An Audience With….Michael Rowley, CTO of Active Endpoints

Michael Rowley is a leading technologist in SOA and BPM software. He was a contributor on the BPMN 2.0 specification and is an editor of the BPEL4People and WS-HumanTask specifications that are being finalized within OASIS. He is a key contributor and an editor on OASIS specifications for Service Component Architecture (SCA) and is also co-author of the book Understanding SCA, which was published in July of 2009.

At Active Endpoints, Michael is actively engaged in the design and development of ActiveVOS and is responsible for accelerating the company’s technological leadership in the BPM market. Before joining Active Endpoints, he worked at BEA Systems, where he was an architect on three products before moving to the office of the CTO, where he worked on innovative technology and standards. Michael received his Ph.D. in Computer Science from UCLA in 1994.

 

2010 has already started with acquisitions across the BPM space and now Pega have announced they are acquiring Chordiant. Do you see the lines between BPM and other industries starting to blur ?

We think that Pega’s acquisition is different from the recent acquisitions that IBM and Progress made. For those latter two companies, their moves indicate a healthy, growing market for BPMS and express those companies’ ambitions in BPMS. We are even more bullish. We think that BPM techniques are becoming the default way in which new applications are developed.  IBM, Oracle and Progress realize this and bought or expanded their way into the market for BPMS focused on the extended development team. In contrast, Pega’s business has been largely about customized templates and the services needed to implement templates for customers, so they needed to expand into a different marketplace for growth. We wish them all the luck in the CRM marketplace. We will continue our single-minded focus on BPM and developing a BPMS that caters to a cross-functional development team that uses the technology as a default method of application development.

What is your definition and philosophy for BPM ?

Great question, Theo. BPM is, as everybody likes to point out, a new way of creating applications. Most agree that the process of BPM radically alters the relationship and day-to-day work among business users, analysts and IT staff. We agree with that and to that changed way of doing things, we add one more technological requirement for BPM: it must be architecturally sound. In other words, changing the way applications are created should also have the effect of modernizing and “fixing” the current application infrastructure. In our minds, this means that the BPMS must be both standards-based and services-based. A BPMS that delivers these capabilities naturally architects an application infrastructure that is both more flexible and modern.

So you see BPM as a business discipline or an IT-led effort ?

The short answer is that we see BPM as an effort that should be lead by both the business user and IT. Thinking has to change on all sides for a BPM approach to be successful. And while we’ve heard from some thought leaders who think IT is an anachronism, our business is growing rapidly on the basis of our success in serving IT teams committed to changing what they do in order to serve the business better. If only the business user leads, how can the long-term architectural implications of BPM be addressed? And unless IT adopts BPM technology, how can it hope to respond to the ever-increasing demands of the business? It just defies our understanding to hear some voices in the market inflexibly prescribe how every company, every project and every organization should approach BPM.

ActiveVOS has something called BPEL4People, can you elaborate on what this is ?

BPEL4People is one half of an important OASIS specification (the other being WS-HumanTask) that enables BPEL – the standard language of services – to treat workflow as just another service. IOW, to the BPM engine, a workflow activity is just like any other activity. It has participants and inputs and outputs. (WS-HumanTask defines a standard set of operations that the activity the BPM engine is executing can use to manage the work a human does in the process.) So, BPEL4People isn’t hard to understand. But it is crucially important because, for the first time, BPEL4People (and WS-HumanTask) frees users from proprietary workflow engines and allows significant technical innovation in the design of the BPMS. For example, in ActiveVOS, we have implemented WS-HumanTask as the protocol between an AJAX client and the server. Not only does this free the client from having to talk to a presentation layer on the server, it also allows the designer to intermix services in the user interface. That means that an end user performing a workflow task can have access to the information about the task as well as any other information he or she might need to complete the task. Very modern; very efficient. That’s what standardized workflow brings to BPM.

You run a series of webinars called CTO Tuesdays, what is that all about ?

