Microservices Expo Authors: Elizabeth White, Kelly Burford, Derek Weeks, Liz McMillan, John Katrick

Blog Feed Post

Why Workflow and BPM Suck

The verities and the balderdash the impact of the cloud

I originally wrote this paper back in 2005 as a bit of a rant against the positioning of Workflow and BPM. I was reminded of it the other day and took another look only to discover that things still haven’t changed that much. So I’ve decided to revamp it a bit to encompass cloudy type things and what the impact of social media etc has had in the ensuing years. So for your amusement or edification here’s a revised version.

Many of us that were involved in the field of Workflow Automation and Business Process Management (BPM) a few years ago (and some still are I’m sure) argued long and hard about where the two technologies overlapped, where they were different, which mathematical models should be used, which standards were applicable to which part of the technology stack and all that associated puff.

Well these arguments and discussions are well and truly over more or less forgotten; the demarcation lines were well defined and drawn; the road ahead became clear.

The fact that Business Process Management has its roots in Workflow technology is well known – many of today’s leading products are, in fact, evolutions of the original forms processing packages. So there is no longer a need to debate, what is now, a moot point.

But what has happened is that BPM also changed. Rather than being an extension of workflow concepts BPM was seen as systems-to-systems technology exclusively used in the deployment of concepts such as SOA solutions. I’m over simplifying things I know, but it seemed as though BPM was destined to become an IT Technology solution as opposed to the business process solution it was meant to be. Somewhere along the way, one of the key elements in a business process – a person – dropped off the agenda. The fact that the majority of business processes (some 85% according to some very old Forrester research) involve carbon based resources was overlooked – think BPEL for a moment – doesn’t the attempt to develop that particular standard tell you something about the general direction of BPM? But be warned, even today, many vendors will tell you that their BPM products support Human interaction, but what they are talking about will be simple work item handling and form filling – this is a long way from the collaboration and interaction management we will talk about below.

The problem stems from the fact that most Workflow products were flawed and as a result, the problem in the gene pool rippled through to the evolved BPM species. So what was wrong with workflow? It’s quite simple when you think about it; most workflow products assumed that work moved from one resource to another. One user entered the loan details, another approved it. But business doesn’t work like that.

This flawed thinking is probably the main reason why workflow was never quite the success most pundits thought it would be; the solutions were just not flexible enough, since the majority of processes are unsuited to this way of working. Paradoxically, it is the exact reason why BPM is so suited to the world of SOA and systems to systems processes. A rigid approach to systems processes is essential, where people are concerned; the name of the game is flexibility.

Why do we need the flexibility?

Let’s take a simple analogy so that the concept is more easily understood.

Supposing you were playing golf; using the BPM approach would be like hitting a hole in one every time you tee off. Impressive – 18 shots, and a round finished in 25 minutes.

But as we all know, the reality is somewhat different (well my golf is different) – there’s a lot that happens between teeing off and finishing a hole. Ideally about four shots (think nodes in a process) – but you have to deal with the unexpected even though you know the unexpected is very likely; sand traps, water hazards, lost balls, free drops, collaboration with fellow players, unexpected consultation with the referee – and so it goes on. Then there are 17 more holes to do – the result is an intricate and complex process with 18 targets but about 72 operations.

As mentioned earlier, we have to deal with the unexpected. This is not just about using a set of tools to deal with every anticipated business outcome or rule; we are talking about the management of true interaction that takes place between individuals and groups which cannot be predicted or encapsulated beforehand. This is because Business Processes exist at 2 levels – the predictable (the systems) and the un-predictable (the people).

The predictable aspects of the process are easily and well catered for by BPMS solutions – which is why the term Business Process Management is a misnomer since the perceived technology only addresses the integration aspects – with the close coupling with SOA (SOA needs BPM, the converse is not true) there still iis an argument for renaming BPM to Services Process Management (SPM).

Proposals such as BPEL4People didn’t fix the problem either, all that managed to achieve is replicating the shortcomings of Workflow. Anyone who has tried to put together a business case for buying SOA/BPM will know the entire proposition will be a non-starter.

Understanding the business processes exist at 2 levels (the Silicon and the Carbon) takes us a long way towards understanding how we solve this problem. The key point is to recognize that the unpredictable actions of the carbon components are not ad-hoc processes, nor are they exception handling (ask anyone with a six sigma background about exceptions and you’ll understand very quickly what I mean). This is all about the unstructured interactions between people – in particular knowledge workers.  These unstructured and unpredictable interactions can, and do, take place all the time – and it’s only going to get worse! The advent of social networking, SaaS etc. etc.,  are already having, and will continue to have, a profound effect on the way we manage and do business.

