Leading BPM Vendors Collaborate on Next-Gen Business Process Simulation Standard

A group of leading BPM platform and simulation vendors, ISVs, end users and consultants are collaborating on a new business process simulation standard. The new standard, which will extend BPMN2 and XPDL, for the first time will allow tools to run simulations off the same input and provides a standard way to represent simulation scenarios. IDN speaks with Denis Gagne, chair of the Business Process Simulation Working Group at the Workflow Management Coalition.

Tags: BPM, BPMN, BPSWG, business process, models, simulation, standards, WfMC, XPDL,

bpm_simulate_01A group of leading BPM platform and simulation vendors, ISVs, end users and consultants are collaborating on a new business process simulation standard. The new standard, which will extend BPMN2 and XPDL, for the first time will allow tools to run simulations off the same input and provides a standard way to represent simulation scenarios.

“Process simulation has been around forever. But it’s been labor-intensive and until now has been limited to the tool or add-on you use,” Denis Gagne, chair of the Business Process Simulation Working Group at the Workflow Management Coalition told IDN. Prior to the standard, there was no way to share process model simulation data with more specialized tools, he added. 

The BPSWG sports more than 50 members, and includes Business Process Incubator, IBM, Simul8, Lanner, W4, Cordys, Accenture and other BPM simulation tools vendors. 
The new standard is now in alpha release and going through multi-vendor interoperability testing. It aims to open a new era in BPM simulations, and remove some longstanding pain points so that simulations are easier to run, tap into more parameters and data, and provide more insight for effective operation and optimization of process models, according to Gagne.

“We created a simulation standard which works with what is already there, and doesn’t reinvent the wheel,” Gagne said. In fact, the standard is designed to work as an extension to BPMN2 and XPDL languages. This means when you use this simulation standard, users can use either process definition language and the simulations will be valid, he said.

“What makes this [BPM] standardization effort stand out is that many vendors are already implementing the standard before it’s officially released.”

Denis Gagne
Chair
Business Process
Simulation Working Group
Workflow Management Coalition


“We’re  adding simulation parameterization to process models,” Gagne added. This will let users obtain detailed views and more precisely measure the performance of their process designs. In fact, simulations can be created based on a wide range of factors – number of users, number and types of exceptions, dynamic behaviors and other configuration variables, Gagne added.

“Users will also be able to look into precise behaviors of their models,” Gagne told IDN. He listed some examples of this, such as finding out how well this process model works with two clerks and then 25 clerks. Users will also be able to measure the effectiveness of a process when exception handling comes into play, or when not all workflow is handled identically and determine how operations are effected by using one process for some percentage of transactions or traffic and then using another process (or group of processes) for the rest.  

Gagne underscored that better BPM simulations are key to unlocking more effective use of BPM and process models. “You can really only see this information in detail when you can run the process. So, this standard speeds up the ability to assess your process models against various scenarios,” Gagne said. “The more you can use simulation for modeling and process analysis, the more you can validate or improve your process models. This simulation standard lets users study more parameters and behaviors of their process, and will allow quicker optimization.”  

The standard also provides a structure (a metamodel) that lets users capture historical data in a particular form so it can be consumed by any simulator, he added.

Under the technology covers, the BPSWG standard will include an interchange format spec for both languages that supports XSD and human-consumable XML; a UML-based meta model; and is loosely coupled to BPMN 2 and XPDL, which means no duplication of any process model information is required.

Add in the standard’s commonality of language and companies can keep stakeholders on the same page to more quickly express, identify and improve aspects of the processes, Gagne added. The standard’s support for interchange files lets users amend the info in their models without the need to completely redo them, he said.

Taken together, these features also aim to add another benefit – the breaking of vendor lock-in for BPM tools. In simulation, often users must use the simulation tools that come with their BPM frameworks or tools. “Instead, now I can interchange with any simulation tool and use best of breed,” Gagne said.

Remarkably, even with dismantling vendor lock-in as a goal, the big BPM vendor companies are still on board with the standard, Gagne told IDN. “BPM vendors know they will benefit from opening up to integrate their systems with others. They know it promotes multi-department convergence for BPM, where today it’s difficult for different units in the same company to work together or interoperate on process [projects]. So, actually opening up vendor lock-in will drive more opportunities for vendors.”

Third-party vendors are also excited about the coming standard. 

At UK-based simulation company Lanner Group Ltd., for instance, plans are already underway to use it to supercharge the company’s Playbook approach, which lets business analysts ask all sorts of performance questions about their models, Geoff Hook, Lanner’s Project Director told IDN.

“When we heard about this effort, we said, ‘This standard is interesting, and makes our Playbook better,’” Hook said. “The idea is to allow the business analyst and the modelers to ask business questions of their model, to make sure they are maximizing the benefit from their models.”

For example, with Lanner’s Playbook, if an analyst is designing a process, he might want to know how many times each task gets used. “The data you need is routing through . . . the diagram, so you can see how many times it gets used, or doesn’t get used, how many feedback loops occur that cut down on this particular step being used. Once implemented, a business manager also can use data to see what happens if traffic volumes go up,” Hook said. 

“This new standard makes the loading of that experiment very easy, so you construct the XML file [model structure] with the parameter data added for scenario one, and then scenario two becomes just an extra piece of data and loaded into the simulator – and the answer comes out.” Hook said.

The standard is now in alpha release, available free to any BPSWG member.
BPSWG is streamlining the completion of the standardization effort with the goal an official release out before the end of the year. “What makes this standardization effort stand out is that many vendors are already implementing the standard before it’s officially released, making it an adoption success even before it’s publically available,” Gagne added.

 




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