Oracle socializes business process management

Oracle's updated BPM software includes social networking, greater integration, exec says

While business process management (BPM) has traditionally been about automating office and departmental workflows, Oracle is looking to put humans back into the loop, at least in an advisory capacity.

The new version of Oracle's BPM software, released earlier this week, features a new set of collaboration tools to ease the design and use of BPM, as well as greater integration with other Oracle Fusion middleware and applications.

"We've worked and invested a fair amount in the last couple of years to make sure we have a unified product architecture, both in terms of how we integrate with the Fusion middleware, but also in terms of how we've integrated the BPM environment," said Hasan Rizvi, who is an Oracle senior vice president of product development, according to a Webcast the company held on Thursday.

The upshot, explained Rizvi, is that users should be able to execute a wider range and variety of processes than what could easily be done with an assortment of stand-alone products.

The Oracle Business Process Management Suite 11G, an update to Oracle Business Process Management 10gR3, actually is a package of a number of different and recently updated Oracle products, including Oracle BPEL Process Manager, Oracle Business Activity Monitoring, Oracle Business Rules, the Oracle WebCenter Suite and Oracle Universal Content Management.

The goal of BPM is to take all those routine organizational processes, such as routing a claim through an insurance office, and automate the flow as much as possible, using the power of computers.

Like most BPM vendors, Oracle has been upgrading its BPM wares to make them as human-oriented and dynamic as possible, in order to accommodate as wide a range of processes as possible.

"In the real world, BPM involves a lot of different people and roles, and managing change across the enterprise is difficult," Rizvi said. "You really need an integrated set of tools, because you don't want to spend all your time, effort and money working on the underlying IT system."

Through inclusion of Oracle's WebCenter software, the suite adds a social networking-styled collaboration capability. "Users can come together across the lifecycle," Rizvi said. A new workspace called Process Spaces gives process architects, IT staff and end users a common meeting place to look at and discuss proposed models and actual working processes. What users see in the Process Space depends on their assigned roles.

"You might have a travel approval process that includes employees and managers. Within the Process Space, a manager might [see an] approval request task waiting for him, and various conversations about minimizing travel costs in certain locations," said David Shaffer, vice president of product management for Oracle Fusion middleware, in a follow-up e-mail interview. "Similarly, the employee might see the status of his request along with other discussions about places to stay, or even discussions about how to enjoy travel while staying within company guidelines."

This release also continues the work, started with 10G release, of integrating the software with other Oracle Fusion applications, such as with the Oracle WebLogic and Tuxedo applications servers, with the JDeveloper developer environment, and the JRocket Java runtime engine.

As an example of how this sort of integration could help users, Rizvi highlighted how Oracle's Fusion-based business intelligence products could be used to analyze BPM operations. Administrators can analyze how long each process is taking, or check to see if any one step in the process is taking an undue amount of time to complete, using the Oracle Business Activity Monitoring software.

Also, this is the first version of Oracle's BPM software to incorporate the features from the BEA AquaLogic BPM (Oracle acquired BEA Systems in 2008).

"This release includes the best of both and Oracle's BPM technology," said Shaffer. For instance, the software uses the AquaLogic BPM Studio for editing processes. The Oracle BPM suite also borrows AquaLogic BPM Studio's what-you-see-is-what-you-get interface.

Also, for the first time, the software offers a single interface to design workflows using one of two process modeling languages, the Business Process Execution Language or the Business Process Modeling Notation.

"There are various pros and cons associated" with each standard, Rizvi said. "What we wanted to bring is the best of both worlds. The underlying runtime architecture supports both models."

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