Process based technology that understands the needs of people and supports the inherent “spontaneity” of the human mind is the next logical step, and we might be tempted to name this potential paradigm shift “A Business Operations Platform”. [1]

But what makes a BOP different from what’s gone before?

One of the key innovations (and there are many) is the collaborative nature of the platform. At last there is an environment that allows, encourages even, the business world and the technology world to align. Given that the business process is where these two worlds collide then the BOP becomes the place where the two worlds can achieve the most in terms of collaborative development and common understanding. Eliminating decades of misunderstanding. The Business Operations Platform does six main jobs.


  1. Puts existing and new application software under the direct control of business managers.
  2. Facilitates communication between business and IT.
  3. Makes it easier for the business to improve existing processes and create new ones.
  4. Enables the automation of processes across the entire organization, and beyond it.
  5. Gives managers real-time information on the performance of processes.
  6. Allows organizations to take full advantage of new computing services.

Unlike early BPM offerings that were stitched together from fragments of technologies past, a BOP must be built on a standards-based and modern architecture.. With a service oriented architecture (SOA) and full BPM capabilities companies can create a complete business operations environment that can drive innovation, efficiency and agility for their enterprise. It must be Cloud enabled and capable of being deployed as BPMAAS as. It is the BOP that sets “enterprise cloud computing” apart from “consumer cloud Computing”

So why does workflow suck? It sucks because it made the fatal assumption that a business process was simply modelled as “a to b to c” – but business, as we all know, doesn’t quite work like that. BPM succeeds because of the heritage these products is in the workflow world – but BPM sucks as well because it ignores the requirement to include people.

Jon Pyke

[1] Since I wrote this paper Gartner coined the term “Intelligent BPM” but that begs the question as to what went before “Stupid BPM” ? So I’ll use BOP if that is OK with you the reader.

The post Why Workflow and BPM Suck appeared first on Cloud Computing Best Practices.

Read the original blog entry...

More Stories By Cloud Best Practices Network

The Cloud Best Practices Network is an expert community of leading Cloud pioneers. Follow our best practice blogs at http://CloudBestPractices.net

