SOA, BPM and Model-driven Development: Creating the Perfect IT Storm

BPM is both a management discipline and a technology platform; modeling complements -- and is a critical aspect of -- a larger BPM strategy.

As more companies look to the power of service oriented architecture (SOA) to drive business results, they’re realizing the value of modeling as one of the most critical steps to SOA success. Modeling helps ensure processes are directly aligned with strategy and goals.

The real pay-off occurs when modeled and improved processes are simulated to validate alignment before they are implemented. Modeling helps organizations fully visualize, comprehend, and document business processes to close the gap between an organization’s lines of business and IT’s understanding of the business drivers. Given that a business process is a defined set of activities leading to specific results, modeling provides the added assurance that best practices are well documented and communicated throughout the organization before deployment.

For example, business analysts can use modeling to define alternative scenarios, resource allocation options, branching assumptions at decision points in the flow, and other parameters, and determine which alternative results in the lowest cost, fastest average cycle time, lowest percentage of service level agreement violations, or other optimal business outcomes. In addition, this simulation can reveal bottlenecks in the process, allowing analysis of new alternative scenarios—resulting in significant time and cost savings before implementation.

Additional benefits of modeling include:

  • Clarity: Through a visibly mapped approach, organizations can optimize those business processes that drive maximum ROI and competitive differentiation.


  • Productivity: Once proven best practices have been modeled and documented, they can be made available for reuse throughout the organization, resulting in accelerated productivity.


  • Responsiveness: Business process modeling allows organizations to quickly modify applications to immediately respond to market changes or competitive threats.


  • Business Flexibility: Modeling provides the business user with the tools to modify and simulate business processes and predict how a new business process will affect the business.


  • Measurable Metrics: Modeling allows business analysts to define concrete performance metrics, aligned with strategic business goals, and link them to specific process activities and parameters. Those metrics can relate to revenue, margin, costs, timeliness, throughput, productivity, customer satisfaction, etc.


  • Tighter Integration of IT with Business Goals: Modeling permits business analysts to perform the precise modeling of processes based on resources, roles, organization, information, and business metric perspectives. Integration also enables business analysts to perform simulation studies of process models under various conditions to assess process performance, generate performance statistics, and conduct what-if analysis. Further, business analysts can perform break-even, internal rate of return, and other project justification analyses.

Clearly, modeling is a critical first step in the creation of an SOA because it helps both IT and business leaders gain a better understanding of the impact of their roles on their organization and the value their collaborative efforts will deliver through the SOA. It also enables IT and business leaders to fully understand the impact of streamlining business processes and test scenarios before additional time and resources are allocated to the SOA deployment.

The complete modeling story shouldn’t end there. Collaboration with others across the organization to analyze and further optimize the process model will ensure final agreement and strategic alignment. To realize the full benefits of modeling, you want tools that can optimize and improve the process and move it into production. Process models that utilize Business Process Execution Language (BPEL) as the underlying code base to represent the process definition and flow offer the greatest advantages in this area. Process models based in BPEL can be handed from business analysts to the IT department for final configuration before implementation.

The Role of Business Process Management in an SOA

The need to model business processes before being deployed in an SOA is increasingly important, especially as the demand for business process management (BPM) continues to rise. First, however, understand that BPM is both a management discipline and a technology platform and that modeling is a complementary and critical aspect within a larger BPM strategy.

As a management discipline, BPM replaces traditional views of business based on discrete functional organizations, systems, and metrics with those based on cross-functional core processes aligned with high-level business objectives. As a technology platform, BPM provides the set of software tools needed to optimize performance, make abstract performance goals concrete, connect them to process data, automate and monitor process activities, and provide a platform for agile performance improvement.

The endgame of BPM is unprecedented process flexibility where both human and automated workflows can be determined in real time by the events or outcomes within the process. Modeling complements the management and technology views of BPM while helping to drive greater business results through an SOA.

Organizations realize that the role of BPM in an SOA cannot be overlooked. Just as modeling business processes before deployment is a vital first step in an SOA, BPM is equally important because of its capabilities to evolve business processes from merely hard-wired automated functions to delivering the much-needed business flexibility within those business processes. The added benefit of BPM is that by eliminating the hard wiring, business processes can be continuously improved and easily shared throughout the organization.

Together, BPM and SOA facilitate the next phase of the business process evolution. The evolution is occurring now because of the heightened need for enterprises to compete more effectively by adapting to market changes faster, continuously improving efficiencies, and streamlining collaboration across traditionally siloed departments. This business process evolution is resulting in a wider adoption of best practices throughout the company while eliminating costly redundancies. For example, once an organization shares business processes beyond a team or even a department, the processes can’t help but improve because there are a greater number of parties focused on overall productivity and organizational excellence.

This “perfect storm” of modeling, BPM, and SOA is leading to a seismic shift in the way companies are organized and managed to meet business goals. Modeling and BPM are distinct yet complementary areas, but when combined, they can help deliver faster and greater results from an SOA.

About the Author

Sandy Carter is vice president, SOA and WebSphere Strategy at IBM.