Lost In The Tunnels

I have not written much about BPDM, the new metamodel specification from the OMG. It is a long spec, and it appears that lots of very good work has gone into it. Making a general metamodel to allow for interchange of all of the various types of process definitions that exist is both very important and also a very big challenge. So this effort deserves a lot of support.

One design choice though surprised me enough that I think it is worth a comment here. The BPDM 1.0 specification is designed to store process definitions in an XML file, but the layout of the process definition is not included at the current time. The “model” is stored (the nodes and relationships) but the positions of the nodes and the geometry of the lines connecting them are not stored at this time.

This is important. I have mentioned in the past that one of the goals of XPDL is to represent the diagram of the process so that these process diagrams can be exchanged between tools that people use in what we call the process design ecosystem. I have an example that may help illustrate the importance of preserving the layout.

Imagine that you want to travel on a subway train from station A to station B. In order to find your way, you need a subway map, which is a model of the subway system. At the very least, the model would need to include a representation of each station, and the trains that connect it to other stations. It is true, that this is all you need in order to calculate how to get from station A to station B. But imagine that you, as a person, look at the map, and every time you do, the stations are in displayed in different locations on the page! Such a map would be almost unusable because every time you would need to read the entire map. A lot of effort goes to making a subway map pleasing and easy to remember. As humans, we need things to appear in the same place every time. The layout of the map is a very important aspect of such a map.

I addressed a similar issue in a past post called “Thow Out The Diagram?” where I was surprised by discussions with people who felt it was right and proper to remove the layout information. Several people from the OMG working group assured me that this was not the case with them, and that layout information is simply delayed until the BPMN 2.0 spec (where BPMN and BPDM will be combined into a single spec) which is anticipated at the end of 2008. The reason is that there is already a proposal for including layout into an XMI format file, and that proposal was not mature enough to include at this time, but it is anticipated that OMG will be able to offer storage of layout in the near future. Nevertheless, and I can’t help feeling that this is a major limitation. If I use BPDM to convert my XPDL file to another format, it will lose a very important aspect of the process diagram.

So in summary, XPDL is still the choice for sharing process diagrams within a process ecosystem with over 60 process tools supporting the standard today.

Wine-ing about Standards

Why is there all this concern about a single process standard? I was reminded of this while reading a recent article in “Viticulture Obscurant” about a similar situation in Elbonia with standardization of the broad range of wines, which I reproduce in full below:


Elbonia – July 16, 2007 – Citizens and government officials of the republic of Elbonia have been up at arms, almost literally, about the bewilderingly large number of varieties of wine that are now available on the market. There is a growing movement to limit the number of varietals that can be sold in order to simplify the act of ordering dinner at the local restaurants. The diners’ complaint is that it is tremendously difficult to match the right wine with the right dinner because there is simply so many choices.

“The wine list at my favorite place has Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Grenache, Malbec, Montepulciano, Shiraz, Zinfandel, Petit Syrah, Sangiovese, Lambrusco, Dornfelder, Bovale Sardo, Schwarzriesling, Ruby Cabernet, Tinta Barroca, and Preto de Mortágua and that is just on the red list.” says the town Mayor Harrison. “It is difficult enough to pick from all these in the first place, but it gets worse when you consider vintages. You have to keep track of which years are good for which regions. What we need is a single wine that everyone can have for every occasion.”

This sentiment is reflected in a new standardization efforts on multiple fronts. One such group produced the Border Practice Multi-Index to define the way that a wine should look, smell, and taste, even though this group does not actually produce any wine. A representative commented: “We did not want to show favoritism to any particular variety so we took the best qualities of all wines, and came up with standardized descriptions. So when someone says that the wine has a ‘musty nose’ or that the ‘bouquet includes blackcurrants, eucalyptus, chocolate, tobacco’ we will all know exactly what they mean.”

