Keith Swenson posted a discussion he and I had about our views on BPM. Keith is finishing up a book and wanted to share some of the ideas he developed in the book.
To summarize, Keith sees a process as an agreement between the roles involved in the process to perform a series of activities. As a consequence, Keith sees the role of the BPM engine as the agent enforcing and monitoring that agreement. In Keith world, "unpredictability" takes over beyond the agreement boundaries.
I have tried to argue that every resource involved in a process has a lifecycle with well defined states and transitions. Yes, some states and transitions may not be known as resources start their lifecycle (Keith takes the example of a physician and his/her patients), but that does not break the model on the contrary. States and transitions can be added ad infinitum, actually the entire universe is based on this principle. This notion of state is so fundamental that is defines biological time. Time only exists because the universe cannot return to an arbitrary state. We use the speed of light to define a measure of time (that's the Einstein time t = d/c) but there is nothing absolute about time, this measure is arbitrary, time is only the expression of an overall irreversibility of transitions that manages our lifecycle from birth to death. In other words, the 4th dimension, the "time dimension" does not exist. It is a mathematical artefact. In an information system or in the universe, all the states and transitions can potentially be known with an infinite precision, as necessary, yet the "path" taken across states and transition can be and is in general unpredictable. So for me, business processes do not exist: I can create a (BPMN) representation of a certain "path" (the cheapest, the one with the least resources, the fastest...) but in the end only the states and transitions of the resources govern the activities performed, not a "process definition, not an "agreement", only the states and transitions.
I am not sure when the industry will switch it's view point and finally understand the relationships between resources, lifecycles and "processes". In the mean time, as I said before, our industry has become a sort of pharmaceutical industry unable to look at the science, full of people selling placebos and poisons. I am not quite sure I actually understand why there is not a single modern formalism that relates to the foundation of information management: i.e. resource lifecycles. I am not quite sure why people would think CRUDing will somehow lead them anywhere.
As for myself I happily drink the chalice. In the last 3 months, I realized talking with Keith, Stu and others that we live in sad times, times, where arguments no longer count. The only thing that counts is the number of followers you enslave behind you. As Scott argues, how can BPMN be wrong?, "look at what Bruce said: the adoption of BPMN is growing, how can all these people be wrong?". Yeap, Scott, rock solid logic, you deserve all the 2010 Nobel price and Fields Medal combined. I feel so sad to have reached 2010 to see all that. What a waste. Ever since I was a kid I wanted to live in the future, in 1979 I bought my first personal computer a TRS-80 with 4kb of RAM and a tape recorder as storage, after saving years of allowance. In 1991, I was #19 in France to get a private email address (firstname.lastname@example.org). At the time only universities had email. During my PhD, I was the first student in my entire lab to computerize his apparatus. When I was invited to work at Hughes Research Lab in Malibu, CA in 1995, I worked for one of the most advanced semiconductor project ever and successfully delivered all the software that was needed to build electronic devices that simply could not be manufactured before. Actually, right around that time, Research Labs started to disappear across the globe, replaced by "Startups" and "VCs". In the last 10-15 years the world has grown accustomed to "build stories" that make things sexy and attractive, "believable": that's all that matters. The more that believe you, the bigger your bank account. Churches have figured that out centuries ago. Interestingly enough most religions sell "sacred waters" to their "believers". What's your sacred water? In 2010, gravity no longer exist, we have reached the promised lalaland where the only measure of credibility is the number of followers. So we are there, here, I mean, nowhere, somewhere in lalaland: millennia of logic, scientific progress and countless people who sacrificed their lives for their (innovative) ideas, yes, in a single decade, all this has been destroyed by the story tellers. It is so bad that somebody the caliber Gabriel Morgan thinks that "Story Telling" is a quality. So hats off, Steve, Stefan, Bill, Stu, Keith, Scott, Sandy, Jim, Savas, Ian, Mike, Anne... and so many others. You win, not sure what you win, but you win. I will no longer discuss BPM, SOA or REST -after all I am just a MOPer.