This year's model: Business process

Call it a blast from the past. Business process modeling was all the rage in the early 1990s, and officials at federal agencies used the technique to rethink antiquated ways of doing business. "Re-engineering" became the buzzword du jour, and practitioners worked to discern an organization's as-is environment and define the to-be environment of smoothly flowing processes.

But re-engineering soon proved too time-consuming and expensive for some federal managers, and the concept fell out of favor. Although it never disappeared, it maintained a much lower profile in government.

Fast forward to 2004 and business process modeling is hot again, driven by the Bush administration's enterprise architecture mandate. Agencies are using various approaches and support tools to get the architectural job done, and they are building business process modeling into some procurements.

"Most of the forward-thinking agencies recognize it has to be an integrated part of their transformation," said Ray Bjorklund, senior vice president of consulting at Federal Sources Inc.

Those getting back into business process modeling will find an old standby and newer methods. Integrated Computer-aided Manufacturing Definition (IDEF) was the approach of choice in the 1990s and remains the only one compliant with Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS).

But joining IDEF now are two other techniques: Unified

Modeling Language (UML) and Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN).

UML comes from the object-oriented software design world and has been pressed into process modeling chores. Meanwhile, BPMN is an emerging approach that is gaining traction among software tool vendors. It promises to do what previous approaches have failed to accomplish: integrate systems development from the business process model to actual code generation.

Whether the new generation of business process modelers will enjoy greater success remains to be seen.

Growing interest

Business process modeling provides a way of visualizing the

often-complex workflows within an organization. The idea is to create a graphical representation of business processes that describes activities and their interdependencies. The resulting diagram reveals inefficiencies and areas for improvement.

Governmentwide enterprise architecture initiatives have rekindled interest in business process modeling because it helps flesh out such architectures, which are models of agency information technology systems and business operations. The Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996 requires agencies to create enterprise architectures.

That aspect of the law has been slow to take root. But now, said Dennis Wisnosky, chief executive officer of Wizdom Systems Inc., an enforcement mechanism is in place: the Office of Management and Budget.

"OMB in 2004 is going to demand Clinger-Cohen compliance," said Wisnosky, whose company makes business process modeling software. And that calls for as-is and to-be business process models to be supported by an economic analysis demonstrating the benefits of a given investment, he said.

Indeed, agency officials have made the crucial link between enterprise architecture and IT spending. Budget requests for IT projects must be consistent with OMB's umbrella federal enterprise architecture, which has been under development since 2002.

"Process modeling now has a context," said Jan Popkin, CEO of Popkin Software and Systems Inc., a manufacturer of business process modeling tools. The connection between process modeling and economic impact wasn't as strong in the 1990s, he added.

Popkin said he has seen an increase in business process modeling activity among civilian and defense agencies. Wisnosky, meanwhile, has been making the re-engineering rounds in the Washington, D.C., area, teaching four classes on the topic in March alone.

Method mix

Agency officials embarking on business process modeling projects have a few methods from which to choose. Each offers a notation for capturing process flows as diagrams, and myriad software tools support one or more modeling methods.

The method with the most established track record is IDEF. It has origins going back 25 years and was prevalent in the 1990s. Today, IDEF plays a role in many enterprise architecture efforts.

"All the ones I've seen have been using IDEF," Wisnosky said. The Defense Department Architectural Framework (DODAF) uses it, for example.

IDEF refers to a group of methods, each of which fulfills a specific purpose. IDEF0, for example, is used to model an organization's functions, while IDEF1x is used for data modeling. IDEF0 and IDEF1x are perhaps the most heavily used IDEF methods in government; both were published as FIPS in 1993. Tools supporting IDEF include Wizdom Systems' WizdomWorks suite, Computer Associates International Inc.'s AllFusion ERwin Data Modeler and tools from Knowledge Based Systems Inc.

The newcomer to the method mix is BPMN. The Business Process Management Initiative, which released BPMN 1.0 in August 2003, describes the method as a common

visual vocabulary for depicting business processes. Last month, The organization published a list of 20 companies that support BPMN. They include Computer Sciences Corp., EDS, IBM Corp., Microsoft Corp. and Popkin Software.

Popkin said that although IDEF remains strong, "BPMN is going into the federal market."

The Homeland Security Department provides a prominent example.

DHS officials are tapping BPMN to help them define requirements for finance, budget, procurement and other business operations. The requirements will feed into the

upcoming Electronically Managed Enterprise Resources for Government Efficiency and Effectiveness procurement, a major enhancement of the department's enterprise architecture.

One of BPMN's attractions is the ability to use it to create models that end users can understand, said Catherine Santana, director of DHS' Resource Management Transformation Office. IDEF models, she added, have been difficult for end users to grasp.

"Engineers and software developers understand [IDEF] well, but to take it to end users is the wrong thing to do," Santana said. With BPMN, however, users at DHS have a better grasp of the process and, therefore, "buy into the way we capture requirements," she said.

The transformation office uses Telelogic AB's Dynamic

Object-Oriented Requirements System to assess its requirements and Popkin Software's System Architect, which supports BPMN, for architectural development.

Robert Handler, vice president of enterprise planning and architecture strategies at META Group Inc., called IDEF nonintuitive, noting that BPMN's creators recognized the need for a modeling notation that both business audiences and solution delivery specialists could interpret. Another benefit of BPMN: The technique may make it easier to move from process model to software code (see box, Page 34).

UML, meanwhile, provides another twist to the process-modeling scheme. Some business process modeling and enterprise architectures are using the method, best known as

a modeling language for software

development.

SI International Inc. recently used UML to complete the architecture for the Combat Commanders Integrated Command and Control System, which will support the North American Aerospace Defense Command and the U.S. Strategic Command. The company used IBM's Rational Rose on the system.

However, Rob Byrd, chief operational architect at SI International, said creating such a foundation in UML is unusual. "There are not a lot of people using these tools for enterprise architecture," he said. Company officials used UML because, compared with other methods, it has greater flexibility in accommodating mission and requirement changes, according to Byrd.

Remaining neutral

Government officials are staying fairly neutral when it comes to the approaches. At this point, Pentagon officials recognize both IDEF and UML for use in DODAF, explained Jack Zavin, chief of information

interoperability in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Network and Information

Integration.

Zavin said the integration of architectures built with different methods is a topic of concern. DODAF's Core Architecture Data Model, however, aims to provide commonality.

DHS, meanwhile, uses UML and BPMN. UML comes into play when external requirements from constituencies such as the Joint Financial Management Improvement Program call for a system view of the BPMN-based architecture. When more detail is required, officials at the Resource Management Transformation Office opt for UML to represent system requirements.

The bottom line: Different modeling methods can co-exist.

"Each can have a purpose," META's Handler said. The trick is to use the approach that best suits the audience (see box above). "The notion is before you model anything, you must identify your stakeholders, their concerns, their views and viewpoints, and then model," he said.

Moore is a freelance writer based in Syracuse, N.Y.

***

Modeling methods

Integrated Computer-aided Manufacturing Definition

Time frame: Created in the 1970s.

Users: Defense Department and aerospace/Defense contractors.

Status: IDEF endures as the key government process modeling method and complies with Federal Information Processing Standards.

Unified Modeling Language

Time frame: Emerged as an Object Management Group Inc. specification in 1997.

Users: Software programmers, systems

developers.

Status: UML is pushing into business process modeling while serving a back-end role to

other methods.

Business Process Modeling Notation

Time frame: Working draft released in 2003

by the Business Process Management Initiative.

Users: Businesses.

Status: BPMN is gaining vendor support. It maps to UML, Web services software code

and other execution languages.

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