Thursday, September 29, 2005

Windows Workflow Foundation

In my 2002 book, BPM: The Third Wave, I said: "Business process management products are available from many vendors, in versions ranging from departmental workgroup solutions to enterprise-scale infrastructure—-a range of solutions to meet all needs. It is possible that personal BPM tools, akin to the commodity databases that form part of commonly used office productivity suites, will emerge. Imagine a “Process Office” suite, providing an integrated, process-centric approach to collaboration, computation, work manage-ment, process modeling and simulation. Such a vision is entirely realistic if based on a third-wave approach." In the Epilog to that book, I also said, "Over the last five years, delivering business applications has become much more complex, with layer upon layer of new infrastructure requirements and new features. While this has been good for IT industry players that sell new products for new layers, it is not necessarily so good for companies that use them as business tools. When complexity mounts and eventually becomes unmanageable, it’s time for action."

The book described the radical simplication of business process technology necessary, and, this month, Microsoft announced its technology to make this real for Windows users: Windows Workflow Foundation.

"Third wave" BPM features have been available in enterprise-class products for some time, in Workflow Management Systems (WFMS) and Business Process Management Systems (BPMS), and more recently, in expensive ERP products -- to one extent or another. Microsoft is now moving these features to the desktop, and by doing so, will make them a ubiquitous part of the everyday computing landscape, as they have done with Word Processing, Spreadsheets and Databases.

The foundations for this new technology lie in the field of Process Calculus, specifically, Pi Calculus and Join Calculus, as well as Petri Nets. These foundations were used by, over the period 1999 to 2003, to define BPML, the Business Process Modeling Language. They were also used by Microsoft to create XLANG, the foundation of BizTalk, and later by IBM to create BPEL (which some regard as a commercial copycat of BPML.)

I cannot say more about Windows Workflow Foundation until I have had time to study and understand what has achieved. A book about WWF is already available, and that page gives the BLOG addresses for those architects involved in the development of WWF, such as Dave Green. WWF will give both gorilla ERP vendors, and smaller workflow players, much to think about. BPM vendors have showed how to give business users control of the processes around them. Microsoft will do this in office productivity packages. As a result, productivity will take on new meaning for Office users. For knowledge workers are not just interested in personal productivity, but the productivity of the teams around them. Their work is not just in processes, but with processes, their discovery, design, deployment, operations, measurement and optimization.