Harmon on BPM: OMG BPM Standards

There are several groups that are working to develop standards for the business process space. One group is the Object Management Group (OMG). The OMG is a consortium of vendors, users, and government agencies that was set up in 1989 to develop standards for object-oriented software technologies. Its working groups meet together four times a year to develop standards. The OMG publishes completed standards, which can be freely downloaded from its website – www.omg.org. To work on a standard, before it's officially released, one has to be a member of the OMG.

In the mid-Nineties, the OMG became involved in notation standards when it agreed to host an effort to standardize what had previously been Rational Software's Unified Modeling Language (UML). Rational had hired the three leading object-oriented methodologists, Grady Booch, James Rumbaugh and Ivar Jacobson, and they, in turn, had worked to create a common methodology for object-oriented development. When the OMG became involved, it was agreed that the methodology (a step-by-step description of how to develop an object-oriented software program) should be separated from the notation used to describe the software program. The OMG would standardize the latter and Rational and others would compete to offer the best methodology. Submission of the notation to the OMG meant, of course, that the Rational team had to accept inputs from others as the notation worked its way through the OMG's standardization process – which involves votes by member organizations and then by the OMG's architecture committee and its board. (One of the last minute extensions to the UML notation, for example, which hadn't been in the original Rational submittal, was a state-based process modeling notation to be used in activity diagrams. This notation, which emphasized the logical relations of the tasks that made up an activity rather than the flow, so upset most workflow vendors, that they ignored UML.) A bit later, Rational Software was acquired by IBM, who then became the main supporter of UML.

In 2002 a different group of software vendors and consultants joined together to form the Business Process Management Initiative (BPMI). This group was focused on creating a new business process language that would support Web-based process applications. The group started working on a software language, and then, as a second thought, formed a committee to develop a notation that could work with the language. They called the language BPML (Business Process Management Language) and the notation (BPMN). In 2004, just about the time the group was near completing its draft language, IBM, Microsoft and BEA announced an alternative language — BPEL. The commitment of these major vendors to BPEL pretty much destroyed any hopes that BPMI had to establish their own process language as a widespread standard. A year later BPMI merged with the OMG and the OMG took over the development of BPMN, while quietly dropping BPML. In essence, BPMN was a competitor for the OMG's UML Activity Diagrams, but since BPMN was designed to be much more useful in Web environments, the OMG chose to focus its attention on the new language and began to be more active in the business process standards area. Thus, by the middle of the first decade of this century, the OMG had committed to the support of business process standards.

The OMG organizes its standards work via task forces. Originally its task forces were focused entirely on technical software standards, but in recent decades, it has also focused on user domains. The task force that handles most of the OMG's process work is the Business Modeling and Integration Domain Task Force (BMI). The current chairs of the BMI task force are Fred Cummins (fred.a.cummins@gmail.com) and Donald Chapin (donald.chapin@btinternet.com) From 2005 on, the BMI task force has proceeded from one process standard to the next.

Here are some of the OMG's business Modeling standards, in the order in which they were initially approved, with some personal observations. If there is a second version listed, then that is the latest version the OMG has published. If there is only one version listed, then the OMG hasn't released an update.

Workflow Management Facility (WfMF) Ver. 1.2, May 2000.
The Workflow Management Coalition (WfMC), an independent workflow vendor organization, came up with a description of how vocabulary ought to be used to describe different aspects of workflow software systems. The OMG just recognized the work that the WfMC had already done.
This isn't so much a standard as a popular way of talking about workflow software systems, but it's dated because it was done before the workflow systems were moved to the Web, and, more recently the Cloud.

Semantics of Business Vocabulary and Business Rules (SBVR) Ver. 1, Jan 2008, Ver 1.2, Nov 2013.
The Business Rules Community (BRCommunity) is an informal group of people who meet to discuss the use of business rules. They brought work they had done on how to formalize business vocabulary and how to write business rules and, after discussion, the OMG put it s imprimatur on their work.
This perspective is limited to a subset of the entire business rules community and hasn't been widely adopted.

Business Process Maturity Model (BPMM) Ver. 1, June 2008.
This standard was submitted by a single company, based on their variation on the SEI's CMMI model, and was ratified by the OMG.
This 500 page standard was dead on arrival. No one we know has adopted this standard. The CMM approach was already widely accepted, and this new variation didn't go nearly as far as other approaches, like the QUT model.

Business Process Definition Metamodel (BPDM) Ver. 1, Nov 2008.
This was developed by vendors and the BPI team to extend BPMN notation semantics. As they describe it “BPMN has gained recognition as a flexible and business-friendly notation for process orchestration BPDM provides an explicit metamodel and serialization mechanism for BPMN concepts. By integrating BPMN and BPDM both the underlying model and notation for process orchestration is covered by an integrated set of standards. The notation for choreography, BPMN diagram interchange and the normative relationship to runtime technologies such as BPEL is planned to be part of subsequent standards.”
This means little to end users, but from a software vendor perspective, this is just a part of BPMN.

Production Rule Representation (PRR) Ver. 1, Dec 2009.
A production rule is a technical way of talking about business rules used in business rule software systems. This standard defines a common way for software vendors to implement rules so they can be exchanged between systems.
This is a technical standard of interest to vendors dealing with rule-based software implementations.

Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN) Ver. 1.1 Jan 2008. Ver. 2.0.2 Dec 2013.
This approach to notation was developed by the BPMI. Later, after the OMG took over the BPMI effort it went through several rounds of revisions, until it has emerged as a semantically tight language. In the current version, one can define a process and then use that notation to generate code for the process.
This is an international success. All of today's process modeling, BPMS, and workflow vendors support at least most of the BPMN standard. A number of vendors recently demonstrated that they could pass a process developed in one tool around to other tools if they all implemented BPMN completely.

