Whether you believe Web 2.0 is a significant departure from the original web or merely a logical evolution of the tools that built Web 1.0, as Tim Berners-Lee (the guy behind the WWW) believes, these emerging tools have changed the application development landscape forever. In the past few years, the cost of developing applications for all manners of business requirements - not only for the Internet, but for the day-to-day internal business applications that will never be open to the public - has collapsed.
The arrival of such tools not only made building applications easier and cheaper, but they were used to create services or components by third parties, creating a marketplace for components or services that can be consumed by internally developed applications. In the spectrum of BPM tools, the rules engines are particularly important to a services-based architecture.
Since the services approach can have many components, with the inputs or results of one element driving the next until a process is completed, rules engines are needed to efficiently manage and report against all of the resulting execution paths.
Depending on the organization's particular needs, there are a wide variety of such tools. These range from the usual BPM products to tools focused on production rules requirements that serious application developers might want to consider. For those buyers that look towards Redmond, BizTalk offers a rules engine appropriate for many situations. The Open Source community has SOAR, which is coming along nicely, while the Java crowd can embrace Drools, which is fleshing out as a full-fledged business logic platform. Any of these tools can be put to good use in building out all manners of applications to both orchestrate processes and provide process integrity.
Moreover, another cornerstone tool is business process execution language (BPEL), which is actually a shortened version of its full name, Web Service BPEL. This tool is built purely for the web world and, once mastered, is invaluable for efficiently constructing applications that will rely on web-based services, whether they are out in the wild (Internet) or safely at home in your own network or a combination of these two environments.
However, organizations approaching these tools should consider more than their technical requirements. Ask yourself, "What should business process owners be concerned with?" and "What is the business case?" If you hear your technical team introducing this approach and tools, consider yourself and your company lucky. The fact is that this technology is what the future will be built upon. While it may take some time for proficiency to be gained, it is well worth the investment. Your company will be able to design, develop and deploy applications or modifications to legacy applications that meet your business requirements in time frames thought impossible just five years ago. This capability means both significant cost savings and improved business velocity for the enterprise. Even more important, these tools offer enhanced flexibility to revise your processes on-the-fly by plugging in new or revised rules and services that extend and enhance applications without having to endure major rewrites or restructuring. Even your old legacy applications can be surrounded by the new environment, extending the life of old systems or as a means to ease out of them module by module.
The bottom line is that your organization can re-engineer both applications and processes. BPM continues to be the critical element to accomplish both.
JIM MINIHAN [firstname.lastname@example.org], a pioneer of workflow and process management, is an acknowledged expert on automation of service sector enterprises and their processes.