Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Ontology for Business Processes, SOA and Information Models

I have for a long time promoted that you should apply a specific kind of information model (the business process information model - BPIM) when composing services into business processes in service oriented solutions. A BPIM models the messages for the business events that drive the business processes. The main goal of this information model is to enable coordinated loose-coupling (semantic mediation) between the services at the composition level.

There has been a lot of discussions on how the BPIM relates to SOA services and the common information model (CIM), and how the BPM process layer relates to the SOA process layer. In the following ontology I have tried to model the relationships between the documents and the domain objects, Shy Cohen’s service taxonomy & ontology, and Jean-Jacques Dubray’s SOA+BPM ontology

The service classification scheme has the "hierarchy" taxomomy form. It is not a scientific hierarchy nor a tree form, thus there is no "is using" or "is dependent on" relation between the services - it is just a classification scheme. There can be no dependency between services in SOA except for composite services realizing a business process by consuming the actual services. Taking a dependency on another service will break the central "services are autonomous" tenet of SOA.

Click to enlarge the ontology:

Note how there are processes at two levels in the model: the event-driven resource lifecycle processes for domain objects (bottom), and the human-driven business processes realized as composed services (top). These two levels are separate bounded contexts with well defined mappings between them: the business process domain and the resource lifecycle domain.

The BPIM is applied at the business process domain level (orchestrations / composites / sagas), while the services operate on the domain objects in the CIM to manage the lifecycle of these resources in accordance with the business events.

Note that the BPIM is related to, and is a subset of/reference to, the resource domain objects in the common information model (CIM). In addition, the messages covers more than just activity data, they also contain queries, notifications (events) and commands. This in like a mail order paper form that contains e.g. some customer data and references to product data. The word "subset" is central, e.g. the “customer has moved” action event has a BPIM document that contains the data pertinent to that specific business process event, not the complete schema of the customer domain object. The resource process service used to act on the “customer has moved” event does of course operate on the actual domain object, but this is invisible to the human workflow process.

The business process messages (action, query, notification) driving the composite services and the resulting business events are central artifacts when designing the services and the information model. I am a strong believer in designing a service-oriented solution by applying "EDA style" thinking to avoid missing out on the events and their documents due to traditional “invoke operations” SOA thinking, getting too much focus on business process flow.

An aspect not shown in the model is that the need for agility increases towards the top, while the cost of change increases towards the bottom. This is an important argument for having processes at two levels; it allows you to contain the frequent changes to the business processes (mashup style compositions) and composite services rather than having to constantly make changes to the services themselves, which could become very costly as the number of service subscribers increases over time. This is something that your business people should readily appreciate.

Design your system to have flexibility in the flow of the business processes and composite services. The diamonds of your business process are the business decisions, and this is where you should implement a business rules engine (BRE) mechanism. Process flow logic is not service business logic, avoid leaking domain logic into the orchestration layer at all cost.

Finally, the model show how claims relate to services at all levels. I have done this to show how a claims-based security model is a cross-cutting concern throughout a service-oriented solution. I strongly recommend designing in process claims right from the beginning, as this makes it easier to learn how access control relates to the business processes and solution domain.

Master Data Management (MDM) relates to the "Resources" in the above ontology. It is imperative that you apply a MDM strategy to your enterprise resource domain objects to avoid inconsistencies and multiple versions of the truth.

I hope this ontology makes my viewpoint on business process driven SOA clear to you. Feel free to comment on this model, and also check out the six figures in JJD’s ontology for models showing different perspectives of resource lifecycles & business events, BPEL, BPMN and human tasks.

See also this related post.

Monday, January 28, 2008


While I have been in Redmond the last three weeks learning my true color (I'm hyper green btw), there has been some interesting posts by Joe McKendrick on some topics that I've written about the last year:

Long time readers of my blog knows how I strongly advice applying EDA thinking when designing service-oriented solutions, but I do not foresee CEP to become a commodity for quite some time yet. However, it would be nice if designing systems around business events could provide better insight on how BPM relates to SOA in practical terms, along the ontology presented last december by Jean-Jacques Dubray.