CTO Tuesdays is about the technology of BPM. If we believe that people need to change the way they do things, then it’s up to us to help them understand what they need to in order to have them welcome that change. BPM technology is a new thing for many people…and so vendors like us have an obligation to educate users about this new way of thinking and doing. So, we decided that each week we’d tackle a single topic in some depth – but limit the technical discussion to 30 minutes or so. The idea is to give people enough to tickle their curiosity and allow them to explore more on their own. 30 minutes is about right because, once you strip away the fear :-), BPM concepts are just not that hard. Also, it’s not an ActiveVOS commercial – though when we illustrate a concept, we obviously use ActiveVOS.

As I write this in mid-March, we have done 16 episodes, all of which have been very well received. We have also developed a large audience, which joins us at noon ET every Tuesday. At first we thought this podcast might have a “limited run.” But we’ve discovered that the community is so interested in BPMS that we expect to be delivering CTO Tuesdays indefinitely. BTW, signups are free and there’s no registration required to access replays. Your readers can always signup for the live podcast as http://www.activevos.com/ctot. (We update that link weekly.) And, replays are available at http://www.ctotuesdays.com and in the iTunes Store under “vosibilities.” A feed of the replay is available at http://www.ctotuesdays.com/feed.

BPM vendors seem to be moving more towards cloud/ service deployments, is this something you are looking into yourselves ?

Not yet. We have partners who deliver ActiveVOS via the cloud for certain clients. But we think the recent Google “cloud bursts” demonstrate why many businesses will cautious in adopting BPM in the cloud.

And what of the “social BPM” charge that solutions like ARISAlign and BlueWorks are championing, is this a new paradigm in BPM or something else ?

I don&r
squo
;t think that those efforts represent a new p
aradigm in BPM. There is no reason that collaborative discovery and optimization of business processes has to use collaboration technologies that are specific to BPM. Trying to dictate one approach is a mistake, in my opinion.Getting a group of stakeholders to agree on what an existing process is (the “as-is” process) or on what future processes should be (the “to-be” process) is not inherently different from getting a group of stakeholders to agree on anything. You can bring people together in the same room and collaborate in a shared editing session of a model projected on a screen. You can have Wikis, portals or Google Waves that are used to collaborate with the group remotely or to allow contributions at different times. You can then keep track of the longer-term development of the process models using any of the myriad of management methodologies in practice. Which is the right approach will be more a function of the culture of the organization involved than the fact that they are working on business models

Do you see ActiveVOS integrating with social platforms to join the party ?

We don’t believe we need to do any specific integration work in order for our users to join any BPM-related social media party that they might be interested in. ActiveVOS is based completely on standards (e.g. BPEL, BPMN, BPEL4People or even XPDL). Such standards are what make it possible for people to share models without being tied to a specific vendor’s technology. We believe that different organizations will find different social paradigms to be best suited to their needs and any of them should be usable with ActiveVOS.

You’re another vendor with a strong community behind it, how important is this for vendors to embrace ?

You won’t be surprised to hear we think it’s crucial. Community is how big changes in thinking happen these days. Today, corporate directive alone isn’t enough to really convince people they should change what they do. With widely available communities – like the one surrounding ActiveVOS – people have access to the “real” information about the plusses and minuses of making changes. And they listen carefully to that community and are alert for signs of vendor manipulation of the community. So we try very hard to not control our community…instead we let it speak with its own voice. We’re not perfect – no BPMS vendor is – but we think that when people who are considering us discover what people “in the real world” are saying about us to each other (and to us), it comes across as both authentic and complimentary.

Finally, what next for ActiveVOS ?

More. More focus on this idea we have of an “extended development team” and what they need to be successful. More capabilities based on standards (hint: I recently published a book titled Understanding SCA (Service Component Architecture)). More focus on helping enterprises make the transition from the way they create applications today to the way it can be improved using BPM and BPM technology.

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