Thursday, April 29, 2010

Process Orchestration ... another silver bullet?

I am writing this as I return from a very interesting internal discussion to prepare my moderation of an upcoming panel at SAP SAPPHIRE NOW called "Process Orchestration, Hype or Silver Bullet?"

Initially, this looked straight forward enough. Invite some customers and have an engaging chat about process orchestration. No problem. Well ...

The more people I speak with, the more interesting perspectives I get on Process Orchestration. It's like, you ask 9 people and come away with 11 opinions. And all of them seem valid.. what gives?

Here is what I have learned so far:
  • In the most simple terms, process orchestration means the coordination of events in a process.
  • In a slightly more complex definition, it is the tools and practices needed to ensure process integrity in a landscape of distributed process components
  • In its most forward looking interpretation, it is the new mission statement of enterprise applications, as they transform from handling focused LOB level processes to an overall business process platform that is able to deliver process innovation and process integrity at the same time.
So far this is not much different from what we have been saying about SOA and BPM for the past decade or so. What's changed? Why is Process Orchestration all over sudden shifting into the lime light? Is this just another one of the "hype-de-jour" IT industry "flash-in-the-pan" movements or is there a serious shift happening?

As I usually say in these blogs, quoting sage Yogi Berra "predictions are hard, especially when they are about the future". But maybe we can learn something from the past, to make the future more easy to anticipate.

When BPR or Business Process Re-Engineering became "hot" in the beginning of the 1990's, the message to the enterprise was to get rid of functional silos and look at end to end processes. This, among other things, lead to the emergence of a new category of software we now refer to as ERP, and to the development of end-to-end suites, to replace the brittle landscape of best-of-breed applications.

Now, history seems to repeat itself. Functional silos seem to be having a renaissance. Why? Because of the rapid emergence of SaaS and On-Demand point applications that are easy to buy and easy to install, customers are lured in by the attractive prospect of rented software in a pay-as-you-go model to avoid lengthy and expensive implementations and to realize the value proposition of enterprise software more quickly. So you buy a bit of SFA here, a bit of HR talent management here, a bit of SRM there and there you go .. you have a completely functional on-demand suite ......


I think the topic of Business Process Orchestration is hot, and becoming hotter as we speak, because more and more customers are realizing that they need to watch out for the brittleness of these new best-of-breed "archipelagos" of SaaS applications. Who owns the master data? Who ensures process integrity? Who instruments the landscapes for insight and analytics? Who ensures updates to one app don't kill the integrity of an end to end process? Who maintains your identities? etc. etc. Problems are well defined and addressed in enterprise software suites are being created all over again. This does not make a lot of sense to me, but it is happening with a vengeance nonetheless.

Humans have short term memories when it comes to pain.

I believe customers should be looking to their enterprise application vendors for a holistic approach to process orchestration. Not just a few tools, but for a comprehensive approach including:
  • ALM (Application Lifecycle Management) ... in other words: How do you manage the integrity of your landscape and keep things in synch?
  • MDM (Master Data Management) ... in other words: How do you ensure the integrity of your data model including identities and meta data across potentially 100's of small applications running on-premise, on-demand and on-device?
  • BPM (Business Process Management) ... in other words: How do you ensure process flexibility and integrity in a model driven approach that fully leverages what you already have?
Once you think this through, it becomes clear that multiple categories of software should converge to create this Process Orchestration Vision. This should lead to the coordinated delivery of a process orchestration suite that melds BPM, ALM and MDM as well as event-driven and rules-based analytics into a new concept that is still looking for a name.

aside: Maybe this is a move from classic Message Oriented Middleware (MOM) to Process Orchestration Platforms (POP) :=) ??

Once this happens and gets delivered, the classic separation between transactional, analytical and collaborative applications can blur, especially in an hybrid landscape where on-demand, on-premise and on-device applications will co-exist as the new architectural standard. Customers will come to expect collaboration, insight and integrity "Out of the box" ... without the need to glue things together after the fact with classic middleware.

With this, Business Process Orchestration becomes the secret sauce, the foundation of a new breed of enterprise software that combines the flexibility and ease of consumption of SaaS with the integrity and reliability of enterprise software.

It will be an interesting space to watch. I look forward to the SAPPHIRE NOW panel, and what our customers have to say about this, and what they're getting out of IT. Because in the end, that's the only thing that really matters.

My 5c for today



  1. Hi Chris,
    Great blog, great representation of the topic at several levels. Looking back at the original metaphor, "naive" process orchestration is like trying to conduct an orchestra where most of the musicians are blind, deaf, and mute, and you communicate with them by pulling strings tied to their necks.

  2. Hi Thorsten, yeah, at the end of the day, maybe this is ERP squared .. Extended Enterprise (EE), realtime resources (RR), process platform (PP) ...
    we'll see

  3. Interesting image. It reminds me of Abbot's Flatland. You could say that explaining a full-blown vision of Process Orchestration is like explaining cubes (or n-dimensional hyper-cubes, for that matter) to Flatland squares. ;)

  4. @thorsten .. flatlandish ... i love it .. I will use this expression for somewhat impoverished views of POPs :=)