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.

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