I recently caught up with Alex Neihaus, VP of marketing at Active Endpoints, and Active Endpoints' CTO Michael Rowley to hear about the recently announced ActiveVOS 7.0 business process management (BPM) software. No, it's service-oriented architecture (SOA) you say! No, it's BPM. Floor wax/dessert topping/floor wax/dessert topping/floor wax ...
I told Neihaus and Rowley that it seemed like we had just had a similar meeting and they told me I was right; 6.0 was rolled out in September 2008. I consider once a year as an aggressive development pace for BPM software, but about right for SOA software. I used to use a rule of thumb of every couple of years for a non-point release for ERP and other high-in-the-stack code such as BPM, but maybe I need to adjust my thumb.
Of course, suppliers can accelerate release dates by changing the definition of what is in a major release. I don't think that's what Neihaus and Rowley have done in this case. Their rule of thumb is two to three "themes" per major release with 12 to 18 new features/functions per release. Then they continue to work on improving the "themes" during related point releases. ActiveVOS 7.0 seems to deliver on that goal.
The themes for ActiveVOS 7.0 are easier-to-use, collaborative modeling for business analysts; support for continuous integration by developers; and new functionality for end users called ActiveVOS Central. In my internal "dessert topping/floor wax" argument over Active Endpoints products, I now come down on the side of dessert topping. That is, Active Endpoints had competed the transition from SOA software supplier to BPM software supplier. (Sorry to you guys working down in the bowels of IT that I characterize SOA as floor wax and not dessert topping. Although I've analyzed all levels of the stack, I'm an applications guy at heart.)
With the BPMN-2.0-compliant modeler, Rowley explains how users can turn virtual whiteboarding into executable models. And by the word "users," Active Endpoints means developers, end users, business analysts and architects. The model up on the wall remains the representation through to simulation and/or execution. Part of all three themes is a new client interface.
I keep asking BPM suppliers why I need this entire cast of characters (that is, developers, end users, business analysts and architects) to change business processes. Why can't the end user do it (given a permission structure). Neihaus has both a flip and substantive answer.
I will confirm that some of my research says that if you rely totally on end users, they might just wire in the bad process flow they've used pre-BPM-software into the BPM-software-supported process flow.
In terms of integration, Active Endpoints says:
ActiveVOS makes it possible for the development team to default to using the BPM System (BPMS) for all development, improving development productivity and magnifying all the other benefits of a BPM culture.
That's a heavy claim but I agree with Neihaus and Rowley's contention that "it was easier to add ease of use to a technical product" (that is, earlier versions of ActiveVOS, which were not always called ActiveVOS) than the other way around. Rowley claims you "don't need the dichotomy most people see between business-process visualization and implementation/SOA."
The new ActiveVOS Central functionality looks interesting. It consolidates in one place the ability to initiate processes via a request, perform lookups for status of a request, carry out tasks and access reports. This all helps end users and managers better manage work via work lists, etc. It's another ease-of-use feature and should support better productivity.
All in all, 7.0 looks like BPM to me.