modeled, the analyst will model all the tasks and then a screen is generated for one task. This might seem like a cheap solution from a business perspective, but usually this leads to very clunky user interfaces and expensive changes to the process once it is deployed an in production.
It is important to clearly separate the user interface logic (flow) from the business process flow and apply common user interface practices and patterns in the application. This is exactly what happened in Fusion application: user experience was an integral part of the development process.

You can apply these techniques in different types of projects:

  1. Custom development projects
  2. Customization of packaged application
  3. Creating packaged application.
It will save you a lot of money in the life cycle of the application, and does not cost a lot to implement!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

DOAG2011 Day 1: Quality

Today was the first day of the German Oracle User Groep (DOAG) conference. If you are interested in SOA and BPM, there is plenty to see: there is  a development track, a Middleware track and a BPM track.

When you develop SOA and BPM applications, quality and control is an important topic. Components are reused and processes span multiple departments. This means that you have to make sure that the processes you design perform the way you expect them to, and that the services you use, are functioning as expected.

These topics were all addressed one way or the other in the sessions I visited today. Let's start with the more technical aspects: the quality of the development process.

Continuous integration
Jurgen Broda, Martin Karmann and Daniel Kleine-Albers presented "SOA Continuous integration". In this session they explained the way they had used Hudson in their SOA (SCA-BPEL) project. For people who are familiar with test driven development and continuous integration in Java projects, the approach this team took was very similar to that. The only complication with SCA composites is you have to deploy them before you can test the code. In this project, they created a custom testing framework for integration testing of the composites. Note that the SCA composites testing framework can be used to unit test the composites.
The biggest advantages of continuous integration in a SOA projects are:

  • Developers work on components that are part of services that are reused. Often this becomes very complex and it is hard to keep track of the functionality and quality. Using continuous integration breaks down the complexity in deployable units of code that run tests successfully. 
  • If a change is being developed, there are regression tests available to make sure the rest of the services and processes did not break. 
  • Requirements can be tracked if you tie the tests to the requirements, giving project managers a clear view of the progress. 
The thing the team found lacking is automated quality checking of the BPEL code. In the Java world we are use to analyze code using tools like FindBugs and CheckStyle. There is no such thing for BPEL, yet.  This was a very inspiring session; I used to think continuous integration was not too complicated in SOA projects. But now I know differently: in fact, I am going to propose to install Hudson and start doing continuous integration in our current project as soon as I get back!

Controlling the code you create using continuous integration is an important step towards quality and stability in your development process. But, creating SOA and BPM applications has additional requirements compared to 'regular' java or PL/SQL applications: code is supposed to be reused, and often you need to integrate existing packaged applications like Oracle eBusiness Suite or Siebel CRM. For this reason, Oracle provides a framework to integrate different packaged (Oracle) applications: Application Integration Architecture. In his session "Oracle AIA, does it deliver on it's integration promise" Ahmed Aboulnaga talked about his experience with Oracle AIA. Lowering risk and cost are the main reasons to get started with AIA. Using predefined process integration packs (PIPs) and the application integration foundation pack is not easy. But the architectural principles behind AIA are solid and this ensures that the integration code is reusable. Apart form that, a lot of time can be saved in analysis, because the data models (EBOs) are already defined. This is often a large part of the effort in a SOA project. Beware of customization though: this will become expensive very quickly. In fact, Ahmed stated that in AIA projects in general the initial investment is low (ROI is high), then in the middle (which can take up to two years) cost are high and finally it lowers again because of reuse of the integration code and good systems design. In the end it is worth it, but you have to know what you get into.

Process Simulation
Reusing architectural patterns, code and data models is a good way of ensuring quality in your projects. But every organization is different. For example, the type of staff you employ, the number of process instances you run etc. With BPM studio, process analysts have a simulation tool to make sure that the processes they design are efficient in terms of resource utilization and throughput. Michael Stapf showed in his session "Simulation von BPMN 2.0 Prozessmodellen mit BPM 11g" how to simulate a model that is created in BPMN 2.0 with Oracle BPM Studio 11g. The nice thing is, you don't have to deploy the model, nor do you need to implement all the services to run the simulation. The simulation engine checks the quality on a totally different level: it gives you the opportunity to monitor and control your process design. This is a very effective way of finding bottlenecks before you actually implement them in your organization. Changing a process that is in production is much harder than changing a design, obviously... A nice new feature in (Feature pack) is the round trip simulation: you can add data from your running instances and feed that into the simulation models. 

Social BPM
So far I talked about ensuring code quality with Continuous integration and AIA and ensuring quality of design with AIA and process simulation. But a lot of quality gets injected in your process at runtime. People work together, make decisions, talk to each other, learn from similar cases etc etc. Social BPM is a term to indicate the application of Collaborative work to Business Process Management. Manas Deb explained in his SOA keynote "Social and collaborative BPM pushing organizational excellence" what this means for your organizations and how this helps you improve the quality of your organization. 
I really enjoyed this session. I graduated in Cognitive Science in the 90s and a large part of the curriculum at the time was CSCW or computer supported collaborative work. At that time, the tooling and connections (internet) was not as developed as it is now. It is good to see the application of these concepts in modern tooling like Oracle BPM. 

For me this was a very successful day. I enjoyed running into the "Oracle crowd", and attending sessions both in German and in English. I learned a lot. Unfortunately I did not learn enough German to do my presentations in German, so tomorrow I will talk in English about using the BPA Suite to generate BPEL and how User Experience and BPM fit together (using Fusion apps as an example). This fits nicely with the themes I have discussed so far.  I think the DOAG program is really well balanced, it is a nice location and after attending DOAG2011, everybody should be able to produce modern high quality applications ;)