Business Motivation Model (BMM) Ver. 1, Aug 2008. Ver. 1.2 2014.
This is another construct developed initially by the BRCommunity – it's a formal vocabulary for the terms companies use, including objective, goal, process, etc.
Most large organizations have their own way of talking about these concepts and this standard has had little or no impact on standardizing any of this vocabulary.

Decision Model and Notation (DMN) Ver. 1 (Beta 1), Feb 2014
In effect, this standard replaces or extends early business rule specifications, especially as business users are concerned. Since business rules began to be considered an integral part of process analysis work, the field has mutated in a variety of ways. This standard describes an approach for gathering information about sets of business rules, as well as decision tables and decision algorithms, and documenting them.
This approach has been tested by a few companies, but no one knows how widely it will be used or accepted.

Case Management Model and Notation (CMMN) Ver. 1, May 2014.
No sooner had the BPMN notation been adopted, than a group of consultants and vendors began to argue for a looser, more flexible approach – a notation that would, from a vendor's perspective support a late-binding approach to business process definition.
This approach is being promoted by software vendors. It hasn't been tested in the field by many process practitioners and no one knows how it widely it will be used or accepted.

Value Delivery Modeling Language (VDML) Ver. 1 (Beta 1), April 2014.
This is an approach being developed by the BPI task force to answer complaints that users need some way to describe processes, prior to deciding if specific sets of activities should be elaborated as BPMN or as CMMN.
This approach is freshly created to solve a problem that the committee created by separating Case from BPMN and hasn't been tested in the field so no one knows how widely it will be used or accepted.

A quick review of the above suggests that the OMG BMI task force is working mostly on standards promoted by special interest groups or by vendors who want standard ways of representing knowledge in software tools. There are some good IT process people on this committee, but there is little input from the business process community. The people on the committee are working well ahead of the actual practices being used in the business process community, so that, increasingly, these are “standards” being developed by a small group of people who hope that others will study what they have done and decide to adopt it in the future. In most cases, frankly, it's unlikely to happen. The one true success the BMI has had is with BPMN, and it was developed by an external group of software vendors and then simply acquired by the OMG. The BMI worked hard to make BPMN much more semantically consistent, and in the process has made it much more technical and IT oriented.

Separate from the BMI there are other OMG task forces and special interest groups that do things that relate to business processes. For example the OMG sponsors a Business Architecture Special Interest Group (BA SIG) that is working on a Business Architecture standard. The membership of this SIG are mostly also members of a separate group, the Business Architecture Guild and the standard is being developed by both groups working together. Similar, there are technical standards, like the Agents standard being developed by the OMG's Agents SIG that may be used by process vendors as time passes.

There is also an OMG BPM certification program. (www.omg.org/oceb-2/index.htm) In setting up this program, the OMG group started by asking what an IT process professional ought to know about business processes, and answered that they should know about OMG process standards, plus some additional generic knowledge, which was more or less randomly chosen by the committee. Thus, the coverage for the Fundamental BPM certification, includes questions on the following topics:

OMG-BPM-Standards_fig1

If I were going to summarize the examination, I would say you ought to know a lot about BPMN to take the exam. Beyond this, as a glance at the list above, copied from the OMG website, suggests, it's a wide ranging collection of OMG BPM specification information along with some additional information that seems added in an informal sort of way (e.g. SCOR and Six Sigma but not eTOM or Lean?).

A quick glance at the list of standards above, where I describe their usefulness suggests that some of this information on the exam isn't being used in the real world. Hence, the only way someone would obtain it is by studying the referenced OMG specifications.

Stepping back, the OMG is a serious player in the business process standards area, but it is playing a very mixed role. It is promoting a variety of standards, one very useful one – BPMN – and others completely irrelevant to the practical concerns of today's business process market. Moreover, increasingly, with its Case and Value modeling work, it is running way ahead of the market and trying to invent new standards rather than working to document what is being used in the market.

In our bi-annual survey in the Fall of 2014, we asked companies what standards their organization was interested in. Almost everyone said their organization was interested in BPMN. Almost no one claimed to be interested in any of the other OMG standards.

The process market needs some standards. The OMG has played a valuable role by supporting BPMN. On the other hand, perhaps the market is too immature for other standards, and the BMI's constant push to keep adding new standards may be more confusing than helpful.

Paul Harmon

Paul Harmon

Executive Editor and Founder, Business Process Trends In addition to his role as Executive Editor and Founder of Business Process Trends, Paul Harmon is Chief Consultant and Founder of Enterprise Alignment, a professional services company providing educational and consulting services to managers interested in understanding and implementing business process change. Paul is a noted consultant, author and analyst concerned with applying new technologies to real-world business problems. He is the author of Business Process Change: A Manager's Guide to Improving, Redesigning, and Automating Processes (2003). He has previously co-authored Developing E-business Systems and Architectures (2001), Understanding UML (1998), and Intelligent Software Systems Development (1993). Mr. Harmon has served as a senior consultant and head of Cutter Consortium's Distributed Architecture practice. Between 1985 and 2000 Mr. Harmon wrote Cutter newsletters, including Expert Systems Strategies, CASE Strategies, and Component Development Strategies. Paul has worked on major process redesign projects with Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Security Pacific, Prudential, and Citibank, among others. He is a member of ISPI and a Certified Performance Technologist. Paul is a widely respected keynote speaker and has developed and delivered workshops and seminars on a wide variety of topics to conferences and major corporations through out the world. Paul lives in San Francisco. Paul can be reached at pharmon@bptrends.com
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