The index however has been criticized because it still allows multiple varieties of wine to exist. One restaurant critic complained, “I thought the index was supposed to define the qualities of the perfect wine. A vineyard would then simply create a wine with all the correct qualities and you would have a wine for all occasions. If a vineyard produced a wine with some of the qualities, and not others, consumers could simply boycott that wine until it got the required components. That way all wine would be perfect for any occasion.” There is disagreement about whether this was the goal of the index in the first place.

A different group represented by the two largest grape growing regions got together to form the Basque Puncheon Evaluation League and decided that “Chardonnay” would be the single official wine in the industry. “I have had many many good meals with Chardonnay, and they all have turned out great! I really have never had any reason to drink any other wine. Besides, all those other flavors really confuse me and I find it easier to stick with a wine I know.”

Since that time, an entire sub industry has grown up offering “Chardonnay-only” wines, and producing recipe books that feature the varietal in cooking and serving of all kinds of cuisines. Wine masters have written well-received books saying that ‘the perfect meal starts with a layer of Chardonnay as the foundation.’ It seems almost as if nothing can go wrong as long as it has Chardonnay in it. When local diners ask their sommelier why Chardonnay was the chosen varietal, the answer given, after a brief look of vague hopelessness, is “because the two largest grape growing regions chose it, so we know it is going to be successful.”

While clearly simplifying the wine lists, this move is not without its detractors. One buvionist, speaking under conditions of anonymity said “The problem is that even though all these wines say they are Chardonnay, the don’t taste the same! Each vintner makes the wine in a different way, putting their own special enhancements to it, and the result is that each Chardonnay has a distinct taste. The original point was to have a single wine for all occasions. How is this achieved if they are all different?”

Sceptical of Chardonnay’s ability to meet the needs of every meal, an irrepressable band of vintners continue to produce red wines in the traditional ways. In spite of the desire for a single wine for all occasions, people have continued to enjoy red wines as well as other varieties of white wines. This has not gone completely unnoticed, and in a surprising move a number of Chardonnay vendors have acquired significant holdings in red-grape vinyards, clearly with the intent to enhance their line to include both white and red wines.

Even more suprising is the announcement from a group known as Winesap Blue for People who have announced a new varietal called “Chardonnay Dark” which is based on Chardonnay (and therefore the perfect ingredient for any meal) but includes many of the features of a fine red wine. The acolytes praise this move to finally provide a single wine that is good for all occasions. A prominent Elbonian wine enthusiast had this to say: “I tried the new Chardonnay Dark, and I really liked it. In the bouquet I detected hints of blackcurrants, eucalyptus, chocolate, and, yes, even tobacco! I expect to be drinking this with every meal in the future.” Unfortunately the wine will not be available for a few more years.

At the same time, and probably unrelated, is a new development called the “Omni-grape” from the Borg Province Dept of Metamagic. The omni-grape is a variety of grape that contains all flavors of all possible grapes. “With a vinyard full of these grape vines, you can decide at harvest time what kind of wine you want.” The technical literature about the grape only includes instructions for making Chardonnay, but we have been assured that all other wines can be readily produced, as soon as representative of those other varietals get around to defining the mappings. While this is clearly an important development, it has been criticized for not actually simplifying the final wine list.

So the situation is far from resolved. Every evening, Elbonians continue to face a daunting task to determine their libation. While some restaurants now offer the simplified Chardonnay-only list, it does not seem to have the overall effect that was promised. However there is hope that new standardization efforts are continuing so that one day, in the not too distant future, diners will be able to sit down to a satisfying meal without ever looking at a wine list.


It struck me that there are some surprising parallels between this situation and the one we find ourselves in the area of Business Process Management. By drawing this parallel, I do not mean to say that there should be as many process languages as there are varieties of wine. But I do mean to draw attention to how questionable it is to be hunting for a single process language for all situations. Different process languages are fit for different purposes. Work in an office space is complex. There are no simple solutions for that complexity, but still people yearn for a simple solution. We should instead focus how well a particular language worked in a particular situation.

Going to be at BPM Think Tank? I will. Maybe we can discuss this over a glass of something-that-is-not-Chardonnay.