@MicroservicesExpo Stories
The “Digital Era” is forcing us to engage with new methods to build, operate and maintain applications. This transformation also implies an evolution to more and more intelligent applications to better engage with the customers, while creating significant market differentiators. In both cases, the cloud has become a key enabler to embrace this digital revolution. So, moving to the cloud is no longer the question; the new questions are HOW and WHEN. To make this equation even more complex, most ...
Some journey to cloud on a mission, others, a deadline. Change management is useful when migrating to public, private or hybrid cloud environments in either case. For most, stakeholder engagement peaks during the planning and post migration phases of a project. Legacy engagements are fairly direct: projects follow a linear progression of activities (the “waterfall” approach) – change managers and application coders work from the same functional and technical requirements. Enablement and develo...
Admiral Calcote - also known as Lee Calcote (@lcalcote) or the Ginger Geek to his friends - gave a presentation entitled Characterizing and Contrasting Container Orchestrators at the 2016 All Day DevOps conference. Okay, he isn't really an admiral - nor does anyone call him that - but he used the title admiral to describe what container orchestrators do, relating it to an admiral directing a fleet of container ships. You could also say that they are like the conductor of an orchestra, directing...
The past few years have brought a sea change in the way applications are architected, developed, and consumed—increasing both the complexity of testing and the business impact of software failures. How can software testing professionals keep pace with modern application delivery, given the trends that impact both architectures (cloud, microservices, and APIs) and processes (DevOps, agile, and continuous delivery)? This is where continuous testing comes in. D
Modern software design has fundamentally changed how we manage applications, causing many to turn to containers as the new virtual machine for resource management. As container adoption grows beyond stateless applications to stateful workloads, the need for persistent storage is foundational - something customers routinely cite as a top pain point. In his session at @DevOpsSummit at 21st Cloud Expo, Bill Borsari, Head of Systems Engineering at Datera, explored how organizations can reap the bene...
The dynamic nature of the cloud means that change is a constant when it comes to modern cloud-based infrastructure. Delivering modern applications to end users, therefore, is a constantly shifting challenge. Delivery automation helps IT Ops teams ensure that apps are providing an optimal end user experience over hybrid-cloud and multi-cloud environments, no matter what the current state of the infrastructure is. To employ a delivery automation strategy that reflects your business rules, making r...
Gaining visibility in today’s sprawling cloud infrastructure is complex and laborious, involving drilling down into tools offered by various cloud services providers. Enterprise IT organizations need smarter and effective tools at their disposal in order to address this pertinent problem. Gaining a 360 - degree view of the cloud costs requires collection and analysis of the cost data across all cloud infrastructures used inside an enterprise.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Synametrics Technologies will exhibit at SYS-CON's 22nd International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 5-7, 2018, at the Javits Center in New York, NY. Synametrics Technologies is a privately held company based in Plainsboro, New Jersey that has been providing solutions for the developer community since 1997. Based on the success of its initial product offerings such as WinSQL, Xeams, SynaMan and Syncrify, Synametrics continues to create and hone in...
Our work, both with clients and with tools, has lead us to wonder how it is that organizations are handling compliance issues in the cloud. The big cloud vendors offer compliance for their infrastructure, but the shared responsibility model requires that you take certain steps to meet compliance requirements. Which lead us to start poking around a little more. We wanted to get a picture of what was available, and how it was being used. There is a lot of fluidity in this space, as in all things c...
Kubernetes is an open source system for automating deployment, scaling, and management of containerized applications. Kubernetes was originally built by Google, leveraging years of experience with managing container workloads, and is now a Cloud Native Compute Foundation (CNCF) project. Kubernetes has been widely adopted by the community, supported on all major public and private cloud providers, and is gaining rapid adoption in enterprises. However, Kubernetes may seem intimidating and complex ...
You know you need the cloud, but you’re hesitant to simply dump everything at Amazon since you know that not all workloads are suitable for cloud. You know that you want the kind of ease of use and scalability that you get with public cloud, but your applications are architected in a way that makes the public cloud a non-starter. You’re looking at private cloud solutions based on hyperconverged infrastructure, but you’re concerned with the limits inherent in those technologies.
Gone are the days when application development was the daunting task of the highly skilled developers backed with strong IT skills, low code application development has democratized app development and empowered a new generation of citizen developers. There was a time when app development was in the domain of people with complex coding and technical skills. We called these people by various names like programmers, coders, techies, and they usually worked in a world oblivious of the everyday pri...
The notion of improving operational efficiency is conspicuously absent from the healthcare debate - neither Obamacare nor the newly proposed GOP plan discusses the impact that a step-function improvement in efficiency could have on access to healthcare (through more capacity), quality of healthcare services (through reduced wait times for patients) or cost (through better utilization of scarce, expensive assets).
The goal of Microservices is to improve software delivery speed and increase system safety as scale increases. Microservices being modular these are faster to change and enables an evolutionary architecture where systems can change, as the business needs change. Microservices can scale elastically and by being service oriented can enable APIs natively. Microservices also reduce implementation and release cycle time and enables continuous delivery. This paper provides a logical overview of the Mi...
Some people are directors, managers, and administrators. Others are disrupters. Eddie Webb (@edwardawebb) is an IT Disrupter for Software Development Platforms at Liberty Mutual and was a presenter at the 2016 All Day DevOps conference. His talk, Organically DevOps: Building Quality and Security into the Software Supply Chain at Liberty Mutual, looked at Liberty Mutual's transformation to Continuous Integration, Continuous Delivery, and DevOps. For a large, heavily regulated industry, this task...
For DevOps teams, the concepts behind service-oriented architecture (SOA) are nothing new. A style of software design initially made popular in the 1990s, SOA was an alternative to a monolithic application; essentially a collection of coarse-grained components that communicated with each other. Communication would involve either simple data passing or two or more services coordinating some activity. SOA served as a valid approach to solving many architectural problems faced by businesses, as app...
Many IT organizations have come to learn that leveraging cloud infrastructure is not just unavoidable, it’s one of the most effective paths for IT organizations to become more responsive to business needs. Yet with the cloud comes new challenges, including minimizing downtime, decreasing the cost of operations, and preventing employee burnout to name a few. As companies migrate their processes and procedures to their new reality of a cloud-based infrastructure, an incident management solution...
Cloud Governance means many things to many people. Heck, just the word cloud means different things depending on who you are talking to. While definitions can vary, controlling access to cloud resources is invariably a central piece of any governance program. Enterprise cloud computing has transformed IT. Cloud computing decreases time-to-market, improves agility by allowing businesses to adapt quickly to changing market demands, and, ultimately, drives down costs.
Recent survey done across top 500 fortune companies shows almost 70% of the CIO have either heard about IAC from their infrastructure head or they are on their way to implement IAC. Yet if you look under the hood while some level of automation has been done, most of the infrastructure is still managed in much tradition/legacy way. So, what is Infrastructure as Code? how do you determine if your IT infrastructure is truly automated?
Every few years, a disruptive force comes along that prompts us to reframe our understanding of what something means, or how it works. For years, the notion of what a computer is and how you make one went pretty much unchallenged. Then virtualization came along, followed by cloud computing, and most recently containers. Suddenly the old rules no longer seemed to apply, or at least they didn’t always apply. These disruptors made us reconsider our IT worldview.