From model to working machine

The transition from business process model to executable code has been the source of much

confusion.

Industry officials have been working on the problem for years with varying degrees of success. "That's where everybody is heading," said John Meyer, vice president of business strategy at Computer Associates International Inc.

Meyer pointed to business process modeling tools that have enhanced system modeling capabilities and are moving into the process realm. "No one has spanned the gap," he said, adding that vendors are making progress. Meyer said he believes that tools that can model business processes, decompose processes into logical structures and automatically generate code will emerge by the end of the decade.

In the meantime, practitioners are pushing the modeling envelope. Integrated Computer-aided Manufacturing Definition (IDEF), for example, has been extended over the years to deal with software development. In one approach, IDEF models can be transitioned into Unified Modeling Language (UML), which provides the foundation for subsequent software development. Dave West, marketing manager for solutions at IBM Corp. Software Group's Rational software, cited a "very close mapping" between IDEF3, the process modeling method of IDEF, workflow diagramming and UML.

UML, for its part, has been stretched from software modeling into business process modeling. But that language "has too many formalisms for business process modeling," said Robert Handler, vice president of enterprise planning and architecture strategies at META Group Inc.

Instead, Handler said he believes Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN) is the way to go, although he acknowledges that the method is unproven. He said the sought-after link between business model and executable code is much more likely to occur with BPMN. The process is mapped to the Business Process Execution Language for Web Services (BPEL4WS), which META Group officials describe as a standard language for automating business processes as Web services.

Tool vendors, such as IBM, will promote the BPMN/BPEL4WS connection. Rachel Helm, director of WebSphere Business Integration at IBM, said the company's WebSphere Business Integration Modeler tool will support BPEL4WS by midyear. Company officials will consider supporting the notation in the future.

With BPMN, Handler said organizations can use the same tool and notation to capture, optimize and validate the business perspective. "Then you can convert it to the [information technology] view, debug and generate something that should be useful," he said. Handler noted, however, that BPMN only really addresses processes, and organization officials must still consider security and data modeling.

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